Case in point: Action Comics #50.
I have never hidden the fact that I have loved what Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder brought to this book. There was a synergy to the storytelling when the two cut loose. And when they weren't hampered down by crossover arcs, the stories were masterful. I could sense it would be like that from the beginning in Action Comics #25, when a young Superman released a primal scream when he failed.
And there is a lot of that crackle in this issue. It was as if Pak and Kuder (as co-plotters) finally got to get back to the Superman they have wanted to write, the smiling, positive, optimistic hero. So throughout this issue, we really get a lot of pure Superman sentiment. And that makes me want to give this a high grade.
But this isn't just a love letter to the character. There is a plot happening around him. Vandal Savage is trying to get bring the comet which powers him to Earth. We are running to the end of The Truth. And #Rebirth is around the corner. As a result, there are so many wonky plot turns in the book that seem inane that I want to give this a lower mark.
Even with the plot contrivances, I enjoyed this book very much. It was great to see Kuder providing art on some of the pages. A whole bevy of artists fill in including David Messina, Javi Fernandez, Bruno Redondo, and Vicente Cifuentes. Part of the problem is that the styles here vary from a Chris Sprouse-ian fine line to a Scott McDaniel inky look. As a result, the book doesn't read as smoothly as I would hope.
The issue starts out with a bit of monologuing by Vandal Savage as he nicely recaps most of the plot of The Truth, saying how he knew that Superman would never stop fighting, as a result he was able to milk every last erg of energy out of Clark to supply his comet tractor beam. I won't go into the nonsense of it. Each story doesn't initially read as if that is the goal. But there we are.
Meanwhile, Superman is trying to get to Savage to stop him.
There is a nice scene where Superman looks at the ordinary people on the ground, trying to protect humanity from Savage's rowdy kids. These every day heroes inspire Superman. Especially Lois who saved his life by revealing his identity.
This whole arc has been Superman pushing people away. It also has been people distrusting Superman. So it was nice to see him come around a bit. And that sentiment plays out throughout the issue.
The few remaining heroes join Superman to try to free the Justice League and stop Savage.
Again, that sentiment is stated, this time by Batman of all people. Superman will always have friends.
Of course, you can't sweep away a year of stories of people not being Superman's friend with one phrase. This Batman himself didn't trust Superman. Perry White hates him. The President tried to arrest him. Smallville was overturned because of him.
Where was this sentiment throughout all the books over these months?
Still ... it is nice to see heroes rally around Superman.
I did like this moment. Savage's brute of a son wants to run and fight Superman and Vandal says not everything is won with a fist. It might be a moment of clarity as Savage realizes he often tries to solve things the same way. Even though this plot about the comet has been carefully plotted out (at least that is what we as readers are told), his first reaction here is physical.
Superman keeps trying to tell his friends to run away and get to safety. Being near him is dangerous. Once again, this has been a plot throughout The Truth. Superman going on the run initially was to keep people safe. So seeing him go back to it made sense.
I loved this panel where his friends refuse to leave. They have always asked 'What Would Superman Do?' and responded accordingly.
I don't know if I need to see Lois hoisting up a big old gun. But I am glad she is there.
Pak and Kuder brought Lana back into the fold, something I will always be happy about. However, over the last year, their relationship has become convoluted and unpredictable. She loves him. She hates him. She forgives him. She hates him. She is cold to him. She is happy.
I have stopped trying to figure it out.
Now here is where I think the plot goes a bit off the rail.
Savage has a transdimensional ship in the Stormwatch satellite. He has tacked on the JLA Watchtower and the Fortress of Solitude. All together this makes a powerful tractor beam which is bringing the comet in.
I don't know if we ever got a very good explanation why he needed all those components outside of 'energy'. Couldn't he just use the Stormwatch ship to fly to the comet?
Anyways, the comet is now 'close enough' that he doesn't need the tractor beam. So he throws three of his kids into a shuttle and blows the thing up.
I don't know if I quite understand any of this.
Dying, Superman plummets to his death, but as luck would have it, the Fortress of Solitude (unmarred by the explosion) is below him.
As he approaches it, the Fortress recognizes his biosignal, opens the doors, bio-scans him, and cures him.
Why would the Fortress recognize him then?
It is able to cure him in seconds?
And good thing he fell right over a door!
This seems like a plot device I just need to roll with.
I missed this guy.
But really, the whole powerless problem of The Truth was solved off screen in one panel??
But Superman has learned that no matter how hard he was trying to push them away, his friends would always stand by him when it mattered.
Except .... did they?
I don't know. I am thrilled to see these splash pages by Kuder. I liked Lois fist bumping Lee. I like the idea that Superman is so inspirational that his friends will always be loyal.
But it sort of flies in the face with the darker tone of much of the books during The Truth.
The three Savage progeny on the shuttle have bathed in the comet's rays and return in their evolved forms! (Shades of Dragon Ball Z here!)
Now united with his heroic comrades, Superman stands ready.
Listen, the whole map of The Truth is something of a mess. There have been parts I enjoyed, in particular the early 'folk hero' tone this book took with Pak and Kuder. But it is time, mercifully, to pull the plug. I won't reiterate things here.
Instead, I just want to say that I thought Pak and Kuder were a solid team on this book, bringing a variety of settings and tones to a Superman book which felt fresh. From the sci-fi, pulp Subterranea to the horror of The Fog/Mist of Smallville, to the crazy fun Bizarro issue, this was wonderful. Even when nudged off track by Doomed and The Truth, I felt their work was the best of those lackluster events.
And so it pains me a little to see them leave the character. I wish we had another year of just Superman stories with them, without crossover banners or even interaction with the other super-books.
I guess I want to say thank you.
Looking forward to what the two of you do next.
Overall grade: B/B+