Action Comics #974 came out this week and really ramped up one of my favorite recent storylines, the mystery of the new Clark Kent. Who is he? Where did he come from? I have a couple of theories ... a Mr. Oz creation, a normal human changed by a discharge of super-energy by the dying New 52 Superman, even some version of Matrix on this world ... but they are pure guesses. If writer Dan Jurgens has dropped any significant hints, I have missed them.
What is clear is that this Clark is more than what he says he is. And the way he has been drawn in certain panels gave him something of a malevolent feel. This issue puts that sort scary behavior on display for us front and center. This Clark has a temper and doesn't like to be made a fool of.
Do I have a better guess at who Clark is after this issue? No I don't. But I do know I am a little more frightened of him. And I am even more intrigued! That makes me happy!
The Clark mystery isn't the only plot in this issue. We get more of Superwoman's recovery and we get a new thread in the re-emergence of Blanque as a threat. So this certainly felt like a full issue, in a very good way.
Patch Zircher and Steve Segovia (with Art Thibert inks) split the art here. Zircher's work on the Lois/Clark pages are just wonderful. Zircher really gives us a wonderful Lois. And, as usual, his page layouts guide the reader's eye nicely. Segovia gets a bit of a more comic world canvas to work on with Fortress settings and alien armor. The different art styles on the differing locales made the whole thing feel pretty slick.
For me, the best thing about this issue was the slow turn of the fake Clark from mild mannered, clumsy, nice guy to scary threat. And nothing conveys that more than this cover by Gary Frank. Clark lurking in the background is eerie. This looks like a horror movie poster.
On to the book!
Last issue ended with a dying Lana being brought to the Fortress to be saved. Initially, it seems like nothing will be able to help Lana from death.
I am assuming that this takes place immediately after the end of Superwoman #7 when Lana just defeated Lena. And I suppose the 'I just saw you there' comment would be because she saw Clark frozen in one of Lena's chrono-cubes.
But that doesn't make sense if Lois is about to go out on that date with Clark, set up in an uneffected Metropolis.
So maybe this is after some other Superwoman adventure? But that doesn't sit right with me either.
These are the things that a group editor is supposed to oversee.
Meanwhile, Lois has set up something of a creepy wall about this new Clark. She is trying to figure out just who he is (aren't we all!!!). And she realizes the only way to get closer to figuring it all out is to get closer to him. We see her preparing for this date with Kent. Zircher shines in these quiet moments of Lois getting ready.
But Jurgens gives us all these new facts about Clark's backstory. His birth parents died in an explosion (interesting) and he was adopted by the Kents. But really what I want is a little more. How deep does this conspiracy go? Are there adoption papers? I suppose with Superman dead, all the existing Clark photos or papers could be attributed to this guy.
Clark shows up for the date ... early. Usually I would chalk that up to a faux pas or a pre-date nervousness. But somehow it comes across as a little bit dark. Was he trying to catch Lois in something? Or catch her off guard?
He then leads her out to an idling limosine. Whoever he is, he doesn't have the 'down to Earth' style of the real Clark. Lois says it. The limo heads to an expensive, exclusive restaurant. And inside, Lois is led to a private room, extravagantly decorated. And then Clark proposes! Proposes!!
Boy, this Clark has acted close enough to the real thing before this issue to have me perplexed. Even I have wondered if he might somehow be a version of the real thing.
But this display? And the quick proposal?
This isn't Clark.
So who is he?
Meanwhile, when all Earthly treatments fail to stabilize Lana, Clark turns to otherworldly cures. If her powers are somehow Kryptonian based, maybe Kryptonian medicine will help.
In a nice look back at history, Superman puts her into his old Battle Armor. That suit has a sort of fluid matrix healing egg chamber. Thankfully, once inside, Lana stabilizes.
It is a nice callback to the Return of Superman arc from way back when. Given that Dan Jurgens was one of the drivers of that historic story, I guess it isn't a big surprise to see it mined again.
In that story, the 'dead' Superman did stay in the fluid healing chamber of Kryptonian Battle Armor while recovering from his fight with Doomsday.
Lois, of course, walks out on Clark after his proposal. She wants nothing to do with it.
And he seems genuinely surprised.
Some of what he says is interesting.
One, he promises to be good. That is an odd statement. Does he mean as opposed to being evil? That he won't do something wrong? It just sticks out as strange language.
But he also says that he feels they need to be together. Is he channeling the history of the real Clark? Does he sense they should be married? That would be specific to the current Clark and not necessarily the dead New 52 Superman who never really clicked with Lois.
This made my theory about an energy avatar Superman both more and less likely.
When Lois leaves, the tone of Clark changes. And things get a little creepy.
First off, there is that line again about being good. Weird.
But then things change and Clark seems to dehumanize. Suddenly you don't see his eyes through his glasses anymore. He is something else. That look of confusion becomes a stern look, an angry look, a scary look. He vows to destroy who gets in his way.
And then we pan back to see that no one is driving the limo. Great slow reveal on the page. Wonderful art by Zircher,
Cue the Twilight Zone music.
So who is he? We know he has been scanned and is human. So no robot or Eradicator? And what's with the anger ...
Best page in the book!
I've been ignoring one of the subplots coursing through the issue. Early on, Superman gets notified that Hank Henshaw's group is breaking into the Himalayan Fortress. However, his devotion to Lana and his confidence in his defenses lead him to stay in the Arctic.
I don't quite know how Henshaw's agent gets past the vaunted defenses but he does. And he is telepathic controlled to release the ultraviolent psychic Blanque who quickly blows the whole thing up.
In some ways I'm happy. The two Fortress world was confusing. Glad we're consolidating.
And Blanque was a big threat in Lois and Clark. He is a big threat. I'm excited to see what happens next.
Back in Hamilton, the Whites have a standard family dinner.
What is interesting is that Clark downplays what he did with Lana. And Lois doesn't even mention what she did with 'Clark'.
It is odd to see these two maybe hold back on the truth. Maybe Lois thought that her Clark might be unhappy with the chance she took? Maybe Clark doesn't like to talk about any Lana with Lois?
Or maybe they just don't talk business in front of Jon?
Unfortunately the doppelgänger Clark followed Lois. He sees the real Clark and Jon and knows they are with Lois instead of him.
Suddenly this Clark looks outright violent. And blue energy spills out from behind his glasses. Does that make him more of a Dr. Manhatten construct?
Whatever he is, he is terrifying. Great cliffhanger.
I will say, if my guess of Mr. Oz being Vyndktvyx turns out to be true than this Clark could be a simple 5th dimensional construct. But I simply don't know.
In case you can't tell, I loved this issue. This 'Clark' plot grabbed me from the beginning. And this issue pushed the pedal all the way down. We are t seeing the well intentioned buffoon in this Clark. We seeing someone unhinged and almost unreal. What is he??
And the art shows that subtle transformation perfectly!
Dang, I love a good comic mystery!!
Overall grade: A