Friday, December 6, 2013

Review: Action Comics #26

Action Comics #26 came out this week and was a great read. Hurrah!

It is the first issue in some time that I closed the book and said to myself 'now that was a Superman story'. And that makes me very very happy.

New creative team of writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder hit the ground running with their first present-day storyline with a fast-paced story that brings Lana Lang into the fold and introduces a new military hero/super-villain to the Superman world. I have to say I really love this feisty Lana, someone who already seems better suited for Superman than Diana.

But there is also a number of nods to old-school comic and Superman bits from the classic 'monsters dwell below the surface' plotline to some Pa Kent wisdom to a classic take on the Fortress of Solitude. While these all have the sheen of comic tropes, Pak and Kuder keep them feeling modern and fresh.

Aaron Kuder's style is great as well. There is a great kinetic feel to the action sequences. There is a Rockwell feel to the Smallville flashbacks. And his page layouts are solid. There are plenty of beautiful splash pages in the book. But I didn't feel cheated from content because other pages have smaller inset panels, bulking up the story on those pages. Fantastic.

 As I said, I love this new Lana. We learned last issue that she is an electrical engineer. But I don't think she is doing mundane wiring housing developments. In Action Comics #25, she is on a cargo boat. Here she is on a team in Venezuela, drilling to find a new geothermal energy source. Of course, this being comics, that drilling unleashes a massive monster. Think Jack Kirby Mole Man sort of monster. That's a pretty high compliment.

This isn't the whining Lana from the 80s, hoping to capture Superman's heart. She is pretty tough, picking up a machine gun and firing at the monster. It is such a great moment that I didn't even question why security guards at a dig site are packing such ordnance.

While the yellow jump-suit seems to be the uniform for the dig site, it gives Lana a little 'April O'Neil' feel and a little Kill Bill 'The Bride' feel. It adds to the action hero nature of this scene. If she were in the Atomic Robo universe, she would be an Action Scientist.

But despite wielding that M-16 assault rifle, there is also a sort of small-town girl friendliness to her. I love that third panel, a slight smile with a dimple that floors Superman. I think we all know that those 'first loves' never really leave, do they. Superman's response to seeing her is great. That kind of goofy smile on his face, as if the memories of her flood him. Kuder is able to give us so much with their expressions.

Suddenly Superman is back to being the awkward kid from Smallville, distracted by her to the point the monster chews on him for a while and still smitten enough to try to impress her with feats of strength. It is a brief interaction in the middle of a fight with a monster but it says so much.

Maybe he is nervous around Lana but he misses the monster with the truck he throws at it. (In a nice character moment, Lana curses off-screen that he destroyed her truck).

Surprisingly, the monster decides to 'play fetch' with the truck and seems to be trying to communicate with Superman. It isn't a monster; it just doesn't know the damage it is doing, the fear it is inducing.

It leads to a flashback to the first time a young Clark released his heat vision, burning crops and frightening Pa Kent. Despite that, Pa didn't run. He stayed and cared. I love me some Pa Kent wisdom.

 Suddenly Superman doesn't want to destroy this monster but try to understand it and limit the damage. Unfortunately the military isn't as compassionate. Missile-firing drones and 'The Ghost Soldier' come to kill it.

Given the setting, I have to assume this is Venezuelan military that Superman is fighting and not American.

I like the look of this Ghost Soldier, an all-business sleek look complete with knives. I don't know if Iquite understand the fire tornado look but it works here.

I also like how Kuder makes the S-shield huge on Superman's chest. That is how it should look.

The Ghost Soldier has a Kitty Pryde-like phase ability, using it to phase a knife into Superman chest and carve up Superman's face. That power is also a great defense against Superman as well.

The Soldier seems to be there only to delay Superman so the drones can kill the monster and Superman won't let that happen. In a nice bit of physics, Superman assumes that someone in an intangible form might have the properties of a gas such that extreme cold can slow him down.

Maybe that is an explanation of the flame motif, keeping him hot and moving.

 Remember when I said that this felt like a Superman story. It is small moments like this.

When I first read it I immediately thought the innocents were the workers on the drill site. But then on reread I realized he could be talking about the monster, an innocent thing released into our world.

In reality, Superman means both. And he needs to save both.  There really is no choice, is there?

We get so much from the art too. That moment of concentration with eyes closed followed by a steely look of conviction in the second.

And just like that, Superman grabs the monster and flies off.

 As for Lana, she decides to go down to the deepest section of the drill area to see if she can see what went on. She stumbles upon evidence of another culture.

For me, it reminded me of those good old stories when Lana's archaeologist father ended up coming across something that was the springboard for a story. So an 'old school' feel modernized.

And it also feels that the early crush lingering feelings are in Lana too. She is doing this so she has an excuse to call Clark. That also feels like classic Lana too!

Everyone assumed that Superman threw the monster into the sun. And that irks Superman. I like that, a pleasant piece of characterization in one almost throw-away line.

Instead he brought the thing to the intergalactic zoo area of his Fortress!! Old school but new and fresh.

Then sentiment is nice too. Pa Kent could have panicked when Clark's eyes went ablaze but he didn't. Clark wasn't some rabid destructive monster either.

As always, I thought this splash page worked wonderfully. For one, it really brings the few words into focus. Second it brings the scope of the zoo into view.

And then a nice twist. Once it calms and falls asleep, it becomes something much more humanoid - a mix of Avatar and Nightcrawler.

Is this a Hulk-like being, intelligent until angered by the drill and then monster-ized out to stop Lana from destroying his world? Is it an animal in this form who can become that beast? Is it something in our atmosphere that triggers the transformation?

Nice cliff-hanger! And yet, this also felt like a complete story and not a small part of a story made for a trade.

I have nothing but praise for this book. The story, the characterization, the action, the art. It all worked. It felt like a classic Superman story but also one perfect for 2013. We are only two issues in but I think Pak and Kuder 'get' Superman and that means we readers are probably in for a treat.

Overall grade: A+


GettinJiggly said...

Still confuses me every time I see some of the New 52 characters drawn so young. This image of Superman is an example, and some of the current Green Arrow (Queen) artists do the same. I guess it makes since considering this is 5-7 years past when Clark went to Metropolis. And if he left at 18 that would only make him 23-25, or if he went to college first 27-29.

Anonymous said...

I'm honestly not trying to disregard your opinion here....but how does it not bother you that Lana is essentially being retooled to be more in personality to Lois Lane while, at the same time, Lois is being removed from the Superman books until further notice? Bc...this is what's happening.

Even that picking up the machine gun scene is a stolen scene from Lois. It's an infamous scene from that Fleischer cartoon that has been reblogged thousands of times and is extremely well known.

It's essentially like if Kara was removed from her role as Supergirl but another character was brought in who acted a lot like Supergirl--but she had a different job--while Supergirl herself was exiled into being a Red Lantern.

Pak is trying very hard to dodge questions about this and he's working hard to promote Lana. I understand that. Lois was "unavailable" to Pak and it's not his fault. But the reason she is "unavailable" is because DC is attempting to remove her from the books. There are sources for this.

It's not even that I dislike Lana. I do like Lana. I like her the most as a mentor to Supergirl or even as a corrupt businesswoman who mixes small town charm with a bit of a devious side in business. I like her. But it seems fairly clear what is happening. She is being written more aggressive and feisty in a way that more closely resembles Lois while, at the same time, after Unchained is over...Lois is going to not appear in Super books for quite a long time. That's not right.

I agree with you that Clark's characterization is wonderful. (Though I didn't appreciate Pak taking Clark's words about Lois from Superman #14 written by Lobdell calling her the "most amazing woman he's ever met" and rewriting them as words about Diana. Uncool.)

I want to be clear here. I think Pak is a great writer and I love seeing a more optimistic Clark. I'm more than happy to see Lana get development but her personality changes right now making her this "new' feisty character seem dangerously close to the things that have distinguished Lois for a long time in the narrative. And considering the bait and switch going on behind the scenes...that is really uncool to me. I think it's ok for Pak to give Lana some development but I think he's going to have to be very careful to really make Lana her own person and not just borrow iconic traits that have made Lois famous and beloved for so long as a way to make people love Lana while Lois gets written out. ---Shades

AndNowInStereo said...

Looks good!

I'm not currently buying any of the Superman books regularly, but given how separate they all are (aside from when Lobdell's Psi-War was in Action and Superman) isn't it starting to get hard to place where all this goes in continuity? Are both of them now running alongside each other? Is that true of both team-up books and Unchained as well? I guess it's nice if you only read one or two but for you Anj, seeing as you read all five, it must be getting a bit perplexing unless you try not to think about it.

It also means placing events like Krypton Returns in Superman's timeline a bit difficult. I really just want to see Kara in one of these five books at some point when there ISN'T a crossover event going on, just so they can acknowledge they're actually speaking to each other. It's starting to get silly. They can't portray Superman as caring for helpless creatures like this one at the same time as he isn't talking to one person who probably needs him more than anyone else and NOT expect part of the audience's collective brain to wonder what's going on.

I'm not going to stop wondering about that until and unless some acknowledgement of their relationship appears in Supergirl or one of his books, probably Lobdell's seeing as he's the one who just wrote the crossover. Without anything to go on it just feels like Clark can't give two shits about his one blood relative. And like I postulated when you reviewed the solicits, Karen should really be calling him on this when they meet. Her Clark wouldn't have been this distant, surely.

Martin Gray said...

Nice review Anj. I'm good with Lana as a bit of an action heroine, it's hardly without precedent - one version was a reserve Legionnaire, it's only the immediate post-Crisis version who was wet (well, in the comics, anyway). Love Lois as I do, she's not the only heroine in comics.

This is Action Comics, so long as we get characterisation, let's have everyone get a bit of action.

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments everybody!

William, I agree that Kuder's Superman does seem to be youthful in appearance.

But the art is so slick!

Anj said...

As you know, I am a huge supporter of Lois and I don't think the Clark/Diana relationship makes much sense.

As you say, I think Pak's hands are completely tied about Lois' inclusion in this book. I can only guess how great a Lois he would write (we got a sense from the E2 Lois over in BM/SM).

So, as much as it pains me, I am trying to roll with this lack of Lois as it seems to be more editorially driven than creator-driven.

Plus, if I had a choice of Clark/Lana vs Clark/Diana (assuming no Lois), I would pick Clark/Lana every time. Plus this Lana is plucky!

So I am of two minds as well. I guess Unchained is where I go for Lois and Action is where I go for Lana.

But the wrong thing would be to fault Pak and Kuder for this. And this book is too good to miss.

Anj said...


I tend to think of the titles as separate in my mind. Unchained is quasi-canon in my mind, more like All-Star Superman or Superman:Confidential.

Action also seems to be (so far) a bit on the periphery of the mainstream DC. So I read this as a creature unto itself.

Of all of them, Superman and SM/WW seems to be the titles lashed and that is where I am a bit more continuity conscious.

Anj said...

Hey Mart,

I am pretty excited about this Lana! I think she has a great voice, a human striving to be the best she can be.

Jay said...

I'm not buying the conspiracy theories regarding Lois. She plays a strong part in Unchained (however stand-alone it may be), she's getting her own one-shot, and Lobdell's been using her in Superman for Psi-War and is getting back to her story now that KR is over.

There's simply no evidence for a company-wide conspiracy to remove Lois from the Super family of titles. Pak's not able to use her for the time being because Action is still tied to Superman, and Lobdell had his own plans for her already. Occam's Razor.

But back to the issue, absolutely fantastic. Pak's Superman is just a treat. He successfully melds the newer concepts DC wants (younger, lighter personality, a bit of a shorter fuse, more aggressive) while at the same time retaining and fully displaying the sides that still make him Superman. He's the main man in the Superman family as far as I'm concerned.