Monday, March 10, 2014

Review: Action Comics #29

It sounds silly to say but comics work best when words and art complement each other perfectly. Think back to some of the more classic runs in history - it is always a writer and artist (sometimes the same person) who just seem to build on each other, resonate with each other, to make stories be that much better. As a reader, I love when I am reading those books because everything just seems to click.

And right now, I feel that sort of synchronicity between writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder on Action Comics. Action Comics #29 came out last week, the conclusion of their duo's first story arc, and it just crackled off the page. Pak seems to have a great handle on Superman. There is a ton of classic Superman here. Superman is good, cherishes life, draws on his Smallville roots. He is a smart fighter, rallying for justice. He is a man of Action, flying into battle. And Kuder is brilliant. Detailed when he needs to be. Changing angles. Bring innovative. He uses splash pages when he needs to, making big action bigger. And he can go small to bring about the story. The two creators seem in lock step with each other.

And I haven't even talked about how great Lana Lang in this book. She is as heroic as Superman is! I love how she is able to relate to Superman in his fight for truth, justice, and the American way!

It has been a pretty wild first arc. Lana has uncovered an underground culture. Clark has befriended Baka, the boy-dragon. The subterranean leaders use meerkat like creatures for energy. And the US has sent the Ghost Soldier to investigate.

Superman is pretty hurt in this opening scene, stabbed in the chest by phased knives. But I love this scene as he instantly assesses all he needs to do. He needs to stop dying. But he needs to protect the energy globe. He needs to protect the creatures he has saved from their underground death sentence. He needs to save Lana. He needs to do it all. This isn't a mere punching hero. He actually is thinking. And he is thinking about everybody and everything else ... not just himself.

I can't believe I need to applaud this. This is who Superman is! And I love that Pak has brought it back.

Those meerkat cuties from last issue mutate into giant worg-like beasts in the yellow sun. Before Superman can corral them, the Ghost Soldier decides to save Lana by killing them. The Soldier is ... a soldier. He seems to have good intentions. But his means are a bit brutal.

I really love this panel by Kuder. Such an expressive look at Lana showing her horror at this butchering of the animals.Just lovely. And the panel inset and progression works wonderfully too.

And Superman isn't going to take the sort of tactics that the Ghost Soldier uses lying down. The Man of Steel engages. After reading Superman/Wonder Woman where Superman has been portrayed as an inept fighter, I love seeing this thinking Superman. He admits to be fighting stupid, a sort of rope-a-dope style to lure the Ghost Soldier in for the real attack, freezing super-breath. I love the writing here! That is Superman.

But I love Kuder's page here. I love how the heat vision blasts have been used as pseudo-panel border here. The cocked right arm's angle mirrors that beam. The left straight jab's angle mirrors the slightly angled panel border below, which also is similar to the super-breath blast. It all flows and is so spectacular. Just great page composition and figure work.

While the blast freezes the Ghost Soldier in a solid state, it also freezes everything around him as well. That means that small things like butterflies are also killed.

Pak has us pause here, getting us into Superman's mind who apologizes to the butterfly! This is a Superman who cares for all life. It is wonderfully retro, a Superman with a code of ethics. It isn't the iron clad 'no killing' of the Silver Age. But it is close enough. He is upset at himself for having to cross this small line even if he needed to in order to save everyone else.

Compare this to the beheading the Soldier did.

This isn't exactly a victory. The 'meerkats' are dead. And with a clue from the Soldier's visor, Superman vows to go and shut down the Ghost Soldier's headquarters. Superman is clearly angry about this whole thing, upset about the death around him. Upset around the death he was part of. And Lana can sense that unease, relating it to when Clark saw a puppy die in their youth.

I love how these two act like no time has separated them. They know each other and understand each other.

But I also love how Pak goes back to the dead butterfly! Any death upsets this Superman. Even this small loss.

Again ... wonderful!

Ukur arrives to the surface to retrieve Baka. Baka is the prince of this world and needs to return.

Again, this is a wonderful moment of both words and art. Baka doesn't necessarily want to go back. He runs and hugs Superman. Nice panel.

But then Kuder blurs out when Superman hugs back. As readers we know who is who, we know they are hugging. But we get to fill in the details with our imagination. For an emotional scene like this, sometimes that is the best way to convey it.

With Baka sobbing, Superman seals off the passage to the underworld. No one will be able to get to it. I doubt we have seen the last of that world. And I hope we see more of Baka. Amazing how these two characters connected so quickly. And it felt natural.

And then this wonderful panel. Superman leaning on Lana, against the rock plugging the underworld, aware that everything they hoped for has left them. Baka is gone. The creatures are dead. The energy globe cracked becoming inert (powered by a captured meerkat anyways).

These two don't feel like victors here. Superman is apologizing again. And that feeling of being small is perfectly shown in this panel and it's pulled back perspective. Even the tiny fire in the lower left corner works, a small sign that things aren't controlled.

Just perfect story and art.

But the Ghost Soldier's superiors aren't done. They send drone bombers to raze the area.

I think Superman is both sad and angry about the proceedings. He can still hear Baka crying. So nothing like drones to take out a bit of his frustration.

This is a great splash panel, iconic in its portrayal of Superman.

With the drones destroyed, Superman streaks to the Soldier's headquarters.

And we see that the Ghost Soldier isn't the only on with phasing ability. The commanding officer is called Harrow. And she seems rather spectral herself.

I am not happy that we have yet another American military unit fighting Superman. But this squad seems well-suited to fight him. Are they tech-based? Supernatural? Both?

This was such a great issue that I really had to decide which panels to share. There were great moments I didn't show. Lana blasting the Soldier to protect Superman. Superman screaming that he would have tried to save everyone!

And the art is just solid all around. Crisp, detailed, expressive.

This book is sizzling right now, my favorite book from DC right now. Thank you Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder for getting Superman right!

Overall grade: A+


Martin Gray said...

Great review, as ever. I didn't review this one as I feared I'd just be gushing, but you showed it can be done!

Did you notice a second artist credited alongside Kuder? Given that his name is in a smaller font I'm thinking he must have provided 'back-up' rather than completed pages himself, but whatever, well done Jed Dougherty!

I can't wait to see where Pak and Kuder take us next. Well, apart from into a blooming crossover - still, I look forward to Doomsday Lemonade!

Jim Werner said...

Great review. I loved this issue as well. After reading your review I feel bad I "only" gave it a 9.2/10!

Anonymous said...

This issue and story needed better villains and more focus on the subterranean kingdom. But aside from those flaws, Pak got Superman and Lana spot on. This is exactly what Superman has needed and you explain that well. Great review Anj!