Review: Action Comics #43
August 18th, 2015 | by Kyle King
DC Comics’ Truth storyline, which introduces a Superman whose powers have been reduced and whose secret identity has been revealed, continued this week in Greg Pak’s and Aaron Kuder’s Action Comics #43.
In Hard Truth – Part Three, a physically battered and emotionally explosive Clark Kent struggles to come to terms with the new realities of his life, his hometown and his frightening new enemy.
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The punch thrown by Superman at the end of the previous issue has landed squarely on Sergeant Binghamton’s jaw. The sadistic Metropolis police leader is sent flying and stands revealed as one of the Shadow Monsters. Clark Kent’s neighbors, including Lee Lambert, join in the fray as Jimmy Olsen uploads real-time photographs of the action to the internet.
After the police turn on Binghamton and the Shadow Monster slinks away, Clark, Lee and Jimmy go to regroup in Clark’s apartment, only to find that it has been ransacked and vandalized. Superman meets with all of his neighbors out on the street, telling them that, because of the heightened danger and his weakened condition, he can no longer protect them all of the time.
Superman’s supporters begin to mobilize while Metropolis’s mayor meets with the officers who were on the scene with Sergeant Binghamton. As the Shadow Monsters, now revealed as the power behind the mayoral throne, attack the unsuspecting police, Superman shows up at City Hall to do battle with the sinister nemesis.
The artwork in this issue is Kuder’s best effort yet. The vibrant imagery lives up to the book’s Action Comics title from the splash page, in which Sergeant Binghamton’s shattered sunglasses fly out at the reader. However, when the tale’s pace slows down a third of the way into the story, Kuder’s art really comes into its own.
Kuder uses perspective especially effectively in this issue. First, he frames a collage of overlapping images to mimic the frenetic pace of Olsen’s digital uploads. Later, he gives the reader multiple points of view of the scene in Clark’s wrecked apartment, conveying the emotion of the moment while offering only indistinct glimpses of the characters’ facial features. Most powerfully, Clark tells his neighbors, “You’re all Superman now” in a double-page spread that makes the reader part of the audience to whom the hero is speaking.
Pak’s writing in this issue offers some initial inklings that the Truth arc, spread over separate storylines in four books that occur out of chronological order, may tie together, after all. The Binghamton reveal links the police brutality angle to Superman’s earlier battle with the Shadow Monster, and the S.W.A.T. team’s unauthorized weapons of unknown origin could have come from the corrupt senator dealing arms in the main Superman title.
Truth’s most glaring and consistent flaw has been its unkind treatment of women, most notably Lois Lane and Wonder Woman, so it is good to see female characters faring better in Action. Lee Lambert’s leadership continues to be evident in the current issue, from her warning to Dante Rodriguez not to risk getting himself hurt to her own decision to place herself in harm’s way and sustain an injury in the process. The mayor’s transition from pragmatic to sinister occurs effectively in remarkably few panels, and one of the police officers on the scene, Anabella Petruzzelli, demonstrates principle, personality, and perseverance in a scant three pages.
Pak’s well-written story continues to be hampered by the demands placed upon him by Truth’s underlying premises. “This isn’t what Superman’s all about,” thinks the Man of Steel on the opening page. “I know it’s not right,” he later tells himself, before admitting in his internal monologue: “This is a mistake. I know it. But I can’t help it.”
Truth’s requirement for a stripped-down Superman necessitates that the Last Son of Krypton be physically weakened, but the resulting moral failings of a superhero defined by his selflessness, decency, and courage are a bit tough to take. Nevertheless, if that is the Man of Tomorrow DC Comics is determined to present, Pak packages this new and reduced Superman as persuasively as possible, when he has the hero promise “to do everything I possibly can” when trying to inspire his neighbors to be their best, as well.
After the opening fight scene, Lee addresses Superman as “Clark” and he thinks to himself, “She says my name. My real name.” Kent proceeds to bind Lambert’s wounded shoulder with a piece of his cape, and Olsen tells her, “You earned it.” As the citizens of Metropolis mobilize, Clark takes a childhood family photograph desecrated in the destruction of his apartment and folds it over so that Jonathan and Martha remain visible but the Kents’ adopted son has disappeared. When next we see the Man of Steel, four pages later, his fists are clinched, his face displays grim determination, and he tells Petruzzelli not to worry because they’re “all in this together.”
Action Comics #43 contains some odd parallels to a Superman comic book from more than 15 years earlier. As part of Grant Morrison’s line-wide DC One Million epic, Mark Schultz penned the tale “Future Story” for the issue numbered Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000. In the earlier adventure, Superman encountered a female mayor of Metropolis who had changed her tune from what it earlier had been, only she had gone from opposing the Man of Steel to siding with him, in direct contrast to Pak’s city leader.
Likewise, Schultz’s Superman won the day by provoking Solaris to anger but declined the credit offered to him for his “brilliant” stratagem, shrugging: “Sometimes things just work out!” That same scene was echoed, darkly, in Action #43 when the hero, having lost his temper and decked what he thought was a police sergeant but was actually an inhuman invader, was asked, “How’d you know, Superman?” In reply, Clark could only confess, “I didn’t, Jorgenson. Just got… lucky, I guess.”
Tellingly, though, both stories ended similarly. In Man of Tomorrow #1,000,000, the departing Man of Steel was asked whether he was going to confront the cosmic villain alone. “Of course not,” he replied, explaining that he was “going to round up the cavalry.” He meant the Justice League of America, stranded in the year 85,271 A.D., but Pak’s Superman has the same idea on a smaller scale. “I’m not strong enough for this,” he admits to the ordinary citizens of Metropolis. “Not anymore.” He tells them to protect themselves and each other, and, trusting him, they do, then the injured and unarmed Superman goes to confront the daunting bad guys while speaking of all of their common cause.
I’m not convinced this grittier, minimalist, socially relevant Superman is the Man of Steel we need, but, if that is the Superman we are going to get, then the way Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have presented him in Action Comics #43 may well be the best way to go about doing it.
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.