T. Kyle King’s published work ranges from newspaper columns to film reviews and from short stories to law review articles. Most notably, he served as a site manager and staff writer at DawgSports.com, a daily weblog devoted to University of Georgia athletics, from 2006 to 2013, and he is the author of a book about the history of the college football rivalry between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Clemson Tigers published by Clemson University Digital Press in 2013. Kyle is a lifelong comic book fan whose thoughts on comic books previously have appeared at ComicsVerse, Progressive Boink, and the Superman Homepage. Kyle is a Superman guy.
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DC Comics’ Truth storyline moved closer to its conclusion this week with Greg Pak’s and Aaron Kuder’s Action Comics #44. Our Superman Writer T. Kyle King is here with everything you need to know.
Superman, whose powers have been reduced and whose Clark Kent identity has been exposed, squared off with the Shadow Monsters and confronted the new reality in Hard Truth – Part Four.
Flanked by the police officers fighting alongside him, Superman battles his otherworldly enemy at Metropolis City Hall. The mayor stands revealed as the Shadow Monsters’ leader, Wrath, who feeds on the anger of others. Empowered by the Man of Steel’s fury, Wrath vanishes along with her minions. She promises as she fades away that “now my Shadows are ready for the real fight.”
Lee Lambert leads Clark’s neighbors in a fight against Shadow-infected citizens who have injured innocent police officers. In the course of the conflict, Lee’s wounded arm is transformed into a Shadow Monster’s appendage. Evidently unable to speak other than in guttural utterances, she appears to demolish a burning building.
When Superman arrives to stop her, though, Lee once more becomes articulate, explaining that she can control her newfound powers. It becomes clear that her actions saved the residents of the destroyed structure from being consumed by the conflagration. As Clark becomes adjusted to his new normality, Wrath secretly meets up with the latest incarnation of HORDR_ROOT, and the two villains ominously promise to “make the world they deserve.”
Kuder’s artwork is dynamic and well defined throughout this eventful issue. His angular panel layouts emphasize the kinetic energy that unfurls as the story unfolds, and the rapid pacing is reflected in images that indicate constant movement.
Although the stylistic transition from Kuder’s graphics to Howard Porter’s in the tale’s final four pages is rather stark, the look of the book remains thematically unified by both artists’ jagged lines and vital imagery. Tomeu Morey’s colors, while often subdued, nevertheless strongly suggest the explosive motion of the pencilers’ illustrations.
My criticisms of Pak’s scripting mirror many fans’ gripes about Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel: What the creator got right showed Superman at his best, but what he got wrong was simply awful. There is very little middle ground between the two extremes, leaving readers to decide for themselves whether to view the glass as half empty or half full.
The concluding chapter of Hard Truth uses its closing moments to tie Wrath and her Shadow Monsters to HORDR, the group previously seen exclusively in the pages of Gene Luen Yang’s and John Romita, Jr.’s Superman. At last HORDR_ROOT’s annoying “sort of” verbal tic serves a purpose, and the final panel of Action Comics #44 promises that “Superman connects the dots” in the ensuing issue. This is a welcome development for a Truth storyline that has been presented in a consistently disjointed manner.
Lee Lambert, who has been accurately characterized as the story arc’s breakout star, continued to behave bravely in the face of danger, and she was given an intriguing new dimension with the introduction of her Shadow-induced superpowers. After the fighting has stopped, the source of her new abilities appears merely as a tattoo on her right shoulder and upper arm, which is a nice stylistic touch. Finally, Lee likens herself to Superman in the symbolically significant moment at which she returns the portion of his tattered cape and assures him, “Trust me, Clark. I’m good.”
Lee deservedly gets her due in this issue, but not every character fares so well. Anabella Petruzzelli, whose brief presence was so effective in the previous edition of Action, is not allowed to make good on her promising start. Instead, she only fires a shotgun once, curses, gets bloodied for her troubles, and uses her injuries to inspire Superman to do the wrong thing. Strictly speaking, it isn’t fridging, but it comes uncomfortably close, and Petruzzelli deserved better.
Less troubling yet still notable was the sidelining of Jimmy Olsen. Lambert was, and should have been, the leader of the citizenry in the fight for control of Metropolis’s streets and soul, but Olsen was reduced to the role of passive bystander.
While the fists were flying, Superman’s photographer pal just clicked pictures. Jimmy stood for nothing while the chips were down, only speaking up after the danger had passed. Even then, all he did was call out, “Hey! You punks!” to a group of youngsters who may have vandalized Clark’s apartment. He may not have superpowers, but Jimmy ought to have more to do in a crisis than just yell at kids to get off his lawn.
In the end, though, Action Comics #44 is all about Superman, and the Man of Steel Truth has produced is a bit all over the place. On the first page, Clark confesses: “I get angrier and angrier.” Two pages later, he has figured out that his rage is the source of Wrath’s power, yet he admits to himself that he “just keeps playing her game” and tells her, “You go to Hell.” She gleefully expresses her gratitude for his lack of self-control, but he rationalizes his anger as “righteous.”
Well, sure, it is, but that doesn’t matter, and Superman knows it. He thinks to himself, “I know this is what Wrath wants” as he does exactly what Wrath wants. He tells himself, “I won’t accept her rules”, even though he knows those are the rules and that, because of them, his anger “just makes her stronger.”
The Man of Tomorrow pointedly asks himself, “Dammit. What the Hell am I supposed to do now?” I know his question was rhetorical, but I would like to suggest a couple of correct answers. First of all, maybe quit cussing like a stevedore; for crying out loud, Clark, do you kiss Ma Kent with that mouth? Secondly, and more importantly, could you perhaps stop doing the thing that you know will increase the villain’s power to do evil? Just throwing that against the wall and seeing if it sticks, Supes.
We get a little closer to the Superman we know near the end of the story, when he is pleased to see the people of Metropolis “taking care of each other.” The real Man of Steel shines through when he selflessly says it isn’t important what the common citizens of Metropolis think about him. However, the impact of his heroism is rendered somewhat hollow by the fact that many of those helpful folks regard him with disdain, even after the previous issue went to such pains to portray Superman’s ability to inspire.
The truth is that Superman didn’t do anything useful in this issue. The people took care of themselves, Lee saved the residents trapped in the burning building, Clark’s neighbors rejected his help in righting an overturned automobile, and the Man of Steel’s outrage only made the situation worse before the bad guys voluntarily surrendered the field. If Superman had spent the entirety of Action Comics #44 taking a power nap, everything positive still would have happened and everything bad would have been made better.
Rather than recognize that reality and do some super-soul-searching, Clark pronounces himself satisfied that the populace is doing good things in spite of him and resolves to “go hunting for Wrath.” As he struts away with what looks uncomfortably like pride, Superman feels the dull knot in his throat begin to burn, and he asks himself, “This isn’t sadness, isn’t it?” Once again, we see that one of the powers Superman has lost is the ability to speak proper English.
Action Comics #44 presents a mixed bag for fans of the Man of Steel. This issue is eventful, intriguing, and visually effective. Greg Pak gives us glimpses of the actual Superman, but those fleeting rays of sunlight must force their way through the hero’s undisciplined surrender to irrational instincts that are darker even than the Shadow Monsters he ineffectually opposes.
Maybe it’s just me, but I prefer to see Superman do something good or, at least, to do something well.
What do you think about Pak’s and Kuder’s conclusion to the Action Comics segment of the Truth story arc?
Did the good outweigh the bad in Hard Truth?
Share your thoughts in the comments and join in the ComiConversation!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Action Comics #44 presents a mixed bag for fans of the Man of Steel.