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 has concluded by connecting the series’ various villains in a shared plot. Superman began striking back at the evil conspiracy in the opening chapter of Justice this week, and our Man of Steel writer, Kyle King, has a review.
Action Comics #45 was released on Wednesday, signaling the transition from Truth to Justice as Superman, without a secret identity and robbed of most of his powers, took the battle to his enemies in a story penned by Greg Pak and pencilled by Scott Kolins.
Clark Kent, equipped with a Waynetech light refractor to distort his facial features, is in Talladega, Alabama, where he struggles to contain his anger while connecting the threads between his recent foes in a hidden cabin in the woods. The Toymaster, Hiro Okamura, locates Clark in the forest, prompting the Man of Steel to destroy his now compromised hideout and send Hiro back home.
Disguised as Archie Clayton, Superman goes to his job providing laundry service at Lyfegene, Inc., a biotech company with mysterious ties to Wrath. The Man of Steel executes a carefully-crafted plan to gain access to a hidden lab in which Supremacists are conducting experiments on people infected with the Black Mass from Wrath’s Shadow Monsters. There, Superman discovers Lee Lambert, who was ostracized in Metropolis and pursued by unknown agents. The Black Mass has spread from the firefighter’s right arm to the rest of her body, and it now attacks Clark, as well.
Although Aaron Kuder plotted the story with Pak, Kolins has taken over the artwork chores for Blind Justice – Part One. Because his style is similar to Kuder’s, the look of the book has not changed dramatically. Kolins provides a wealth of background details, which are highlighted by Tomeu Morey’s colors, and this issue contains some powerful imagery.
Action Comics #45 opens with a literal splash page depicting Superman saving fishermen in a hurricane. Later, Kolins reproduces an iconic image of Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal the familiar S-shield underneath. Early in the issue, particularly in the scene with Hiro, Kolins’s Man of Steel recalls Frank Quitely’s dauntingly large champion from All-Star Superman. At later points, though, the protagonist becomes exaggerated to almost Hulk-like hyper-masculine proportions. In short, Kolins gets off to a strong start, but his last few pages feel somewhat rushed.
Pak likewise opens the Justice arc with great promise, neatly recapping Truth using a television newscaster’s narration and Clark’s internal monologue in his shack at the edge of the Talladega National Forest. The reporter’s opening voice-over, in particular, offers a note of hope by opining that, despite his recent reversals, “Superman still looks kind of like… Superman.”
Unfortunately, that encouraging introduction lasts only as long as Clark’s initial thought, which repeats what became Action Comics’ tired refrain during Truth: “The anger burns inside me.” Superman proceeds to repeat the mistakes of the previous issue; he says to himself, “I have to control myself”, but, 15 pages later, he thinks: “I’m done with holding back.” Done? When, since Wrath revealed herself and helpfully explained that Superman’s anger made her stronger, has the Man of Steel held back his baser emotions in the slightest?
He certainly didn’t do it when Hiro tracked him down. The Toymaster’s surprise appearance far exceeded the boundaries of credulity, given Clark’s successful efforts to conceal himself from a vast conspiracy that includes dimension-hopping Wrath and information-stockpiling HORDR. The introduction of that absurd plot point was bad enough.
What was worse, though, was the Man of Tomorrow’s overreaction to his arrival: Superman blew up his own safehouse while he and Hiro were only a short distance away. Clark even carried Hiro so that his young friend was in the path of the blast instead of shielding Okamura with his muscular Kryptonian frame. Then, rather than apologizing, Superman tells the Toymaster not to contact him again, threatens to turn him in to the authorities, and sends him on his way. When Hiro denounces the hero’s behavior as “the least Supermanny thing” he’s ever seen, he speaks for the entire audience.
Although the brief return of Annabella Petruzzelli was welcome, the short shrift given Lee Lambert was not. The previous issue implied that the intrepid firefighter would be able to handle her newfound abilities, but, now, we see her shunned to the point of being ineffectual and caged as the Black Mass gets the better of her. Perhaps Lee will be redeemed in the end, but, for the moment, she is being victimized by the story in a way that is unworthy of her. After Truth mistreated Lois Lane so badly, Justice should make a deliberate effort to avoid marginalizing its female leads.
There is a lot to like about the richness of detail contained in Pak’s script and Kolins’s art. The problem, though, continues to be that the rigid strictures of this stunted re-imagining of the Man of Steel are cramping the styles of gifted writers like Pak and the authors of the other DC titles through which the Justice arc will be woven.
Action Comics #45 is a well-written issue featuring an intriguing story, but its star is a technologically-enhanced, methodically-plotting, angry, paranoid, powerless, underground, sleuthing version of Superman. It’s effectively done, as far as it goes, but, if that was the superhero I wanted, I’d be reading a Batman comic instead.
DC Comics needs to leave the grim detective work to the Dark Knight and let Superman be Superman. Until that happens, writers like Greg Pak and artists like Scott Kolins are going to deliver well-crafted comic books about Archie Clayton instead of Clark Kent, and the result is going to be a hero who only somewhat resembles Superman.
Do you believe Justice has gotten off to a good start?
Are you excited to find out the ties that bind the Truth villains to one another?
As always, we invite you to contribute your thoughts to the ComiConversation!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
The debut issue of Justice was a well-crafted comic written for the wrong superhero.