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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In Truth, Superman lost most of his powers and had his secret identity exposed, but now he has started striking back at the shadowy conspiracy out to destroy him. The Justice story arc continued in this week’s Action Comics #46, and ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, is here with a review.
The second installment of Blind Justice began with the Man of Steel infected by the Black Mass, and the story only got stranger from there. Wordsmith Greg Pak (who also shares the plotting credit with Aaron Kuder) and graphic artist Scott Kolins led the team that took the Action Ace to the place the title of this tale describes: Into the Shadows.
Superman rescues Lee Lambert and the other experimental subjects from the secret lab in Alabama, defeating the Supremacists in spite of – or perhaps because of – being infected by Wrath. After getting Lee and the others to safety, Clark slips into the shadows and tracks Wrath to the West Virginia hideout from which she plans to launch planes bearing the Black Mass bombs that will infect millions.
The Man of Steel confronts Wrath and learns that Lee has followed him to the Monongahela National Forest. The villain sends Frankenstein’s monster out to battle Superman. As the two powerful figures collide in a furious fistfight, Wrath tries to persuade Lee to help her rid the world of such “monsters” as Frankenstein and Superman.
Action Comics #46 shows why Pak and Kolins are a good creative team. (That is in no way intended to belittle Kuder’s credited contribution; I just don’t know how much of the story came from Kuder, but the splash page informs the reader that Pak wrote the words and Kolins drew the pictures.) Kolins has a penchant for big visuals that are bold and hard-edged nearly to the point of being raw, and Pak’s script gives his penciller a surfeit of suitable material from which to fashion artwork that is large and stark. In this issue, Kolins’s effort is Kirbyesque.
It is fitting that Kolins’s images aspire to Jack Kirby’s scope, because Pak’s writing seeks to match the King’s strangeness. Blind Justice – Part Two commences in medias res, with an inky-veined Man of Steel staring out at the reader with eerily glowing eyes as he literally breaks down the wall separating the audience from the action. Four fisticuff-filled pages into the issue, Superman’s internal monologue has connected the dots from the Shadow Ninjas to the Shadow Boar to Wrath, tying together adventures stretching back only briefly in story time but all the way back to the days of capes and X-Ray vision, which was a while ago for the rest of us.
Four pages after that, the Man of Tomorrow ducks behind a tree and suddenly finds himself swimming through shadows, emerging from the penumbras of an entirely different forest 500 miles away, where he has sensed Wrath in the darkness. Because, sure. Four pages after that, what looks a heck of a lot like Swamp Thing stepping out of an oil spill punctuates the villain’s hazy allusions to her intentions, which look entirely too Third Reich-inspired for comfort.
A couple of pages of realization, conversation, and explication take it down a notch in the middle of the issue, but this is merely a sorbet to cleanse the palate, as, four pages after that, Frankenstein rides in on the one-eyed Shadow Boar. Because, sure. Superman comes up with a quick rationalization that the monster, being undead, is an empty vessel for Wrath’s Black Mass to inhabit, but the Action Ace’s rhetorical observation that “it makes sense, doesn’t it?” provides a less convincing reaction than his shocked utterance: “Frankenstein?!” This is what I’m saying, Supes, even if DC seems determined to have Frankenstein show up everywhere.
Four pages following that, Frankenstein and Superman end the issue by pummeling one another, both draped in ribbons of Black Mass and grimacing at one another with vacant-eyed stares, locked in poses straight out of the Stan Lee “could the Hulk beat up the Thing” playbook. Action Comics #46 doesn’t ask its readers to endure a lot of downtime between kinetic episodes replete with grunting and punching.
Much like Into Darkness, the Star Trek film with which Blind Justice – Part Two shares a similar subtitle, Pak’s and Kuder’s latest tale provides more than its fair share of “Wait… what?” moments. It’s fun while it lasts, though, even if it occasionally leaves the reader wondering, when, exactly, these events take place in relation to the parallel storylines presently unfolding in Batman/Superman, Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. I mean, when Superman called in John Henry Irons and Lana Lang in Action Comics #46, was it before or after he ran off and left them at the STEEL lab in Manassas?
We are, of course, still dealing with the post-Truth Superman, so it is inevitable that we will encounter a Clark whose innermost thoughts reveal that he remembers what Ma and Pa Kent taught him in Smallville, and he knows they’re correct, but he’s going to make the conscious choice to do the wrong thing, anyway. Into the Shadows opens with the words: “My father taught me that wrath is a sin. He was probably right. But then again…” My immediate reaction was to roll my eyes and think, “Here we go again!”
This time, though, it isn’t just the physically enervated Metropolis Marvel succumbing to moral weakness, as well; instead, Pak portrays an intriguing ambiguity to Superman’s rage. Is he controlling it, or is it controlling him?
Is he channeling his base instincts into noble purposes, or is he playing right into Wrath’s hands in furtherance of her plans?
The exploration of this question is accompanied by a nebulousness that reflects the shadowy methods and objectives of Wrath, who speaks to Lee with a level of rectitude that underscores how effectively Action Comics #46 was written. Pak penned this issue cleverly to leave the reader guessing.
This feeling of uneasiness clearly was intentional. Superman confesses to loving an empowering anger he knows he should fear, but the result is the hand-delivery of captured criminals to local police officers who justifiably had been afraid for their lives.
Isn’t that objectively a good thing?
Clark admits to Lee that the infection has changed him, yet he does so after he has saved the injured and infirm from captivity and torture, then called in John Henry Irons to search for a cure.
Isn’t that what Superman should do?
Foolishly, the Man of Steel still isn’t listening to sound advice from the women in his life, but at least his sudden disappearance in this issue was handled with lighthearted humor rather than heavyhanded bitterness.
For the first fourteen pages of Into the Shadows, rivulets of Black Mass are constantly coursing over Superman’s frame, and, tellingly, there invariably is a dark line across the “S” on his chest. However, when Wrath reveals to him that Lee has pursued him to West Virginia, the Black Mass briefly vanishes from them both as the compassionate Clark makes certain his firefighter friend is unharmed. “Are you all right?” Kent asks out of genuine concern, and, as the infection vanishes from her face, Lambert replies, “I’m fine. Meant to come here. Walked into the shadows… just like you.”
Smiling, Lee then asks Clark if he thought she was going to let him battle Wrath by himself. Letterer Steve Wands conspicuously places scare quotes around “you” when she addresses Superman while looking out at the audience over the Kryptonian’s shoulder. At this point, the red “S” emblazoned on his T-shirt appears utterly unblemished. On the next page, though, Superman charges into the fight, the Black Mass returns with a vengeance, and the darkness overtakes the crest on his chest entirely. Two panels after this happens, the Man of Steel looks over his shoulder, ostensibly speaking to Lee but actually directing his words out at us, and says: “You can’t hold back! You have to trust yourself–”
Maybe that’s the message. For all his overtly acknowledged outrage, the admittedly angry Superman of Action Comics #46 isn’t nearly as consistently indignant as he has been in the other parts of this arc. Since around the same time that the monochromatic Last Son of Krypton did the right thing for the wrong reason in Francis Manapul’s The Darkseid War, the Man of Steel has been on a bit of an upward trend: The most recent issues of Gene Luen Yang’s Superman and Pak’s Batman/Superman have worked to tie Justice together and show the good in the Metropolis Marvel slowly struggling up to the surface through his disempowered inner turmoil.
We still are far from the Superman we need and deserve, but, strangely, the signs seem to be encouraging. The Black Mass may have eclipsed the “S” in the same way the Man of Steel’s entire costume was overshadowed in The Darkseid War, but it’s always darkest before the dawn. In Action Comics #46, Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder, and Scott Kolins reminded Superman fans of a truism written by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to James Madison: “Half a loaf is better than no bread.” Clark Kent is not yet the Man of Tomorrow he needs to be, but Into the Shadows was an inventive, adventurous step on the path back up toward the sunlight.
Were you impressed by the latest chapter of Justice?
Do you believe Lee is going to give in to Wrath’s attempt at persuasion?
Share your thoughts with us as we ComiConverse in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Bold imagery, bizarre twists, and beguiling ambiguity combined to make this issue a winner.