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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Superman may have had his powers diminished and his identity exposed, but that hasn’t prevented him from tracing the conspiracy against him back to its sinister source: Vandal Savage. The immortal villain’s plan continued to unfold in Action Comics #48, which ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reporter, T. Kyle King, is here to review.
The recent Superman Annual #3 wove together the plot threads of Justice from DC Comics’ four main titles starring the Metropolis Marvel. Now Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder pick up where the opening chapter of Savage Dawn left off, following up on its cliffhanger ending in Assault.
(Minor Spoilers Follow)
Vandal Savage’s Stormwatch Carrier has just appeared in the skies over Metropolis. Superman reacts to the attack, doing what he can despite being keenly aware that his reduced powers give him only limited usefulness in the crisis. He hears from Wonder Woman just before she is captured, learning that Savage has corralled the entire Justice League and begun siphoning off their powers as he previously stole Superman’s.
Savage launches a full-scale assault on Metropolis, unleashing Black Mass bombs similar to those Wrath attempted unsuccessfully to deliver to Houston. Aided by the Justice League United and empowered by a modified Metallo armor upgraded by John Henry Irons and Ray Palmer, Superman takes flight and takes the fight to Savage’s starship. Though the heroes are helped by an unlikely ally, Savage snares the Man of Tomorrow’s teammates to give him the rest of the power he needs to begin his mysterious endgame.
Kuder shares multiple duties in Action Comics #48, which names him alongside Pak in crafting the story and likewise lists him as co-penciller (with Rafa Sandoval) and co-inker (with Jordi Tarragona). Despite wearing half of several hats in this issue, Kuder contributes quality work to a story that certainly lives up to the book’s titular assurance of Action.
Assault opens with the reader looking up at the leaping Superman as he rescues helpless victims with Savage’s starship ominously looming largely over his shoulder. Shortly thereafter, we see the Man of Steel from Vandal’s vantage point, looking down at the earthbound Last Son of Krypton. Throughout the story, jagged panels overlap, falling figures pass outside the layout’s lines, and movement stretches back into the distance and outward toward the audience, all sending the message that there is just too much happening here to be contained by ordinary artwork.
A dizzying combination of characters appears, and, though some of them necessarily must fade into the background, a genuine effort nevertheless is made to put everyone to good use. Wonder Woman, the Atom, Steel, and even Stargirl all have small yet significant roles to play. For the bad guys, Frankenstein, HORDR_ROOT, and the Supremacists have few lines but appear in key scenes, and Wrath offers some surprises while staying true to her earlier origin story. Sharply defined by dress, deportment, and oily attitude, Vandal Savage shines in his time in the spotlight, although he bears a curious resemblance to Golf Channel commentator David Feherty.
The rapid pace of Action Comics #48 is aided by Tomeu Morey’s colors, which set the mood with background oranges and foreground greys while vibrantly highlighting the steady flow of the constant commotion. Letterer Steve Wands likewise occupies a position of outsized importance to Assault, which calls upon him to render not just internal monologue and external dialogue, but more than his fair share of exclamations and explosions in a story chock full of sound effects.
Action Comics #48 isn’t just a good-looking book, however. Pak’s and Kuder’s story, scripted by Pak, advances the complex plot in ways that jibe with what has come before in Truth and Justice. This requires such characters as Lana Lang, Wonder Woman, and Wrath to behave in ways that are consistent with their earlier expressed attitudes from Justice, while still offering some unexpected developments, and Pak pulls it off deftly.
At the same time, the writer must deal with the central shifts of Truth. Clark Kent’s public outing as Superman has receded into the background, so much so that, when the hero addresses the villain as “Vandal!”, Savage remarks that they’re “using first names now” but does not emphasize the exposure of the Action Ace’s secret identity by calling him “Clark”. The diminution of the Man of Tomorrow’s superpowers, however, lies at the heart of Assault.
The issue’s splash page gets straight to the point. Clark goes over the seriousness of the situation in his mind, thinking: “I’m on the ground, drained of almost all my powers. I’m still Superman… and I’m never going to give up. But dammit, I need to fly.” Gone is the angry, brooding, selfish Man of Steel from Justice; the character’s core has been restored, but he has reached the point of needing, and not merely wanting, strength of limb commensurate with his strength of spirit.
Able only to save one life when dozens are imperiled and unable on his own to carry the fight into the sky, Superman willingly, even eagerly, relies upon outside aid. In so doing, he knowingly exposes himself to considerable risk: Metallo’s modified armor — the secret project hinted at yet unrevealed in Superman Annual #3 — can replicate Clark’s stolen powers, but it must use kryptonite to do it. “As strong as I am in the suit”, Superman must admit to himself, “I’m dying inside of it.”
This second chapter of Savage Dawn ends on another cliffhanger, setting up the now-unified storyline’s continuation in Superman/Wonder Woman. After Truth often seemed disjointed and Justice frequently felt forced, it is refreshing to see Superman restored, in soul if not yet in body, in a storyline that is unfolding organically in exciting, compelling, and convincing fashion. The dynamic team of Kuder and Pak has the Last Son of Krypton back on track in Action Comics #48.
What was your reaction to Savage Dawn’s second chapter? ComiConverse with us in the comments and let us know what you think!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have Superman on the path to redemption in this action-packed adventure.