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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Stripped of his abilities and exposed as Clark Kent, Superman has been striking back at Vandal Savage, the leader and progenitor of the conspiracy, fueled by the Man of Steel’s stolen powers. The immortal caveman’s master plan began unfolding in Savage Dawn, and ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, is here to review the latest instalment Action Comics #49.
Although their run on DC Comics’ oldest superhero title is nearing its end, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder demonstrated in Immortal Combat that they intend to go out with a bang. The co-creators shared the story credit in an issue for which Pak supplied the words and Kuder provided the layouts for Ardian Syaf’s pencils. (Spoilers follow!)
Vandal Savage locates another of his biological descendants, using his Black Mist to transform an apparently ordinary schoolboy into Salvaxe the Barbarian King. Superman emerges from A.R.G.U.S.’s kryptonite chamber re-empowered, swiftly dispatching the Puzzlerbot before being warned by Etta Candy that the kryptonite is killing off his healthy cells and energizing the cells mutated by Savage.
Clark joins forces with Diana, just as Vandal unleashes a massive burst of energy taken from the trapped Justice Leaguers. While Superman fights Salvaxe, Wonder Woman tracks the beam shot by the Stormwatch Carrier into space, discovering that Savage fired into Jupiter’s core, causing the giant planet to increase in mass. After defeating the Barbarian King, the Man of Steel rushes to the North Pole, where the Fortress of Solitude is being extracted from the Arctic and is rising up into the Stormwatch Carrier.
Action Comics #49 is a challenge to review. This is due partly to the fact that there is a lot to unpack from this fast-paced issue, but the difficulty is mostly because my inner ten-year-old keeps trying to get the adult me to type: OMG! Superman has his powers back, and it is awesome!
I’ll do my best to resist, but be forewarned, in case my youthful enthusiasm overwhelms my mature judgment.
The credits for Immortal Combat list a layout artist (Kuder), a penciller (Syaf), a trio of inkers (Jonathan Glapion, Scott Hanna, and Sandra Hope), and a pair of colorists (Tomeu Morey and Wil Quintana), but the appearance of the graphics is surprisingly uniform despite the large number of contributors. The Man of Steel’s muscularity presents a bit of an incongruity, in light of his desiccated appearance at the end of Superman #48, and some of the backgrounds lack detail, but Action Comics #49 is a tale designed to emphasize the big picture, and the visuals effectively reflect the enormity of that outsized spirit.
Full-page and double-page spreads abound, from Salvaxe’s emergence from the form of a nameless self-described “dork” to the glowing green figure of the kryptonite-irradiated Superman, from the reinvigorated Action Ace confronting the overconfident Puzzlerbot to the sinister Savage unleashing the energy extracted from the Justice League, from the Man of Tomorrow landing a potent punch on the Barbarian King’s jaw to Wonder Woman riding a Lexcorp satellite to view the expanding gas giant, all ultimately culminating in the sight of the Fortress of Solitude being uprooted by a Stormwatch Carrier that already has ensnared the JLA Watchtower. Action Comics #49 is big on bold imagery, and the artwork crackles with energy every bit as much so as the characters it depicts.
The issue itself is an exhilarating thrill ride that leaves the reader a little winded, but questions arise after the audience is able to pause and catch its collective breath. Although it is good to see Clark and Diana developing a mature relationship as friends and teammates now that their ill-fated and ill-advised romance is kaput, Wonder Woman’s appearance after the Puzzlerbot is dispatched is not really explained by her statement that she “got a transmission from Steve.” When would Agent Trevor have sent her such a message, and how did Superman get from Mount Olympus to Central City without her noticing in the first place?
Salvaxe’s late arrival on the scene appears to have been for no other or better reason than to provide a legitimate physical test to the recharged Metropolis Marvel without needlessly repeating the Frankenstein fistfight, unnecessarily unleashing another Apolaki sand clone, or confusing the issue by reintroducing Wrath’s on-again/off-again Black Mass-provided powers.
Vandal’s throwaway Black Mist explanation and the apparent appearance of an entirely new quartet of Savage progeny seemed a bit too convenient for such a slowly unfolding storyline as this. As glad as I am to see the plot moving quickly in a continuous adventure jumping from series to series after the disjointed parallel tales of Truth, Savage Dawn has more than its fair share of gaps and gaffes.
For all of Immortal Combat’s “What the heck?”s and “Wait a tick!”s, though, Action Comics #49 soars at super-speed like its reenergized protagonist, and Pak poses some intriguing possibilities in his penultimate performance writing the title. The hero’s powers are back, but with a twist: Superman’s punches produce explosive bursts of kinetic energy, and his super-hearing has been replaced with the ability to sense waves, signals, and transmissions. The green glow coming off of the Last Son of Krypton radiates a palpable heat as the kryptonite infusion affects his normal and distorted cells alike.
The fiftieth issues of both Action Comics and Superman are swiftly approaching, with DC Comics’ Rebirth soon to follow thereafter. Since major changes are in store, this kryptonite-powered pseudo-restoration truly could go in any number of directions, which heightens the tension. Literally looming large above it all, of course, is Jupiter, which seems newly relevant for lots of reasons.
Over their Justice League comm link, Wonder Woman exclaims in astonishment: “He… shot Jupiter! Fired into its core! It’s… it’s increasing in mass! Threatening to pull its moons into itself!” Equally flabbergasted, Superman replies, “But–why?” That’s a fair question, one so huge it trumps all the nitpicking and flyspecking Immortal Combat tempts us to attempt.
Diana’s specific mention of the Jovian moons sent a sequence of sparks across my synapses, each more interesting than the last. In Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2010 and the film of the same name, Jupiter’s density increases until it becomes a small star, inspiring the people of Earth to strive for peace yet protecting a single moon, Europa, from human influence. 2010 was last year of the old DC continuity prior to the publication of Flashpoint and the launch of the New 52 in 2011.
Speaking of Europa, Action Comics #49 isn’t the only recent Superman comic to make reference to a Jovian moon: Europa has a cameo in the latest issue of Dan Jurgens’s Superman: Lois and Clark, as it marks the last stop of the Oblivion Stone before its arrival on Earth. The ongoing adventures of the pre-Flashpoint Clark Kent and Lois Lane do not occur in an Elseworlds series; the couple is hiding out in the background of the current DC continuity.
Is it coincidental that Savage Dawn and Lois and Clark, featuring two different Supermen independently coexisting on the same Earth in separate storylines in which their authors are playing the long game, both just happened to have the bad guys cross paths with the moons of Jupiter?
You know where else in the DC continuity Jupiter figures prominently?
In DC One Million, that’s where: Jupiter was the site of the base of operations of Justice Legion Alpha. Grant Morrison’s 853rd century epic already has had parallels in Truth, and Action Comics #49 hints that more of them are on the way.
Superman’s powers are fueled by the rays of Earth’s yellow sun. The pre-Flashpoint Superman is on Earth, but his powers are becoming weaker as he ages. The New 52 Superman is on the same Earth, and his powers were blocked by an outer layer of mutated cells that presently are absorbing the energy of the kryptonite that both regenerated his powers and is killing his healthy cells. Jupiter, which resembles a star in composition and is the most massive planet in our solar system, has been shot with an enormous energy infusion to its core that is causing its mass to increase.
What if Jupiter expands and forms a second star? What effect would that have on the slightly weakened pre-Flashpoint Superman and on the kryptonite-altered New 52 Superman?
DC One Million featured a second star in our solar system, as well: Solaris. The Tyrant Sun teamed up with Vandal Savage to execute a complex scheme that spanned centuries, and, once the villainous plan was foiled, the original Superman returned after a long absence, during which he had been hidden away within the Fortress of Solitude inside the sun.
So here we are: Vandal Savage is up to more long-term wrongdoing, the Fortress of Solitude is being moved from its traditional location, kryptonite irradiation is destroying the cells of the newly mortal latest incarnation of the Man of Steel, the historic Man of Tomorrow secretly is on the scene and waiting in the wings, a second star may be coming into being in the solar system, and the DC Universe is on the verge of a rebirth. The possibilities presented by that confluence of circumstances are absolutely fascinating, enough so to render forgivable any inexplicable incongruities evident in Immortal Combat.
So, yeah, I guess the TL;DR version of my review of Action Comics #49 boils down to this: OMG! Superman has his powers back, and it is awesome!
Hey, I resisted as long as I could.
By the way, when Superman Prime came back at the end of DC One Million, it was so he could reunite with Lois Lane.
I’m just saying.
What was your reaction to the latest developments in Action Comics #49?
Let us know what you thought and ComiConverse with us in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
The world’s greatest superhero has new powers and the solar system’s largest planet is becoming more massive. A comic book doesn’t get much bigger than that!