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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Action Comics #957 resumed the historic numbering of DC Comics’ oldest publication, returned Dan Jurgens to the duty of writing a long-established Man of Steel title, and followed up on last week’s Superman: Rebirth #1. ComiConverse’s Kal-El correspondent, T. Kyle King, offers his thoughts on this Wednesday’s new beginning.
Jurgens is bringing the Man of Tomorrow back to the future! The pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane have moved away from the background of the New 52 and nearer to the center stage of Metropolis with their son, Jonathan, but that is just the first of the major changes in store in the opening installment of Path of Doom. (Spoilers follow!)
Four gunmen take hostages at the Geneticron building in Metropolis, but their plans ostensibly are foiled by an unexpected intervention: Lex Luthor, clad in armor bearing Superman’s S-shield, captures the perpetrators and announces he has assumed the role of the fallen Man of Steel. However, the armed assault turns out to be a diversion to hide the theft of a mysterious sarcophagus from a large vault.
The White family is moving into a rustic new home upstate when Luthor’s speech is broadcast over the airwaves. Rather than allow the evil genius to sully his name, Superman dons his costume, flies to Metropolis, and confronts Luthor publicly. Their ensuing battle is interrupted by two more unexpected arrivals: Clark Kent shows up without explanation, and the pilfered coffin opens to reveal Doomsday.
Action Comics #957 represents not so much a rebirth as a restoration. DC Comics’ chief creative officer, Geoff Johns, promised that this initiative would restore the legacy that had been lost. Path of Doom made good on that vow by putting Dan Jurgens in charge of writing a traditionally-numbered Action Comics in which the pre-Flashpoint Superman is married to Lois Lane.
Knowing how central the heritage of the Man of Steel was to this issue’s appeal, Jurgens leapt in with both feet. Straight out of the gate, Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen is questioning Captain Maggie Sawyer of the Special Crimes Unit about a hostage situation in Metropolis. A deft setup and a swift action sequence lead to the page-turn reveal of Lex Luthor in a battle suit instead of a business suit, but with a twist.
The Superman familiar to readers for the quarter-century following Crisis on Infinite Earths shaves his beard — using the mirror-and-heat-vision technique contributed to the canon by John Byrne — before flying off in a blue suit and a red cape. A cameo by Perry White sets the stage for the bewildering but intriguing reappearance of a Clark Kent who evidently is separate from either of the two Supermen we have seen recently. Then, to cap off this rapid-fire review of some of his greatest hits, Jurgens ends the issue by bringing back Doomsday.
On top of his game from his recent run on Superman: Lois and Clark, Jurgens delivers a tightly scripted story for Action Comics #957, filled with hard-hitting happenings and high-impact unveilings. Although there is never any letup in the pacing of Path of Doom, Jurgens avoids getting so caught up in the rush of events that he loses sight of the human element. Even quick snippets of dialogue provide meaningful insights into his characters and their motivations.
Artist Patrick Zircher, colorist Tomeu Morey, and letterer Rob Leigh give Action Comics #957 a clean and luminous look. The lines, tones, and lens flares of Path of Doom place proper emphasis both on the story’s risky adventure and on its upbeat mood. Like an ornate vase giving shape to the liquid it contains, the graphics of this issue provide form to the tale’s pulse-quickening action while imbuing it with the confidence that, no matter how desperate the situation becomes, the right side will win in the end.
That does not mean that Action Comics #957 is without its imperfections, however. Superman dons a revamped costume that differs both from the Man of Steel’s historic togs and the suit worn by the late New 52 Action Ace, but the changes to the Metropolis Marvel’s clothing are neither explained nor remarked. The citizens of Metropolis know only that the Last Son of Krypton is missing — even Jimmy is surprised when Lex announces that Superman is dead — yet we know from Superman: Rebirth #1 that the departed Man of Tomorrow already has been buried and given a public memorial.
These, though, are small concerns, and Jurgens has fun revisiting and updating classic themes. A skeptical Luthor, disbelieving Superman’s claim to be the genuine article, speculates on this apparent imposter’s true identity: “A cyborg? Clone? Magical construct?” Path of Doom is no mere walk down memory lane, naturally; Jurgens folds in more recent developments, as well, including the public revelation of the Man of Steel’s secret life as Clark Kent.
This matters, because, as much as some of us would have preferred a hard reboot that erased the New 52 altogether, it is important that this be more than just a rehash of what has come before. The announcement of DC Comics’ Rebirth set off alarm bells for many comic book devotees, who understandably were concerned that the publisher was backtracking from efforts at diversity and providing fan service pandering to a narrower and older segment of its readership. The initial impression was that DC was guilty of gatekeeping, and the range of reactions that greeted the rollout included fans who found it defensive and insulting, fans who deemed it optimistic yet confusing, and fans who can’t relate to a Superman who has a wife and a son.
Many of these criticisms are valid. (All right, the one about not being able to relate to Superman because he matured into a responsible adult rather than staying single so he could keep going to strip clubs with his buddies was embarrassingly infantile, but the rest of them make legitimate points.) As a supporter of a more inclusive DC Universe, I share these concerns. I believe DC Universe: Rebirth #1 walked that line fairly well, but I get why some of my fellow fans disagree. Also, if the Last Son of Krypton goes full-on retro, we could wind up revisiting Electric Blue Superman, and no one wants that.
It is noteworthy, therefore, that the first character to speak in Action Comics #957 — and the first to be welcomed back — is an LGBT character who previously was at the heart of a prominent controversy that helped bring about a policy change at DC Comics. Lois, explaining occurrences to her son while she and Jon watch Superman’s showdown with Lex on television, serves not just as the issue’s narrator, but as its conscience, as well.
That does not invalidate many fans’ complaints about a lack of inclusivity, of course; these small victories do not overcome, and ought not to obscure, the greater issues that concerned readers properly have highlighted. Notably, every character in Action Comics #957 who has both a speaking part and visible facial features is Caucasian, so calls for greater diversity undeniably still need to be heeded.
There is, though, a good faith effort on the part of Jurgens and his colleagues to blend the best of the past with what is most needed in the new. Action Comics #957 is not flawless, but it is a fine first step for longstanding readers and more recently arriving fans alike. In spite of its title, Path of Doom put Superman back on the right road.
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Dan Jurgens restores the iconic Superman in this exciting and uplifting tale.