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 #958 exploded onto the scene on Wednesday, continuing writer Dan Jurgens’s and artist Patrick Zircher’s Path of Doom storyline. Rebirth has marked the return of the pre-Flashpoint Superman and Lois Lane, along with a whole host of familiar faces. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer, T. Kyle King, is here to offer his thoughts.
Superman! Lois Lane! Clark Kent! Lex Luthor! Jimmy Olsen! Doomsday! Action Comics #958 is virtually a medley of Jurgens’s greatest hits, but he has the volume up to eleven in this 20-page thrill ride. Is there room for a story amid all this adventure and mystery, though?
(Some spoilers follow.)
Superman and Lex Luthor, both wearing red capes and S-shields on their chests, are battling Doomsday on the streets of Metropolis. Jimmy Olsen and a powerless Clark Kent watch from the sidelines, Lois and Jonathan witness the clash on television, and the mysterious Mr. Oz is looking in on them all.
Lois, recalling her husband’s fatal encounter with Doomsday on their own Earth, cannot bear to watch, but she must stop their impetuous son from flying to the scene to help his father. Superman’s and Luthor’s uneasy attempt to divide up the monster-fighting and bystander-saving chores puts one of them in dire jeopardy, forcing the other to make a difficult choice.
After the gradual unspooling of the plot threads in Jurgens’s Superman: Lois and Clark, the rapid-fire pace of Path of Doom cannot be overstated: Action Comics #958 is, if anything, even more incessantly frenetic than its predecessor. In seven lightning-quick opening panels, the audience is brought up to speed on pretty much everything after Convergence and Savage Dawn, then, ready or not, the reader is plunged head-first into the dizzying activity in post-New 52 Metropolis.
Muttering before a glowing bank of monitor screens, the shadowy Mr. Oz subsequently opines, “Rarely do the pieces fall into place so quickly.” He most definitely has that right, as evidenced by the double-page splash image in which Jimmy Olsen, marveling at his photojournalistic good fortune, asks rhetorically, “Clark Kent, Superman, Doomsday and Superlex all in one shot?”
As exciting as all this is, though, there are moments at which Action Comics #958 calls to mind Michael Keaton’s recollection of the day during the filming of Tim Burton’s Batman on which Jack Nicholson “just looks at me and says, ‘Well, we just gotta let the wardrobe do the acting, kid.’ And that’s true, after awhile man, you just work the suit.” As attested to by Jimmy’s opening observation, the second installment of Path of Doom occasionally veers ominously near to just working the super-suits.
Fortunately, though, Jurgens locates seams in the spectacle and finds ways to insert subtleties into the interstices. Lois’s careful and caring commentary keeps Jon figuratively — and, later, literally — grounded as he reacts to the realities of what it means for his father to be Superman. When told the Man of Steel fought Doomsday previously, the boy wants to know what happened. His mother replies, “Daddy won… That’s the most important thing.” The knowing Lois, the curious Jon, and their mutual affection despite sometimes incompatible perspectives effectively mirror the broader audience Rebirth is designed to unify.
Likewise, Luthor’s condescending arrogance, Superman’s valiant attempts to adjust past facts to changed realities in the heat of battle, and both protectors’ commitment to clearing civilians out of the combat zone before an innocent bystander gets hurt all contribute to keep Action Comics #958 from becoming a mere rehash of past exploits concealed beneath a flurry of bony punches and red-blue blurs.
Zircher’s artwork is filled with big images that match the scale of the story. The inks sometimes are a little heavy, and the hectic twice-monthly release schedule likely is responsible for the rushed look of some of the background details in the fight sequences, but there is compelling emotion in the still scenes and kinetic energy in the active ones. Rob Leigh’s large lettering resonates in the sound effects, while Ulises Arreola’s colors give life to the sweeping motions and mighty impacts.
Along the way, Action Comics #958 offers just enough answers to keep the mysteries interesting. At this point, it is pretty much taken as a given that Mr. Oz is Ozymandias, but, even if that forthcoming revelation is one that will take no one by surprise, there remains some real drama about several of the characters.
It is yet an open question whether this world’s Lex Luthor is merely a haughty hero — not unlike Adrian Veidt, come to think of it — or whether Superman’s suspicions about him are farsighted rather than narrow-minded. Any thought that the Doomsday freed from the Geneticron vault was an artificial construct was dispelled, as well, when Kal-El confronted him and realized, “It’s him. It is Doomsday.”
The most intriguing conversation taking place in this issue, however, is not between Superman and Luthor, nor between Lois and Jonathan, nor even between Mr. Oz and himself. Rather, the exchange warranting the most attention is the running discussion between Clark and Jimmy as they duck flying punches, dodge hurtling extraterrestrials, and endeavor to report this monumental story as it develops. After years of the bespectacled journalist possessing crucial knowledge while the younger ginger photographer was kept as much in the dark as in the darkroom, the tables have turned: Olsen is the one with the insights, while Kent, inscrutably, is clueless.
At first, it appears possible that Clark is merely playing dumb, feigning ignorance of what Jimmy means when calling him “a part of the story”. As Superman is thrown for a loop in the air just above their heads, Olsen recounts the events since Truth and asks, “How am I supposed to believe you are who you say you are?!” “I know what you’re saying,” comes the enigmatic reply, “but I did what I had to, Jim. I did it to survive!”
We have no time to wonder what this impenetrable answer may mean — in the ensuing seven pages or so, Doomsday tries to stomp Superman, Luthor opens fire on Doomsday, Superman flies Doomsday up into the sky, Doomsday knocks Superman back down to the ground, and a WLEX news helicopter is smashed in midair — but, then, as the pilot and the cameraman plummet toward the pavement, Clark confesses that he cannot fly.
What games are afoot are far from clear, even if the ostensibly obvious Ozymandias obfuscation ends up being exactly as advertised rather than the opening gambit of a bait-and-switch deception. Path of Doom is off like a rocket, with the adventure rollicking along at breakneck speed, the characters speaking and acting with authenticity, and perplexing questions in abundance. Action Comics #958 was another winning entry in the successful Rebirth of DC Comics.
Let us know your thoughts on Dan Jurgens’s and Patrick Zircher’s latest effort. ComiConverse with us in the comments below!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Classic characters, energetic action, and simmering mysteries pack this effective issue.