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 #963 began a new story arc for the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel this past week. Now that Doomsday has been dispatched, writer Dan Jurgens and artist Patrick Zircher have turned their attention to the persistent mystery lurking in the background. ComiConverse’s Superman writer, T. Kyle King, brings you his review.
The Action Ace doesn’t get a lot of cape time in Superman, Meet Clark Kent — Part 1, which focuses mostly on the Daily Planet reporter with glasses, a cast on his broken arm, and no apparent metahuman abilities.
Who is this powerless Clark Kent?
Action Comics #963 Synopsis:
Back at work as a newspaper correspondent, Clark finds that he has become a story. Daily Planet owner and publisher Lex Luthor arranges a press conference for Kent to explain himself, but his excuse that Superman sent him into seclusion and impersonated the journalist for his own protection fails to convince his listeners. Even after Clark passes a polygraph test, everyone still believes he is secretly the Last Son of Krypton.
Kent wants to be out of the public eye so he can concentrate on the investigation that he claims caused Superman to fear for his safety. Convinced he is close to discovering what the secretive Geneticron Corporation is hiding, Clark conceals himself in the company’s headquarters building until after hours. Security guards detect his presence, putting Kent’s life in such dire jeopardy that he requires assistance from friends in high places.
Action Comics #963 Analysis:
One of the occupational benefits of creating the graphics for DC Comics’ longest-running superhero series is getting to work with the classic iconography and primary hues that define the look of Superman. In Action Comics #963, however, Zircher and colorist Arif Prianto are offered few opportunities to rely on the straightforward visuals of the Man of Tomorrow, who appears infrequently and is seen most often from a distance or in recorded images.
Due to this almost absolute lack of outsized action to depict, the artistic tandem focuses on the fundamentals, using panel layouts, camera angles, and facial expressions to move the story forward. Clark’s reactions, in particular, keep the reader engaged even in extended sequences of what are essentially talking heads. All the while, Zircher inserts fine details into the background and hides clues — such as the disguised familiar character who administers the lie detector test (it’s not the one you’d expect!) and the recurring monosyllabic bearded observer in a baseball cap — in plain sight. This subdued yet compelling imagery commences with a cover that pays homage to the past, as Jurgens attests:
Some of Superman's best covers have featured an unexplained double. pic.twitter.com/CsLSHXXWSr
— Dan Jurgens (@thedanjurgens) September 14, 2016
We thought we could have a little fun with that as well. Really cranks up in Action 963! pic.twitter.com/03hpacFF7y
— Dan Jurgens (@thedanjurgens) September 14, 2016
This thorough familiarity with and heartfelt affection for the entire Superman mythology invariably enriches Jurgens’s writing, and Action Comics #963 is no exception. After going big with Path of Doom, the writer goes home with Superman, Meet Clark Kent. This new arc is scaled back in scope, deliberately sacrificing height in order to attain depth. Taciturn and inscrutable throughout the first phase of Rebirth, Clark now makes the audience privy to his innermost thoughts as the reader follows this puzzling presence in his pursuit of the solutions to the riddles that confound him.
The transition of this storyline from subplot to spotlight is seamlessly achieved. Rather than run the risk of having the low-key drama go stale by building gradually to the climax, Jurgens puts Kent in immediate peril and fills in the details through flashbacks. This gives the events of Action Comics #963 a keen intensity throughout the issue, preserving the tension by showing us the heart-pounding end prior to offering the audience a peek at the means.
By opening the adventure in medias res with Clark shown running from a Dutch angle, Jurgens and Zircher succeed in setting the stage for the slower-moving sequences to unfold at a pace that feels leisurely instead of lethargic. The effectiveness of this technique is important because, after kicking off Rebirth with a bang, the creators are now taking their time in Superman, Meet Clark Kent to walk back methodically the fallout from Truth. This patient plotting is bound to pay future dividends by enabling the restoration of the status quo ante sans Deus ex machina.
When the absent Man of Steel finally shows up for real — not merely as a picture on a screen or a faraway figure hovering up above — his entrance is dramatic, his impact is profound, and his closing line (lettered matter-of-factly by the underappreciated Rob Leigh over Zircher’s iconic juxtaposition of Clark Kent and Superman) leaves the air above Metropolis quivering with expectation and excitement despite the even delivery and calm demeanor of the costumed speaker. Action Comics #963 thus ends as it began, as a shining example of showing instead of telling.
The current iteration of this historic publication has a large cast, making it difficult to make full use of the entire stable of characters in the Superman-centric ensemble. Jurgens gives it his best shot in this issue — Clark Kent, Jonathan Kent, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, Superman, Perry White, and another well-known DC Comics character traveling incognito all have speaking parts in Action Comics #963 — but the writer knows how to shift focus over the long haul to give each of the mainstays his or her time to shine.
In their opening arc, Jurgens and Zircher swung for the fences and parked the ball in the cheap seats. With this new adventure, the collaborators are proving their ability to play small ball. This creative team is equally capable of scoring through the sweep of epic grandeur or the subtlety of character study, and they wisely have chosen to make use of every tool in their toolbox when furthering a tradition stretching back more than three-quarters of a century as it nears its unprecedented 1,000th issue.
How did Superman, Meet Clark Kent — Part 1 compare to previous encounters between the Man of Tomorrow and his bespectacled alter ego?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Dan Jurgens is on top of his game as a Superman writer, and the artwork is effective in this nuanced and intriguing story.