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 #964, which arrived in fans’ hands last Wednesday, advanced the Superman, Meet Clark Kent story arc, offering additional clues that served largely to make the intriguing mystery even more baffling. ComiConverse’s Man of Steel reviewer, T. Kyle King, brings you his thoughts on the latest issue.
Action Comics #964 Review:
Veteran writer Dan Jurgens has been playing the long game with the pre-Flashpoint Superman since the earlier iterations of Clark Kent and Lois Lane returned to the mainstream DC Universe continuity following Convergence. What answers did Jurgens and artist Patch Zircher have in store for this issue?
Action Comics #964 Synopsis:
Superman has brought Clark to his mountain hideaway in pursuit of the truth. Noting that the reporter’s broken arm and physiological reaction to the cold are genuine, the Action Ace makes use of the alien Globe of Revelation, which makes it clear that Kent believes what he is saying. Still suspicious, Superman gives the bespectacled journalist a signal watch with which to summon him if Clark needs help.
Kelex accesses Genetricron’s network and uncovers security camera footage revealing that Doomsday had been stored at the corporation’s Metropolis headquarters before the break-in that set the creature free. Superman takes Clark back to the City of Tomorrow, where the Genetricron building has vanished. Kent writes a favorable article supporting the new Man of Steel, but, behind the scenes, the bearded observer in the baseball cap is engaged in sinister machinations.
Action Comics #964 Analysis:
It may be true that you can’t judge a book by its cover, but Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey (with an assist from Jurgens) certainly got this issue off on the right foot with a complex initial image of an intertwined Clark Kent and Superman staring out at the reader from the rack. As attention-arresting openings drawing the audience into a suspenseful narrative go, the front cover of Action Comics #964 is almost Alfred Hitchcock-like in ensnaring immediate interest.
Inside the issue, Zircher’s art is reminiscent of Lee Weeks’s work on Superman: Lois and Clark, which is appropriate, given that Superman, Meet Clark Kent — Part 2 shares both that series’ writer and its setting. Ulises Arreola’s colors, while often understated, give the graphics a sheen in repose that grows into a glow in the story’s livelier moments. In spite of an occasional flat image here or there, Zircher does a lot with body language and facial features in a tale in which nary a punch is thrown and not so much as a single ray of heat vision escapes the Action Ace’s piercing gaze.
The layouts likewise contribute considerably to the effectiveness of the imagery in Action Comics #964. Narrow panels at the outset create a claustrophobic sense of confinement as Superman and Clark descend, then a page-turn reveal opens into the spaciousness of the fortress’s interior. The arrangement of the closing pages, though, makes for the issue’s most compelling sequence. As we read Kent’s piece in the Daily Planet, we see the reporter at his computer, Superman at the family farm in Hamilton County, and various denizens of Metropolis perusing the article. It is here that Jurgens’s and Zircher’s storytelling collaboration is at its most evocative.
Because of the choppy, newspaper-style short paragraphs of Clark’s column, it is easy to breeze through the concluding section of Superman, Meet Clark Kent — Part 2, but the final five pages likely are the most densely packed with important details. (WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW, at least for the rest of this paragraph, and particularly if you click on the links.) In this sequence, we learn that Superman has equipped the Smith family farm with a means of escape representing a callback to Superboy’s days on the Kent family farm. One subtle yet curious image of Clark leaving work offers what literally may be foreshadowing. The cliffhanger ending of Action Comics #964 shows us a demonic orb that certainly appears geared to remind us of a famous Jack Kirby creation — but the closing shot also called to mind another sinister spherical Kirby brainchild.
At this point, Jurgens almost certainly is throwing fans more than a few red herrings to distract us, but parsing each issue and speculating about pet theories is a large part of the fun, and the writer’s long familiarity with the Man of Tomorrow invites the audience to sift through the numerous nuances of his unhurried pacing and methodical plotting. For instance, it probably means absolutely nothing that, in the panel prior to the closing page-turn reveal, we see the shadowy stranger in the cap about to enter an apartment with the number 361 on the door — but isn’t it interesting to wonder whether Jurgens is alluding to the Bob Rozakis-penned backup story in Superman #361 teased on that edition’s cover with a blurb asking about “the mystery identity” of an ostensible Man of Steel in the far-off future of the year 2020?
Time will tell, and the vast majority of reader theories will prove to be wrong, but, in the meantime, Jurgens and Zircher are making the journey enjoyable. The author does not skimp on such wry nuggets of fan service as Superman’s deadpan response to Clark’s complaints about the chilly mountain air: “Not like this is the Arctic, after all.” The subsequent reintroduction of one of the Silver Age’s most emblematic totems — Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch — provides perhaps the most multilayered moment of Superman, meet Clark Kent — Part 2. The iconic timepiece simultaneously sums up the Action Ace’s concern for his old friends, his wariness of potential new threats, and the central symbol undergirding Rebirth.
Action Comics #964 is not without its weaknesses, of course. The Globe of Revelation, in particular, is a tad too contrived, appearing out of nowhere (with a couple of passing lines of exposition that do not withstand serious scrutiny) in order to serve as Superman’s interstellar analogue to Wonder Woman’s lasso. The alien orb nevertheless serves its narrative purpose, and the rationalization offered to explain away why the Big Blue Boy Scout has not used it previously — his recognition of Clark’s right to refuse to submit to the Globe’s probing — rings true enough for Jurgens to be forgiven this story conceit.
Superman, Meet Clark Kent — Part 2 bears the unenviable burden of portraying as two distinct individuals the Man of Steel and the mild-mannered reporter long known to us as the secret identity of the Last Son of Krypton. The story makes us sympathetic both to Clark and to Superman even as they disagree vehemently; we understand (or, at least, we think we do) what motivates both men, and Action Comics #964 affords us the luxury of appreciating the confusing contradictions without requiring us to take sides — yet.
Did the second installment of Superman, Meet Clark Kent win your support the way the Man of Steel won the Daily Planet writer’s backing, or did Action Comics #964 leave you as cold as the mountain air outside Superman’s fortress?
Let us know your thoughts! We invite you to ComiConverse with us in the comments.
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics
Steady pacing, intricate plotting, and detailed artwork combined to create a thought-provoking story.