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 #972 brought the lengthy Men of Steel story arc to a close on Wednesday. Writer Dan Jurgens was joined by penciller Stephen Segovia for the concluding chapter of Superman’s interstellar endeavor to save Lex Luthor. ComiConverse’s Kryptonian correspondent, T. Kyle King, is here to review the final installment.
Action Comics #972 Review:
Stranded on a planet that orbits a red sun, Superman and Luthor are forced to battle L’Call and Zade at less than full strength. What will the desperation of their situation reveal about the true character of each of Metropolis’s two caped defenders?
(Warning: Spoilers follow!)
Action Comics #972 Synopsis:
L’Call and Zade confront Kal-El and Lex on the world where the human and the Kryptonian have been marooned. The planet’s red sun has left Superman powerless, while its atmosphere prevents Luthor from opening a Boom Tube. Thinking strategically, the heroes separate their opponents, with the Man of Tomorrow taking Zade so the alien’s pheromones will not weaken Lex’s intellect.
Superman persuades Zade to open a dialogue with the Godslayer, allowing the Action Ace to plead his case to L’Call. Inviting Luthor’s would-be assassin to look into Kal-El’s future, the Man of Tomorrow gives L’Call reason to trust Superman to prevent Lex from becoming the new Darkseid. Convinced, the Godslayer returns them to Metropolis, where Superman and Luthor make a fresh start. Lois Lane, meanwhile, has sent Clark Kent away with a cover story to conceal Superboy’s identity, but the bespectacled Daily Planet reporter knows she’s lying. Light years away, L’Call shows Zade some of the coming troubles the Last Son of Krypton must confront.
Action Comics #972 Analysis:
Men of Steel — Conclusion once again shows Jurgens on top of his game. He continues to capture the essence of these characters, authoring outsized adventures with surprising resolutions that illuminate the defining traits of his central cast. At a time when other Superman writers are mining past classics in successful storylines, Jurgens is turning out tales in wholly fresh settings featuring entirely novel antagonists while grounding his plots in rock-solid characterization… with perhaps a few (all too rare) Grant Morrison-inspired callbacks of his own.
The only interior monologue to which Action Comics #972 makes the reader privy is Luthor’s, which allows the audience to view the heroes’ last stand through the eyes of a flawed champion who is more cynical than sinister. By turns courageous and condescending, haughty yet hopeful, Lex lets his skepticism gradually give way to inspiration as his doubt is replaced by faith. The depth of Jurgens’s imperfect though not ignoble Luthor is an impressive achievement on its own, but the nuances of Lex’s developing thoughts help to highlight the aspects of the Action Ace his fans all too often take for granted.
Luthor comes to believe in Superman over the course of Men of Steel — Conclusion, which illuminates the path leading to Jurgens’s ingenious remedy to their predicament. As much due to necessity as to sincerity, L’Call believes wholeheartedly in the truth of his visions, so there is no convincing him that the Luthor of the future will be anything other than evil. As Action Comics #972 builds toward its climax, however, Lex reminds us of Superman’s steadfastness and resourcefulness. By learning at last how to trust the Big Blue Boy Scout, Luthor lays out a compelling case for why we were right to rely on the Man of Steel all along.
Due to Luthor’s subtle shift in vision, the audience is primed to buy what Superman undertakes to sell to the Godslayer. Noting the ways in which they are both alike and different — as evidenced by the fact that the well-meaning intergalactic assassin’s name is a phonetic reversal of the birth name of the Last Son of Krypton — Kal-El challenges L’Call: “Look into my future instead of Luthor’s — and I think you’ll see I’m right.” The reader doesn’t have to see what L’Call sees to know the truth of what Superman says, so Jurgens wisely keeps the details off-screen before providing the tiniest peek behind the curtain in an ending that foreshadows just enough to keep us intrigued for what the future holds.
Although the story is well served by such images as the concluding montage, the artwork of Action Comics #972 sometimes is merely acceptable rather than exceptional. Faces shown in repose occasionally have a static feel to them, as though the characters’ features were fixed in cement by Segovia’s blocky pencils and Art Thibert’s heavy inks. Fortunately, flowing layouts and fluid bodies in motion are this issue’s dominant mode, and the graphics depicting action are dynamic. The impact of this artwork is heightened by just enough background detail to emphasize the alien landscape without making it a distraction, while Ulises Arreola’s colors lend the proceedings a high sheen that makes the images sizzle.
Had Men of Steel — Conclusion wrapped up the storyline with the Godslayer’s revealing glimpse into Superman’s future and shown us only the newly convinced L’Call sending his caped captives home to Earth, it would have given a perfectly serviceable ending to a well-crafted storyline. What elevated Action Comics #972 to another level, however, was the two-page coda showing Kal-El conversing with Luthor. Here, the brilliant Lex is insightful and inspired, the accepting Action Ace is sympathetic and selfless, and both Men of Steel are humbled and trusting. Jurgens neatly and convincingly uses Luthor to illuminate the essential attributes of his central character: Superman doesn’t think he’s better than anyone else, but he believes we all can be better than we are.
Space constraints kept the pre-Flashpoint Lois Lane, the post-New 52 Superboy, and the ordinary human Clark Kent of Rebirth confined to a combined dozen or so panels spread over a couple of pages and change, but the issue-concluding tease of the upcoming Mild Mannered arc promises to shift the spotlight onto the home front. Still, the brief glimpses we were given of the ominously unexplained Clark and the understandably astonished Jonathan provided a nice aside, even if the ordinarily levelheaded Lois’s panicked reaction to her Daily Planet colleague’s unanticipated intrusion showed a good deal less grace under pressure than we have come to expect from the unflappable Lane.
Such minuscule quibbles aside, though, Dan Jurgens stuck the landing in Men of Steel — Conclusion, figuratively bringing it home in the midst of literally bringing them home. A series of cascading masterstrokes produced the writer’s use of Lex Luthor, the putative new Darkseid, to shine the light on what makes even a Superman without superpowers a true superhero… only to have that light reflected back onto the ostensible villain who proved the sincerity of his heroism in relinquishing his assumed role as a hero… and, in so doing, Lex recanted his onetime belief that “an actual human should be known as Superman” after seeing his Kryptonian colleague prevail as a wholly human hero on a distant alien world. Action Comics #972 was a rewarding ride that saw the vastness of its setting’s interstellar breadth matched in the richness of the story’s thought-provoking depth.
Are you still skeptical of Lex, or were you sold by Men of Steel?
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T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.