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 #974 concluded the Mild Mannered arc, set up the Superman: Reborn storyline, and contained connecting threads to Superwoman and to Superman: Lois and Clark. ComiConverse’s Krypton correspondent, T. Kyle King, reviews the latest issue, which was written by Dan Jurgens and pencilled by Patch Zircher and Stephen Segovia.
Action Comics #974 Review:
Superman and Steel are searching for ways to save the dying Lana Lang. The pre-Flashpoint Lois Lane goes out on a date with the post-New 52 Clark Kent in an effort to obtain answers to the mystery surrounding her Daily Planet colleague. What sinister forces are following the movements of the first couple of superhero comics, and what are their malicious intentions?
(Warning: Spoilers follow!)
Action Comics #974 Synopsis:
Superman and Steel fly Lana from the Man of Steel’s Himalayan hideout to the Fortress of Solitude, hoping to use the Kryptonian technology contained there to restore the surviving Superwoman to health. When Lang continues to fade, Kal-El places her inside a suit of battle armor from his homeworld, which is designed to hasten the recovery of a wounded wearer. The restorative suit stabilizes Lana’s condition. Unbeknownst to the Action Ace and John Henry Irons, Hank Henshaw and his compatriots arrive at the Himalayan location, where Blanque uses his telepathic abilities to manipulate the intruders into aiding his escape.
At her departed counterpart’s Metropolis apartment, Lois prepares for her date with Clark. She is scheduled to meet him at Bibbo’s, but Kent arrives early, unexpectedly, and with dramatic changes of plans. He has hired a limousine, arranged a private table at swanky Le Cinq, and purchased an engagement ring. Appalled at his abrupt marriage proposal, Lane leaves, and the infuriated Clark follows her home to Hamilton County. Recognizing Jonathan and the real Clark Kent, the jilted impostor suddenly recalls forgotten memories and swears revenge.
Action Comics #974 Analysis:
There is a lot going on, and a lot to like, in Mild Mannered — Part Two. This issue reaches right out and grabs the reader, starting with the cover. Crafted by Clay Mann and Tomeu Morey, the image appearing on the front of Action Comics #974 gives the book a classic look reminiscent of past covers pitting Clark Kent against Superman. That opening shot embellishing timeless iconography with a contemporary flair sets the tone for the story within, which similarly seeks to take everything old and make it new again.
Jurgens, as usual, remains uncommonly well suited to the task of blending the historic with the here and now. Although it was established at the start of Rebirth that the New 52 Superman was without a Kryptonian regeneration matrix, the emphasis on the anomalous nature of both the post-Crisis Man of Steel and the wholly human current Clark Kent makes Action Comics #974 reverberate with echoes from the period following the death of the Metropolis Marvel nearly a quarter-century ago. The understated yet steady presence of John Henry Irons serves to underscore the thematic through-line uniting both stories.
Nevertheless, Steel is not on the scene strictly to stress the nostalgic aspects of Mild Mannered — Part Two. John Henry’s attention to Lana’s imperiled health is neither a callback nor a contrivance; the simultaneous empowerment and resulting mortality of both Superwomen is a purely present-day development unique to Rebirth. Lang’s brief return to consciousness is accompanied by her cryptic comment concerning an ostensible near-death vision of a Clark Kent different from either of the ones appearing in this issue. As cutting-edge as these allusions are, though, Superwoman is itself inherently an homage to a Superman storyline penned by Jurgens in the ‘90s, which was based on an earlier Silver Age tale. Action Comics #974 is continuously stitching these overlapping strands into a single seamless tapestry.
Nowhere is this marriage of the vintage to the novel more evident than in Clark’s ill-considered proposal to Lois. In Mild Mannered — Part Two, the Daily Planet colleagues are distant strangers with hidden motives concealing secrets from one another; hence, when Kent pops the question, Lane understandably is shocked and outraged at his presumptuousness. This contrasts sharply with a story from more than 25 years before, to which Jurgens contributed artwork. In Superman #50, the selfsame pre-Flashpoint Clark and Lois who appear in this issue as a married couple became engaged. The evocation of that earlier Superman #50 in Action Comics #974 also causes readers to recall the more recent Superman #50, which restored both the Big Blue Boy Scout and his damaged relationship with Lane, reversing the New 52 after its nadir in Truth.
Accordingly, every aspect of Action Comics #974 is at once immediate and enduring, with each established element being retooled for modern usage and all fresh features reflecting venerable ingredients. Even the title Mild Mannered is an ironic reinvention of a familiar tradition with a lengthy pedigree. Clark’s inept effort at coaxing Lois into matrimony hints at this issue’s inspiration by the essential components of a successful wedding: Jurgens composed his story using some things old, some things new, some things borrowed, and — in the form of Kent’s business suit and Kal-El’s costume — some things blue.
Colorist Ulises Arreola obviously had a hand in bringing that last attribute to life, but he was far from the only member of the graphic arts team to contribute to Action Comics #974. Zircher shared the pencilling duties with Segovia and the inking chores with Art Thibert, yet the images are pretty consistent throughout the issue, both in quality and in style. In a few places, the faces of Clark Kent and Superman appear static and plastic, but, aside from these occasional oddities, the artwork sparkles. The layouts are great, the use of perspective is effective, the hues are vibrant, and the visual depiction of Lois Lane in Mild Mannered — Part Two is particularly strong.
Naturally, Jurgens’s script likewise portrays both of the series’ longstanding leads equally well. Superman and Lois divide the narrating duties in Action Comics #974, providing perspective on the confounding complexities of the story’s confusing convolutions. Receiving an alert from his counterpart in the Himalayas, the Kelex in the Fortress of Solitude asks his master, “Query: Is there another me?” That question, of course, is central to the enigmas of Rebirth, in which multiple Supermen, Lois Lanes, and Clark Kents uneasily have coexisted. Mild Mannered — Part Two is grounded by being told from the points of view not only of the two characters who were present at the creation of superhero comics, but of the versions of those characters immediately preceding the New 52.
I’m not going to lie to you; Superman: Reborn — with its ominous promises of a “shocking truth” and a “tragic moment” that will “drastically change” the status quo — has me more than a little worried. (After Superman #17, I’m fairly well convinced Kathy Branden is getting fridged.) Rebirth truly has lived up to its nomenclature for the Superman Family, so the prospect of the coming revelations and revolutions is disconcerting, to say the least. For now, though, Clark Kent’s menacing closing utterance (“Well, if it’s fun you want… it’s fun you’ll get”) unironically summarizes the chapter his statement concludes. Action Comics #974 delivers the fun the audience wants, continuing a salutary trend that, with a little luck, will endure even after the coming hour of whatever rough beast now slouches towards Metropolis to be born.
Don’t hold back on your reaction to Mild Mannered. Tell us what you thought in the comments!
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.
Source: DC Comics