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.
Action Comics #42, released this week, provides DC Comics Superman fans with the latest installment in the “Truth” story arc, which traces Superman’s and Metropolis’s reactions to the revelation of the Man of Steel’s secret identity and the loss of most of his powers.
The new issue, titled “Hard Truth, Part Two”, confirms that writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder are the strongest creative team on any of the four books telling the “Truth” story. Unfortunately, this uneven issue reveals not just Pak’s and Kuder’s storytelling strengths, but also the overarching storyline’s fundamental weaknesses, and the latter are dragging down the former.
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Action #42 picks up where the previous issue left off, with the Man of Steel fighting a Cerberus-style Shadow Monster as the Metropolis police advance menacingly on the Superman supporters in Kentville. After dispatching the Shadow Monster using a metal beam and a gasoline truck, Superman joins Lee Lambert and Clark Kent’s other neighbors in facing down the malicious law enforcement officers.
To prevent the police S.W.A.T. team from brutalizing the bystanders, Superman willingly submits to a vicious beating, but, when the cops wade into the crowd with tear gas and batons, the Man of Steel strikes back. The issue ends with another cliffhanger as Superman socks the policemen’s commanding officer in the jaw.
Critique and Discussion:
Pak’s and Kuder’s latest effort certainly delivers what the title promises: action. This issue is crackling with kinetic energy from the first page to the last, with blows landing and bodies flying. Kuder’s pencils, strongly augmented by Tomeu Morey’s, Hi-Fi’s, and Blond’s colors, keep the fast-paced story flowing in motion. Action Comics #42 is a good-looking issue that doesn’t slow down, and, as Kuder claims correctly, the book’s appearance “is matched to the story.”
In other ways, though, Action #42 fails to deliver on what the cover offers. Earlier, I jokingly wondered whether “Truth” would be followed by the other two traditional elements of a Superman story, justice and the American way.
In fact, right there on the cover of the new issue, Action Comics #42 promises “Justice”, albeit ironically, in light of the brutal police assault on innocent civilians. Initially, that struck me as a logical progression, one hopefully destined to end on an eventual high note with the restoration of order in the form of the American way. In that spirit, a better title for the issue might have been “Rough Justice”, but, once you get past the cover, it’s all “Truth” and no justice, which only serves to underscore the fundamental problems of this storyline.
“Truth” continues to prove confused and disjointed, once again telling four separate stories out of chronological order while referencing previous events we will not see until subsequent issues are released. That sort of inconsistency pervades Action #42, as well.
Early on, Pak’s writing strikes the right chord regarding the Man of Steel, as Superman’s interior monologue intones: “I’ve lost most of my powers. The whole world knows my secret identity. Half the cops in Metropolis apparently want to kick in my head. But when a thirty-foot-long Shadow Monster attacks the city, it’s still my job to fly in to save the day.”
Those are the words of the Superman we know and love, but, just two pages later, the Man of Steel is rationalizing that the Shadow Monster isn’t “strictly alive”, so he gets to drive a steel beam into the Monster’s eye while telling himself such exaggerated violence “is kind of fun.” No, it isn’t; not for the Big Blue Boy Scout, and not for the readers, either. “What the Hell,” Superman says when using a gasoline truck to turn the Monster into a fireball; I found myself asking the same question.
In light of recent real-world events, the police brutality against unarmed civilians has a timely feel to it, but the villainous commander’s explanation of his hatred of Superman falls flat. “I’m tired of cleaning up after your fights,” the sneering lead policeman tells the bound and chained Man of Steel.
Superman’s battles with Brainiac and Doomsday make Metropolis messy, so this sadistic cop wants to make a bigger mess by provoking a pointless fight? That rationale comes across as unconvincing, to say the least.
Superman’s willing submission to a beating from the civil authorities once more underscores the familiar Christ imagery that so often has been applied to the Man of Steel, but the issue’s ending offers the latest incongruity. Rather than continuing to turn the other cheek, he punches back, finally responding to the provocation by doing exactly what his antagonist was hoping he would do.
That, in a nutshell, is what is wrong with Action Comics #42, and with the “Truth” story arc in general. DC doesn’t seem to know what it wants its new Superman to be, so it is offering alternating glimpses of mismatched Men of Steel. What is missing from this character study of Superman is the character of Superman, and the hard truth is that even well-meaning and talented creative teams are failing to do justice to the Man of Tomorrow.
T. Kyle King is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @TKyleKing.