Today, Scott and Mikyzptlk are discussing Action Comics 27, originally released January 8th, 2014.
It’s tempting to see your enemies as evil, but there’s good and evil on both sides in every war ever fought.
Scott: That’s a line from this new Game of Thrones Season 4 trailer (Don’t click this if you aren’t caught up with the show, there are some possible spoilers). It brings up a good point about how irrational wartime mentalities tend to be, and about the importance of looking at things from a foe’s perspective. I think it holds true on a person to person basis as well. There are two sides to everyone, and no matter how prevalent the evil in an enemy seems to you, if you look harder you will see some good in them. Action Comics 27 is something of a study on this theory, as every seemingly ill-intentioned character is revealed to have at least some heart.
Superman’s sentimental attachment to the misunderstood monster from Action Comics 26 spills into this issue. He’s taken the beast (now in cute, boyish form) to the Fortress of Solitude, where the little guy proves to be equal parts mischievous and lovable. Clark calls him Baka, since that’s the only word he seems to know. Clark gets a call from Lana, who’s heading into the giant hole made by Baka. She discovers an ancient-looking underground civilization crawling with huge monsters.
Clark and Baka rush to Lana’s aid and come face to face with Ukur, the leader of the monsters. As Clark battles Ukur, an angered Baka grows huge and the cave starts to collapse. Clark and Lana make it out, followed by Ukur, who tells them that his monsters are protecting the world from the temptations of Imperial Subterranea!
Three artists are at the helm of the three distinct settings in this issue. R.B. Silva handles the childhood flashback of Clark first learning he isn’t human, Mike Hawthorne draws the Fortress of Solitude scene, and Aaron Kuder takes over for all of the underground action. The changes in styles are definitely visible (Lara looks noticeably different when going from Hawthorne to Kuder), but the scenery and the emphases of the sections are so completely different that the artistic swaps are hardly distracting. A flashback to Kansas farmland, a present-day ice fortress and an ancient underground monster-city are about as disparate as any three settings could be. I’m typically not a fan of changing artists mid-issue, but in this case it feels appropriate.
The opening flashback is brief but full of exquisite detail. Greg Pak perfectly captures the inner-monologue of an over-confident seven year old. Like any boy that age, Clark thinks he is invincible. The only difference is, in this case, he actually is. Clark realizes he’s special- when he jumps from the highest branch of the tree he doesn’t break his arm like a normal kid, he just bounces right back up. But when you’re seven, there are two types of special: the good kind, where you’re a little faster, stronger, or smarter than the other kids, and the bad kind, where you’re so different you feel like a freak. That moment, when Clark realizes he’s the second kind of special, is beautifully laid out by Pak, and heartbreakingly drawn by Silva.
This discovery by Clark sets the stage for the rest of the issue, where hardly anything is what it seems. Baka is hardly the monster he was introduced as last issue. If anything, he too is like a seven year old boy, bouncing around the Fortress of Solitude with the inquisitiveness of a child. The bond Clark feels with Baka is very much founded, as Baka immediately responds to the love and care Clark shows him. (Maybe I shouldn’t be referring to Baka as “him”. Ukur later scoffs at the idea that Baka is a boy. For now, male pronouns will have to suffice.) I adore Baka. The guy is just full of surprises. Once he gets into the cave, he proves to be incredibly loyal to Lana despite her still thinking he’s a monster, he unexpectedly speaks English, and then he becomes even larger and more terrifying than he appeared last issue.
The Ghost Soldier, another character from Action Comics 26, makes a brief and surprising appearance in this issue. He seems genuinely concerned for Lana’s safety as she heads underground. I honestly don’t know what his objective is, but it’s nice to get a glimpse of this phasing soldier as a real human with a conscience. If he’s not totally in sync with whoever’s giving his commands, it would be a very interesting wrinkle in this mysterious storyline.
The one part of this issue that I’m not on board with is the confrontation between Superman and Ukur. If we’re to believe Ukur that his monsters are protecting the “Sun People”, why wouldn’t he have said that from the start, rather than letting things come to blows between himself and Superman? That whole fight could have been avoided. It’s worth noting, however, that Superman is the aggressor in this case, lunging at Ukur because he’s bullying Baka. If we’re thinking of Superman as a big brother/protector to Baka, maybe that doesn’t seem out of character. But I think Pak’s been building Supes up as a someone willing to understand situations from the “monster’s” point of view. In this case, trying to knock Ukur out before he hears him out doesn’t make much sense.
Mikyzptlk, what’s your take on this issue? Are you as fond of Baka as I am? I think he could be a super fun and valuable ally to Superman. And how about this Imperial Subterranea? That’s a pretty fancy name. Will the story live up to it?
Mikyzptlk: I am definitely enjoying Baka a great deal. First off, the little dude(?) is adorable. Secondly, he’s a giant electric monster thing. Which is cool. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, he’s a really elegant literary device that is allowing Pak to tell a meaningful story about Superman.
Scott, I’m certainly not a fan of the “punch first, ask questions later” approach that superheroes often take, and Superman might just be a tad hypocritical in this issue. However, even with that said, in this instance I feel that Superman jumping into battle as he did made sense considering that his first love was in danger. He was fighting in order to make sure that Lana was safe, so I’m okay with it. Superman’s confrontation with Ukur rings true to me as well, but only because first impressions really do mean an awful lot.
First, Ukur’s army of monsters threaten Lana, then Ukur himself threatens Superman’s new friend. That’s not a good way to befriend the Man of Steel. That said, I’m hoping that we will get to see the cool head of Superman prevail in the next issue, since things looked to have calmed down in light of the Imperial Subterranea’s reveal.
Speaking of the Imperial Subterranea…what’s up with that? There is something charmingly old school about this new threat. It reminds me somewhat of Jack Kirby’s Savage Land from Marvel Comics. Pak is intent of making this title not just action packed, but, well, kind of silly too. I’ve talked before about how Pak is infusing Superman with a quirky sense of humor, but the sense of joyful abandon is increasing with each new issue as well.
Don’t get me wrong, this new threat does seem pretty threatening, but Pak is clearly having some fun with the concepts at play here, as well. Where Pak isn’t playing around is in his attempts to infuse this title with a sense of heart. Lately, we’ve been seeing a surprising amount of flashbacks to Clark’s childhood. From Superman Unchained to Pak’s own Batman/Superman. These flashbacks have been a wonderful (and desperately needed) addition to Superman in the New 52.
While Pak is busy delivering action, humor, and a bit of zaniness to this title, he is also giving it an emotional and meaningful core. This arc isn’t just about wacky shape-shifting monsters or a mysterious underground civilization. It’s about Superman feeling alienated, and it’s about him fighting to ensure that we are all accepted for who we are. It’s fun to see Superman protect the world, but it’s a whole other thing to see him protect the ideals of it too.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?