Action Comics 28

action comics 28Today, Scott and Shelby are discussing Action Comics 28, originally released February 5th, 2014.

Tell me something, Billy. How come a cute little guy like this can turn into a thousand ugly monsters?

Sheriff Frank, Gremlins

Scott: Imperial Subterranea. No, that’s not the title of an archeology elective at your local community college (well, maybe it is). It’s the setting of Action Comics 28. It’s a place shrouded in mystery, where looks are always deceiving. Greg Pak’s Action Comics has been a perfect blend of fun and heartfelt, and it’s increasingly full of surprises. All of your expectations can and will be thwarted. Terrifying monsters will transform into cute little buddies, and vice versa. Through it all, the fun, heartfelt nature remains at the forefront. Clark and Lana’s relationship drives this issue, it just so happens to take place on an underground roller-coaster ride (not to be confused with the Underground Railroad, although, strangely, slavery plays a big role in each). It’s 20 pages of pure energy. As Lana might point out, according to the laws thermo-dynamics, it shouldn’t exist.

Deep within Imperial Subterranea, the great threat Clark and Lana have woken turns out to be, well, some cute little furballs.

Here kitty kittyThe underworld also houses little glowing balls of impossibly pure energy, the world-changing implications of which turn Lana into a giddy schoolgirl. Kokya, the Queen of Subterranea, turns up and thanks Clark and Lana for un-trapping her people (or rather, she thanks Lana, assuming Clark is nothing but a slave). They get the royal treatment from the Queen, but soon discover that the Queen’s people are forcibly and painfully draining energy from the cute furballs, creating those incredible energy balls. The Ghost Soldier, real name Leonard Sawyer, has a change of heart and helps Clark and Lana rescue the little guys. Upon reaching the surface, however, the little guys start transforming into monsters, and Sawyer stabs Clark in the back. Literally.

Pak does such a great job thwarting my expectations with this book. He turns the first big reveal of the issue into a punchline, and it works brilliantly. The “terrifying threat” is a bunch of cuddly little teddy bear guys? I didn’t see that coming. Like Clark and Lana, I want to laugh, but it’s more than just a joke — it sets the tone for the whole issue. By subverting expectations right from the start, Pak makes it impossible to trust anything, from Queen Kokya’s grateful welcome to Leonard Sawyer’s desire to protect humanity. In fact, I don’t know what to believe about the Ghost Soldier. Apparently he’s an actual ghost of an actual Native American soldier, from the Mahican Nation. I guess that explains his phasing abilities, but I’m not sure what other powers come with being a ghost (aside from super white-sounding name).

Oh, and if you’re thinking the little critters look familiar, well, could they be monkeys?

Leapin' LemursLet’s be honest; they’re Gremlins. Those ears, those eyes, it’s dead on! And it seems like Clark (and Pak) have seen the movie, since he immediately jumps to the conclusion that they hate sunlight. Whatever you do, Clark, just don’t feed them after midnight!

I’m loving Aaron Kuder’s art. Imperial Subterranea is such an awesome-looking setting, and I’m wishing we had more time to explore it. Kuder adds a lot of details to make it look like a civilization with a rich history and culture. Best of all are the surreal creatures who inhabit the world, like the stone automatons and the giant jellyfish/stingray/armadillo things the Queen uses for transportation.

Arrive in styleAs fun as this bizarre world proves to be, it’s really the interplay between Clark and Lana that makes this issue work so well. The two characters are equally represented via inner-monolouge, and their voices add a ton of depth to the script. The awkward moment where the male and female lead have to undress in front of each other is ripped straight from countless romantic comedies, but Pak injects enough humor and purpose into the scene to elevate it above cliche.

Shelby, I really like this issue, but I can’t help feeling frustrated with Superman’s impulsive need for immediate justice. Clark notes that Batman would tell him to watch and wait before acting, a sentiment that the Ghost Soldier echoes. Given the state Clark is in at the end of the issue, wouldn’t he have been wise to heed those warnings? Then again, what fun would that be?

Shelby: It might be fun seeing Superman plow his way through situations, but I do get a little frustrated as well with his lack of forethought. It’s irritating enough when characters continually make the same bad decisions over and over, but it’s worse when they acknowledge to the audience that they’re making a dumb decision, and then do it anyhow.

supermanThe whole issue (really, this whole arc) is propelled by either Clark or Lana saying to themselves, “Man, this is a stupid idea; I’m gonna do it!” and then dealing with the consequences. It’s a little charming to see these guys so blindly follow their passions (justice! energy!), but there comes a point when you just wish they would learn from their actions.

That being said, I really like the concepts of humanity and identity Pak is exploring here. The title of the issue, “What Lies Beneath,” is about much more that a mysterious underground civilization. Ghost Soldier looks at Superman and sees the surface only: a highly powered alien, virtually unstoppable. He looks at the creatures of Imperial Subterranea and sees only monsters. But one of the most interesting things about Superman is that, at his core, he is not an alien. He was raised by human parents like any other boy; that is what he is. But Ghost Soldier doesn’t look to what lies beneath; he sees humans and monsters, and he knows what side he is on. It raises the classic question: who is really the monster?  Is it the alien Superman? Or the people generating Earth-saving clean energy  by torturing other creatures? Is it Ghost Soldier, for being willing to do whatever it takes to save his people? Or is it Baka, who does…well, basically the same thing. For a book as light-hearted, fun, and surprisingly cute as this one, there are some pretty heavy questions at play. I’m curious to see this man vs. monsters idea developed further, and I’m curious to see where Clark is going to take this flirty-friendly vibe he’s got with Lana. I mean, he’s already seeing someone, and everyone knows about it; he better behave, I would not want to see what Diana would do if she caught her boyfriend cheating.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?

2 comments on “Action Comics 28

  1. I enjoyed this issue. I was most surprised by the conflict they brought to Ghost soldier. Its been hinted that while loyal, he isn’t 100% comfortable with just following orders. Its created a really compelling bad guy.

    Also, I love superman making mistakes, it humanizes him. However, I fear pak may repeat this trick too many times, and just make superman appear dumb. I think pak may solve this by increasing the complexity of the problem (as opposed to save them/wait to save them) but we’ll see.

    Loving this story right now.

  2. I didn’t see it so much as Clark acknowledging that he was about to make a mistake as it was that he just couldn’t do what Bruce would do here. Bruce would have waited to see just what exactly the Queen was doing with those poor little gremlins, but there was no way Superman could allow himself to just sit there and watch an innocent creature be tortured; it’s just not a part of his make up.

    That’s how I took it at least. And yeah, I totally second your thoughts on this book being surprisingly charming and fun. I’ve enjoyed Pak’s run on this title as it is, but this issue ended up being so good that it took me by surprise. More, please!

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