Scott: Segues: you either love ’em or you hate ’em. I’ve listened to enough standup comedy to know that I’m a fan of the clean break, the abrupt change of topic. Lengthy transitions are just a waste of time. In longer storytelling formats, such as monthly comic books, there’s more of a virtue in spinning many plates at once. Even though stories are broken into defined arcs, some elements carry over from one arc to the next, making the clean break impossible. It results in issues like Action Comics 30, where writer Greg Pak’s first major arc comes to an end while also introducing important pieces of the story to come. The issue looks fantastic, but the story gets a little messy as it tries to connect the old with the new, making me wonder if Pak might have been better off nixing the segue.
Superman returns Sawyer to Tower Control, where he freezes the other ghost soldiers and begins destroying everything in the tower. Harrow, the tower’s commander, tries to explain to him that he’s a threat to humanity and needs to leave the planet. That doesn’t work, so she resorts to raising more soldiers from the dead, creating an army to fight Superman. This plan backfires as well, as these soldiers have no interest in being ghosts and instead direct their attack on Harrow for having disturbed their rest. Accepting defeat, Harrow releases the soldiers, but she refuses Superman’s offer to work together. She’s still determined to kill him, possibly with the help of Doomsday, who has escaped the Phantom Zone and transformed into an enormous sea monster.
This issue is billed as a “Prelude to Superman: Doomed”, the upcoming crossover event spanning Action Comics, Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. The opening and closing scenes showing Doomsday on a murderous rampage — first looking like his usual self, then later as a huge, spiky, underwater beast — are effective at drumming up my interest in the event. I wasn’t expecting to open this issue and immediately see Doomsday slaughtering a bunch of polar bears, but it certainly grabbed my attention.
Series regular Aaron Kuder shares artistic duties with Jed Daugherty and Karl Kerschl this time around, and while I’m unclear on who exactly drew what, the art is consistently great. The opening scene is particularly engrossing; after killing several polar bears and establishing the idea that he’s prepared to kill anything he sets eyes on, Doomsday spots two humans, immediately creating suspense. The ensuing panels show the humans running for their lives as Doomsday destroys the entire iceberg they’re standing on. The ground breaks apart right under their feet, leaving them to plunge to an icy death in the water below. It’s a weird way to kill someone, but apparently Doomsday was just trying to find a shortcut to the water.
Wil Quintana’s colors are absolutely beautiful here. I love how Doomsday drifts into the deep darkness of the water, getting progressively smaller through each panel as he sinks. It’s incredibly ominous. Like Tower Control says, he’s planning something, but this gives no clue as to what he wants at the bottom of the ocean. I’m already intrigued by this story, even without seeing that final image of Doomsday as a crazy looking sea monster.
The rest of the issue offers a conclusion to the Ghost Soldier storyline. Harrow is introduced as the mastermind behind the Ghost Soldier attacks, and while her motives are interesting, I found her to be a rather underwhelming villain. She makes a valid point about how most of the havoc Superman has been dealing with lately was caused by him in the first place. After all, he and Wonder Woman did set off a nuclear explosion to stop a pair of Kryptonians who came to Earth because of Superman, so I can see how she might think the planet would be better off without him around. However, the whole defense that she wants to protect humanity above all else doesn’t ring very true after she tries to raise a bunch of unwilling souls from the dead. In the end, she has no way of defeating Superman, and her rationale for not teaming up with him basically amounts to “You should kill me but you won’t, and I can’t kill you but I’m going to try anyway.” She just flatly admits that she’s evil, and wants to kill Superman because he’s unwilling to kill evil people like her. It’s a paradox!
What Pak continues to do well is write a Superman who acts like we expect him to act, guided by a strong moral compass. Superman’s offer to work together with Harrow immediately after she raised an army of ghosts to kill him had me grinning. Harrow’s right, he should have destroyed her, but Superman doesn’t believe in sacrificing one to save many. He’s going to find a way to save everyone, even the ones who are hellbent on killing him.
A recurring concept in recent issues is Superman’s sympathy for the monsters he’s fighting. First, he took pity on Baka, now he’s attuned to the distress of the ghost army.
He quickly recognizes their agony, so he stops fighting back. With no reason to fight him, they direct their anger towards Harrow. This is a classic Superman moment. He needs his powers to take the blows he takes from the ghosts, but it’s his heart that ultimately wins the fight.
Patrick, did you find Harrow any more interesting than I did? I’m excited for Superman: Doomed, but this issue felt a little like a placeholder, with her character not having much to offer in the big picture.
Patrick: It’s remarkable to me just how patient Superman is with people telling him that he’s a piece of shit. That’s basically the conceit of Superman Unchained — General Lane fills some of the wordier issues with critiques about how Superman is squandering his potential. That’s also the idea behind Superman Earth One, Volume 2, which revolves around Supes’ practice of non-intervention in international affairs. I don’t know how long this has been the case, but it seems like “being a disappointment” is turning into a defining character trait of Superman. I understand that complaint on an academic level and on a meta-level and even as a metaphor for being disillusioned in religion, but it never quite holds up as an argument in the universe itself. Superman is always depicted as doing everything he can to save and protect humanity, the fact that he doesn’t do more, or doesn’t go further, doesn’t make him a bad guy.
That’s my long-winded way of agreeing with you, Scott. I will also echo your sentiment about how beautiful their encounter looks, regardless of how well I buy into Harrow’s rhetoric. I have loved Kuder’s work on this series — he imbues each page with a little extra sense of childlike wonder. Part of that childlike quality lies in his heavy lines and slightly rounder character designs — both of which recall the style of Saturday morning cartoons, just with exquisitely more detail. Where Kuder’s work starts to wobble is in the consistency of his faces. He’s so good at acting that this failure surprises me almost every time. I’m happy to report that this issue has skirted most of those facial issues, and if I had to guess how, it’d be that division of penciling duties.
Jed Dougherty has a style very similar Kuder — perhaps with an even stronger emphasis on establishing clean, strong outlines. It’d be hard to pick out which pages are his exactly, which is a credit to the synthesis this art team finds, and is also probably a strong show of support for colorist Wil Quintana who deftly unifies the whole piece. There is one set of splash pages that stands out as decidedly different from both Kuder and Dougherty’s and that’s the pre-fight show-down piece in the middle of the issue. As Harrow lists off Superman’s “crimes” (from both this series and other recent Superman series), the two characters have a bit of a dramatic stand-off. The spreads don’t exactly line up, but their composition is nearly identical, and both Superman and Harrow take on more angular appearances.
This is the work of Karl Kerschl, whose drawings look like they’re be at home in a piece of action anime. I mean, look how square Clark’s jaw is! If I had to guess, I’d say that inserted panels between Superman and Harrow are still drawn by either Kuder or Dougherty, but it’s hard to overstate how much impact Kershl’s work has in this moment. Both Scott and I have a hard time buying the logical reason for this moment, but I’ll be damned if I’m not sort of excited for it anyway.
I’m a little less excited about the Superman family of books marching into a conflict with Doomsday, but then again, I’m just a curmudgeon who’s been burned by Superman cross-overs before. Unlike the ridiculous H’el on Earth, this story doesn’t appear to be crossing over into too many books I’m not already reading (with the sole exception of Scott Lobdell’s Superman, which was actually the title that got me into that event in the first place — weird how things change). Plus, maybe slaughtering Doomsday will finally prove, once and for all, that Superman is a great guy and is honestly doing the best he can to keep us safe. Right?
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?