Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: Aaron Kuder
Publisher: DC Comics
Action Comics #43 is impossible to talk about without getting into spoiler territory, so I’ll give a quick synopsis of my thoughts here for those who’d rather go unspoiled before getting into the nitty gritty. Basically, it’s another solid issue of a series that has been on fire since Truth started, though this issue throws away a lot of the interesting ideas raised in the last issue and is much more simplistic and disappointing as a result. For a more indepth analysis on why read on, but remember that we’ll be talking spoilers from here on out.
So last issue put Clark into a very dangerous and grey situation, the MCPD were threatening to run over a group of protesters and were willing to go through Clark to get to them. If he were to retaliate to the brutal beatings he was suffering, they’d have all the excuse they needed to violently engage the citizens. It was a truly heartbreaking issue to read as Superman’s moral strength was tested in ways we haven’t seen before that mirror very real and complicated real world issues. It stands as one of the best and bravest issues of any Superman comic I’ve read that shows why the character is great. In his issue however, it is revealed that Binghamtom, the ringleader, was really an alien shadow monster who has invaded the city government. It’s really disappointing for a number of reasons, firstly it gives Clark an easy out of the situation he’s in, so rather than having him face the consequences of his actions (something Superman would do) he gets away with it simply because he was facing a bad guy. This also removes a lot of the real world comparisons to actual instances of police brutality that are very relevant and topical issues right now. Rather than have Binghamtom be threatening and scary because you think “someone in real life could think like this and it’s hard to stand against them”, capturing perfectly why Superman’s struggles are fascinating, and instead makes you think “oh thank god no one could really be this evil, they were just monsters”. It removes a lot of the bravery of Pak’s script to tackle such big issues and instead makes it feel too on the nose to be a metaphor, but not literal enough to be a big statement about complicated issues.
Elsewhere however, Pak’s script contains all the power and hope that have made previous issues so great. A particularly poignant scene in which Superman reveals he can’t save everyone anymore and so needs the people to step up and look out for each other as he would, he tells them “you’re all superman now”. It’s a very inspiring moment that marks the true nature of Superman’s character and shows his philosophy will never change. If Truth has done one thing, it’s reminded us of the strength of Superman’s character and that there’s a place for him in modern comics.
Carrying much of this is the gorgeous artwork of Aaron Kuder. Out of all the artists who have drawn Clark’s new look Kuder manages to capture both the stature of Superman and the power contain in what he means, but also his newfound vulnerability. I physically winced every time I saw a bruise or cut on Clark, it hurt every time I saw him injured and was shocked to see someone with so much strength so physically wounded. Kuder has been an absolutely extraordinary talent since being placed on Action Comics and is the perfect artist to be handling this new take on Superman. While most other artists seem to be focusing on Superman look unrecognizably tough and edgy, I instantly recognize Clark as Superman under Kuder’s pen, matching Pak’s script by letting the beauty and strength of the character shine through the changes.
Overall, I must confess to being slightly disappointed by this issue. There was still a lot of what I liked and the themes of Truth are still pretty abundant and providing the best Superman comics in recent years. That said, the decision to shy away from some of the potentially stickier issues is pretty disappointing as I felt it tested Superman in ways that show the character’s brilliance. There was controversy after that issue, so it perhaps couldn’t be avoided, but it’s a little disappointing nonetheless. The issue still gets a recommendation however, as this is one of the best Superman series in a long time.