By: Greg Pak (story), Ken Lashley (art), Pete Pantazis (colors)

The Review: I’ve always been fond of Pak, ever since he co-wrote The Incredible Hercules, just about the funnest title that came out of Marvel in its Then days, and with Batman/Superman, he’s shown that he can handle modern superheroes as deftly as he revitalizes ancient ones.  He’s secured enough of my trust to get me curious about his impending takeover of Action Comics, and this issue seems like a good opportunity to get a taste of his work to come.

Moreover, I’m curious as to how he works with Zod, one of those iconic villains that nearly everyone has heard of but no one quite gets.  I mean, what exactly is his deal?  Is he specist, megalomaniacal, sadistic, or what?  For all of Man of Steel’s flaws, at least it gave us a complex and consistent portrait of Zod, one that’s escaped the comics for a long time.  Now that we have this shiny new DCU to work with, there’s an opportunity to start him off on the right foot.

I don’t know if it’s the right one, but Pak certainly takes a forceful step from the opening thesis of the issue: “My name is Zod.  And I have always loved monsters.”  From the delivery, the line sounds confessional at first, but as the story progresses, you quickly learn that remorse is not part of his vocabulary.  Despite the pointlessness and gravity of his crimes, Zod doesn’t show a speck of conscience, but more disappointingly, he doesn’t even bother to justify his actions.

This is a bigger problem than you might think because even though Pak offers us a fairly broad span of Zod’s early life, it’s still not exactly clear what makes him tick.  He later explains his love of monsters as a form of empowerment: “They force us into action.  They show us what we can be.  They make us great.”  And this really does seem to fit into his bizarre, Hatchet-like boyhood* and his militaristic notions of glory and strength when he becomes an adult.  As someone toughened by both tragedy and circumstance, he views his fellow Kryptonians’ soft-handed lives with disgust, preferring the screams of alien beasts to the sound of his peers’ thoughtless, unconcerned laughter.

His attitude is terribly irrational, of course, although Pak could have made Zod’s sentiments more persuasive had Krypton’s complacence been better displayed than one guard napping on-duty.  Pak also muddles Zod’s whole philosophy with a last-minute suggestion that Zod always had a callous side to him anyway.  To be fair, it’s his father who gives him the idea of surviving on the corpses of others (instead of rescuing his fallen wife from the native carnivores, he orders his son to keep running, “[W]hile they eat her, we have a chance—”), but that doesn’t soften the appalling moment when the young Zod purposely maims his old man to save his own skin.  Since Pak leaves us on that particular note, it’s hard not to conclude that beneath all of Zod’s pretensions of strengthening Krypton, he’s just a homicidal maniac at heart.

Lashley’s art fits very neatly in the DC house style.  Its biggest flaw is its sloppy, almost haphazard quality, as if he slapped it together within just a few weeks—which he probably did.  Given the art I’ve seen on most of these Villains Month titles, I have a suspicion that the turnaround time for all these issues was probably on the stressful side.  Pantazis’ glossy colors elevates much of Lashley’s work, to the point where some pages are truly splendid to look at, like the teenaged Zod in Lord of the Flies gear, staring menacingly down at the El brothers from a tree branch.  But most of the visuals look so chaotic that it’s hard to give them much focus.

Conclusion: It sends some mixed signals on what drives Krypton’s greatest villain, and it’s hampered by somewhat messy art, but it’s nonetheless a fascinating take on the longtime antagonist.

Grade: B-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Aw, man—the mere mention of Hatchet brings back so many memories.  Wasn’t that just the greatest elementary-school book ever?  Although I loved Wrinkle in Time, The Egypt Game, and The Phantom Tollbooth quite a lot, too.

– I kind of enjoy how Zod barely reacts while Jor-El is actually punching him in his face, but then goes bat-crap crazy, complete with flying spittle, once it’s all over.