By: Greg Pak (story), Aaron Kuder (art), Arif Prianto (colors)

The Story: The perfect man encounters the perfect storm.

The Review: There are a lot of similarities in the way Pak begins his Action Comics run to John Layman’s start on Detective Comics.  Both writers have achieved name-recognition and respect in the industry, but haven’t yet reached the household status that Scott Snyder, Geoff Johns, or Gail Simone have.  Nevertheless, they’ve each been entrusted with one of DC’s longest running anchor titles, starring its biggest icons.

And like Layman, Pak finds himself working with a crossover event early on.  Fortunately for him, circumstances are a little kinder than they were to Layman.*  Although you can’t help raising an eyebrow at Zero Year reaching as far as the Super-family of titles, it does give Pak an excuse to start out in Clark’s formative years, which he already has some experience doing.  The only downside is his first issue won’t necessarily set the tone for the rest of his run, given how different the Clark of the T-shirt days is from his fully-outfitted, present-day counterpart.

The most consistent aspect of every interpretation of Superman post-relaunch is an extra aggressiveness, though each writer views it through a different lens.  Pak seems very interested in bringing out Clark’s farmer boy upbringing—not necessarily the wide-eyed innocence of past portrayals, but definitely the jocular, self-confident, highly independent qualities you see in modern farmers.  In his first forays into crimefighting, Clark isn’t all that interested in how he comes across to others.  There’s a note of derision as he considers putting on a show of public reassurance (“Smile.  Pat a kid on the head.”), and the way he laughs at his enemies’ defeat comes across less like a savior and more like a demigod ready for conquest.

It’s not a flattering view of Clark, and certainly a contrast from the perpetual Boy Scout he used to be, but it’s also a complicated portrayal that feels a little more true to life.  This Clark enjoys the raw power within him in a way past Clarks never did.  Rather than regret that his leaps come short of flying, he dismisses the passive nature of flight and revels in the explosive force in his mighty jumps: “Almost feels like flying.  But better.”  His decision to stop the massive storm en route to Gotham is less an act of altruism and more of a way to test the extent of his strength.

Beneath this brawny exterior, however, there is still the intelligent and sensitive man his parents raised him to be.  After the aforementioned laughing-at-his-enemies incident, he experiences a sharp pang of chagrin:  “What the hell am I doing?  I feel the blood rush to my face. Shame.  I punched down today.  Sure, they deserved it…but is that all this power makes me?  A bully?”  Although his misadventure out on the ocean doesn’t quite address this question, it does get the job done by showing him the limits of his powers.  As a result, he abandons the notion of himself as a “force of nature,” and settles for doing his part in cooperation with his fellow man.

Pak’s depiction of Clark is interesting, but it’s his vision of Lana Lang that will prove important for this generation of DC readers.  In the past, Lana has been portrayed as a contrast to Lois: sweet, mild, and classically feminine.  Pak again takes her rural Midwestern roots to heart, transforming her into a tomboy who grows up to become a nomadic electrical engineer.  While I fear that this brings her too close to becoming a rudimentary model for Lois, I must admit that I’ve never been as interested in Lana as I am now.  Her honest heart and wiry toughness in the shadow of crisis clearly parallels Clark’s own qualities, making her a far worthier love interest for him than before.

Kuder’s art is an interesting beast.  It’s very much his own style, not quite like any other artist’s work on the mainstream market, which is a plus.  His lines are broad and confident, not conventionally attractive, but not too loose and exaggerated either.  His figures possess an enormous and appealing energy; when Superman takes a leap, you can see the weight and force compacted in that mighty posture, even though gravity itself seems suspended.  There’s some surprisingly lovely detail in his work as well: the dead flies resting in the bowl of his ceiling lamp, the laptop cooler on his table, a magic 8-ball on his dresser.  Prianto’s sense of lighting does a great job setting the mood for various scenes.  I love the circular, bluish glow emanating from Clark’s laptop, serving as the only light in his dark, lonely room.

I have not been impressed with many of the back-ups DC has included in various books, and I’m afraid this one is no exception.  It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to have one issue include two unrelated stories featuring the same character.  While Pak does seem to have some interesting ideas for the back-up, its brevity rushes the pacing, and it lacks anything better than competently cartoony art from Scott McDaniel and Dan Brown.

Conclusion: A strong first outing from Pak that’s dampened by an unnecessary, distracting back-up feature.  Pak’s clearly making some risky choices in his approach to the Superman mythos, and a few pay off surprisingly well.

Grade: B

-Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * Who, it seemed, had to deal with one crossover after another for his first three or four issues.