By: Greg Pak (story), Aaron Kuder (art), Wil Quintana (colors)
The Story: Every farm girl should be so lucky to have Superman for a slave.
The Review: I don’t often talk about covers, but the one Kuder made for this issue really stuck out to me: Superman, flying—no, blasting out of an exploding light, one arm stretched up in flight, the other rigid and clenched into a fist, his face tight and focused but with no hostility. It’s so classically Superman-ish. Aside from the high collar and missing underpants, this is a Man of Steel even past readers would immediately recognize.
That seems to be the trademark of Pak’s run on this series: bringing Superman back to his roots while keeping him updated for the pleasure of a contemporary audience. The pre-relaunch Superman was noble and virtuous, but also kind of a stick in the mud. His PG-rated personality often seemed to make him incapable of relating to a population that grew more audacious every year. Unfortunately, the Superman post-relaunch lost a bit too much of what made him a beloved icon, putting him at risk of becoming too much like any other modern superhero: powerful, aggressive, and snarky. We can thank Pak for stopping that trend before it completely takes root.
Under his pen, Superman comes across like the best kind of person we can possibly be, which, simply put, is just wanting the best for everyone, even the big-eyed, goateed lemurs whose life-forces are being harvested by the Subterraneans underground. What Superman struggles with is taming his instinct to right immediate wrongs with the foresight of even graver consequences once he interferes. It’s the classic ethical dilemma, which even his superpowers can’t quite perfectly resolve. “You can’t stop every injustice simultaneously,” he admits, but just as the best of us would conclude, he adds, “you have to try, don’t you?”
This kind of idealism isn’t too far removed from anyone else, even those who don’t share Superman’s abilities. That’s probably why Pak has Lana charging in with her electrical gun even as her ex-boyfriend flits about, wreaking havoc with super-strength and heat vision. That’s probably also why the Ghost Soldier, a.k.a. Leonard Sawyer, jumps reluctantly into the fray as well. Neither of them would question the despicable treatment of the Subterranean lemurs, but they’re more concerned with consequences in ways that the invulnerable Clark tends to underestimate. The beauty of Pak’s writing is he doesn’t try to establish whose perspective is right or wrong; all three characters can stand adjustments in their values.
I stand corrected; the real beauty of Pak’s writing is how vivacious and yet natural it reads. There’s a powerful humanity that always comes through, even in the not entirely human characters. Consider Ukur’s slight embarrassment after discovering what he melodramatically called “the most terrifying threats our worlds have ever seen” are actually little furry creatures that say “Eep.” But of course, this humanity is most clearly seen in Lana and Clark, whose interactions above all else resemble those of best friends who know each other all too well. Pak manages to keep their exchanges familiar and relatable (“I once made Clark laugh so hard that milk shot out of his nose…”) without losing sight of the fantasy in his story (“…and broke his mom’s new kitchen table.”).
Pak’s writing offers that perfect blend of old and new, but so does Kuder’s art. I’m no artist, but I see something very classical in the way the basic shapes—circles and squares—feature so prominently in Kuder’s figures. At the same time, Kuder has a modern vision for storytelling, which reveals itself in dazzlingly imaginative visuals on almost every page: Queen Kokya’s arrival on hovercraft resembling glowing, winged jellyfish; giant stone automatons peeling themselves from their molds in the Subterranean walls; even Baka’s body language, resembling that of a dog in the body of a stony dragon. Quintana’s colors are rich and gorgeous, playing with hues you just don’t see in comics anymore: rosy oranges, pale teals, soft grays shot with baby-blue.
Conclusion: Marvelously entertaining, stacked with the humor, adventure, mystery, drama, and that little touch of moral weight that makes for excellent comics.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Of all Supermans, I think I love awkward Superman the most. One Subterranean guard observes of Clark and Lana, “You smell like a mated pair.”
“Oookay,” Clark replies uncomfortably.