By: Greg Pak (story), Aaron Kuder, Jed Dougherty, Karl Kerschl (art), Wil Quintana (colors)

The Story: Clark is haunted by the ghosts of not-home-for-Christmas past.

The Review: I’ve made my opinion about Doomsday very clear, and nothing that’s been done with the character since the relaunch has given me reason to change my mind. And as far as Death of Superman goes, its prominence in comic book history is far out of proportion to its actual quality. So, yeah, I’m not looking forward to a new Doomsday story, no matter how much the writers insist, almost desperately, this is not DoS,

That insistence comes through clearly in this issue’s opening pages, when Pak claims (via Tower Control), “This may not be the same old Doomsday after all…” What? Just because he killed two innocent civilians indirectly instead of with his own bare hands? Had Pak left it at just that, you definitely wouldn’t have much reason to put too much stock in the upcoming Doomed. The last page reveal of a mutated, probably evolved Doomsday is more promising, but solely eye-candy at this point.

Anyway, all these Doomsday teasers detract from what has been a stellar run on Action Comics, although Pak stumbles slightly once he brings Clark in direct contact with Tower Control and Harrow, boss of Ghost Soldier and all his fellow intangibles. Harrow’s ability to summon spirits that can attack him both physically and psychically seems formidable, up until the point when Clark turns the tide of battle simply by pointing his finger. It’s a remarkably short confrontation—three or four pages—for what is supposed to be the climax of his and Harrow’s war of values.

Honestly, it’s a war in which Clark isn’t the clear victor. At one point, Pak devotes two double-splash pages to Clark and Harrow’s face-off, in which each lists their respective grievances against the other. Clark’s list is composed almost entirely of personal and emotional claims: the attacks on Wonder Woman and Subterranean lemurs; Baka’s persecution and exile. Harrow counters with a list of Clark’s own crimes: unleashing a nuclear blast, starting war with Subterranea, releasing creatures who turned to killers on the surface, his mind-controlled murder of Dr. Light. If you’re at all a rational person, Harrow’s argument sounds pretty darn powerful, especially since Clark can only rebut by turning up the pathos, proving her point in the process: “I think about Baka. Crying in the dark…and I don’t even trust myself to speak for fear of destroying everything within a mile.”

As most writers do when Superman is confronted with a legitimate ethical dilemma, Pak lets Clark off easy, mainly by transforming what is essentially a philosophical battle into a physical one, from which Clark can hardly fail to emerge triumphant. Pak also gives Clark the gift of a conflict he can take a far surer stance on once Harrow recruits the unwilling dead to her cause: “You don’t save the world with slaves.” But what if her minions had been willing, like Ghost Soldier and his ilk? Would you still necessarily side with Clark here?

At least Harrow gets the last word, twisting Clark’s act of mercy into yet another attack: “I raise the dead. What more terrible threat can you imagine? And you could have defeated me. But you pulled your punch. You don’t know how to make the hard decisions.” This all coincides neatly with Clark’s conflict with Wraith over in Superman Unchained. This isn’t about Clark’s moral integrity; this is whether even his enormous powers are enough to overcome the consequences to holding such high ideals. In reality, we wouldn’t trust in that; in fiction, because he is Superman, we could. That’s a frustrating position for all the intelligent naysayers to be in: no matter how good their points are, they’re defeated by the story’s intrinsic rules that the hero always wins.

At first glance, the Dougherty and Kerschl’s contributions don’t result in art that’s terribly removed from Kuder’s solo efforts. There’s an attempt to emulate some of Kuder’s bold perspectives, such as the title page splash of Superman hovering above the massive Tower Control in the Alps. You really see the differences in the action scenes, though. The linework isn’t nearly so clean or tight, and with all ghosts flying around, panels get crowded and messy very fast. Kerschl and Dougherty also lack the same dynamic vision Kuder does, so the ghost attacks frequently seem rudimentary and ineffective.

Conclusion: Kuder’s near-absence proves how crucial he’s been to the power of Pak’s Action Comics run. Pak gets Superman involved in some interesting discussion, though it doesn’t really lead anywhere except for an ominous warning of future threats.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Really? Killing polar bears? As if being on the verge of extinction isn’t enough.

– Given Harrow’s facial patterns in ghost-summoning mode, she may be a cousin of Silver Banshee.