When Clark indicated his plans to stay out of others’ affairs last issue, this was the number of people who gave credit to his intentions: zero. Because there is literally no one who believes that Superman can actually stop himself from jumping into the fray if someone’s in trouble. Limiting himself to one average man’s strength during reconstruction is one thing, but letting a creepy mist envelop your hometown and manipulate the folks living there is quite another.
So it should surprise no one that it takes all of a few pages for Clark to fly into action, beard and all, when his beloved Smallville and Lana is in danger. What’s surprising is the threat he faces is not your typical giant punching bag, spouting lasers everywhere. Whatever this threat is, it’s unusually horrific and malicious, and possibly emanates from the Smallvillians themselves, which will make it harder for Clark to deal with.
Clark’s already coming from behind with Lana not fully in his court anymore. Pak is in fine character-writing form this issue, deftly navigating the emotional turmoil that’s pushing Lana away from her childhood friend. She understands better than anyone the injustice of resenting Clark for failing to save her parents, but I’m not sure what’s just or fair or logical matters in this case. In her grief, all she sees is her friend, the most powerful man in the world, awkwardly making promises that she knows he can’t always keep.
The thing is, Clark knows it, too. Pak makes an interesting dissonance between Clark, the person trying to figure things out like everyone else, and Superman, the confident, can-do-anything persona he must embody. After defeating the creature that possessed her parents’ corpses, Clark struggles to figure out how to move forward with Lana. “I’ve had seven minutes to think about what I’m going to say. The perfect words to make it all better. I’m Superman. This is what I do, right? Every damn day…except today. …But I stumble on, just trying, trying so hard.”
While Pak captures Clark’s internal conflict more convincingly than most, it’s Lana, the character he singlehandedly revolutionized, who comes across the most real and human. With Doomed past, Pak seems to have recovered his talent for first-person narration, capturing with remarkable clarity Lana’s attraction to John Henry (“The deep warm rumble of John’s
laugh fills the house…and my heart races. I’m actually blushing.”), the lingering trauma from her parents’ deaths (“But then I look across the hall, into my parents’ empty room…and I feel that scream tickling the back of my brain again.”), her panic when faced with her worst nightmare (“I should probably run. Yeah. Just turn and run and run and run and run and never stop. But instead I feel my brain slip sideways. I’m Lana Lang, electrical engineer and saver of worlds…but I just hit my limit.”). Pak hasn’t always made good use of these mental commentaries, but for an issue that poaches from common horror movie elements, the characters’ narration provide greater emotional resonance than you might otherwise get.
What this latest arc thus presents are two types of obstacles that Clark has the most trouble hurdling. A supernatural opponent with physics-defying power is always a good test of his ingenuity, while the emotional maze he faces with Lana challenges how human he really is. There’s no doubt Clark can overcome both, but it’ll require greater delicacy from him than, say, defeating a killing machine.
It’s great to have Kuder back on primary art duties. He’s already proven his spectacular chops on classic sci-fi material with the Subterranea arc, and here he’s given an opportunity to show what he can do with old-fashioned horror. I won’t say that he rivals the true masters of this genre, like Frazier Irving, Yanick Paquette, or Travel Foreman, but the supple, detailed linework that captures underground worlds with such wonder are just as suited to depicting puppeteered corpses with convincing terror. Quintana shows similar flexibility in adapting his usually bright, open colors for darker, sicklier, muddier ones, turning Smallville into an alien, menacing setting.
Pak's Action Comics is back in shape, ready to provide more classic Superman stories with a modern spin.Some Musings:-Doesn't Clark have better tech support to call on than Hiro? I still find the young prodigy pretty annoying.