The late Philip K. Dick, in a speculative move that was odd even for him, once hypothesized that living, intelligent beings are only packets of information, with any reality they, which is to say we, might experience merely being an epiphenomenon, a kind of illusion arising from information layering together, as one might imagine a somewhat dim-witted machine muttering to itself in ever more baroque binary strings. Gene Yang, as Gene Luen Yang now signs himself, doesn’t go that far in Superman 42. Still, it is clear that he sees the modern world, at least the modern human world, as a sea of information. We poor mortals are hopelessly immersed in this flood of data, buoyed by its density, buffeted by its currents, carried by its tides, drowned in its depths, and preyed upon by the monsters of the cryptographic deep. Secrets are illusions in this world, and even the power of knowledge is contingent and elusive.
The story opens as Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane flee with a young contact named Condesa. They are beset by a group of what appear to be ninjas but are, in fact, shadow zombies. Clark disposes of these readily enough, but his display of power provokes a confrontation with Lois, who proceeds to rip away his shirt to reveal a very familiar crest emblazoned on his blue tunic. Yang handles Lois’ reaction deftly. The group is, after all, in the midst of a crisis, and now is not the time for overwrought drama. Instead, Lois is hurt and incredulous. She is wounded that Clark trusted Jimmy with his secret but not her, something that seems perfectly believable. She is even more incredulous at Clark’s need to conceal himself and attempt to live a normal life. Clark, it has to be admitted, turns out to be curiously inarticulate for an ace reporter. When Lois quite reasonably asks why Superman needs a normal life, Clark can only mutter “I just do.”
Condesa explains that their foe is an organization HORDR, which deals in information and which already has divined Clark’s secret. The shadows are artificial beings developed by the company to take care of its physical violence. She helps them infiltrate the company’s hidden, sky-bound headquarters, a creepy tech wonderland staffed fully by persons HORDR is blackmailing. The guru of this dystopia, which does indeed have overtones of a cult with everyone wearing masks, is a dark version of a 1990s era tech-entrepreneur who goes by the user name HORDR_ROOT. In the ensuing confrontation it turns out that Condesa has been blackmailed into bringing Clark to HORDR headquarters. Superman manages to prevail with the use of his draining solar flare ability, but in the process is attacked by a mysterious, hulking shape that seems to drain his power yet further and leaves him naked and unconscious.
We have received some answers, but many questions remain. What was that creature that attacked Clark? How did his identity get revealed to the world? Why does he feel that Lois betrayed him? All of these might be tolerable enough, except that the TRUTH arc is speeding forward in other books, making the main Superman title feel like a prequel. Yang has some interesting ideas and themes. But he needs to move forward with the plot before TRUTH becomes MEMORY.