In my review of Action Comics#43, I accused Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder of cheating. Specifically, I said they had promised one kind of story and delivered another. They set out, it seemed, to examine the complex roots of urban distrust and the intricate dance of demand and denial, rigidity and rage, that finally explodes all too often in violent confrontations between angry crowds and nervous police. Whether a Superman story provides an appropriate setting for such a discussion is an interesting question. Unfortunately, it’s a question we had no chance to explore thoroughly, as the authors abandoned those themes with breathtaking alacrity, segueing into a much more standard kind of Superman tale about mysterious shadow monsters infiltrating the government of Metropolis.
Action Comics #44 picks up exactly where the previous installment left off, with Clark facing the revealed shadow creatures in the mayor’s office. The story then bends in still another direction, albeit the transition is neither as sharp nor as jarring as that in last month’s issue. The leader of the shadow monsters, the one who had taken the form of the mayor, or perhaps taken control of the mayor’s body, it isn’t entirely clear which, announces her name is Wrath and proceeds to attack Clark, who is still partially empowered by the events of the ongoing TRUTH arc.
In last month’s issue, Clark surmised that the shadows were attempting to make him lose his temper. Here, he quickly deduces that anger provides energy to Wrath and her minions. His deduction comes a bit too easily and has the feel of a hurried bit of exposition dropped hastily into the plot. There follows a very predictable sequence in which Clark fights the villain while valiantly resisting his own rage. This is intercut with scenes of his neighborhood, where block leader Lee likewise fights attacking shadows. As Lee fights, a shadow manifests and literally attempts to devour her from within. The climax of the comic comes when Clark, having temporarily driven off Wrath, confronts the seemingly possessed Lee. And then, nothing happens.
That last is not fair, something does happen. Lee reveals that she has not been subsumed by the shadow, and rather easily reasserts control of her body. Clark acknowledges her heroism by passing her a scrap of his Superman cloak, ripped to shreds during his confrontation with the now-hostile defenses of the Fortress of Solitude, thus reinforcing the idea of restraint as virtue. He then heads off to find Wrath, who is revealed in a short epilogue to be the emissary of a greater threat who evidently hails from the future.
This arc began as an interesting and daring, if flawed, examination of mob psychology and urban social dynamics. It has devolved with stunning speed into a very ordinary story of monstrous invasion, emotional parasitism, and individual self-control. Not that a battle against rage is ignoble. But it is a plot we have seen dozens, indeed hundreds of times over the years. Social dynamics, on the other hand, would have made for a much more interesting theme, despite the somewhat heavy-handed way Pak and Kuder first introduced it. This is another in a long string of frankly mediocre comics made dreary by the sad shadows of what might have been.