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The Action Reaction | August Superman Reviews

The Action Reaction team tackles the highs and lows of August’s Superman comics!

Superman: Son of Kal-El #2

Reviewed by Rook Geary

After Jon Kent took flight in Son of Kal-El #1, there was a huge grin on my face but a question on my mind. Could issue #2 stick the landing?

Yes, but with a bit of a stumble. I’m gonna preface this by saying the good definitely outweighs the bad, but the mercifully-brief fumbles are notable enough they need to be talked about. 

The book opens with Jon sacrificing his alter ego to save his college class from a school shooter, which is a worthwhile idea with a dodgy execution. While the majority of issue #2 is very successful, etching “thoughts & prayers” onto the bullets feels like trying to tack a semi-clever twitter slam dunk onto a scene that got tangibly close to tragedy. It’s the kind of writing that would work with a supervillain attack, but falls flat next to the daily dread students and teachers have to go through in this country.

I feel it’s important to note that despite these missteps, I thought about the highs much more often than the lows. Tom Taylor has done an excellent job defining Jon’s voice as a young man, which is a goddamn feat considering he had to believably evolve him while staying true to the childhood version of the character and Bendis’s take in the Legion of Superheroes. The additions to Jon’s supporting cast are promising, and the dilemmas he faces are thoughtful and feel worthy of a new chapter. Imperfections aside, this still shows every sign of becoming an all-time classic. 

And my god, how have I gone this long without mentioning the art team? Because they are nailing a dynamic and thoroughly modern streamlining of eighty years of legacy, and making it look effortless. Jon Timms continues to impress, nailing subtle character expressions, instantly classic new designs, and bold layouts that perfectly frame each moment. 

Colorist Gabe Eltaeb had his work cut out for him: the stature of this series demands something that executes the platonic ideal of classic superhero comics, while pushing forward. That’s a tall order, but he’s handling it with grace and style. And while the aesthetic of the series doesn’t give letterer Dave Sharpe frequent opportunities to flex, his attention to detail anchors the book and keeps everything gliding along smoothly.

The verdict: it definitely is far from perfect, but it’s trying so damn hard and succeeding at 90% of its goals. Son of Kal-El remains absolutely worth a read. 

Action Comics #1034  – “Warworld Rising: Part 5”

Reviewed by Rook Geary

On the very first page, we’re greeted with incredibly vibrant and well-chosen colors courtesy of Adriano Lucas as Lois Lane and Thao-La face down a trio of warworlder in the heart of the Fortress of Solitude. I wish the coolness of the standoff wasn’t undermined a little by “this bit-villain is evil and old school, so we’re going to establish that quickly with medieval sexism.” It’s a minor point in an otherwise excellent issue, but I mention it because it was a little more jarring every time I read the book. 

One of the most interesting ideas this arc has put forward is the Kryptonian-adjacent Thao-La: someone with a good heart who has survived in the very worst circumstances, without the fortune Clark had to land near the Kents. Superman has faced difficult decisions for a long time, but he always had a place of safety in his memories to anchor him. Thao-La doesn’t, and even though I feel like I’ve got her character arc more-or-less figured out by now, that contrast is a crucial ingredient in making her an interesting and well-rounded addition to the thematic tapestry Phillip Kennedy Johnson is weaving. 

And goddamn, it’s a hell of a tapestry. Everything from the truth of the Phantom Zone to war between Atlantis and the US is on the table here, and Johnson plays them all off of each other in a way that keeps the audience constantly engaged with the plot, characters, and the broad ideas he’s exploring.

That’s so effective thanks to an immediate sense of immersion, which would be impossible without Christian Duce. While he’s been put in the extremely unforgiving position of having to follow Daniel Sampere (in the middle of an arc!) Duce is excellent at adapting to the visual storytelling language Sampere was using, and keeping it consistent, while putting his own spin on the material. 

It’d be easy to focus on Sampere’s departure, because he did incredible work. That would overlook the fact that Duce just pulled off the equivalent of stepping onto someone else’s skateboard mid-jump, finishing their trick while juggling, and landed it. That’s astounding, and I look forward to reading much more of his work. 

This is just a good damn comic. Go read it.

Superman and The Authority #2

Reviewed by Rook Geary

The first issue of this miniseries had a sense of elegance and restraint in its storytelling. It was about setting up the status quo with Superman, contrasting the stark and washed-out present with the four-color punch-ups of the past, and giving Manchester Black a compelling reason to change his tune and work with a sworn enemy for a finer world. That approach worked damn well.

The second issue, however, has to introduce the majority of the ensemble team, pulling from several very distinct corners of the DCU. That has fundamentally different storytelling needs, and Morrison smartly leans into this. The problems each superhero faces inform the audience’s understanding of where the characters come from, both in terms of backstory and their emotional point of view on The Authority’s mission. Some of the naturalism of the dialogue is lost in certain segments, such as basically every line from the scene Steel faces down matter-hacking nanites. In exchange, we get some classic Morrison back-and-forths that feel like improvisational jazz, with sci-fi high concepts instead of saxophone or piano. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s extremely well executed nonetheless. 

Midnighter and Apollo have a new but fun take on their dynamic that goes a long way towards integrating them with the larger DCU. Their section of the issue functions like a scene from a non-existent run of The Authority. That makes it an excellent buffer between Steel’s more freeform DC sci-fi, and the following journey into the depths of the Enchantress’s personal hell. 

Her segment delves into how June Moone blames herself for her alter-ego’s actions while, at the same time, holding her at arm’s length as a completely separate person. Meanwhile, her magic pulls the rest of the cast into desperate, dangerous, unfamiliar territory, though you never lose faith that these people (and particularly this Superman) are up to the task. 

All in all, I expect this issue will lose a few people unfamiliar with its particular brand of crazy, but if you accept and welcome the variety of places and stories in the DCU, it’s one hell of a sampler platter. And it keeps up a compelling ongoing narrative, on top of that. 

Superman Red & Blue #6

Reviewed by Sean Dillon

As with any anthology (especially one with a theme as vague as “Ain’t Superman Great?”), it is perhaps best to judge the issue not in terms of the package as a whole, but as individual parts. As such, what follows are some brief thoughts regarding each of the five stories.

Hissy Fit: A silent narrative about the difficulties of getting a cat into a box. Quite charming, though not as playful with the format as Sophie Campbell’s contribution to Batman Black & White. There are some neat tricks done with color to highlight emotion, but it feels like it could have used another page or two to truly let the story sing.

The Scoop: Matt Wagner does a Golden Age Superman story about how much people prefer the aesthetics of the Silver Age. About the bitterness Clark feels about the spectacle of Superman being preferred to the hard hitting reporting he does. It never gets to the point of obnoxiousness of Peter Milligan and Agustin Padilla’s Adventures of Superman story, but it doesn’t really make Clark’s bitterness sing.

The Special: Tom King and Paolo Rivera do a comic about a woman working at a diner in Smallville. It’s very much a story told through the subtext that utilizes the conceit of “this is a comic in Red and Blue” to a striking degree. It highlights the small moments of mundanity that were always the best parts of King’s work and Rivera’s pencils are truly gorgeous. There could have been just a twinge of clarity regarding the final page, but not much.

Son of Farmers: In this short by Darcie Little Badger and Steve Pugh, Superman reflects on how growing up on a farm helped him become the man he is today. The metaphor is touching and Pugh’s art is gorgeous, with an air of watercolor added by his colors. In many ways, it encapsulates the feel of the Superman: Red & Blue series as a whole. A series that focuses on aspects of the character through color, emotion, and implication.

Ally: Rex Ogle and Mike Norton use the character of Superman to explore the anxieties of a closeted gay kid. Where previous stories in the series (and, indeed, this issue) used the color restrictions to highlight mood or tone, here they are used as restrictions of a closeted world that preclude a full color one. Out of all the stories within this collection, this one feels like it would most benefit from a graphic novel utilizing this format. It’s still good, but I’d be curious to see what an extended take on the narrative would be like.

Rankings:

5) The Scoop

4) Ally

3) Son of Farmers

2) Hissy Fit

1) The Special

Project Patron

Reviewed by David Mann
Breaking with the nominal conceit in our very second review round-up! Worth it though for a comic this closely related to our usual topics: Orlando, Piazzalunga, Lopez, and Mauer’s Aftershock book Project Patron ended its (first?) run this month, a Superman-meets-mecha title where a United Nations team operates the superpowered ‘reploid’ that secretly replaced Earth’s greatest hero Patron after he fell in his ultimate battle. Trading their health to pilot the world’s savior, the story quickly reveals itself as a sci-fi murder mystery before morphing into a battle royale, and while it’s arguably overstuffed with concept in seeming confidence of a follow-up giving it room to breathe the results are still satisfying as hell. A shockingly workable in-between of Orlando’s skill at big-idea, big-action superheroics and the quieter, sharper tendencies on display in the likes of Nameless and Kill A Man – a balance critically maintained by Piazzalunga, Lopez, and Mauer – it ends up in its own distinct way tapping into the same vein as Son of Superman of small, uncertain humanity forced to step into the shoes of a savior and not only stand tall but succeed where their predecessor couldn’t. Certainly one of Orlando’s best of the past few years and hopefully with time, especially if it gets the sequels it seems to be banking on, this will find itself in the same category of hidden-gem riffs on the Superman archetype such as Age of the Sentry or Love and Capes for devotees.

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