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The Action Reaction | September 2021 Reviews

We take a deep look at September’s Action Comics, Son of Kal-El, and Superman and the Authority!

ACTION COMICS #1035

David Mann: A really, really charming tour of the landscape of Superman’s familiar setup before he sets off for something different for a little while. It’s very traditional ‘Superman loves his wife a whole lot’, ‘Superman believes in his kid’, ‘Superman helps somebody believe in themselves’, ‘Superman lets a bad guy know he’s gonna get him’, ‘the other superheroes tell Superman they think he’s pretty great’, but it’s the ideal version of each, as slick and sweet and sweeping as those standbys should feel but rarely actually live up to. PKJ has some of the best instincts since Morrison for capturing the vibe of how Superman stories should feel as lovely sci-fi myths, and I’m looking forward to seeing how that meshes with getting into the (space-)swords-and-sandals stuff and the inclusion of The Authority.

What I’m absolutely not looking forward to is Daniel Sampere winding down his own time on the book. Sampere with Adriano Lucas and Dave Sharpe are already the new Superman art team to beat of the 2020s, an immediate ‘oh, this is what Superman should look like forever’ figure in the same way as Doc Shaner in the 2010s. He’d net points just for making the modern Fortress look interesting for the first time ever (narrowly beating Mikel Janin to it), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an artist aside from maybe Immonen or Quitely capture quite so much of what I want to see in Superman stories – the power, the scope, the impossibility, the tenderness. The idea that his and the Super-Books’ involvement are no more than two ships passing in the night might be more than I can bear.

SUPERMAN AND THE AUTHORITY #3

Rook Geary: Once again, the creative team knocks it out of the park. It’s easy to concentrate on the trademark inventiveness of Grant Morrison, the slick renderings of Mikel Janin, or the great character acting of Travel Foreman — but to me, Jordie Bellaire’s coloring is the drum beat anchoring the band. Mood, energy, and tension dance to her rhythm, letting the color back up and enhance the story beats. 

And what a story! One thing that I really love about this series is how it keeps highlighting how powerful Superman can be without ever raising a finger — Talking the confidence out of the devil is always a classic, and it’s executed in a real fun way here. The book also lives up to its title, splitting its attention in such a way that Superman (and his conflict with the Ultra-Humanite) is highlighted, but every member of the Authority gets to shine. I’d read a solo book about any of these characters — even this incarnation of the Enchantress, who’s never really clicked with me before.

Travel Foreman’s linework on the Grimdark! section wasn’t my favorite instance of his work. D’z’amor always was rendered with appropriate monstrosity, and every image of the Enchantress captured a vitality the character rarely has, and there were many excellent panels — but a notable amount of them lacked the three-dimensionality and sense of style that was present elsewhere. That might just be personal taste, but it did distract me from the story, which I feel is worth noting. Just as important, however, are his excellent page composition and visual storytelling choices. The worst thing I can really say about it was that it’s a mixed bag.

SUPERMAN: SON OF KAL-EL #3

Rook Geary: Outside of the school shooter bit in issue #2 (a scene which managed to be both corny and tasteless, if mercifully brief), I think this book’s been remarkably strong. Jon Kent’s first steps as Superman are relentlessly engaging and feel distinct from everything that’s come before, while still keeping the spirit of the best of it. The dilemmas he faces feel bold and fresh, and the 

And the craft on display in the storytelling is some grade-A material. The second page of issue #3 makes you feel the weight of an entire building coming down, drawing the reader into the story by tilting the panels at the angle of the collapsing skyscraper and rendering each one as a separate room. Jon appears in every panel/room, snatching someone from a terrible fate each time, which really drives home his incredible speed and his dedication to save everyone in the building. This sequence would be the high point for most stories, reserved for the climax, but in Son of Kal-El it’s just another page.

The plot of this issue is handled with much more care than the previous one — which is a relief, because police trying to beat on protesters isn’t something that should be treated lightly. The story doesn’t linger on that moment, which could have felt like trivializing a monstrous problem or turning it into misery porn. Superman having to catch a cop’s baton before an innocent person gets hurt feels like an acknowledgement of institutional cruelty without just turning it into a problem some fictional savior can easily eliminate. 

Part of why that works is the fact that people are protesting on behalf of refugee rights, something inherently tied to Superman’s character and history, in addition to the overarching plot. Even more importantly, it’s something that isn’t just made up for the sake of having a politically neutral issue for Superman to solve. As much as some groups complain that comics shouldn’t be political, some things superheroes would definitely care about are politically charged. I was afraid that this comic would screw around with some both-sides-ism or be otherwise weakened by the demands of corporations who like to keep their audiences as broad as possible, but pretending like Superman wouldn’t take the protesters’ side on this would be dishonest as hell.

The other major reason the protest works is that Jon isn’t given any narratively-convenient ways out. There’s no supervillain manipulating the cops into their actions, no viral thought-plague of hate that can be switched off so everything returns to a stable status quo. Instead, Jon has to deescalate the situation (while still making a clear statement to the world) with ingenuity and honesty. He uses his platform as a superhero to draw attention to the cruelty and hypocrisy at work, and it’s effective in a believable manner. 

This is just one person’s opinion, of course, but I think this issue is everything that the shooter scene wasn’t. That bodes well for the series, and its mission statement, going forward.

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