It’s been over three months since it was revealed that Superman’s secret identity had been exposed and, even after last week’s “Superman” #42, readers still don’t know how that happened. Nonetheless, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder continue to forge ahead with an outed Clark Kent in “Action Comics” #43. With his powers still largely absent for reasons not fully known, Pak and Kuder’s story is one told quite literally at street level, as Superman faces off in those streets against Metropolis’ police force — some of whom are far different than they seem, as Clark immediately learns after lashing out at one of them. The story is one of an understandably fed up Superman who can now safely cut loose on those after him thanks to the loss of his super strength, but this is about all there is to Superman’s character in this issue and, by issue’s end, the notion starts to run a little thin.
What’s refreshing about Pak and Kuder’s story is that they are free to explore Clark’s rage in an everyday setting, rather than sending him to the other side of the universe to punch out supernovas when his emotions get the better of him. The writers know which buttons to push to get Clark to react as he does and do so in a believable and understandable way. Readers can genuinely understand his frustration and, in fact, welcome a good right hook to the jaw, but that’s pretty much all Superman has to do in this issue. Despite the raw emotions and lack of powers, Pak and Kuder make sure everyone understands that this character is still Superman even though he can’t fly or see through walls through his way of inspiring heroism in his supporters.
A bruised and bloodied Superman, with shreds of his red cape wrapped around his worn out knuckles, is an effective image but it’s one whose novelty wears off after the first punch is thrown. Comics are full of non-powered heroes getting into fights, and Clark quickly proves that he’s still a hero fighting for justice. Once he does, though, the luster dims, and it becomes apparent that Pak and Kuder’s story doesn’t have enough substance to compensate for a weakened Superman. The writers try to drum up some emotional investment with certain members of the Metropolis police, but the attempt just doesn’t ring true; it’s clear that the department has been infiltrated, which is a planted seed worthy of developing into a bigger part of the story down the road, but there’s not enough characterization outside of Clark to carry the remainder of the issue.
Kuder draws a pretty mean and intense looking Clark, even if he now looks like he went ten rounds with the Hulk, ensuring that — despite the loss of his powers — his physical presence remains just as intimidating. In fact, it’s a more “Fight Club”-level kind of intimidation, rather than the usual awe-inspiring one normally associated with the Man of Steel that can float across the skies. Kuder’s style is well-suited to the grimy, dirty streets of Metropolis’ middle class neighborhoods, as well as for portraying the still-mysterious shadow monsters that keep popping up.
His art is not so well-suited to many of the other characters, though; Kuder’s preference for larger noses is frequently distracting, and Jimmy Olsen needs only to don a pair of 3-D glasses to look like the Mole Man in one panel. Colorist Tomeu Morey uses a surprisingly bright palette considering the story’s mood and urban setting, but he remembers that this is still Metropolis and not Gotham, so some lighter hues make sense, although they seem a little too bright at times.
“Action Comics” #43 takes a step towards exploring the new status quo for Clark, albeit a small and tentative one. One need only look across the street rather than up in the sky to catch a glimpse of this Superman, and it’s a plausible idea but one that doesn’t have much of a charge left.