“Action Comics” #45 starts to tie off a lot of plot threads from the past two years, as Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder and Scott Kolins use the relatively new villain Wrath as the main threat in the series. While it’s nice to see a lot of these stories having a greater focus, some of the connections feel a little tenuous at best.
Pak and Kuder play a bit with the basic set-up of “Truth” in the form of a Waynetech Light Refractor, a gizmo that distorts Clark’s face just enough so he’s no longer instantly recognizable. On the plus side, it makes Pak and Kuder’s scripts a little easier to get rolling because it allows them to place Clark in public without him being instantly mobbed. The minus side, though, is it quietly unravels the core idea of having Superman’s identity revealed to the world; he’s getting a new secret identity in the form of Archie Clayton, allowing him to move around unnoticed from bystanders. It almost feels like cheating, to be honest.
So far as connecting the various stories goes, it’s a bit disappointing to see Pak and Kuder bring them all under Wrath’s purview. It feels like a stretch to see the subterranean storyline being dragged in and, while some readers will no doubt love this connection, others will find it frustrating that a story can’t simply just be a fun, weird-science romp. Pak and Kuder attempt to inflate Wrath’s profile quickly by tying all of this together, but it’s a shortcut that isn’t quite having the desired impact.
On the other hand, it’s nice to have Clark’s abilities as an investigative journalist come to the forefront. His scheme to infiltrate Lyfegene works because it’s only about 10% technology and the other 90% is careful planning and thinking through all the options. Loading Clark up with oodles of technology (which we see earlier in the issue) isn’t half as interesting as seeing his brain in action. His ability to use his wits more than compensates for his currently-drained power levels, and it’s fun to see Pak and Kuder bring Clark into the villain’s lair without being able to fall back on x-ray vision or super-strength.
Kolins’ art is extremely variable here. Some pages look good, like when Clark first enters the secret lab. The look of surprise on his face at the bottom of the page is arresting; Kolins brings that moment to life in the lift of Clark’s head, the widening of his eyes and the slight gape of his mouth. Similarly, the next page’s primary purpose is to show off the lab, but I love how Kolins takes care to make Superman still look startled even from behind, with his arms, shoulders and back in a surprised posture. The final cliffhanger page is especially impressive, with a slight exaggeration working well because of the situation; you can almost feel the black tendrils exploding off the page, and it’s hard to look away from them.
At other instances, though, Kolins’ art feels a little too exaggerated. When Clark leaps down from the doorway of the secret lab, his biceps are literally larger than his head. It not only looks somewhat ridiculous, but — considering that a big deal has just been made this issue over Superman’s powers being much lower than normal — it’s that much more jarring. Clark’s age also seems to change from one page to the next, based on how Kolins draws Clark’s face. When he’s rescuing Janie, he looks a solid decade older than he does in the preceding pages. Supporting characters also look a little dashed off in places, like how the first three guards we see at Lyfegene appear to all be missing their necks in various degrees.
“Action Comics” #45 is a real mixed bag. There are some strong elements working alongside other ones that have taken a big stumble, and I’m not sure this issue is a cohesive unit. “Action Comics” is usually the strongest of the Superman comics from DC, but it looks like that position will be temporarily vacated to one of the other titles this month, An unfortunate slight misfire from a book that normally gives us much, much more.