In Peter J. Tomasi, Paul Pelletier and Sandra Hope Archer’s “Action Comics” #51, the third part of “The Final Days of Superman,” Superman searches out his cousin Kara with the hope she’ll carry on his legacy. Since Superman’s recent battles have collectively done him terminal harm, he has begun to line up a number of other heroes to replace him. Tomasi’s latest chapter furthers his story tolerably well, although there are some contrivances that are a little hard to overlook and some character conflicts that are difficult to smooth over.
The very idea of Kal-El wanting to build a “Super League” has been a puzzling oddity during Tomasi’s arc, in light of knowing Superman already belongs to a super league. Tomasi plays that aspect down in this issue, though, and rightly so, as Kara is an obvious and like-powered successor that pushes the idea of the Super League into the background. However, while this continues Superman’s quest to find someone to fill his shoes, Tomasi needs a figurative shoehorn to fit Kara’s recent back story into Clark’s.
Clark’s final wishes demand that Kara be at full strength, yet her own recent tribulations have diminished her powers, an inconvenient fact that Superman seems all-too-content to ignore. His concern for her welfare oddly vanishes when she reveals the truth behind her situation, which puts his plan in jeopardy, and he chooses to downplay that in favor of his own focus; even his super-vision can’t seem to see the forest through the trees. Tomasi casts Superman as selfish and uncaring — perhaps understandable, as Supes does believe he’s dying — but Clark’s willingness to force Kara into a role she’s presently physically incapable of performing (to say nothing of her emotional uncertainty towards it) makes it hard to sympathize, whether he’s dying or not.
As rendered by Pelletier and Archer, Superman still looks pretty tough; his grandiose entrance at the D.E.O. kicks off the issue impressively, even if his reasons for doing so are later revealed to be misguided. Pelletier’s layouts and detail are impressive throughout; the look of his characters evoke the same kind of majesty artists like Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway and John Byrne established a generation ago. Archer’s inks bring out that detail, filling the panels with backgrounds that add to the flavor of the environment, whether it be an office, a high tech medical lab or Superman’s own fortress.
Tomasi’s story is plagued by nagging logic lapses; for example, to get a pure sample of Superman’s blood off a character’s limb, a doctor severs it, probably contaminating it in the process. Additionally, there is a lack of explanation as to why the two cousins didn’t really have any contact with one another after Superman’s identity was publically revealed, particularly when Kara herself faced many of the same hardships. It’s an explanation that could have easily been sidestepped had Tomasi not made mention of these events in the first place. Likewise, after convincingly establishing Kara’s reluctance to take over for her cousin, Tomasi has her relent all too easily.
Tomasi introduces another character into the storyline, a Clark Kent impostor who doesn’t look the part at all and doesn’t try very hard to convince the Daily Planet otherwise. Pelletier carries Tomasi’s understated humor throughout the sequence, with similar low-key laughs by way of the various puzzled looks on the faces of Clark’s former coworkers. The scene adds a bit of comic relief to the otherwise serious and almost despondent tone of the issue, and is not only a welcome break from the other events but also adds a curious twist to the existing storyline.
“Action Comics” #51 has to cram a lot of story into the little space it has, but the issue almost works. Pelletier and Archer’s majestic layouts and little details make it enjoyable enough, but — despite its strengths — Tomasi’s script has to bend the characterization and story elements a little too much to make it truly successful.