With the new status quo established, each of the “Superman” titles seems to be taking on a different angle of what it means for Kal-El to be outed in the world. Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder look at the reaction of the world at large, for good or ill. “Action Comics” #42 continues the examination of Metropolis’ varied responses to the true identity of their favorite son. The team does a great job of balancing a large scale threat for Clark to punch-fight with the increasing tension in the newly Christened Kentville section of the city. It’s played with respect and intelligence but, towards the end, suffers from almost over-the-top evil reactions from the police force that bring down some excellent political debate and sharpens the line between the perceived good and evil in the conflict.
The action in the first half of the book is spectacular, with Kuder continuing to create the defining vision of this version of the Man of Steel. His Kal El is a midwest farmhand, a man with muscle packed on from years of formative work on a farm. Though it’s not much of a costume, he looks at home in jeans and a t-shirt, more than he did in Kryptonian war armor. It’s ironic, as he’d need it more now with a destabilized power set, but Kuder illustrates Superman as a guy who leads with intention first, a sense of confidence and wonder in his own face as he tests his limits and sometimes finds himself on the wrong side of the results.
Rodeo-ing the shadow beast into a gas tanker is a great use of Clark’s farm knowledge, coupled with his abilities as a superhero. The body language and the layouts of the battle are all pitch perfect. They’ve found a way to harmonize the idea that Superman needs to be accessible as a person while still being one of the most powerful beings on the planet. Kuder’s art, meanwhile, evolves his style so it adds texture to the world. It shows readers that, though they may be familiar with the world, it’s still a different place after the world-changing reveal that’s happened via the Daily Planet expose. Since the start of Pak and Kuder’s run, “Action Comics” has been all about expanding the world around Clark and rounding out supporting characters like Lana with three-dimensional points of view; it’s now Kuder’s turn to put his stamp on the world visually, and he’s delivering.
Pak bounces between the two situations, before pulling Clark back to Kentville and the looming threat of a riot as the MPD advance on his neighbors in the street. The back and forth is fantastic until the police incite the violence. Clark does his best to keep the situation peaceful, as do his neighbors, trying to make a sit-in a peaceful demonstration. What’s frustrating — and almost takes the wind out of the situation — is the over-the-top reaction of the police force. It’s not that they are the tipping hand for the violence, as with these situations tensions run high on both sides and sometimes it gets bad; it’s the premeditation on display that makes this go from social commentary to dastardly comic plot. Binghamton may be upset about the trouble that Superman’s presence brings to the city, but his actions are borderline corruption. The police — especially in Metropolis — have been a protective force, and now here they are attacking the heart of the city itself. They’re even doing so by attacking Superman’s friends, and not him. Those are heel tactics and wind up making Clark justified in his attack at the end of the issue. It doesn’t excuse the fact that he’s wrong in attacking the police, but it also makes that action less of a cliffhanger than an inevitability. Pak is normally much more of a thoughtful, subtle writer when it comes to social commentary, so there may be larger forces at play in his story, but extrapolating on that it makes one wonder — if there are dastardly people forcing this to happen — then this is a supervillain plot and does it deflate the social commentary aspect of the riot. If there are not, then we are looking at a police officer acting irrationally against the best interests of the city he’s sworn to protect, and now readers are dealing with a different type of corruption, sure, but a reflection of the Gotham City Police Department, which takes the unique aspects away from the MPD.
This is only the second chapter of a larger story being told, and readers still don’t know the path Pak and Kuder plan to take. Overall, the story is still entertaining and visually appealing and a testament to the work that this team continues to put into this book month in and month out. “Action Comics” #42 has some causes for concern for the overall plot but still gives readers the most nuanced and developed take on Clark Kent and his world that is currently on the stands.