“Action Comics” #52 hits the three-quarters mark for “The Final Days of Superman” story arc, and it’s a little frustrating to see how much momentum has been lost. After some initially gripping chapters, Peter J. Tomasi, Dale Eaglesham, Scot Eaton and Wayne Faucher’s chapter is primarily an uninspired fight sequence with a bit of taunting thrown in. The problem? The mystery and emotion have both dropped out of the story.
The earlier chapters worked so well because we got the emotional weight of Superman’s realization that he’s on death’s door, even as we simultaneously had a new unsolved mystery and a bit of action thrown in for good measure. In “Action Comics” #52, that mystery feels lost in the shuffle; the Super-Pretender could just as easily be any Superman villain who has managed to track down pre-New 52 Superman’s home. The Super-Pretender isn’t compelling enough without that mystery; he’s actually very generic when he taunts and threatens and he has no definable hook other than “thinks he’s Superman.”
Similarly, the fact that Superman is dying seems like it’s mentioned just so it isn’t forgotten. The other characters’ reactions are becoming more muted, both within the comic as well as the readership; Superman doesn’t come across as someone heroically struggling, or even struggling at all. Aside from power fluctuations (which ultimately allow them to track the Super-Pretender), there’s really no sign of the fact he’s about to die. When you consider the fact his two closest superhero friends — Batman and Wonder Woman — are the supporting cast in this story, the lack of any strong emotion in this regard feels odd. It doesn’t need to be a constant “woe is me” sequence of wailing, but this feels curiously low-key.
On the bright side, Eaglesham, Eaton and Faucher’s art looks nice throughout “Action Comics” #52. Eaglesham’s style reminds me of a slightly beefier version of Kevin Nowlan’s art these days, with a gorgeous thin line but very full-faced and muscular characters. There’s also a moment or two of real cleverness, like where Lois yells for help in a panel shaped like a sound wave, which then intersects with Superman’s ear as he hears it. Eaton and Faucher’s opening pages are a little more standard, but they’re handsome. Eaton’s superheroes are recognizable and a little idealized, but he never loses sight of their humanity either. Both styles of art work well for “Action Comics” #52, both individually and side-by-side.
So what does “Action Comics” #52 accomplish? Mainly, it’s there to introduce the continued existence of pre-New 52 Superman to Batman, Wonder Woman and anyone who hasn’t been reading, “Superman: Lois and Clark.” Other than that, it’s really just a chance to get ready for another confrontation and enjoy some good-looking artwork. I wish there was a little more to this comic, though, especially since those earlier chapters were so gripping. The final chapters might hopefully get back up to that level, but — for the moment — this issue is decidedly middle-of-the-road.