More than Meets the Eye
Since Superman Unchained #6 doesn’t come out until December 31st, I thought I’d get my monthly Superman fix in this issue. Although Greg Pak’s first Action Comics issue was a Zero Year tie in, this marks the start of his new story arc and direction he’s taking Action Comics in along with Aaron Kuder in their plot first story telling. So is this new direction a strong start after Action Comics has been through due to Diggle leaving the series and Lobdell taking over to expand on his dreadful storylines?
In short, yes it is. The plot kicks off with Lana and a group of running away from a monster that has emerged from the ground where the group has been digging. It’s immediately clear to the reader that Pak understands the characters he’s writing about as he does an incredibly great job of revitalising Lana Lang as a fully fleshed out character in the New 52. She’s determined, capable, resourceful, has a bit of a spunk in her personality and a rebellious streak showcased when she jumps into action firing a machine gun at the monster to allow an injured man to be carried off to safety. It makes for a refreshing change of pace not to have the damsel flail helplessly in distress and seeing Lana go all Tomb Raider on the monster is an extremely pleasing development to see in the character. As well as getting Lana right, Pak performs the obviously more important job of nailing Superman’s characterisation in this issue. For too long, New 52 portrayals of Superman have made him too angsty, too angry or too brash but Pak doesn’t fall into any of those traps. Well Superman does get a bit mad but it’s justified within the context of the story. His compassion for the monster when coupled with his desire to save all innocent parties is a brilliant piece of character exploration demonstrating more classic/Pre Flashpoint characteristics that we’ve come to know and love in Superman. And when they’re put together, Pak’s dialogue of Superman and Lana sizzles with dynamic chemistry. In contrast to the stale and bland Superman/Wonder Woman romance, Superman and Lana’s interactions are sweetly written, compelling and clearly show that these two are old friends and childhood sweethearts. It’s the little things Pak puts in the story like Superman’s goofy smile and subtle attempts to please Lana coupled with Lana’s comments on how Clark looks now makes me wish that a Clana romance had been explored instead of this cliché fan fiction we have.
As for the pacing of the story, Pak handles that quite well. No plot points in the story from the emergence of the monster to the Smallville flashback to the Superman vs Ghost Soldier fight feel like a waste of space. They fit neatly within a concise yet well-structured frame resulting in a very pleasant reading experience. However, this does leave the reader wanting slightly more. Pak only covers the bare bases of the plot at this first issue. Granted, this is the setting up issue but Pak could have benefitted from mapping out the direction his story would be taking. Also, expanding on plot points such as Lana’s world travels, the Ghost Soldier’s origin and the nature of the monster/secret passage would have made the context of the issue easier to understand. Whilst we’re on the subject, I’ve avoided Unchained comparisons in this review since Pak is telling his own story but it’s hard not to notice this parallel. Superman coming into conflict with the military and fighting their super powered solider doesn’t sound like a familiar plot to Superman fans? Unchained is doing the exact same thing and whilst Greg probably didn’t know about this when he made his pitch, it’s unfortunate that he’s writing a similar motif that Snyder has already written about in a very intriguing way in his Superman story.
Still, Pak rectifies this with some intriguing themes being played across in the story. Given his legendary run on The Incredible Hulk establishing his take on the Hulk as arguably the most definitive by critical and fan standards, Pak inspects the nature of monsters briefly by comparing Superman and the monster suggesting that there’s more than meets the eye. We get a brief but fulfilling flashback to a traumatic first experience of Clark’s heat vision emerging and the terror it brought Clark and for a moment, his own father. Yet Pak uses this flashback to wonderfully expand upon the essence of Superman’s character. Just as his father showed compassion to him in his time of need, so too has this experience informed him not to mistreat sentient beings based on how they appear. I loved Pak’s execution of this theme because not only does it show Superman’s heart and caring attitude, it included Pa Kent teaching him this lesson and I love seeing the Kents impart their wisdom and moral fibre onto their son. But this does come at a cost, the fact that this issue is clear setting up material. Everything from the flashback to the monster coming from underground and the Ghost Soldier is clear exposition for what Pak has to come. He can’t reveal all his pieces so he has to stack them up first. In that regard, the story does fall down slightly since it isn’t giving away all the info.
Of course, this issue also rewards your inner child who loves to see Superman smash and fight through any opponent in his way. The first confrontation with the monster plays out in a hilarious way resulting in a game of fetch ending the conflict. I did chuckle a bit at Pak having the monster clamp his jaws on Superman and shake him like an indestructible chew toy. That was some solid humour injected into the fight to counterpoint the serious action. But the main highlight is the Ghost Soldier’s first appearance. He has a cool power set of flight and intangibility so far and the way in which he used his powers to harm Superman by phasing knives in and out of existence into Superman’s body was inventive writing. Usually, when a writer wants to make a challenge for Superman, they make a physically powerful villain or amp an existing one to fight Superman. Here, Pak shows another way to exploit great action sequences, by utilising power sets that prove to be unique, legitimate challenges for Superman. On a similar note, Pak has Superman use his powers in very ingenious ways. A super speed gust cloud along with a clever method of using heat vision and freeze breath to slow Ghost Soldier down much like gas molecules can be slowed down with coldness was a fitting analogy for this fight and made its outcome all the more entertaining.
The excitement that the action sequences induced is thanks to Aaron Kuder’s artwork. His cartoonish style is ably suited to depicting bombastic fight scenes. His dynamic art style sets the scenes for conflict expertly. His pencils are much lighter at drawing the outlines of the panels and June Chung’s colours are wonderfully vivid at bringing an explosive kinetic motion of the comic to life. However, Aaron is not without his flaws. Some of his designs, namely Superman’s awkwardly large S shield and the Ghost Soldier’s absurd Mohawk look too ostentatious for even comic book pages. Although most of Kuder’s faces are solidly drawn, some close up shots on characters seem odd. This can be attributed to Kuder’s less photorealistic style which has its drawbacks on artistic coherence.
But overall, this was a great issue for Pak to put in his quality writing belt. Combining deep emotional character driven moments with fun bombastic action sequences make this issue an extremely entertaining read. Pak is off to a very good start as a new Superman writer and he seems to have the pieces in place to make something even better of his run
- · Story: 8/10
- · Art: 8/10
- · Overall: 8/10