Comic Book Review: Action Comics #42
Greg Pak is a man who can do no wrong in my eyes right now. Coming off of a personal favourite of mine in his Storm solo series, I read his Action Comics #41 out of curiosity and found myself compelled by Superman in a way I haven’t since Flashpoint deconstructed the character into his brasher New 52 equivalent.
I am going to be discussing spoilers for Action Comics #42 in this review because I believe they are important to properly talk about its content.
Hard Truth Part Two opens with a government swat team shutting down a street party celebrating Superman. Black characters stand at the front of the crowd drawing obvious parallels to the appalling way American authorities have been treating its black population. This opening feels deliberately placed not so much to represent an analogue of those issues but to serve as a point of reference to the themes and morals dealt with therein. The devolution of events later draw the parallel more specifically into focus and what follows is as brutal as it is powerful.
I think the thing that grabs me most is how for such a different direction in terms of Superman’s abilities and psychological morality, just how much this iteration of Superman perfectly coalesces to represent all of the ideals I think about when I think about exactly what it is that Superman represents. It is a testament to Pak’s skill how he has done it.
From here the majority of the issue is an explosion of tense fast paced action with high stakes. Action Comics #42 really lives up to its title.
Superman combats the big black sludge metaphor for the obstacles he must now overcome, and Pak uses the monster as exactly that. The text boxes that accompany the fight deal with Superman’s new considerations given his new limits. It is his determination and his hope that channel his courage. It is this that makes him everything the Man of Steel should be. Given the broader context of what this story becomes the fight does feel out of place in just how “comic-bookey” it is. It serves a purpose though, and in that it is well utilized.
Aaron Kuder’s art is impressive. I found the way Superman’s new combat prowess is handled very similar to what we have seen of the recent limited power version of Magneto in Cullen Bunn’s run on that character. His creative solutions to combat are interpreted well into fun visual combat.
We return to the street party where tensions are rising as the police press on the innocent population. What is scariest about them is how steadfast they are in the belief that it is them who are in the right. It is scary that their motivation is justified. Binghampton is angry because he is sick of hearing words like “Brainiac” and “Zod,” tired of his men being the ones on the frontline taking the knocks while people rally behind Superman as an ideal. This is kind of where the analogue breaks down between the action in this comic and the real world parallels it draws from into something more Superman specific.
Superman takes a beating for what he believes in, and that beating is drawn out over pages of excruciatingly detailed violence. The sequential art of Aaron Kuder uses a shot reverse shot pattern across panels to convey the feeling of swinging bats as Superman takes the beating. Tomeu Morey using a heavy red cover over the blows that gets to point of the unthinking rage, and uniformed hatred that fuels their attack. This runs parallel to the behaviour of the officials becoming increasingly more problematic. All of it done by them to lead to one response from Superman.
The issue ends with Superman striking out at Binghampton. It is a single punch that speaks as the most powerful moment of Action Comics #42 and makes the most glaring point about the situation being faced by America. Superman throws one punch and that brands him a criminal against the law, even though it is in response to the opposing force whose own acts are not limited to starting, escalating, and committing the same crimes but in a far greater scale. Their oppressing violence is one without reprimand.
By the end of Action Comics #42 my heart was racing. It is a comic that draws the point of civilian riots into perfect clarity, and poses a poignant argument in their defence without having to grandstand or preach via exposition.
Action Comics #42 is many things. It is a good looking, beautifully presented piece of work. It is a powerful politically meaningful narrative. It is also action packed from its start to its finish. I recommend this book for everyone. It is incredible.