I’ve read 39 issues of Superman Action Comics. That’s a pretty important milestone for a series in a time where most titles get restarted just to offer a jumping on point for readers. For three years I’ve followed DC Comics and I’ve greatly enjoyed the stories that have come out of The New 52. Action Comics was one of the titles I had greatly anticipated, along with Superman, in the summer of 2011. I’ve made no secret over the fact that my interest in Action Comics has dwindled over the past few issues, especially with Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder’s horror-themed story arc, but something happened as I read today’s issue #39. I enjoyed Pak and Kuder’s story and my interest in the next story easily places this in my top five of comic books I cannot wait to read!
Action Comics #39 is the conclusion to the “horror-ville” story arc which followed Doomed. I brought it home to read last night along with Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr.’s Superman and planned on getting to it some time this week. I didn’t have much interest in a story that if it was any other character would have made me drop the series from my monthly pull list. Don’t get me wrong, Pak and Kuder’s approach to Superman isn’t as bad (it’s not bad at all, actually) as I may make it seem, it’s just that it isn’t the kind of story telling that I enjoy nor see fit for the Man of Steel. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to Superman and admittedly at times I do feel my sole opinion is the final word on the grandfather of all super heroes. To take Superman out of his element and to place him within the context of a horror story just didn’t feel right. Starting with issue #36, Pak’s approach was so wild and so jarring from what even Grant Morrison had done with the character (see All-Star Superman or his first run on Action Comics) that I didn’t draw to what he was hoping to accomplish. I stuck with the title and three months later I am not too proud to take it all back. Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have done something wildly unthinkable – they went ahead and created a story arc that would normally never be published by a mainstream company. Their arc, filled with monsters, creatures, and zombies feels more at home with a company like Image or Boom. Not DC. But good for them for delivering a satisfying ending to a story that re-acquainted us with one of Superman’s first foes… The Ultra-Humanite!
Issue #39, or “Under The Skin” as Pak calls it, follows Superman and Steel as they further progress into The Phantom Zone. They contend with various creatures who for all concerned are essentially demons in a Dante’s 9th level of Hell version of a place Kryptonians banish their enemies. Pak’s writing of Superman presents us with a hero who is scared and unsure of if he’ll be able to save the day. It’s a portrait of a hero that we don’t see that often (not even in the masterful Superman run by Johns). Our heart feels like it’s about to explode along with Superman as he fears that the “soul suckers” will devour them as they attempt to rescue Lana Lang. It also helps that Aaron Kuder is quite skilled when it comes to creature design and just by glancing at a few of his panels you will notice a certain unsettling quality to his art that you’d never expect to find in a Superman comic. The monsters feel real and the danger seems imminent! The hook of the story comes when The Ultra-Humanite finally reveals himself. While Pak and Kuder have spoken about reintroducing this character into The New 52 (and it’s been spoiled in Previews) I was unaware of this development as I wasn’t paying any extra attention to this title. So when the reveal happened within this issue, I was genuinely surprised, shocked, and pleased! The Ultra-Humanite, while not on the level of Lex Luthor or Brainiac, is still a rather important villain with the Superman mythology and an important name that any self-respecting fan should recognize. I like that Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder decided to reinvent him and this is the exact kind of quality a series needs to make a fan rethink his stance on it, dig out the books from a long box, and reread. Something I fully intend to do.
And so, I must formally apologize for doubting Pak and Kuder’s attempt to try something different with a character many feel has become antiquated due to the ideals he stands for. Leave it Greg Pak to find away to preserve the ideals of hope and optimism and mask it within the confines of a new genre for Superman – horror! All I can say is bring on Bizarro for next month’s issue! I want to see how Pak and Kuder will approach Action #40 and almost certainly deliver a Bizarro World like nothing before!
Action Comics #39 gets five out of five stars.