Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have been getting a lot of praise and positive attention for their run on Action Comics, which began with issue #25. Action Comics #29, which closes out their first story arc, shows why that praise has been well deserved.
The cover is of course the first thing we see, and it draws us in immediately. Last month’s cover for Action #28 showed an iconic pose of Superman, busting out of the center of the page and flying through the Action Comics logo. In the case of Action #29, we see a very different Superman, and one that we don’t see very often, if at all. This Superman is bleeding. Very badly. His eyes are glowing red. He is angry. And yet while clutching his torso where he’s been cut, he continues to stand, albeit crouched. He’s hurt but he’s not giving up. He’s still Superman and he’s going to fight on through whatever pain he may be experiencing in order to protect those he cares about. Almost as an afterthought, on second glance, we notice the faded dark figure of the Ghost Soldier almost disappearing into the background.
While the cover is interesting, it’s really the story itself, told through the words and visuals of Pak and Kuder, that make this issue so strong. This issue hits all the beats by continuing to illustrate why Lana Lang is such an intriguing character, revealing more background behind the mysterious Ghost Soldier and the group to whom he reports, and wrapping up the Subterranea story line with a very emotional scene that is perfectly suited for the comics medium. Such a scene in prose-only form would take too many pages and be forcefully drawn out. Here, in the visual medium of comics, it’s reduced to just three pages and the perfect amount of dialogue and narration that don’t interfere with the art but rather complement it.
Kuder keeps things interesting through the use of some unconventional layouts which help to emphasize the emotion of each scene, whether it’s anger, frustration, or sadness. Throughout them all, the layouts are done such that Superman is always shown to be in command of the panels in which he appears, even in circumstances where he’s showcased next to his huge monster friend, Baka. The backgrounds are a little light in this issue, but I chalked that up to the environment of the story, which takes place outside in a very wide open space. Kuder has proven his draftsmanship with some spectacular scenes of the underground kingdom of Subterranea in previous issues, but in this issue the focus is on the characters themselves.
Pak and Kuder’s Action Comics really plays off the interaction between Superman/Clark Kent and Lana Lang, and in this issue we really see how that relationship has impacted the way Clark views the world. One of the things I like about the Superman in Action Comics is that he’s still learning. He often rushes in, half-cocked, even while sometimes second-guessing himself, and thinking that he should probably wait and take stock of the situation before acting. These scenes are highlighted with Lana’s internal dialogue, as she analyzes Clark’s actions and often catches herself selfishly calling him out for ordering her about in an effort to keep her safe. Lana really holds her own in this series, and creates a great amount of tension and conflict that’s many times more intriguing and satisfying than the conflict created when Superman has to punch his way past bad guys. It’s this level of characterization that really makes Pak and Kuder’s run on Action one of the best books DC is putting out right now.
The next issue starts a new story arc, so it will be a perfect time to jump on board if you haven’t been reading Action. But don’t discount grabbing this issue as an introduction to how Pak and Kuder are handling the character. You’ll be glad you did.