Action Comics #38
Story: Greg Pak
Pencils: Aaron Kuder, Jae Lee
Inks: Aaron Kuder, Jae Lee
Colors: Wil Quintana, June Chung
Letters: Dezi Sienty
After the somewhat uneven “Doomed” cross-over event, Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder return to Action Comics with a very creepy and atmospheric story arc featuring some horror elements that are typically not associated with the Superman character.
Creepy is certainly the best way to describe this arc, which began back in Action Comics #36, and continues in this week’s issue. Normally, comic fans associate the more supernatural and eerie stories with DC’s “Dark” titles, specifically Justice League Dark. However, the difference here is that in JL Dark, the weird and the horrific show up pretty much every issue, which over time tends to make them seem not all that scary anymore. Seeing yet another universe-threatening demon show up in that title elicits a sigh and an exasperated “Another demon?”
However, the undead and the supernatural are not something that Superman contends with often, and seeing him out of his element without something to punch or blast with his heat vision is a really nice change of pace. The creepiness of the story is brought even closer to home considering that it takes place in Smallville, adding an oppressive weight as Clark sees people he knows, loves, and respects twisted into nightmare undead versions of themselves.
Kuder’s art is again spot-on, with panel layouts that are almost movie-like in their scene structure. The distorted shadows of the protagonist climbing a stair case, the hand slowly pushing open a door with a wan yellow light peaking in behind, the exaggerated detail of the decomposing zombie-like figures…it’s all here and depicted with Kuder’s usual attention to detail. Kuder remembers that Clark has been trapped in this Hellish version of Smallville for days and has no idea how to get out, so he’s frustrated and tired. Kuder’s Clark here has dark circles under his eyes, and even shows the slightest hints of being scared while still being powerful.
Wil Quintana’s coloring is of special note here as well. He opts for a very limited color palette of grays, browns, and pale reds, with a sickly yellow color popping in from time to time, often in the form of the word balloons for Dezi Sienty’s lettering. It took a lot of restraint for Quintana not to over-color the undead creatures and show all their gore in a splashy wall of color, and the effect is actually much more powerful and disconcerting because of it.
Also on art duties for this issue are Jae Lee and colorist June Chung, who provide a few flashback scenes, as they have for the past few issues. Lee’s style is very different from Kuder’s, but that’s a good thing to help separate out the flashbacks from the current scenes, and June Chung uses a restrained hand with her coloring so the effect complements what Quintana did without copying it exactly.
Pak continues to draw on favorite side characters, specifically Lana Lang and her new beau, John Henry Irons, who are also trapped in Smallville with Clark, along with Hiro Okumura (Toyman). Hiro in particular gets some more stuff to do in this issue, and Pak adds a bit of depth to his character to show him as more than just a wise-cracking young inventor. That’s the thing about Pak as a writer – he’s able to take something that you thought was a bit of a one-trick pony like Toyman, or even zombies, and add enough twists and turns that result in something much more satisfying and enjoyable.
The use of the supporting cast, the twist revealed at the end of the issue about the nature of the supernatural creatures, Kuder and Quintana’s stunning visuals, and Lee and Chung’s short but effective flashback scenes make this one of the best Action Comics issues in a while, as well as one of the better DC titles.