By: Jon M. Wilson
Action Comics #3 has two very distinct sections, handled by different artist, with guest artist Gene Ha stepping in to depict our first in-story look at Krypton since The New 52 started, for eight pages, and Rags Morales doing his usual coverage on the remaining 13 pages of story, showing us how the world is reacting to the evidently publicized news that Superman is an alien from another world. The two covers available for the issue reflect these two sections, with the primary cover showing a very befuddled Superman surrounded by an angry cloud in an image that is somewhat reminiscent of a 1950s or 1960s Superman stuck in a silly situation and unsure how to handle it, and the variant cover depicting the El family reacting to an off-screen threat on Krypton. The Morales cover is very appropriate to the themes of the story, but I have never been a fan of Superman looking like a doofus, whether in the Silver Age or now. I understand that the character has a lot of comedy and silliness in his history, and I enjoy a lot of it, but the cover or splash page images that seem to say, “Oh, look, boys and girls, Superman’s in quite the fix now. He’s up against (Lois’s niece or walking kryptonite cakes, or the other silly things he’s faced over the years). Zowie! What can he do to escape this zany trap?” Those just aren’t my favorite depictions of the character. The variant cover, on the other hand, I am in love with. It’s our first solid look at Jor-El, Lara, and Krypto with their post-Flashpoint designs, and the image is full of emotion and suspense. We don’t know what is menacing them, but Jor-El has a gun to defend his family with, and Krypto is snarling, all mean and looking just alien enough to imagine that he could be a household dog on another world but is different to what we would want in our houses here on Earth.
The opening scene on Krypton is full of visual depictions of an elegant culture that is at the height of class and possibly pretty high on the scale of decadence as well. The text piece at the back of issue 2 helps to inform some of the thoughts of many of the visuals, so I recommend going back and reading that if you decided “TL;DR” about it last month. Lara is at a party in Kandor with baby Kal-El and while there, she gets a mental communication from her husband who is fighting against an (initially) unseen adversary. He urgently warns Lara to get away from Kandor, but when she tries to pass on the warning, no one else takes her seriously because Jor-El is known to be a bit over-reactionary. However, the Terminauts show up, robotic forms powered by an alien consciousness, and Lara has just enough time to get away from Kandor with Baby Kal before the city explodes. The scene moves quickly and, aside from some initial confusion as the first page unfolds and it’s unclear who is speaking to whom, I thought the scene was very effective. My mind immediately wonders what connection this attack has to do with the destruction of Krypton itself? It’s easy to conclude that this is the first phase of that destruction, but I’m sure we’ll learn more in future issues. Also, the only Terminaut we see in any clarity has a triangle of green lights on its upper carapace. Was that intended to evoke the notion of Brainiac in the mind of the reader? It was the first thing I thought of, and I am super curious to see if those tie together.
Clark Kent then wakes up in his apartment. The implication in the panel arrangements is that he dreamed this entire scene, but we’ve been led to believe he knows nothing about Krypton at this point, so how is he dreaming these things? Plus, he says nothing about it after, but then who would he say anything to? Clark’s landlady, is knocking on his door, and Jimmy Olsen is simultaneously calling him on his phone. Clark tells Jimmy he’ll call him back when he realizes that Mrs. N is there to admit police officers led by one Inspector Blake. Blake and Clark have obviously had run-ins before, not surprising with the kind of stories Clark tends to write, exposing corruption in big city bigwigs and such. Blake is there to see if he can find any evidence of a connection between Clark and Superman. Clark blows Blake off until he leaves with his officers, but then Clark turns around to see that Mrs. N, of all people, has found his red cape with the S shield. She asks him if he’s really from outer space, and this seems to be the first Clark has heard that Superman is considered to be from off planet. The back and forth between Clark and Blake in this scene serves to illustrate the kind of reputation Clark has. The loneliness we have been seeing in the Superman title by Pérez can be seen to have its roots here in this young solo crusader version of Clark. It’s very easy to imagine how one became the other over the years. Sergeant Casey makes a second appearance, being a character who originated in the newspaper strips and comic books of the early Golden Age. Speaking of that era, Clark’s reaction when Blake asks him about Superman is very dismissive of even the credulity of such an idea, and this reminded me very much of the Clark Kent of the old radio show that began in 1940, a Clark Kent who always seemed to laugh off the idea of a man flying around in blue tights, saving people.
We get no reaction from Clark about Mrs. N’s discovery, beyond an initial big-eyed panel, before the scene changes to a diner where Jimmy and Clark are having a meal, waiting for Lois. Glen Glenmorgan is on the news, decrying his harassment by Superman, when he now has “evidence that this monster is an alien creature from another world!” Clark knows it’ll be more difficult to make the man look bad because he’s using the media to paint himself the victim and shift attention on to the atrocity that is an alien superhero in the midst of the city. Jimmy tells Clark to blow it off and that he and Lois have been sent to charm Clark to draw him to work for the Daily Planet. Lois walks in and her first reaction to Clark’s befuddled and bruised appearance is to insult him to his face. “Duly charmed.”
This is followed by a series of quick scenes. A homeless man passes Clark and mentions he’s being watched over by the ghost of a white dog. Man-on-the-street interviews show the people very upset about Superman being an alien. Clark takes a call from a mysterious source who urges him to pursue Glenmorgan. Superman dives in the path of a speeding truck to protect a girl standing in the street, only to arouse the girl’s fright and attract a brick-throwing mob. Clark sits in his apartment, apologizing to the photo of his parents (“I’m sorry. I tried.”), as his costume sits wadded in the corner trash can. Each of these scenes only takes a panel or three, one horizontal sequence on the page, before moving on to the next. With zero captioning to guide the reader from one to the next, it can be a little confusing, and it wasn’t until a second read through that I realized exactly what was happening in this portion of the book. The “ghost of a white dog” comment was very odd, and all we see from Clark is a surprised look, but it could be that the dog registers with his dream, or it could just be that he doesn’t know what to do with this stranger talking to him.
The final scene of the story has Clark at the Factory for Tomorrow, as per the instructions given by the mysterious phone call person. His interview tactics get a little too direct for the manager’s tastes just before Clark runs into Lois and Jimmy, who have also been there for an interview. Just then, the factory machines get up and start talking, referring to themselves as Terminauts. We cut to Sergeant John Corben loading himself into a Steel Soldier neuro-electronic suit. When it is activated, the Terminaut intelligence infiltrates it as well. Recognizing the voice that is now speaking through Corben, Lex Luthor steps forward, welcomes the alien force to Earth and reminds it of the deal they had struck. Corben demands to know where Superman is, and the story ends.
I had not foreseen the joining of the plots between Krypton’s destruction and the current storyline. Having the Terminauts (with their possible connection to Brainiac) being involved in both gives this much more of a Superman origin story vibe than I had gotten from it heretofore. The plot continues to build, and the tension being brought to Superman’s championing of the helpless and oppressed helps to illustrate what Superman’s reasons are and his goals, as those are now being frustrated.
The art continues to be stunning throughout, and I would love to see Gene Ha handle the Krypton scenes for all forthcoming issues. There was quite a bit of hubbub on the Internet when it was made clear that Morales would be joined by a co-artist on this issue. People wondered if he was missing deadlines or if he was being replaced on the book or what have you. But it’s obvious now that having Ha step in to give the alien world a different look was a stroke of genius.
Overall, this was a great issue. It’s a great transition from the rugged 1940s Golden Age tone of the early part of the story to a more modern science-fiction-friendly Superman that we might expect. I imagine we’ll continue to see a lot of both of these aspects as this series continues, and I’m eager for the ride to continue next month.
Overall Grade: 9/10