Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Superman: Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth is an astounding example of just how quickly the fares of a work of serial storytelling can change. On one hand, we have perhaps the epitome of what the DC You tried to be, a story that combines superheroics and social relevance as movingly as in recent memory, but on the other hand, from those high lofts the book ultimately ends up in very basic superhero fisticuffs. Two full chapter in, I was ready to laud Truth as among some must-read Superman work, but seven chapters in, not so much.

I already knew writer Greg Pak wrote a strong Superman, and I don't think he and Aaron Kuder's work has received the recognition it's deserved among runs by Geoff Johns and Gene Luen Yang, Doomed and Rebirth and so on. The best work in this book just reinforces my esteem despite the missteps, and I'd still say this book's early issues are worth looking at even if Truth doesn't hold out throughout.

[Review contains spoilers]

What is can't-miss in Truth is the scene of Superman, de-powered and outed as Clark Kent, chaining himself between police and a group of citizens staging a sit-in, and taking a brutal beating without resisting. If the implied, if not explicit, goals of DC You were to bring more relevance into DC Comics, then issues of police brutality and passive resistance are certainly the way to go, and there's something iconic about overlaying the Superman character on a nonviolent protest. Pak and Kuder's issue is moving and I thought their depiction of this tinderbox situation read as authentically on point.

Truth also has a strong and interesting take on anti-immigrant sentiments. Obviously Superman's alien heritage has never been a secret, what with the flying and the heat vision and all, and so most of the insults Clark receives relate to his having kept his identity secret (from Perry White in Yang's Superman Vol. 1: Before Truth all the way to the local toughs that sell Clark a motorcycle). This is an interesting bit of nuance on Pak and Kuder's part, couched as it is in anti-immigration but having parallels even to homophobia, this fear not of the other so much as the other "hidden" among us. Further, in its absence we see the unexpected importance of Superman's secret identity, that whereas Clark has wanted to be Superman in secret so as to have a life outside Superman, we also find that he'd face a public backlash as Superman if people knew he "hid" as Clark.

I'm a sucker for my comics political, and so in the three issues where we find Superman supporting neighborhood activism, negotiating with the police, and ultimately called to task by the mayor of Metropolis, I felt pretty thrilled. That the mayor turns out to be behind Metropolis's shadow monsters is a great twist. But after the four-part "Hard Truth" story, the three-part "Blind Justice" loses Kuder on art, and equally a lot of the loftier sentiment goes out of the story. In the end we've got a Superman-with-shadow-powers knocking around with Frankenstein and Wrath -- the actually duly-elected mayor of Metropolis who by dint of Vandal Savage becomes a shadow-lord with plans to destroy the world, as far-fetched as that is. It becomes run-of-the-mill and in some respects even ceases to feel germane to Superman per se, and at that point I became impatient for the end.

Between Action Comics's "Truth" and Superman's "Before Truth," "Truth" is the better story by virtue of those early issues. Gene Luen Yang has the unenviable job, as I mentioned in my review of that book, of detailing how Superman's identity was revealed, which requires a couple of different characters not to act totally in character, whereas Pak is able to ignore it all and simply start from the premise of Clark's revealed identity (the stories were published concurrently). For those playing along at home, Before Truth ends at issue #44 whereas Truth ends with issue #47, and it's apparent in the middle of Truth where the later Superman and Batman/Superman tie-ins take place, if not also explicitly Superman/Wonder Woman. Truth and Before Truth share Jimmy Olsen (Truth's a hipster version with inexplicable neckerchief), and then Pak otherwise populates this story with new characters while Yang uses Lois Lane.

Not unlike the We Are Robin gang, I don't expect we'll see Superman: Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth's Lee Lambert and the "Kentville" gang much once the Rebirth teams take over (for reasons including this arc's ultimate ending). This further walls off the DC You era as its own disparate footnote in the Superman mythos, ultimately only making an impression in its broader strokes. But again, what Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have here is another indication of their overall good work; also in reading this I was reminded how much we need a collection of Joe Casey's Adventures of Superman run in which Superman solves all his problems without ever throwing a punch.

[Includes original and variant cover]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Action Comics Vol. 8: Truth
Author Rating
4 (out of 5)
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