Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel (Rebirth) trade paperback (DC Comics)


I was flipping through some 1980s-1990s Superman comics the other day and I was impressed again how every couple of months the titles managed to come together to tell a multi-part story that always felt epic and earth-shattering without being repetitive or stalling the book's forward action -- "Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite," "Day of the Krypton Man," "Time and Time Again," and "Blackout" all come to mind. That's been tougher for a number of modern teams to recapture in part because there's not three or four Super-titles any more making essentially a weekly series (though now there is, effectively). Also, with the advent of writing for the trade (or the advent of trades in general), it's nigh impossible to have eight issues of done-in-one stories followed by a four-part epic; that'd take a year and two trades of a regular series these days without the benefit of our connected ongoings.

I mention this because Dan Jurgens's Rebirth Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel put me in mind of those Triangle Title epics. Admittedly I wasn't looking forward to Men of Steel for a variety of reasons, including that it seemed likely to -- and does -- pull Superman out of the book's Metropolis forward action for a number of issues. But Jurgens tells the story with a subtle parallel structure that becomes more apparent as it goes, focusing on Superman and Lex Luthor on one side and Lois and Jon Kent on the other, in a manner much like the Triangle Titles used to do. And though the conflict within Men of Steel is rather flimsy, Jurgens has been doing an exceptional job building up the relationship between the alternate-continuity Superman and the New 52 Lex Luthor in this book, and Men of Steel's A-plot is the perfect metaphor to bring that to a head.

The third volume of Peter Tomasi's Superman just finished its own epic story, Multiplicity, which I might have thought I'd like more, but in terms of how Men of Steel works within the Action Comics title both plot-wise and thematically, possibly this book ekes ahead of that one.

[Review contains spoilers]

It's a startling thing to realize that at least since the outset of Rebirth, we haven't seen Lex Luthor do anything wrong. He has not committed a crime. I thought Jurgens wrote Superman outlandishly suspicious of this Lex at first, but I see now Jurgens was establishing just how mistrustful Superman is of this earth's Lex without any basis. Setting aside that this Lex has been to prison for criminal activities -- something everyone seems to have forgotten -- Jurgens posits the New 52 Lex as gruff but good, even seemingly recasting a scene from Forever Evil where Lex appeared about to murder Ted Kord's father. At the end of this book when Superman and Lex finally reconcile, I felt sure the last thing we'd see would be a cut-scene where Lex reveals an evil scheme -- that's what the Triangle Titles would have done -- and it doesn't come.

Can Jurgens be serious? Is this Lex "good"? I still don't wholly believe it. But I do give Jurgens credit for having kept this Lex plot simmering in the background until he brings it to the fore in this multi-part story -- that does seem like Triangle Titles storytelling. Jurgens knows what his story's about and he's focused on it. Equally, as compared to Action Comics Vol. 1: Path of Doom's Doomsday fight rehash, Jurgens is breaking new ground with an adult Superman/Lex Luthor friendship, such that we really don't know where this story is going. (Notably Jurgens riffs not on his own past Superman continuity but that of Jeph Loeb and Geoff Johns after him when he references Superman and his own Lex as Smallville contemporaries. Perhaps Jurgens means to build up the Superman/Lex Luthor friendship just to shatter it again?)

Alongside this, Jurgens offers a subplot where the Clark Kent doppelganger sees Jon, something I hadn't really realized was a danger until it happened. A big part of Lois Lane's life is Jon, and yet to pass herself off as the former Lois Lane, no one can know Jon exists, a lie for a parent perhaps much harder than hiding one's own secret identity. The bit with Jon pigging out on ice cream is goofy, but Jurgens pivots well to Lois then needing to bring Jon to Metropolis and un-Clark stalking them. I enjoyed very much the concept of the New 52 Clark and Lois as best friends, and this is an interesting twist on that dynamic with an adversarial other-Clark and other-Lois; it's further unusual to see Lois this wary of Clark at all. It makes for gripping reading right alongside Jurgens's Superman/Lex reckoning.

The good ideas here do struggle to come through around some of the messiness that has plagued the book throughout. The alien antagonists are forgettable and their "future sins" schtick so obviously wrong that their value is really only metaphorical. To that end, Jurgens spends too many pages on the aliens' origins and on unnecessary flashbacks; also Jurgens gives one if not two issues over wholly to fight scenes, though he makes up for it with later "talky" issues more akin to Superman: Action Comics Vol. 2: Welcome to the Planet. Men of Steel rather seems like it could have been four issues in Triangle Title style, padded out to six issues ostensibly for the trade.

Support Collected Editions -- Purchase Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel

But by and large Dan Jurgens does well with Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel, continuing this book's upswing from the last volume. Notably the conflicts here are "homegrown," like Superman's relationship with Lex, and unrelated to Rebirth or Mr. Oz as in Superman Vol. 3: Multiplicity. I'm glad for that because it indicates how Action Comics might stand on its own once Rebirth is said and done; Jurgens continues to demonstrate a great handle on these characters.

[Includes original and variant covers]

Review Date
Reviewed Item
Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: Men of Steel
Author Rating
4 (out of 5)

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I'm really enjoying how they're playing Lex. I assume he'll go bad, but there are no real hints at how/why. It's the opposite of, for example, Anakin Skywalker - killing the Sandpeople, lopping off Dooku's head - there was obvious foreshadowing (beyond, you know, the original trilogy) blaring that he'd eventually make a critical 'dark' decision. With Lex, there's no foreshadowing other than his general arrogance - he might fail due to arrogance and then do something irredeemable, he might be secretly evil all the way through, etc. Heck, he might just be a hero now forever. It's really kind of fun

  2. I have really been enjoying Dan Jurgens run on Action. The stories feel really fresh.

    Personally I wouldn't mind if Lex would play the role of a sort of grey area Hero from now on. Sort of like Magneto these days.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post