DC Comics delivered a new Superman story in June that has upended the Man of Steel’s status quo as he’s now significantly depowered and his secret identity has been outed to the world. It’s a fresh and exciting take on the 77-year-old character that has allowed co-writers Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder to deliver one of the most relevant Superman stories in years.
In Action Comics #42, which came out Wednesday, the Man of Steel takes on one of the most pressing issues facing the nation: excessive use of force by police. It’s a gripping and breathtaking story with powerful visuals -- never have we seen Superman bleed this much -- that also doubles as an examination of what it really means to be a superhero.
The new direction of all of the Superman books is part of DC Comics’ revamped comic-book lineup that launched in June. Among other things, it places an emphasis on giving creators the freedom to take old and well-known characters such as Superman and Batman in new and exciting directions. We’re seeing some of the most innovative Batman and Superman stories in a while. And Action Comics #42 offers people a good reason to begin reading DC Comics’ offerings right now.
After the conclusion of DC’s crossover “Convergence” event (the details of which are unimportant here), Pak and Kuder launched the “Truth” storyline. It finds Superman without most of his powers, for reasons that have yet to be explained, and his secret identity as Clark Kent outed to the world by Lois Lane, a revelation that wasn’t well-received by some, namely, the police. Also, his Fortress of Solitude doesn’t recognize his DNA and strips him of his costume. Upon his return to Metropolis after several weeks, he finds the area around his apartment, affectionately renamed Kentville, has been quarantined by the police. Some of the residents are happy to have been his neighbors and have created a “We Stand With Superman” banner to celebrate his return, but there are others who are scared because they’re worried his presence will draw supervillains to their doorsteps.
In Action Comics #42, Superman is called away to fight -- with what little power he has left -- a big shadow monster, while a SWAT team marches on Kentville, his block, to take it out. The Kentville residents peacefully refuse to move and sit down in the middle of the street because it’s their neighborhood and they aren’t doing anything wrong. Unfortunately, one resident starts to resist and the police use this as an excuse to break out their riot gear. Eventually, Superman arrives and defiantly drops an anchor in the middle of the street and stands with and for his neighbors.
“I can’t fight for them,” Superman says in an interior monologue. “But I can still stand with them.”
It’s an extremely powerful image that makes it almost impossible not to think about what’s been happening in the U.S. since last summer. Because of the events in places such as Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, police brutality and excessive use of force has become a topic of discussion across the country.
On a normal day, Superman could handle this standoff between the Kentville residents and police with no problem, and this story could be criticized for trivializing such an issue. Inserting a depowered Superman into the mix, however, transforms the character into an even stronger symbol for what the character stands for, namely, truth, justice, and the American way. The message in Action Comics #42: You don’t need superpowers to do what’s right and stand up for and with the oppressed, a point that’s driven home by Kuder’s rendering of Superman, which forgoes his typical godlike musculature for a more heavyset look and clothes him in a simple Superman T-shirt and jeans that portrays him as an everyman.
The police beat Clark with a bat until he finally breaks and decides to fight back. Clark attempts to stand his ground, but the situation escalates as the police make their move on the crowd. Bloody and exhausted, Superman speeds into a sergeant with a punch.
Action Comics isn’t the only DC comic-book series worth checking out this summer. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continue their exceptional work on the Batman title with a new story that introduces Commissioner Jim Gordon (played by Gary Oldman in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” film trilogy) as Gotham’s new Batman following the Bruce Wayne’s apparent death at the end of the “Endgame” storyline. This new Batman, decked out in high-tech armor, works in cooperation with the Gotham City Police and within the bounds of the law to be an inspiring figure, a better Batman for the city. This story shouldn’t work because we know Bruce Wayne will eventually return and a robot Batman is kind of ridiculous, but it does work because it remembers that Batman, above all else, was a symbol of justice and what a man can do in the face of injustice.
Previously low-profile characters, such as Black Canary and Midnighter, are also starring in their own books, both of which embody interesting and unique approaches to these characters. Moreover, there are some genuinely idiosyncratic offerings in the mix, such as the satirical Prez, which is about a teenage girl who is elected president through Twitter. If you’re looking to explore the DC Universe before Warner Bros., DC’s parent company, jump-starts its own shared cinematic universe with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” now’s a great a time to begin.