Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have stepped on board to "Action Comics" #25, kicking off their start on the series with a flashback to what Superman was doing during the events of "Zero Year." When I'd heard about this, my first thought was, "That's a shame that their first issue needs to be connected to someone else's storyline." Now that I've read the comic, though, my opinion has changed. It's a good track to take, because hopefully it will bring over new readers who will see what a great job Pak and Kuder have done here.
For those who haven't read "Zero Year" over in "Batman," don't worry, because Pak quickly presents all that readers need to know; there's a massive hurricane heading towards Gotham City, even as all the power got knocked out by the Riddler hours earlier. From there, this story is all about the young Superman, as he decides that the best thing he could do is to find a way to destroy the storm before it makes landfall. But of course, there are limits to even what someone with the abilities of Superman can do.
Pak clearly understands the character of Superman. He gives him that eagerness to do right, but never in a ridiculously earnest or cloying manner. Instead we're given an everyman, someone who when given great powers would want to use them to his full extent. There's a palpable thrill that comes off the page when he's Superman; this is someone who's reveling in his abilities even as he uses them for the betterment of everyone around him. And in doing so, it's easy to see why Superman gains such a reputation for being the proverbial Boy Scout. It's not that he's simply someone who says, "Aw, shucks" a lot, but rather he loves the powers he has when he helps others. The two are almost one and the same here, and it's a refreshing take on the character.
I also appreciate that Pak's found a way to have Superman not always win 100% of the time, but still have a story that feels up and cheerful. Superman can't simply destroy a hurricane (or at least not at this point in his career), but it happens in a way that is both logical and satisfying from a storytelling perspective. There are smaller victories achieved in the process, but Pak reminds readers that Superman's abilities don't automatically promise a win. It's a good balance, one that doesn't lose sight of his strong he is, but also keeps any sort of challenge from being too easy.
It's delightful to see Kuder as a regular artist on a title; his work with fill-ins on the Superman family of titles has been outstanding, and this is no exception. His blocky but smooth character designs feel like a strange mash-up between Ladronn, Jack Kirby and Geof Darrow, and that's a huge plus. Watching Superman try to create a vortex in the ocean is a gorgeous series of panels, with the incredibly detailed storm raging down on him even as we see the water churning at Superman's behest. Even something as small as Superman clinging to the underside of a plane as it flies off into the gloom is breathtaking; the drops of rain, the shapes of the clouds, the bolt of lightning in the distance. There are also a couple of nice looking layouts here, too; I love the S-shield panel that crashes into the ground as Superman punches, and the concentric circles that radiate out from his powerful clap are a lot of fun. If Kuder can keep this up month after month, "Action Comics" is going to be one of the nicest-looking books on the market.
There's a back-up story that leads into "Action Comics" #26 as well, with Scott McDaniel pitching in on the art. This is good, too. I like the take on "Superman wants to help everyone" with a bit of age under Superman's belt, and what it means to have ever-increasing abilities. McDaniel's art is a lot of fun, too; the sound-wave/circle panels with everything that he's picking up are a fun little touch, and in general McDaniel's art has that great, rough-hewn look that artists like Walter Simonson have also brought into comics. It's a smart little prologue that makes me want to come back next month.
In many ways, "Action Comics" #25 is the best sort of tie-in. People who are reading "Zero Year" in "Batman" get an answer to the question of why Superman hadn't waded in and tried to help Gotham City in its moment of crisis. Readers of "Action Comics" won't feel lost or confused. And hopefully, "Action Comics" just got some new regular readers who liked what they saw here. I know I did. Pak and Kuder are a great choice for "Action Comics" and I'm eager to see what happens next.