On the first page of Action Comics #43, Superman- the Big Blue Boy Scout, the Man of Tomorrow, punches a police officer. Luckily, it’s a Shadow monster (an alien race that is Superman’s enemy) masquerading as Sergeant Binghamton, but this punch doesn’t solve problems with the police still suspicious about Superman’s motives and the inhabitants of his neighborbood after they defended him with physical force And to add insult upon injury, Superman still doesn’t have powers and has no secret identity after being outed as Clark Kent as part of the “Truth” arc over in the Superman title. Writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder, who share story credits, use these deficiencies to make Action Comics go beyond a standard issue superhero comic and explore relevant social themes, like police violence and militarization along with the immigrant experience, which has been a huge part of the Superman character since his introduction. And it’s all packaged with some hard hitting art from Kuder and colorist Tomeu Morey, who show every bruise Superman takes while he’s fighting the Shadow Monster while occasionally cutting away for an inspirational two page spread.
Through their work on Action Comics (especially in the current “Truth” arc), Pak and Kuder have truly brought Superman back to his roots as man of the people even taking a cue from Grant Morrison’s run on the comic by giving him a jean and T-shirt superhero get up. Because he’s without most of his powers, Superman takes a lot of punishment in his battle against the Shadows, and his neighbors, especially Lee and Dante, pick up the slack until the Metropolis PD can shut them down. Pak uses just the right amount of narrative captions to show that Superman cares about his neighbors, and he even makes a great gesture in giving Lee a piece of his cape after she went after an alien with a baseball bat. Morey makes the background behind her bright red to show how she captured the power of Superman through her actions. Lee is also a great addition to Superman’s supporting cast as she becomes one of the leaders of the group of civilians Superman sets up to protect his neighborhood while he can’t be everywhere at once.
Action Comics #42 is structured around a pair of jawdropping splash pages (a single and double) from Aaron Kuder that are the exclamation points after the fisticuffs and conversations. They drive the themes of the issue home while also acting as foils to each other. The single page splash is Superman and Jimmy Olsen coming home to his apartment for the first time since his secret identity was revealing and seeing graffiti sprayed in red spray paint. Even after he has saved Metropolis countless times, some of its citizens (Or police force. The vandals aren’t revealed.) go from loving to hating Superman just because he’s a different species.
However, he isn’t universally hated and feared as Kuder turns in some of the best work of his career with a shot of Superman telling his neighbors, “You’re all Superman” after commending their bravery in the past few days. The setting is casual, like a block party or barbecue, and Kuder frames Superman so that he is on an equal footing with the rest of the people on the page. These pages and the ones that follow them showing Superman dividing his neighbors into groups depending on their skill set shows that he’s not a god watching from above, but just plain Clark Kent. This is the name Lee calls him showing their close bond.
Even though it is veiled in the metaphors of a superhero depowering and alien conspiracy plot, Action Comics #42 is a piece of art rallying communities to stand up for themselves in a time where police militarization is on the rise on the United States. Pak writes Superman very transparently as he tells one of the good cops, Hammerstein, to call him Clark, and he talks to the mayor of Metropolis herself on the phone to diffuse the situation near his apartment.
Action Comics #43 features a political allegory wrapped in bone crushing superhero art from Aaron Kuder, and he and Greg Pak continue to showcase Superman as a true hero and inspiration to people crushed by society’s forces everywhere. Superman hasn’t been this socially relevant since he was beating up corrupt tenement owners and slum lords in 1939.