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Action Comics #959 feels like a Superman story. And that’s a welcome thing as far as I’m concerned. For most of the character’s run during the New 52 era (Grant Morrison’s early run aside) I felt like writers were often going against the grain, trying in vain to make their Superman not feel like Superman. There’s a perception that the Man of Steel is too old-fashioned, too earnest, too vanilla to succeed in this modern age of conflicted and flawed protagonists. As a result, I felt like large parts of the New 52 Superman stories were about asserting that, no really, Superman is interesting! He’s edgy! He’s youthful and flawed! But I rarely got the feeling that the creative teams really wanted him to be that way. They wanted to write Superman. Classic Superman. Inspiring and iconic Superman. And that’s how he works best. Post-Rebirth, “Action Comics” writer (and classic Superman artist/scribe) Dan Jurgens hasn’t had this problem because DC has brought back the classic Superman, having done away neatly with their more problematic and arguably less resonant one.
As a result, Action Comics #959, which continues the “Path of Doom” arc, works far better as an action-packed classically enjoyable Superman story than most of the hero’s adventures in some time. Above all, the post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint version of Superman was a tough, principled man who always got the job done, and that job was saving people’s lives. Jurgens, having had a huge hand in crafting that character, brings that interpretation to his run on this title. It’s made me realize that that self-confidence and determination is what I felt the New 52 Superman lacked, and what I think turns out to be a pretty defining aspect of what makes the character work.
Jurgens turns to other areas of the issue to breed some modern-era uncertainty and complexity. First there’s the threat of Doomsday, who seems to not be the same one the New 52 Superman recently encountered but far more reminiscent of the one who once killed the Superman of this issue. Then there’s the dilemma entered around the fact Superman is working side-by-side with an apparently heroic Lex Luthor. This relationship is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the issue, as we see Superman slowly come to accept that this Lex seems sincere in his desire to be an actual hero, even if his arrogance and methods make things more complicated.
There’s also the ongoing mystery of why there’s someone running around purporting to be Clark Kent, the real Clark Kent, and one who isn’t Superman at all. That mystery still hasn’t advanced much beyond last issue, but what’s interesting is that Clark still appears to have the same ethics he’s always had, endeavouring to get the story and keep others out of danger. Given the emergency going on throughout the issue, you can forgive the lack of resolution or advancement of this detail, but Jurgens’ refusal to tip his hand as to what is going on with this Clark Kent means that things remain intriguing.
There are a couple flaws to the issue, though. First, I do think that Lois and her son Jon need to get more directly involved in the action of the narrative, or develop their own subplot. Scenes of Lois worrying about things in her kitchen or living room have by this point gotten old. She’s Lois Lane, have her actually do something, please. Secondly, there’s a mysterious figure named Mr. Oz watching the proceedings and making cryptic pronouncements. The current theory is that he has something to do with the recent “Watchmen”-related revelation coming out of “DC Universe Rebirth.” If his identity is what they’re obviously hinting it to be, let me just say that it’s not interesting and the only way I can’t see it being a disaster is if it’s handled very, very, VERY well. And so far, it hasn’t been. I’m just not interested in this shadowy figure. Frankly, it’s a tired trope to begin with, even if it doesn’t include a character from one of the great self-contained comic book stories of all time.
Tyler Kirkham handles the art for this issue, and I think it’s a little off from his usual standard. I’ve liked his stuff in the past, but there’s a rushed feeling to this issue, with some stiff figures and clunky choreography. There’s a few moments that really sing, like a nice splash page where Lois’ memories flow around her, entwined with strands of her hair, and the last couple pages of the battle with Doomsday have some great panels. I just thought there were some awkward moments here and there that seemed hurried. Part of me wonders if regular artist Patrick Zircher fell behind and Kirkham was a fill-in and therefore had less time. Maybe, but there’s enough here to like that I can forgive some rough patches.
Overall, Action Comics #959 may not be the most revolutionary or brilliant comic, but the creative team absolutely nails the classic Superman adventure vibe it’s clearly going for. Even with its flaws, and even with a plot that feels more familiar than innovative, it’s still a perfectly fun and exciting read that lives up to the series’ title of “Action Comics.” That is why I’m giving the issue a 8/10.