Action Comics #1006
Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Ryan Sook and Brad Anderson
Lettered by Josh Reed
Published by DC Comics
Review by Matthew Sibley
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
We all know how fast Superman can be, though the current iteration of Action Comics as written by Brian Michael Bendis is not a book whose plot moves at a mile a minute. There’s a long game in play when it comes to the ongoing story gradually unfolding month-to-month, akin to a chain of dominoes, a cycle of action and reaction. In this early stage of the run, the richness comes from the grace notes, the little moments that Bendis is able to find the time for, a fact which is especially true when it comes to this month’s installment.
It starts with a question to the Mayor. Clark Kent decides to just ask him outright about the spate of recent fires and if he had anything to do with shutting down the previous investigations. It’s a direct approach that sends Mayor Hopkins backpedalling, and while he can make all the verbal jabs regarding Lois Lane's absence that he wants, the mayor also wants out of the situation immediately. Clark applies just the right amount of pressure for Hopkins to begin to unravel, and then all Clark needs to do is follow where the thread leads, which is what the rest of the issue deals with, but not before he sneaks into an alley in order to change - only there’s a kid sitting there reading a comic book.
And it's with this page that stands as artist Ryan Sook and colorist Brad Anderson's finer achievements thus far. Over the seven panels on the page, the scope gradually expands, from a top tier of panels that see Clark transition from the street to the alley, away from other people’s gazes, to him spotting the kid, sitting there in innocuous fashion, barely glancing up to see him. The lower tier of panels are taller, taking up the bottom half of the page and home in on a more powerful element, the emotional capability of faces. Just looking at the kid’s face in the final panel, it carries that traditional Spielberg-ian sense of wonder that comes from characters seeing something they can’t quite believe.
The page gilds the lily, so to speak - it doesn’t drive the narrative forward, but it’s an elegant way to conclude the sequence. A character driven-one as compared to just transitioning from one location to another between panels. The street-level setting of the scene recalls Bendis’ work on titles a la Daredevil and Alias, an approach which he has managed to transfer across to the Distinguished Competition with success, albeit with a far brighter, glossier aesthetic, due to the work of colorists like Anderson. The panel of Clark’s face manages to capture his likeness surrounded by a golden hue from the sun. This panel shows how all involved know when they can find moments of hope, light and levity in a story about organized crime. Perhaps that’s the Metropolis effect.
Action Comics #1006 has more to it than just this scene – there’s also a check-in at The Daily Planet as well as some Superman action. The office’s hubbub is captured in bustling panels, right down to a quite stunning spread that provides a cross-section of the various floors from a unique perspective. Sook and Anderson manage to find a way to convey this approach with depth despite the rendering of Clark’s X-ray vision being all-blue. On top of this, there’s a solid Jimmy Olsen gag happening while all this is going down, yet more proof the team know when to go for moments of levity, landing this one in just the right way to not clash with the other, more serious goings-on of the scene.
Speaking of powers, Josh Reed deserves praise for how he executes a visual representation of Clark’s powers in the final part of the issue, wherein he’s suited up and protecting a civilian from the Red Cloud. An elongated “Whoosh” sound effect reverberates through the page, announcing the arrival of the Man of Steel and his super-breath before he’s touched down; the effect having been integrated into the page’s design.
The immediate left side of the panel, from which the effect enters is visually clear, with the panel becoming thicker with mist as you get closer to the right-hand side. Other representations are made use of throughout the fight, all with the same idea behind them, but the dynamic quality of Sook’s pencils means these all have a different visual approach and layout attached to the action beat. He can take a swirling mess of fog and turn it into a composition with a clear path of navigation through it, something to marvel at considering how the Red Cloud could have been a difficult villain to represent on the page.
With any luck, Sook and Anderson will be able to collaborate again later in the run, because their work in this issue (in addition to their previous two chapters) shows how strong they are with the various components that make-up the book’s overall shape as well as the little things that serve to make it all the more memorable. They’ve been not just consistent, but consistently inventive in how they’ve tackled the material given to them, and so it would be interesting to see how well they handle the bigger picture when more of it has come into focus. The same adage of consistent and consistently inventive is also applicable when discussing Bendis’ script, overall the move from one publisher to another seems to have revitalized his energy and output, with Action Comics being the high point month-in, month-out.