You don’t see Superman lose a lot, but it happens in Action Comics #29. It’s not necessarily what everyone else would consider a loss, but what others view as wins, Kal-El often sees as pyrrhic victories at best.
Superman and Lana Lang have been dealing with a strange subterranean culture full of unnerving creatures that scare the ordinary joe explorers around them. Lang is desperately trying to recover a miraculous light globe from them, believing it has the potential to give clean energy to the world. Even when a big monster showed up, Superman proved the extent to which he cares about protecting life by even finding a way to befriend said monster, a big blue quadruped named Baka. Yes, Superman knows its name. There are also a batch of little white fuzzy rat-things who’ve started to go through some crazy sort of trauma ever since they were exposed to sunlight for the first time, but before Supes can suss out what’s going on, he has to deal with protecting them from the panicky gun-toters trying to kill them. Unfortunately for him, there’s a phasing guy named Ghost Soldier who outright slaughters them while his back is turned (and he’s bleeding out after getting stabbed in the chest by said phasing guy).
That adds up to a defeat for Superman. Yeah, he manages to figure out that freeze breath works on phased guys, finds out how to track down the secretive group giving Ghost Soldier his marching orders, and he even tears up an air force trying to bomb the underground monster gathering, But he comes away feeling like he failed, because not only did all those little guys die, but he has to break a promise to poor Baka – who turns out to be a shapeshifting child – and send him back underground when he wanted to be free on the surface… and he can still hear him crying two miles beneath the earth. The kicker is that Lang’s miracle source of eneergy turns out to be one of those little white fuzzy guys trapped in an orb, making clean energy into cruel energy.
That’s the thing with Superman. He’s got the power of a god, but if anyone even gets hurt on his watch, he considers it a failure. That’s how you hurt the unhurtable man. Learn from Greg Pak, Zack Snyder.
Action Comics has improved considerably since Pak took over, because there’s an emotional core to it now, and a great friendship between Clark Kent and Lana Lang, who knows who he is, understands the weight of his burden, and works to protect his secret as well. If there’s one good thing that came from the separation of Clark and Lois, it’s that Lana gets to up her profile, and she does it wonderfully in this arc. Pak really makes you want someone like Lana around as a regular supporting cast member – which isn’t likely, because she’s kinda got a Lara Croft thing going on. Aaron Kuder’s art is solid stuff, crazy detailed on the creatures, although for some reason, half the time Lana speaks, it looks like you could shove a bowling ball in her mouth, it’s that wide open. I like the implication that she’s kind of a loudmouth with a rough exterior, but it’s an odd choice.
Clark and Lana couldn’t be more different, but they share a heart of gold, and you can feel their warmth and sorrow in Action Comics #29. It’s good to have a Superman book that makes you feel things again.