Spoilers for “Action Comics #41? past this point!
After years of being stymied by Clark Kent’s clever “glasses and tousled hair” disguise, in today’s (June 3) issue of “Action Comics,” Lois Lane has finally figured out Superman’s secret identity… And revealed that Clark and Superman are one and the same to the entire world. But, as is so often in comics, that’s just the beginning of the story — and the massive changes — to DC Comics’ premiere superhero.
The twist was first teased in “Superman #40,” when Lois noticed that Clark Kent and Superman were bleeding in the exact same spot on their bodies. It’s been a point of contention with hardcore and casual fans — as well as stand-up comics, and you know, Moms, and literally everyone — that a genius level reporter like Lane couldn’t figure out the dude she worked with every day was also the guy with the big red “S” on his suit.
And to be fair, she has figured it out multiple times before in comics, on TV, and even in the movies: “Man of Steel” didn’t even really introduce the “in disguise” Clark until the very end of the film, after Lois had known the truth for a solid hour or so. But for whatever reason, this time Lois didn’t just discover Clark’s secret, she published it on the front page of the Daily Planet.
True to comics, though, you’re going to have to wait a while to find out why this happened… “Action Comics #41? takes place after “Superman #41,” which hits stores later this month (and as we find out later in the issue, after next month’s “Superman #42? as well because #comicsareconfusing).
That said, the (excellent) issue by writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder is far more concerned with what it means that the world knows who Superman is… And not only that, what it means that he’s also nearly powerless.
This second twist is another in media res moment which will be filled in over in “Superman,” but it’s arguably (and dramatically) an even bigger change to the status quo than Superman’s outing in the press. For the first time, Kal-El can taste things properly. He can feel cold. He needs to sleep. He’s finally figuring out what it’s like to be human. An incredibly famous human, but still.
Before you start to think the issue is all about Superman turning into a spandex-wearing Kardashian, he has kept some of his powers. In fact, he’s mostly (and despite a cheeky line of dialogue in the first panel stating, “Can’t fly. Can’t leap over tall buildings”) reduced to his power level way back in “Action Comics #1.”
He’s still strong and can jump far distances, but his super hearing is mostly gone, as are heat vision and other powers. He’s able to fight, just not fly backwards around the world and turn back time, or anything spectacular like that.
In a way, it’s almost like Pak, Kuder, and DC are answering a dare from fans to finally answer all of those questions that have been rattling around for 75 years. What if Lois finally figured him out? What if he had no secret identity, and the alien and the bumbling reporter were one guy? What if he didn’t have unlimited powers?
By answering that dare, as Pak Kuder have done over the course of their run on the title — which you should really go back and read if you haven’t been keeping up — they continue to get to the core of what makes Superman, Superman.
There’s new enemies to fight in this issue, new allies (more on that in a second) and a new status quo not just for Superman, but the world, too. But when you get down to it, he’s still a guy who just wants to do good.
There’s a great scene where some fans doubt his strength, and he proceeds to use his prodigious arm muscles to lift up a gaggle of laughing children. It’s a quintessential Superman moment, something you’d never see Batman or other heroes do. Because despite his alien status, and arguments about whether it separates him from humanity or not from fandom, Superman really has always been the most human of heroes.
He’s not Superalien: he’s Superman. And by putting the man part back in the character, Pak, Kuder and DC have created a comic that not only looks great (the art by Kuder really is spectacular, aided by Tomeu Morey Hi-Fi on colors), has exciting action and villains, and pushes the overall plot forward… It’s also a surprisingly deep and beautiful meditation on what makes us human.
Before we finish up and let you read the book, though (and you should read it), there’s one more plot twist that waits for readers. When Superman gets back home, he finds his former neighborhood is full of thankful citizens, including a fireman who meets Clark on even footing. Where everyone else looks up to him, she shakes his hand and stands as tall as he does.
She’s strong willed, friendly, good… And African American. Oh, and there’s one other thing about her: her name is Lee Lambert.
Which, if you’ve been paying attention at all to Superman, is one more riff that fans like to point out: he has a thing for characters with names that both start with “L.” There’s Lex Luthor, to be sure, but also Lois Lane and Lana Lang, a.k.a. the two loves of his life.
So beyond the lack of powers, and public persona, is Clark headed a new great love? And an interracial one at that?
Whatever happens next, this bold new direction means that Superman is finally as relevant as he was three-quarters of a century ago. And under Pak and Kuder, it’ll be a ride that won’t just be exciting, action-filled comics — it’ll also delve deeply into all the great philosophical questions that comics are supposed to represent. It’s going to be a great ride, and that’s the truth.
“Action Comics #41? is in stores now.