The secret is out and the villains are coming home to roost. Clark Kent's Clinton Street is where the latest version of the Royal Flush Gang ambushes him. They're gambling that he's strong enough to squeeze coal into diamonds for them, but weak enough to have to do as they say.
As it turns out, he ain't that weak. Helped by a bit of infighting, he soon polishes off this decidedly dense new grouping. Before he can relax, news comes that there's a hostage situation at the Daily Planet. When he arrives, Steve Lombard is in the electric grip of Livewire.
She's joined by Atomic Skull, Shockwave and Killers Frost and Croc. In terms of toughness, they should lick the underpowered Man of Steel, but they're at close quarters, not great at teamwork and facing a raging-mad Clark. He puts them down, then faces a threat that's a bit closer to home - or rather, the office.
Eventually he rescues Perry, Cat, Jimmy, Ron and that new reporter who was introduced months ago but has yet to get a proper scene (I'm dithering because I can't remember her name... Jackee?) but not before Perry is hurt in the crossfire. The Planet editor is furious and subsequently fires Clark. Clark's response is to record a message aimed at deterring any other villainous opportunists.
That's harsh, and Lois call him on it, but he's not having it. Clark checks into a motel, cuts his hair with a bit of Kryptonian glass and steels himself for what's next.
Subplots see Lois trying to make her loony army dad realise she didn't betray Clark by revealing his ID to the world - she was trying to help, and would he please call off his war dogs? And IT annoyance Hordr has a new body, and, we learn, longstanding daddy issues.
So, by the end of this one writer Gene Luen Yang has caught us up to where Clark was in the Sneak Peek preview story from five months back. We're still out of whack with the other Superman titles, as they tell their own tales of an angry, buzz-cutted guy in a Superman tee shirt, but hopefully next issue will drop the Before Truth branding and things will feel more immediate, more now. As it is, we've had months of waiting for things to happen that we know will happen and it's not made for the most riveting read.
One thing that does help the overall storyline is seeing Perry and friends kidnapped by villains before they're lifted by the US Government over in the set-later Superman/Wonder Woman book. It's no wonder the veteran editor is so angry over in the also-set-later Batman/Superman book. But how much better would it be if DC had revived the Nineties triangle notion and simply had the story told in strict linear order, weekly. That would certainly annoy anyone buying S/WW for Diana or B/S for Batman, but it's not like the characters aren't already just shoehorned into a Superman story.
But back to this issue's specifics. Superman #44 is Yang's best yet, as he shows he knows his DC lore by including the likes of JLA baddies the Royal Flush Gang and Blue Devil bad guy Shockwave. I still say Perry will come round but his anger makes huge sense - he's been locked in a cupboard with his staff, with a real risk of being murdered and when it seems he's safe, he gets shot. Would you want Clark showing up at your office after that?
The first Lois scene again shows that she's not the betrayer Clark sees her as, but a true friend; I could have done without General Lane, mind, he's so played out, always attacking Superman, never listening to the daughter he professes to respect.
Her second appearance is even better, as she tries to remind Clark just who he is. We already know he's not that person right now, look at the way he talks about Steve.
I realise the sportscaster is a sexist jerk, but he's a human being and justifiably terrified, Superman should be being his hero, not a creep.
And Lois gets a nice moment with Perry, though I'm not sure she should be bringing him alcohol in hospital - or do people wrap juice these days?
Terrible IT scumbag Hordr showing up again is annoying, but not surprising as he or she is still around in the other books. I did enjoy this guy cameoing.
Now that's a Superman villain.
Penciller John Romita Jr does a decent job, we know he enjoys drawing energy blasts, but good grief, he needs to look again at that new Ace design - a loincloth is not something a serious villainess should be wearing.
And the reveal of Livewire's partners is thrown away, that should be at least a two-thirds-of-a-page moment.
He does do a fine job with the Royal Flush Gang's attack on Clark - just look at the attitude of the King at top left, and the power of Ten's punch.
His weakest work is on the two pages of Superman in costume; he's been drawing this book for a year or something, and really should be able to make the hero look great by now. I can't deny I'm looking forward to the upcoming Howard Porter guest stint hugely. Klaus Janson finishes Romita's pencils with his trademark unapologetic style, while Dean White and Leonardo Olea pay commendable attention to lighting and environment (though I wonder if they're itching to burst out the primaries as much as I'm keen to see some).
The best visual this month is the cover, a cracking mob scene from Action Comics artist Aaron Kuder, along with Janson and White.
So, a more enjoyable issue than we've had for awhile. It's heartening to see Yang has a good handle on Superman's supporting cast and the wider world of the DCU, and I hope we get to see him given free reign outside the constraints of the Truth storyline. I assume it's going to end eventually...