Woo-hoo, now this is what I want from my Action Comics! Noble heroes, dastardly villains, fantastic fisticuffs, big emotions... Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder and co bring us their best issue in ages as Vandal Savage declares his endgame.
Or perhaps that should be Vandal Suave?
Isn't he the dapper caveman? I'm not sure what's going on - two shirts separated by a waistcoat? - but there's a pleasing dash of Doctor Who's Master about him. And like that villain, Savage is king of the longterm plots. We learn that stealing most of Superman's powers was but the rehearsal for the big event... as this issue opens he's taken over the Justice League Watchtower and waylaid the hero team. And soon he's exploding Black Mass bombs across Metropolis from his base above the city in a bit to create a new world order with him at the head. How can a non-flying Superman even reach, never mind stop, him?
With a little help from his friends. They've lost their book but Justice League United hasn't been fast-tracked to Comic Book Limbo. Led by Steel they're on the case, recruiting the Atom and even dear old Lana Lang to help Superman fight back. That means Superman donning the rather stylish suit seen on this issue's cover, the creation of John Henry Irons with a little help from Ray Palmer. But wearing the hi-tech outfit comes at a price - its Kryptonite engine might kill Superman before he can quash the immortal villain.
This issue is such a fun ride it's easy to forget it's part of the ill-conceived, spottily executed Truth storyline. The quality of Pak and Kuder's Action Comics has surpassed that of the other participating series, and here they ramp things up another notch. Vandal Savage is one of DC's greatest villains, head and shoulders above the new bad guys Superman has fought of late; suddenly the storyline feels epic, and the arrival of JLU only helps. I love that the least-known League comes to the rescue of the bigger players. A team featuring Animal Man is a great callback to one of the best Action storylines of the Eighties, when The Forgotten Heroes gathered to help the Man of Steel (and later, they even battled Savage).
A highlight is seeing Lana thrilled to be reunited with Superman after her recent resentment towards him, and the sheer fun super-scientist Ray Palmer has moonlighting as a superhero had me smiling. There remains a big elephant in the room, though - Supergirl. Her cousin is in trouble, her old JLU teammates are defending Metropolis and she's... where?
The story doesn't end here, but there is plot progression, including a nice turnabout on the part of one character that makes sense in context. Actually, with Pak and Kuder on such fine form, another few issues would be rather wonderful. They've shown Grumpy Superman the door in favour of the serious, but not self-obsessed, hero - someone whom I believe can bring down Savage.
One of the things I'm happy about is that Kuder is back drawing the book - not the whole story, Rafa Sandoval spots him for a few pages, but enough to make a big difference. The arrival of the JLU cavalry, the battle on the captured Watchtower, the vertiginous perspectives, the rufty-tufty foreshortening - it's classic Kuder.
Not that Sandoval's art - inked by Jordi Tarragona - is anything to sniff at, it's dynamic, clean, powerful. Lana' greeting and the more-like-TV-Atom costume are particularly well done. The only storytelling issue is that I don't actually know who this character is...
Tomeu Morey's colours add consistency to the visuals, while Steve Wands provides smooth lettering.
Action Comics #48 is a classy performance from all the creators, and if you've dropped the Superman books of late, jump back in right here. You won't be sorry.