Action Comics #49
By Greg Pak, Aaron Kuder, Ardian Syaf, Tomeu Morey, and Wil Quintana
The problem with monthly comic reviews is that the stories you showcase aren’t always being told in a way that lends itself to reviewing each individual segment. Case in point: Action Comics #49 is the not terribly interesting penultimate chapter of an ongoing cross-comic story arc entitled Savage Dawn, revolving around a villainous scheme by the immortal caveman Vandal Savage. The overall Savage Dawn arc is passable at best; a weird amalgamation of elements caught between explaining Superman’s current loss of powers and trying to cobble together a workable stakes-raiser out of the DC You’s hodgepodge of a mythos. This particular installment of the story, subtitled” Immortal Combat”, is a bizarrely minor entry that feels very much incomplete within the broader saga at hand. Part of this is owed to the awkward placement of the penultimate chapter in that it’s adjacent to revelations without being truly revelatory itself.
This issue takes place after the big reveals that Vandal Savage was the one leeching Superman’s powers and immediately after Superman exposed himself to super amounts of Kryptonite to try to cure himself. As a result, a good chunk of the issue is spent just decompressing from said revelations and while the recap is nice, it also eats into the already short amount of time the comic has on hand. There is a very interesting element revolving around Superman’s cells developing a way to convert high kryptonite exposure into a new power source, basically making him kryptonite powered, but it’s not given nearly enough time and space for development. The issue here is essentially that this is two parts of a story already in progress compressed down into one issue, most likely to meet a deadline. The kryptonite Superman stuff is neat, but has to coexist with a subplot about one of Savage’s followers.
Yes, Savage has amassed a small entourage of super powered followers, allegedly his children from across the decades, as part of his nefarious plan to…do bad things. This issue gives the focus to the biggest member of the team Salvaxe (one of the stupidest names ever committed to the printed word) throwing down with Superman in a disappointing manner. This is how the book’s split focus and compressed timing hurts, Salvaxe’s back-story and smack down with Superman is so rushed it’s practically nonexistent. The two trade punches for about three pages before the story rushes off to the next subplot. Meanwhile, Salvaxe’s origin is painfully trite and under explained (he used to be normal till Savage made him not normal) and the ultimate revelation is very similar, almost suspiciously similar, to the reveal of the Heretic’s identity in Batman Inc. The big difference is that the Heretic was built up as a threat in Batman Inc. since before the comic began whereas Salvaxe has only really been active for a handful of issues.
Artwork wise things are mixed. It’s still pretty fun and trippy to see the DC You costume redesigns in action, even if Wonder Woman’s costume remains far too heavy on the dark colors for its own good. The visual realization of a kryptonite-powered Superman is a real standout and one of the better synergies between artwork and coloring to grace the page. Unfortunately, Salvaxe’s visual design as an over-muscled steroid freak leaves him weirdly proportioned, especially in the fight scenes. This might be intentional, part of how distorted his body is, but there are also clear flubs of perspective and proportion. Still, the panel design is very exciting, following the energy of the scene and choreography and the color work remains ever crisp and invigorating.
There are other bizarre elements that could be nitpicked, like the way Vandal Savage’s plan to drain the energy from heroes like Adam Strange and Cyborg in order to shoot the moon doesn’t even begin to make any sense, but in the end that’s all just so much noise. Savage Dawn, as an event, has proven predominately pedestrian and more than a little perfunctory to the task of returning Superman to a level of truly super powers, which is itself a claim given how enjoyable the T-shirt/blue jeans Superman has been since the inception of the New 52 continuity. It’s also painfully obvious the only reason Vandal Savage is popping up as a bad guy here is because he’s on Legends of Tomorrow and despite being generally tone-deaf, not even DC is that devoid of cross-promotion. Bottom line: this is a not terribly interesting entry in a not terribly interesting event comic that exists for not terribly interesting reasons.