When one thinks of Superman, one doesn’t think of the term “horror” right away (unless you’re thinking of that whole “Superman Blue” thing from the 90s). However, this latest arc by Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder has shown that the Man of Steel and horror actually can work wonderfully. With the newest version of Golden Age villain The Ultra Humanite turning Smallville into a Village of the Damned, Superman has to confront things he cannot easily fight, such as his worst fears in this latest issue.
Pak does a great job of ratcheting up the suspense from the start, with Superman unsure with what is real and what is the Ultra Humanite’s illusions. One thing could be a false memory, another could be him going after someone he cares about as the house begins to exert dream logic. What might be worse is The Ultra Humanite taking those he cares about the most and using them to voice his biggest fears about himself. We do get some explanations about the source of this horror, as well as connect back to seeds first planted in the Superman: Doomed mega arc that first appeared last summer. Pak slowly ratchets up the horror with every page, ending with a payoff that is as frightening for Superman as it is for the reader.
My lone complaint is that Lana Lang, who until this point was a bundle of kickass independence, has become a damsel-in-distress. This gives both Superman and Steel, Lana’s boyfriend, motivation to stop Ultra Humanite beyond saving Smallville; but after the character development she’s had since her reappearance, it feels like a step back.
Kuder does an excellent job with the creepy atmosphere throughout the tale. In a story with not so much major action, Kuder captures the emotional struggle Superman has as Ultra Humanite plays on his fears in the most disturbing and macabre way possible. This includes a splash page of just Superman’s face, screaming for Lana, and a particularly wrenching scene as he temporarily breaks down. Ultra Humanite, and his creations, are freakish, frightening, and disturbing on so many levels.
While Lee’s art is only a few pages, it combines the nightmarish torment Superman is experiencing with a style that reminds me in part of the art seen in my old childhood copy of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. Lee’s art adds more to the horror of the story, along with a dreamy feel that makes it feel unreal. Combined with Kuder’s art, Lee’s shows that not even Superman’s memories are safe.
Superman is often accused of being boring, of being too predictable. Pak and Co have taken Superman, and readers, out of their comfort zone and show the wonderful combination that is Superman and horror. It’s something that’s not been seen that often, and they pull it off with aplomb.
It will be interesting to see how Superman defeats this evil.
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