“Another good question…now I have one, too– Who is The Red Cloud?”
(Warning: spoilers ahead for Action Comics #1005)
Brian Michael Bendis has been weaving a complex web of crime across Metropolis for the last few months. Never has the City of Tomorrow felt so lived in, so thought through and distinctive. Bendis, working alongside various fantastic collaborators, has realized the setting in a way that feels sorely needed. Action Comics #1005 continues Bendis’ character-specific crime saga which cuts to the heart of the world Superman inhabits.
We open at a club as we’re introduced to another member of the Invisible Mafia operating in Metropolis. Gummy, a high-ranking operative of the mafia, is in the process of acquiring an H-Dial, which lets its user transform into a superhero. The deal goes bad as The Question enters the scene and wrecks Gummy’s crew, while she desperately attempts to work the dial. Realizing it’s a fake, she’s cornered and met with The Question’s inquiry about The Red Cloud’s identity.
It’s a great opening, as Ryan Sook and Brad Anderson immediately set the tone and atmosphere utilizing a lot of blacks, purple and a mixture of blues and greens. Sook delivers brilliantly on the subtle character nuances and expressions essential to great crime storytelling, while Anderson adapts seamlessly to the needs of the panel and page. The Question is consistently in the shadows, with minimal light being used to enhance the effect of his select actions. Letterer Josh Reed accentuates the power of the moment and adds to it with his understated SFX for the ringing H-Dial (rmmm) in lower case letters.
The build to the full page Question reveal is a fascinating one. Sook places the image of the dial at the heart of the preceding three pages, indicating the quick progress of the action. The Question is a terrifying force taking down the entire club in the few moments it takes for Gummy to dial H-E-R-O on the dial. This is no ordinary man and his wrath is both swift and effective. There’s a lovely panel of a crook being sucked into the darkness, placed right within the inner circle of the massive dial image. At the heart of the H-dial, a mysterious force is at work — the storytelling makes that clear. The next page shows The Question in its first panel, while the the center of the page displays the words H-E-R-O etched onto the dial. There’s no mistaking the nature of this force and what’s at work. Much to her shock, however, nothing happens despite her dialing. She watches on in horror as The Question inches closer and his shadow falls over her face. It’s only after all this that we’re granted the much awaited and expected Question splash page. It’s an incredibly dynamic and impressive opening, with numerous smart choices made throughout to build tension and achieve maximum dramatic effect. This is a creative team that is completely in sync and they all effectively complement one another to achieve the intended results.
The rest of the issue is split into four segments that play into the world-building of Metropolis. The first begins with Clark Kent and Robinson Goode at Daily Planet as they discuss journalism and the nature of truth. Bendis has been exploring the theme through both of his runs across Action and Superman. But being the Metropolis-focused crime narrative centered around journalists, Action is where it’s truly examined. Clark tells Goode that she ought to stick to the facts rather than write flowery copy, while Goode argues for getting people’s attention above all things. This push and pull, the ideals of journalism contrasted with the harsh reality of what they are becoming for many is a huge aspect of the larger macro-story. The creative team clearly has a lot to say on this matter. Clark is then contacted by Melody Moore, the deputy chief of the fire department. She tells Clark that she’s calling him to meet under the advice of Superman, their mutual friend.
We then cut to the second segment and this is where the fall out of the opening scene is addressed. On Fleischer Street, there is a large manor. This is the base of the Crime Family that passes as The Invisible Mafia. Hidden in a giant room made of lead, they convene in secret. Mr. Strong, the second-in-command and chief of operations sits in his chair, while the rest stand about. Gummy, gripped by fury, recounts the events we saw unfold. Strong inquires why she was attempting to purchase an H-Dial to begin with but Gummy counters by pointing out that it’s a fake. She lets him and the rest of the family know that their people are now running scared from the city, with the audacity to sell her a counterfeit dial being the biggest proof. She demands that The Question be dealt with to resolve the issue, as Strong reminds her to remember her place. The family also meets the newest member of the mafia, the operative Kumquat. We also learn of the true boss’s existence, the lady that oversees the entire Invisible Mafia and we’re made aware of the fact that she listens in on every meeting. The Invisible Mafia are no longer so invisible to the world at large, with operatives running in fear, enforcers gaining public attention and multiple heroes on their tail. As uncertainty mounts, the family is intent on taking action to address their situation.
The third segment then begins and takes us to Clark and Melody’s remote meeting in the dark. Clark arrives as Superman in an old building and stands outside waiting as Clark in a smart panel. Melody joins Clark and begins to recount her story. She tells him about an invite she received from the Mayor of Metropolis to a gala and the bizarre exchange she had with the Mayor. She informs him that the Mayor advised her to stop looking into the series of suspicious fires in the city. The two part ways as Clark winks and promises to help. We get a set of panels juxtaposing the departures of both, which stand out interestingly. Melody hides under a hood and walks away, while Clark unveils his Superman costume and emerges, the precise opposite. It’s a fun choice but one with possible story implications moving forward, as we know little in regards to Melody as a character.
The fourth and final segment sees Superman examining the Mayor’s home from the sky via X-Ray vision. He finds the man drunk and curled up into a ball on the floor. Noting that it’s a bad time, he’s about to turn back when he senses something. He turns on his X-Ray vision again and begins to study his surroundings when a tiny red cloud emerges from thin air and surrounds him. The Red Cloud attempts to suffocate Superman, entering his nostrils and covering him completely. The entire sequence is especially well rendered, with the white borders and gutters vanishing and being overwhelmed by a mighty red. Pages here operate almost solely on reds, blues and blacks, with the splash of Superman and The Red Cloud being a remarkable example. It’s a phenomenal choice by Anderson. Struggling desperately, Superman first begins to blow off the antagonist with his super-breath. When that fails, he tightens his fist and begins to fly at top speed. We’re treated to another lovely page where Superman streaks across the Metropolis sky, the blue fighting back against the red. The Red Cloud finally seems unable to keep up and vanishes into thin air, not unlike how it appeared. Superman once again conducts an X-ray search of his surrounds but ends up with nothing.
Then we get the big bang that the issue and the arc has been promising. We learn the identity of The Red Cloud. It turns out to be Robinson Goode, which although obvious, makes sense and fits into the story being told. It’s a reveal that works and moves the story along in a meaningful way. She remarks that she can go toe-to-toe with Superman and grins proudly.
There is something delightfully silly about Superman having a cloud for an antagonist and the cloud’s secret persona also being a reporter at the Daily Planet enhances that even bit more. It’s a fun choice befitting of the character’s wild and wondrous history and the creative team plays it straight in a way that fits a relatively grounded crime narrative. And that’s the sort of storytelling that’s at the heart of this run’s appeal. Absolutely reverent, smart, fun and fresh. This is Metropolis like you’ve never seen before, this is antagonists you’ve never known until now. But it’s absolutely Superman in a way so many things aspire to be but few truly ever manage.