AC-Cv41-ds-68f21By Jarrod Jones. All right, DC. Let’s try this again.

I’m not even bothering with the past at this point. I’m all about the present these days, especially when it comes to DC Comics. And now that we’re in the midst of its latest soft reboot, it’s only right that I allow myself to get excited about Action Comics. Especially since I know that writer Greg Pak and artist Aaron Kuder are sticking like glue to our Man of Steel.

Superman has walked out of his publisher’s easily forgettable Convergence with a brand new costume and a bold new direction that would have been considered trite were he in the hands of anyone else. Remember: Pak and Kuder are the guys who gave Superman a beard for almost a whole year and got away with it by not making it a huge deal. I don’t worry about Superman’s look because Pak and Kuder don’t. (Though I love that their latest issue has our Exile of Steel wearing a t-shirt with the words “Eat Your Greens” plastered all over it. Cheeky.)

It doesn’t matter whether he’s wearing a t-shirt, a suit of armor, or a goddamned terrycloth robe: so long as he’s got an ‘S’ scrawled across his chest and he aspires to help people, he’s still Superman. And Action Comics #41 not only acknowledges that, it doesn’t squander the sentiment.

The funny thing about this issue is that it feels vital and vibrant even when it’s making up for past missteps. Four years ago in comic books might feel like four decades to some readers, but it’s important to remember that Grant Morrison and Rags Morales were all over this book when the departed New 52 began, ready to unleash their all-new, denim-sportin’ Superman on the world. And while it can be argued whether or not their take on Superman actually functioned as a more grounded man of the people (it was a hard sell when DC kept throwing its Jim Lee-designed Kal-El in our faces), this post-Convergence Man of Tomorrow looks like he just might be the real deal.

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From the very first panel, Pak and Kuder show us just how serious they are about putting our hero in a place he’s never been before. As a matter of fact, the creative team goes out of their way to provide us the complete antithesis of what we experienced with the New 52 Golden God: here, we have a Superman who gets so hungry that a gas station burrito sounds like a good idea, his lustrous, cover-boy locks have been trimmed down to his scalp, and the only way he’s getting home (from Alaska, of all places) is hauling ass down the interstate on a hastily-acquired motorcycle. (And don’t worry; someone had to get punched in the face for him to get it.) As far as “new directions” for Superman go, this is by far the most creative.

And guess what. Everyone knows Superman is Clark Kent. We’re never told exactly how it happened (Group Editor Eddie Berganza drops a couple of hints that elucidation is coming, just not this week), but with the entire planet totally aware of who Superman is, we’ve reached an unique level of “worst case scenario”: Powerless, outed, and wanted by just about everyone, our Fugitive of Steel navigates his way around a world where he can no longer anticipate trouble, even when it’s everywhere. (“Life without super-hearing. You find out what your problem is… right before it kicks you in the teeth.”) So, yeah. Action Comics went there, and it’s terrific.

But just because he’s powerless doesn’t mean he’s hopeless, and Greg Pak gives his Superman plenty to grapple with: whether he’s facing down a pack of dim-witted hooligans or an otherworldly monster, Pak’s Superman gets the job done. (If I haven’t already made it clear, Pak is writing the best Man of Steel in years.) And if the bloody-knuckled cover is putting you off, never fear; the Superman inside Action Comics #41 is the Superman we all know and love–he’s still the selfless, passionate, and brazenly heroic man he’s always been. And his new look works way more than it should in the capable hands of Aaron Kuder. (You already knew this, but the man draws a damn fine lookin’ Clark Kent.)

Look past the t-shirt, focus on the ‘S’, and you’ll find a paradox: Greg Pak and Aaron Kuder have supplied DC Comics with the raw and relatable Superman they’ve always wanted while retaining the vital optimism the character will will always need. It’s about time somebody understood how the Man of Tomorrow could work today.

DC Comics/$3.99

Written by Greg Pak.

Art by Aaron Kuder.

Colors by Tomeu Morey and Hi-Fi.

9 out of 10