Action Comics #792 (2002)

Action Comics #792 (August, 2002)
“Big City Little Man”
Writer – Joe Kelly
Penciller – Pascual Ferry
Inker – Mark Morales
Colorist – Moose Baumann
Letters – Comicraft
Assistant Editor – Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $2.25

After a few days off, we’re back to our Action Comics 100 Project.

Today we’re going to discuss a… quiet issue of Action Comics from 2002.  This is part of the Joe Kelly run, which I initially ran sort of hot and cold with.  In revisiting them, however, I’m finding a lot more to like than to dislike.  Maybe I’m softening in my old age… or maybe I just foolishly dismissed them as a younger lad.

Either way, let’s get down to it!

We open on a snowy Metropolis morning.  Clark Kent is making his usual stop at his regular newsstand to grab a paper, and engage in some idle chit-chat with the proprietor, Valentin.  We see that they have a sort of exchange each day… Clark gives him his lunch, and Valentin keeps his paper on the radiator to keep it warm for him.  Val seems a hard-working fellow, and is incredibly proud of his daughter, a student… soon to be a doctor.  Over the months, we learn that Val’s daughter became pregnant, putting her academic career in jeopardy… but he’s still optimistic.  All’s reasonably well in the world… until one day, Clark visits to find his pal no longer there.

We shift scenes to see Superman and Wonder Woman engaging in some JLA business.  Together they save the lives of two-million Hawaiians when they stifle an active-and-angry volcano… however, it’s clear that Clark’s mind is elsewhere.  He just can’t shake his concern for Valentin.

As Clark, he checks in on Lois at the Daily Planet.  Worth mentioning that at this point, Clark Kent has been “fired”.  What’s actually going on is Perry and Clark staged the firing in hopes of catching President Lex Luthor off-guard.  Anyhoo, he shares his concern for the newsstand proprietor with Lois… and she decides there might just be a story there.

Together they head into Little Hispania, and Clark does some x-ray peeping until he finds Valentin’s (pregnant) daughter.  They invite her to a diner, and ask some questions about her missing father.  She’s reveals that he’s been missing for three weeks and is positive that he’s already dead, since he missed her birthday.

After dinner, Clark is called away on JLA business… which takes him to, well… I don’t know what that is.  Looks like a giant Kewpie doll with its brain hanging out… built into the side of a mountain.  Or something.  Anyhoo, he chats up Batman about the Valentin case… and is given some wildly positive advice… “You can’t save them all.”  Way to go, Bats!

Back in Metropolis, Clark can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to this disappearance than meets the (human) eye… and so, he returns to Valentin’s apartment to do some snooping.  What he finds is a book (a numeros diarios)… that reveals Valentin was becoming a rather avid gambler.

And so, Lois and Clark venture into the ‘hood to check in on his bookie.  Lemme tell ya, this dude’s a sleaze-bag.  He tells the Kents that Valentin made some bets… and vanished.  He rubs salt into the wound by suggesting he was only gambling because of his unwed pregnant daughter… of whom, he was embarrassed.

Lois and Clark grill the grifter… until, thanks to his super-hearing, Clark catches him in a lie.  The Kents are then… politely… asked to leave.

Outside Clark struggles with the fact that he’s very likely the most powerful being on the planet… and yet, he finds himself helpless.  He wonders if he should just return and “make him talk”, but they both know that’s not his style… and it’s also a line you can only really cross once.  And so, Superman takes a different approach… deciding to just shadow the bookie everywhere he goes.  Knowing full well that nobody will want to work with a fella who has Superman on his shoulder.

Finally… the bookie cracks!  He reveals to Superman that Valentin actually won… and won big!  So big he couldn’t cover the bet.  So… this fool coughed up the cash… buuuut, took it back immediately, if you smell what I’m cookin’.

We wrap up the following day… at the harbor.  Lois and Clark bring Valentin’s daughter to the drink, and wait for Superman to do his thing.  After a super-quick change of clothes, Superman dives in… and finds Valentin’s body.

I’m currently doing a re-read of Superman: Grounded for an upcoming episode of the Cosmic Treadmill… and lemme tell ya folks, if you ever wanted to hear me let loose with the expletives, this might be the episode to check out.  Anyhoo, I only mention that (besides the cheap plug) because right here, in this very issue… Joe Kelly shows us why Superman didn’t need to take an indulgent walk across our great nation to “connect with the people”.  Superman/Clark Kent already did that… every day of his life.

Of course, I have my suspicions as to why JMS wrote “Grounded” the way he did… but that’s a discussion for another time.  This issue, was really quite good!  It’s a bit of a novelty to see Lois and Clark “on a case”… so that was a lot of fun.  The inclusion of little things… like Clark nervously tapping his foot, and causing a slight quake.  Lois having to cover for him… and help him maintain his cool.  They make such a great team, and it really was a treat to see them “on the beat” together.

We don’t often think… or, at least I don’t often think about Clark Kent going through the motions of having a “normal” life.  It’s interesting to consider that he, like the rest of us, still has 24-hours to fill every day… and so, it’s pretty neat to see him hanging out with a very talkative newsstand proprietor.  This also illustrates Clark’s saint-like patience in a way… ya gotta figure, and I don’t wanna talk ill of the dead, but Valentin seems like the sort to go on… and on… and on.  You’d almost need to be Superman to keep going back.

The story gets dark… and it gets dark fast.  Let’s look at what the bookie says toward the end, “He was justa guy working a newspaper shack.  Who would miss him?  Who would care?”  I think that’s the crux of this issue.  Valentin was just a guy… in a city of millions.  Who would notice… or care?  Well, Superman for starters.  Further illustration that Superman is always connected to the people.  Even when things take priority… like say, an angry volcano acts up… or, uh… New Krypton happens… Superman is always connected to, and always thinking about “his” people.  We really don’t need to think on it much harder than that!  Some things just “are”.

The art here is from Pascual Ferry, who I’ve always enjoyed.  It’s very fitting artwork for the time and era of Superman, and has aged quite well to boot!  Really a wonderful book to look at.  I know not everyone’s a fan of the “Berganza era” in style nor story, but there’s quite a lot of good here!

Overall, I’d most definitely recommend this issue.  If you’re down for a more street-level “quiet” Superman story, this might be the one for you!  For your convenience, this bugger is available digitally.

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