Action Comics #1, Grant Morrison (w), Rags Morales (a) (Writer, Artist) [Print edition]
THE PITCH: It’s five years ago, (apparently, more on that later), and a brash, young Superman is so angry at all of the corruption on Metropolis that he’s decided to strike fear into the heart of all of the criminals, evildoers, and the occasional cop.
HOW WAS IT? I think an easy out for this review would be to spend the next however many words complaining about how the off-model Morrison’s Superman is here. I don’t mean the working-class hero look and form-fitting S-tee, I mean how angry and cocky he is–this is a guy you wouldn’t suspect was the mild-mannered Clark Kent. This is a Superman who roughs up wifebeaters and corporate con men, who dares the cops to shoot him just so they’ll get it out of their system and see that they can’t possibly stop him.
No, for me, this hard reset on the character functions as a good “Superman Begins” of sort. Plus, I have to confess that after his masterful handling of the character in All-Star Superman, Morrison gets a lot of latitude with me when it comes to Supes. Morrison’s writing the Superman of the disenfranchised, the poor and the helpless, and it’s reflected in the kinds of criminals that he targets. I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage here because I’m not 100% sure how much of that I picked up from reading this issue and how much I absorbed via interviews with Morrison on the book.
The actual title of the issue is “Superman Versus the City of Tomorrow,” the implication being that Metropolis is a crime-plagued and deadly as Gotham and the further implication being that it would take a different kind of Superman to deal with that. This Superman and this Metropolis aren’t fully formed yet–at least not the versions we’re used to. Here, we get to see the character with only six months of experience under his belt, and while he’s been getting stronger along the way–he’s got the speed and some of the strength–he still can’t fly. Even Clark Kent isn’t the final model, currently working for a paper that’s rival to the Daily Planet, best friends with Jimmy Olsen but not at all on Lois Lane’s radar.
And Morrison makes this version of Superman plausible in both his anger and conviction. He’s a scary new force in the city that the press, the police, and the public don’t quite know what the make of. It’s not until five pages in that we get to finally see his eyes without a menacing red glow. I want to know more about this angry guy with the heat vision.
But then it starts to feel like some of the bits in “Batman R.I.P.” that went off the rails, all exuberance and intricacy–cool bits like the unnamed lead cop saying “Activate the City”–that don’t really quite have a clear payoff–were the wrecking ball and the tank “the city?” Consider the last few pages, which are pretty dense with Clark/Superman racing to save an imperiled train as Lex Luthor–working alongside General Lane for a generous consulting fee–devises a trap to capture the big blue Boy Scout. It has everything from callbacks to the first panel, to the introduction of the new Jimmy/Lois/Clark status quo, to whatever was going on with “ex-enforcer” Guns Grundig, and it amounts to an overall satisfying action sequence with a clever and imminently foreseeable punchline to a bit between Lane and Luthor earlier in the book, but it’s the particulars that feel… un-linked somehow. Like, there’s a hiccup somewhere as you’re reading the final pages and you have to go back and revisit the rest of the issue, not because pieces were buried or anything, but because it was kind of a rush of information to take in all at once.
Another thing is that for readers coming into this book fresh (I’m talking new to DC or lapsed readers or whatever), while Action Comics is straightforward-ish enough, there will be a little bit of a disconnect if you’re picking up any other DCU titles this week and see the “Kryptonian Battle Armor” variant flying around and doing stuff. This issue doesn’t use any sort of caption/narration boxes to tell the story (which works), but there’s also no clarity that this is set five years before the start of most of the other titles launching this month. It’s not fatal, but it might be an unnecessary obstacle to new readers not used to dealing with the peculiarities of the relaunch.
As for the art, Rags Morales kept me thinking of Mark Bagley the entire time, with some of the faces and body language rendered in a style similar to the latter artist. I’m kind of getting into the jeans and tee Supes, but I have to say that the fitted shirt on the weird corseted waist is some kind of off. Ditto, Jimmy’s bowl cut. Makes dude look like a My Buddy doll all grown up. Again, not fatal (and in this case, not even serious).
So, I’m interested, Morrison. I know I’ll be back next month (who can avoid a title like “Superman in Chains”). I just wish this was the killer book that would hook me on the new 52.*
BEST BIT: “Can you really jump over the Metropolis Tower?” “Never tried from here. Stand back, we’ll see.”
WORST BIT: “Somebody save me,” indeed. Morrison, I’m mad at you for that.
EASTER EGGS: Clark’s landlady, Mrs. Nyxly, an tough older woman, shares the surname of the cloven-hooved villain Ferlin Nxyly, who dressed as the satyr, Pan, and used his magic harp to go on robbery sprees.
ACCESSIBLE TO NEW READERS? Yes? Maybe? The “Five years earlier” conceit might be confusing to new readers picking this up alongside any other New 52 titles where they’ll find an entirely different version of the character, zipping around and doing stuff.
WILL YOU BE PICKING UP ISSUE 2? Sure. Morrison has me on the hook and I’m curious about where he’s going next.
*That would be Animal Man. Wow. That right there is the book.