ACTION COMICS #1 – 3 (DC): Grant Morrison, writer. Rags Morales, penciller #1. Rags Morales & Brent Anderson, pencillers #2. Rags Morales & Gene Ha, pencillers #3. Rick Bryant, inker#1. Rick Bryant & Brent Anderson, inkers #2. Rick Bryant & Gene Ha, inkers #3. Brad Anderson, colorist #1 , 2. Brad Anderson & Art Lyons, colorists #3. Patrick Brosseau, letterer. Rags Morales & Brad Anderson, covers.
Unpredictable! The thing I enjoy the most about the new ACTION COMICS is that I cannot figure out where this is going. I just know to strap on, as I am coming along for the ride with no expectations except to be thoroughly entertained.
The current residence of Superman, Metropolis, is re-imagined as the city of tomorrow (as it’s often been described) except that this futuristic location is far from being complete. Amongst all the newly restored areas of the city with modernistic skyscrapers and architecture can be found neighborhoods in decline and in need of repair/attention. This bright and shiny city is rusting and tarnished at its edges, both externally and internally.
This Superman seems outwardly confident and aggressive (to the point of arrogance) but I sense it’s part façade. There are little hints throughout the story (especially in the scenes with alter ego Clark Kent) that Superman seems not so sure of himself or his direction. I prefer a little non-perfection in my heroes. Why shouldn’t Superman suffer a little anxiety now and then?
I haven’t been this interested in a Superman title since the 1980’s when writer/artist John Byrne re-shaped the style and tone of Superman, putting a different spin on events in the classic S: THE MAN OF STEEL mini-series and the KANDOR limited series. Unfortunately, once he was rewarded with a regular monthly title, he seemed to forget about those changes and went ahead with typical fare.
SO, WHAT HAPPENS IN ACTION COMICS?
SPOILER ALERT!: Skip this section and move onto the next area if you have not read these books yet.
Superman exists to right wrongs, but on more of an everyday city level versus the global and cosmic sagas we’ve been accustomed to reading. The people love him (initially). The government and military resent and fear him. An opportunistic General Sam Lane (father to Lois) wants to steal the secrets of his power in order to develop “steel soldiers”. Lex Luthor is a consultant to the military, intent on capturing Superman, uncovering his weaknesses and exposing him as an alien.
Superman rescues the inhabitants/squatters inside a building being demolished by a wrecking ball. We learn that Clark Kent is a highly respected investigative reporter (for the Daily Star) with a mission similar to Superman’s – to expose crime and corruption. Superman stops a runaway commuter train from crashing by putting himself directly in front of it.
Luthor has an unknown outside source feeding him information. He tries out the word “Krypton” on Superman and hears back “Noble Gas . . . Number 36.” Ha! There is also an anonymous source feeding tips to reporter Clark Kent, and a mysterious cloaked figure who warns Kent a “ghost” is watching as well as a white dog.
Luthor tries various methods of torture to uncover Ka-El’s secrets to no avail. He continues to correct others and refers to Superman as “It”. Dr. Irons objects to the torture and resigns his post as lead scientist on the “steel solider” project in protest. Although Sergeant Frank Corben wants to rekindle his prior relationship with Lois Lane and thinks of volunteering for the project after he sees how affectionately Lois refers to the Man Of Steel. Luthor’s take on torture is that the laws only apply to human beings, and wants to dissect his prisoner to learn how to “build warrior gods.” Superman escapes and has a brief telepathic conversation with the rocket that brought him to Earth, promising to return for it.
Issue #3 opens with a bit of history: the last days of planet Krypton and the city of Kandor. A new spin by Morrison has an “alien consciousness” invading the communications network and machinery. The presence also assimilates all data and seeks to preserve artifacts via its’ “terminauts.” Clark Kent is equally persecuted as police frequently search his apartment for any type of evidence they can use against him to stop his investigation into corruption. The exchange between Clark and Inspector Casey is priceless, as each questions the other’s morals and motives. The landlady, Mrs. N., finds some evidence the police overlooked.
The local television station and The Daily Planet (all owned by Glenmorgan) launches a media assault on Superman and turns public opinion against him. That was easy. I’m reminded of how media and political parties are currently putting spins on matters to make anything the other side comes up with to appear negative and unpopular. (And I’m not choosing sides here - - all are guilty. Why can’t they work together?)
The Factory For Tomorrow, another Glenmorgan project set up to manufacture new subway cars, has apparently been infested and its’ database is being copied by the Terminauts. The “Colony Of The Collectors Of Worlds” has also infiltrated the Steel Soldier project just as the first prototype becomes animated, perhaps without it’s human host. Luther correctly identifies his informant and immediately seeks to cover his butt by making another bargain.
There are tons of overlapping events in the first three issues of ACTION, which definitely lives up to its title. What else could you want?
WHAT DID I LIKE?
1) I like this version of Superman, more of a true champion of the people. The blue jeans and work boots help compliment that image - - as if he just took some time off from toiling in the wheat fields to come and save/help protect the common man. In the opening scenes he exposes a corrupt construction executive and forces a confession: “You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect a visit from me.”
2) I appreciate that Superman is not 100% invulnerable or unbreakable. He is strong but he can still feel pain. He receives plenty of aches from tank bombardment, impact with a train, and various high pressure forms of torture during Luther’s interrogation of him.
3) I like the little gnome-ish, weasel-like businessman talking to Mr. Glenmorgan on page 1. (Just call him “Teetotal” until we learn his real name.) I sense there is something more to him than is revealed here. He manages to sneak away during Superman’s intrusion, and seems to have stolen Mr. Glenmorgan’s monogrammed tie!
4) The art by Morales and companions is outstanding. I haven’t seen this consistency and level of quality from him in some time. Some of my favorite scenes include the two-page stand-off where Superman stands on the edge of a balcony ledge just before he decides to drop to the streets below; the caption-less panels where the runaway train runs off the rails; and the double-page spread featuring the collapse of Kandor. (A special shout-out to the colors/ink team for some super-fine work.)
5) I also like that Lex Luthor is no longer the epitome of perfection, physically and mentally. He looks a little paunchy and overweight. The famous arrogance and superiority are still there but he slips from time to time and reveals his frustration, impatience, confusion, and self-doubt in certain moments.
6) I like that Superman isn’t 100% handsome and attractive. In fact, he can look downright frightening and otherworldly, especially when his eyes emit heat vision, microwaves, or other forms of energy.
7) I like that Grant Morrison seems to be at the top of his game in Issue #1. He relays so much information and background on Superman/Clark Kent without once interrupting the flow of the story. It just blends right in. A masterful job.
8) There are respectful nods throughout to the legend and legacy of Superman and his creators. I especially like the cover to Issue #1, as the numbers on the police cars correspond to the year in which ACTION COMICS was first published: 19 + 38.
9) The backup features beginning in Issue #2 have been great! Behind the scenes with the creators. Insights into the other Superman titles at DC. And, beginning with Issue #4, a back-up story that directly links to the main storyline. What’s not to like?
WHAT DIDN’T I LIKE?
1) The disconnect with the other titles featuring Superman, which I believe will be corrected/adjusted as the storyline progresses, but makes for some confusion right now. The Superman in JUSTICE LEAGUE doesn’t act or look like the Superman in ACTION COMICS. Right off the bat, the costumes are different. The back-story in Issue #3 explains that the events in the new SUPERMAN book occur five years after what’s going on in ACTION COMICS. Ok, that satisfies me a little bit. But the first issue of JUSTICE LEAGUE says their events occur five years before current times. So, Superman should still have the jeans and work boots, correct? I’m thinking that JUSTICE LEAGUE occurs five years before current DC books and that means ACTION COMICS might occur ten years before current times. A minor point, but a little disconcerting. ( I haven’t read the other Superman-linked books so I’m not aware if things are explained any further there.)
LOVE IT? LIKE IT? INDIFFERENT? DISLIKE IT? HATE IT?
I love this book!
CORRECTION: I previously wrote that I had sampled 20 of the DC NEW 52 titles. It’s actually 21 books. I had already forgotten about DETECTIVE COMICS by then. So, why am I also not picking up DETECTIVE COMICS? While story and art are good, I just get the sense that I’ve been here before. It doesn’t seem novel enough, in spite of the surprise at the end of Issue #1. That’s where I stopped.