ACTION COMICS was one of my early picks of NEW 52 books to follow. The combination of writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales seemed like a great duo to breathe some fresh life into Superman. They didn’t disappoint , and I am now well beyond my initial three-issue test drive and loving it. I find this early “people’s hero” Superman in blue jeans and work boots to be far more interesting than the latter-day current Geoff Johns version in JUSTICE LEAGUE. I’m hoping that ACTION COMICS takes its’ sweet old time catching up to the rest of the NEW 52 universe - - I’m in no hurry to leave!
The lead story in Issue #4 continues with the alien virus-like invasion of technology and machinery on Earth that is being morphed into the Terminauts. While their mission seems to be to identify and preserve “significant artifacts” for the Collector Of Worlds they leave a ton of destruction and chaos in their wake. Superman is more powerful, but is greatly out-numbered. Just as John Corben dons the anti-Superman “Metal-Zero” armor it becomes possessed by the aliens and Corben succumbs to their control. Lex Luthor is portrayed as a whimpering coward, now on the run like most of the populace, and constantly beseeching some unidentified extra-terrestrial to remember their “bargain” and spare him. It’s a nice little spin on this character. Just like Morrison’s Superman doesn’t appear to be undefeatable - - I also like that Lex is not so supremely confident and always working his master plan. They both seem to be works in progress.
John Henry Irons later returns in his Steel suit to assist Superman. While all this is going on a large chunk of Metropolis is scooped up by the Collector - - perhaps to be bottled up for further study (similar to the Krypton city of Kandor). That chunk of the city contains several prominent citizens, including Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. This storyline goes on a short hiatus and will return in Issue #7.
The back-up story features a close-up of the battle between Steel and Metal-Zero as narrated by John Henry himself, ably written by Sholly Fisch and illustrated by Brad Walker. My favorite line follows Iron’s brief description of his prototype and how when Lex Luthor got involved things went awry - -
“After all, as anyone can tell at a glance - - Lex Luther has never played the bongos.” The version of the Steel armor displayed here is much more interesting than the older DC version. I also like the outcome where brains overtakes brawn and Steel prevails.
ACTION #6 AND #7 contain the INTERLUDE:ROCKET SONG story which contains a partial re-telling of Superman’s origin. As many times as I have read this as related by various writers this still seemed fresh and contained a few surprises. Grant Morrison writes the story here and Andy Kubert illustrates. Before Jor-El and Lara placed baby Kal-El in a miniature rocket and sent it traveling towards Earth, they first attempted to escape Krypton’s destruction via the Phantom Zone. The two page panel containing just the credits, a small caption and the image of Kal-El’s tiny ship rocketing out of Krypton’s atmosphere is inspiring and brings that “sense of wonder” back. The discovery of the rocket by Johnathan and Martha Kent brings some newly added sentiment and put some real heart into the story. How the Kents were able to maneuver past all the armed forces investigating the crash site is also explained.
What a treat to have Andy Kubert working on ACTION COMICS ! His art is so dynamic and his character depiction brings an implied strength and commitment to purpose in these heroes.
There’s a flashback to events that occurred in Issue #2 that confirm the relationship between Superman and the “birth ship”. Another scenario occurs either in the past or future and is left deliberately vague by Morrison (I’m used to his doing this and have learned to be patient). Who is narrating the explanatory captions in this part of the book? Could it be the ship?
The back-up story in Issue #6 is ‘Baby Steps” written by Sholly Fisch with art by Chriscross. It contains further insight into the early days of married life for Jonathan and Martha Kent and their struggles and efforts to establish a business and a family. There is a line uttered by Martha to Jonathan as they begin their honeymoon that is absolutely priceless (and ironic). It’s extremely memorable and touching but would spoil the surprise if I repeated it here. (Look for it on page 2 of the story). Martha says another line that seems touched by the hand of fate on the last page as well. I loved this little story. If you didn’t like the Kents as characters before now, you certainly will after reading this. Highly recommended.
As Issue #7 opens, we get a longer look at the Anti-Superman Army and learn of their methods. The art team, led by Kubert, does a fantastic job of illustrating this dark menace and establishing an element of threat and fear. These “criminals” possess the K-minerals, salvaged from the intelligent ship that brought Kal-El to Earth and now in the care of the Legion Of Super-Heroes. Past and future mesh together as Saturn Woman uses her telepathic powers to access Superman’s memory - - and we get more revealing insights into his youthful development under the guidance of Pa Kent. All the threads of this storyline come together rapidly as the true meaning of each action is revealed and a satisfactory resolution follows. And in that resolution is another valuable lesson learned in the maturation of Superman. I had to read this story once, put it down and then come back to it weeks later for a second, slower re-reading. It was worth it. This is an awesome two-part story. As a bonus, it contains the first meeting and adventure with The Legion Of Super-Heroes in the NEW 52 world of Superman.
The back-up story, “Last Day” (also by Sholly Fisch and Chriscross) is another glimpse into the early life in Smallville. It is equally touching. There is so much “humanity” in this Superman. You’ll like it.
ACTION COMICS has been satisfying my need for a Superman series with depth and vitality. Morrison and Morales (and Kubert) have taken a well-established, near invincible character and put some real heart into it. Bravo. I’m hanging in for more.