“Superman versus the City of Tomorrow”
Woo-hooo! I own a copy of Action Comics #1! Our money worries are over, babe! What? This isn't the Action Comics #1? Oh, mannnn!
– Sorry, couldn't resist. Though in thirty to fifty years (or less), I can see just these thoughts going through some beggar's mind …. I mean, we've all heard of the poor schmuck with the tabloid-size 1970s “Famous First Edition” reprint of that Holy Grail of comic book collecting thinking that he'd just hit the jackpot, right?
Anyway, I don't actually own even this “new” Action Comics #1 anyway … yet. I'll tell that sad but funny story at the end of this post. But this is supposed to be my short review of what looks to be the foundation of the new post-Flashpoint New 52 Relaunch Reboot Notaboot whatever it is, the “DCnU.” And if Justice League #1 was a bit problematic in its execution, at least in my estimation falling short of what it reallty needed to be as the first new title out the gate, the new Action Comics #1 is a masterful achievement that just might do it.
Grant Morrison is an odd writer. He writes some crazy stuff (not the word I usually use). Some I find to be well nigh unreadable. More I find to be so complex as to be rewarding to multiple rereadings. But when he sets his mind to it, he can write some of the best straightforward heroics that at the same time achieve a depth beyond most of his peers. He did that with his recent (and to be continued) long run in the Batman universe, but here he strips away lingering “wierdness” to create what I predict will be a fundamental redefinition of Superman back to his roots. The character that appears in this modern Action Comics #1 is probably the closest to what appeared in the original Action Comics #1 that has appeared in over seventy years. This is very much Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original creation, albeit updated for the early 21st century. And if the casual, hypothetical “new comic book reader” gives it a chance, I think he may well come back.
Everything works – Morrison's writing, Rags Morales' art, which has a clean, classic, almost Golden Age feel all its own. Sure, I find his characters' eyes sometimes wandering off in separate directions like Marty Feldman's, but other than that he is one of if not the best artist for conveying emotion through facial expression. And his Superman looks very much like a kid just out of his teens, in his early twenties, not quite fully grown, which fits with the still undeveloped power-set that he sports here so exuberantly. The “weaker” Superman is mainly evident in the battle-damage he endures – frequent “Gaaaa!”s and “Ow”s escaping him as he suffers electrocution or catches a runaway bullet-train, the latter of which leaves him battered into unconsciousness and pinned against the facade of the Daily Planet building. But did I understand it correctly? – Clark works not for the Planet but for a rival newspaper – the Daily Star, perhaps? I saw the name “Mr. Taylor” (George Taylor) thrown out seemingly as that of Clark's editor. That is so cool! There's also the notable lack of flight – this Superman can leap tall buildings with a single bound, but he's still finding his limits (which doubtless are expanding) – “Can you really jump over the Metropolis Tower?” – “Never tried from here. Stand back, we'll see.” Cool, cool, cool, cool, cool!
The plot in a nutshell: Superman – the name was coined, to General Sam Lane's chagrin – by his own reporter daughter Lois – has been active in Metropolis for six months. He is fighting for the downtrodden, the poor, the oppressed. “You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect a visit from me.” The authorities don't know quite what to make of him – well, they're trying to capture him with predictable lack of success. It is well known that he is an alien. Hence the unholy alliance between the US military (I presume Lane's not gone rogue just yet) and an if possible even more egotistical humanocentric military-industrial magnate Lex Luthor than ever. The action of this comic takes place over less than an hour, on the evidence of Lane and Luthor's viewscreen time-stamp. Along the way we are introduced, however briefly, to the land-lady of Clark's dump of an apartment (she even gets to echo the movies' Peter Parker's landlord's “Rent? Rent?”), to typically headstrong Lois Lane and Clark's best friend Jimmy Olsen, as well as to Sam Lane and Lex Luthor. The latter manages, by the end of the issue, to beat Superman down by Lane's deadline of 8 pm by using a series of traps endangering escalating numbers of (usually) innocent lives, including Lois', culminating in “the world's biggest bullet” – the Metropolis Emperor bullet-train. “You wanted Superman, General Lane. Dead or alive. Behold. I give you Superman. Stay in touch.” “Next: Superman in Chains.”
A couple more comments. I'm actually a bit surprised I took to the characterization of Superman in this story so enthusiastically. Don't get me wrong. I don't consider myself to be a cold-hearted bastard unconcerned for the poor and the downtrodden, but neither am I a bleeding-heart liberal as this Superman clearly comes across. [Edit: That is, of course, a false dichotomy -- but don't get me started on how, in my opinion, "liberalism" is actually more cold-hearted than "conservatism."] Other than historical interest, that earliest portrayal of Superman by Siegel and Shuster – who was more concerned with terrorizing wife-beaters (alluded to in this issue) – never really held much attraction for me. Of course, I'm a child of the Silver Age when Superman fought cosmic threats and moved planets. I was a bit worried when early reports stated – truthfully, it turns out – that the “social justice” Superman was just what Morrison is going for here. But it works. It works. I think it's a testimony to Morrison's writing. I'm not sure whether other writers can carry it, though, nor am I sure it won't get old really quick. But for now, I'm eating it up.
Second, this is, like Justice League #1, a story set in the past of the New 52 – something more than five years in the past since Superman appears there apparently a few years older and in what is announced to be his new costume comprising Kryptonian battle armor. Here, charmingly, it's just blue-jeans, a Superman tee-shirt, and a rather short cape – you can, of course, see it on the cover image. So I still have only the tag-end of JL #1 as my exposure to the current DCnU. I have no idea what kind of character Superman will have developed into in his own title, or in Justice League and elsewhere. As much as I admire George Perez, I'm worried about aspects of what I've seen announced for that title, as well as so far his drawings of the Kryptonian armor have not worked for me. Jim Lee's are growing on me, but as great – truly great – an artist as Perez is, this type of stuff generally doesn't work for me in his style. Of course, he's just cover artist and writer, as I understand it, so we'll have to see. But as I said, some things that I've seen announced worry me. I'm not in favor of “annulling” the Clark-Lois marriage at all – including apparently having Lois cohabiting with some buff blond dude as some pages released a couple months ago indicate. Call me old fashioned. I'm on board for now, but I'm concerned. (Nothing like I am for poor Supergirl and Superboy, however.)
Morrison on Action, however – I'm with it at least as long as he is!
Also, just a question – since I'm a Legion of Super-Heroes fan, you already know what it is. Morrison has said there is still a connection, thank God. What is it? [Edit: Later in the day somebody queried on one of the Facebook pages I belong to regarding something that I totally blew past in three separate readings: The landlady telling Clark, "Your friends stopped by earlier ... two men and a woman -- a blonde, very nice, very good-looking. I thought they were actors." Clark's reaction to this is ambiguous: "Uh, okay ...," as he excuses himself to call in his latest scoop to his editor. The Facebook post wonders whether Clark already knows the three "friends," whom he takes -- doubtless correctly -- to be the three founders of the Legion, or would be meeting them for the first time. I want to know more!]
Finally – here's the explanation for why I don't yet actually “own” this issue: As I've stated before, I get my comics typically a month at a time, at the end of the month, by mail. There's no local comic shop in my town of residence – the nearest is an hour away. I've had this comic, as well as a number of others in the New 52, pre-ordered for months, but with the exception of Justice League #1 which was released on the last Wednesday of August I won't get them until the end of September. But it has been well nigh impossible since Wednesday to go on any of the blogs or comics web-sites that I frequent without seeing glowing reviews of this issue – and others as well, which is encouraging. By the time I got up Wednesday morning, Martin Gray in Edinburgh (six time zones ahead of me) was already gushing forth praise. I tried not to read! – for about three seconds. A few such reviews later and I couldn't wait to read the issue for myself. And with DC day-and-date digital available, I knew I didn't have to. It was like a siren call. I tried to resist – for about three seconds …. Long and short, I have it on my iPad now, and DC Comics essentially sold this comic to me twice. I double-dipped. See – sad, but funny.
Do I regret it? Not one bit. You're welcome to the “donation,” DC. Just keep this stuff coming!
For me, it's back to finish up my July comics, then I've got a stack of August comics to really finish out the pre-Flashpoint universe. It will be bittersweet.