Action Comics #1
By Grant Morrison and Rags Morales
Superman is an institution. What is regarded by many as the gold standard by which all other superheroes are judged, Superman is the alpha and omega of the man on tights ideal. You don’t mess with Superman… unless he’s not selling and you have no idea what he’s about. In that case you release several comics that show your best character in various stages of his life and you rebuild it from the ground up. That’s what DC Entertainment has done with Superman by handing him to the man with a plan, Scots mastermind Grant Morrison.
As he pointed out in a Rolling Stone interview, times are tough for the comics industry:
There’s always going to be a bit of that because comics sales are so low, people are willing to try anything these days. It’s just plummeting. It’s really bad from month to month. May was the first time in a long time that no comic sold over 100,000 copies, so there’s a decline.
Morrison is really the latest in a very long line of creators who think they can remake the most successful comic book character for a modern audience. I remember reading John Byrne’s run back in the day which was heavily influenced by the old TV and radio shows. Byrne wanted to bring the fantasy back into the stories but place the hero in science fiction rather than making him an all-powerful magical being. It remains a very appealing take on Superman for me. Morrison dug deeper back into the recesses of Superman’s past to when he was a crazy angry young man with super strength who would juggle crooks in the air while laughing.
He also decided that a skin tight costume was far too absurd and came up with the street clothes concept. It certainly reeks of ‘trying to keep up with the cool kids’ by placing Superman in torn jeans and combat boots, but it has gotten people talking about Superman again… and they didn’t have to kill him or electrify him to accomplish that.
Morrison went into detail on the costume when he was interviewed by CBR.com:
Sometimes, I think the costume just kind of gets thrown into the story. Or his mother made it. I started with that and had Superman developing the costume while he’s developing into a superhero. He would start, before he had his Kryptonian suit, with some kind of variant of the suit he’d create for himself. I figured, you know, coming from Kansas, he’d be wearing kind of work clothes — a pair of boots, some rolled-up jeans and a t-shirt. We’ve got a scene later where Superman goes into a store and is basically ordering up a whole bunch of Superman t-shirts, [Laughs] with Superman logos in all different colors. So that’s what he wears. I kind of liked that. To start “Action Comics” again, to take it away from the superhero concept and take it back to slightly more of a folk tale-ish type of a thing.
That’s why Superman looks a little bit like Li’l Abner, a little bit more Americana. We also have the cape that he wears, which is the one piece of material that he has from the planet Krypton. It’s indestructible, so it’s almost been his best pal or his security blanket as I’ve called it. I’ve been adding different meanings to some of the things we take for granted with him, hoping it might help people see Superman in a new light; a completely fresh light.
A rockstar of the comic book world, Grant Morrison has already worked miracles with Batman and All-Star Superman and brings with him a cult of followers from his creator-owned series the Invisibles and more. As it happens I disagree greatly with Morrison’s take on Batman (far too many ideas, not enough story) and have reservations on All-Star Superman (it’s a sweet story, but it’s been done before) so I fully expected that I would also dislike his latest take on Superman.
Color me surprised, but I like it a lot.
The issue does not feel like Superman… at all. Superman attacks a party of socialites and badgers a man until he admits that he’s crooked. The police that were bought off to protect the party arrive too late to stop Superman from dragging out an admission in public. Not content to stop there, Supes gives a warning to everyone around him.
As Morrison has explained in interviews, Action Comics is about Kal El’s journey to becoming the greatest superhero ever. Anyone can say that is their gameplan and just draft out an origin story or road trip of discovery, but Morrison has crafted something very different here. It is disturbing to see a Superman who so flagrantly uses his abilities on the weak and swings his ego around because might makes right, but it’s also quite provocative. It has gotten people talking about Superman again and that’s a good thing in the end.
Retreating to his decrepit apartment, Superman takes on the persona of weaselly but brave Clark Kent, a reporter who digs deep into the criminal underworld to expose their activities for the common good. Some have compared this Kent to Peter Parker, but I don’t see it personally. We don’t get to see Clark for long as he realizes all too late that his friend Jimmy Olsen and reporter rival Lois Lane are in danger. Lois has ignored Clark’s warning and gotten too close to some mob muscle on a commuter rail. Driving the train out of control, Superman must speed to the scene in time to save the futuristic speeding rail runner from destruction.
Lex Luthor makes an unexpected appearance as an adviser to the military. Using what appear to be explosive tactics, a number of tanks mount the streets to destroy the man of steel. The military are shocked to see that not only can Superman survive the attacks, he can give just as much damage in return. However, the tanks were just a softening up and Luthor uses Superman’s own morality against him. Attacking a building designated for demolition, Superman is trapped the rubble while helping the residents escape.
An astounding talent from Hawkman and Identity Crisis (just to name two) artist Rags Morales is in fine form in this issue. While I always enjoy his layouts, action sequences and such, it is his skill at depicting facial expressions that stands out to me. There really is no other artist like him. I hope that he plans to stay on Action Comics for some time as I cannot imagine who could follow him.
This was the most interesting and exciting Superman comic I had read in ages. There was no origin, no confusing off-panel continuity, no excessive violence or nudity (which plague many of DC’s other books this month). Morrison’s ‘Socialist Superman’ may seem out of left field (no pun intended), but it is actually very close to the core concept of the character. Parts of the issue do feel like pandering to the reader or trying extra hard to be cool, but if you can look past this and roll with it it’s actually a very progressive comic book.
Action Comics #1 is exactly what I feared when I heard of DC’s ‘New 52′ line. It pushes aside everything that came before and drops a character that is almost entirely new at the reader’s feet. But… and I’m just as shocked as anyone… I quite like it.
While the second print of Action Comics #1 was just released this week, it has already sold out at comic shops. Fortunately, it can be purchased as a download at Comixology.