Action Comics #13
Written by: Grant Morrison
Backup Written by: Sholly Fisch
Art by: Travel Foreman
Backup Art by: Bradley Walker
The Phantom Zone was envisioned as an alternative form of punishment for criminals on the planet Krypton with regular appeals from the convicts after their sentence. But when Krypton was destroyed, those trapped with the Zone went mad with hatred and dreams of revenge on the living, their lives reduced to insubstantial ghosts. One portal to the Zone remains and is held in the Fortress of Solitude. On Halloween night, the ghosts of Krypton will walk again and seek bloody vengeance.
An unusual issue unites the Man of Steel with the Phantom Stranger in this Halloween-inspired adventure. In his fortress of solitude, Superman has uncovered the gateway to the Phantom Zone and something has found a way out. Memories come flooding back to Kal-El of a white dog that watched over him, better known to fans as Krypto the super dog. Tricked into the Phantom Zone, Superman meets another who has become ensnared, the Phantom Stranger. Together the pair attempt to escape an inescapable prison and stop the Kryptonian criminal Doctor Xa Du before he unleashes chaos in their home reality.
I have given this series a lot of grief for being convoluted but underlying that sentiment is the fact that I really want to like it. I decided to re-read the series and pick up any missing issues and finally can say with certainty that it is a magnificent comic. There were some major stumbling blocks that involved ropy continuity and a couple of fill-in issues that took place in the past and future while Action itself is set five years ago (ugggggh), but these problems are behind us now and Superman gains his proper status in the DCU.
It was a very confused path that brought the New 52 Superman to the point where he has a Silver Age feel blended with a post-modern presentation. This has to be the Superman that Morrison wanted to write all along and the one that his fans have been waiting for. The previous issues with the alternate fireman secret identity, the Legion of Superheroes and John Henry Irons fighting Metallo can be forgiven for this wonderfully fanciful tale.
As a Marvel Zombie, growing up I had relatively little exposure to the Superman comic book. I picked it up avidly when Ordway, Perez and Byrne took over and saw through their homage to the heyday of the comic what could be done with the hero. Since then I have delved back into the recesses of Superman’s past and sought out Silver (reprints) and Bronze Age issues that are both absurd and dripping with imagination.
This issue is a love letter to the past and a welcome one at that in the face of the revisions and reboots that have plagued DC Comics of late. I don’t mean to hammer home a point as I do enjoy collecting many DC titles, but it seems that most of the heroes are just jerks now with the Justice League being the biggest collection of jerks ever assembled. However, Morrison has taken this new reactionary Superman and placed him in a classic setting, surrounded by alien artifacts, a dimensional gateway and weird alien ghosts.
I should also mention the art by Travel Foreman, who steps in the shoes of Rags Morales admirably. There is a fantastic element of the unreal and weird in his artwork that really clicked with this issue and I am looking forward to watching it develop further.
Additionally, this issue deals with Superman’s dog. I know that Morrison is more of a cat person, but he does have a deep love for animals and also a lot of respect for the emotional connection between a person and his/her pet. I’m a big mush when it comes to dogs so I got all teary when it was revealed that Krypto was trapped in the Phantom Zone and was by his master’s side as a specter throughout his life. When the Phantom Stranger tries to gently but firmly break it to Superman that it is iffy that they can escape but there is no way he could get his dog out of the Phantom Zone, I shared Superman’s conviction that nothing to get in his way.
The reunion at the close of the issue was a yank on the heart strings.
I will say that I am not exactly sold on the Trinity of Sin that includes Pandora, the Phantom Stranger and the Question, but I’ll try to hold off on my judgement until I have read the story.
While I was disappointed with the conclusion to the first storyline (made all the harder to track due to the Legion of Superheroes fill-in), I can say that upon second reading and with this issue as well that Action Comics is shaping up to be an outstanding Superman comic. If you are a fan of the old stuff, this is right up your alley and if you are unfamiliar with Superman and why he is cool, this is where you’ll find a good answer for that.
Modern comics seem to focus mainly on flawed heroes, making Superman something of an anomaly at best and a forgotten relic at worst. I felt that the initial few issues tried too hard to put an edge on the man of steel and make him more appealing to young readers by making him an angry youth. That would be a major mistake as the power of Superman for me has always been in the fantasy and adventure. Morrison seems to be bringing that back and if so it’s a great direction to take the series in.