Action Comics #1
“Superman Versus the City of Tomorrow”
Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Rags Morales
Inks: Rick Bryant
Colors: Brad Anderson
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Morales (regular)/Jim Lee & Scott Williams (variant)
Editor: Matt Idelson
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $3.99 US
While the renumbering of Action Comics to accommodate the marketing goals of DC’s New 52 imitative has been a point of contention for some, given the nature of writer Grant Morrison’s plot and script, it’s apt. He’s taking Superman back to his roots, after all, offering a vision of the Man of Steel that mirrors the original incarnation of the character from the 1938 version of Action #1. While Superman is seen as a symbol of the establishment — a friend recently told me he sees the “real” Superman as a paternal figure — creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster originally presented as a rebel, as a vigilante who stopped and punished those the law let skate by. Superman was originally a threat to the establishment, and Morrison’s reinterpretation here looks back at and updates the concept for the 21st century. While the idealism the character exhibits in this comic book will be familiar to many, the youth and brashness Morrison instills in him will seem unusual and unconventional to many as well. I suspect this take on the Last Son of Krypton will be a polarizing one, but DC can count me as being firmly in the camp that welcomes the shift.
For six months, criminals ranging from corrupt authority figures to spousal abusers have been beset upon by an impulsive, daring and powerful figure whom one reporter has dubbed “Superman.” The colorfully clad young man has a message for those who would use and harm others: he won’t allow it to happen anymore, and if he’s got to get rough with people for them to get the message, so be it. The police and the military can’t abide such a threat to their authority and to the status quo, so a consultant’s been hired to bring down this bulletproof strongman who can leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Rags Morales does an excellent job of conveying Superman’s youth, vigor and attitude here. There’s an almost impish quality to his facial expressions. This Superman isn’t just righting wrongs — he’s having a blast striking fear into the hearts of the corrupt, of showing men who thought of themselves as untouchable they can’t escape justice. There are some inconsistencies in Morales’ depiction of Superman. When he first appears, he’s in shadow and seems to be a hulking figure, but shortly thereafter, Morales emphasizes his boyish face and a slightly more slender frame, which also accentuates his youth. There’s an unfortunate shift in tone in the art, coming later in the comic at the point when Superman switches to his Clark Kent identity. The crisp, clean look of the art fades as a rougher, slightly more chaotic look takes over. It looks almost as though the artist had to rush through the latter pages, but that’s speculation. For all I know, Morales started with the latter pages.
The “costume” for this young incarnation of Superman has been a point of contention for many, but in the context of the story Morrison offers here, it works well. Dressing Superman in a T-shirt, jeans and smaller cape is in keeping with the Blue Collar Hero, the Man of the People he represents in this story. It also makes him more relatable, more down to earth. And that’s important, as the new armor costume we saw in Justice League and that we will see in Superman #1 later this month distances him from humanity. He seems more alien in the armor; it emphasizes the “super” rather than the “man.”
When reviewing last week’s Justice League #1, I (as many others did) complained I didn’t feel as though I got my $4 worth with the 24 pages of story and art provided. The page count of story and art in Action #1 is 28, but it reads like a bit more. Unlike the inaugural New 52 title, this comic felt heftier. There’s definitely more meat on the bone here, and not just in terms of page count.
There are a number of elements that make up the backdrop and supporting cast that interest me. The story’s title is a literal one, and while we’ve seen other writers explore Metropolis as a literal City of Tomorrow, I’m keen to see what sort of innovations and novel approaches to urban planning Morrison might have in store for us. And while the main antagonist’s main opposition to Superman is a familiar one, his dialogue helps to set him apart from previous incarnations. I was disappointed to find what appeared to be the same old, traditional Lois Lane portrayal; I just don’t buy into the thrill-seeking reporter riff. I was also surprised to find her father, Sam Lane, back as military brass who sees Superman as a threat. I’ve never found Sam Lane to be an interesting character, and there’s nothing in his role in Action #1 that makes me look at him any differently.
I have to admit my appreciation for and interpretation of this somewhat retro take on Superman is colored and informed by the fact I’ve just begun reading Morrison’s Supergods. That prose book explores the nature, mythology and sociological relevance of the super-hero genre, and the earliest pages deal specifically with the Man of Steel’s first appearance in the original Action Comics #1. It’s fitting Morrison reverts the original and most iconic of super-heroes to his roots at this time, not because it closely follows his examination of such archetypes in Supergods, but because the social climate today resembles conditions (somewhat) that gave rise to Superman in the first place. America is in the middle of a time of financial crisis today, and it can be argued it’s also immersed in a time of hopelessness, given the jobless rate and hardships so many face in the U.S. today. Just as Siegel and Shuster did more than seven decades ago, Morrison offers up a symbol of hope, someone who rises up to challenge the privileged, to stick up for the little guy. Morrison and Morales deliver a working-class hero in this incarnation of Superman. This is Civil-Disobedience Superman, not the guy who follows the rules in his pursuit of what’s right. By turning back the clock, Morrison manages to deliver a fresh take on a concept some have dismissed as stale and outdated. Apparently, Superman as a symbol of the establishment isn’t a thing of the past, though. I’ve read this week’s first issue of the relaunched Swamp Thing series, and Authority Figure Superman appears in that story. I much prefer Rebel Superman as Morrison envisions him here. 8/10
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