You tell me the guy responsible for All-Star Superman — one of the greatest comic series of all time — is now in charge of writing the most iconic of superheroes’ in-continuity origin story, and I’ll tell you that there’s no way in the world anyone should miss this book. Regardless of what you think of DC Comics and its recent line-wide reboot, Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales is history in the making, a book sure to be important as long as the medium and the character exist.
Of course, it’s possible that my expectations for Morrison’s Action run a little too high. I really liked it, but I confess I didn’t feel it tapped into the same iconic qualities of the character that make All-Star required reading. Part of that no doubt is purposeful — Grant’s revisiting the 1938 Superman of the original Action Comics #1 here. His powers haven’t totally developed yet — he still leaps instead of flying, and he can be hurt. He and Lois Lane work for rival newspapers — when was the last time Metropolis really had two that mattered? He spends his days fighting not supervillians or malicious aliens but human criminals, both blue and white collar. You defraud investors in Metropolis? You answer to Superman. You beat your wife in Metropolis? You answer to Superman.
This “man of the people” image for Clark Kent is powerful, and it has its roots in the genesis of the character. In Morrison’s own Supergods book (my current prose project), he explains that until World War II, the first Superman was something of a socialist crusader, protecting the common man from common threats. That would explain why, in interviews leading up to the publication of this comic, Morrison likened his Superman to Bruce Springsteen. Indeed, wife-beaters and corrupt businessmen are the unseen antagonists of many a Boss tune, and one gets the feeling that if Bruce had super-speed and strength he might’ve kicked the shit out of the casually cruel bureaucrats of “Born in the U.S.A.” or the exploitative industrialist behind “Factory.”
The thing that doesn’t really sit right about Superman with me here — and it was present in his brief Justice League #1 appearance too — is the anger in the character. Here, to see justice done, Superman apes a bit of Bruce Wayne’s tactics, beating gangsters to a pulp, throwing them off roofs and yelling at cops. He’s got that corn-fed righteousness and tendency to hucksterism that separates him from Batman, but he just doesn’t feel like Superman yet. Of course, this is a story about Clark Kent growing into the hero he’ll eventually become, and as such hitches like this are bound to come up. I’m sure that when Morrison’s work here is complete we’ll have a totally satisfying story on our hands, but I’m still going to hold a few reservations until I read a little further.
Art-wise, Action Comics succeeds. I’m familiar with penciller Rags Morales chiefly from his work on Identity Crisis, where I felt the pencils was fine but could sometimes lapse into a little formlessness, especially in characters’ faces. It seems he’s tightened his style a bit, though some of that’s no doubt due to inker Rick Bryant and colorist Brad Anderson. I don’t know if I could say the art in Action is my favorite, but it does a great job of telling the story at hand and propelling it forward, which is really all you can ask from a comics artist.
There’s a lot about Action Comics #1 to like, and the pedigree of the creators alone should guarantee your purchase. That said, it doesn’t yet strike me as a perfect book. Of course, that’s an unfair bar for almost any creators to reach, but when you’ve got All-Star Superman to compare it to, it’s not unrealistic. Still, no doubt over the next six months to a year the situations and characters of Action Comics will provide one of the most compelling monthly reads on the stands, offering up at least one major justification for DC rebooting its universe in the first place.
Pull list verdict: KEEP IT
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more