Action Comics #3

Action Comics #3

B

Most readers are probably familiar with a scene from the iconic 1953 film The Wild One in which leading character and troublemaker Johnny (Marlon Brando) is asked what he’s rebelling against. “What have you got?” comes the shocking reply. That’s all I could think about during the moment in Action Comics #3 when a group of cops ransack Clark Kent’s apartment and get nothing but lip from the young reporter. Snottily wondering what he’s done wrong, he jabs “I crossed the street on a green light? I published some essential truth I shouldn’t have?”

Here Clark’s not just a rebel with a cause, he’s a rebel who employs the language of entitled, snark-driven Internet users. I wonder how many readers will identify with him. If you doubt that writer Grant Morrison’s turning Superman into a punk, can you doubt any further? Even poor, milquetoast Clark with his giant glasses and his oversized sweater has an attitude problem. At the risk of sounding like an old man, I wonder if he’d talk like that if his parents were still around.

Readers who’ve seen me question Morrison’s plan in my last two reviews have tried really hard to get me to accept this series as a more human rendition of the Man of Steel. And I see where you guys are coming from, I really do — the guy we know to be Superman has to start somewhere, right? He probably went through the same adolescent growing pains with a giant chip on his shoulder the way we all did. So in that way Action Comics makes sense.

However, in my opinion not enough people have asked whether we need to be seeing this process of growth. Maybe Morrison’s pulling back the curtains too much. Patton Oswalt has a fantastic joke about how the Star Wars prequels ruined the iconic and villainous Darth Vader by making him a whiny, purportedly sympathetic little kid. Vader stands on his own awesomely; with a trite backstory, he’s actually made less interesting. I can’t help but feel that’s a little bit of what’s happening here. By seeing that Superman is just like us (or just like us if we were awesome punks like Marlon Brando), we’re losing something super about him. Besides that, we’re covering story paths we’ve seen before. Morrison’s Metropolis is an awful lot like Gotham City — prostitutes here, openly corrupt businessmen there, a mistrusting, fickle public around every corner. No doubt Morrison wants to show Metropolis grow into the City of Tomorrow the way he wants Clark to grow into the Man of Tomorrow, but we’ve already got enough books with this kind of environment that I’m not sure what’s so special about Superman’s journey.

If we ignore everything I talked about above, Action #3 is pretty good. I like the way Morrison quickly checks off important aspects of Superman’s mythos — this issue includes appearances from three of his top villains, and they all connect quite nicely. I particularly really enjoy the twist in Superman’s origin that Braniac has something to do with the destruction of Krypton (utilized in The Animated Series and maybe elsewhere), so that was welcome. Lex Luthor, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen continue to come off as strong supporting characters, and I also love what Morrison’s doing with the new character of Clark’s landlady, Mrs. N. There’s also a pretty cool “Deep Throat”-style mystery set up regarding an anonymous tipster helping Clark bring down Glen Glenmorgan’s corrupt business empire through his newspaper articles. I have my own suspicions as to that tipster’s identity; how about you guys?

Artistically I think Rags Morales finds himself again here; after a slight dip in last month’s issue, his pencils for Action #3 are in fine form, possibly even better than those in the series’ debut. When Morales is on, he nails expressions and body language like nobody’s business, and here, he’s on. He also gets an art assist from Gene Ha in a seven-page opening sequence that revisits Krypton’s destruction. Though that segment might take you a couple read-throughs to piece together, it looks beautiful; as usual, Ha outdoes himself on sci-fi visuals.

I must admit I’ve been pretty puzzled by the general disquiet my Action reviews have elicited — it’s not like I’m being that harsh on the comic, I’m simply raising questions about its depiction of the most iconic comics character of all time. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with young Superman being a punk, but honestly, do you think it’s the most compelling way to tell this story? Do you think it’s necessary that we read about it? I could be off-base here, but if I want to see a young man rebel against authority, I’ve got plenty of other places to turn.

tags: action comics, gene ha, grant morrison, rags morales

  • colby

    Your article reminds me of the Mark Waid/Alex Ross view of Superman- this his biggest super power is his innate sense of right and wrong. I’m not reading this book, so I can’t say for sure, but it kinda sounds like the idea here is that he’s in the process of forming that morality.

    Which, in the abstract, sounds like it could be interesting- but I dunno, I kinda wonder if making it something Superman had to learn doesn’t diminish the character.

    Like I said, I’m not reading this, so I shouldn’t act like that’s what’s going on here. This is mostly an intellectual exercise. But it’s what your article made me think of.

  • Thomas Foss

    I didn’t think this issue was as strong as the last couple; it seemed to bounce around a little more than expected. Maybe I just have a lot of faith in Morrison–and suspect that he’s got All-Star Superman in mind any time he works on the character–but I think this issue is finally revealing some of the long-term concept behind this story. Clark’s been a righteously angry crusader against injustice in both his lives, eager to speak truth to power and rattle some gilded cages, and in this issue he’s seeing that that method is backfiring, or at least not working well. Being an outsider might not be the best course of action.

    Morales’ art seemed weird to me this time around; Clark’s face was more amorphous, and some of the weird noses from back in Identity Crisis were back in evidence. I liked the Gene Ha work though.

    The idea that Metropolis was kind of a crappy town before Superman’s example lifted people up is a tried-and-true trope at this point. In “Man of Steel,” the city was under Luthor’s corporate thumb until Superman defied him; in “Secret Origin,” no one even looked up before Superman was on the scene. Not to mention the fact that there’s always been a section of the city called “Suicide Slum,” which I thought was the current location of Clark’s ratty apartment.

    I think Morrison’s endgame here is to bring Superman to the heights of superhuman virtue that he displayed in “All-Star,” where boundless senses and enhanced intellect gave him the insight and perspective necessary to be that perfect, inspirational hero. But he’s starting at this point, with his powers still developing, with a strong moral center but the sensibilities of an idealistic kid from Kansas who has nothing left to lose. I think the moment with the police, where Clark’s trying to explain Superman, was actually profoundly honest. He has this naive, idealistic idea of what he wants to be, but it’s not working out, and he’s at a loss.

    I can see where this might be sapping the magic from the character for some, but many would have said (and did say) precisely the same about the folksy, all-too-human version of the character who’s dominated since 1986. And when we’re talking about a character who we’ve seen as a flying baby in short pants, who spent whole decades playing pranks on his only friends to teach them lessons, I’m not sure that argument holds a lot of water.

    Ultimately, I think this is actually a Superboy story. With his parents gone, Clark is trying to be an adult and to live up to their expectations, to put childish things away (like avoiding the Legion back in issue #1), and doing what he thinks he’s supposed to do with his abilities. But he lacks the perspective that makes him the inspirational Superman that we know and love from “All-Star” and other stories, and so he’s not as successful. It might not be the Superboy/man story that everyone wants to see, but at least he’s not making Lex Luthor go bald or trying to avoid snoopy Lana Lang.

  • Anonymous

    I mean, both you guys are right – Morrison IS showing how Clark/Superman came to his iconic sense of morality, and he’s doing it in a logical way. But just because a story makes sense doesn’t mean it’s worth telling, as we learned from Abed on Community last week. I still think it’s revealing too much that tarnishes the iconicity of the character when it should be enhancing it.
    Let’s look at this another way. What if Nolan’s Dark Knight had given us the Joker’s backstory? Obviously he had a childhood, probably with some trauma in it. Somewhere buried deep within Heath Ledger’s Joker is a relatable character. But SEEING that character would have made the movie a good deal worse. Joker needs to be a force of nature, he needs to be inscrutable. I feel the same can be said about Superman, at least the way Morrison’s presenting him right now. 

  • colby

    “And when we’re talking about a character who we’ve seen as a flying baby in short pants, who spent whole decades playing pranks on his only friends to teach them lessons, I’m not sure that argument holds a lot of water. ”

    I’m not sure I buy that. I mean, I’m not committed to the idea that showing Clark Kent with a less-developed morality is bad, either. But to the extent that I DO think it takes away something from the character (And really, it would all come down to the execution, and since I’m not reading this, I should just shut up), I don’t see why that would be mitigated just because some previous ill-advised stories ALSO took away from the character.

    But, at the same time, the characters and concepts should be allowed to grow and change, and we’ve all heard by now how this actually has a lot of continuity with a previous version of Superman. So I’m in no mood to write it off.

  • colby

    I think a fully formed example is Wolverine: Origins. Mostly, a logical way to fill in all the blanks. And it’s not a horrid little story, either. But I don’t see what’s added to Wolverine by putting it out there. And besides some gorgeous covers, I don’t think there’s really anything that makes it stick out in anyone’s mind much anymore, anyway.

  • Anonymous

    I think that’s a very apt analogy – Morrison’s Action is the Wolverine: Origins of Superman, for all the mediocrity that entails. 

  • Michael Rubinstein

    It’s an intriguing and compelling story that has me reading Superman comics again. That hasn’t been true in a long time. Grant Morrison is doing something new with these characters and I like it.

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