Action Comics #4

Action Comics #4

A-

I’ve been pretty harsh on the first three issues of DC’s Action Comics, some would say unduly so, but all y’all can relax, because we’ve come to an issue I actually quite enjoyed. Here, Superman has to fight off an attack from a mostly-unseen collector alien (who I think we can safely assume to be Braniac, but perhaps with a twist) set on adding the Earth to his museum. That gives us a fast-paced issue that ends up feeling really retro in a good way. It’s the kind of thing I was hoping to see from Grant Morrison’s Action Comics, and as a result this is the first issue of the series I can really recommend to anybody unequivocally.

Action #4 delivers a very 1950s-style sci-fi plot: a hostile alien has come to Earth to eradicate human life. Thanks to Rags Morales’ art, the book looks how it feels. When the invading alien takes control of Earth’s machinery, what results is a bunch of creatures that all look very boxy and uncomplicated, like for instance a giant robot made of girders with a tank for a head. Such visuals wouldn’t have felt out of place in classic B-movies from a half-century ago. Morales takes a very literal nuts-and-bolts approach to this issue, so much so that when Superman punches his way through robot hordes you can see small chunks of their component parts flying off of them. It reminds me a little bit of the realistic aesthetic Michael Bay tried to bring to Transformers, except not awful.

To match that old-fashioned feel we get an old-fashioned Superman. Defenders of the book have rightly pointed out that, despite my criticisms, it’s a lot of fun seeing a Superman who’s not yet up to the unbelievable power levels we associate with the character. That was illustrated nicely in issue #2, but this is the first time we really get to see those limitations laid so bare. What would likely have been a simple two-page fight involving some unbelievable feat (cyclonic flying, probably, or another form of super-speed) pre-reboot is here a fairly down-and-dirty brawl between a strong guy and his metal foes. Superman doesn’t have heat vision, he doesn’t fly and can’t bench-press a planet. What he can do is run, punch and jump. It’s a lo-fi sequence, for sure, but I think that makes it really compelling — how does Superman defeat bad guys in such a scenario? He has to use his wits, his agility and especially his environment. Yeah, he throws things around a lot. In his shoes, wouldn’t you do the same?

Despite my complaints about his previous characterization in this title, issue #4 brings a Superman I enjoy seeing. He doesn’t have everything figured out yet personally or power-wise, and we get to watch him make do with what he has. I even thought his back-talk to the police here, something I’ve found problematic in earlier installments, was well-done. I can accept that Superman has little patience for authority when they’re literally standing in the way of him saving lives. Other than that, I suppose having to fight off a giant robot assault gives him an outlet for his angst, so there’s not a lot of fuel for my anti-Marlon Brando-as-Superman fire here.

This is also the first time I felt Action‘s back-up feature was worth the extra money. In it, Sholly Fisch (who’s written a lot of Johnny DC titles) and Brad Walker (Guardians of the Galaxy) tell the story of John Henry, aka Steel, who dons a suit of armor to bring down an early version of Metallo, possessed by Braniac and on the rampage for Superman’s life. I’ve always been a fan of the Steel character, which is kind of tough — it’s hard to profess his coolness when he’s usually associated with Shaquille O’Neal and overlong ’90s crossovers. But he was one of my favorite characters in Grant Morrison’s JLA, as well as in 52; he’s smart and strong enough to be a fantastic hero but relatable enough to be a great everyman. That continues here; Fisch gives us eight pages of running monolog that puts us in Irons’ head, and I’m happy to spend time with the character again. Additionally, the art from Walker and colorist Jay David Ramos is gorgeous. The coloring, in particular, is really subtle and warm; it almost looks like it was done with colored pencils, which produces a very natural effect. I would not mind paying an extra dollar a month for this feature.

Weirdly, Action #4 ends with a note that its cliffhanger (Metropolis bottled up in Braniac’s ship) won’t be picked up until issue #7; next we’ve got a two-part interlude coming our way. That’s more than likely to account for the fill-in art team of Andy Kubert and Jesse Delperdang, who did great things on Morrison’s Batman. Still, it’s an awkward place to break a story, but at least I’m left wanting more — and out of the initial four issues of this book, that’s the first time I can say that excitedly.

tags: action comics, brad walker, grant morrison, rags morales, sholly fisch

  • Kyle G.

    Glad you found something to like in this title. It’s been one of my favorite reads since the renumbering and I hope it can keep up its momentum.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah. That might be tough with a two-issue break, but I’m hopeful as well. 

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