Arc in Review: Action Comics #1-8

Action #1

B

After what some (well, me at least) might consider a rocky start, Grant Morrison and Rags MoralesAction Comics reached the end of its first arc with a pretty satisfying confrontation wherein Braniac forces Clark Kent to choose between his adopted home and his biological one. It was nature versus nurture for the fate of the planet, and Clark’s solution — which found a way to incorporate both — saved the world and set him on the path to becoming the Superman we all know and love.

But how does Action‘s first arc measure up as a whole? To make that assessment, I’d like to take a look at the things I think it did really well, the things that maybe it missed the ball on, and a few things I’d like to see the story explore more moving forward.

The Good:
-The Villains: my favorite thing about this opening story arc has been its incorporation of so many different important Superman antagonists. Although businessman Glen Glenmorgan was ostensibly set up as the villain of the piece in the first issue, the series quickly included its own takes on Lex Luthor, Braniac and Metallo, as well as a few other mystery bad dudes. I’m curious as to the identity of the “Teetotaler,” the tiny man who only Glenmorgan and the Anti-Superman Squad interact with. Glenmorgan calls him the Devil, but this wouldn’t be the first time Morrison has faked out having the Devil in one of his books. Any guesses?

-The Action: Under Morrison and Morales, a book called Action Comics truly lived up to its name. This series stars a younger Superman whose powers haven’t fully developed, and it takes advantage of that by presenting some brilliant lo-fi action sequences that feel refreshingly down-and-dirty for Superman, whether it’s in issue #2 (where Luthor makes Clark a lab experiment to see the limit of his powers) or #4 (where Superman fights an army of scrappy invading robots). Not that I can complain about Superman being super, but I believe Morrison believably found a way to depower him and give us a taste of a time when the character really had to fight his battles.

-The Iconography: There’s no doubt that Grant Morrison understands the iconic power of superheroes. The first few issues of Action didn’t seem to be interested in that version of Superman, though, but the last few — #7 and #8 — took a nice turn and began to embrace a more familiar version of the character Seeing Clark don his ancestors’ armor and battle Braniac for Metropolis’ freedom really felt to me like Superman stepping out of his early “punk” phase and into a larger world.

The Bad:
-Issues #5-6: “Rocket Song” is not so much a bad story as one that’s poorly timed. There was no reason for it to interrupt the Braniac story in the way that it did, save giving Rags Morales time to get his pencils done. I don’t even know if “Rocket Song” is totally comprehensible until after you’ve read issue #8; it certainly doesn’t add anything to #7-8 to have read #5-6 before. Unfortunately, given their placement in the release schedule, “Rocket Song” just seems like an excuse for Morrison to be weird. No doubt some of the questions raised within will come back later (it gives us another look at the “Teetotaler,” just who are the Anti-Superman Squad?) but these books had no business coming out when they did.

-The Inconsistent Art: Not to heap on Rags, whose work I’m mostly enjoying here, but Action needs a better command of its release schedule. It’s very telling that even this book’s second issue had to resort to inferior fill-in art. In contrast, the much-discussed Justice League didn’t hit a delay til #4, and Jim Lee didn’t take a break on art until #7. Again, I think Morales is a fine artist — there’s a nice humanity in the way he draws Clark’s face, especially — but I don’t think he’s good enough to warrant inconsistency.

-James Dean as Superman: Rereading the first arc in its entirety, I’m still not totally sold on young Clark/Superman’s snotty attitude. I’ve come to like his more socialist “man of the people” approach here, but a few of the scenes where he back-talks authority — police especially — still rub me the wrong way. Maybe this is just totally personal, but those parts seem like they’re trying too hard to establish Clark as a bad-ass.

What I’d Like to See More Of:
-Clark’s Journalism: Though it ran through the background of six of these issues, I feel that Clark’s takedown of Glenmorgan at the end of this arc isn’t really earned. I realize there was a lot to do in this opening arc, and Morrison certainly aimed high, but going forward I’d like to see more of a focus on Clark Kent’s day-to-day life, like his work at the Star/Planet and his friendship with Jimmy.

-Morrisonian Touches: Granted, I did harp on “Rocket Song” above, which seems like classic Morrison weirdness, but again, it’s the placement of that story that really kills it for me. I realize Grant is doing something different here than in All-Star Superman, but I’d still like to see some of his crazy mind-bending tales pop up in these pages at some point. Given the tease for next issue (“Meet the Superman of Parallel Earth 23!”) I may get my wish.

Overall, I feel Morrison’s Action has done a lot to assuage some of my earlier misgivings about it. It’s a book I definitely enjoy and look forward to reading, but it still hasn’t climbed to the top tier of New 52 titles for me. Maybe that’ll change now that Superman’s origin is out of the way. We’ll find out next month!

Is this a fair assessment?

tags: action comics, grant morrison, rags morales

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