Action Comics vol 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
256 pages $25
This was arguably the big dog in the New 52 relaunch. One of the longest running American comic book titles was being renumbered to 1 and Superman was being rebooted. Everything that had come before was now gone. Sort of. All of the familiar faces are still there, just not quite how we remember them. Grant Morrison was the clear choice to re imagine this icon of comics. Bringing Rags Morales along for most of the ride was an inspired choice.
This book reads very well as one volume, unlike many comics written for the collection though, this one suffers from very few of the problems that many other books do. The book feels like Morrison in that, whether it is present or not, the hand of DC editorial seems light enough to not be there at all. The book chose a direction and rarely strays from it. Morrison’s new take on the character is a strong one, rooted in his personal view of what Superman used to represent. Here is a Superman that is firmly anti-establishment. This is the Siegel and Shuster Superman, really. There was a time that he was not the big blue Boy Scout. A time before the super villain Dr. Wertham and the evil rays of the comics code. Before the changes made in the 1940’s even, Superman was an agent of change and justice. In this day and age, I imagine there are people that would call him a Socialist. Ultimately he is Superman, pure and honest, with a fair bit of justifiable anger toward most authority figures. He is not as powerful as before, but it is made clear that he is getting stronger every day. The T-shirt design is replaced by the new costume, (bummer, I kind of liked that) and much of the origin is left to be told yet, or at least filled in with backstory, as there are few real changes to the “doomed planet, desperate scientist, kindly couple” motif. What is here is cleaned up and made more believable. The current status of Krypto is still just plain mean though. The supporting cast is here too. Jimmy Olson is now Clark Kent’s pal, NOT Superman’s. Lex Luthor is here and even more slimy than ever. Interestingly, Ma and Pa Kent are dead already. I always felt them an interesting touch stone for Clark, so it will be interesting to see how they fill that void going forward. The Landlady character may fill part of it, but I don’t see that having legs. Then there is the voiding of the marriage of Lois and Clark. They barely even know each other at this point, and they are not friendly.
The art, mostly by Rags Morales is a bit problematic, but only because it is just MOSTLY by Morales and not ENTIRELY by him. While the fill in art by Andy Kubert others is very good, the changes chapter to chapter and within some of the issues themselves can be jarring. I really wish the schedule would take a back seat to just making a good product that flows properly. The real gem here is the look of Clark. With just hair, clothes and a properly awful pair of glasses, the disguise actually works for a change. Another good touch is the bruises. When Superman is getting pounded on, he bruises, and later Clark is still banged up. It works wonderfully here. For the first time, I actually find myself caring about Clark Kent and I am even worried for him!
The story moves along well enough, but there are occasional jumps that feel odd. As though there needed to be a “meanwhile” or “later that day” caption. The inclusion of the back up stories featuring the John Henry Irons character are fine, but the real treat is in seeing a Superman that I might actually like. Many of the old clichés are gone as well, and I cannot say I’m sad to see them go. I know that Morrison is off the book sometime around issue 16, but until then I am all over this book!