Taken by itself — isolating it from the rest of DC Comics’ newly launched “The New 52!” line — the freshly renumbered Action Comics #1 as written by Grant Morrison released today is a rousing Superman tale. It presents a Superman who’s the guy we know from the waist up (blue shirt, red cape, “S” symbol on chest, forelock dangling flirtily from dark hair) but new from the waist down (think Bruce Springsteen on the cover of Born In The USA).
Superman is something of a wiseguy and, dare I say it, a radical: In the first few pages, Superman seizes a super-wealthy law-breaker, holding him helplessly aloft, as the police ask him to put the guy down. “Sure, officer, I’ll put him down, just as soon as he makes a full confession. To someone who still believes the law works the same for rich and poor alike. Because that ain’t Superman.”
Untangling Morrison’s syntax here, I believe that means this Superman does not believe the rich and poor are treated equally under the law. Cool! A Superman with opinions about Earth-folks’ justice system. Why, the next thing you know, he’ll be renouncing his citizenship.
Morrison has said his Superman can get hurt — he’s not invulnerable, and one of the best aspects of Action #1 is artist Rags Morales’ depiction of a hero who gets battered and shows signs of exertion, even exhaustion. Morales’ drawings of Superman as Clark Kent show us a slender young man with tousled hair and big round glasses (indeed, he looks a bit like Steve Ditko’s original drawings of Peter Parker in Spider-Man).
Putting the most hurt on Superman here is a behind-the-scenes alliance between Lex Luthor and Lois Lane’s military father. And speaking of Lois, she’s seen bad-mouthing Clark as “the one who works for our rival newspaper.” No moony looks between these two in the Daily Planet offices — in fact, no sign of those offices in the first issue: It’s all out-on-the-streets action.
I enjoyed the swiftly paced Morrison-Morales adventure, titled “Superman Versus The City of Tomorrow,” but I have my doubts about just how DC expects new readers to climb aboard this rocket ship of a comic book. The goal of “The New 52!” is to start fresh; DC editor Eddie Berganza has been quoted as saying: “It’s a way of making everything accessible, so everyone can jump in at the same time. Whether you are an old fan and you want to catch up, or if you haven’t read comics for a while, this is a way to come in. Everything is meant to be enjoyed and read without footnotes or looking up back issues.”
Well, I showed last week’s Justice League and this week’s Action Comics to two different non-comics readers who’d like to get back in the comic-reading habit. They were baffled by the time period (apparently these stories are set five years ago), were puzzled by Superman’s new jeans-and-boots costume in Action and more traditional costume in JL, and wondered why Superman was being referred to in Action in quotation marks, as “Superman,” as though the world the hero lives in is unfamiliar with a super man. Sometimes I think those in the comics industry live in an alternate universe, so steeped in their so-often-rebooted “mythologies” and “events,” they can’t see their characters through the eyes of the new readers they so covet.
I’m a big Grant Morrison fan, so I’ll stick around to see how this new, populist Superman develops. I wonder how many other new readers will, though…