Action Comics Volume 1: Superman And The Men Of Steel (DC)
Written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Rags Morales, Andy Kubert, Gene Ha, Brent Anderson & Brad Walker
Collects Action Comics (New 52) #1-8
After enjoying Man of Steel so much, I figured it made sense to read a few Superman comics. As it turned out, I had an interesting sampling in my to-read box including the first volume of Grant Morrison’s New 52 Action Comics as well as the latest collection of post-Crisis Superman comics, Man of Steel Vol. 7.
I actually tried reading the first volume of the New 52 version of Superman and could not get through the book. I actually counted the number of panels that Superman appeared in in the first issue compared to ones he didn’t and the ratio was ridiculous. It’s supposed to introduce the character to the world in a whole new universe and you barely use him? Seemed silly to me. From there things went downhill and I didn’t bother finishing. Still, I had high hopes for Grant Morrison’s Action Comics because I consider him to be a really smart writer who loves this character and, even though he’s written Supes in JLA, All-Star Superman and Final Crisis, he still seems to have a lot to say about one of the world’s most famous fictional characters.
The volume finds a T-shirt and cape wearing Superman who hasn’t been around too long doing his best to mess with the kinds of people who tend to get away with all kinds of crimes thanks to their piles of cash and influence. Meanwhile, Clark Kent works for The Daily Star doing similar work but with his words instead of his fists. Since he’s still pretty new on the scene, the government doesn’t trust Superman and has General Lane working with Lex Luthor to try and figure out a way to stop him. While all this is going on new versions of Brainiac and Metallo get involved. Superman learns about himself, his home planet and even gets the suit he wears in the modern day New 52 U. There’s also a pretty fun story featuring the Legion of Super-Heroes and current Superman traveling to the Action Comics time period to fight the Anti-Superman Army.
Like I said, I like Morrison’s work and have come to expect a kind of slow-burn when it comes to his stories. There’s another 10 issues of this run, so I’m definitely curious to see how he wrapped the story up. But, there were a few things about this volume that got under my skin. First of all, Rags Morales’ art is not so great in the earlier issues. His pencils look too loose and many of his figures look generally un-dynamic, but the weakest part is his eyes. They look googley half the time with one pupil pointing one direction and the other elsewhere. It’s incredibly distracting and really draws you out of the story. Oh, plus, there’s no possible way that Clark Kent and Superman could be the same person the way they’re drawn in this book which is unfortunate.
The other aspect of the book — actually the first story, specifically — is the fact that it feels like many of the plot points feel more akin to another character: the Hulk. You not only have the dynamic of Lois’ dad trying to get rid of our hero (no, they’re not together, but it’s Lois and Superman, we know the potential is there), but also her rebuked lover becoming a villain in his own right. I know these are fairly general plot points, but they came off as a little tired to me. Luckily the story doesn’t dwell on those elements too much, so that’s more of a minor complaint.
As a longtime Superman fan, it was interesting to see how Morrison reshaped concepts and characters like Steel, Brainiac and Metallo. I hate Jimmy Olsen’s haircut, but the portrayal of him and Lois seemed right on. I like seeing a younger, more brash Superman and the same qualities in Clark. Overall, this seemed like a solid Superman comic. I almost wrote that it’s probably not the best comic to give someone who wants to learn about Superman, but then again, this book shares a lot of themes with Zack Snyder’s movie, so maybe it would be a good idea. Someone test the theory!
Superman The Man Of Steel Volume 7 (DC)
Written by John Byrne and Jerry Ordway, drawn by Byrne & Ordway
Collects Action Comics #596-597, Adventures Of Superman #436-438 and Superman #13-15
DC’s Jack Kirby and Man Of Steel books are probably my favorite collection projects around. The former introduced me to The King’s wild DC projects while the latter brings together all of the post-Crisis Superman comics into one place. That’s important to me because these books are filling in all kinds of gaps I had in my Superman reading which started in 1992. My hope is they get up to the Death of Superman story and then I’ve got it from there with the books from my collection.
This particular volume of Man Of Steel is an interesting one. I flipped through it and was surprised to see several issues tied into the mega crossover Millennium. While I don’t remember the details of that story too well aside from the basics — the Manhunters have replaced key people in the lives of superheroes — but I don’t remember Superman playing a huge role which fits with these issues in which Supes deals with the fact that a small army of Smallvillians were actually Manhunters, including Lana Lang. There’s an explanation for everything that works within the story, but it’s a pretty crazy revelation when you think about it. While they were explaining how they kept an eye on the Kryptonian infant, the Manhunters also revealed that they created the huge blizzard that allowed the Kents to tell the townspeople that Martha gave birth to Clark but wasn’t able to get to the hospital. This seemed like a strange piece of information to tack on to an origin story — storms can just happen, they don’t need a reason to happen — but at the time John Byrne was steering the Superman ship and that’s that. By the way co-wrote and drew every issue in this collection!
The weirdest part of this whole thing, though, is a lie that Pa and Ma Kent decide to tell Lois: that they raised Superman alongside Clark. Not only did this lie seem completely unnecessary — sure, Lois asks Superman point blank if he’s really Superman after all the craziness that went down in Smallville, but he’s Superman, he could have come up with a better answer — but I also don’t remember hearing this repeated in any other comic down the line. He doesn’t reveal that he’s Superman to Lois until Action Comics #662, so did she believe Clark and Supes grew up like brothers that whole time? Does she forget? Do they tell her another lie? I’m very curious about this because the whole thing understandably makes Lois furious. She’s mad that they lied to her, but more so, she feels like she was fed stories and pitied by the two of them anytime she got a story. It’ll be interesting to see how that storyline plays out.
The book ends with a pair of standalone issues. The first gives a little bit more background about Maggie Sawyer and introduces us to her daughter who has fallen under the spell of Skyhook, a bat-like creature who can somehow turn others into winged beings like himself. Byrne really gets to have fun in this issue stretching into some horror elements that weren’t overly common in these books at the time. The final issues introduces us to a circus mentalist who calls himself Brainiac and seems to have L.E.G.I.O.N. creator Vril Dox banging around in his head. I think this might be the first mention of Dox in post-Crisis continuity, but he seems different than the one seen in Invasion and then L.E.G.I.O.N. This is a more villainous incarnation along the lines of his pre-Crisis counterpart. For what it’s worth, the character’s Wiki page makes no mention of this appearance, noting that Dox’s first appearance is in Invasion #1. Interesting stuff.
While this collection series if firmly aimed at Superman fans of my ilk, I’m very thankful that they exist. This is the Superman that lead into the version of the character I’m most familiar with. Yes he’s powerful and inspiring, but he’s neither all-powerful nor perfect. Sure, I get a kick out of him moving planets and whatnot, but this is the version of the character I’m most familiar with and have the most affection for. Please keep these books coming DC!