Art by Rags Morales, Rick Bryant, and Brad Anderson
It’s a rainy day in New York and I just went to the comic shop to check out my books for the week. Atop the pile was Grant Morrison and Rags Morales Action Comics #1. It’s a pretty great cover of a leaping Superman in jeans racing away from the police, but one anyone who reads comics on the internet has seen an interminable number of times in the past few months, so its impact has dimmed. Still, Grant Morrison, he of JLA, Final Crisis, Superman Beyond, and, especially, All Star Superman has a;ways nailed the character. I’m not the biggest Morrison fan around – I think Batman RIP and his Doom Patrol are terribly overrated – but when he launches big, he goes above and beyond, and perhaps no one ever has had a better grasp of Superman and what makes the character work. So, with all that in mind, over lunch, I decided to read this new book. And my food remained untouched. So I ate, and as I did, I re-read this book. I didn’t notice, but my food was gone.
To say this book is a sugar rush is a severe disservice to the book – it’s a shot of adrenaline to the heart, hopefully, of the entire comics industry. This, right here, is a Superman book for those who’ve loved the movies and his iconic stature. The sheer cinematic scope of these pages belongs to that lore. This is a Superman book for those weaned on Smallville who want to see him grow as a character once he’s wearing the costume. Superman is in costume here, but still growing in character and into his final role in the world. This is a Superman book for the haters who believe he’s too powerful to be an interesting hero and not flawed enough to be an interesting protagonist. Superman clearly doesn’t have a place carved out for himself, is having trouble paying rent, and, even more to the point, isn’t all that powerful yet. Most of all, this is a Superman book for those with a deep, abiding love for the character and his mythology – a new look at what many have termed the greatest American export.
The comic is, first of all, absolutely gorgeous and packed with action. In this age of slowed, deliberate storytelling, Superman is pure energy and action, yet smart enough to set up his entire world and all its issues in this one serialized piece of story. When I bought last week’s Justice League #1, I got action, adventure and witty quips, but in no way did I feel I got my $4 worth in terms of plot. A ton of space was devoted to very few ideas. That is the exact opposite of how I felt with this book.
Already set up from one issue we know that the common man loves Superman, but he’s a serious problem for corporate and organized criminals. We know that the US Government, under Sam Lane, doesn’t trust him, and we know that they have hired Lex Luthor, who thinks him an alien parasite, to help capture him. We know that Superman is an idealist and tries to bring down crime not just as himself, but also as a writer for a paper that’s a rival to the Daily Planet, which is introduced through his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, who happens to work with Lois Lane. Jimmy is eager while Lois is downright brash in rushing into danger. Superman has no idea who his real enemies are yet, but is doing his best while living in a small tenement to make ends meet in both of his lives… and all of this is explained in an issue where Superman terrorizes corrupt businessmen, stops a wrecking-ball, fights tanks, and stops a runaway train. That’s how you make $4 well spent.
And the art’s kinetic energy matches the plot. There are wordless pages where the gorgeous action carries the emotion perfectly, particularly a dive off of a building and the attempted stopping of the train. There are a ton of extremely busy pages with a lot going on, but the action is very clear and causes the eye to leap from one moment to the next. We aren’t reinventing the medium here in terms of layout, just re-determining how to tell a complete story within limited pages within that medium.
I don’t know why Justice League, and not this book, is the core title for the new DCU, but it’s a mistake. Justice League is everything that comics has been for the past twenty years as fans have turned away in droves. Action Comics is everything comics were when they were popular, energetic complete stories that infect the reader with pure wonder. I will be giving this comic to practically everyone I know and urging them to pick up this book. I can’t imagine anything better will come of the re-launch than Action Comics… in fact, it’s hard to imagine anything better will come of comics for some time to come than this book.