Art by Rags Morales, Brent Anderson, Rick Bryant, and Brad Anderson
Action Comics #1 was a fast-paced, joyous comic book, so when issue #2 slowed down, was it able to maintain momentum? Unfortunately, we went from a fun issue to one filled entirely with torture. Grant Morrison and Rags Morales treat us to a far more uneven take on the Man of Steel than the first issue supposed.
I’m not sure I understand why torture is so prevalent in so many of the New 52, but it is anything but welcome. Rather than give us a long look into Superman suffering to learn more about him, this issue is almost entirely him being hit with different physical things, from acid to electrocution. If you find the powers of Superman fascinating, or really want the nuance of 6-pages of a 20-page comic of Superman and/or his cape being experimented on, them his casually breaking out and, dues ex style, finding his old ship, well this is for you. If not, this is a stunning departure from the fun of the first issue.
The escape, after the early torture, presents its own problems. While beating on corrupt politicians escalating to a tank and then a train were interesting and fun in issue one, this issue sees Superman beating up a bunch of normal people. While I guess this is meant to be cathartic after the long torture scene, how casually he breaks free and the sheer generic feel of the villains thus far really ensure that the issue falls flat.
Indeed the characters as a whole are entirely flat here, as the plot and mystery of Superman’s past are really given center stage. Clark himself spends all issue tortured. Lois turns up to have a generic nosy reporter conversation with her father. Lex is handily evil, and the surprise villain isn’t such a big deal, except to see how he’s changed. Well, I know the basics of the Superman mythos. How they’ve changed isn’t the selling point – it’s all redone every few years anyway. Telling a good story with those elements, making it new and fun – that’s the point. That’s where this issue falls flat.
The art here, too, loses the fluidity and fun of the first issue. A lot of that is what Morales is being asked to draw, but the panel layouts just don’t spark, the colors are more muted, and, the real problem, in an issue where not much happens, the facial expressions are all over the place. Beat-up Superman in particular looks like a cartoon idea of beat up, not actually hurt. When you’re selling a giant torture scene, that really doesn’t do it.
It’s not that this issue feels terrible – things feel different from the normal superman, and it’s decently structured and drawn well, if simply – but it’s now too similar to the 90s tone of the other new 52 projects. This felt like a fresh, vibrant, exciting take after issue one, but this was a letdown of the highest order, as none of that promise is here delivered upon. With Superman free, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that next issue gets back to the good stuff, but on it’s own merits this issue rates a 4/10.