Wednesday, September 7, 2011
COMICS: Action Comics #1
What Action Comics #1 actually reveals when you sit down to read it is that the jeans are only the beginning. This is not the noble, statuesque Man of Tomorrow who hovers above Metropolis like a square-jawed, blue-eyed Christ. This is a new hero fighting as much to find his own way as to deliver justice, tearing through Metropolis at the ground level with all the cocksure determination of a high school quarterback. This is Grant Morrison exploring Superman's infant stage, and the result is an energetic, bold new comic by one of DC's most imaginative creators.
We don't know when the issue begins how long Superman has been in town, but clearly it hasn't been long. He's still trying to make a name for himself among Metropolis' less savory characters, the police are still trying to figure him out, and somewhere in the shadows Lex Luthor is still learning his weaknesses.
Morrison also makes it clear that Superman simply hasn't been Superman for long. Like the Siegel and Shuster version of the late 1930s, this Man of Steel doesn't fly, but leaps. His strength is monumental but far from unlimited. His body is tough, but definitely not invulnerable. This Superman is still incubating, both physically and emotionally, just as his alter ego Clark Kent is still trying to find his way. He's a reporter, we learn, but he's not yet working with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. He's also living in a less than luxurious situation where he's struggling to pay the rent. It's an all around transition phase.
Morrison has a knack for carefully constructing stories and then structuring them to look like chaotic frenzies of action and intrigue. Action Comics #1 is dominated by chase scenes, close calls, and moments of real danger for the young Man of Steel. It's also punctuated by a number of visually and emotionally important symbols. Superman grabs a corporate crook from a skyscraper penthouse and then leaps to the street below, literally bringing the man down to the level of the commoner. He glares at villains with heat vision one minute, then smiles as he scopes out the internal organs of a Metropolis cop (to let him know he's got a bad ulcer he should get looked at).
What's most brilliant about these moments is how they show a Superman in the making. He's cocky, he's clumsy and he's even a little mischievous, but the nobility that so defines the mature version of the character is there in a rough form, waiting to be sculpted into something big and grand and immortal.
This is all highlighted, enhanced and driven home by Morales' crisp, bright art. His Superman is a working class hero with a twinkle in his eye, still reveling in the reach of his powers, but with a layer of uncertainty lurking underneath that red and yellow insignia. That Morrison understands this, and makes us understand it, is almost a given. That Morales is able to drive it home with nearly every pencil stroke is a gift.
Action Comics #1 is first and foremost just a damn fine comic book, but it's made more important because it shows the work of creators who took the marketing phrase "The New 52" seriously. While other writers seem to be using the mantle simply as a chance to start over with the same old dynamic and no continuity burdens on their shoulders, Morrison and Morales are here to present something innovative, something fresh and bright and full of promise. Action Comics is one issue old, and it's already proving to be a sign that great work can come from this reboot.