For me, Action Comics #1 was the clear winner of the DC Relaunch. This was a comic that felt like a fresh start, a vision that was invigorating, even if it was looking backwards to the Superman of the 1930s. It was clear that writer Grant Morrison had a clear vision of the crusading Superman who is helping out the down-trodden even if that pits him against the police, the status quo. While I have said that I am sick of seeing Superman fight the police and the military, it is understandable in these earliest days. And the key panel in Action Comics #1 showed the citizens of Metropolis standing between Superman and the army's tanks.
Action Comics #2 came out this week and continued this exploration of the new Superman's mythos. In this issue we learn more about the extent of his growing powers, his relationship with Lois Lane, his understanding of his origins. And on top of that we continue to flesh out the supporting cast, especially Lex Luthor and John Corben.
Between Superman: Man of Steel and Superman:Birthright and Superman:Secret Origin,
I have read any number of reinterpretations of Superman's beginnings. The piece that Morrison seems to capture here is that Superman is probably having a lot of fun as he goes about his business, smiling and laughing as he does what he thinks is right. There isn't anything about this hero that feels angsty, sullen, or disaffected. He wants to help and is happy bringing the bad guys down. You can imagine this guy becoming the calm, collected, easy going Superman in Morrison's All Star Superman. I don't know if I want to read the stories that lead him to the grim, angry, alone Superman in Perez's book. Even in the face of torture, this Superman is laughing things off.
The bulk of the issue has Superman at a military base where Luthor and his cronies are testing the limits of Superman's burgeoning invulnerability. We see Superman get electrocuted in the chair, bloodied and trapped, but basically unharmed.
Standing with Luthor is soldier John Corben. Visually, with his slick hair and mustache, this is the Corben from his first appearance way back in Action Comics #252 (an issue well known for another reason). Corben, of course, is the secret identity of Metallo and things seem to be heading that way again.
And standing against Luthor is Dr. Irons who is morally against this torture and tries to stop Lex from doing anything else. Is this the first appearance of John Henry Irons? Is there a Steel in the new DC52? The fact the the base is involved in General Lane's 'Steel Soldier' program makes me think this is John Henry, his doctor title being of a phd rather than an MD.
Luthor is at his cool best here, defending what he is doing by simply pointing out that 'human' rights don't work for Superman. He isn't human. More on Lex in a bit.
Remember that Superman got captured while stopping a train wreck in Metropolis. On that train was none other than Lois Lane.
Lois arrives at General Lane's base knowing that Superman has been brought there. She trues to persuade her father to release Superman. And to help convince him, she has brought what little evidence that exists on Superman.
We have just started to learn about this Lois but she seems to embody what I think Lois should. She seems fearless, following a thug on a train, confronting her father. And she seems to have a sense of justice as well.
I also have to say that this part of the book, a captured and experimented on Superman, Lois sneaking onto a military base, echoed Project:Superman enough to make me think about some resonance with Flashpoint.
Now the book takes an interesting twist when Luthor starts interrogating the bound Superman.
Superman seems a bit clueless when Luthor mentions 'Krypton'. He wonders what Lex means when he talks of a rocket. So at this point Superman maybe doesn't know about his Kryptonian origins? Does that mean in this DCU that the Kents never divulged to Clark that he was an alien? Or maybe they didn't know any of the particulars about it? No rocket buried in the farmhouse?
Will we ever see beginnings of Superman? The 'doomed planet' and 'kindly couple' components of his origin?
But maybe more importantly, how does Lex know about Krypton?
And what is this creature he shows Clark? Could an old school Kryptonian Rondor have been sent to Earth with Kal-El? It might make sense as in the Silver Age, a Kryptonian Rondor's horn could heal people. Maybe it would be make sense to send a healing animal along the way with an infant.
But was it sent in the same rocket? A different one?
Luthor does enough monologuing to give Superman time to recover and free himself. And while tearing through the complex in search of his cape, Superman stumbles across ... a Kryptonian rocket.
Is this Clark's rocket? Or is this the rocket the Rondor/horned creature came in? How the heck could Luthor or Lane have Clark's rocket without connecting the dots to the Kents or anyone from Smallville?
In another interesting wrinkle, the ship seems to sense Kal's presence and starts speaking Kryptonese to him. I don't quite know whether or not Superman understands it. But when he tells it to protect itself until he returns, the ship responds, encasing itself in crystal.
So there is a lot to digest here. My guess is Superman is oblivious to his exact alien origins. But if this is his rocket (rather than another Kryptonian rocket) Morrison has a lot to fill us in on. Or maybe Superman doesn't realize he is an alien ... maybe Ma and Pa just told him he was special. Whatever the reason, that is serious fodder for stories.
As Superman battles his way to the surface (I love how all secret bases are deep underground structures), he runs into Lois who has spurned Sgt. Corben's advantages and swiped his pass card to enter the base.
We know that Lois named him 'Superman'. He seems familiar with her. So what is their relationship here?
Spurned by Lois and wanting to wipe the floor with Superman to prove his worth, Corben decides to undergo the experimental 'Steel Soldier' process, merging with a metal exo-suit. I guess he is going to end up as Metallo!
Unfortunately the lowest point of the book is the cliffhanger. Luthor is seen talking on the phone with someone, and it is that someone who fed Luthor the word 'Krypton'. So Lex doesn't know more about Superman's origins than Superman does. And I am happy about that.
But it is implied that the person Lex is talking to on the phone is inside this spaceship which is heading to the East Coast. Who is it? Brainiac? Some other alien race with a grudge? And that just seemed a bit off.
For one, I just don't think any Luthor would be talking to, trading information, acting on behalf of an unknown person. Luthor is too proud, too calculating to be put in that position ... the position of a lackey, a position of ignorance. It didn't feel right to read Luthor as begging for information from his limo.
Moreover, this book seems to want to present Superman as a hero for the everyday person ... a hero, not a super-hero. To introduce an extra-terrestrial enemy this early just felt like a complete disconnect with the prior 40+ pages of story that we have had.
The art is fine here. Rags Morales does the bulk of the art while Brent Anderson pitches in. There is something of a throwback feel to the art here which works well.
There are some great text pages in the back of the book where Morrison and Morales discuss their approach to the book and is the process stuff that I love. I am glad that was there as well.