I don't think I have been subtle in praise of Grant Morrison's Action Comics. It has, in my opinion, simply been one of the best comics being produced over the last year and definitely the cream of the New 52. I thought I couldn't love Action more.
And then Action Comics #0 came out. And, honestly, I got goose bumps at the last panel. When a occasionally disgruntled, fairly 'old school', 3+ decade comic reader has a visceral response like that ...well... it means that the comic is perfect. It means it is the perfect blend of words and art; it is a powerful story.
In fact, it even made me reconsider one of my few complaints about this run. This is the 'new' Superman. This was a clean slate. And yet, I felt that Morrison hadn't built a big enough foundation in the early issues for me to set this Superman up for the future. Did I know enough about Superman to understand him.
I shouldn't have doubted the genius of Morrison.
Because he is following the old rule: don't tell the reader, show them.
And issues like Action Comics #0 show us. This showed me who this Superman is (was?). It showed me who Jimmy Olsen is and Lois Lane is. It showed me who Clark is. And Morrison has been doing it for a year now. I kind of know who these characters are now. And best of all, I like these characters.
The 'zero' issues of the New 52 are supposed to key us into the origins of the heroes of the DC Universe. This issue is truly the origin of Superman ... not the person, but the idea.
We open up in those early Metropolis days of Clark Kent, a time when he was just making his S-shield shirts, preparing to become an active hero, fighting injustice.
Clark is interviewing at the Daily Star, talking to editor George Taylor. Taylor reminds Clark that stories aren't just about events. They are always about the people. The people come first. It is small-town wisdom, stuff that Clark already probably knows from his life with the Kents. But it shows just who Clark is and why he would look here for a job.
In those early days, Clark was living in Jimmy's apartment. Funny to see the situation reversed now.
Jimmy's origin is new and fresh. His father is rich. His mother was a super-model. His parents split and his mother flamed out in a bad romance with a rock star. So his guilty father has set him up in pretty plush digs. And yet despite this potential for a cushy life of leisure, doing fashion shoots, Jimmy wants to do more. He wants to be taken seriously. He wants to do 'real news'. It makes me like Jimmy even more.
But best of all, we finally hear Clark talk about his admiration for and burgeoning crush on Lois Lane. 'Reading Lois Lane is like watching a martial arts display.' What a great line. Lois' writings are powerful, strong, devastating but also beautiful and artistic. Look at Clark, practically moon-eyed, looking out at the sun as he talks about her.
It's Lois and Clark. It isn't brain surgery.
If only DC and Geoff Johns could understand that.
This is also that young crusader Superman. Here he tries to stop Glenmorgan and the 'little man' from kidnapping a crucial witness. Remember, this is a time where Superman is basically is unknown. So to see him upend and helicopter, smugly standing there in his heroic pose, egging on the bad guys ... it's fantastic.
But he isn't there yet. Bullets may bounce off him. But rocket propelled granades can still blast him back. He might be unharmed but he isn't uneffected. He is blown off the roof by the explosion. And in the aftermath, a young boy steals his cape.
I have enjoyed this riff on the socially active Golden Age Superman much more that I thought I would.
This indestructible man is still something of an urban legend. Perry White doesn't believe he exists. So we get a sense of who Perry is.
And Lois, she knows he is news ... big news. The S-shield right now only stands for story.
I love how she doesn't see the 'S' immediately thinking it looks like 2 fish. I think I remember reading a John Byrne interview saying he didn't see the 'S' at first either, thinking it was 2 weird fish swimming towards each other.
As for the young boy Luke who stole the cape, he is in a horrible situation, abused by a drunken father. In fact, this man tried to stab Luke with a knife, the blade breaking against the cape.
Empowered by this, Luke lashes out and his cape-bound punch seems to pack more of a wallop.
So maybe this shows the literal power of the cape, bringing a sort of magical Silver Age feel to the fabric.
But more importantly, it shows the power of the symbolism of Superman as this boy is suddenly inspired to rise up against injustice and protect his younger brother. Wonderful. I am not told that Superman inspires; I am shown it.
And we finally see Clark move into his new digs and meet Ms. Nyxly. And while she mentioned it in last month's issue, we see that she was indeed married to Mr. Mxyzptlk or 'Mystic Mr. Triple X'. And we learn he was defeated by 'another wizard' ... clearly the little man.
Just outside Clark's new home are the railroads. Here Luke is running away from his father, a man so callous that he is going to make Luke's brother Paulie watch Luke get run over by a train. And Luke wraps the cape around him, hoping it will save him.
But instead Superman shows up ... more powerful than a locomotive.
Big moments need big art and this splash page is fantastic.
But it is Superman's response that is even better. He winks at Luke and thanks the boy for looking after the cape. He promises him that the 'bully' won't hurt him any more. That is Superman ... a wink, a promise of help, and a moment to inspire others to do good.
Look at Lois' face. Suddenly this is something more than the story of an indestructible man. This is something bigger than a guy with a symbol and a cape. Her face seems somehow softer, as if the objective reporter is gone.
And then that last panel that gave me goose bumps.
The S-shield doesn't mean 'story' any more. It is bigger than the events. It is about the people. The S-shield stands for Superman. Thus, the origin of Superman.
This isn't a story that needed to be told. This isn't a chapter to help us figure out the Multitude. Instead it is a story that shows us just who these characters are and just what Superman is, not only as a hero but as an idea. Fantastic.
Ben Oliver's art is perfect for this sort of issue, a 'soft lens' pencil look back. There are maybe a few too many panels where characters are shown completely in shadow or as black shapes. But when we see everything, his stuff is powerful, his characters expressive, and his panel composition pitch perfect.
I can't believe Morrison is leaving in less than a year. Issues like this make me wish he would be on the book for years.