Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Review: Action Comics #14

Action Comics as a title has been one of the purest bright spots that came out of the new 52 and the DC reboot. Could this have take have fit in with the 'old' universe. I think the answer is yes. If I rolled with Man of Steel, Superman Birthright, Superman:Secret Origin, and even some of the softer reboots, I could have rolled with this being the 'new origin'. Grant Morrison has sort made an alloy of Golden Age, Silver Age, and even Modern Age Superman to weave a solid look at the character.

But all good things must come to an end. And Action Comics #14, which came out last week, is the beginning of the last 3 part story. At last the mysteries of Metalak, the Multitude, and the 'Little Man' all are coming together.

Part of the problem is that I am going to have unbelievable expectations for this last bit. I have thought Action has been consistently excellent but I want it to end with a bang ... not a whimper. As is typical, it was the comic at the bottom of my weekly pile, the last new comic of the week I read, the comic I trust the most will entertain me and wow me. And while there were some very nice moments in the book, I wasn't floored by it. I wasn't floored by it the way Action Comics #0 floored me. Is it a victim of its own success?

Of course, this is only the first chapter and the story as a whole may be the wondrous experience I am looking for. And again, there are a lot of very good moments in this book.

Rags Morales artwork is a highlight of this book specifically in page composition, using tall vertical panels in some places, tight smaller panels in others, and everything in between.

It was hard to pick out one image for the opening pages, a scene where we see an Earth crew living on a base on Mars, and seeing the structure being deconstructed by Metalak possessed construction machines.

One could have been the Mars crew running in fear. It was almost one of an empty mop closet in the Daily Planet, obviously Clarks exit as he heads to Mars (and a nice little tip of the hat to the Silver Age).

But I thought this panel, a 1/4 full page vertical look of a child (Noah) on Mars simply in awe of seeing Superman come to the rescue while behind them (and in an adjoining panel) we see more dumbstruck looks by the adults. Throughout this issue, Superman listens and enjoys the optimism of this young boy, a stark contrast to some of the more cynical adults also on the red planet. This should be how a kid views Superman.

Another thing to note is just where Morrison has put this Superman. This is truly a Silver Age powered Man of Steel, one who can speed to Mars in moments, memorize libraries, and be an unstoppable force of good. I also think that this story takes place in 'the now', the present of the DCU.

The machines are the Metalek, seen earlier in this series as taking over fire engines and cars and trying to recreate the world.

Here we learn their somewhat depressing origin. A race which was destroyed by the Multitude sent the Metalek out to 'terraform' a new world so they could move there. Unfortunately, the Multitude destroyed the beings so the Metalek are forever trying to stay one step ahead of them, rebuilding worlds for new residents who will never come.

It's funny. At first I thought the Metalek were pure villains, a vanguard of the Multitude. Now I know they are misguided victims.

As I said before, this story seems to take place in the 'present' DCU. So one thing I liked was how easily we see Superman take out these construction vehicles, a bit of a contrast to an earlier issue where a wrecking ball seemed to knock him around a bit.

And I love the sort of cool almost cockiness here in that second panel, blowing the dust off his fist as he prepares to demolish everything with ease.

But Superman knows the Multitude is coming. The Metalek are always just ahead of them. And no one has been able to defeat the Multitude ... no one but Jor-El, the man who did the impossible.

Again, I love how Superman and Noah seem to just get each other. It's that easy ... just do the impossible.

The Multitude are a bit creepy in that they appear as a swarm of angelic beings. And they are pretty strong, battering Superman with ease.

I have said before how I don't like the distrust and cynicism that the people of the DCnU have for Superman. Here, one of the astronauts yells at him for not keeping his promise to save them. Despite being beaten to a pulp, she tells him it's easy to be him because he is invulnerable. It is so distasteful. If he hadn't come at all they would already be dead. If it is so easy, why is he bruised and exhausted.

It takes the simple insight of the young boy again. Superman doesn't say 'there's no way out' he says 'when the odds are impossible, do the impossible.'

What follows is a sort of warped explanation of dimensions and how the Multitude is actually a singular being scattered from the 5th dimension. You need to hit all the multitude at once to defeat it.

So they do the impossible. The Earth scientist sets up a 'scalar field', an impossible mix of gravity and electomagnetism.

Superman uses his body as a conduit, surviving a 10 gigawatt power flow. It is a simple act, but one that shows that Superman is willing to risk his own life to save theirs. And, surprisingly, it works.

I do have to say, I think the defeat of the Multitude happened a bit too easily, too quickly. But with only 3 issues to go, I bet Morrison had some corners he needed to cut.

Unfortunately, the Multitude is just the weapon. And the one pulling the trigger, pulling the strings, is the Little Man. He is also on Mars and quickly shows just how malevolent he is, killing all the astronauts by melting them within their suits.

We saw Mrs. Nyxly go all Picasso on us a couple of months ago. Now we see the little man, named Vyndktvx (Vindictive-x), do the same thing, becoming a multidimensional cubist devil.

I didn't expect so overtly demonic appearance for him but I suppose it fits Morrison. Who better to try to destroy Superman bit by bit that the Devil.

You know what it reminded me of?

Elliot S. Maggin's famous Miracle Monday novel in which Superman fights Saturn, basically Satan by another name.

So lots to like here. Maybe the Metaleks were defeated a bit too easily. Maybe the Multitude were also dispatched a tad fast. But they were the appetizers for what I assume will be a battle of wills between Superman and Vyndktvx.

But the part I liked best was that Superman and Noah seemed to be more simpatico than Superman and the adults. That you need that easy acceptance of good and evil, the belief you can do the impossible, to achieve greatness.

I am really going to miss Morrison on this book.

Overall grade: B+


Dave Mullen said...

I thought it was excellent. It's without doubt my favorite book right now. I've gone from being 'Meh' on the book initially to anticipating every issue, there's so much going on in this book it rewards upon rereading every time. Classic Grant Morrison in my opinion and one that will be served well when collected.

I could swear we've seen or heard from Noah before, perhaps I'm getting my wires crossed, however I think there's still something to come from him as this ending was too brutal, plus there did seem to be an emphasis on his book throughout the story so I'm thinking it's a plot point.
Regarding your comment about the placing of this story I do think we are still very firmly 'five years ago', don't forget for example that we saw Clarks old apartment in George Perez' first issues as it was demolished. For another thing I recently sat down and reread the run so far on Action and the clues and information are all in there. I'm 95% sure were still mere months after Issue #1 here, perhaps as little as three months even...

If anyone's interested I did a full breakdown of the story so far and what clues there are as to what Vyndktvx is up to -


Anj said...

Thanks for the post. And the link!

Hmmm ... the timeline thing is tricky. I'm going to have to read this all over again.

I have loved Action and will be bummed when Morrison leaves.

Martin Gray said...

I like that we were both reminded of different 'Superman vs the Devil' storylines - aren't we old?

Noah was a highlight, another reminder of the Seventies, when kids such as lynx-wrangler Billy Anders were always showing up.

Anj said...

Yes Mart, I feel older by the second in this new comics world!

And you are right, the Noah had a 70s feeling to him. Almost like some of those kids Superman would talk to in the Public Service Announcements comics had back then.