Action Comics #18 came out last week and was a phenomenal pitch-perfect ending to Grant Morrison's run on the title. In fact, it was so good that it took me this long to put my thoughts together to discuss my review. It took this long to look through the book and decide which panels should be included in the review. It took me this long to try to temper myself so I didn't simply gush.
After the earliest issues of this title, I started to get a sense that this story wasn't so much a story about an evil 5th dimensional imp as it was a commentary on Superman himself in this grungy world of current comics. More and more metatextual snippets were being put into the book including but not limited to the inclusion of creator rights, Silver Age visuals, Golden Age sensibilities, a sense of the timelessness of Superman, and the vile Super-Doomsday - a warped Superman which would fit in perfectly in the New 52 DC world. How can Superman perform the impossible and remain a symbol of good, inspiring humanity while being one of us? How can he survive a comic world where the dollar seems to be mightier than a pure hero?
With that sort of timeless feeling of Superman, Rags Morales and Brad Walker make the perfect art combination bring a sort of 'steady' feel to the book, a more understated look at Superman in this age of crazy panels and wonky stylizations.
If you like Morrison, if you can deal with some of his zaniness and go along for the ride, if you can believe a man can fly and call upon the spirit of humanity to defeat the devil you should not miss this book.
As I said since he was first seen in Action Comics #9, Super-Doomsday has to represent Morrison's thoughts about the current comics market. Here is a 'corporate approved' anti-hero filled with hate and angst. He has killed other incarnations of Superman. He is an unstoppable force of power and symbolism cloaked in his omega signs, swastikia/dollar sign S-shield, and copyrights. Heck, in this current market where books have Superman punching a pregnant Lois to death aren't we an angstrom away from seeing this.
And yet, despite the K-chains, the Anti-Superman squad, the crushing mental attacks of Vyndktvx, Morrison's Superman continues to fight the never-ending battle. Incredible.
I also loved the small flourishes here, the backwards credits hinting at the ultimate solution.
As I said before, Morrison infuses this issue with as many visuals from early Superman stories as he can, a way to remind us of his great history. Vyndktvx's attack happens at all times at once. So why not the Silver Age and the Golden Age.
So when the Red-K woman member of the Anti-Superman Squad gives Superman a kiss, he suffers from vicious hallucinations. They include a lion-headed Superman and an ant-headed Superman, classic images of the wild Red Kryptonite stories of the Weisinger era.
But then Morrison turns it on his head a bit. The ant-head, the sign of a drone worker, a pawn to make money on. Can Superman defeat commercialism, a desire to make him easier to sell?
I still think the Red-K woman is Maxima ... but she is never named.
And even Ferlin Nyxly, Mxyzptlk's son, shows up. With Mxy recovering in the hospital, Ferlin ... a music therapist ... shows up to badger his father for ruining his life. Saturn Girl tunes into his mind and makes a weird discovery.
Perhaps in the biggest twist of all, Nyxly is called a 'limb of Vyndktvx', somehow the son of Mxy and a 'damaged edge' of the 'little man'. Could Mxy be the villain in this piece all along? Maybe a part of Mxyzptlk?
As for Ferlin, he is another part of this universal look by Morrison at the history of Superman. I review Ferlin's first appearance here. It is just another delicious nugget in the book.
And even more of the breadth of the DCU and Superman's influence arrives. In this battle for the soul of the world, he needs as many allies as possible. Captain Comet shows up with a spruced up version of the Wanderers, a small army to battle the Anti-Superman Squad.
Super-Doomsday ends up being some sort of puppet of Vyndktvx as he starts saying the lines that the imp is saying. One of the plot points from last issue was that Vyndktvx asked everyone on Earth to turn their back on Superman, to deny him help.
With the Earth collapsing and people dying, Vyndktvx/Doomsday links Superman with the mind of humanity hoping their fear will further demoralize the Man of Steel. Instead it is the key to Vyndktvx's defeat.
But how great is this line by Superman? He is the opposite reaction to an unstoppable evil. He doesn't give up. He can do the impossible.
And with everyone linked, he asks the world to do the impossible. Everyone needs to say there name backwards to send Vyndktvx back to the fifth dimension. And, no surprise, everyone does it.
Look at some of those names there. Morrison is there. As are a number of the people who have worked on the book. Talk about smashing the fourth wall from this direction into the book rather than the other way around.
And Superman says his name backwards ... both Clark Kent and Kal-El. And that is key to me. Because I believe Superman is more Clark Kent than Kal-El. I want him to say his name is Clark Kent. I want Clark and his upbringing and the Kents to be a crucial part of his story. This was another great panel and great solution for me.
But it isn't just that world magic that does it. Remember Ferlin Nyxly is a limb of Vyndktvx. So he says his name backwards and it is Xvtkdnyv!
Still how can he be that?
Well, we see a glimpse into that world. Vyndktvx is hauled off to 5th dimension jail but vows he was et up by Mxyzptlk. And indeed, it looks like this was the biggest trick of them all because Mxy rises to king. The Jester as King. Incredible.
I do wonder if Vyndktvx is some sort of corner of Mxy himself, the evil parts of him expunged so he can become the harmless jokester he is while ascending to the throne.
But the circles inside circles inside wormholes continue to rock this story. This tale of Vyndktvx ultimate fate, of Mxy's painful time on the throne, and Mxy's love for his daughter turns out to be a fairy tale Jor-El tells Kal-El. The secret to defeating the 5th dimension incursion told to Superman as a baby!
Alas, we see the first rumble of Krypton's destruction play out in front of us. Just wonderful.
Meanwhile on Earth, Superman must continue to do the impossible, including hoisting the self-destructing Super-Doomsday off Earth, saving the day again.
Recovering from the blast, Superman has one more vision. With the all-knowing sun above him, he again sees Mrs. Nyxly. She has one more wish left, but since she escaped death in the red of his shield, it must include red. Anything Superman wants.
Hmm ... he could have wished on the red sun of Krypton, wishing the planet never died.
He could wish on the blood of his father, saving Jonathan's life.
But instead, Superman accepts his life as it has unfolded. He is happy with who he is. And so he wishes for the base on the red planet Mars to survive. Selfless. Perfect.
Now why Red/Blue Superman other than to include some more pastiche from his history, I don't know. But I loved it.
If there is one thing that I haven't liked about this whole Action arc by Morrison, it has been the very limited role Lois has played.
But she is savvy here. She heard Superman say 'Kralc Tnek'. And she doesn't seem too surprised by it. Maybe she has suspected all along. With Superman 'missing' since taking Doomsday off-world, Lois calls Clark. If he doesn't answer, maybe he is Superman after all.
This being comics, he makes his way back to Earth just in time.
And after surviving this battle for his life, his soul, his home, he relaxes with his dog accepting a loving lick and smiling.
Is there a better ending for this story? A smiling Superman and his dog sharing a quiet moment of joy?
This hasn't exactly been a story to set up the New 52 Superman for the future. It hasn't been the equivalent of Byrne's Man of Steel. It has been a typically magical, quirky, and psychedelic ride of Superman's history, the durability of the pure hero and the concept of Superman, and the defeat of a villain threatening the universe throughout time. I seriously don't know if this would appeal to someone trying to read Superman for the first time.
But guess what ... I really don't care right now.
Right now I am going to be selfish and devour a Superman who inspires humanity, unifies the world, does the impossible, and defeats evil. I will enjoy all the nods to the past, smiling whimsically with each one. And I will cherish this story.
Because I don't know how many more Superman stories like this I will get.
Overall grade: A+