Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: Action Comics #5

Action Comics #5 came out this week and continues Grant Morrison's reimagining of the Superman mythos. While the first four issues have been showcasing a younger crusading Superman facing off against his first 'super-villain', this issue takes us back in time to the actual destruction of Krypton. It also begins a sort of side adventure straying from the 'Collector of Worlds' story arc for two issues.

At first I was against this sidestep of the main arc as I wondered if it just might be a way to give Rags Morales some time to catch up on art duties. But in classic Morrison manner, there is a method to the madness. This isn't simply a trip back in time but instead a story which temporally picks up where last issue ended. Brilliant.

It also does give us some back story to this activist Superman, letting us see the doomed planet, the desperate parents, and the kindly couple. Let's face it, this is Superman's origin. I'm glad that we finally get to see it in the DCnU.

Andy Kubert pencils the issue and provides his usual solid work despite having to deal with the multiple setting within the issue.

The issue opens with Krypton in its death throes. The planet is erupting around Jor-El and Lara. So much of the classic origin are recreated here. Jor-El's attempts to persuade the Science Council, his Space Ark plans are all there. But some new splashes are also there.

Superman's cape is actually his paternal grandfather's Kryptonian cloak. Krypto is a more wolf-like pet and is still there. I guess he didn't take an ill-fated test flight in this new world.

One thing I did like in this opening part of the scene was Jor-El's lamenting being right again.

The panels here are askew and angled adding to the seismic feeling of the pages.

In another new wrinkle, Jor-El considers pushing the family into the Phantom Zone as a way to escape the planet's destruction. Now this felt a bit like the Silver Age as we see a gaggle of psychopaths awaiting the Els on the other side of the glass, anxious to psychologically torture the family when they enter. While none are named, there is a Zod-appearing guy wearing a clawed gauntlet who actually almost escapes the 'anti-Universe' to physically attack Jor-El.

Heroically, Krypto forces "Zod" back in, smashing the portal as he does so.

Now how could that villain be able to leave from that side of the mirror? Is the glove the key? Is there unknown tech in the Zone? Or did someone send it to him?

At least we know the answer to the 'ghost dog' question posed last issue.

With no choice, Jor-El and Lara put Kal into the prototype rocket he just happens to have in his living room, activates the Brainiac A.I. and sends Kal off.

More goodness here. I like how Lara also helped design the rocket, the 'Mothermatician' she is. That is nice.

And the Brainiac A'I.'s narration of the story from here on out is a sort of physics epic poetry, both lyrical and clinical at the same time.

The fact that Brainiac is AI on Krypton makes me wonder if that means Jor-El co-opted some of the collector's tech when he took Kandor. Or maybe the Collector is a separate entity who gets inoculated with Brainiac in this arc. All too interesting.

After an initial bumpy ride, the ship's guidance system gets Kal to Earth. And discovered by the Kent's on the lonely Kansas road, Martha and John take the baby into their care.

I do like that the scene is updated such that search copters and government men are already combing the scene. There is no doubt things wouldn't be as easy as they were in Siegel and Shuster's original origin or even John Byrne's 'isolated by a massive blizzard' explanation. The Kents are showcased in the back-up feature and I'll review that soon.

As for the ship, without Kal it assessed the situation. As human converge on it, it senses our technology levels, our weaponry, and declares us 'apes with atom bombs'. Realizing that Kryptonian tech in our hands would be like giving a loaded gun to a baby, it goes into sleep mode ... that is until awakened by Kal last issue.

I have to say there was enough classic and novel in this origin so far to make me happy.

 I thought this whole issue was simply retelling the origin from the rocket's recorders.

But this is where things take an unexpected left hand turn. First off, now awakened by Kal, knowing that this is the dawn of super-heroics and super-villainy, the ship begins to morph, growing into an almost floral crystal form. Was this to be the beginning of the Fortress?

I think no. This sounds more monumental. Could this somehow be an evolution seed spurring the creation of super-beings? Could this be the 'origin' of the DCU on Earth? I wouldn't put it past Morrison to do something so trippy.

But before it can get too far, 'new evils' come and rip it's Kryptonite powered engine out of the chassis.

We see different shadows speaking with different word balloons. But recognize the clawed gauntlet from the first act, wielded by someone strong enough to crush Kryptonian sunstone? I guess "Zod" somehow does escape.

It also answers a question I had from Supergirl #4. Now it looks like Kryptonite did exist on Krypton before the explosion. Maybe it is uranium like as it is used as a fuel source here.

And here are the bad guys, mobilized by a 'mysterious benefactor'. One is identified as a version of the Kryptonite Man, the only one of the villains able to safely handle the K-Engine.

We learn that all the 'isotopes' of Kryptonite are here as well. Maybe synthi-K and Kryptonium are Blue and Red Kryptonite?

Again, the Kryptonite Man's comments about this is where it all started, gives this a more cosmic feel.

And the importance of the moment is solidified when Superman (clearly from the future as he is in his battle togs) arrives with a high-collared Legion. They were hoping to stop this wrinkle in time. The villains stealing the engine is a history altering event, something beyond the Time Trapper. Even the ship knows, if the engine isn't returned, no one will live.

I don't think I like this DCnU version of the Legion uniforms. All too Jim Lee for me. And Rokk looks down right evil, even Cosmic King-y.

Amazingly, this story looks like it is wrapped up next issue as Action Comics #7 is back to Morales on art and Superman trying to save the shrunk Metropolis.

I don't know about everyone else but I am really loving this title right now as we get solid fast paced story telling in the midst of a compelling young Superman and a rethinking of his origins. This issue continued that as this issue was almost perfectly paced with action sequences sandwiched around the calmer moment of the Kents' discovery. I hope we will see more of these earliest days, those Smallville days, at some point.

But for now, Morrison continues to pinball us as readers through this opening arc, shoe-horning a quick time travel story, big villains, and a new Legion in the middle of Superman's coming out party. Incredible. Add to the big plot all the nuances and details and language and you have a great book.

Overall grade: A


Martin Gray said...

Excellent review. Those LSH costumes are the first New 52-ish 'updates' I've really liked ... I wouldn't like them for the regular team, they're too regal for that, but for what I'm thinking is an adult Legion, perfect.

The Superman costume looks better than usual, too. Thinking on, I wonder if the armour plating gives some protection against Kryptonite.

valerie21601 said...

Knee pads! I see knee pads!

Anonymous said...

DiDio Johns and Lee- I cannot express the depraved unpleasantness I wish upon you all