Friday, July 6, 2012

Review: Action Comics #11

I have been of two minds about Grant Morrison's Action Comics.

On the good side, it has been a fast-paced, very dense, imaginative book. It has been filled with the typical Morrison flourishes and it have been a very new feel for Superman, a mix of retro-Golden age and modern sensibilities. It shows a Superman struggling with who he is and what he should be in this world. All of that sounds like a great reboot.

On the bad side ... well it is all the bad sides of the good. Things have been moving so quickly that I don't know if I have a good sense of just who this Superman is and what his motivations are. It feels as though there hasn't been a foundation laid that I can build this new Superman on top of. And Morrison flourishes have also meant a skip forward side adventure, an alternate universe Superman, and the death of Clark Kent before I even know who this Clark Kent is.

And yet, I am a happy reader when I am done with each issue. They are a dizzying experience, a roller coaster ride for a comic reader, and well done. It is only afterwards, when I think about the whole of Superman rather than the individual stories, that I dwell on the downside.

Action Comics #11 continues this trend. There are more ideas in this issue than in many 'made for the trade' arcs. There are wonderful moments for this Superman. And we have several new plots to digest ... and that isn't even counting the 'Clark is dead' plot from last issue.

And well done!
But whew ...who is this Superman?

The issue opens with a construct calling itself Metalek crashing through Metropolis and destroying rundown apartment complexes. The construct seems to be a hodge-podge of human machines with some weaponry added. It struck me as a bit similar to Brainiac/The Collector's computer virus which turned Earth's machines into an invading army.

Metalek bleats the usual 'bow to me' stuff invading aliens are so prone to use. But Superman states that's not how things are done here.

Afterwards, Superman says the destroyed complexes were rundown anyways. He inspires everybody to pick up a hammer and help him rebuild. It is a little corny. And it is a little old-fashioned. But it works so well. This circle panel surrounded by kids wearing sweatshirts as capes is who Superman should be. That is my favorite panel of the book.

And while it seems improbable that this Superman could rebuild a 5 story apartment building in minutes (even with people's help), this was a nice moment. Even better were the people chipping in, even chastising the person who sat back to let Superman do everything.

But Superman hasn't abandoned a secret identity completely. He is know Johnny Clark, a firefighter who still gets to help and save people.

Johnny Clark? I think he is still missing the Kent persona.

But even his 'doin' my job like everybody else' sounds like Superman. Isn't that a better rendition than the floating observing Superman in Justice League.

This identity crisis has Superman head to Batman for advice. Even Batman can tell that he regrets it.

Perhaps most telling is the reasons Superman gives for abandoning Kent. The first reason ... the first one he thought of ... was not wanting to let down George Taylor by taking the Planet job. He felt it was a betrayal. So not for personal safety or safety for those around them ... but worrying about letting someone down.

And that very personal, very human reason as well as feeling he needs to be Superman more made Kent expendable. But being Superman all the time isn't really being human. There is conflict here. Just as in the JL scene last issue Superman is trying to figure out does he want to be global and big (like wearing this costume, being responsible for bottled dead cultures, and stopping poverty) or does he want to be local and small (like wearing jeans and t-shirts, fighting corruption, and building houses).

Funny how easy it seems these two different heroes have become friends here in the DCnU.

Meanwhile, Lois is babysitting her very imaginative niece Susie. There is a lot more to Susie than meets the eye as she draws fractals and spatial cones, talks to hamsters and communicates with a spaceman in her dreams.

And this bit about 'every name said backwards' ... Mxyzptlk has to be somewhere in this mix right?

Up in his Fortress, Superman is busy in thought.

He talks about Johnny Clark as being a mask that allows him to be a more effective Superman. Clark is who Superman is. Clark has friends and a full life. Johnny punches a clock and keeps to himself. But for me it is that human side that grounds Superman. He can't live like this.

He also hears about the Multitude, the incoming threat that will destroy Earth as it did the other worlds the Collector visited. It seems unstoppable ... until Brainiac tells Superman that Jor-El repelled them.

Two pages are devoted the Fortress scene. In those 2 pages we hear about Johnny Clark, Metalek, The Collector, The Multitude and its planetary death list, and Jor-El defending Krypton. That is a lot to chew on, the last one being the most delicious.

The 'Spaceman' Susie has been talking about arrives in Metropolis to take her ('the future child') away with him. It seems she is a target; another Metalek unit is sent to Metropolis. And, strangely, Metalek seems to possess the driver of Clark's fire engine (Engine #1938 .. cute), mutating him into a mechanic drone.

Out of control, the engine slams into Lois.

While unnamed, the 'Spaceman' sound suspiciously like Captain Comet, a mutant (here nutant) born thousands of years earlier than expected. And Susie is one as well! Now that is interesting.

And he seems to have the mental powers of Comet as well. He senses Superman's approach.

And he not only telepathically attacks Superman ... he also takes control of the nearby citizens, commanding them to attack Superman. All this, while Lois lies unconscious after being struck.

So Johnny/Clark, human pangs of betrayal, solving his place in the world, the Multitude, Metalek, Jor-El's defense, nutants, and a dying Lois. All that in one issue! And most of it just touched upon, no deep explanations. It is almost too much to digest. And yet I think this chaos is pure Morrison. And I also think as a tone it probably matches Superman at this stage in his life. He just doesn't know what is going to happen next.

I simply love this comic.


As for Susie ... we have seen her before in Action #6, standing among the rogues assembled to fight Superman. Fascinating.

Overall grade: B+


valerie21601 said...

With the Superman movie coming out next year I wonder if DC's parent company Time-Warner is now micromanaging every aspect of the DCnU universe especially Superman. From what George Perez has been revealing at the comic con panels DC is having serious high level executive issues in control who aren't comic books fans and don't really understand the market.

I wonder how much of the Superman movie version will be like the DCnU Superman?

mathematicscore said...

Good call on Captain Comet; I hadn't made that connection. I like that Morrison uses existing characters as often as he creates new ones.

Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed the Action Comic portrayal of Superman and the Supergirl books quite a bit. I, however, definitely disliked the scene where Superman tells people who just lost their homes "they were run down anyway" and then rebuilds them in a way that the poor tenants will no longer be able to afford them-- pointed out by the reporter who asks "have you any idea what these homes will be worth now?" It kind of felt like Barbara Bush's racist and insensitive comments suggesting people who lost loved ones and their homes after Katrina are better off jammed into the Superdome. Does the moron realize they just lost their homes, sentimental objects and possessions that they likely had to work their butts off to afford.

This didn't feel like a Superman I'm interested in. Nor did I like the message of "if you just work hard enough..." Morrison did such a great job bringing back Superman to his roots as a champion of the poor and a crusader against social injustice. If he goes back to the status quo protector of the law (instead of standing for what's right) and goes back to being so out of touch with the problems of real poor and working class Americans, I'm likely to give up on Superman. The whole reason he doesn't sell like Batman or connect with kids the way Batman and Spider-Man do, is he always feels so distant and out of touch. If he becomes the boring boy scout, god of the status quo again, DC missed a golden opportunity to make him relevant again.

LJ-90 said...

^ When did Superman used to be "champion of the status quo and law instead of what's right?" In Action #900 didn't he renounce his citinship because he didn't felt like he was doing enough for the world? What about Peace on Earth? Superman always did what's right, not only what the law tells him he can do. That only happens in elsewords, mostly in ones where Batman needs to fight Superman to look awesome and cool.
Superman was relevant before as a symbol of doing what's right, only that people thought that was"boring"...not he's a cool character, but he's not so much of a symbol and he doesn't mean that much anymore, he's just a regular superhero, like Batman or Spider-Man.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

We don't necessarily know how many apartments were really damaged, it could be structural failure he was worried about. Bldgs here have been evacuated, but with only 2 or 3 apts sustaining damage. I may be reading too much into this, seeing as how it was more of a fast scene showing the clean-up, but what if that property was rent-controlled? Would the landlord go up against Superman did after the way Glenmorgan ended up?

And great catch on Captain Comet!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... Captain Comet & Susie as shapeshifting beings? Interesting!!! At first I thought Andy Martinez popped up in that panel. Remember her? She was great! ^_^ Never heard of Captain Comet, though. Interesting guy! So, Ka's secret I.D. is Clark, or is it Johnny, here? Or just Johnny Clark? Interesting, though. As for Mxy, it's s high possibility for him to show up, here. Lois dying? D': I'm sure by the next issue, Superman will check if she's got any fractures as he lifts the fire engine mechanical drone off of her. Say it ain't so, Morrison! : -ealperin(

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Does the moron realize they just lost their homes, sentimental objects and possessions that they likely had to work their butts off to afford.

I don't think you sound like a Superman fan so I won't be surprised if you leave the book (as you hint). I suppose it would have been better for Superman not to rebuild their homes?

This 'work hard together to make things better' is the essence of Superman.

As for other comments, we'll see if this person IS Captain Comet or just someone very much like him.