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Saturday, September 10, 2011

DAMN Good Comics -- ACTION COMICS #1

DC Comics' "New 52" relaunch kicked into full gear this week with thirteen #1 issues after last week's Justice League #1.  Having sampled nine of them, there was no question which title stood out from the rest...Action Comics (Vol.2) #1 by writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales.

The early images for this title were greeted with a fair amount of skepticism.  The idea of Superman racing around Metropolis in a t-shirt and jeans with a tiny red cape tucked into the back of his shirt seemed a bit ridiculous, even after learning that Action Comics was going to focus on Superman's earliest adventures before donning the detailed, more traditional costume he wears in Justice League and his solo Superman series.

Most fans who read Morrison's brilliant 12-issues maxi-series All-Star Superman, arguably some of the best Superman stories ever told, were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  As it turns out, if All-Star Superman was Morrison's love letter to the weirdness of Silver Age Superman stories, then his Action Comics relaunch has to be his love letter to the original Golden Age Superman tales by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

Seeing Superman restored to his original 1938 form as a brash crusader for social justice once again is a bit polarizing, especially in today's contentious Us vs. Them political climate.  This isn't the traditional "Big Blue Boy Scout" nice guy defined so well on film by the late Christopher Reeve, but more like the Superman depicted in movie serials by Kirk Alyn.  This young Superman comes off more like Batman, bringing an edge the character hasn't had in decades and is once again a true hero of the people that he was originally created to be.

Interestingly, even while scraping decades of sanitizing off of Superman, Morrison makes a specific point of paying tribute to What Came Before.  A corrupt local bigwig nicknamed "Mr. Metropolis" is actually named Mr. Glenmorgan, presumably after previously established local Metropolis landmark Glenmorgan Square.  On Page Five, Superman hoists Glenmorgan into the air in a threatening fashion, causing Glenmorgan to cry out "Somebody! SAVE ME!" in what has to be a sly nod to the opening theme song to the Superman TV series Smallville.  Superman later encounters a "Detective Blake," a probable reference to Detective Sargeant Blake that appeared in a short Superman prose story in Superman (vol.1) #1 in 1939.  Clark's landlady is named "Mrs. Nyxly," a very strange name until you do a quick Google search and learn there was an obscure Superman villain named Ferlin Nyxly in Superman (vol.1) #235 who became a character called Pan the Demigod.  There are other nods to early Superman cover art and iconography that have to have hardcore Superman fans wiping drool from their chins.

Rags Morales' art gives Morrison's script the right amount of punch and certainly lives up to the title of Action Comics.  There are times when his Superman looks a bit too much in the face like DC Comics' Captain Marvel, but that can be overlooked when you consider everything Morrison asks him to draw in this first issue.  There are few quiet moments here, everything is as big and brash as the lead character and thankfully, Morales steps up and makes each page as visually interesting as it needs to be.

But all in all, I can see why some might be put off by this take on Superman.  This isn't what they traditionally expect of the character, but considering how many comics fans prefer Batman over Superman, maybe the Man of Steel needs more of an edge right now.  In 1938, the United States of America was facing such hard economic times and social injustice that two teenagers from Cleveland created the world's greatest superhero to face them.  And now in 2011, America seems to find itself in similar circumstances once again.  Maybe this is what we all need Superman to become.

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