It took a long time for Superman to become the Superman we’ve come to know today. And it took a long time for “Action Comics” to do the same. With the mega-relaunch of 52 DC Comics titles, it is “Action Comics” that is one of the must-see titles. Lucky for all of us, we can try to keep up with all the titles as best we can but, if I could only pick one title to follow, I would choose “Action Comics.” One of the special things about “Action Comics” is that, back in 1938, in the span of a dozen pages, a crudely formed “Superman” first set foot on the comics page and ushered in the world of superheroes. Ever since, the talented folks at DC Comics have been refining the character to perfection. This is the very first time that “Action Comics” had experienced a roll back to Issue Number One. In 2011, Superman sets foot on the comics page with an already formidable presence and, with Grant Morrison as writer and Rags Morales as artist, he is under the best of care.
Grant Morrison has spoken about the mind-boggling honor it is to write for DC Comics superheroes. He acknowledges them as gods: “Superman is Zeus, Batman is Hades, Aquaman is Neptune!” He is fully aware of the magnitude of these characters and how they will take on characteristics of the era they are part of. There’s been a World War II Superman, a Cold War Superman, a Family Man Superman. Well, it seems like it’s been awhile since Superman has fully engaged with the times. Morrison has had to go back to the roots of Superman and find what’s authentic about him as well as make as relevant as he should be. He’s probably had to juggle some corporate decisions too: Make Superman Younger. Make Him Edgier. I’m not sure where the Harry Potter eyeglasses came from. You’ll see those same specs in the “Superman” title. Was it a corporate decision or did it originate with Morrison? It may very well have been Morrison’s idea. The point is that Morrison is well up to the task and much more. Does he make him edgier? Yes, and that plays into going back to his roots. Superman started out being brash and out of control. We have come full circle: We are in the thick of a youth dominated/gadget obsessed era that embraces being brash and out of control.
We all want to make a difference on our blogs, our uploading of video, our social networking and our constant chatter on smartphones. Superman is right in line. He is overtly idealistic. He is righteous. He is young and fresh and looking to make things right anywhere he can. With great power comes great responsibility? Superman show us how overwhelmed he is with both. In “Action Comics #1,” from 1938, Superman flies through the sky with a terrified lobbyist. In 2011’s “Action Comics #1,” Superman again takes on the power elite. This time it’s the industrialist, Glen Glenmorgan, and Superman gives him a ride he will never forget. While Superman most likely does not, or ever will, use Twitter, Clark Kent is fully plugged in. He is constantly checking in with his new pal, Jimmy Olsen. The idealism of saving the world takes on greater meaning when, with Facebook and Twitter, you potentially can be heard around the world. This technology seems to work well for Kent but seems to work against Superman. No sooner has he put Glen Glenmorgan in his place and made him confess to his crimes, than Glenmorgan sets out to destroy Superman. And how do we destroy people these days? Through lies, deception and taking it to the media! Not much different from the past but with an added kick no doubt. Glenmorgan, CEO of Galaxy Broadcast Systems, knows a thing or two about manipulation. By Issue Three, “World Against Superman,” Glenmorgan has announced undisputed proof that Superman is an “alien creature from another world.” He’s not an emissary, he’s a creature.
Lex Luthor knows a thing or two about manipulation too, along with torture and a whole slew of other crimes. Thanks to Glenmorgan, Superman was tricked into saving passengers from a speeding train and was subsequently pinned by the train long enough to be captured by the military. Lex Luthor makes a point of calling the prisoner an “It” instead of the humanizing “He” or “Him.” Only when tensions go through the roof, does Luthor lose his cool and demand the next form of torture: “Shock him!”
Morrison’s writing and Morales’s artistry cast a more complex light on Superman, give him an added dimension. It’s truly fascinating to see. Morrison brings in as much nuance and subtlety as you can to the classic cat and mouse story: Superman versus Lex Luthor, or some other bad guy. It’s interesting to see what set things in motion: Superman exposes Glen Glenmorgan, one of the most influential and corrupt industrialists in the world. Glenmorgan sets about “turning the tables” on Superman. Again, this is a fairly common thing to have Superman turn into the “bad guy” so it all depends on the writing. Morrison provides us with quite a sinister figure with Glenmorgan. We can feel his anger, his vanity and his need for vengeance. Then set that in contrast with the naive Superman who does not yet fully appreciate how twisted some people can be. Superman only wants to see justice done. Glenmorgan only cares about Glenmorgan. He has no qualms about telling outright lies. For him, deception is a way of life. It’s not enough for Glenmorgan to put Superman in his place. He needs to “turn the tables” and turn Superman into the “bad guy.” It is a very sophisticated and twisted psychology that throws Superman through a loop.
As Inspector Blake tries to make clear to Clark Kent, while the inspector and his officers conduct yet another search of his apartment: “Mr.Glenmorgan–He’ll destroy you if you continue to harass him, in The Star or on your blog, am I clear? What you call corruption, grownups call realpolitik…look it up.” Clark’s response: “You need to be the cop you wanted to be when you were a kid.” Poor Clark Kent and poor Superman! Still in his dungarees, and looking a bit like Li’l Abner, Superman sure has his work cut out for him and we’ve got another Superman story for the ages.
2 responses to “ACTION COMICS #3 Review of the New 52”
Nice review. It’s interesting how Morrison’s run on Action seems to be mirroring society at the moment (what with all the protests against corrupt corporations); it’s interesting to see Superman returned to his roots, especially as he’d become almost too much of an establishment figure previously (and therefore a target for everyone who wanted to take a crack at the establishment in general – Dark Knight Returns, I’m looking at you!).
Really like the implication that Steel will be a player at some point as well…
Thanks, Matthew. I like your work too, just read your review of Captain America. I imagine that Morrison started out with the idea of how media can sway, and control, people. Yeah, the cover to #3 instantly makes you think of the Occupy movement.