Action Comics: Superman and the Men Of Steel Review (Volume 1) By Deffinition
Grant Morrison is my favourite comic book writer. The work that he did with All-Star Superman was phenomenal and after reading it I’d question anyone who didn’t want to see him pen another story involving the Man Of Steel. DC obviously felt the same way and upon the birth of The New 52, they gave the writer his own series: Action Comics.
However, now that we are in Rebirth, this series seems all but forgotten. Which is strange, especially seeing the creative calibre that worked on the project.
Action Comics was the first ever Superhero comic, Grant Morrison is one of the best writers, surely this should be legendary right?
It should, but it isn’t.
I’ve never actually read the run, so I am of course curious to see why the book never got the critical acclaim that I would imagine it should have. Going in with an open mind, I’m here to tell you whether you should pick this up or if there are clear warning signs of why its reputation doesn’t precede it.
So with that out the way, let’s dive into Action Comics: Superman and The Men Of Steel.
“That ain’t Superman”
Wearing a t-Shirt with an ‘S’ on, scruffy jeans and even worse trainers, Superman is a far cry from the Man Of Steel we know and love. Feeling like it was ripped straight out of the pages of ‘Batman: Year One’, the Blue Boy Scout is at odds with the law, unable to fly and still finding his feet power wise.
Homaging the 1930s run in more ways than one, I love the way that Morrison has recaptured the essence of a simple, nobler time in comics and Superman’s early adventures have a feeling of innocence and joy to them.
Whether it’s rescuing a cat from a tree or saving Lois Lane when she’s in over her head with a story, the opening passage has a spring in its step. Morrison perfectly revitalised the classic ideals of a simpler time, updating them for the modern audience in brilliant fashion.
“Man Vs Superman”
Unfortunately the book takes a turn away from it’s more idealistic self upon the entrance of Lex Luthor. After capturing the Man Of Steel, he submits him to torture and interrogation, all in the efforts of trying to find a weakness. Shying away from its brighter aesthetic I felt as if this was tonally jarring and seemed to bog down the pacing.
Often criticised for being too dark, the New 52 aesthetic bears heavily over this book and more times than not, it is too its detriment. In an opening story on the Man Of Steel, I wanted to see hope at the forefront thematically. However, the narrative often drops that, favouring angst instead. Which is disappointing.
This aesthetic doesn’t really let up with the arrival of Brainiac either. Invading the planet through every machine, he demands the body of Superman. Having to team up with the army in order to take down the threat, the storyline becomes very cliched. Morrison has always excelled in human ideologies over sheer action and there was so much that he could have done with a fresh spin on the Man Of Steel.
Sadly, he chose to go by the numbers and the work suffers for it.
Before long Superman gets rid of the ‘S’ T-shirt and dons the New 52 Superman. Metaphorically this sums up the tone of the narrative aswell. Gone is the younger, happier version of the character that I was dying to see, replaced with a brash Superman that is difficult to connect with.
It’s really perplexing to think why a more naïve and inexperienced Superman was introduced initially when all of the potential aspects that could have come from this are dropped by the fourth issue. It’s a shame to see a wealth of potential replaced with the cookie cutter Kryptonian that we have had for the past 80 years. I wanted to see a Man Of Steel that makes mistakes, struggles with identity and always feels like he’s one shard of Kryptonite away from losing. At his most invincible Superman becomes uninteresting and the book seems set on leading with this unlikeable archetype.
Nature Or Nurture
Brainiac makes Superman choose between saving Metropolis or the bottled city of Kandor. As with all scenarios that use this cliche he manages to save both. Whilst clever writing could have perhaps disguised this, it’s so preordained that the conclusion of this arc just becomes a chore to get through.
This wraps up the final arc and whilst it feels like Clark has now fully stepped into the role as Superman, it’s a disappointment. There are so few stories that discuss Clark as anything other than perfect and this had the potential to. However, it drops it at the first sign of trouble and all creativity goes with it.
We end with a couple of self-contained issues. One is about the destruction of Krypton and Clark travelling to Earth, another on Superman’s first flight and finally Clark’s last day on the farm. Whilst these are nice touches, they aren’t anything that you haven’t read before and the book feels stuck in its conformity. Unable to make its own identity by the end.
Action Comics Volume 1 is a lacklustre affair. Possessing neither the creativity or nobility of prior Morrison Superman books it is too by the numbers to feel like anything special.
I was desperate to see the good in this book but by the midpoint, I was more concerned with just getting it over with. Feeling like a real misstep in Morrisons otherwise illustrious career, there isn’t really anything other than the costume that jumps out and even by the end, that is replaced.
It’s clear that this tonal aesthetic doesn’t work with our favourite Kryptonian and it’s no wonder that this version was killed off at the beginning of Rebirth.
Perhaps diehard fans of the Man Of Steel will enjoy this but I can’t recommend it to anyone else.
That’s why it gets a…