Action Comics #1: Believe the Hype

If DC Comics wants to get more people onto the New 52 Express, its executives need to be on street corners handing out copies of the stellar Action Comics #1. Where the OK-ish Justice League #1 was the opening act that drew polite applause, this is the star attraction that brings people to their feet.

Superman is familiar as Coca-Cola, so the last thing I expect from him is genuine surprise — something that writer Grant Morrison and artist Rags Morales deliver repeatedly. For starters, Morrison gives the character edge without reaching into the bag of Dark Superhero Cliches. This younger incarnation of Superman is a good guy, but he’s not interested in making nice with the bad men who are doing bad things. He is a red streak of justice, snatching arrogant criminals out of their lairs and threatening them with a one-way ticket from the balcony to the pavement. But he does so with flair, a sense of humor, and a little cockiness. “Catch me if you can!” he says, speeding away from misguided cops and their bullets on foot. He could fly, but he looks like he’s having blast by running. The Goddamn Superman this is not.

Metropolis doesn’t yet know what to make of this awesomely powerful creature in blue jeans. He’s referred to as “it” several times, and the police are understandably terrified of him. Superman finds this amusing, talking trash while lawbreakers and law enforcers alike threaten him with their little guns. He’s a boy scout with bite. Just ask the poor bastard who was beating his wife one moment and being tossed into a river the next. That is, when he recovers from all those broken bones. We know Superman is on the right side, but Morrison presents him in such a way that you can understand people’s confusion and concern.

Enter Haterade CEO Lex Luthor, who easily exploits authorities’ worst fears about Superman. His comparison of the hero to a non-native plant or animal is classic, as is his transparent desire to be seen as mankind’s savior. It’s going to be quite the collision once their paths cross, but I have a feeling Morrison is taking his time.

From a visual standpoint, Action Comics #1 is a beauty. Morales has been a G3 favorite for a long time, and his fluid, expressive style fits Morrison’s story like a glove. Though Superman is wearing jeans and a t-shirt, Morales makes the character such a commanding figure that he isn’t at all diminished by a casual wardrobe. The panels are full of effective details, like Superman’s slight tilt of the head and lopsided grin as he uses X-ray vision to spot an officer’s ulcer. That’s the stuff that fully defines a character and makes readers linger over the pages. Brian Anderson’s crisp, clear colors complete the package, and they glow in all the right places.

Morrison and Morales achieved something remarkable in making the world’s most familiar superhero seem fresh and interesting again. Even the most jaded, capes-averse reader ought to have a smile on his or her face after reading Action Comics #1. I sure did. Grade: A+

24 thoughts on “Action Comics #1: Believe the Hype

  1. DC learned a lesson it’s forgotten since Man of Steel: if you’re going to reboot, make significant changes. It will piss people off that it’s being rebooted, but you can win them back with an interesting story.
    Superman just saved me again (in a sense of wonder kind of way).

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  2. What I get a kick out of is that this is the reborn Golden Age Superman. Back then, Superman was all about fighting government corruption, and businessmen with no regard for their employees.

    Amusing that Morrison and DC would choose to bring back the Superman of the Great Depression during the Great Recession.

    I would be surprised if Superman actually can’t fly yet. He couldn’t originally–just leap tall buildings in a single bound. He couldn’t fly until the animators of the Fleischer cartoons found that that was easier to draw/animate.

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      • Oh yeah, that’s totally what Morrison is going for. The social-crusader, running/leaping tall buildings instead of flying, equating the current recession with the Great Depression (one of the main reaosns Sigel and Shuster greated him in the first place), etc…

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  3. Agreed. I can’t stand Morrison, but this was such a nice treat! I loved every page turn; it was filled with beauty, awesome story telling, and left me wanting more!!!

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    • I’m glad to hear that someone who doesn’t necessarily like Morrison’s work enjoyed this comic! A lot of people were probably wary, but I think comments like yours will win them over.

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  4. Could someone tell me why he is wearing jeans?
    You see I do not read SM, never have actually but I do not really get the gist of the cool Gap attire? Is this to make him down with the kids?
    I think I would have been more inclined to read this and jump on the SM cape if they rebooted him as a alien Kansas raised (he is still raised in Smallville or is he now from some other region?)
    hipster in skinny jeans and a red hoodie. ; )

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  5. I still can’t stand that clothes.The mix of jeans and cape (or is it a towel?) is awful.That makes Smallville clothes,any of them,look right.

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  6. I kind of love the jeans and tee personally. It seems like he spent his life in Smallville and is finally ready to try and be a hero. He’s working on a Journalist budget after all!

    I don’t understand when this takes place in comparison to JL1 though. :/

    So far so good. My only thing is that I’m not a fan of the art. That’s just my personal style being picky… give me Jim Lee or (RIP) Michael Turner anyday. :D

    Honestly the ONLY character I care about is Supergirl! Please don’t let them f*** up Supergirl!!!

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    • I loved that detail with the crummy apartment! You’re not gonna have a loft in Metropolis if you’re covering the city commission. I also wonder how this ties into the JL #1 book since that one takes place five years in the past. I’m curious about the Supergirl book, but I’m not pulling it. I’d love to know what you think of it when it comes out.

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  7. Did anyone else catch the possible reference to Legion of Superheroes?

    The landlady mentioned that some friends had come looking for Clark–two men and a blond woman.

    I’m curious to see if that’s a throwaway line or comes back to affect the story in a big way.

    Also? I’m curious about both Supergirl and Teen Titans.

    Oh… And one other thing. Despite the issues related to Barbara Gordon walking again, I enjoyed Batgirl. As someone who remembers reading Killing Joke relatively soon after it came out, I was never all that happy with Barbara being (in my opinion) needlessly paralyzed. Despite that, I enjoyed what Oracle became, and represented. It’s funny to have (after all this time) mixed feelings about her walking again because of that.

    Still, so far this version of Batgirl is one I enjoyed reading. With any luck, it’ll be worth the change.

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  8. Just found this blog (linked from FirestormFan.com), and the top post was your Action Comics review. This is by far the standout book for me among the fourteen we’ve gotten so far. I loved your comments and your enthusiasm for the style Morrison is taking with Superman as Golden Age Superman is a passion of mine (see my podcast at GoldenAgeSuperman.libsyn.com).
    You wondered above how this relates to Justice League 1, and the answer is that we’re a few months before that team started coming together. Expect to see a move toward the new costume design over the course of this first arc.
    Personally, I would have led the Relaunch with this book. It’s much more dynamic and exciting than what we got in JL 1 (and I liked JL 1).
    If you or anyone else is curious of a breakdown of everything we learn about Superman in this issue and as we go along, I have my own column series going over at Simply Superman/Batman (http://simplysupermanbatman.wordpress.com/?s=jon+m.+wilson).
    I look forward to your future reviews! :)

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  9. Pingback: Comic Judgment: Surprises and Comeback Kids |

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