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+