New 52 Review: Action Comics #1

The new origin of Superman begins.  He's faster than a speeding bullet, but is he more powerful than a locomotive?

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Action Comicss #1

Look, up in the sky!

Well, actually, not yet. 

With the debut of Superman in the new Action Comics #1, it seems we're still in the "leap tall buildings in a single bound" realm rather than mistaking Kal-El for a bird or a plane.  He's not even wearing his full super-suit yet.  It's just a t-shirt, jeans and work boots – oh, and a cape that is thankfully a normal length and not the little half-cape all the original images appeared to be.  Even though we know that eventually he'll get into a more traditional look, much has nonetheless been made about this farm boy look that's supposed to make him, in the words of writer Grant Morrison, the Bruce Springsteen of superheroes.  The Superman fighting for the Everyman.

And it ain't half bad.

Keep in mind that the controversial Action Comics #900, which made headlines for having Superman renounce his American citizenship (and which is likely no longer canon), made me misty-eyed not for that overblown moment, but rather the fact that Superman took the time to stand in solidarity with the Iranian revolutionaries against the brutal dictator Ahmadinejad.  It's that bittersweet moment where you really wish the world might see another man like him – a real life man who could take that stand and wield that power for truth and justice, and what the American Way used to be before the rich got a stranglehold on it and bent it to their will. 

And that's why the idea of Superman crusading against class-warfare-style business criminals, as he does in the opening pages of Action Comics #1, resonates here.  He comes bounding through the window of one Mr. Glenmorgan, a wealthy businessman rife with soliciting malfeasance and abusing the public trust, calling him and his cronies "rats with money, rats with guns" and boldly declares himself their worst nightmare.  This is a younger, more brash Superman, obviously, set shortly after his debut about five years ago DC time, and it may take some time to adjust to that.  By the time he's terrified the white-collar worms enough to force a confession out of Glenmorgan to the police, he not only proves he's faster than a speeding bullet, but he also simply declares his mission statement:  "You know the deal, Metropolis.  Treat people right or expect a visit from me."

This, of course, means that the cops are hot on his trail, and General Sam Lane is conspiring with Lex Luthor to try and capture him.  To do that, they're betting that Superman is not more powerful than a locomotive – and at this stage in the game, he might not be.

Morrison is clearly having a lot of fun here, paying homage to the past while reinventing it – so much so that he even opens the story with a Smallville reference by having Glenmorgan scream "Somebody!  SAVE ME!"  That's just cute, and calls home the 'hey, we're trying to skew a bit younger here' method behind the New 52.  There's also an odd reference to a running gag between Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert, in which Jimmy Olsen refers to Clark Kent as "my best friend for six months" while Clark is feeding Jimmy stories for some reason.  In this new world, Clark Kent is living in a bohemian flophouse run by a woman named Mrs. Nyxly (which has to be some kind of Mr. Mxyzptlk clue) and skating by on a salary from one of the Daily Planet's rivals, while Superman goes around dropping Neo-Nazis into cesspools and putting wifebeaters in traction.  That last part feels a bit ruthless for Superman, but again, this is a rookie whose powers are still being tested and discovered.  He still has to hitch a ride on a blimp to get home.

Lois Lane has apparently christened Superman with his moniker, but barely knows who Clark Kent is at this point – and for some reason, she is wearing a Keystone City shirt, which makes one wonder if they rolled back the marriages of both Clark Kent and Barry Allen to hook Lois up with the Flash for some reason, which is, of course, wild speculation.  Maybe it'll turn out that that's where Lois is actually from originally.  Metropolis could be like any big city – the sheer amount of people who move there because that's where the action is likely outweighs the number of people who were born and raised there. 

Rags Morales is handling the art duties here on this first ever relaunch of the comic book that gave us Superman, and for the most part, he's aces, although something about his Luthor just doesn't feel right or good. He's even put in a couple of Will Eisner references, with his initials in graffiti form and, for some odd reason, the criminal Lois and Jimmy have followed onto the runaway train is made to look like The Spirit. 

There's just the issue of the costume.  It's just not cool.  So petty, and yet so crucial.  Yes, it makes perfect sense that a modest Smallville farm boy trying to create a superheroic identity for himself wouldn't get all that flashy about it, figuring the cape and the symbol was all he really needed.  The fact that we know it's a temporary, transitional phase helps it go down easier, but it just keeps bringing Superboy to mind, and I never liked Superboy.  Then again, since young Superman is the original Superboy, that's probably intentional.

So what's the verdict?  Some people are going to get hung up on the idea that Superman is using Batman-esque scare-and-injure tactics when he really shouldn't behave like that, but once again, this is a new guy, still figuring out his schtick, and the traditional Superman high-road will take some maturity to reach.  Some people are going to get hung up on the fact that his big opening speech concludes with "That ain't Superman," but this guy's from Kansas.  We should just be glad he doesn't have a thick drawl.  Some people won't be able to get past the jeans, and that's hard to argue with.  If you don't like the aesthetics of a comic book character, you're not likely to get excited about it.  Hopefully, there's enough of a hook to bring them back.

If you can let go of the last 70-odd years of comic history and not bring all that baggage to bear on this new take, it's actually a pretty fun read so far.  Maybe the ever-controversial Morrison will go off the rails figuratively in the next few issues, but he did it literally in Action Comics #1 and it turned out pretty exciting.  We get inured to the idea that Superman is more powerful than a locomotive after decades of hearing it, but here, we see that it's really damn hard to stop a train with your bare hands.  We're back to basics here, and it ain't a bad place to be.