Action Comics #1 review

Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound!

These are the classic lines that have evoked Superman for generations, and all three are referenced in this first issue of Superman’s new beginning. And there’s more. A lot more, as Grant Morrison and Rags Morales inject an irresistible energy into the new Man’s of Steel’s early adventures.

Set six months after Clark Kent has moved to Metropolis, the story begins with Superman kidnapping Glen Glenmorgan, crooked businessman, and scaring him into confessing his improprieties. Along the way he gives the self-styled Mr Metropolis’ thugs a thorough beating, and laughs off the attempts of the city’s cops to shoot him. Their slugs don’t slow him down.

The cops having come up short, bigger guns are called in – Lex Luthor, scientific consultant to military man General Sam Lane. He uses Superman’s compassion to lead him into a trap, but doesn’t count on one thing: the growing loyalty of the man and woman in the street towards their newfound protector.

Superman escapes by leaping a tall building and changes back to Clark Kent, who’s living in a dive as he grows a reputation for exposing corruption through his stories. And he has information that the city’s train system is under threat – just as pal Jimmy Olsen and rival reporter Lois Lane are boarding a car to track down Glenmorgan’s ex-enforcer, Gus Grundig.

Soon the train is racing out of control, with Superman the only hope of saving hundreds of lives. He needs to be not so much more powerful than a locomotive, but faster than a speeding bullet train …

‘Superman versus the City of Tomorrow’ is a stunning new beginning. The action is, appropriately, pretty much non-stop. Old characters are refreshed while new ones are efficiently introduced. There’s a real feeling of Metropolis as a character, a vibrant, scary place that’s starting to change for the better.

Superman is cocky, while Clark Kent is a schlub, but there’s no sense that Superman is more real than Clark, or vice versa. Superman is Clark shrugging off his everyday problems, but it’s a single man, fighting for justice on two fronts.

Morrison makes good on his promise to bring Superman back to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s basics as champion of the oppressed. Corrupt businessman Glenmorgan is a direct callback to the guys Superman was fighting in 1938 yet, sadly, is miles from being an anachronism. Superman is the good man whose powers mean he doesn’t have to take crap from bad guys whom the Law can’t touch. Does that make him a bully? In a sense, but this is the younger hero, eager to enforce Justice and using everything he’s got.

There’s a nice wink to the original Action Comics #1 as landlady Mrs Nyxly (and isn’t she a great candidate for Fifth Dimension immigrant status?) mentions Superman dealing with a wifebeater.

A less-welcome nod is the appearance of the mystery woman from Flashpoint #5, who’s apparently going to be popping up in every one of DC’s first issues. I wish she wouldn’t.

A few random notes: Jimmy Olsen’s ringtone is the very Silver Age ‘zee zee zee’; with Glen Glenmorgan and Gus Grundig I’m wondering if GG is the new LL; Clark has a star chart on his wall, does he know his origins as yet?; there’s a cop named Casey, perhaps in honour of the Henry Boltinoff gag strip that once ran in DC titles; Lois is competitive without being bitchy; Jimmy has instincts without being cynical; Clark’s editor is George, probably Mr Taylor of the Daily Star.

But that’s enough about the story, there’s also the art to look at. Rags Morales should be taking a bow about now – this is the best work I’ve seen from him, and there’s been some good stuff. His Superman is a handsome guy, consistent throughout, whether he’s being gentle, scary or, in Clark’s case, harried by trying to lead two lives.

The only thing that doesn’t work for me about Morales’ Superman is the chest – it’s just too V-shaped, his waist too narrow by comparison. If someone said this issue was launching a line of Super-Corsets, I’d believe it.

The storytelling is superb as Morales matches the pace of Morrison’s script. At rest, Superman pulses with power; in motion, he’s a god of speed. Morales really is a master when it comes to conveying movement. And his people are equally impressive, full of personality – they look like they’ve had lives. Especially good are his depictions of older characters Mrs Nyxly and Gen Lane, who look like proper jowly people rather than younger characters with a few lines and grey hair.

Inker Rick Bryant deserves praise for bringing a lighter tough to Morales’ work than we sometimes see – less sinewy, sharper and pleasing to the eye. And colourist Brad Anderson uses a naturalistic, but far from boring, palette, that ensures Superman stands out – there are other blues and reds in the book, but nowhere are they as bright as on Superman’s cobbled-together costume.

Patrick Brosseau’s letters are splendid, and he deserves extra credit if he designed the classy title treatment on the credits spread (in which Supeman uses the contraction, ‘ain’t’ – blimey).

The cover by Morales and Anderson is the perfect introduction to this tyro Superman, as he rushes past police cars on the way to page one. Clever that.

But that’s this debut issue all over – sharp, accessible and entertaining. I didn’t want to see Action Comics renumbered, but if we’re really going back to Superman’s beginnings, this is the way to do it. Siegel and Shuster would, I venture, be proud.

11 thoughts on “Action Comics #1 review

  1. i missed Casey…damn..

    Sargent Casey was a friend of Clark's who provided him and Lois with insights into what was going on in cases. He is all over the original Superman stories.

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  2. This was indeed a great kick off for the new 52. If Action Comics is going to remain at this level of quality, I can forgive DC for ending Action Comics run before hitting the landmark 1000th issue.

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  3. I did, Carol. Missed the Legion reference, though (slapping head now).

    Indeed, Patty – did you think that tee shirt made Superman look just a little too Gym Bunny?

    Yonatan, thanks so much for the Sgt Casey update, I missed that – I wonder if the two officers were linked.

    Jimmy, you're a generous fellow. I'm pretty sure we'll see that #1000 (isn't everyone!)

    It'll be very interesting to see how the Superaman in George Perez's present day-set book compares, Rob. I do hope the landlady pops over for a cuppa.

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  4. Great review, Martin. I agree with it 100%… this was a superb comic and the best written and the star of the relaunch so far. I loved the way it was packed with references — I got the Legion reference, but somebody else had to point out to me that his Bohemian neighbours (with the flower mural) were probably Forever People…

    And that Clark was holding GlenMORGAN on the EDGE of that building… or is that too much of a reach?

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  5. i hate to say it mostly because i dislike reboot gimmicks and were and still am opposed to rebooting long running series like action and detective back to 1 ( and we all know it wont last just look at asm and ff and there is no way dc will miss the big 1000 ) but i did rather enjoy this issue it made superman something he hasnt been to me for a very very long time unpredictable and interesting

    even if he looks like peter parker as clark complete with a pseudo mrs muggins

    sadly i am stil waiting for action 2

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