Friday, September 30, 2011

Action Comics #1

reviewed by Simon Breeze

Here we are, the new DC Universe not-reboot of 52 of their ongoing titles ... or whatever you call it. The not-reboot of the DC comic line presented me, and most likely many others, with an opportunity to spring-clean my monthly comic pull list. To lose a tired title or two and to pick up a few new ones.

One of the new titles that I added to my pull list is the relaunched, but not-rebooted (I know, I'll stop that now) Action Comics.

Action Comics main focus is on the character of Superman. Yep, there is also a Superman comic too, but the same also goes for Batman of course - Detective Comics is a Batman title along with the monthly Batman comic. What's the difference between the two then?

For the Superman title and Action Comics, Superman is set a little later in Superman's story where he is a full fledged hero and seems more in synch with the rest of the new DC title relaunch whereas for Action Comics it is set very early on in Superman's life as a Superhero, starting only six months after he has arrived in Metropolis and therefore is somewhat behind the rest of the new DC Universe as time lines go. For me? Well I simply liked the look of one over the other. That was good enough at this point to swing it for me.

It may sound a bit of a whimsical way to decide which one to invest in and therein lies the key behind my choice. I used to pick up from my local comic shop just about every title that Superman was in that came out, Superman, Man of Steel, Superboy, Supergirl, Justice League of America. They were great times! They all crossed over from one to the other, in fact just to keep up I also picked up the other various titles such as Batman, or Wonder Woman. Each month I would leave the comic shop weighed down with books and a big smile on my face (oddly the comic shop owner would have a smile on his face too).

Then I got fed up with it and many years before DC caught on to what messy continuity they were creating I dropped the lot. Every single DC title I was getting! I kept up with things through some new fan-dangled thing called the internet and occasional purchasing of trade paperbacks and graphic novels. If the truth be known, I have spent many happy years with this relationship. That was until DC slapped me with a re-launch.

I love Superman. He is without a doubt in my top three bestest super heroes. However, I'm jaded against buying monthly titles of DC (and Marvel) super hero characters. There just seemed to me, when I have thought about picking up some monthly titles, to be no jumping on point in the continuity heavy universes. If I am honest, this is just an excuse and not a reason. I'm not sure what the real reason was however, the re-launch has given me the kick in the pants I needed to readdress this. I wanted to play it safe though and I'm not sure what it was about Action Comics that did it, it felt like the safer bet.

Okay, on with the comic.

Wow, controversial from the very front cover. Superman in jeans, work boots, a t-shirt with a tea towel for a cape? Hmmm... Maybe I should have gone with the Superman title?

I kid!

All my worries started to melt away with the first two pages and by the time I got to the two-page spread on pages four and five they had evaporated completely.

The comic begins with Superman inviting himself along to a meeting between some crooked businessmen and telling them that he ' their worst nightmare' before he cleans the floor with their goons. Dust from the very short fight settled, the police turn up to arrest Superman as he stands on the edge of a balcony many floors up with one of the businessmen held one-handed above his head saying that he will only let him go once the bad guy has made a full confession. To this the businessman screams 'Somebody! Save me!' (which queued the Smallville TV show theme in my head, and I must admit throw me out of the story for a few moments).

From here Superman forces a confession from the businessman by jumping off the building and landing with bone-jellying force on the streets below. As to Superman's plan: the terrified businessman confesses (not sure how that is going to stand up in a court of law) and he tosses him over to the waiting police officers. The police officers don't seem to bothered though as they are there for one purpose: to arrest Superman.

Superman is unimpressed, so much so he even challenges them to open fire on him so he can show how powerful he is and that they are no threat to him and are wasting their time before he runs off at blinding speed across the city (he still can't fly yet). The police give chase, and so do the military!

The military, under the leadership of Lex Luthor as a hired consultant, are employing what has to be said is almost a 'Wile E Coyote' type plan if it wasn't so sinister to capture the Man of Steel. Through the rest of the comic this not only introduces a fight with a wrecking ball, several tanks and soldiers, but also affords time to meet Superman's alternate ego, Clark Kent. Not only that we also get a brief introduction to Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen on a news story (for a rival newspaper to the one Clark works for?) and to finally see the fruition of Lex Luthor's plans as Superman is splatted against a wall by a speeding train.

Next issue: Superman in Chains!!

Hmm ...

That was one fast-paced comic that without a shadow of doubt lived up to the 'Action' part of the title. Much more and I think my head would have been spinning by the time I put it down. The story, what there was of it, was good. I must admit I am struggling with it. Not the 'story' but how it portrays Superman. He is just so violent! He beats up the bad guys goons so badly that you can only assume a beating like that would kill someone. To then force a confession out of their leader by throwing him off of a building until they can't take any more and are forced to confess to their crimes. To then taunting the police to shoot at him, fighting with tanks and soldiers in a residential area, to then discovering that Superman has also randomly thrown some guy who lives across the street from Clark out of a window, breaking his hips and several ribs because he believes that he was beating his wife! This with all of the other mad action that takes place, I'm not sure this is the Superman I know and love ...

... Sure, Superman has always been about the physical action, especially in his early days. Though I can't remember when he had such a disregard for human safety. Taunting the police to open fire on him in a busy street just to prove a point, but to mostly show-off? Fighting with the army in a heavily populated residential part of the city? I know that was the point and was part of Lex Luthor's plan, but still, I'm sure the Superman I know knowing that he was the cause would have allowed himself to be captured rather than endanger so many lives in a frivolous fight. Grant Morrison is taking the character of Superman and his world in an interesting direction with this first comic. Only time will tell if it is the right one or not.

As for the art, it is fantastic! It complements the writing perfectly and I couldn't help getting all excited when I had a quick flick through the pages before I sat down for the big read. The transformation from Superman to Clark Kent is brilliant, they do appear to look as two different people. The action is breathtaking and dazzlingly rendered and the two page splash of Superman holding the bad guy above his head while he stands on the edge of a balcony is awe-inspiring: a real classic Superman moment.

In summary, I have many mixed feelings about this first issue of Action Comics and the 'new' Superman. I think it is tricky jumping on point for both new and old readers of Superman alike. For the old it is trying to get your head around the odd changes in a character you have known and loved for a very long time. For the new it is going to be tricky because there is a big air of assumption within this first issue. I can't help but get a 'Marvel Ultimate Universe' vibe from it as it presents (to me) like it is written for those already familiar with the Superman character and universe. If you knew nothing about Superman, which I know is highly unlikely but still, you could not pick this comic up as a first issue and not walk away scratching your head in confusion.

Next to no time is spent explaining anything about this new universe and take on the new vision of the Superman character. Yet this all said, it does also leave a very big opportunity to expand, offering a lot of potential for future story development and telling. I am very much on the fence with this first issue of Action Comics, not a place I assume DC wanted their readers to be. This leaves me torn between giving Action Comics #1 a three out of five, or a four out of five.

In the end I decided to give Action Comics #1 a 'benefit of the doubt' four out of five. I am going to be picking up the next issue and I guess see how it goes from there.

Action Comics #1
Written by Grant Morrison, pencils by Rags Morales, inks by Richard Bryant, cover by Rags Morales
Published by DC Comics

As always my sincere thanks to Simon for another enjoyable and thought-provoking review - I hadn't planned on picking up Action Comics but I think I'll give it a go after reading his thoughts. If you want to read more from Simon you can visit his work/personal blog and bookmark his weekly webcomic JessieKane where readers are currently being teased that "The Count Down to the Apocalypse Begins ...".