52 Catch Up is a series devoted to looking at issues from DC’s New 52 and seeing how they’re faring now that they’re underway, why they’re worth reading (or not), and places we hope they will go in time.
Action Comics harkens back to the 900 issue run of the original Action Comics started in 1938. So far the stories have taken place roughly six years ago, following Superman in his twenties as he becomes the first public superhero in the DC relaunch.
Previously on Action Comics: Covering Issues #1-#6
We’re introduced to the t-shirt-and-jeans-wearing Superman as he threatens a confession from corrupt tycoon, Glen Glenmorgan’s lips. Glenmorgan, owner of The Daily Planet and much of Metropolis, is responsible for circumventing a number of safety standards and bribing city officials. News reporter Clark Kent intends to make sure the confession sees publication in The Daily Star, the Planet’s primary competitor.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army’s General Lane consults with Lex Luthor about a means to stop Superman and this emerging metahuman threat. The pair set up an ambush, which fails, but not before several tank shells knock Superman around. In order to cover up loose ends, Glenmorgan sets up the derailment of a train with someone who can testify against his corrupt business dealings aboard. Superman manages to stop the train but is knocked out in the process and captured by the Army.
Superman is then tortured by Lex for a time, who asks pointed questions about Superman’s origins as an alien. Superman manages to escape and realizes the Army has the Kryptonian spaceship he arrived in for study, but he is forced to leave it behind. Back at his apartment, the police force their way in and search it, looking for Clark’s records of Glenmorgan’s confession.
But, there’s more at work here than just the corrupt minds of men. Lex Luthor has been conversing with one of the “leading scientific minds in the country” regarding Superman’s abilities and potential weaknesses, but his source is in fact a ship in orbit known as the Collector of Worlds. Following Lex’s failure, the ship begins to take over automotive factories and has them churning out robots under its control. The Army takes volunteer John Corben and has him bond with an experimental suit of armor, but he is soon taken over by the alien ship and joins the attack on Metropolis. Superman rushes to the rescue and ably fights off the Collector’s robots and Corben with some assistance from one of the Army scientists, John Irons (aka Steel), wearing a second, simplified version of Corben’s suit.
Issues #5 & #6: Aboard the Collector’s spacecraft, the ship Superman arrived to Earth in recounts its history, the classic Superman origin story of the destruction of Krypton and its arrival on Earth where Clark is found by the Kents. Meanwhile, in the “present day” of Action Comics 1-4, the ship’s Kryptonite engine is stolen by a group of villains as part of the Anti-Superman Army. The Legion of Superheroes, a group of heroes from the far future, arrive with a future version of Superman to try and repower the ship, which is hinted will be necessary in order for the Superman of Action Comics to stop the Collector’s ship; however, the auction where the Anti-Superman Army is bargaining off the Kryptonite engine is happening in a space inside the future Superman’s head using 31st Century technology. The Legion goes in, stops the auction, recaptures the engine, and restores the ship to power before returning to their own time.
Back to Basics: Morrison and Morales returned Action Comics to its classic early ’40s feel. The bulk of Superman’s foes haven’t been planet-destroying aliens or foes with pockets full of Kryptonite (though, there are hints of moving in that direction), instead, his foes are the corrupt rich. Even as Clark Kent, the tone is different as he works for The Daily Star, a newspaper with nowhere near The Daily Planet‘s reputation.
Depowering Superman: The extent of Superman’s abilities really depends on who’s writing at the time, but in Action Comics there has been a dramatic decrease. Most of Superman’s powers, sans flight, have been demonstrated so far, with flight being replaced by a super-human jumping ability, similar to what the character had when he was first introduced. What this means is the stakes are increased. In the first few issues, Superman is injured by mortar shells and even knocked out and tortured for a time by the U.S. Army.
Action: Like the name suggests, Action Comics has a lot of action, and Morales’ art style has Superman constantly in motion. This conveys a quick pace and energy to the issues. The blurbs in the back of some of the issues talk about the redesign and that Morales specifically was going for this feel, and I think it works.
Timeline Jumping: I was not a fan of Issues #5 and #6. The idea of having a future Superman arrive at the site of his first real adventure for a completely other purpose was neat, but I felt the execution was sloppy. For someone not already familiar with the Legion of Superheroes, it’s confusing and there’s a little too much jumping around in time and weirdness using 31st Century technology. While it’s always good to see Jonathan and Martha Kent and their part in Issue #5 was touching, it didn’t feel necessary to retell Superman’s origin story when nothing really changed in the relaunch.
Side Characters: Many of the supporting cast in Action Comics come across as two-dimensional. The side effect of having as much action is there’s no time for character development. Both Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen feel as if they’re around just because readers expect them to be, and some characters, like Steel, are dropped in rather suddenly and, in my opinion, unnecessarily.
Then, there’s Lex Luthor. Lex is really pathetic in the opening issues of Action Comics. Besides a brief point where he masterminds the capture and torture of Superman (which readers will note was due to information given by the Collector), he spends the rest of his time fleeing from danger. This sort of comedy relief Lex works okay for the moment while the first Superman stories are being told, but I’d like to see a competent and dangerous Lex again in the future.
Powers: For all my bashing of Issue #6, the bit “How Superman Learned to Fly” was cute and entertaining. While I like Clark depowered, it’s always fun to watch his abilities develop over time, similar to the TV series Smallville. While the origin behind his cape has been explained, there has been no mention yet of his actual costume, and with Martha Kent passed on, it’s unlikely to come from her like it has in so many other iterations.
First Superhero: Having a world where everyone fears Superman and where the Army is trying to capture him has a lot of potential for new stories for the character. With all the continuity concerns in other comics, Action Comics has a clean slate and gets to show these initial reactions and the start of the emerging superheroes.
New Enemies: Morrison has no problem creating a whole host of new and memorable villains for our hero. The Collector of Worlds is a vast and terrifying threat, especially for a Superman who hasn’t even mastered the power of flight, yet. Then, there’s the Anti-Superman Army, which, despite having a dumb name, are a diverse and interesting villainous team with a personal grudge and access to time travel technologies who have already tried once to sabotage Superman’s early adventures and may very well try again. And, who knows what beings may still reside in this version of The Phantom Zone.