Friday, June 14, 2013

Action Comics: Superman and the Men of Steel (comics)

Writer: Grant Morrison
Artists: Rags Morales, Andy Kubert
Collects: Action Comics (vol. 2) #1-8

Supermans origin has been redone so many times it's safe to say we probably don't need to see it again for a long time. But if you are going to sell me on it, you could do far worse than bringing in Grant Morrison. Even better, Morrison had a great idea that no origin had touched on in decades.

Morrison finally brought the character full circle. Superman started out, way back at his inception, as a social crusader who cared more for justice than what people thought of him. He did the right thing, whether the law agreed or not. Kind of interesting that the Man of Steel has been made to be very relevant again simply by going deep into his past. With corporate recklessness at a high and people deciding the way to fight back is to occupy the streets, isn't this the sort of hero the world needs right now?

Something I appreciated is that Morrison gives ample page time to Krypton without it dominating the character. One of the things that sometimes bothers me is when Supermans Kryptonian heritage is made to be a part of who he is. Morrison never forgets that, no matter what might have happened on Krypton, growing up on Earth is what shaped Superman into the person he is. His mother and father were the Kents and they gave him the life lessons and morals that shaped him into the hero we know.

One scene in particular that I enjoyed is a flashback, when young Clark is discussing where he came from with Johnathan Kent. He remarks that he doesn't even know what the S on his blanket meant. His father tells him that it doesn't matter; what matters is that Clark himself can make that S mean something through his actions, by reminding humanity of the best parts of us. That's what I mean; Krypton can be relatively important and interesting, but it should not inform his character too much. Earth is his home.

By the end of these eight issues, we've recieved a pretty good primer on Superman and the world he inhabits. A plus is that they saw fit to correct the reading order for the trade. One of the edicts of the New 52 was that the monthly books would ship on time*. Thus, when Action Comics fell a bit behind schedule, Morrison, along with Andy Kubert, slipped in a two issue story obviously meant to take place after the arc it popped up in the middle of. The trade places it after the main arc has concluded.

All the backup strips are included as backmatter; they're by a different writer, but add some welcome depth to the world. A couple of them are dedicated to Steel - who is now inspired by Superman far earlier in his career and joins the Man of Steel in the fight - showing what he was up to while Superman went to confront the threat in space. Another, my personal favorite, shows the life of the Kents and the hardships they endured leading up to finally getting their wish of a family in Clark. They're also well worth the read.

Oh, and all the variant covers are collected in a gallery at the back, along with some behind the scenes tidbits with the creators.

I was initially apprehensive when I heard Rags Morales was going to be the artist of the series. The main work I knew him by is Identity Crisis, where he opted for heavy realism to the point of basing the look of the different characters after famous actors. It was always pretty weird and I always kind of equated him with that book. Thankfully, he does well for himself here, showing off a range and versatility I didn't expect from him. His work is not perfect. Hell, it's downright rough in spots, particularly an odd, odd style change for the closing pages of the initial arc. But it works better than I expected.

Andy Kubert does that aforementioned two issue arc. As always, his work is a delight. It's a real shame that he's not a faster artist, because I'd love to have seen him work with Grant Morrison more often**.

All together, Superman and the Men of Steel is some pretty great comics and well worth the purchase.

My Opinion: Buy It

I've finally come across the first homerun of the New 52. Superman and the Men of Steel is everything I wanted and more. It has action, drama and most of all it has heart. I couldn't stop smiling while reading it.

* For the unaware, DC had a nasty problem with late issues prior to the New 52. In some cases, this is forgivable; a story is often so much better when a consistent artistic voice is applied and a lot of the delays were on the art end. On the other, even in the case of stories that benefited from the wait, it could get kind of ridiculous. Geoff Johns "Last Son" arc of Superman was delayed for so long - I think it took over a year for it to finally reach a conclusion - that almost the entire run of Kurt Busiek on Superman happened between the issues of that story. I kind of wish there were a bit more leeway given rather than the hardline stance they take now, but no one will question things needed to tighten up really bad.

** The only other thing I'm immediately aware of his his run on early issues of Grants Batman run. Unfortunately, it seemed he couldn't keep up and had to bow out after about seven issues. A real shame, even if Tony Daniel did a fair job following him. I'd kill for a miniseries by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert that allowed the two to do what they wanted without schedules to worry about.

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