Comic Book Review: ACTION COMICS #1

The New 52 presents a completely radically altered Superman… who is also a radical himself.

While the first issue of the New 52 Justice League was sort of a waste of time and the first Detective Comics was a reaffirmation of the iconic Batman, Action Comics #1 feels like a wholesale reimagining of Superman. Grant Morrison’s take on the character, set six months into Superman’s career, is way more radical a reinvention than what John Byrne did in Man of Steel, and this feels like the first New 52 title that is honestly attempting a new spin on an old character.

It’s technically an old spin, though. If you read Grant Morrison’s Supergods you’ll see him rapturously describe the original Action Comics #1 and his interpretation of the original Superman as a socialist crusader for justice. That’s who Morrison is writing in this rebooted DC Universe, a young, scrappy Superman who throws wife beaters in the river, who defends squatters and who we first see in action against an industrialist who uses sweatshop labor.

This new Superman wears jeans and boots; the outfit is a little bit on the hip pandering side, but something about it works. This Superman is also Peter Parker - he returns home from crime fighting, beaten up a bit, to a slum apartment where his busybody landlady looks after him. What Morrison does with Clark Kent will be the most interesting aspect of this reboot, as he needs to distance the character from the very Stan Lee-esque scenario in which he’s beginning.

New Superman can’t fly. He stops bullets but mortar shells beat the shit out of him. He bleeds and gets bruised (his clothes and cape seem pretty tough, though). And he’s pissed off and righteous. This Superman is all about truth and justice in a very personal, small way. It’ll be interesting to see where Morrison takes this, as his version of Superman is being set up as a guy who takes it upon himself to be the moral police of Metropolis.

Luthor is here, helping General Sam Lane attempt to bring down Superman (remember, everybody hates superheroes in the new DCU, at least for the next six months. This will likely be out the window shortly). Luthor physically looks like the cartoon version of the character, and he seems to be another iteration of the John Byrne reinvention. I do hope that Morrison keeps Luthor outside of straight villainy - the idea of a socialist Superman butting heads with the ultimate capitalist is interesting enough without Luthor being an actual criminal. In fact keeping him from being a real, technical criminal will be much, much more interesting.

Then there’s Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen; in this world Jimmy and Clark are BFFs. There’s a bit about a train that I don’t fully understand - at this point I’ve come to the realization that Grant Morrison’s storytelling skills can be really, really sloppy and this is one of those times. It doesn’t matter, as the gist of the scene is to re-establish Lois Lane as a tough as nails girl reporter. What’s interesting is that Morrison still has these people working for newspapers. Jeans aren’t too pandering, but writing for a major blog apparently is.

Action Comics #1 is fast and conceptually gripping. I’m actually bummed that the comic will eventually jump ahead five years to a more conventional Superman. I’m assuming he’ll be flying one day, and I know that he’ll be in a boring old Supersuit. A street level Superman is something we simply haven’t seen in decades (not counting that horrible storyline last year where he walked across America), and I like that Morrison is stripping Superman of his 1950s-dictated values, returning him to being a crusader for the real little guy. The question is what will the ‘modern day’ Superman be like?