Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Action Comics #11 review

Believing Clark Kent has been getting in the way of his vocation as Superman, the hero has killed off his reporter alter ego and taken on a new role - Metropolis firefighter Johnny Clark. The new guy will keep his distance from colleagues, so there's little chance of anyone guessing his secret.

This issue we see Johnny take part in a rescue in the Bakerline district and it's a wonder he doesn't immediately run back to the Daily Planet - Clark never had to carry around stinky cats on litter trays. He stick with it, though, visiting Daily Star editor George Taylor in hospital. Injured in the blast which 'killed' Clark, Taylor mourns 'one of the best reporters I've ever known'.

Superman is having doubts, it turns out, and visits Batman to share them. His fellow Justice Leaguer tells him to leave the problem with him, and Superman retires to his new home in space, the Collector of World's onetime alien museum, where he guards 204 miniaturised bottled cities. Having fought Metalek, a Transformer-like alien intelligence, earlier that day, he asks the Brainiac AI why Earth is suddenly seeing so much interest from extraterrestrials. Brainiac warns of a world-ending threat known as the Multitude. It has 333 planets on its death list, but isn't unstoppable - Superman learns that his own father, Jor-El, once pushed it back.

On Earth, meanwhile, Lois and niece Susie are confronted by a glowing stranger with massive mental powers, who tells Susie he has to take her away. He claims that 'you're one of us, a Nutant. Neo-Sapiens born one-hundred thousand years ahead of our time to prepare the way and inherit the Earth.' By the time Superman shows up, via another Metalek encounter, Lois is in a bad way ...

Action Comics #11 is another issue with loads happening. The stranger's story will have bells ringing with longtime readers - a man with mental powers born 100,000 years ahead of his time, eh? And I didn't even mention the name of his spaceship. All together, veterans - the Cometeer. It seems writer Grant Morrison is giving us some riff on Silver Age DC hero Captain Comet. Despite the familiar chest emblem, and facial markings reminiscent of lines on one of his costumes, I don't think this guy is actually Adam Blake, onetime star of Strange Adventures. Well, he's rather unsavoury and I can't see Morrison making such a traditionally clean-cut character bad. Also, next month's story is entitled Return of the Forgotten Superman' - given that Bronze Age stories have Captain Comet predating Superman in the heroic community, and that Blake comes from a farm in the Midwest, he has to be the 'Earth's First Superman' referred to in solicitations.

Predating Fifties star Comet is Susie, troublesome minx in several Forties Superman stories. She doesn't seems a naughty girl here, though I suspect she's subconsciously convinced Lois she's her niece and that they're not actually related - because Lois never mentions her unseen sister's name, and in the Five Years Later stories currently appearing in Superman, Lois' sister Lucy seems too young to have a daughter of Susie's vintage.

I'm less interested in the alien invasion threat; the New 52 relaunch is under a year old and already aliens seem passe. I'm quite taken by Superman's weird logic, mind - he removes Clark because he's getting in the way of Superman's work, but takes on a new full-time job as another man. How can he tell his journal that 'Johnny allows me to be Superman 24/7' when it's patently not true? And guess the number of Johnny's fire truck. Yup, 1938, just as WGBS Action News is on Channel 38 - it's like some odd Metropolis fetish.

Oh well, the story is enjoyable throughout, whether we're in the realm of high adventure, hamster-husbandry or community construction. Morrison's script reads well, with the dialogue believably natural, while the confidence with which he doles out stimulating story information and beats makes for a comfortable read.

There is one lingering story point that's confusing me, and please do tell me if I've missed something - why does Superman wear the tee-shirt in Metropolis, and the nasty Kryptonian armour elsewhere?

Pencillers Rags Morales and Brad Walker do beautiful work here. The basic split is that Morales, inked by Rick Bryant, handles Superman adventuring, while Walker gets the quieter moments. Walker's hamster scene is a treat, with Susie given real personality, while Morales' hooded Nutant looks very spooky. Yes, I'm guessing a Captain Comet type, but the look also has echoes of Morales' Hourman design, with some Apokolips in the mix too.

This issue's back-up sees Sholly Fisch reveal where Clark Kent gets his 'S' tee shirts from. 'Exactly where you'd expect', is the answer, but it all makes for a briskly entertaining tale, elegantly drawn by Cafu. Jay David Ramos's colour palette for the flashbacks is smart and attractive.

Morales and colourist Brad Anderson's cover is striking, though the cover copy is a bit OTT. It was ever thus.

I believe we have just five more issues of Action to come from Morrison. I'll be savouring every one.

16 comments:

  1. Wait, he is only doing 16 issues? Dang, I thought he would be on this title longer. On the plus side, his entire run will fit into two nice hardcovers (first one comes this August).

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    1. So he said at Glasgow Comic Con last weekend. Maybe he'll extend it by an issue or two.

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    2. actually he said he had his first 16 issues plotted out, so he could that he saved time for his future issues but that's my hypothesis

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  2. the next writer will have pretty big shoes to fill, wonder who it will be, maybe paul cornell

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    1. I wonder if he'd care to do it after handling the Lex run.

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  3. It seems that Morrison is having him wear the "armor" only when he's interacting with other heroes, and the more "everyman" t-shirt when he's interacting with the people of Metropolis. That's my take, anyway...

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    1. Yes indeedy - but why do the citizens of Metropolis get the sexy look? It's not as if they won't know he wears another suit for JL adventures/arguments.

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  4. It puzzled me at first, but in context the line about "Johnny allows me to be Superman 24/7" is a continuation of his statement in the previous panel. He's saying that Clark Kent was a well-rounded person with depth; being Kent and Superman required him to lead two lives. But his new identity as Johnny Clark has no depth and all his interactions with people are passing and superficial; he feels it's just a disguise he's wearing while continuing to be Superman all the time.

    For comparison: Bruce Wayne is still a person, even though he puts on an act of being an idle playboy to conceal how driven he is, but Matches Malone is just a disguise -- Batman doesn't put a huge effort into maintaining a life for Malone or making friends with people in that identity. Johnny Clark is a "Matches Malone."

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    1. Johnny's not quite like Matches Malone, Richard - Matches is brought out only occasionally for specific bits of info-gathering, whereas Johnny has a full-time career. He can't just fly off adventuring in between call-outs. Certainly, Clark can Think Super all the time, sweep for missions and so on, but he's actually less free to sneak off and act on the data than Clark ever was - reporters can make up excuses to leave the office, but firemen have to be with their 'brothers'.

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    2. I was only using Matches as an analogy to convey the distinction between a true alternate identity and a mere disguise. I'm saying that's what Superman means in that line of dialogue, not that I agree with the idea! In fact, I agree with what you're saying: it's a daft idea when you consider Johnny always has to be present on duty during his shift and can't just nip off for a few minutes every time he hears an emergency. I assume that's what Morrison is setting up: that Superman will realize what a colossal mistake he's made. But if so, it's a clunky bit of plotting, because it doesn't work if Superman makes a blunder every one of us sees right away.

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    3. Ah, gotcha! I hope he at least keeps the uniform - Lois might one day be grateful.

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  5. If Morrison only has five issues left I guess I won't drop it yet. I'm glad people love this book, Superman deserves that after years of mediocrity, but there's so much I dislike about it. There's a pervading sense of pointlessness and nothing gets dwelled on enough to be fully fleshed out. This killing off of Clark Kent is the worst. It might have had stakes over in Superman but not here in Action. Worse, it's reminded me that there's no sense of peril in this book for any character that's also appeared in Superman. I'd managed to forget that notion but Johnny Clark is a hammer to drive that point home. I started reading this book hoping the weirdness for weirdness sake so much of Morrison's current stuff runs on would be curtailed but I'd frankly rather read that than this humdrum mishmash...

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    1. I've always been a sucker for a Death of Clark Kent storyline, Steve, but you're right, there's a lack of tension in certain areas. But then again, even if this were happening in the present of Superman, you'd never believe Clark wouldn't be back, surely?

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    2. With Morrison at the helm? I would buy into it, at least until I remembered how heavily reedited Final (For Now) Crisis was...

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  6. I think what you guys are missing about the new identity is that Superman only HAS to be the fireman, when there's a fire emergency and even then he's doing some superman esque stuff.

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    1. That's not actually how jobs work - you report for duty, and stick around unless you're on a break.

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