Picking up cries for help from a manned mission to Mars, Superman shoots across the solar system to bash Metalek alien automatons akin to those that recently tried to take over Earth. He knows that if Metalek are on Mars, the bigger threat of The Multitude can't be far behind. And Earth is on their hit list. He's been waiting for the cosmic menace to appear since his encounter with the Collector of Worlds, but has no idea what form they'll take.
It's fair to say he wasn't expecting thousands of angels. At first, sheer numbers and a locust-like ability to eat everything in their path forces Superman back, but when he remembers their true nature, he's able - with the help of the Terran scientists - to send them packing.
It's then, though, that the ultimate threat makes himself known - and he's familiar to anyone who's been reading this comic regularly. It's escaped 5th Dimension prisoner Vyndktvx, once again using his magic to bedevil Superman. And he's no longer playing games.
Yep, Vyndktvx, quite the descriptive name, because he's rotten to the core. And the freaky form he takes this issue, combined with images of Superman fighting angels, took me right back to my childhood and Superman #236.
Not that it matters, as his nicely worked story doesn't rely on nostalgia for effect. It's a pretty decent chapter in the longform story he's telling, and I'm chuffed to bits that the little man finally declares himself; time for a comeuppance, methinks. The fight with The Multitude is satisfying, even if my guess that they're a Bismollian toga party proves incorrect. I like that Superman uses birth father Jor-El's experience to save the day, and that even with his immense powers, he needs an assist from the regular humans.
Most of all, I like that none of them treats Superman with the suspicion that's been a trademark of DC's New 52 relaunch. No one fears him, they trust that he'll save the day. And even when circumstances cause that trust to waver, Superman doesn't wobble - he just does his best and in so doing, inspires others (click on image to enlarge).
Rags Morales' storytelling is very good overall. Apart from that fine opening sequence, there's a majestic splash, an intense fight with the angels and the Vyndktvx reveal. There are a few awkward panels, and I wonder if that's due to Morales' discomfort with the appalling new costume and its silly seams. You can see what I mean by glancing at the issue's cover up top - poor artists. Said artists include Mark Propst, whose inks look rather fine over Morales' muscular layouts. Colourist Brad Anderson does a spiffy job with the Martian setting and sundry threats, while Steve Wands' letters are clearly perfectly placed. Editors Wil Moss and Matt Idelson have assembled a splendid team here.
This issue's back-up, 'Star Light, Star Bright...' also shows that Superman-phobia isn't as widespread as we've been led to believe. It's a simple tale of Superman being given a gift by New York's astrophysicists - a rare chance to see Krypton in almost real-time. And why such an elaborate present? Because they think Superman is the bees' knees! Other DC books take note - to paraphrase Superman in the long-ago Action Comics #309 - 'If you can't trust Superman, who can you trust?' He's not a messiah, he's not perfect, but he is loved, and he does bring out the best in people.
The stunt nature of the short makes for a drier script than usual from Action Comics back-up king Sholly Fisch, though he does have enormous fun with a couple of pages featuring the Justice League - the campaign for Fisch to write that team's title starts here.
The story's close, as Superman sees Krypton die, aims for poignancy, but I've seen this scene so many times in this first year of the New 52 alone that I'm all Kryptonned out. Still, that's not the fault of Fisch, and as a standalone story this works.
Drawing the tale is Chris Sprouse, a rare but welcome visitor to DC interiors. Let's remember him for his great cartooning on Tom Strong and the Legion of Super-Heroes, rather than judge him by his depiction of the Superman armour. As I said, poor artists. Sprouse's regular partner, Karl Story, supplies the attractive inks, while the commendable colours and letters come from Jordie Bellaire and That Man Wands respectively.
This isn't the greatest issue of Action Comics ever, but it's certainly one of the most positive depictions of Superman and his world in the past year or so. Bravo