Saturday, May 5, 2012

Signal Watch Reads: Action Comics #9

Action Comics #9
The Curse of Superman
writer - Grant Morrison
artist - Gene Ha
colorist - Art Lyon
letterer - Patrick Brosseau
associate editor - Wil Moss
editor - Matt Idleson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster

And now for something completely different...

It's no secret that at this point, of the New 52 relaunch, I may actually be down to just Action Comics.  This week, more out of knee-jerk loyalty than anything, I also checked out Levitz and Perez on World's Finest, but I don't think that book is going to be my thing, either.

What I am interested in is what Grant Morrison is saying and doing with his run on Action, a book that by issue 9 has already suffered two fill-in issues.  If readers were having doubts, what with the broken momentum of the first 8 issues and the seeming "well, here's the set-up" vibe of the book, Action Comics #9 is a remarkable comic, and, it seems, possibly Grant Morrison's line in the sand to the overlords at DC, to the readers, and to maybe very specific people.

Morrison has long said he tries to manage reality by working his will through comics, and for anyone paying attention, the allegories and symbols are riding on the surface level.  Not the least of which is Morrison's decision to put an entirely reimagined, African-American Superman on the cover of his book (with the help of Gene Ha).

The story is about Superman of Earth 23 (a number that R.A. Wilson believed had potency, and which is also tied to "23 skidoo" or - "it's time to get out of here"), meeting a trio from a parallel Earth.  The trio consists of An entirely human Clark Kent, a patch-eyed Lois Lane and a dead Jimmy Olsen, pursued relentlessly through the multiverse by a weird, extreme version of Superman, created by corporate interests.

The trio had, on their world, created a machine that enabled them to generate a living being from pure imagination.  The figure they conjured was a being of unbelievably majestic intention, of the best goodwill.  Short of funding to improve and enhance the device, the trio sought funding from a Luthor stand in, one who takes their work and mangles and warps the idea to make those who believe in it believe its "edgy and cool".

The Superman of this Earth appeals to something that is not the best aspiration of man, but a sense of comfort in feeling their part of something new and cool.  Of the Superman conjured by corporate thinking, one that has been put through the marketing ringer, our cycloptian Lois says:
Superman helps them forget the reality of their drab, obedient, lonely lives.

I can't help but notice...  The Luthor of Earth 23 looks not unlike DC editor Eddie Berganza with a receding hairline.  He just does.

My eyes are so looking at DC sideways at the moment.

I have no idea what has been happening at DC's offices the past year, but I do know what I see in their books.  I cannot help but wonder, as Grant Morrison begins planting stakes at companies that are not DC, starts holding his own Cons, for goodness sake...  how long the tether can hold him there, or if he needs to feel like he's the last one in the office holding the line for the vision of an otherwordly being of the highest ideals.  One who, when appearing:
Not a single second of his brief life was wasted, as he used it to articulate a code of ethics so pure and simple and good we all wept.
One who, when the "OverCorp" (whose logo looks a smidge like the Watchmen logo), obtains him, immediately perverts the idea of a Superman.

But I also have to wonder...

Look, I like Batman as much as the next guy, but after writing Batman for six years, with the weight of the "Dark Avenger" aspect about him, if Morrison hasn't come to some conclusions about what each character stands for.  Hell, the Dark Superman refers to itself as "The Last Knight of Tomorrow".

Does Superman also have to be the broken, messed-up, semi-crazed vigilante to be relevant or appeal as much as some crappy Nu-Metal band?

In the end, its an idealized Superman and a fairly standard-issue Luthor that put an end to The Superman.

I am, as the word goes, gobsmacked.  I cannot believe DC published this, other than as an agreed upon bit of collusion between Morrison, Ha and a disgruntled Superman editorial team.

The commentary about ownership of The Superman, of what's been signed away...

There's a reason this story is called "The Curse of Superman".

If Roberson was right to walk away from DC (and he was)*, Morrison is making one hell of a play from within DC to make sure we know where he stands.  While the other Superman title gets passed from DC deep bench yes man, to deep bench yes man, Morrison is going to do what he can to make sure that at least in Action Comics, the first superhero comic, that the ideals behind the original Superman can stay as true as possible, no matter what is getting pushed down from the top.

*its significant to note that Roberson was also the writer who best grasped the concept of Superman of any writer on the book in the last few years.  And, of course, Roberson's attempts to present Superman in the best light in Superman 712 was scrapped when someone above Matt Idleson got twitchy about the story's content, something which seemed fairly core to the character.


Paul Toohey said...

You've succeeded in making me want to read this book, although I doubt I'd quite grasp some of the undercurrent since I don't really keep up with the DC stuff...

...Sorry that Corporate Greed is succeeding in taking something that you (and others) hold dear. I hope it's worth it to the men behind the curtain when all is said and done.

Simon MacDonald said...

That sounds amazing. I'm going to have to check this out myself. I hope my LCS has a copy left.

horus kemwer said...

I also am on the verge of picking up Action again after just dropping it—who's side are you on, anyway?

The League said...

@Simon - I was in shock. I'm trying not to oversell it, and I think its a bit of "I can see the Matrix" when you're reading the book, but... I'm still surprised this came out of DC.

@Horus - I'm on the side of DC Comics doing right by the character in their stewardship. Morrison seems like he's throwing a hail mary to get the readership to understand who Superman is, and how the company could be taking the character in the wrong direction (and why).

horus kemwer said...

Well, I just read this issue. And it is clearly a commentary on what's going on at DC, and a well done (though not very subtle) one at that.

And I agree, it's pretty astonishing that they published it. I mean, there's a Before Watchman 2-page promo spread right in the middle of the "real" Superman's fight with the evil Nazi-S symbol "DC" Superman!

But this doesn't make me want to start reading Action again—at least not until it's about Earth 23 Superman and not the Nu52 crap it is clearly going back to in the next issue.

Do keep those of us who have given up posted if any new gems like this emerge again, though . . .

The League said...

What's amazing are the reviews I read where the reviewers were saying "I think maybe Morrison was taking a subtle jab at DC". It makes me wonder how much stuff is lost on a lot of readers.

I will definitely keep you posted when I think something notable is happening. Man, I like to think we haven't seen the last of Earth-23 Superman...