Sunday, October 9, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Action Comics #2

Action Comics #2
In Chains
writer - Grant Morrison
pencilers - Rags Morales & Brent Anderson
inkers - Rick Bryant & Brent Anderson
colorist - Brad Anderson
letterer - Patrick Brosseau
Associate Editor - Will Moss, editor - Matt Idleson
this review is of the print edition, regular cover

This issue picks up within, I'd guess, less than 24 hours of the conclusion of issue #1, which ended with our Superman incapacitated after getting pinned to the front of the Daily Planet building with the nose of a commuter train (yeah, I just typed that).

Captured and alone, Superman has become the unwilling test subject for Lex Luthor at the hands of the military under the purview of General Sam "Yes, Lois's Dad" Lane.  Luthor throws everything he's got at both the alien in his clutches as well as the cape.

This issue is the first that confirmed the challenge that's facing down the relaunch of Superman in the New 52, even with someone as talented as Grant Morrison at the helm.  We may be getting something "new", but almost like any myth worth retelling, there are bits and parts of the myth that require inclusion.  While comics fans claim that Morrison perfected the superheroic origin sequence in All Star Superman, that's not really accurate.  He and Quitely said what needed to be said and got us going on our way.*

The problem I see is that fans like myself have now seen Superman booted, rebooted, re-fitted, and re-originated so many times since 1986, its a little hard to believe "this is it for a generation".  Or to not just nod knowingly for the 20th time when John Corben makes an appearance as so many of us know exactly where this is headed.  We know these guys - from Corben to Luthor.  We know who they are, who they will become, etc...  and that's actually okay, because there are a whole lot of comics readers out there who really don't and for whom this will all be a terrific surprise.

If I get nervous about the rebooting-issue, its that while Byrne and Wolfman established the editorial rules for Superman as he was re-envisioned circa '86, the creators who came on afterward wanted so badly to tell Silver Age stories - or, as I like to call them, Superman Stories - that they went completely crazy building a world around Superman that barely hung together.

Infinite Crisis did more harm than good DCU-wide, but it did  just reset Superman's world to the wackier but more logical place it had been pre-COIE (and thereby confused the living hell out of the more concrete-thinking Superman fans who could not understand that things had changed, if the Superman Homepage comment sections were to be believed).

My point is: there are these elements to the Superman franchise/mythos/story/what-have-you that writers want on the table, and fans want as par of their Superman.  At this point, it seems that re-imagining and re-creating these things is just a fundamental part of DC Comics, and that's okay.  Comics, especially DC's Big 3 comics and cartoons, have been about interpretation.  But I think we can look at the post-Crisis era as a cautionary tale - that you can muck about with the some of the foundations of these ideas, but if you re-engineer all of it, sooner or later you've created a spaghetti mess out of something fairly straightforward in its simplicity.

But we're still pretty far away from that problem, and right now we're seeing new exploration of old, relatively unchanged ideas.  So its quite fun to see Morrison stripping down Lex, and in a few lines showing us what makes him tick far more eloquently than Azzarello or others have been able to do in their own limited series or studies (although, man, Cornell wrote a really, really fun Action Comics when Lex was the lead).  The cool, confident front is, maybe for the first time, revealed for the front we always suspected it had been all along.

More importantly, Superman does go totally Golden Age (or early Silver Age) and busts out laughing at the evil-doers out to harm him.  Its a great and unexpected moment, and not one played for menace. As a reader, it made me laugh out loud, as did a few other sequences in the book.  If you were worried about a brooding Superman, you can hang that up.  Our Superman is nowhere close yet to feeling the weight of responsibility, and is enjoying his role as punk kid rabble rouser who literally can't be shut down.

Its an interesting scene as the sheer arrogance of Luthor plays less like the force of nature Luthor has been for 65 years and more like the face of the status quo during any shift or change, the certainty of Luthor's position in doubt, and despite his belief he's ten steps ahead, he's not even playing the right game.

And while we like the fantasy of Batman outwitting and outsmarting the cops and their guns...  its something a bit different here.  Superman isn't just getting lucky, he's something new and different, and all the guns and chains and things that worked every single time before?  They're not working, not this time.

Corben makes an appearance in this run of Action a full 251 issues earlier than his first appearance in Volume 1, and while I miss the "he's a cad and crook" storyline that originally spawned the villain he'll become, seeing how Morrison is setting up motivations for his characters (including an appearance by Dr. John Irons) this early on is gratifying.  We're not just getting the usual "oh, he's just a bad guy" answers.  Morrison is remembering that motivations are real and present and nuanced, but can reveal themselves so clearly in a few words.

But this is Action Comics, and as such, its full of STUFF HAPPENING.  And ACTION.

Morrison level-sets our Man of Steel in this issue by way of demonstration. Lex's "tests" or toxic gas, electric volts, etc...  and even his attempted confrontation of Superman with the "alien body" all play into setting up both Clark's power, but also reveal with each test the power Luthor had believed he'd held through wits and technology slipping away.

When Superman makes good his escape, he tumbles through machine-gun blasting guards like a bowling ball, disarms them in casual manner and even gets a quick moment with Lois as she finds him inside the elevator on his way out.  Of the brief 20 pages of comic, I found both the seated portion and the fleeing portions equally good reads, despite the joy of the kineticism of Superman in motion (and that heat-vision sequence was great).

Its not so much a self-contained story, but a chapter pushing the story forward, and because I'm bought in, I'm okay with that.  I think its good enough to warrant a next issue read by someone without a lot invested in Superman as reveals in the issue foreshadowed interesting bits to come.

I'm very much onboard with Morrison's take.  If only it didn't leave the new Superman titles and parts of the DCU stuck flailing in the same manner as the main-DCU during the 52/ OYL debacle.

*We all KNOW the "desperate scientists" bit as much as we know "Hercules is Zeus' love child" or "Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin".  Jumping from "Log cabin, self-taught attorney" does not get us to "and the very angry actor shot him in the head" very well without a whole lot of stuff inbetween.  And it was funny reading reviews of what wild and crazy ideas All Star contained that were lifted whole-cloth from the Silver Age, right from recently reprinted Superman stories.


horus kemwer said...

Reading "signal watch" from Narita airport, Tokyo - a first?

I just wish my travels had started on Thursday instead of Wednesday, as it's messing with my consumption of DCNu.

The League said...

I hope you reserved Animal Man and Swamp Thing.

Yeah, I don't know who, if anyone, has read this site from Nippon. Enjoy Japan, and we'll be here when you get back.