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Friday, September 30, 2016

Random Thoughts On... Grant Morrison's Action Comics Run

So, I’m at the end of another Superman Month. I’ve read/seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. When I mean ugly, I kind of mean “For Tomorrow” since that story just… let's just say I’m not a fan. I rather watch Steel again than read that. I thought I’d end the month on a bit of a high note by talking about Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics.

Now looking on it in the Rebirth era of DC, Superman got the short of the stick with the New 52. I’m not saying that weren’t good stories (there were), but some of them weren’t the best. Luckily, it did start out well with Grant Morrison’s Action Comics. Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the Superman book that much. I know what came afterwards with Scott Lobdell was… okay? Maybe I’ll find out one day when I read more of what he did post “H’El On Earth.” I heard Greg Pak’s stuff was good and I even have his part of the recent “Truth” arc.

Morrison stayed with Action Comics from #1-#18 with a #0 thrown in for Zero Month. The artists varied throughout but the main one was Rags Morales. Others were Brad Walker, Gene Ha, Brent Anderson, Ben Oliver, Andy Kubert, Travel Foreman, and CAFU. Starting with Action Comics #4, there were also 8-page back-up stories and that lasted for Morrison’s run. Those were written by Sholly Fisch. He also did the annual for this series. The artists also varied with Brad Walker, Chris Sprouse, CAFU, and others contributing.

The idea, at first, was to show Superman at the beginning. As I’ve said before this month, it’s the thing to do with the character these days. What Morrison and Morales did was throw a lot of the Golden Age into Superman’s new beginning. He wasn’t the nice guy we’ve known for years. Well, he was nice to everyone else but criminals which is something I really liked. If you’ve read those old Golden Age comics, Superman was a rough guy. He even killed some criminals or he at least left some to die. This new Superman also had the same power set he had in the Golden Age, so he couldn’t fly yet. His parents were back to being dead and died when he was in high school.
Nothing to say here. Just Superman doing the impossible.

Here’s a quick rundown of Morrison’s run:
  • Morrison and Morales started the book with the story of how Superman saved Metropolis from the Collector who was essentially Brainiac (#1-4, #7-8)
  • In the middle of the arc, we got two issues (#5-6) that centered on Superman’s origin of how he came to Earth. We got a new Krypton and an interesting story that centered around an older Superman traveling around an older Legion of Superheroes. More on that later.
  • Action Comics #9 was filler that was basically a set-up for Multiversity. It re-introduced us to President Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth-23. It also introduced Superdoom, the Anti-Superman that went around the Multiverse killing other Supermen.
  • Action Comics #10-12 is another adventure where Clark Kent “dies”. It’s a long story. It’s here where he runs into some weirdness with Adam Blake, another “superman” of sorts. He also learns the true nature of his landlord, Mrs. Nxyly. It turns out that she’s from the 5th Dimension.
  • Action Comics Annual #1 (written by Sholly Fisch) does a new version of the Kryptonite Man.
  • Action Comics #0 (for Zero Month) basically shows Clark’s first few days in Metropolis with his friends and coming out as Superman.
  • Action Comics #13 is another filler that finally brings Krypto into the present. If you have or had a pet, you might tear up a bit.
  • Action Comics #14-18 is more or less the final arc of the run. Here, the true villain of the run, Lord Vyndktvx (aka "Lord Vinnie" for short) is revealed to Superman. It’s also where the weirdness of Grant Morrison takes hold like a vice. Lord Vinnie tries to destroy Superman by attacking his whole life and we see most of the villains Superman faced show up for this final showdown.
While the run had some faults, I can say that it was pretty good. Those first twelve issues were pretty good as a whole. Morrison did his best to introduce us to a Superman we hadn’t seen in a long while. I liked that Clark was pretty inexperienced and low-powered. It took time for him to learn and to be trusted. I also liked what Morrison did with Clark regarding his reporting. He didn’t just make Superman the hero. He also made the mild-mannered reporter a hero in that Clark was trying to uproot corruption in Metropolis. I also thought it was interesting he made Jimmy and him around the same age.

I also liked how he revamped some characters like Lex Luthor, Metallo, John Henry Irons, and others. I liked the revamped origin with a cool Krypto and a pretty funny Jonathan Kent. That Krypto issue, for example,  was pretty heartfelt. Other villains like Xa-du and Superdoom were pretty interesting too. The stand-alone issues like Action Comics #9 were pretty good. It was nice to see President Superman running around again. I also wonder how Morrison was able to get away with the story in that issue. I wonder what DC thought. I also thought it was interesting how Morrison tried to homage both Superman’s Golden and Silver Ages in his run.
Lex Luthor here was a hoot.

I liked how he was able to set up a lot of things during the course of the run. You’d have little things here and there sprinkled out in the beginning the run. Eventually, that stuff got explained and it was pretty cool to see that. Of course, Lord Vyndktvx (aka Lord Vinnie) was definitely one of them. I was always wondering what was up with that little dude at the beginning. Ultimately, he was basically an evil version of Mr. Mxyxptlk which was a bit of a shock. While the final issues of the run weren’t the best, Lord Vinnie was a nice threat for Superman to face.

One person who shouldn’t be forgotten with the run is Sholly Fisch. He wrote all of the back-ups with the run and he wrote the annual. He was there to add a little something to the story. That was a good thing especially when Morrison started to go “Morrison” on us. They may have been short, but they were always good and heartfelt. I wonder why he didn't succeed Morrison after the run ended. I think it would have been cool to see him do some full issues of Action Comics. Maybe he didn’t want to or DC wanted to go with someone else, I don’t know. I know their plan with Andy Diggle, the next writer who followed Morrison, fell through in a big way. What did happen with that anyway? All he did was one issue!

The artwork for the series was good for the most part. Rags Morales tried to do justice with Morrison’s vision of this new Superman. I wonder how he felt as it got weirder, though. I noticed that when the weird parts started to set in, he wasn’t the doing that artwork much. I liked the t-shirt look and the armor as well.  As for the rest of the artists, I thought they did a nice job. My favorites were Andy Kurbert, Brad Walker, Chris Sprouse, Ben Oliver, and Travel Foreman. Those artists did some good stuff while Morales was off on a break or trying to catch up.
I see what y'all did there.

While I like the run, it does have some faults. One fault is definitely the artwork. While it was good, there were times where it did get inconsistent with its quality. I mostly saw it with Morales, Walker, and couple of others. I think DC’s rushed schedule may have had a part to play in that. It definitely felt like that towards the end of the run. Also, does anyone remember this gem from the end of Action Comics #8? There were a lot of things to say about “Mr. Smiles.”
Oh man... where to begin on that smile.

I also thought Morrison’s thing for the weird got to me on this one. It really started with #12 and went on to the end. It’s not that I didn’t like it. I thought the concepts and ideas were pretty smart. I think my problem was with the execution. It also got confusing with what time period Superman was in. The first 12 issues didn’t feel like that. Were we in the present for the final story arcs or sometime before the present? It didn’t make sense to me. I also wish we got more of the early years with him learning the ropes. I guess Morrison could only tell so much in his run and it’s possible that DC didn’t want him to linger in the past too long. No matter what reason there was, I did want more of that early, raw, t-shirt Superman.
I do wish we got more of this version if only for a while longer.

In the end, this is a nice run of Action Comics. I can’t say it’s the best, but it might be close. Morrison and his team did their best to bring a new Superman into the world. I don’t think they alienated old readers either since the run felt like a tribute to Superman’s history. Well, that wraps this month up for me regarding Superman. For now, Peace, God Bless, don’t leave the bathroom sink on, and don’t bombard just one artist with your weird ideas.

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