Superman is an old character, and one that some people have often had trouble relating to. Seen as the ultimate boy scout, as a man in a stable marriage who works a 9-to-5 job, teens in particular often reject him. And while other writers have played up Superman’s genuine outsider status (most brilliantly in recent years, Kurt Busiek in the fantastic and melancholy Superman: Secret Identity), few have aligned it so thoroughly with the spirit of teenage rebellion than Grant Morrison is doing in Action Comics right now. I don’t know if the audience will bite, but Morrison has envisioned a thoroughly youthful Superman, a self-righteous warrior for truth with a black-and-white view of right and wrong and the power to try and enforce change. But like we all discover eventually, change is really, really, really, really hard – even for Superman – and pushing against the status quo is a great way to make enemies.
The issue opens on Krypton. More specifically, the issue opens on a full-on invasion of Krypton by a mysterious alien creature – a monstrosity we saw last issue communicating with Lex Luthor. After introducing us to the villain of his opening arc, Morrison brings the action back to Earth, picking up shortly after last issue left off. Clark, exhausted from his torture at the hands of the U.S. Government, is passed out in his room when the police raid his apartment, looking for evidence that he’s working with Superman. They don’t find any, thanks to some quick thinking from his landlady, but it sets the tone for an issue in which nothing can go right for our hero. From Mr. Glenmorgan turning the story of his arrest into an effective anti-alien media campaign to an invasion of alien tech happening at just the wrong moment, the “World Against Superman” is packed with incident, none of it good for our hero.
This is the first issue that fails to top what came before. Morrison rarely used the decompressed, trade-baiting narrative structure that has overtaken most comics these days, instead opting to hyper-compress certain iconic elements to a single moment (think of All-Star Superman, which deals with the hero’s origin in a single, four-panel page: “Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple.”), but here, that tendency backfires. The ‘hated and feared outsider’ trope is as old as storytelling, and beaten into the ground by lazy writers (especially when Spider-Man or the X-Men get involved), so I can see why Morrison would want to compress that story into a few short pages, but it does throw the pacing of the book off. When Morrison’s hyper-compression works, you can feel like you read an entire story in just a couple words and pictures; when it doesn’t, as here, it can often feel like there were panels or even whole pages missing.
Combine that with the inconsistent art this issue – Gene Ha helps series regular Rags Morales out this issue, and their styles don’t blend as well as Morales’ did with last week’s fill-in, Brent Anderson – and you have the first issue that isn’t an unqualified success. Though Morrison’s plotting remains top-notch and he has a lot of fun with his supporting cast, whether it’s Jor-El in tricked out in sci-fi action hero gear or the way Clark Kent and the hyper-competitive Lois Lane keep stepping on each other’s toes for leads, this is the first issue to suffer from too many ideas.
Still, Action Comics #3, “World Against Superman,” is bursting with energy. It is an endlessly readable, thrill-a-minute ode to the world’s foremost superhero, and I’m willing to forgive a surplus of ideas and the occasional pacing issue when a book’s as fun as this one is. With tighter editing, Morrison’s inventive take could easily become a classic, but it’s still an engaging read that traffics in big ideas and big action.
– Cal C.