Action Comics #1 gave us rowdy, unruly teenage Superman, a crusader for Truth, Justice and the American Way who hadn’t yet managed to learn how to temper his passions with diplomacy. And it was fascinating. Six issues into the series, and Morrison and his creative team are still finding new ways to look at the younger Superman, whether its in the simple, touching back-up feature by Sholly Fisch or in the main adventure, which finds us following an older, wiser Superman as he faces a threat to his past selves. And while neither story is perfect in this particularly-weak issue of Action Comics, I still find myself enjoying and even recommending t he book for its shameless sense of fun and the rock-solid grasp it has of its main character.
Grant Morrison’s main story, “When Superman Learned To Fly”, is a sprawling, unfocused sci-fi adventure that features a few of Morrison’s trademark bizzarities, including time travel, tesseract space, and a hiding place for Superman’s villains that has to be seen to be believed. But, despite the seemingly haphazard plotting – which includes multiple showdowns with an uninteresting amorphous blob character – and my utter apathy towards the Legion of Super-Heroes, I ended up enjoying the story. The ideas presented were neat, sure, and it was a mostly satisfying conclusion to last month’s cliffhanger, but for me, the real selling point was the warmth, maybe even the joy, in its conclusion. Like the last issue, it was an interesting diversion from the story that had been building for the first few issues, but, on its own, it wasn’t as addictive as the series’ best installments.
The back-ups continue to mine Clark’s past for smaller, untold slice-of-life stories, vignettes about Smallville and Clark’s life there before Metropolis. Last issue followed John and Martha Kent as they first tried to get pregnant and then attempted to adopt before… well, you know how that story ends. Sholly Fisch’s back-up in this issue jumps ahead a good few years to find Clark on his way off to college. He tours his house one last time, remembering brief snippets of conversation he had with them, and with friends Pete and Lana. It’s a simple story, but it’s sweet, the sort of thing you don’t see in many superhero stories. Artist Chrisscross does a good job capturing some of the gawky awkwardness of teenage Clark, and the small transitions he went through as he aged, while colorist Jose Villarrubia use of warm, muted colors to give the nostalgic tone of the piece a more tangible vibe may be obvious, but it’s still effective and well-handled.
Action Comics still hasn’t taken the leap from ‘good’ (or even ‘very good’) to ‘great’ just yet, and maybe it never will. But while I wouldn’t list it as a must-read title, I do think it’s doing some pretty fascinating things with the Superman mythos, tackling a decades-long character in interesting, novel and unpredictable ways. It seems like an ideal book for people who never really ‘got’ Superman (though, even in that regard, it can’t match the revered All-Star Superman). By looking at the past, both in Superman’s early adventures and home life and in a storytelling style that feels cribbed straight from the golden age of comics, Morrison and his creative team have found a way to present America’s classic superhero in a fresh light. Despite being the weakest issue of the series to date, Action Comics #6 has a lot to recommend it.