Thursday, September 8, 2011
Action Comics #1 - Action Packed Awesome
Nostalgia is overrated. I have no problem saying that and rubbing it in the faces of people who still use walk-mans and think the 80s were the greatest era of music in recorded history, going so far as to sport a mullet after they've become the official hairstyle of sex offenders. The past is nice and all, but sometimes you just gotta move forward. DC took that concept to heart, stepping on the hearts and ignoring the incessant whining that ensued when they said they were going to relaunch all their books. And not just the ones that were doing poorly on the sales charts. They did it for every book. That includes Action Comics, a series so old that my dad was still a sperm fragment in my grandfather's nutsack when the first issue came out. This is the actual comic that introduced Superman...you know, the most iconic superhero ever? Well over 60 years later, DC is turning the odometer back on this classic comic. They're not starting from scratch, but they are starting with Superman so they're still nostalgic for some shit. To that extent, it nostalgia doesn't suck quite as much.
So here's the deal. I reviewed Justice League #1. I enjoyed it. It wasn't a solid 5 out of 5 like you would want the first comic of a massive reboot to be, but it was serviceable. That was the big guns, but it's the little guns that often do the more targeted killing. That's why picking up Action Comics #1 was at the top of my to-do list just below a routine visit to a hooker and a liquor store. This comic isn't on the same scale as Justice League #1. In fact, it's not even in the same era. This comic takes place years before Justice League #1 when Superman is in his early twenties. He's not quite Mr. Red, White, and Blue yet. Hell, he still wears jeans when he's in his cape. He's not quite the finished product, but he's on his way. Much like Brett Favre's backup quarterbacks minus the sexting scandels.
Now that Smallville is off the air, there's a market for a story like this. If this is truly a reboot, then Superman as we know him had to have gotten to where he is now in a different manner. How different is it? How different can you make it and still have him be Superman? The guy tasked with telling this story is Grant Morrison, who can soak panties with his English accent and bald head. He's the kind of guy who enjoys telling stories of god like figures. This is the story of a god-like figure in training so he's got plenty to work with and plenty of reasons not to screw it up.
Action Comics #1 doesn't retell the same origins stories we've all heard a trillion times before. We know all about the doomed planet, the orphaned boy, the small town values, and the Marlon Brando voice overs. That doesn't change or at least that hasn't been revealed yet. This comic starts off with Superman doing what you would expect a young college kid who read too much Noam Chomsky to do. He uses his vast powers to terrify corrupt businessman. Fuck killer aliens. Fuck giant monsters. This young Superman swoops in, grabs rich old fucks, and holds him by his ankle over a roof while the police try not to piss themselves. Take that, Tea Party!
Unlike the Superman we know, he's not rubbing shoulders with the authorities. When you're threatening a rich white guy, cops tend to notice and they tend to point guns at you. For Superman, they might as well be throwing didoes at him. It doesn't mean shit. He's basically asking Mr. I-Love-Ayan-Rand to admit that he's a douche-bag that screws over poor people. He won't, so Superman takes him on an express ride to the surface that's sure to cure every kind of constipation known to man. This not only scares the shit out of the rich fuck. It gets him to confess that he's a dirty, corrupt politician. He's basically Mitt Romney's prison bitch. That's good enough for Superman. He doesn't tell the cops to arrest him. He just says that if he doesn't get his act together, then he'll come back for him. Beats the shit out of the Supreme Court, eh?
Now this is a pretty bold statement for the new Superman. This young, growing superhero is not on the level of kicking Darkseid's ass just yet. His ideals are still developing and right now they're at the same level as most college kids who pay way too much attention to their extreme liberal professors that think hippie communes are a great way to spend a summer. It's a very logical even if it's not very super kind of mindset for this up and coming Man of Steel. And it works in a way that only Apple engineers can masturbate to.
Even though the police have a much more pressing matter with an asshole politician just confessing to a crime, they still point their guns at Superman. So the police in Metropolis are about as efficient as Congress, ignoring the real problems and going after what's flashy. Now at this point Superman can't fly away. He can only jump over buildings. Now if that sounds a little lame, keep in mind that those were the powers Superman had way back in the day when he started off. That whole flight thing hasn't developed quite yet. A kid his age can't take on too much power. Otherwise it's just too easy for him to be an asshole to the rest of the real assholes. It's still more than enough power to outrun Metropolis's finest. Superman even has a little fun with it, treating it like a North Korean fitness exercise where he's running from guys with guns instead of just rabid pit bulls.
As you would expect in the real world when a superpowered being is making fools out of humble authority figures, the government takes notice. In particular, the assholes of the government find it necessary to unleash the shittiest parts of their ego. That's where General Lane, Lois Lane's father, and Lex Luthor, egocentric douce-bag extraordinaire, enter the picture. They've been tasked with apprehending Superman, presumably to see if his powers include magically winning elections. Luthor being Luthor, he's always jumps at a chance to stroke his ego. Plus, he gets to play with the government's credit card. Who wouldn't enjoy that?
Proving that the relaunch hasn't made him any less an asshole, Luthor lures Superman to an area full of innocent poor people that are in the process of being fucked over. An abandoned house that's scheduled for demolition gets a little pre-demolishing with a wrecking ball. As it just so happens (and Luthor makes it abundantly clear that he's aware of this), there are people inside that are likely to be crushed more than Tom Curise's Oscar chances. Superman being for the little guy at this point, does what he does best and helps get them to safety. However, rather than greet him with a metal, Luthor and the authorities greet him with a tank that doesn't even warn him when it fires on him. That's basically a metaphor for date rape and Lex Luthor.
Superman gets caught up in an electric net. It tingles a bit, but then he breaks it. Even if it doesn't even scratch him, he's a young guy. He gets pissed off when his cell phone gets no service. So he naturally does what any of us would do. He takes the wrecking ball and uses it to beat the shit out of the tank. It's a hell of a lot more effective than a hunger strike by your typical hippie. Then when they start firing back again, the people that Superman just saved come to his aid. It's a nice way to show that not everybody in this new DC world is an asshole. If you save the lives of a bunch of poor people, they'll return the favor. It's a beautiful think that shows that while Superman may be a headache for powerful white men, he's still a man of the people.
So with help from the people, Superman escapes. Somewhere out there Glenn Beck is crying over how communism is infiltrating our comic books, but for every tear he sheds a nerd loses his virginity to a supermodel so I think that's worth it. Upon escaping, Superman returns to his normal life as Clark Kent. But it's not that of a mild-mannered reporter. Remember, he's still a young guy. He's basically the equivalent of a starving college student. He doesn't use a phone booth to change. He just grabs some clothes from a laundry wire, assuming they're clean, and slips back into anonymity. It's to be expected, but it still works.
We then get a brief taste of how Clark Kent lives. He's very much a student, living a meager existence with an old land lord that isn't quite as big an asshole as most landlords. She's nice to Clark, treating him like the kind of kid she's trying to hook her grand-daughter up with. But she still bitches about the rent. Clark being the good guy that he is pays it and doesn't make excuses about staying in a strip club longer than he should have. He's got humility, but he gets along with people and he's not as clumsy.
You can argue that this Clark isn't terribly different from his predecessor. You could also argue that he's not too similar either. This is more an everyman who avoids being a dick for all the right reasons. He's not like Peter Parker or Batman or other big name heroes that make excuses for or in spite of their lifestyle. Superman seems comfortable with his world. Now we don't know how he got here or what's different about his life in this new DC universe. It's not even hinted at. That can be a little annoying, but it still works.
Now enter Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson. You can't have a Superman story without those two. That would be like having rap music without the weed. In this world Superman isn't working with Jimmy and Lois. He's actually working for a rival newspaper. Jimmy just happens to be Clark's friend. Lois wants nothing to do with him. So it's basically your standard pretty-girl-ignores-the-hero type deal. It's basically square one for Superman and some who were fans of the Superman/Lois marriage may not like that. Given how long it took for them to get together last time, my pubic hair will have turned gray before they come around this time.
But Jimmy and Lois's story is linked to Superman's story. Remember that rich fuck that Superman put the fear of God in? Well they're also trying to expose his bullshit and they're doing it without holding him over a rooftop. They're following a guy named Gus Glenmorgan, who was said rich fuck's enforcer. Like your typical college students with no regard for their lives, they try to go after him. And this is after Clark told Jimmy they shouldn't get on any trains because of his own little investigations surrounding the rich fuck. But low and behold, Lois doesn't listen. And you wonder why she constantly needs rescuing? They almost deserve to have the train go out of control as a result of sabotaged. Hell, in the DC universe, a train gets sabotaged ever other Tuesday it seems.
Lois and Jimmy try to confront Gus. When Clark hears that they completely ignored his advice and got on the train, he springs into action. It turns into a double does of "you're fucked" for Lois and Jimmy. When they confront Gus, he pulls two guns on them. If that weren't enough, the train goes out of control. Now this isn't the locomotive that Superman has constantly been compared to in terms of power. This is a fucking bullet train, meaning it's faster and stronger than those steam powered pieces of shit from the 1800s. So it's a bit tougher to stop and by a bit I mean even Superman has problems with it.
What follows next is your standard pants-shitting danger that Lois Lane will come to get used to throughout the DC universe. That's another bit that will never change no matter what universe DC is in. As the train goes out of control, it jumps the tracks and enters the streets. In the process Gus, Jimmy, Lois, and everyone else with loose bowels has to hold on for dear life as they crash through Metropolis like a Motley Crue reunion tour. It's a nice spectacle that shows Superman being Superman, regardless of how hippie-like Grant Morrison has made him.
Now wait a minute. How did that train go out of control anyways? Was it that rich fuck? Would he really be that stupid to crash a train after he just had Superman scare the shit out of him? Well rich white men in DC aren't quite that stupid. Lex Luthor on the other hand? Well his balls are almost the size of his ego. Despite putting General Lane's daughter in danger, he's perfectly fine with endangering hundreds of people. Sure, the General is pissed at him. But he could care less because it did just what they wanted him to do. It subdued Superman. Thus, the first issue of Action Comics ends with Superman being knocked out by a fucking train. That's growing pains for you!
Going back to what I said about nostalgia earlier, it's like crack. It's easy to overdose on. This comic could have been one big flashback issue. It could have been like me after one too much Bahama Mamas and just puke out old crap that has already been digested. But it wasn't. There wasn't a single flashback. There were only a few fleeting mentions of the past. Everything was very forward-focused. We start with this young, immature, hippie Superman and Grant Morrison rolls with it! This is a guy who isn't inspiring the law, but he is inspiring the little guy. It's the kind of story that wasn't told in Smallville, nor was it told in the countless origin stories in great depth. It's an untapped well of awesome that works beautifully even if it's a little thin in some areas.
The fact that it's so forward thinking is also somewhat of a shortcoming. So much of this new Superman is just imposed without context. Grant Morrison just plops him in Metropolis, has him scare the piss out of the establishment, gets some hippies to jerk each other off, and has Lex Luthor take it from there. It's a complete story with plenty of details in the middle, but not enough details in between. We don't know the circumstances of Clark's life in Metropolis. We don't know much about what makes him tick at this point besides watching too much of the Daily Show. There are a lot of blanks that weren't filled or even hinted at. This being the first issue, there's plenty of time to do so. However, it leaves the first issue feeling somewhat incomplete.
Never-the-less, this comic succeeds in more ways than Justice League #1. It's a more thorough and refined story. It stays within it's scope and does all the little things well. Everything feels coherent. Superman feels like a young Superman ought to feel. Same with Lois and Jimmy. Their characterization and dialog is spot on. There's plenty of variation to ensure that this story feels new and fresh. If it had a little more context, it would be perfect. For now, it's the next best thing! I give Action Comics #1 a 4.5 out of 5. It took over 900 issues, but this series was finally rebooted. Now after the first issue, it has a long ways to go. But even if you're not keen on following the next 900, it inspires you enough to pick up Action Comics #2. Nuff said!