Action Comics 1
Will Morgan — 14-Sep-11
With Action Comics, Morrison has gone back to Superman’s social and political origins. This Superman is very much a hero of the proletariat, opposing not just bog-standard evil-doers, but corrupt cops, dishonest politicians, and avaricious business conglomerates.
When the first Action Comics 1 debuted, in 1938, America was still reeling from the Great Depression; the majority of people in the USA still lived perilously close to the poverty line, with a tiny minority flaunting their wealth and power, claiming that the suffering of others was neither their fault nor their concern – and how times have changed, right? Enter Superman, champion of the common man, defender of the dispossessed and oppressed from beaten wives to screwed-over employees, terrorising the complacent ‘elite’.
Over subsequent decades, that message became blunted, then lost, as Superman integrated more with mainstream middle-America, his outrage drained and his compassion channelled into anodyne do-gooderness.
But here, Morrison spells it out to the fat cats; “Treat people right, or expect a visit from me.”
Even the much-derided costume change (these are Supes’ early days, not the slicker version we’ve glimpsed briefly in Justice League and Swamp Thing) is appropriate in context; it looks rough, thrown-together, hand-made by someone with higher priorities than ‘branding’.
The usual players are in place – Lois, Jimmy, Luthor – but with a patina of freshness (Lois and Clark working for rival newspapers) the narrative is coherent and compelling, and Rags Morales’ artwork is stunning, enlivening even the ‘talking-heads’ scenes with vitality and depth.
Best of all, it avoids Morrison’s two greatest faults – weak piddle-away endings that don’t match the strength of his opening concepts, and a propensity for being up himself to an extent, well, usually seen only on very specialist websites.
There’s ample time ahead for Morrison to introduce all his usual tangled conspiracy-theory bollocks, if he must; but I’m hoping he’ll restrain himself. Because frankly, this non-mainstream Superman is not only the strongest offering of the new DCU by a very long way, but a distinctive and largely unheard message, in comics and in wider society, and I’d like it to remain so.