Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel
written by Grant Morrison
illustrated by Rags Morales and Andy Kubert
DC Comics (2012)
Collecting the first eight issues of the "New 52" iteration of Action Comics, this graphic novel marks my very first time reading a Superman comic book of any kind. My only familiarity with the Man of Steel comes from the movies, the animated series, and a couple video-games. The character is one of the single biggest icons in American literature and I'd never read a single story until now. But with this fandangled reboot by DC Comics, did all of my preconceived notions and the established canon from what came before ruin the experience?
Short answer ... no, I liked the book just fine.
The book kicks things off with Supes a few months into his emergence as a superhero, sans pajamas. He has his cape, an indestructible remnant from his spaceship, but the rest of his costume amounts to jeans and a t-shirt. Superman is also more brash than I recall him ever being presented in films or TV. In fact, there are moments when he comes off as kind of a dick. Not exactly the boy scout I remember, but definitely feels sincere.
As far as his alter-ego goes, Clark Kent is a lowly reporter, but for a second-rate newspaper (with some activist blogging on the side). Lois Lane is more of a professional rival with the Daily Planet, as well as Jimmy Olsen. Lois isn't much of a factor though, at least not yet, as Superman has to contend with Lex Luthor. Lex is more of the mad scientist type in this go-round, consumed with learning Superman's secrets and finding out all his alien secrets. Even at this early juncture, the world is well aware that Superman is an alien, and xenophobia is running wild. But when all hell breaks loose in Metropolis and a huge effing chunk of it gets abducted, which puts every X-Files episode to shame in its scope, who do the people turn to in their darkest hour?
As far as rebooting an iconic franchise like this goes, who am I to say if it passes or fails. As a pithead for the uninitiated to the deep mine that is Superman comic books, I'd say Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, and Andy Kubert have done a darned good job. It must be a daunting prospect putting a fresh coat of paint on a cast of characters that have been around as long as dirt and then some, but I thought Superman came off as strikingly familiar by the end of the eight collected issues and still giving this distinct vibe of this ain't your granddaddy’s Man of Steel.
There were things in the book that felt like missing episodes from Smallville though, especially with Clark Kent's bumbling routine with his landlady and Lois Lane. It was really Superman that shined in the series, as elements of his legend came about in some rather contrived circumstances. Like his costume, which was liberated from a collection of Kryptonian relics that seemed to exist purely to furnish him. All things considered though, the story was slick and didn't do anything too outside the box. Everything that works with Superman and the other characters worked to great effect and it actually felt like a solid foundation on which to build the mythos all over again.
Now, I've heard some really harsh criticism towards the New 52, namely the conspicuous deficiency of female writers and artists on DC's staff. But when it comes to Action Comics, I've enjoyed it so far and I'm curious to see if the second volume can keep pace. And I'm probably going to take a chance on a couple other characters in the New 52, though I'll be keeping my expectations in check when I do.