The New 52 Superman Action Comics Vol. 1: Superman and the Men of Steel ReviewAugust 16, 2012
On several occasions, Superman has been referred to as a god walking amongst men: indestructible, all-powerful, and all-seeing. In the past, this has had a side effect of turning off a lot of readers. Who wants to keep reading something about someone who isn’t built to fail? Most like their protagonists flawed and susceptible to falling down and getting hurt. As flawed creatures themselves, it’s what most humans can relate to. This invulnerability is a common misconception about modern Superman. In fact, the Man of Steel can get hurt. He’s even died, and not from kryptonite. However, at the point of his death at Doomsday’s hands, I felt it was too late. Most people would just say “Yeah, right. He can’t die.”
And they would have been correct.
This latest addition to The New 52 collections was released in August, 2012, and brings together Action Comics issues #1-8. It was penned by Grant Morrison (Batman, Final Crisis, New X-Men) in collaboration with a slew of artists, including Rags Morales (Identity Crisis, Countdown to Infinite Crisis, Action Comics), Rick Bryant (Shade: The Changing Man, Action Comics, Hawkworld), and Gene Ha (Top Ten, The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix).
This New 52 series brings the Last Son of Krypton down to a more manageable size. It took me a while to digest as I read of dicey scenarios which the Superman I was used to could have broken out of in half a second. This Superman is vulnerable and can get hurt. The ever-present bruises on his face were unthinkable before this new DC universe big bang’ed. Everyone in The New 52 universe seems to be younger and more brash, and the same holds true for Superman. As he is new to the superhero business, he’s still not sure what the true extent of his powers are. Add that to the impetuousness of youth and you get a not-quite-Man of Steel who does things a more established Superman would never do. Morrison has retooled all the characters to be familiar, but better suited to modern standards. For example, Jimmy Olsen isn’t an annoying dweeb trying to suck up to Clark Kent all the time. Traditionally, he was a character whom I could not stand. Have some self-respect, man. Clark Kent ain’t all that! Though he’s still a geek (and we all know there’s a distinction between dweeb and geek), I actually ended up liking this new Jimmy.
DC should’ve kept to the same artist at least for this initial run of Action Comics. While done well, I didn’t really appreciate the switching of how the art looked. It served as a distraction from the story. It might have worked better if there was more consistency in how the book looked to give the reader a better sense of familiarity with the new world being created. That said, the art is wonderfully rendered and does go well with the storyline. I especially loved the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent. I like that they pretty much went away from just using the glasses as cover, giving Clark baggy clothes to disguise his muscles. It illustrates his acting abilities well, which is something not emphasized enough by the art before the reboot.
I did not love the way Metropolis was portrayed, though it might make sense further along in this series. I’ve gotten used to the gleaming and bright city of old. This Metropolis has more dirt and feels gritty. In a sense, it’s a city looking for a hero and perhaps even an identity. At this point of the story, it feels and looks like any other city. The Metropolis I grew up with was big and bright and wondrous. It was a bastion of technology and strength. But, then again, that Metropolis already had a Superman it knew, loved, and defended. It also already had a LexCorp with a more detailed and multi-dimensional Lex Luthor. While it’s understandable for the character to be not as developed in the early stages of the reboot, I was left wishing for the Lex of the old universe. Time will tell, I suppose.
As expected, this collection came with extra material. Lots of extra material. Beyond the main plot, John Henry Irons received his own entire section. It’s good to see this multi-faceted character get the proper treatment. Also included is a look back at Clark’s early days in Smallville and some time he’s spent with the Legion of Super-Heroes in the far distant future. It’s a fine addition to the plot as they serve an important role in Superman’s development. Additional bonus material came in the form of alternate cover sketches and commentary on some of the panels by the writer and some of the artists. All of this contributed to a much thicker book, making this perhaps the thickest tome in The New 52 hardcover collections. And because the book is priced the same as the other collections, I found myself highly appreciative of this added content.
Action Comics is hailed as the best title in The New 52 series. While I find myself at odds with this sentiment, it does make a handsome addition to my collection and well worth the price. The storyline is active and the art full of motion — what’s come to be expected from a Superman tale. I highly recommend picking up a copy. It is a fun read and it’s a nice change of pace to find myself wondering how Supes is going to get himself out of this jam and save the world at the same time. Other than, you know, flying around really fast, stopping all the bullets and explosions and saving all of mankind….