The jman Sayeth…: Discussion: Action Comics #1 – 18

Just an FYI to everyone.  I didn’t plan this article to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Action Comics #1.  It was just happenstance.  And by “happenstance” I totally mean my laziness…

action_comics_1_cover_2011As a comic book fan, I’m more about the art than the writing, which is kind of ironic, considering how much I write.  Your friendly neighborhood jman is just an artist trapped in a writer’s body.  Could be worse, I supposed.  There are worse bodies to be trapped in. Or under, for that matter.

on the other hand, there are some bodies worth being caught under.

Because of this, I can much easily suffer through a terrible story with great art (Justice League 1 – current), than suffer through a great story with terrible art (with all due respect…Frank Quietly’s art).  Why am I blathering on about this?  Because I don’t really follow writers.  I don’t follow artists much, for that matter, either.  I usually just read the characters I like.

And as “uncool” as he’s been over the years, Superman is one of them.  I’m a lifelong fan, religiously picking up Superman titles good or bad.  But, when the New52 started, I was a bit hesitant of what DC was doing. I stayed the course, though, buying my Superman books like the good soldier I am.

For the first few issues, that is.  By issue 5 of Action Comics, I stopped.  Yea.  Not only did I drop a Superman title, I dropped a Grant Morrison title!?!?  It’s unheard of, right?!?  Grant Morrison is every fanboy’s wet dream, amiright?!?  I gave it more than a shot, though.  I gave it a chance, did my best not to initially jump to any conclusions, but man…Action comics was not a fun read. At all.

issue 15

When I heard awhile back that Morrison was signing off of Action, I started reading the book again, starting with issue 15.  I wanted to see how Morrison’s swan song for Superman was going to play out.  And having read those last 4 issues, all’s I can say is…WTF?!?!?  For real.  WHAT THE FUCK?!?!  What kind of trippy ass nonsense is going on here?!?!?

i don't even know where to begin...

i don’t even know where to begin…

I was actually borderline angry (as if you couldn’t tell) about it all.  This is supposed to be DC’s premiere book, with a premiere writer and premiere artist on it.  They were (are) certainly charging a premiere price of $4.99?!?!?  And for what?  Neither the story or the art live up to that premium price point.

5 bucks?!?!  for this?!?!?

Some of my comic book peeps suggested to me that perhaps there was something I missed out on.  There were a whole bunch of books I didn’t read between issues 4 and 15.  Perhaps, my comic book associates suggested, I should go back and read those issues, before I pass ultimate judgment; the secret to the whole story may lie in the issues I didn’t read.

Fair enough.  But, rather than just read those 9 or so issues, I decided if I was going to spend my money and time doing this, I’d do it right.  I’d start right at the beginning.  So, I pulled out issue #1 and read on through to issue 18.

Task accomplished, I’ve had some time to digest all 18 issues.  And I still say…WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?

promo media

Look, DC’s premise for creating the New 52 was to bring on new readers.  Let me tell you something, Action 1-18 are not for new readers.  It’s like a misty ode to the past.  Actually, it reminds me of Superman Returns.  It’s just an excuse to be sentimental about what has come before.  The overall story arc is far too complex and steeped in Superman lore for a new/casual reader to care.  The whole Mxyzptlk/ Vyndktvx/ Nyxlygsptlnz is beyond me.  Read those names again.  I defy you to try and pronounce them.  How many different ways have you heard “Mxyzptlk” pronounced over the years?!?!  Those 5th dimension names alone are enough to alienate (as it were) a new reader, let alone a long time one.

and this is just the beginning of the 5th dimension nonsense

Let me digress for a moment, though…

The idea of shorter story arcs within one long arc is a good concept.  It’s how many television shows are done, it brings readers back to the book month after month.  It’s just good story telling.  But, even the individual issues in Action Comics, the shorter story arcs, weren’t that great.  They bounced within timeframes, within individual issues, without letting us know what was going on.

issue 5

Take the first story arc, for example.  The first three issues were a decent start.  Issue 4 was OK.  But, then they shifted to this Rocket Song Interlude, taking us back to Krypton for two issues, that had nothing to do with the story arc we were already in?!?!?  Look, I know they’ve got an overall story to tell, but breaking up a story arc, isn’t a way to attract/keep new readers.  It’s confusing.  It’s jarring.  I’m sure there’s some sort of internal reason for doing it (deadlines not being met, what have you), but if your premise is truly to bring on new readership, this isn’t how you do it.

the gang's all here!

The original story arc picks up again on issue 7 and completes in issue 8.  Superman meets/defeats Brainiac in those last two issues of the first arc.  The story started out interestingly enough, but got convoluted along the way with it’s constant introduction of elements from Superman’s pre-52 past.  Lex, General Lane, John Corben, Brainiac, Kandor, blahblahblah.

this guy is supposed to be a high level genius?!?

Speaking of Lex, is it me or is he a real weasel?  And I’m not talking in the super genius way.  I mean, he’s just a lowlife.  I guess they were going for flippant or cavalier, but he just comes across as…weak.   This Lex is no high level genius.  He’s Gene Hackman from Superman:  The movie, without the intelligence.  This Lex is just a common sociopath.

hey! i'm gonna put on this non descript cloth like uniform and see what happens.

We also learn how Superman gets his armor/costume in the last two issues of the first story arc.  When DC first introduced the redesigns for the New 52, I didn’t get too caught up in the hullabaloo.  I prefer the red trunks, but if they’re gonna tell a good story, so what?!?   The thing is, though, it’s not a good story.  Superman cracks open some sort of stasis tube, on Brainiac’s ship, that has a generic looking cloth getup (supposedly Kryptonian) in it.  And Superman knows this is going to protect him, because he remembers it from a dream?  I could go on, but I don’t want to.  It’s just weak.

John Clark?  For real?!?

There are so many moments that are completely WTF?!?!? The sudden introduction of John Clark in issue 11.  Or Superman operating on Lois, at the end of issue 12.  That’s a good one.  If comic book creators want to make these comics more based in reality (which I’m not for, by the way), like having Superman testify in front of a Congressional panel about the Fortress of Solitude, then you can’t be pulling stunts like him learning a lifetime of medical knowledge in 5 minutes.  And then cutting Lois open with this thumbnail.   His thumbnail??!?  Did he sharpen his thumbnail first?  How is Superman not ripping into the flesh of the humans he comes in contact with, with these fingernails of his?  I know it’s real easy for me to sit here and say I would’ve went with heat vision, but c’mon!!?!?  His thumbnail?!?!?

it's hard as diamond doc, duh?!?

That’s not to say there weren’t any bright spots across Morrison’s run.  Issue 13, which weakly introduced more characters that we don’t care about was still pretty moving.  It tied into the Rocket Song Interlude issues 5 and 6.  The issue was told by some unnamed narrator, a departure from all the other issues.  A clever enough device, but why?!?!  What’s the motivation all the sudden for this unnamed narrator?  But, I’m getting off track here again.  What really saves the issue is the bonus story at the end of the book.  Those few pages recounted what happened to Krypto in his years in the Phantom Zone.

probably the best moment of all 18 issues

probably the best moment of all 18 issues

I’m not a reviewer.  I really don’t like to “review” things.  Because a) it’s only my opinion and b) no matter how bad I think something is, whoever created the subject being reviewed spent a lot of time/effort creating it.  Most people don’t set out to create something bad.  And I have no more authority saying something is good/bad, than anyone else does. But, if I’m not enjoying something, and I’ve got to come up with something interesting to write about for my site, then…you can see where I’m coming from.

seriously what the fuck is going on here?

I’m not a comic book creator.  I don’t know what it takes to put a book together, with management on your back.  I am a comic book buyer, though.  And for a book that’s cover price is a steep $3.99/$4.99, I have a hard time putting that kind of money out for a product that’s not living up to the high price point.

Again...5 bucks?!?!  for this?!?!?

I’m not a purist, either.  I know that things have to adapt and change.  So, when DC initially announced these revamps to their universe, I tried not to pass to many judgments.  I’m a fanboy at heart, after all.  I wanted to like Action Comics in the worst way.  I wanted to like ALL the new books in the worst way, actually.   In the end, though, I’m really not crazy about what they did in Action.  The stories were weak, the artwork was even weaker, and what have they done to the character?

and what's going on here?

In trying to make Superman more “relevant”, they’ve alienated him from his human counterparts.  But, what they’ve really done is alienate us instead.  They’ve made Superman into an almost unlikable character.  Superman is not dark, or brooding, or whiny (and neither should Clark Kent, either).  He’s not Batman or Wolverine.  Superman is the light.  He’s what we all should strive to be.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t get pissed or second guess himself, or have a bad day(s), it simply means no matter what the circumstances, he gets back up on his feet and finds a way.

some other dimension's Doomsday.

That applies to whether he’s putting on the cape for the first time or taking his dying breath at the hands of whichever version of Doomsday is running around these days…

Images courtesy of:

Kate Upton:



your friendly neighborhood jman - Feature Editor

About your friendly neighborhood jman - Feature Editor

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