Saturday, April 14, 2012

52 In Review: Action Comics So Far...

Grant Morrison did the seemingly impossible -- he did a reinterpretation of Superman that reminded us all why we liked the character so much. Working with artist Frank Quietly, All-Star Superman gave us a hyper-classic/modern take on the Man of Steel, in a story of him anticipating his death - having been over-loaded with yellow sun energy. It was a wonderful story that just seemed to lift everyone's spirits about Superman. So when DC announced their reboot of the DC Universe, dubbed the New 52, Superman was the biggest recipient of a total make-over. It's a daunting challenge for any writer to attempt to reinterpret Superman for a new generation. Thankfully DC chose Grant Morrison to write Action Comics, and establish Superman's beginnings.

I have to admit I might have had too-high of expectations. Morrison talked in interviews about how he wanted to essentially do modern-day Paul Bunyan. He create this strange but delightful mix of new and old -- using the original social crusader Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but also marrying that with exciting and outlandish science fiction concepts - with a 1940s sci-fi tint. It really came out wonderfully -- but as you'll see as I go over the first 8 issues of the series, the process wasn't exactly an easy one.

Issue #1

The first issue really said it all. This wasn't the Superman you knew - this was a new, more decisive, Man of Steel. The issue opens in a bar, where a business man, Mr. Glenmorgan, is finishing a deal and talking with a small diminutive man. He offers to celebrate with some drinks, but the little man says he's Teetotal. Then, Superman zooms into the room, exclaiming "Rats. Rats with money." Guards produce weapons, "And Rats with guns. I'm you're worst nightmare." Superman says as his eyes flash red.

The police arrive on the scene quickly, finding a mess in the high-rise hotel. People thrown into the wall, tied up with a steel pipe, dangling from a chandelier. This is a disaster for the police - as Mr. Metropolis himself, Mr. Glen Glenmorgan, is facing the new super vigilante trying to clean up Metropolis. The little man is the only one unharmed, and directs the police to the elevators to arrive up at the bar. This double page spread pretty much tells you, this isn't the old Superman at all.

Carrying Mr. Glenmorgan up in the air, Superman is trying to get him to confess to his crimes. Glenmorgan pretty much runs the town, has the police in his pocket, and is the unfortunate focus of Superman at the moment. Glenmorgan screams "You people are supposed to protect me!" Still not talking, Superman drops Glenmorgan over the edge. He's right along with him, falling along with him and scoops him up at the last second as they hit the pavement.

Scared out his gourd - Glenmorgan is mumbling a confession to everyone. Superman points to the cops "You know the deal, Metropolis. Treat people right or expect a visit from me." The police try and fire at him, and Superman gets to show off that the rumors are true - he's bullet proof. He leaps over the police officers and hits the road running. The police are in pursuit.

Some very interested parties are watching the situation in a command center. General Sam Lane is intent on stopping the super-powered menace. Lex Luthor is there as a hired consultant. Luthor has a plan set up to take Superman down -- pretty much the title of the issue "Superman Versus The City of Tomorrow" says it all.

A construction crane throws a wrecking ball into a tenement building. Innocent people are inside, which is suppose to draw Superman's attention. It does - and he arrives and saves the people. An electric net is launched to try and capture Superman by army personal now on the scene. They where waiting for him, and they even brought a tank along with them. They fire at Superman -- proving that while he is strong and powerful, he can indeed be hurt (he just gets back up quicker. Plus his powers are in an early phase of his life. He can't fly, he can only leap great distances.) The tank moves in to finish him, when the people from the tenement building come to his rescue, blocking the tank. They scream that he had saved them. Superman is hero to regular people and the poor in society.

After fighting and destroying a few remote controlled planes, armed with machine guns, Superman is able to get away and evade anyone trailing him. He lands on his apartment roof top and gathers the cloths he had secreted away. Right now Superman only wears a tee-shirt and work pants with boots. The only special part of his costume right now is his cape - the indestructible blanket he was bundled in as a baby. Putting on glasses and ruffling up his hair, and adorning baggy cloths -- Superman transforms himself into Clark Kent. Rag Morales humanistic art really shines here, giving believability to the transformation not just with his wardrobe, but also with the way he walks and moves.

Clark is confronted by his landlord, Mrs. Nyxly, who says he's late with the rent. Clark lives a very spartan life-style, with an apartment used primarily only for sleeping. When he's not out being Superman, he's being just as aggressive as a young reporter trying to make a difference in the city. The civil crusader mentality is pretty much a part of Clark, in both his regular life and his superhero life. He's actually pretty much on his own -- growing up and breaking out on my own in recent years, I relate to that. His adoptive parents in Smallville are dead and buried - so he has no ties to hold him down, beyond his desire to clean up the city of Metropolis.

Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are introduced, boarding a monorail bullet train. Clark has information from something he had learned in his investigation into Glenmorgan. He tries to call Jimmy Olsen. When Jimmy picks up he explains to Lois who it is "Clark 'My Best friend for six months' Kent." Lois vaguely remembers Clark -- the person who works for a rival newspaper, the Daily Star. She tells Jimmy to keep Clark out of this, as they are on the hunt for a scoop. Clark is trying to warn Jimmy that they should stay away from the trains, as he has evidence of something Glenmorgan's set up. The trains are going to malfunction - though Lois only thinks Clark is trying to sabotage their story. Clark changes into Superman and races to the rescue. The train is already out of control - so the only option Clark has is to get in front of the train and stop it with his body. This is an immense and draining challenge - his ears bleed as he tried to stop the train. It derails off the track, plowing into the streets -- but guided enough by Superman to remain in one piece.

What had happened wasn't entirely clear the first time I read through this - but I believe the deal Glenmorgan had been celebrating was this very scheme - all initiated by Lex Luthor. General Lane is incensed - that Lex had endangered his daughter. Luthor goes on and on about his belief that an alien presence on Earth will harm everyone. This alien, successfully masquerading as a human being, isn't vulnerable to regular bullets. Mortar shells had been tried, but they barely slowed him down. So how do you take this menace down? Aim the world's biggest bullet at him, with the help of a disgruntled businessman. "Behold. I give you Superman. Stay in touch."

Sure enough - that's what Luthor had delivered, as Lane looks up at the screen as sees that Superman has been knocked and ready to be captured.

This first issue did a lot of things - the most important being the sense of Metropolis and it's major players. Even Lex Luthor, who spends most of the issue being an aloof paranoid know-it-all jerk, suddenly proves his worth with the final shot. Lois Lane is depicted as independent, driven, and feisty as ever, while the new take on Superman is championed as a new hero to the people. He might be a more fragile and more brooding Superman - but he still gets there to save the day and do the right thing. I actually think this new version of Superman came out at the absolutely perfect time - as just as this issue released, the news was finally picking up on the 99% movement in New York. This populist crusading Superman might be different - but he might be just the kind of Superman we need in this day and age - someone able to challenge the status quo and stand up the powerful of society. It's a message sorely needed. And, besides - this is pretty much the same mentality the original Superman of 1938 had. Wether this attitude might mellow as time goes on, especially when the series jumps 5 years ahead to the present day (just like in Justice League) - we'll have to wait and see. End of the day he still stands for Truth, Justice, and the American way. He's just being a bit more hands on about it - which is really refreshing, given all the years we had of Superman staying on the side lines "Humanity has to figure it out for themselves". This is "Action Comics", after all - Superman is finally about taking Action once again!

Issue #2

Superman has been captured, and Lex Luthor and the US Government are determined to find out who and what he really is. Superman is chained down to an electric chair (which really seemed to evoke elements from the 1940s Superman - where he sometimes busted in to stop an execution, or something like that)

They are basically torturing him, hoping to get information out of him. Superman recovers from injuries quite well - but the continual barrage of shocks actually keeps him subdued. Doctor John Henry Irons is on the military staff, and the minute he hears about what they are doing, he tells Luthor to shut this down - that they do not torture. Lex says that since he's an alien he isn't entitled to human rights. Irons resigns right there and then in protest.

In attendance running this session is Sergeant John Corben. In another part of the facility General Lane is busy running tests on the cape Superman wore -- finding that nothing can destroy it. Lane and Corben are called away when Lois Lane shows up at the army gates. She knows that they took Superman, and she knows that it was him who had saved them all on that train. Lane is dismissive of his daughter, telling her it's all top secret. He tells Corben to handle her, as she's still upset. Lois and Corben obviously have a past relationship -- though on the romantic front it's a one-way attraction on Corben's part. Lois tries to convince him to open up and tell her where Superman is.

Back in the interrogation room Luthor presses Superman to answers. He asks Superman if the word "Krypton" means anything to him. It doesn't. Next a glass case with a small dead creature is wheeled in. I didn't quite know what it was - but my first thoughts where that this poor dead creature was Krypto (Superman's dog.) It didn't look like a dog - though - it was this unrecognizable animal in a suit. Luthor asks if this is what his people really look like - that maybe he's a shapeshifter. Superman bursts out laughing, saying that he looks just like everyone else. "Except my eyes don't just absorb radiation like yours do, they emit all kinds." Luthor yells at the technicians, telling them to shock him again. None of their equipment is working anymore -- Superman has fried them all with his vision.

Superman rips himself out of the electric hair - finally having the moment he needed to recover. He rips the walls open. Lex, in a nice comical moment, cries in fear like a little girl.

Superman quickly escapes and runs to get his cape before leaving. As he's running down the halls he stops for moment, hearing a strange voice. "Ha-La! Ha-La Kal-El!" The alien language is coming from a rocket ship, resting on an examination table. Superman has never actually seen this rocket. It speaks to him (a translation, though, isn't provided here. I'm sure there's a fun code to translate it online somewhere.) You don't know what it's saying - but Superman seems to understand what it is. He places his hand on it, and crystals grow all over it. "Protect yourself. I'll come back for you"

Facing guards at nearly every level of the complex Superman then makes his escape. Just as Lois is sneaking into an elevator inside the base, the door opens with Superman and knocked out soldiers at his feet. Corben comes running up to her, telling her to give him back his pass key. Not wanting to stick around Superman leaps away to safety.

One of the experiments being run on this base comes into play - as Corben decides he needs power to take down Superman. Dr. Irons had been in charge of this project, and even though he's warned it might not be safe - Corben is determined. A large metal mech suit sits there waiting - dubbed Metal-Zero. "This is what I trained for. Man vs. Superman. She'll see." It's obvious his desire for Lois is clouding his decision.

Lex Luthor, meanwhile, is going home in the back of his limo. He gets a call - a confidential source that has been helping him with his hounding of Superman. He asks what was meaning of bringing up the word "Krypton", as it was information Lex has been told about. He wants to know who, or what, exactly is he talking to? Far up above in space a 50s-inspired space craft, with twisting tentacles, is entering orbit. Lex's secret informant about Superman is coming from space.

This issue was very good, and explained a lot about the new history of Superman. The idea that he doesn't have all the facts about who and what he is is a very engaging proposition. It makes his embracing of his long lost heritage more believable, because its completely new and fascinating to him.

The art in this issue, though, had some inconsistencies. Rag Morales' art in this series has been incredible -- but he also might have been a bit rushed in drawing pages. He doesn't strike me as a slow artist, but the cobbling together of the New 52 inevitable led to some compromises to get art done on time. As a result there are a few scenes in this issue done by other artists. One artist seemed to be trying to match Rag's style, but was failing miserably. Lois looked like she was a plastic surgery victim in certain scenes. Admittedly, the fill-in artist might have been rushed himself, to meet DC's promise of no more late books. Ultimately it's not a detrimental element to the issue - but it is a concern, that artists should be rotated when appropriate, to give them time to do their best work.

Issue #3

Like last issue, this third issue features some fill-in art by Gene Ha. It's not a bad thing, however, as his pages are flashback sequences to Krypton. Ha's colorful and dynamic art styles paints a vibrant and wonderful looking Krypton. This isn't the cold emotionless society of the old comics and movie - but rather an advanced society, with high minded concepts matching their even more high minded technology. Lara is at a party, with little baby Kal-El with her. The festivities are ruined, though, when Jor-El contacts Lara through their telepathy bands. Jor-El is armed carrying a weapon, with a wolf-like Krypto by his side. He yells at everyone that they must get out - they must leave immediately! Everyone except Lara think Jor-El is at it again "Jor-El, the 8th level genius with a taste for apocalyptic hyperbole!" A voice had contacted Jor-El. Viewing him as this world's leading scientific mind, this voice turned to him. "Soon, this planet Krypton will be no more." Lara begins to leave just as menacing robots decent upon the aristocratic crowd. Lara is able to escape, with baby Kal-El held in his mother's arms. Taking a hover craft she flies out of the city. It's a good thing she did, too -- as the next moment the opulent city of Kandor is washed away in a ferocious green light.

All of this is a dream racing through Clark's mind. He wakes up, having rested the night before from his ordeal the other day. His landlady is at the door. Clark hurriedly stuffs his costume and cape into his bag and hurriedly gets dressed. The police are there, storming into his apartment to search the place. Clark's articles exposing Glenmorgan are garnered a response. Clark asks why they are doing this. The police detective in charge tells Clark that he can't fight everything. That Mr. Glenmorgan is a powerful man, and sometimes in life there are things you can't change no matter how hard you try. Mrs. Nyxly tells them that Clark is a decent and quite young man who pays his bills. Soon enough the police are done, having found nothing. He's warned that he's messing with powerful people. That they're watching him. After they all depart, the question of how they didn't find his hastily hidden costume is revealed. Mrs. Nyxly had seen it in his gym bag, and had taken and hid it on her until the police where gone. She hands the costume and cape back "Well now... Who knew? So what's all this about you're from outer space?" Clark is startled and confused, and quietly questions "Outer space?" It's been made clear Clark doesn't know everything about his origin - but that he might not even know that he's an alien is also an interesting twist.

Clark is shaken up later that day, eating at a restaurant with Jimmy. Clark thinks this is a disaster - that people will be scared of Superman if they think he's a monster from space. Glenmorgan, meanwhile, is seen on the TV railing against Superman and the allegations being charged against him.

Later that day, while writing on his laptop on a bench, a homeless person pushing a shopping cart full of junk stops in front of him. "There's a ghost watching over you. There's a white dog." That perplexing statement is quickly forgotten, as Anti-Superman protests are springing up. The public is scared and confused. During the day Superman leaps into action to save a little girl and her cat from being hit by a truck. The girl screams, and a mob chases Superman away. Clark believes he's let down his Ma and Pa, that everything has been ruined.

Later on Lois and Jimmy are at a construction plant doing a report on the "Factory of Tomorrow". The place has been outfitted with robotic workers, causing a big controversy as people have lost their jobs. Clark shows up for the same interview, which infuriates Lois. As they bicker against each other, something insane begins to happen. The robot workers begins talking, rising up, and attacking. They shout off mysterious phrases "You're planet's database has been copies and filed. In advance of imminent destruction and the extinction of all life-- Terminauts will preserve significant artifacts." This is all reminiscent of what Clark had seen in his dream - the same voice that had spoken to Jor-El, and the same phrases said before by the robots that attacked Kandor.

At the army base John Corben is being outfitted with the Metal-Zero suit of armor. General Lane tells him that he's a brave man - that he'll be their first line of defense against an alien invasion. Once the connections to the suit have connected to his spine, things do disastrously awry. Corben suddenly starts speaking in the same eerie computer voice as the robots, as his mind is being taken over. An electrical surge courses through Corben's body. His heart has literally burst! He's still awake and moving, though - with a new mind in control. He speaks "I am the voice of the colony of the collector of worlds." Lex Luthor tried to greet the voice. This, point of fact, is his secret informant. He asks, "You and I... We made a bargain, remember?" Corben then screams "Then where! Is! Superman!"

Just to inform anyone who hasn't caught on -- two classic Superman villains are being introduced here. John Corben is the man with the Kryptonite Heart, Metallo -- and while not usually addressed as such in these issues - the Collector of Worlds is brainiac. It's all very retro-styled - which makes it all quite evocative and exciting. To be sure - A LOT if being stuffed into these issues - but it's a well handled and well crafted assembly on story elements. This new Metallo is completely different from the terminator-like robot he use to be, and is appropriately used in a different manner to serve the needs of the story here. It can be confusing sometimes, especially with Grant Morrison's unique and odd style of writing. But simply looking back at these issues, I'm seeing an out pouring of depth, clues, and hints layered into the narrative. THIS is why I love Grant Morrison's writing! He never writes something without it having a meaning -- and even after 8 issues, I feel like I'm already seeing an amazing scope and vision for this new Superman.

Issue #4

Lex Luthor is once again cowering in fear, as the alien controlled John Corben is rampaging with the new powerful suit of armor. Lex exclaims "You contacted me. This world's most advanced scientific mind. It was my safety in return for-- for--" Corben isn't paying much heed - all he wants is Superman!

The robots of the assembly plant have broken out and are rampaging across the city. Dr. Irons is at home and sees this on the news. The public that had been so against Superman was now calling for his help. "Where is the mysterious Man of Steel?" the news anchor asks. Irons goes over to a metal suit - something he's been working on in conjunction with the suit of armor Corben is now wearing.

Superman leaps into action and is smashing as many robots as he can. The machines, though, are advancing themselves by absorbing near-by technology. One robot combines itself with a building, and a tank used for a head - blasting Superman away.

Jimmy and Lois, meanwhile, are driving away. Jimmy tells her they can't leave without Clark. It's noticed by Lois, though, that the robots aren't attacking people. They are collecting objects, like stealing from the museum for example. Flying down directly in front of their car, John Corben arrives. "Lois Lane!" I'm a Superman Now!" the alien controlled voice states. Corben then breaks through, with his own voice saying "Lois. Help me."

Corben again acts as the alien's voice. "I am the voice. The voice of the colony." Lois is concerned and tries talking to him. It isn't working, and just in time Superman comes racing towards Corben and attacks him. With the powerful armored suit, Corben is proving more than a match for Superman. Lex Luthor, who has been hiding in the back of an army truck, hoping to escape over the bridge out of town, looks out and sees a green light bathing the entire area. In the blink of an eye, the sky suddenly changes. Clear class is before them, with robotic spiders crawling on the outside. Lois, Jimmy, and Lex where on the city's side of the bridge when this occurred.

On the other side of the bridge, Superman and Corben are still duking it out. Help arrives, though, as Dr. Irons comes flying down in his own suit of armor. He carries a huge hammer and effectively takes Corben apart. When the other half of the bridge was covered in green light, only Corben's left hand remains, being cut off with him on the city's side of the bridge. The city is gone! Superman is stunned, but he quietly states that they aren't dead. He can still hear them. General Lane, once suspicious and antagonistic against Superman, now approaches him. His daughter was still in the city. Can Superman save her? Superman has an idea, but he says he's going to need a little help.

This issue was good - but the momentum of the storyline was cut short, with the disappointing text "Continued in Action Comics #7" What-the-what?! Issue 7? What happened to issues #5 and 6?! Although it all turned out ok, and even likely according to plan, this was quite depressing to see at the time. A two-part interlude had been decided on - most likely to give Rags Morales a chance to catch up with his art. It really did turn out to be a good thing, and even worked with the overall storyline in the end. It was quite disconcerting, though.

Back-Ups: Steel

Since Action Comics is one of DC's $4 titles - it promises to offer more material in exchange for the extra dollar of money. The first three issues didn't entirely pay out on that -- but they did include behind the scenes info and art. I actually really liked and appreciated the commentary by Morrison and Rags, concerning the first two issues. Hearing what they where thinking at the time, and why they made certain delightfully crazy decisions, was very informative.

A real back-up story, though, finally was added - this first one focusing on John Henry Irons, aka Steel. I really like Steel - I liked him ever since he was first introduced as a temporary replacement for Superman when he was dead. It also should be pointed out that Steel is probably one of the few significant african american supporting cast members in Superman's universe. After Superman came back from the dead, though, Steel got sidelined. He did stick around and became Superman's scientific consultant. Sometimes it felt forced - like they where keeping him around just because he's one of the few prominent minority Superheroes at DC. There where several one-and-off moments over the years where he supposedly couldn't use his armor anymore - but then suddenly was back wearing it again. It just seemed like no one really knew what to do with him. I don't think it was any kind of racist intent, though - but more due to the fact that as a replacement for Superman, he wasn't needed as much after Superman returned from the dead. He did however take root in the DCU as their version of Iron Man.

I was glad to see his character was introduced and kept in this new Superman lore -- and his appearance here is good, but at the time is felt very much like an intrusion. This is, after all, Superman's big premiere storyline. And suddenly before the major 2-month gap cliff hanger, Steel became the focus instead of Superman. Not that that's bad. It felt like (for once in his history), that Steel was squeezing Superman out, instead of the other way around. The back-up story wasn't that great - but did its job. It showed how Steel beat the stuffing out of Corben - and that there's room enough more than one hero. Steel became a hero because of Superman's inspiration - so that message is totally in-tune with the character.

The backup tales where not written by Morrison, but instead by other writers and artists. There was one more Steel story later on - and a two-part look back on the life of Martha and Jonathan Kent, and their failed attempts to have a baby. None of it was bad - but it also wasn't that great.

Issue #5

What might at first have purely been a buffer to allow Rags Morales to get ahead in art for future issues - issues #5 and 6 yielded the opportunity to more directly look back at the fall of Krypton, and how baby Kal-El came to Earth. It may have interrupted the main storyline - but it became an important part of the over-all narrative of the series; in addition to giving us a small preview of what's to come.

Exactly like Brainiac had predicted, Krypton's days where numbered. Jor-El had been aware of this and tried to warn people - but his pleas where ignored. Krypton is tearing itself apart - but there's hope for survival: the Phantom Zone! This is a nice twist, that one of Jor-El's greatest discoveries might be used to save his family - but the plan is quickly dashed because, duh, all the criminals are in there waiting for him.

Something even more unexpected happens, as the leader of the gang of phantom prisoners reaches his hand through the portal; something that should be impossible. To protect his master, the wolf-like Krypto leaps at the arm and bites down on it. Krypto is pulled through the portal, but it begins to crack and shatters. (Krypto, trapped in the Phantom Zone, is the "Ghost Dog" the homeless man said was following Clark.)

His escape route no longer an option, Jor-El has to wrack his brain for a better idea. Lara then suggests "What about the prototype? Jor-El... The Rocket." It's an experimental model, but it will work. However there's no room on it for Lara onboard - it was meant to carry an animal test pilot. Lara remarks that her place is at her husbands side. They put baby Kal-El in the rocket, bundled up with Jor-El's cape.

I was a bit confused later on, as the story continued on with a new narrative. Short-bursts of descriptive information, usually phrased in a unique and confusing manner. I didn't really understand who was talking. Once I realized who it was, I smiled and thought it was brilliant; It was the ship! Searching for a suitable home, Earth is selected and the ship lands in Kansas.

Martha and Jonathan Kent are driving in their pickup truck. Martha was especially heart stricken at the moment. She thinks they have bad luck. Jonathan tells her that if this was about Bessie's poor deformed claf -- he tells her it's not an omen or a sign of bad luck. Martha says its not about that - "I lost our baby. Our last chance at... at a...." On cue space ship from Krypton smashes down to Earth in the field right in front of them. They go out to investigate - and find the answers to their prayers: A baby. They wonder if the Russians put him up there. What if someone comes for him? Finding and taking a baby from a wrecked spaceship isn't an easy decision to make, but Jonathan says if Martha is serious about this, he has an idea to throw anyone off the cent.

The rocketship, meanwhile, has not gone unnoticed by authorities. The army and a fleet of helicopters quickly descend on its location. The computer AI of the ship begins scanning the planetary data base. "Level-3 Proto-Social Primate Tech. Apes with Atom Bombs. Their Imbecilic Machines Lack Voices, Opinions or Self-direction. Level 10 Tools in the Hand of Tribal Warring States: Unthinkable." The AI engages silent mode. The ship is taken by the army. I really loved this idea -- machines having awareness and consciousness; and that not having such capabilities of an unthinkable concept; all weird and fun ideas to inject - but it serves a purpose in detailing and enriching the peripheral background of Krypton's culture.

The army, not surprisingly, has put up a perimeter around the crash. Jonathan and Martha are stopped by army personnel. The soldiers say its a chemical spill - but Jonathan says that he had found something - asks if there might be a reward or something. As the soldiers look in the back of his truck, he says he knows this ain't about chemicals. "Reckon I found me a spaceman." The deformed deceased calf they where originally transporting was wrapped in silver plastic - to make it look like a space alien. This is a really funny and insane idea - and I just LOVE IT! This is the same animal shown to Superman when Lex Luthor was interrogating him.

The story, though, continues to follow the rocket. It's stored and tested by the military. Nothing can destroy it -- and I'm betting cracking it open for information would be equally as hard. Silent Mode finally ceases when Superman ran into the rocket years later in the army base. A translation of what was said to Superman is shown. It's quite frankly even more confusing hearing it actually speaking - but essentially it introduces itself. Superman tells it he'll come back, and to protect itself. A protective crystal shell forms all over the hull. Later on the ship is being transported out of the city, and across the bridge out of Metropolis. It's on the same convoy Lex Luthor is on - and thus is taken up by a returning menace. The Collector of Worlds, that had once come to Krypton, was now coming for Earth. When the Collector was done, however, everything would change. The narrative shifts into the future. "A Doomed Level 3 World Achieved Level 4 Development Potential." - the ship detects the new age of Super Humans now present on the planet. "With New Hopes, New Fears, New Wonders, New Challenges..."

"New and Unimaginable Evils." Orbiting a space station above Earth the rocket ship sat. A warp in space and time twisted the room and revealed unknown assailants. This group consisted of several menacing shadowed figures - including a large purple gelatinous blob. They are all identified by colored speech balloons -but without knowing their identities, or ever what they look like, this scene was initially hard to follow. Their goal was clear, though - they where there to steal the Kryptonite Engine in the rocket. I know, I know - why power the Rocket with Kryptonite? I suppose it makes a good power source! It's lethal to Superman -- though it's pointed out by one of the group that it's lethal to pretty much anyone. Not to K-Man Green, though - a member of the group. He's able to hold and handle the engine. They are actually acquiring this engine for someone else -- they're suppose to meet in the Tesseract next, all except for the gelatinous blob named Drekken. A bolt of lighting suddenly strikes forth. The blob remarks in it's broken and weird syntax "GotWot U CAME FOR! LeeV soopa-zerOs 2 Me!"

Just as they arrived on the scene, the villains had departed. Having arrived is an older Superman, along with adult members of the Legion of Super Heroes - Lighting Man, Cosmic Man, and Saturn Woman. They had arrived too late - the Kryptonite Engine had already been stolen. Lighting Man remarks "And now it's in the hands of the Anti-Superman Army."

The ship's monologue ends with a dire warning "The Engine That Was My Heart. My Power Source. Without it I Am Doomed to Die. And When That Happens... So Too Dies the Earth..."

Issue #6

Issue number six opens with the members of the Anti-Superman army delivering the Kryptonite Engine. Sealed in a lead box, the recipient of the item describes how important this item is. Its guaranteed to kill Superman, or change him forever. "Unshielded, unrefined, the Ultimate Power Source of the lost planet Krypton in the form of a Rocket Engine Core. From this original derive all the unstable exotic isotopes such as Red-K and Silver-K and Black. These deadly variants, including Blue, the most terrible of all, can and will be grown from this one primary crystal." In a surprising and unexpected twist - the man who's running this operation if the diminutive dwarf, originally introduced in issue #1 alongside Mr. Glenmorgan. Who is this man, and why is he one of the new top villains vying to destroy Superman? I'll get to that later -- what is most interesting right now is the revelation that all Kryptonite, that will plague Superman in the future, comes from the actions of this little man. He agrees to give each member of the Anti-Superman army a splinter of Kryptonite, as long as each of them perform one task for him - in his name." The now creepy little man's claw-like nails stroke his chin, as slight flickers of flame emit around his head.

Back on the space station Superman is explaining some things. He says that this moment in time, that they have time-traveled back to, is early in his carrier - just after he faced the "Terminaut Invasion" - before everything change so quickly. Perhaps to hide the ending of the opening plotline, I believe the term Terminaut Invasion is referring to Brainiac's invasion of Earth. This space station, in fact, is an early Fortress of Solitude - and thus unshielded from time-travelers - like the Fortress will be in a later iteration.

Lightning Man and Cosmic Man examine the Kryptonian spaceship. It's dying - and it's explained "And when it does, the Collector A.I. will Re-Infect this station and Earth's Computer Network." We're already established that the Collector is another name for Brainiac. What I purposefully didn't mention before was that, when the Rocket was launched by Jor-El, he said it was equipped with a Brainiac AI. Did Jor-El co-opt the Collector's computer code - perhaps from the remains of a robot leftover after Kandor's theft? I'm unsure - it's already a bit confusing. But it's like a puzzle - every piece fits; you just don't always have all the pieces yet from future issues.

The four heroes are attacked, with tentacles reaching out. This is Drekken - Superman seems to know him, and asks "Erik, is that you?" Jezz - really?! Does the villain have to have my name and same spelling? At least with Magneto (Erik Lehnsherr), he's a cool and complicated villain. Drekken, on the other hand, is very very weird. What was once a gelatinous blob has shape-shifted into a huge space-octopus. Superman tries to talk and reason to Drekken, but he keeps fighting and keeps shapeshifting. He even turns into a T-Rex, which Superman punches out and Lighting Man electrocutes. Drekken doesn't seem like a totally evil person, and his mumbling message after being knocked out, and turning into a human form, is very telling. "I'm there at the end with the rest -- the Anti-Superman army -- A bloody red sunset at the end of days -- a planet of skeletons -- and you -- I have to warn you... it's not the end... not yet..." Saturn Woman then uses her telepathic powers to further calm down Drekken, making him shapeshift into a small form able to be placed in a jar. Superman asks what he was talking about? "A planet of skeletons?" Saturn Woman however focuses on what she's learned from probing Drekken's mind. Nimrod the Hunter (one of Anti-Superman Army) has used a teleport rifle to fire a microscopic lead pellet into Superman's brain.

Superman is confused by this revelation, and then blanks out remembering something. He recalls being on the farm with Pa, wrestling a bull to the ground. From what he's talking to his father about, it becomes clear that Superman really didn't know his origins. It's speculated that the rocketship was a lifeboat, and that he was sent somewhere he could do some good. His powers are developing, giving him the strength to subdue the bull. Its clear that Clark knows he's an alien -- but beyond that, nothing much else. Later that night some visitors arrive on the farm. Costumed individuals -- Lighting Lad, Cosmic Boy, and Saturn Girl; the original younger Legion of Super-Heroes, traveling through time to meet the legendary Superman. They make friends with each other, and even lend him a Flight Ring - technology from their time. The history of the Legion of Super Heroes - and how a young Superboy was a founding member, is established here. The Flight Ring, even, allows Superman to fly - years before he'll develop those powers as an adult.

Superman's mind returns to the present - where Saturn Woman is explaining that the memory's located in the brain's amygdala region. The pellet is causing pressure there. She asks if he noticed anything unusual -- in the flashback, Superman says the color of the barn changed from red to blue, which is odd since his recall is usually perfect. Cosmic Man, using his magnetic powers, is able to pinpoint the location of the pellet. Using their time bubble, they transport (and obviously shrink) to the location inside the pellet. This is another insane brilliant thing -- the Tesseract (space inside an object, larger than the space itself) is the meeting place for the Anti-Superman Army - located inside the pellet! The Legionaries arrive inside, disrupting the group's plans. During the fighting, the diminutive man has the Kryptonite Engine opened, to flood Superman's brain. The Engine shatters into a dozen pieces - and the little man disappears. He said something as the engine shattered - but it wasn't clear. It sounded like "Give in! Kent next!" Cosmic Man is able to retrieve part of the engine - but all the other fragments have disappeared as well.

Outside Superman is in pain - as the Kryptonite poisons his body. His skin turns green and he doubles over in pain, accidently tipping the jar holding Drekken. Free once more Drekken assumes his blob form and consumes Superman. The rocket's systems are similarly failing at the same time. Superman finally figures it out -- he struggles and fights against Drekken, finally freeing himself. Kryptonite is the source of the spaceship's power; sticking his K-saturated hand into the engine, the ship is again powers up, and is able to shoot out a beam of energy to subdue Drekken.

The Legionaries arrive back inside the space station, with a piece of the Kryptonite Engine. With this piece, the crystal can be made to grow and keep the spaceship alive. As they all get inside the Time Bubble, and prepare to depart to their correct times - Superman is recovering, and Saturn Woman is able to see what he's thinking about. He's recalling their meeting with the Legion back when he was kid - and how it let him know there was a bigger universe out there than he had ever hoped. It was proof that Earth had a future worth fighting for. Meeting the Legion of Super Heroes was the greatest day in his life.

Issue #7

So, now that the 2-issue interlude is over - back to the main story.

Superman's plan is being put into motion with the help of General Lane. He's carrying a breathing mask and and oxygen tank - and is about to make his biggest "tall leap in the single bound" ever -- using a flatbed truck, tilted towards the sky, as a launching pad upwards.

Superman races towards it as fast as possible - his heavy duty leather work boots are falling apart under the stress, but he manages it: Superman jumps so high that he breaks through the atmosphere. Among the floating satellites around him, Superman then uses them as stepping stones to reach his destination: the space ship of the Collector of Worlds. Managing to get on the hull he holds on, but is quickly subdued by the electric tentacles of the roving space station. His body is carried onboard. "Living. Breathing. Kryptoniana!" the voice yells "Secure. Seal. Preserve!" Robots attack Superman, but he survives their attack and pushes forward. Using his enhanced hearing, Superman is able to locate the captured Metropolis. Superman finds a whole room full of sealed jars, all containing cities and artifacts; all shrunken down and preserved.

Inside the miniaturized Metropolis, Lois Lane confronts Lex Luthor. She knows that Luthor is involved and is demanding answers. Arrogant as always, Lex dismisses the accusations. Even from his vantage point he's able to determine that they have been shrunken down and placed inside a glass bottle. The robotic spiders on the outside of the jar are now creeping inside, and begin to attack people. The military personnel, protecting the rocket, defend everyone as best they can - but they still need to run away. Jimmy is quick enough to recognize a place to be safe - into the building, and up to the high-rise hotel bar of Mr. Glenmorgan. Detective and Police officers are already there. Lois goes into reporter mode and is asking questions of everyone - and has her suspicions confirmed when Lex is heard on the phone talking to his informant. He yells over the phone that they had an agreement! The Collector replies over the cell phone "Our arrangement is being honored. The Kryptoniana in exchange for your survival." This doesn't sit well with Lex "Survival in a bottle!"

Mr Glenmorgan, meanwhile drowning his sorrows at the bar, recognizes and reacts to the diminutive little man. He asks wether he knows him. The little man claims he's been working in the hotel bar since Glenmorgan bought the place - eight years now. He tells Glenmorgan that they are old friends, and even points out a silk tie he had forgotten, with a stain. Glenmorgan is confused, and says he would never have allowed that. He says he doesn't understand why he feels he's being punished, when he can justify everything he's done.

The robotic spiders have climbed up the side of the building. Police officers shoot it down, shattering the glass window. A familiar, but incredibly over-sized sight steps into view outside the bottle: it's Superman. The police detective meekly gives up, having had enough of the insanity "Seriously. I resign."

Outside the bottle Superman demands answers from the Collector. The disembodied voice talks to him - pointing out the city Superman had also noticed in addition to Metropolis - the City of Kandor - the city from his dreams. He asks wether this means he comes from Krypton? The Collector proposes a challenge - to see if the Level 8 being raised on alien world by Level 3 Primitives will be able to choose between Metropolis and Kandor. Which is stronger? Nature or nurture. Life support for the two cities is turned off, and Superman is told he has two minutes to decide which city he wishes to save. Superman refuses - saying he'll protect everyone! Brainiac examines further - saying that Kandor has the origins of his heritage. In a display next to Kandor, a preserved artifact of indestructible armored Kryptonian formal wear is there. He could live among those in Kandor, and be a king. The best humanity has to offer? Their greatest achievement, Metal-Zero, was created to kill him. "Nature or nurture. Choose."

The people on the streets of Metropolis are able to hear and see what is going on. They raise lighters, and lit up iphones, calling out for Superman to save them. Superman peers into the miniaturized Metropolis - and sees the shrunken shuttle inside the army vehicle. He turns away and says he made his choice. Luthor rants that he's rejecting humanity and turning away! Superman, however, smashes the glass of the Kryptonian formal wear. "'Indestructible', you said. Bringing me inside your spaceship was a big mistake. Like swallowing poison." He defiantly yells that he won't let him hold people's lives ransom just to prove a stupid point. As Superman dons the armored costume, it automatically changes from it's blank white design to a familiar red and blue moffitt - recognizing the House of El, either from his DNA or his thoughts, the suit conforms and places the "S" shield on his chest, just like on his old tee-shirt.

Lex, meanwhile, is again talking to the Collector on the phone. "What you mean by 'Last Days'? Talk to me!" The Collector coldly replies "Krypton: Planet 202 on the Masterlist. Earth: Planet 205 on the Masterlist. The list of Doomed Worlds. Prepare your minds for condition null permanent micro-stasis."

Finally coming out from behind the scenes the monstrous Brainiac appears. A huge pulsating brain, with sensors and electronics for eyes - connected to a centipede robotic body! John Corben, still in the Metal-Zero armor and under his control, is grotesquely attached to it's back. "The collection preserves rarities: artifacts of worlds that exist no longer. Krypton, your home, is dead. Earth will be next. Join the collection or die!"

Issue #8

Lois Lane and Lex are arguing while watching the conflict unfold outside the glass bottle. Lex tries to defend his actions, saying that when the Collector contacted him, he did his best to deceive it on behalf of all humanity. Mr. Glenmorgan is having an emotional breakdown, and is talking crazy to the police detective. He says this is all like in those horrible films. They're trapped in hell and the bartender is the devil... The detective tells him that there's no bartender here.

Superman attacks and fights the Collector! Combined with Corben's strength it proves a match for Superman. Superman unleashes his heat vision at Corben. Injured, Corben, and thus Brainiac, buckle, as an emotional systems overload occurs. Corben yells into the bottle containing Metropolis. He's calling out for lois - saying that he told it to spare Metropolis - and that it did. "That was me! It'll be Superman's fault if you all die!"

Luthor even agrees with this statement - that if Earth really is doomed, then this alien AI is saving them. In a funny bit, Jimmy is seen fiddling with his cell phone "I bet Superman can hear texts, right?"

Glenmorgan has finally broke - concluding that the little man - the Teetotaller, is behind all of this! First the glass - now the air is cutting out. "I must be dead, I must be -- punished in hell -- and the little man... the little man is the devil."

Corben/Brainiac continues to fight back against Superman - but what he had said about the suit being indestructible was right - and is helping Superman survive. He's able to tear Corben out of Brainiac's circuitry. The clock, though, is ticking -- Seven minutes until the micro-stasis of Metropolis is permanent! Superman then hears it, and gets an idea. He can hear his spaceship inside Metropolis speaking. Smashing his hand into the glass he reaches into the jar and grabs the army truck. Being obsessed with the collection, Superman bluffs, saying he'll destroy the other bottled cities. Being a true collector, Brainiac panics, restating Earth's impending doom "Your world is number 205 on the list of the 333 - the Death-List of the Multitude." He goes on "Millennia of collection! My pristine collection of worlds!" Just like he though, Superman has struck Brainiac where it will hurt. Now he can negotiate.

Brainiac, however, comes back even more enraged - now exposing three extended brain pulsating heads! "To join the collection is to be saved. What if your objection to salvation?" Superman tells him to reverse the process - return the people to their native environments. Or he'll tear him apart and deprogram him with his own hands. "The Multitude is on its way. Failure to join the collection means annihilation." Superman says he won't let anything threaten this planet, and gives Brainiac one last chance. Brainiac determines that Superman carries the Krypton moral imprint; that he won't harm him. Superman brings out the rocket he's been holding in his hand. Like everything from his planet, its invulnerable. Brainiac's obsession with collecting made him bring it on board. In its tiny form, Superman asks if he's faster and a speeding bullet - and flicks the ship into Brainiac. The spaceship's crystal computer system absorbs and consumes Brainiac. He's still alive - but under the ship's control. The process of remagnifiying Metropolis to its original size begins. A window is also opened, to give the still battered Superman a healing dose of yellow sun light.

Metropolis is restored! Everything is back the way it was. Lois races and hugs her awaiting father. Jimmy takes photographs, and asks Doctor Irons, after saving so many lives when the city disappeared -- is this the start of a new career as a Superhero? He replies "As a what?" Mr Glenmorgan, being escorted out of the building by the detective, yells at the reporters. He wants to get some things off his chest. Lex Luthor quietly slips into his limo and departs. "Get me the hell out of here. We're all living in a very different world as of today. I need time to think."

The next day, at the Daily Star, Clark is being praised by his editors. The hard work and pressure he had persisted with had finally caught up with Glenmorgan. Clark isn't overjoyed. He's only sorry that "Mr. Metropolis" lost his mind. And it now begs the question, with Glenmorgan gone - who fills the vacuum? The editor, though, says that with his work on exposing Glenmorgan done, it makes it a little easier for him to accept that job offer from the Daily Planet.

When Clark arrives back at his apartment, he makes a phone call. He says that every tip he had received, about the booby-trap on the monorail, and the information about the Factory of Tomorrow - everything Clark had been told was right on the money. He asks "Who are you 'Icarus'?" The person on the other line merely says they are a concerned citizen. That maybe together they can both turn this city around. Make it into a city of Tomorrow. Perhaps giving the reader a hint that he knows who is on the other end of the line, Clark asks "Are you--? Are you... Superman?" I'm only guessing - but maybe its a bit of pre-denial to protect his identity. A good thing, too - because it's Lex Luthor he's talking to! He tells him just to call him Icarus, and that they will speak again.

Later that night, up on the rooftop, Clarks talks to Mrs. Nyxly. She promises to keep his identity a secret.

The next day Superman is on a stage before the press shaking the mayor's hand. He's been given the key to the city - and is celebrated as a hero. He's no longer considered an outlaw or a wanted man. He's asked about his new costume -- and says it's formal wear from his home planet of Krypton. "Pretty sci-fi, huh?" He publicly admits he's a real life alien - though also says he barely remembers anything about where he started out. He states that he doesn't think his attitude has changed much. He's still here to stand up for people that can't stand up for themselves. Lois Lane asks one pointed question that no one else has asked. Does he have a place to be when he's alone?

Later in Smallville Clark is at the graves of his parents. He's telling them that he's done what he promised them - to use his special powers to help people. He talks about how there are other super powered people appearing in the world - like it was all meant to be.

Having said his peace Clark turns around unbuttoning his shirt. His new costume revealed, he jumps into the sky.

Instead of just jumping, though - he's flying! He ascends above the atmosphere and into space - arriving on the space station Brainiac came in. Looking over the Earth down below, the voice of his original space ship echos, as its in control of the space station - and under Superman's command. This is his place to get away - his Fortress of Solitude.

As if this story needed anything more - there's a two-page epilogue hinting at things to come. In the dinosaur island of New Caledonia (???) A T-Rex rampages out of the jungle. A hunter with a rifle is confronting the creature. His name is Mr. Zarov, aka Nimrod (hinted at as a part of the Anti-Superman Army) - and he's on a hunting trip with the diminutive little man. Zarov has killed everything that ever lived. There's no challenges left for him in the world. Nothing, as of now, that he cannot kill. The little man asks "What about a bulletproof man? Could you kill a bulletproof man?" Setting his sights on the T-Rex, he replies as he fires "Hrr! There's no such thing as bulletproof." The shot goes into the T-Rex's mouth, blowing it's brains out.

I believe New Caledonia is a concept already established in the old DCU - it's simply a cool and weird place to showcase this final scene. I believe, working backwards, this is where Nimrod is recruited into the Anti-Superman Army, and is the one who achieved the impossible, shooting the pellet into Superman's brain via a teleportation rifle.

This final issue really succeeded for me in giving this amazing opening storyline a satisfactory ending. Rags Morales art, as far as I know, wasn't disrupted again like it was in issue two - most likely thanks to the lead time the two-part intermission gave him. The final few pages, of Superman accepting the key to the city and flying up to the space station, was however done by another artist team of Rick Bryant & Bob McLeed. The contrast in art styles helped accentuate the change from outlaw Superman, to the new phase of his life as the beloved and trusted Superman. His art is very good - though the final page of him flying into the sky has received some negative criticism. The ear-to-ear smile is a bit extreme - but I actually like it; it emphasizes the cathartic and jubilant end to such an amazing opening story. Superman, while a little different this time around, is still Superman.

After this the series will shift to 5 years later, matching with Justice League and catching up to the modern-day New DCU. Supposedly, in-between, a lot of our old favorite Superman stories still live on -- just a little differently, and with a different costume. DC has purposefully not gone into that much detail - which is probably a good thing. Lets not look back - let fan's minds fill in the blanks on wether Superman died fighting Doomsday, or other prominent storylines -- this series is all about plowing ahead, full steam, into the future! The retro sci-fi bent is only window dressing, to convey the classic/yet new elements of Superman's lore.

When I first sat down hammering out this over-view - not having re-read these issues yet - I thought they where a little sporadic. Well... A lot sporadic! This opening story was shoving a lot of elements at you all at once - introducing Lex, Brainiac, and Metallo as villains. The mystery of the little man -- and the foreshadowed impending doom of Earth from the unknown menace, termed by Brainiac "The Multitude". Earth has a possible dark future ahead - one which Superman will have to face. Looking back, I actually now see how consistent the writing is! Morrison's layered storytelling is doing multiple things all at once -- and within the span of 8 issues, I feel like I unknowingly got dumped with two year's worth of comics! Given how high-profile, and risky reinventing Superman is for Morrison and DC - I think it came out brilliantly! This is, hands down, the smartest comic book out on the market! I know Morrison's writing can be confusing at times -- but like all his previous work, there's not a single thing in all of these issues that isn't done without a purpose. This level of detail really shines, especially when re-reading issues with future events known to you. I'm actually daring to say this is Grant Morrison's best work ever! It's structure and done in such a dynamic and fresh way - bending concepts and long accepted ideas on their head, as a new Superman is expertly woven together for the new Century! Simply put: READ THIS BOOK!

Future Issues

The next issue? We're going into the Multiverse, to Parallel Earth-23. I think Morrison is revisiting a briefly touched upon idea from his Final Crisis storyline, which showed a black "President Obama"-like Superman. Sure enough, that cover looks like the Super-Commander in Chief! You simply don't know what to expect from this series issue to issue - and that's really an incredible achievement in this day and age of previews and internet rumors. This feels like a return to the old comic book reading experience that has somewhat been lost in our carefully prepared and dolled out modern age comic books.

One final thing to mention is the mystery about the little man. I mentioned him a lot in this overview - and that's because by the end of 8 issues you realize what was at first a visually notable background character may in fact have been the one pulling all the strings. The most obvious guess of who he is? Mr. Mxyztplk! The 5th Dimensional annoyance to Superman, Mr. Mxyztplk was a mischievous magical character who waltzed into Superman's life every 90 days. The only way to get rid of him was to trick him into saying his name backwards, which would send him back to wherever he came from for another 90 days. He's more been used as a joke character, often breaking the 4-th wall and dropping humorous in-jokes here and there. I'm only guessing that this is a modern-day (and more dangerous) re-interpretation of Mr. Mxyztplk. Beyond his hight there isn't as much similarity in his face - as this Teetotaler man has horn-rimmed glasses and a distinctive mole on his left cheek. The way he disappeared and reappeared, numerous times, supports the Mr. Mxy theory -- and the way he's been manipulating everything behind the scenes, and being a more direct threat when stealing the Kryptonite Engine, is also in line with the theory. He was there in a car on the street, watching the monorail being sabotaged. He was later seen in issue #2 as one of the technicians controlling the electric shocks to Superman. If this is a new Mr. Mxyztplk, it all being done in an exciting way -- and very well done. Even long time fans, before issue #6, might not have been aware of the clues, or even of his existence, much less his importance. Either way - he's turning into one of the most interesting elements of the series.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic blog, Erik!

    Just found your blog, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Good to read someone else who appreciates the work that Grant Morrison puts into every book he writes.