Thursday, January 24, 2013
52 In Review: Action Comics So Far... Part 2
One of my absolute favorite titles of DC's New 52, is that of Grant Morrison and Rag Morales' Action Comics. Morrison took the challenging task of revamping Superman for a new generation -- and he has quite simply hit it out of the ball park. I went over and gave my thoughts on the first 8 issues of his run. I had a lot of fun putting that post together, and even saw new insights into the issues I had previously overlooked. So I'm going to go over the rest of Morrison's Action Comics issues, with part 2 - covering issues #9 - 13, including Action Comics #0 and the Annual. (Morrison's run is due to end with issue #18, so after its all over - I'll write about those issues as well.)
The cover proudly proclaims that classic line "This looks like a job for Superman...", but then finishes with "...of Earth 23!" The Superman of parallel Earth-23 is both black and the president - an idea Morrison first brought up when writing Final Crisis. The obvious inspiration for this character is, duh, President Obama! Now the Super-Commander-in-Chief is going to face a terrible menace - the supposed "Curse of Superman".
The Super President, at the beginning of the issue, is finishing yet another battle with Lex Luthor. Superman mildly suggests that maybe racism is at the heart of Luthors activities. Lex denies this, yelling "It's Everything ELSE I about you I hate! Don't Ever forget that!". Going into the back room, Superman finds the latest experiment Luthor has been developing. It's a large cube, with two sides colored red and green. Consulting his Brainiac Communication Link, Superman deduces that this is a Musical Meta-Machine, ringing at impossibly oblique frequencies. The sound its producing is growing louder - until finally a portal opens - with a young woman rushing out with charred corpses right behind her. This woman, who wears an eye patch and looks like she's gone through hell, immediately reacts to the "S" on Superman's chest. She fires her K-Laser, but to no effect (kryptonite can only affect Kryptonians from the same dimension). Superman watches as this woman, who it becomes clear is Lois Lane, turns to the dead bodies at her feet -- that of Jimmy and Clark, having been burned alive just before entering the dimensional portal. Superman offers to help the grieving Lois, but she doesn't entirely believe he can help her. She's gone from one universe to the next - where all the different Supermen die against what is chasing her.
What's chasing this alternate-dimensional Lois is, sadly, a creature of her own devising. Along with her friends, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, they use advanced sound technology to put together their thoughts of an ideal hero: a redeemer capable of saving the world; a Superman. They had the plans for creating this thought-idea, created with soundwaves, but they had reached the limits of what they could manage on their own. So they went to Overcorp - who where interested in their idea. They had the resources to make it happen, but only in exchange for all the rights. (The person in charge of Overcorp, naturally, is the little man - who popped up so many times in the background beforehand in earlier issues) The three young adults where not sure about doing this, but Jimmy convinced them that if they don't - they couldn't do it on their own; AND Overcorp would likely steal their ideas otherwise. So they signed on the dotted line. There was more to their creation and technology than any of them suspected; applications enabling the discovery to tune into other universes.
Hearing all of this, Superman of Earth 23 says he doesn't understand what they did wrong. "We Sold Out!" Lois yells! Overcorp used the technology to create their own corporate brand of Superman. A violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero -- a global marketing icon! This creation swept the world, turned their world into a fascist state, while the corporate Superman further went to other universes, destroying Superman after Superman.
Then the portal opens again - with the creature coming forth: Superdoom! Superman of Earth 23 fights against the creature. Lex Luthor, who had since recovered from his defeat, even joyously joined in - getting the rare opportunity to kill a creature made of the raw essence that is Superman. Superman eventually is able to push the creature back into the portal. Instead of destroying the creature, Superman instead traps him in-between wavelengths - essentially tuning him out. (Superman also questions what exactly was Lex thinking, when he made this device; you'll see it pop up again later.)
A nearly all-black Justice League shows up after the battle is over. The back-up tale in this issue was quite good, as well - showing what a Presidential Superman might do with his abilities. Apparently, if you don't like certain tyrannical countries, you can go in as Superman and take rogue governments down with your bare hands. An issue develops between the black Wonder Woman who joined him on this mission, asking what the public would think, if they ever found out the person they elected wasn't born in America. It was a really cool question to ask, especially when you compare and contrast the same issue with our real-life President.
It should also be noted, this idea of a corporately-owned Superman smacked of a very relevant topic at the time; where the heirs of Superman were suing DC, trying reacquire the rights back to the character. It seems quite brave of DC to publish a book with that kind of moral-subtext.
Nimrod the Hunter, a man driven by his "I can kill anything" attitude, has been visited by the little diminutive man - offering him the greatest prey possible, a bulletproof man. True to his skill, Nimrods search has led him to the former Kent family farm. Two separate locations stand out as the epicenter of early "Midwest Superman" sightings; the Kent Farm, and the Blake Farm.
Clark, meanwhile, is struggling to manage his passion for justice, against some of the realities of being a superhero. He calls on his friends with the Justice League, meeting in an older printing press (before they get an orbital HQ) - where he preposes they do more - like tackling poverty in Somalia. Superman wonders why they can't do more - with the King of an underwater Empire, an Amazon Princess, Billionaire Playboy, to which Batman questions where he would get that kind of idea. He then realizes it "Oh, I forgot. You're a journalist. A snoop." Superman didn't expect that Batman would likewise know his secret identity. Moving back to his original question, Superman asks why, in a world where (somewhere) a child is being tortured, or dying of starvation -- if someone like the Flash can move at speeds approaching light, why don't they help stop that? Flash reminds Superman that he has a life and family too; that he knows his responsibilities and limitations. Also, Flash notes, he wants to stay within the bounds the laws. Flash knows how Superman feels, but reminds him that they aren't Gods. Superman eventually gets the idea, and leaves, saying when the next space monster shows up, they know where to find him. Batman ominously says to the others "One of these days, we'll all have to go after him."
While out with Lois and Jimmy, the three of them are discussing a Clark's job interview at the Daily Planet. Clark expresses that he didn't bring down Glenmorgan because he wanted to be famous, or headhunted by rival papers - to which Lois says that joining the Daily Planet staff it not selling out. While getting out of a cab, a commotion erupts at the entrance to the daily star across the street. Lois jokes that it's Kent's cue to run, while she wonders where Superman is. Perhaps because of his struggle retaining his passion inbetween his two identities - Clark instead races out to help. People are running away from a man, who is in tears. Clark tries to talk to him, to help. Before Clark knows it, the man reveals himself to be strapped with explosives - which he detonates, with Clark caught in the blast!
Sometime later, Clark's landlord receives a rude visit from Nimrod - who has tracked Clark Kent to this location. Mrs. Nyxly responds to Nimrod asking about Clark. "Clark? Haven't you heard? Clark Kent is dead." Nimrod forces his way into Kent's apartment, which has been cleaned out. Nimrod can't believe this - that if Clark Kent is dead, then Superman must also be dead! Mrs. Nyxly remarks that he'd better pray Superman's not dead - because otherwise he has a ghost at his back. Sure enough, Superman is there, taking Nimrod's gun away and twisting it into scrap. Nimrod is shocked, asking how he can pull this? Superman says he does stuff like this all the time "But if you think Clark Kent and Superman are the same person-" Nimrod shouts "I don't care who you are! Let's see if you can withstand a rocket shell!" All that does is blow up (literally) in Nimrod's face. Superman rips apart the rocket launcher, as Nimrod angrily brings out another gun. "I've killed everything! You'll see!" He fires again, to similar results. As Superman lifts Nimrod up, Mrs. Nyxly asks what about Clark? Knowing who he really is, Mrs. Nyxly is asking if the identity of Clark Kent is really dead. Which Superman confirms, and swears to explain to her later.
In the hospital Nimrod rests, with an iron mask over his burnt face. A male nurse comes in, and begins talking to him. He tells him that it can be done, but not with little toy guns. This little man, posing as a nurse, tells him that he can provide advanced weapons - stronger ones, from other worlds; that Nimrod can become a part of an army against Superman. "It's simple. All you have to do is make a deal."
This, of course, all circularly comes back to issues #5 and #6 - where Nimrod the Hunter managed to successfully shoot Superman, with a teleport rifle hitting his brain. Luckily the Legion of Super-Heroes showed up and saved Superman, and beat back the Anti-Superman Army.
Currently, though, remains the rather large problem of Clark Kent being dead? How is Superman going to get out of this one?
This issue starts off with a twist on a classic Superman premise. Remember, during the 1940s, when Superman would just go into a tenement slum, destroy everything, and simply rebuild better buildings for poor people? Well, after a large and destructive battle with the mechanical rogue A.I. Metalek (left over from Brainiac's invasion), suddenly Superman sees a chance to help the poor - and swiftly uses his abilities to rebuild the destroyed tenements for the people. A reporter comes up to Superman, asking if he has any idea what those homes will now be worth? (There's the twist - which strikes me as funny. It wasn't a huge story point, but it's an example of Superman's activism having unintended side-effects) Superman is quickly called away, though, when he can smells smoke. Dashing away Superman changes into his new civilian identity - that of firefighter Johnny Clark!
As a fire-fighter, Clark is able to save people more directly in his new civilian identity. Along the way Johnny Clark develops a stellar reputation. He saves people, makes good friends with his co-workers, and even goes to visit people in the hospital. At the hospital, Johnny Clark visits and meets with Mr. Taylor - the head of the Daily Star and Clark Kent's old boss. Taylor was hurt during the bomb explosion, and is visited by "supposedly" the man who saved his life. Luckily for Superman, Taylor's vision was injured during the blast - so seeing Johnny Clark, and matching him up with Clark Kent, doesn't happen. While talking Taylor remarks that it was the kid, Clark Kent, who Johnny should have saved. Taylor goes on about how Kent was one of the best reporters he had ever known. That the world had lost one of it's good guys.
Later that evening, Superman seeks out Batman, hoping to ask him for some advice. Batman has never met with Superman alone like this, wondering why - to which Superman says, when they meet with the League, Batman always seems like the smartest guy in the room. Essentially, Superman is confused - to find that his alter ego, as Clark Kent, meant just as much to people around him as Superman did. He didn't expect that he'd make a similar a impression with people as Clark Kent, as he did as Superman. Add that to his feeling of being compromised - of Batman knowing his identity, and then an assassin showing up at his doorstep -- giving up his identity as Clark Kent seemed like the right thing to do at the time. There being no good answers to give, after talking Batman and Superman team up to tackle whatever next problem there was to do in Gotham.
Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Lois Lane is taking care of her little niece, Susie. Lois is amazed by the drawings Suzie has made, asking if she did them on the computer. Suzie replies "no" "I drew them with a pen; they are intricate graphs and cartography, "The spaceman in my dream showed me." Lois meanwhile is still hurting over Clark's death.
Up in space Superman continues to wrestle with his decision to give up being Clark Kent. He believes Johnny Clark is more ideal. Johnny Clark is a loner. He doesn't have to put on a performance - as Johnny Clark saves lives. Being Johnny allows him to be Superman 24/7. Superman is telling all this to Brainiac, the computer A.I. on his space station - which serves as his first Fortress of Solitude. Its a large responsibility, he had told Batman before, as it houses the collection and remnants of over 200 worlds. Superman also wonders why there has been such alien attention given to Earth? Metalek being the third of an alien race to show up in the last two months. Inside the Brainiac database, the knowledge of Jor-El and Krypton reside - where Superman looks for answers -- especially about the Multitude.
The Collector (Brainiac) archive reveals a list of 333 worlds on the Death List of the Multitude. Krypton and Earth are on that list, but Krypton was not destroyed by the unstoppable Multitude. Jor-El, Clark's father, was able to repel them. Krypton's subsequent destruction was a matter of misfortune, not design.
In the streets of Metropolis - a new figure appears to people, striding across the air - levitated above the ground. Draped in a cape, with pink armored skin and clothing - this person approaches Lois Lane and her niece Suzie in the street. Speaking with his mind, the man has found who he has been looking for: Suzie. He tells her that he needs to get her to safety, aboard his ship, the Cometeer. Lois Lane recognizes this person, from stories from Smallville - stories Clark had sworn to Lois couldn't have been Superman, about a Ghost on the Blake Farm. Lois can sense this, that this person was the reported Ghost! Little Suzie falls under the man's spell, agreeing that she has to leave; this is the spaceman Suzie had been sensing in her dreams. Responding to the crisis, Johnny Clark rides a fire truck to the scene. At the same time, the spaceman warns that Metalek draws near - and sure enough, Metalek has taken control of the fire truck, hitting Lois who pushes Suzie out of the alien AI's way. Suzie is distraught, but the spaceman tells her of her origin. He tells of how Suzie belongs to a new species - a species facing extinction (from the Multitude), as Suzie is one of a rare people like him, a Neo-Sapien, born a hundred years ahead of everyone - with psychic powers and abilities. When Superman shows up, he is warned by the spaceman that he can't be distracted fighting him. He warns that he has a h four-lobed post-human brain augmented with super-E.S.P. technology. Superman may be strong - but he can punch through his mind like a paper bag. The spaceman further warns that all minds are his to control - and at his command Superman falls to the strain against his mind, with the citizens of Metropolis ordered to beat him to death. The spaceman leads Suzie away from the Chaos - with Lois Lane dying, and Superman quelled.
Now - there was some build-up to this spaceman arriving -- but this still was quite a dramatic appearance. Its is not revealed here, but this spaceman is otherwise known as Captain Comet - a new version of him, reworked by the insane mind of Grant Morrison. Connecting this character to a farm in Kansas - this character is someone who evolved to have psychic and telekinetic abilities. Rumors of a Ghost on the Blake farm, near the Kent farm, where remarked on beforehand last issue. It quite frankly comes off as a bit confusing - as parallels to Superman and Captain Comet where worked out, but not as effectively introduced as they could have been. Don't worry, though - it makes more sense in...
Superman's mind is under assault, where he relives and sees scenes from his life, and even his future. He sees himself married to Lois Lane, but the happy scene soon shifts, to where Lois isn't married - but rather is dying. A glass bottle hits Superman's head in the real world, just as his awareness of Lois dying wakes him up from his fog. Citizens of Metropolis are doing all they can to beat Superman up. Superman immediately shifts into super-speed, and works to break free and save Lois. A distraught Suzie likewise leaps to Lois' rescue, suddenly calling upon her newly awakened powers levitation. She yells for Captain Comet to stop this. The spaceman remarks that nothing must prevent her immediate retrieval. Lifting a car up into the air with his mind - Captain Comet flings it at Superman, who destroys it. More cars are piled on.
Angrily, Captain Comet approaches Suzie once again. Suzie talks to him, saying she knows what she's been told by him - about the Million-Pointed Spear and the Cuckoo's Nest... that it all sounds cool, but her aunt Lois has been hurt. Captain Comet tells her that nothing can save her aunt, and that Suzie is one of five known Neo Sapiens, and that if she doesn't come with him, bad people will find her. He's telling her the truth, which she can sense with her mind - linked to his.
He opens his mind and reveals his origin. A rocket ship had crashed over Kanas, where he was found and adopted by the Blake family. Named Adam Blake, it quickly becomes evident as he grows that Adam is special. Events and scenes are shown - not all of them happy, like the life Clark Kent had been raised in. His growing powers came to the attention of the police - his foster mother dying.
Blake is interrupted by Superman - who now knows who Captain Comet is. Assaulting Superman's mind became a two-way street, and Superman now realizes that he is the Blake Farm Ghost. A kid with telekinesis, rumored as a poltergeist phenomena; Adam Blake, the first Superman reported in Kansas, that no one remembers. Blake angrily tells Superman to read his mind - that he has nothing to hide. Scenes further show his foster father running him out of their home, blaming him for his wife's death. Deserted and alone, Blake was rescued by The Oort-Kind - beings with the appearance of floating clouds, three of them, with glowing red orbs. They clouds reveal themselves there in Metropolis with Blake; the Oort-Kind supposedly search the cosmos for Neo Sapiens like Blake and Suzie.
Superman refuses to back down - but Blake's powers are strong, able to shove even Superman away. Suzie warns Blake that he shouldn't have done that, but also questions wether she could do that as well. Blake responds "Absolutely. That's nothing. This power is why we have to leave. Soon this world will pass away." All of this is in reference to the approaching Multitude, which the Oort-Kind are aware of, and wish to preserve the Neo Sapiens of this planet.
As police scramble around the scene, firefighters are distraught to find Johnny Clark's helmet - with them assuming the aliens vaporized him. Johnny Clark, or rather Superman, is not dead yet - as he rises again, knowing now how to beat Blake. He just has to stop thinking. Emptying his mind, stopping his self-doubt and second guessing - relying on just instinct, and putting his trust in action! Superman is finally putting Blake on the defensive, but before he can retaliate with a gun that shoots Psychic Bullets - Blake finds himself under attack from Suzie! She tells him that he shouldn't have hurt aunt Lois. Being rejected by Suzie, Blake disappears - screaming that he was there to save her. Suzie calmly explains that the spaceship Oort-King took him away.
Bringing his attention back to Lois, Superman swiftly takes her injured body to the hospital. He takes her to a surgery room, and finds the doctors telling him it would take hours to operate on her - that Lois only has minutes before she dies. Superman knows what to do - he zooms away, reads every medical text book he can, and zooms back - prepared for surgery. He even manages some short cuts, using his x-ray vision to identify the damage, using his diamond-sharp thumbnail to make an incision, and finally using his heat vision to cauterize the wound. Lois Lane is saved, Suzie is saved -- now, the only problem remaining is Johnny Clark.
Batman arrives in Metropolis, giving Superman a thumb-drive, giving all the information known on Clark Kent, from Smallville to Metropolis, up to his apparent death. This is to help Clark, if he can, to revive his old identity in someway. At his old apartment building Clark visits with Mrs. Nyxly. Clark discusses the idea of reviving Clark Kent, suggesting the story to simply say "Superman saved me". Mrs. Nyxly tells Superman that he can't do that -- they had a funeral for Clark, his friends would never forgive him. Finally Mrs. Nyxly says that there is only one way out of this mess. She remarks that its down to her, to make everyone forget Clark Kent's death ever happened. Superman is startled by this comment, but a quick scan of Mrs. Nyxly reveals that she isn't human! She tells of how she is a being from the 5th Dimension - and she'll use one of the three wishes she has left, to erase Kent's death.
Confusing? Yep -- the revelation that Mrs. Nyxly is more than a simple landlord is explained. She tells Clark how she was born, as a baby, like everyone else - 57 years ago - just so she could be here to help Clark. She tells him her real name is Nyxlygsptlnz. Clark is unquestionably dumbfounded by all of this. She further explains that it already happened, starting with his parents dying in Smallville. The Envious One -- who escaped from his chains in the Multicornered dungeons of Zrfff. Her true love, Mr. Mxyzptlk, was hurt, and the the King-Thing Brpxz had been killed -- and how, above all else, how much the Envious One hates Superman. The jaws of Vyndktvx are closing around Clark, and everything he's ever loved is in danger! Her words leaping off the page, Mrs. Nyxly says "It really is easier if I show you." Clark is still left confused.
The Envious One, Vyndktvx, is actually someone we already have met, many many times before. Here again, at the end of the issue, the little diminutive man appears in Suzie's room.
I at first pegged the little man as being Mr. Mxyzptlk, but that turned out to be wrong. (Which I'm quite frankly happy about; seeing as how evil and ruthless the little man has been) Just like Blake had said - bad people would come for Suzie, if she didn't come with him. What does the Little Man need with Suzie? I don't know, we'll find out later - as the long-built plans of the Little Man, aka Vyndktvx, begin to take shape in the series. I quite frankly was quite astonished with this revelation - and how much it tied into the fabric of the New 52 Superman's mythos. All of this would have to wait a while, though. Next up, issue #0.
The premise of this issue is really simple, but excellently produced. Ben Oliver steps in for art on this issue, of the early days of Superman's time in Metropolis. The story starts out showing Clark getting his job as a journalist with the Daily Star, his friendship with Jimmy Olsen, getting his first apartment and his first meeting with Mrs. Nyxly. Early photographs of Superman are being poured over and examined by Perry White and Lois Lane - with only vague random images having been taken so far. Superman is out to clean up the town - but he encounters a problem, trying to take down gang members, hired by Mr. Glenmorgan, to remove a witness from testifying in court. Superman manages to ruin their get-away helicopter, on the roof of the court house, and deflects the assailant's bullets - but isn't prepared when one of the thugs pulls out a rocket launcher (no doubt Glenmorgan was already dealing with his pesky Man-of-Steel problem, and planned accordingly this time) Superman is blown right off the roof, where he crash lands, unconscious, on the pavement in front of a young boy. The young kid takes Superman's cape, and absconds with it.
Why did this boy steal Superman's cape? Well, his mother and brother are in a an abusive domestic situation - with a boyfriend who beats them. Using Superman's cape for courage, this young boy challenges the abusive boyfriend, and manages to survive an attack with a box cutter, because the indestructible cape protects him! The young boy rescues his brother from the apartment and flee. Later on the boyfriend manages to catch up to the two kids, who have reached the train tracks. Near the scene Lois and Jimmy, where Jimmy has come to visit Clark; Lois describes the location as being in the back streets of hell, the location being so bad where Clark lives. To flee the approaching boyfriend, the two young boys race across the train tracks, but one of them gets their feet caught. A train is barreling down, about to crush the poor kid -- only the scarlet cape in hand to protect himself.
That is, of course, when Superman jumps in - stopping the train. The young boy replies "I only borrowed it" Lois and Jimmy are around and on the scene, when the young boy asks Superman what the "S" stands for. Named in tomorrow's headline, captured on film by Jimmy, Lois Lane dubs the Man of Steel as "Superman."
The first of the New 52's Action Comics Annual featured a fight between Superman and his most deadly foe, the Kryptonite Man. Written by regular back-up writer Sholly Fisch, with incredible art of Cully Hamner - the story basically focuses on a man signing up for a dangerous experiment, set up by Lex Luthor. Luthor has since been kicked out of General Lane's secret government operation (for, you know, betraying Earth to the Collector of Worlds). Before his dismissal, Lex managed to sneak away a sliver of Kryptonite, from the Kryptonite Engine of Superman's rocket ship (which beforehand was in the hands of the government). The test had a good chance of killing the volunteering man - but they got a test subject willing to risk his life, in pursuit of ruining Superman. Superman, after all, destroyed his life. What did Superman do? Well, this guy was beating his wife for years - and it was Superman that managed to get her into a women's shelter. The man is kind of delusional, but it fits for his upcoming role - as villain/experiment gone mad.
Superman, meanwhile, is making a visit to Dr. Henry Irons, aka Steel. Superman wanted to get to know the man who had helped him, during the Collector of World's invasion, and against Metalo. What really brought Superman, though, was a desire to clear the air of when he first met Dr. Irons -- strapped to a electric chair, being tortured by Lex Luthor. Doctor Irons resigned over the incident, but it was still something Superman wanted to check up on. Does he have anything to fear from Dr. Irons? A hearty laugh between them both eases the tension, as the suspicion was ridiculous.
The experiment over-loading, Kryptonite exposure is infused into every part of the volunteers body - making him a living Kryptonite Man! Imbued with super strength - he goes after Superman. Remember - this is shortly after the Collector of World's invasion, so Superman has never encountered Kryptonite yet. He is unprepared for it, and is at a significant disadvantage.
Luckily Superman's friend John Henry Irons "Steel" lends a hand in the battle, employing his powerful robotic suit to fight back against the raving Kryptonite lunatic. This gives Superman a chance to recover from the Kryptonite exposure, and come back to the battle with a borrowed radiation suit from Dr. Iron's lab. Together the two heroes defeat the Kryptonite Man.
Afterwords, while talking, Steel tells Superman of his planned endeavor - to be his own kind of hero, launching his company "Steelworks" - where he'll travel the world for a while, bringing technology to some of the neediest places on Earth.
The Annual was well done, but in regards to the Kryptonite Man - and his motivation - it felt a little weak, storywise. Cully Hamner's art really saves the issue -- and it was good to see Steel again (especially since he dropped off the map, after the opening series' arc) The issue ends with the revelation that Lex Luthor was behind the entire experiment -- but also shows General Lane, visiting the de-powered Kryptonite Man, and recruiting him as a countermeasure to possible threats Superman poses.
This special Halloween themed issue really brought together a very heartwarming story, and highlight for Grant Morrison's Action Comics run. You see, on Halloween Night, Superman is busy in his fortress of Solitude. This issue takes place a bit farther in the future - when Superman's ice-fortress has been established. With the help of Professor Palmer (aka the Atom) Superman had managed to catalogue many of the artifacts, from the shrunken bottle city of Kandor. A terrifying specter appears to Superman in a mirror, but goes away. Looking around further, Superman goes to another mirror artifact, but this one being mysteriously cracked. A whole vista or barren space can be seen through the mirror, with paw prints found on the ground. Before Superman can react, the specter he had seen before appeared again - this time in the flesh, activating an adjoining artifact: the Phantom Zone Projector!
Superman suddenly funds himself inside the mirror, in the specter-filled waste that is the Phantom Zone. The specter who managed this is a Kryptonian criminal, Doctor Xa-Du - the first person condemned by Jor-El's invention, which is able to turn people into living phantoms. The Criminals that now prey on and surround Superman are, luckily, warded off by a very loyal dog, who rips assailants off of Kal-El. Superman is also met by and helped from a person, who many comic fans will recognize as the Phantom Stranger. The Phantom Stranger was a ghost already, and somehow found himself ensnared in the ecto-technology of the Phantom Zone. Superman learns from the Stranger about the vengeful ghosts, and their envoy Xa-Du. Once safe, Superman focuses attention on the phantom dog, who seems like he can smell Superman. The dog, in fact, can smell him - and was able to follow Superman across light years because of this. This all sparks childhood memories, as a baby on Krypton, and the realization that this was the House of El's childhood pet. Krypto, in fact, has been following Superman for a long, long time - ever since Krypton's destruction. If you'll remember back to issue #3 - Krypto protected Jor-El, who was nearly dragged into the Zone by a vengeful Xa-Du, who managed to reach out of the mirror - but was bitten by Krypto. Krypto was dragged into the Phantom Zone, allowing Jor-El to flee and escape the soon-to-be bottled city of Kandor.
How did Xa-Du manage to become material, where everyone else was doomed roam as a Phantom forever? The Little Man, who has caused such trouble for Superman for so long, made a deal with Xa-Du - giving him a containment suit, which enabled him to materialize in the real world. Superman was able to steal that suit away from Xa-Du - while the Phantom Stranger gave Superman enough time to reach the Phantom Zone Projector, activate it, and free himself.
The Phantom Stranger kept all the phantom criminals at bay - long enough for Superman to come out the other side of the mirror. The phantom-zone suit dissolved into nothingness, upon exiting the Phantom Zone, all except for a robotic hand. Using this hand, which was able to survive, Superman reached into the zone yet again - and was able to pull out his loyal dog Krypto.
But would Krypto survive? Krypto went into the Phantom Zone a normal dog -- exiting, he is frozen and near death. Not willing to let his loyal pet down, Superman flies directly into space - covered in Superman's cape, and releases him once in view of the sun. Krypto happily survives, the boy and his dog reunited after all this time.
As if to make the story even more emotional, the back-up story shows how the Ghost Dog had followed Clark around him his entire life. This was even pointed out in an earlier issue - where a crazy homeless person pointed to Clark, saying a Ghost Dog was following him. That really helped knock this issue out of the ball park, giving us such a wonderful introduction to Krypto - the Super Dog.
Grant Morrison's run enters it's final phase next - which I'll try and cover after its over. The upcoming issues start to tie everything together - as Mrs. Nyxly explains everything to Superman; the Planet Destroying Multitude finally reach Earth's solar system - and the Little Man's long-built plans finally come to fruition. I can't wait to see how it all ends!