Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Action Comics #1

DC Comics, 29 pages, $ 3.99

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciler: Rags Morales
Inker: Rick Bryant
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Patrick Brosseau

One of the things Grant Morrison can be relied on to do when he approaches a corporate property is to take the title literally, see where that takes him and make sure that it’ll end up being writ large all over the DNA of the book—in every sequence and scene, page and panel. Enter: Action Comics.

Morrison and Quitely’s All Star Superman is as bright and as multifaceted as a diamond and jam-packed with anything that’s come to define the character since his creation in 1938 across his many comics, television and film incarnations. Action Comics, in contrast, takes much looser, more straightforward tack. This Superman is still young, for starters, brash and flamboyant at times—a good-hearted farm boy from Smallville, Kansas, who wants to change the world. Clark Kent is still confident and humble (“I’m just doing my job.”) and emanates a great deal of warmth and concern for others, but he doesn’t hide the fact that he enjoys being Superman tremendously, either.

As Superman, he wears a flimsy-looking makeshift cape and a T-shirt that’s more a familiar piece of merchandise than a costume. From the waist down, he seems to have borrowed his wardrobe from Bruce Springsteen: blue jeans, heavy leather boots. Also, like Siegel and Shuster’s Ur-Superman, he’s not nearly powerful enough (yet) to stop a train or a tank without breaking a sweat, and while he can “leap tall buildings in a single bound,” he hasn’t developed the ability to fly yet. It’s Superman Unplugged, so to speak.

As much as Frank Quitely was the perfect fit for All Star Superman, Rags Morales is the right guy to draw Action Comics. Morales’ grip on body language, facial expressions—making characters seem real and alive, basically—is impeccable. His Metropolis is a real city inhabited by real people. In theory, when Superman jumps down a building and hits the ground, fights a tank or—the classic—stops a runaway train, the first inclination of the audience, these days, would be to shrug and take those feats for granted, and most artists would draw them as familiar things that we’ve all seen before. But Morales and Morrison make them the spectacles they might have been in the 1940s Fleischer cartoons.

After one issue, Action Comics is already the meatiest, most fully realized of the 52 relaunch titles. It comes with a well-rounded protagonist and a fully developed concept that lives and breathes in every aspect of the book.

Grade: A

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