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Don’t let Superman’s new threads throw you – he is still the man

By Staff | Sep 26, 2012

Superman Action Comics, Vol. 1, Superman and the Men of Steel.

If you, like me, were distracted by the trees of starting the numbering on Action Comics over at 1 and Superman wearing blue jeans, I hope you didn’t let that stop you from enjoying the great forest writer Grant Morrison’s been growing in the title over the last year.

When DC announced their company-wide, sort-of reboot known as the New 52, I was surprised, intrigued and appalled by parts of the strategy.

But my most immediate reactions were to how Superman was dressed and what number would be on the cover.

Numbering is important to comic fans, as it allows us to quickly drop some knowledge (Silver Surfer’s first appearance? Fantastic Four #48) and fosters a sense of history. The original Action Comics #1 was published in 1938, and the title hit its 900th issue in April.

But neither the numbering nor the replacement of Superman’s pretty much perfect, iconic costume with a T-shirt and jeans has much of an impact on the quality of the book. The costume change makes sense in the context of this story. Frankly, it was easier to swallow than his new actual costume, although that follows with the story too.

Also of concern to me was Morrison (New X-Men, We3, JLA) indicating this Superman was going to be much less friendly to the status quo and questioning authority a lot more than the big, blue Boy Scout I’d come to know over the years.

Superman always seemed a big law-and-order type to me. But in reading the early portions of Morrison’s book “Supergods,” which looks at superheroes and culture, I found he was drawing from the earliest Superman stories, where the hero stuck up for the underdog against more down-to-Earth villainy than we’re used to in comics today.

Morrison marches to the beat of a different drummer in much of his work, but he has an obvious appreciation for comic book history and what made the stories of yesteryear great. So while the new Action Comics is trademark Morrison (like the mind-bending time travel caper with the Legion of Super-Heroes in issues 5 and 6), it’s also undoubtedly Superman. The powers, so over-the-top the character can be boring in the hands of lazy writers, are still there but what really makes Superman Superman is his heart and personality.

In Action #10, he becomes frustrated with his fellow Justice League members as much because they aren’t interested in taking in an arrested murder’s “orphaned” pets as that they’re wary of using their powers to repair “real-world” problems.

“Nobody wants two adorable hamsters and nobody wants to start tackling poverty in Somalia?” the young hero says, with a childlike look of petulant disappointment expertly rendered by series artist Rags Morales (Identity Crisis, JSA). “So what do we do now? Sit in a barn until some more evil aliens turn up?” Superman always wants to help everybody. But with this story taking place in his early days, rather than the rest of the New 52, in which many characters are more established, that desire isn’t tempered by wisdom and experience.

I wasn’t looking for yet another retelling of Superman’s origin, but this one’s a fun read that also broaches new territory with the character’s conventions, including a look at just why he maintains the Clark Kent persona.

Bottom line, even though I didn’t think I’d have much initial interest in Action Comics, it’s one of my favorite products of the New 52. The first eight issues are collected in a trade entitled “Superman and the Men of Steel” and the adventures continue monthly, although, alas, Morrison’s leaving after #16.

Evan Bevins is the writer of the webcomic “Support Group” (www.supportgroupcomic.com)