Part 1 – Gimme some Action!
Action Comics #2
W: Grant Morrison
A: Rags Morales
Grade: 8 / 10
When I read Action Comics #1, I thought, “Huh. [This obscure writer, whoever the hell he is,] is going back to Superman’s roots. Sweet move.” Then, I sat back and looked for bloggers and maybe even newspaper writers to point this out also. I’m not sure if I did this thing symbolically or literally – honestly, I could have put more thought into this whole paragraph, but shit, it’s not like I’m getting paid for it, knowwhatI’msayin? Anyway, I was surprised more than a bit to see nobody mention this, considering that reviewers seem to LOVE talking about characters or artists going back to their roots.
Action Comics #2 came out this last Wednesday, and its backup feature had loads of materiel from Messrs. Morrison and Morales (and seeming Artist-to-be Gene Ha – which, BTW, yay!) talking about, yep, taking Supes Back To His Roots (hereafter abbreviated as BTHR.) Take it away, Laurie Anderson: “And I said, ‘Oh boy. Right. Again.‘”
The thing is, taking Superman BTHR makes a crazy ton of sense. Why? Because the Man of Steel’s roots, as crafted by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster during the ass-end of the Great Depression, depicted a character who often, if not usually, used his personal power to beset abusers of institutional or collective power. The Man of Tomorrow took the fight to the Haves who gained their perch by stepping on the heads of many of the Have-nots. In other words, he fucked with rich people’s shit.
The decision to take Ma & Pa Kent’s boy in this direction is simultaneously somehow an obvious move and a maverick one. Obvious because the disparity between the rich and everybody else (probably everywhere, but for sure in the US of A) is greater than ever – so much so that it would be a meme if eternal things like “The sky is above us” or “The sun rises in the East” or “This Democratic President is disappointingly conservative” could be memes. Maverick because everybody else in the damn world has a depressing tendency to REMOVE socio-economic subtext from their re-imaginings of previous works. For example, the 1975 Norman Jewison film Rollerball, which is set in a future where the world is run by a dictatorship of corporations, was remade in 2002 and set in the present, with corporate dictatorship no longer a major theme. If you weren’t aware, corporations have NOT become less powerful since 1975. Hell, they remade Death Race 2000 (Paul Bartel, 1976) and took out the system of points-gained for running over pedestrians! IS NOTHING SACRED? May as well remake Raging Bull (you should already know who directed this one) and make Jake LaMotta become a fitness nut as he ages.
Of course, writer Grant Morrison probably makes a strong case for the Blue Ribbon – ESPECIALLY among writers working for the Big Two – when it comes to authors who place artistic concerns ahead of financial ones. This is not meant to insinuate that other excellent writers working for DC and Marvel – such as Paul Cornell, Ed Brubaker, Jeffs Lemire and Parker, and many more – are only in it for the money, or that they don’t give everything they have, artistically speaking, to their work. I’m meaning rather to point out that Morrison, by dint of his tenure and sales record in the industry, is nearly unique in his ability to not only bite the hand that feeds him if he so chooses, but also get the X-ray of that bite published. (As an aside, I must apologize en masse to the entire rest of the comics industry who are NOT writers, particularly the pencilers, inkers, colorists, and letterers, whose artistic contributions will probably ALWAYS be under-appreciated in my essays. I do have a tendency, fair or not, to view the writer as the dominant creator of any given comic book. Part of this is cross-contamination from my interest in film and my tendency towards auteur theory, and some of the pro-writer snobbery is surely because I’m a writer and not an illustrator. Anyhow, everybody but writers: sorry!) There are only two or so other writers who can get away with what G-Mo could, but they won’t work for Marvel or DC. Their last names might also begin with the letter ‘M’. (In my dreams, there will come a day when non-comic-book-fans read this because it is MY writing. For those non-existent people, I’m referring to the V For Vendetta / Watchmen guy and the Sin City / 300 guy, those being their best film adaptations and their Zack Snyder movies.)
So. Action Comics #1 ends with Superman knocked out by a runaway subway train, in a bit that actually repurposes the ending of the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor action comedy Silver Streak (D: Arthur Hiller, 1976 – plus many other collaborators, but fuck ’em, right?) Issue 2 begins with Kal-El a captive of the military (or perhaps more aptly, the military-industrial complex,) getting a shit-ton of torture dropped on him by an industrialist named Lex Luthor. I’d guess this obscure figure is going to play some sort of an ongoing role in the Superman mythos – probably as his best friend or something, unless I miss my guess. The issue title is “In chains,” which is actually reassuring – because we ALL know what Superman does to chains. Morrison knows we know this. It’s been an ongoing theme of Grant Morrison’s, all the way back to his DC debut on Animal Man, to assert that everything that’s ever happened to a character is STILL part of his continuity. This is even true of a character like Animal Man who’d had VASTLY divergent origin stories told about him. Morrison carried it through even to his theoretically-outside-DC-continuity series All-Star Superman (with artist Frank Quitely, inked & colored by Jamie Grant,) where he remained faithful to Superman ideas he had seeded eight years before in the 1998 comic book event “DC One Million.” And he has carried that idea, most vocally, through his amazing run on Batman. In his various Batman titles, Grant Who Never Can’t somehow tied together SEVENTY YEARS worth of retellings of Batman’s origins in the audacious and astonishing The Return of Bruce Wayne series (Rating: 10/10 – holy shit!) – and ALSO referred to “DC One Million!” The balls on this guy! Hell, I can’t even keep continuity straight from the beginning of this fucking paragraph. What I’m getting at, though, is that the man knows his connections, historic, synaptic, and you-name-ic. He has a sense of our collective memory of this, the most important super-hero. No, it’s not Wolverine.
So, Krypton’s last son is getting a-zapped and a-gassed, banged and sassed, slapped in the ass and given a suspended bus pass. Luthor is comically paranoid (he learned his manners from the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers (D: Don Siegel, 1956) about the alien he’s “studying.” Elsewhere, Lois Lane is trying to bum-rush the event by name-dropping her Four-Star-General dad, who works equally hard to stonewall her. Meanwhile, unsexy Lexie is being drawn inconsistently (Christ, Rags, people are paying attention!) and making the bizarrely terrible assumption that Kal-El is the REAL shape-shifter here. As his proof, Lex presents The Man Who Also Be Clark with what looks to be the corpse of a six-legged Krypto, which we infer was found in the rocket that brought
Moses Superman to our world. Actually, knowing how G.Mo’s encyclopedic hard-drive runs, the critter is probably straight from some silver-age story called “The Dog That Lois Lane Married!” Speaking of, she does a full page of Exposition And Nothing But with an ex-boyfriend who is going to become Metal-[SPOILER!]-lo, then it’s back to the star as he busts them chains and makes Lex Luthor look like a total pussy. He kicks down vault-doors, finds he cape, and stumbles across the rocket that brought him here for what seems to be his first time seeing it.
He ditches it, busts his way around, and runs into Lois Lane, who on one single page has a meltdown where she can’t decide if she’s Mercedes Ruehl, Fran Drescher, or Nora Dunn (RAGS!) One page of exposition with Future-Metallo [previous word is a spoiler, caution!] and the last page has Lex having a conversation with a spacecraft that never in a million years could turn out to be Brainiac.
So, an action-filled issue that’s mostly set-up and actually doesn’t have jack shit to do with my thesis about the anti-capitalist Superman, until we reach the extra background stuff after the main story. Here we find the perils of not-getting-asked-to-blog-soon-enough. I should’ve probably written this after issue #1. Eh, what can ya do?
Part 2 – Fresh Flesh / Disconnected / No More Nothing
Here’s my pull list for next week: Alpha Flight, Amazing Spider-Man, Baltimore-The Cursed Balls, Batwoman, CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011, Demon Knights, Farts Itself-Hulk v Dracula, FF, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E., Irredeemable, Morning Glories, Mr. Terrific, New Avengers, Orchid (here’s hoping Tom Morello is half the comics talent that Gerard Way turned out to be), Resurrection Man, S.H.I.E.L.D. (pain in the ass to type. Pedantic note – is alphabetized before the other ‘S’ comics, just like B.P.R.D. leads off the ‘B’s), Ultimate X-Men (I feel kind of bad slagging Nick Spencer’s Iron Man 2.0 work so hard, but to be fair, it IS a piece of shit), Uncanny X-Force, Unexpected, Unwritten, and X-Men: Regenesis. That’s about seventy-five bucks of comics right there, AFTER culling Legion Lost and Greg Rucka’s enormously disappointing return to the two-publisher-system, The Punisher. Some of these are on the cusp, and some are one-offs, but that’s still a LOT of scratch.
Now, the economy is crap right now. I haven’t had a raise in something like five years. I have a mortgage to pay (those are the words that Ed McBain called “The yuppie Nuremburg Defense.”) The entire frickin’ WORLD has to pretend that the USA is someday going to pay off its IOUs somehow, because otherwise everybody everywhere will fall straight through the rainbow of their imaginary money and splatter into soup a mile down. WHY THE HELL would Marvel and DC decide that NOW is the time to increase the number of titles they’re putting out per month? Okay, yeah, everybody else is scrambling and clawing desperately to hold onto the scraps that they still have in their yards, why should comics publishers be any different? Still, I managed to take a 13-year break in my comics-buying before, and I AM pretty damned fond of eating regular meals. Publishers: Pay some goddamn attention to which way the wind is blowing.
Part 3 – Beef Baloney
Spider-Island – The Avengers #1 (of 1)
Writer: Chris Yost
Artist: Mike McKone
Color Art: Jeromy Cox
Only Letterer Employed By Marvel: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Review Score 8.5/10
I’m glad I haven’t recently suggested that Marvel and DC should be making fewer comics, because having random blasts of fun like this one drop on my head from out of nowhere is what makes reading comic books such a pleasure. While the Marvel Comics-Events-Up-The-Ass Blitz has tied the Avengers, the New Avengers, and the Secret Avengers to Fear Itself, and will likely lead to X-Men: Schism: The Avengers: Sub-Schism, this here little shamma-lamma is just goofy as all get out and almost makes all that other self-serious crap worthwhile. Beyond that, this little floppy has the most inventive use of captions as a comedy device that I may have EVER seen in a comic. AND, its characters don’t look like their heads are shape-shifting every flippin’ panel. Memo to Mike McKone: Rags Morales’ riches are rightfully yours.