Yeah, I know, I thought I was done thinking about this comic too but I took some time out from the Black Bug Room to do a big Action Comics re-read yesterday while my girlfriend was off seeing some movie where James Franco and Sam Raimi turn fine wine into goat piss, and… well, I ended up sending my fellow Mindless an email about they experience, which they’ve bullied me into sharing with you.

I’m not trying to be dramatic here, but in a week where the main topics of conversation in Mindless HQ were largely focussed on Mad Men, male members and the interaction of the two, the sudden focus on reaching out to you lot made me feel a little bit like this:

Have you been on the internet?  There are all these people there, and it’s hard to work out what all of them want, and some of them might not enjoy Gary Lactus’ “Hamm on the bone” jokes as much as I do (seriously though, is Jon Hamm’s penis the exciting new character find of 2013 or what?).

Anyway, enough of that pish, let’s talk about the man who’s…

———————>>>>> FASTER! THAN A SPEEDING BULLET!!!!———————>>>>>

  • The much-anticipated socialist/Bruce Springsteen Superman still fails to fully materialise on a second reading, but this botched manifestation seems weirdly charming this time round.  The appeal and the failure of this approach are both linked to the fact that this isn’t familiar territory for writer Grant Morrison – as any round of interview questions will quickly reveal, our G-Mo doesn’t have the interest in tackling current affairs required to really make a story about idealistic young things sing, but he’s definitely cocking his head in the right direction here.  Taken at face value the idea of “Clark Kent: Blogger” is dull dull dull, but positioning Kent as a Laurie Penny style crossover journalist makes a lot of sense to me.  The appeal of Superman has always been partly bound up in the a romance of modernity, with our ongoing attempts to manage the impossible scale of things, and so it follows that it’s worth updating the idea that he’s a newspaper man, rather than merely preserving it, eh Grant?
  • While Morrison might not quite have nose for a story that his core trio of young journalists share, his efforts aren’t helped by the fact that Rags Morales’ characters can’t act for shit. G-Mo has to take part of the blame for the fact that the interplay between Clark/Jimmy/Lois remains merely promising throughout, but knowing how Morrison tends to rise to his collaborators, I can’t help but feel that he would have given his cast better material if they’d demanded it while they were looking up at him from the pages of the comic itself.

——————->>>>> STRONGER THAN A LOCOMOTIVE!!!!!———————>>>>>

  • Morrison and Morales’ other big shared failing is in their coordination of the action scenes throughout the first three quarters of this run. Again, they’re both gunning in the right direction, working hard to emphasise the physical exertion involved in these impossible acts while also plowing right through several moral fundamentals (as the Bottie Beast pointed out way back when, it’s a bit like “okay, so here’s how power effects justice, and here’s why torture is always wrong, and here’s a working definition of realpolitik for you” at the start there), but all of this would feel more vital if there were believable physical bodies and environments involved.  Morales’ line has a certain rugged dynamism to it, but there’s no solidity to his characters and situations – it’s almost as though the world he’s depicting is melted down and reformed between every panel.  Weirdly, this same plasticity works in favour of the climactic arc, in which punches are thrown across dimensions, and headbutts crash right into the face of spacetime.
  • Similar problems haunt the Igor Kordey drawn issues of the New X-Men story ‘Imperial’ and the Philip Tan drawn arc of Batman & Robin, which suggests that Morrison is not inclined to worry about spacial relations in action scenes unless prompted to by his collaborators.  It’s easy to blame the artist for these faults but it seems fair to suggest that Morrison should probably work on this aspect of the collaborative process in order to avoid such disappointing results in the future.

————>>>>> ABLE TO LEAP TALL BUILDINGS IN A SINGLE BOUND!!!!———->>>>>

  • The conclusion to the Braniac plot is the lowest point in the series: honestly, I winked at it above, but can anyone manage enthusiasm for the Saving vs. Collecting theme here?  Yeah, I thought not.  A more committed curmudgeon than Our Grant could have probably made something out of the way the internet allows you to mistake passive curation for participation, but these issues don’t even get that far down dead granddad avenue, so.
  • Lois Lane really gets short-changed in this comic as elsewhere; Mozzer writes a mean Lois, but for whatever reason he tends to write around her most of the time rather than putting her at the centre of the story, where she obviously wants to be.

—————–>>>>> A REGISTERED TRADEMARK OF DC COMICS!!!!—————->>>>>

  • The Beast Must Die’s (second hand?) point about how Morrison has managed to smuggle a lot of the rich weirdness of Superman history back into the camera-blur addled, modern blockbuster world of the New52 is well taken. The fact that Morrison only managed to successfully integrate these queasy fantasy textures to his ALL ACTION ALL THE TIME approach in the last arc is an obvious storytelling fault, but as a no doubt soon to be ignored bit of structural work it’s not half bad: the goofy future kids and extradimensional kids are here, and they’ve adapted to the challenges of their new, frantic landscape well.
  • In a neat inversion of All Star Superman’s pacifist logic, Superman brawls his way through these stories, solving problems with sheer brute force and tenacity until the final arc. This linear approach to problem solving is obviously apropos and it also makes explicit the idea of Superman as a fantasy of impossible force made real. The not-entirely-resolved thematic throughline of Morrison’s run involves matching Superman’s power up against the power of the mob (peep just how often large groups of people intervene in the conflicts in this series), and linking both of those things with the power of journalism, i.e. with the way that narrative power can be converted into ACTUAL POWER.  The suggestion seems to be that wielding the impossible force of “Superman” against the prevailing forces of the world is possible, but requires the contribution of EVERY LAST ONE OF OUR LOYAL READERS, hence the fact that the last story can only be resolved with audience participation.
  • Of course, as I said, none of this is quite (explicitly) resolved in the comic itself, and even when Morrison uses all of his daintiest framing devices in the last arc, it’s not quite enough to disguise the fact that this is 4D flower is blooming in the toxic graveyard world of corporate comics. Issue #18 of this comic hit like a car through the front counter of a book shop, but despite the best efforts of lE laK, nosirroM tnarG, selaroM sgaR and the rest, I never found myself mistaking Action for an argument…

Okay so I’m four issues late to say it, but it’s still worth noting that somehow, in the middle of a run of spectacularly unspectacular comics, THIS happened:

THIS being, for what it’s worth, the 2012 superhero comic most acutely tuned in to the concerns of its moment. Oh, sure, there are a  few other enjoyable superhero comics out there right – Hawkeye, Batman Incorporated, uh… Journey Into Mystery, if that counts? [1] -  but none of them feel like an inescapable product of their moment in the way that Action Comics #9 does. [2]

You might well ask yourself how worthwhile this is, and if you told me that you preferred the focus on individual action beats that you get with Matt Fraction and David Aja’s work on Hawkeye…

…then I’d have to concede that you might well have a point.  What’s particularly interesting here is that the other twelve issues of Morrison’s Action Comics run can be seen as a generally unsuccessful attempt to transition Morrison’s recent  hall-of-mirrors scripting style into something more rhythmic and less meaning-intensive [3]. Something a bit more like what Fraction and Aja’s are attempting in Hawkeye, in other words, only done less well, almost a year earlier.

ART PARAGRAPH: UNFORTUNATELY, A LACK OF TRUE ARTISTIC SYNTHESIS HAS ENSURED THAT THIS PARTICULAR MACHINE (ACTION! COMICS!) HAS RARELY LOOKED LIKE IT WAS READY FOR  THE COMICS MARKETPLACE. THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE WAS DRAWN BY GENE HA, WHO PREVIOUSLY GRACED THE SERIES WITH GUEST ART FOR AN APOCALYPTIC SCENE SET ON KRYPTON IN ISSUE #3. HIS RIGID, RETRO-FUTURISTIC ARTWORK MAKES FOR A PURPOSEFUL CONTRAST TO THE RUGGED MALLEABILITY OF REGULAR ARTIST RAGS MORALES’ LINE, AND WHILE HIS DEPICTION OF SUPERMAN LACKS THE EASYGOING GRACE OF FRANK QUITELY’S VERSION, THE RELATIVE STRENGTH AND CLARITY OF HIS HAND IS STILL VERY MUCH APPRECIATED HERE.

As flagged by the inclusion of the Obama-riffic Superman from Final Crisis, issue #9 of Action Comics is an unashamed example of Morrison’s recent obsession with viewing the whole universe through the lens of superheroic fiction, a throwback to an era that’s not quite ended.

Click here for more about Superman, Siegel and Shuster, drones, Obama and all that!