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.
- The non-Morales broadcasts are easily the most compelling chapters this story, barring the frantic display of prowess that is the last four issues. The Ha/Kubert/Foreman episodes are still jarring, but they make retrospective sense as the first indications of 5D cuntwagon Vyndktvx’s non-chronological assault on our hero – Gene Ha’ linework has a utopian sci-fi solidity that contrasts nicely with the surrounding chaos, Andy Kubert’s work is a bit generic but its relative polish suits the slick diversion of the Krypton and Legion stories he’s given to illustrate, and Travel Foreman’s commitment to horrible things adds a nice, jagged edge to the spookily seasonal Halloween issue. The fact that these stories deviate from the core premise (promise?) of the series is both the best and most disappointing thing about them.
————>>>>> 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…
September 29th, 2012
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?  - but none of them feel like an inescapable product of their moment in the way that Action Comics #9 does. 
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 . 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.
It’s unsurprising that the editors decided to pull the text above out of it’s original introductory caption box and give it’s own page in the anniversary edition of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, transforming it into a full blown preamble.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about the closing sentence, Alan’s Moore’s last word on and celebration of Superman:
“This is an Imaginary Story… Aren’t they all?” The legend is a triple entendre:
- It could be interpreted that the story is non-canonical.
- It could be interpreted that the story is canonical, since all comic books are “imaginary stories”, so it is as valid as any “official” Superman comic
- It could be interpreted that the story is canonical, but for this incarnation of Superman, as the upcoming John Byrne reboot would render the earlier series as “imaginary”.
- It could be interpreted that that the story is the end of the Earth-One Superman had the Crisis on Infinite Earths never happened.
Isn’t that a quadruple entendre? Whatever. There’s something missing from that list. It’s what gives the line it’s awesome fuck yeahness, but as it doesn’t speak directly to comics it doesn’t surprise me that it often goes overlooked. Yes, Moore was quite possibly concerned that the Superman stories of his youth had just been relegated to the bin of history by Crisis on the Infinite Earths, yes he could be railing against the strictures of canon, but personally I’ve always read that line as a celebration, not just of a certain view of Superman or a certain incarnation of Superman, but of the imagination full stop.
After all, isn’t Superman, the guy who can do anything, the superhero who best encapsulates all that’s good and beautiful about the infinite possibilities of the imagination?
It’s unlikely that the Alan Moore of the mid-eighties had quite such well-formed views on the subject of meaning and story as he does today – to the best of my knowledge he didn’t talk much about Idea Space in interviews back then – but to suggest that he put great stock in fiction doesn’t strike me as much of stretch, in fact I see the line above as evidence that his thoughts were heading in the direction that would ultimately bring us From Hell and Promethea.
When Moore writes “aren’t they all” he is putting Superman stories in the same broad category as the Bible, Noddy, personal historical narratives, and the mythology of predatory paedophiles, which isn’t to say that he’s explicitly arguing that all stories are of equal importance, just that stories have the potential to be very powerful indeed, and that, hopefully, this one is amongst the best. This point is reinforced by the juxtaposition of the legend with the opening splash page featuring a memorial statue of Superman.
Memorial statues carry with them connotations of timelessness, of permanence, of stories that cannot and should not be forgotten.
April 29th, 2011
Special “Repeat after me fuck queen and country!” edition – UPDATED WITH A RIGHT ROYAL REWARD FOR ALL OUR LOYAL READERS!
It’s been a while since the Mindless did some linkblogging, but it’s a sunny Friday morning and I’ve been working away like a good little republican (Best not mention the fact that you’re taking a day off in lieu eh? - Ed), so here we go!
September 28th, 2009
While flicking through the pages of Batman Year One in an effort to research my Batcave essay I paused, as I am want to do, on the pages where Bruce Wayne ventures into Gotham’s red light district. I feel now, as I have long felt, that I know those city streets: The neon gloom, the amphetamine air, the gaze of eyes it’s better not to catch. Coincidentally I’d recently listened to a show on Radio 4, presented by Suggs, on the history of London’s Soho and had been taken back to the early 80s and my visits to my Mother’s office, a television production company that specialised in music videos, that nestled on the edge of London’s red light district. I dreaded the inevitable few minutes spent under the glare of an arcade or sex shop waiting for a taxi or one of my Mum’s friends while the shadows of an adult world fell around me. Even behind the office walls I didn’t feel safe. Sometimes I overheard secretaries whispering about their sex lives thinking they were out of earshot or that the kid wouldn’t understand (I didn’t, but not in the way they thought). Then there were the alien artifacts that littered the rooms and staircases, the posters of rock concerts and the modern artworks that throbbed with a strange potential energy. But worst of all were the giggling men, who once or twice or perhaps more I can’t remember, offered me cocaine and cigarettes.
February 23rd, 2009
Things got a bit too much for a minute there in the loft. Get outside for some fresh air. There’s a balcony and it’s a warm night. There’s a crowd, chilled and clumped, sitting around, smoking, chatting too-earnestly, getting the feelings gained through the gnosis of the dancefloor spoken and out into the air before they vanish, quick as the sweat disappearing from your fringe. Take a deep breath and lean against the balcony railing, head back, breathe it out into the night. Look up. Something catches just the corner of your eye.
October 30th, 2008
Look at that! That’s The Beast Must Die‘s Haunted Mansion. A bunch of us Mindless Ones have just recorded a podcast (NSFW) there where we all talked about scary comics.