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 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…

32 Responses to “Flashback Through Action Comics —-> “The place is here, the time is now””

  1. Anonymous Says:

    He really tried.

  2. plok Says:

    I’m glad you’re back on this topic, actually, because…when I think about it at a remove, there doesn’t seem to be much to say about Morrison’s Action, and yet on closer inspection things do come up. President Superman’s the best example of something that sounds just limitlessly unpromising, yet as you demonstrate there’s quite a bit there to look at, and then again at the same time all the good stuff does not quite sit easy, basically for the reasons Marc S. describes. Hmm, there’s this old West Coast Avengers, you know, where the Whackos are kidnapped by the Grim Reaper and…uh, Ultron, I think…and Wonder Man has had this cowardice problem for a while but now he’s over it, the crisis-point with his brother gives him the courage at last, and he steps out of the death-trap and starts declaiming about what it is to be a hero, and the other Avengers are all thinking “do something, for God’s sake!” and he’s just talking about courage, and then it may be Hank Pym, he thinks “oh no, he’s fighting his fears but he’s not fighting his foes“, and this is a little bit like what President Superman is like — it doesn’t matter how metatextual you get with it all, the superheroes will not ACTUALLY break through into real life! Superman is not going to wrest his own copyright from DC Comics and give it back to the Siegel and Shuster heirs, no matter how much you have him fight the symbol of his own commodification it isn’t actually going to go all Li’l Abner there! So it sort of sucks. And yet…

    I mean, what would actually be better, right? I’m actually curious about what Morrison does when he isn’t exercising his notable skills at making a “definitive” version of something, but when he’s working at the other end to lay down a blueprint, stuff that can’t be just ignored by whoever comes after because it’s the bible for a lot of this stuff: in other words “what Grant Morrison does when he’s asked to produce orthodoxy” is something I’m interested in, especially because as time goes on Morrison seems like a real master of Last Things, doesn’t he? Impossible after the Major Superhero Operations phase of Morrison’s career for me (for me personally, anyway) to imagine being like him and wanting to play with those shiny toys of youth, because after such playing…you know…he may be reinvigorating these things, but it’s a reinvigoration there is only going back from, there’s no going forward with it, and what he’s done to the idea of the bright-eyed kid finally getting to write Superman and Batman is much the same…the bright-eyed kid getting to write, not the prestige standalone take-it-or-leave-it “definitive” condensation, nor the occasional fill-in thing on a major title, nor sneaky stuff at the edges of relvance with characters no one cares about, but SUPERMAN and BATMAN, bloody well in continuity and inescapable, this dream seems v. desiccated to me now, and it’s not like the Nu52′s gonna have much life in it anyway, so it looks like Morrison was the last man in? It’s like Seven Soldiers in a way: he said it was all going to be standalone stuff and it just wasn’t! And on Superman and Batman he said “oh, I just had some stories to tell, no big deal” but it was a big deal! And especially on Action he wasn’t just “writing Superman from a new angle” but redesigning the Superman story, doing what John Byrne did only with less fanfare because it was a “prequel”.

    And it all does sound a bit crap, and a lot of it sounds like a lot of rehashing, stuff that isn’t really interesting to see done a second or third time, or a fourth time or a fifth? Yet this time is the time when it “happened for real”, right, because as the rebooted history of Superman it finally counts. Mandraak or whatever his name was counts, in a way the FinalCrisisness of Final Crisis prevented him from counting before. And in that MTV interview as elsewhere, Morrison talks about bringing Superman “up to date” through Action, but it seems to me as though he can probably never be up to date again, the bringing was the ending, like “Whatever Happened To…?” And, if you want to go all Moore/Moz on this one, you could say that’s the Moore work this thing resonated most with, couldn’t you? The beginning not the ending, but it is an ending really, it’s a pre-emptive ending, and as I said…

    I find that really interesting. I’ve only read a couple of these Actions, but I notice a finality to them in their very opening-up: this is a time of possibility that will never come again, the next time you see Superman he’ll be boring, Lois and Jimmy will be boring, everything will be just as it always was because Action will start from relative novelty and slowly take it all to a firmly familiar conventionality that I, for one, can’t imagine a reason to ever read about again.

    And yet…what would be better, right?

    The real Superman — you know, the fictional one — is just never going to be able to beat the multiversal menace of the Terrible Trial Lawyers of Time-Warner’s, never never never, no matter what happens, because that’s crazy. And Morrison, I think, is not so much as proposing that he should! And yet…and yet. He isn’t proposing that he shouldn’t, either. And that has got to be a line, finally, that’s just too hard to walk…in Seven Soldiers you can take this point about how it’s terrible to be a vampire on the past, how the Life Trap can be escaped, you can take it all for what it’s worth and it kind of works, but can you take President Superman that way really? And so returning Superman to the “up-to-date” state, it’s quite ghastly really, there is a wall of recursion that Superman is just going to hit, in a way that even Batman is not, and Klarion and Frankenstein are certainly not, and so much less my beloved Sky-High.


    Unfocussed comment! My Internet’s been going in and out, so this will all read very scattery, but I guess what I’m saying is: I wouldn’t be surprised if in the future Seven Soldiers is the only mainstream Morrison DC work that we will be willing to say “really” happened.

    You know?

  3. plok Says:

    Oh God, that all did not come out as I’d hoped it would…

  4. moose n squirrel Says:

    I think Morrison is kind of burnt out on being Morrison. He’s had, what, over a decade now of doing mostly big-two superhero stuff, and I think he’s pretty much said everything he could possibly have to say about that sort of thing, to the point where even he’s bored of it. His Action run starts out with seemingly a new trick – the Golden Age-inspired, populist rabblerouser Superman and a possibility for engagement with actual, real-life politics – but it’s so obvious that Morrison doesn’t give a shit about politics (holding the same aversion to politics that the contentedly petit bourgeois always have) that he quickly drops all of it to hastily return to the usual science-fantasy-with-occasional-burps-of-metafiction he’s been doling out for years. And the results at this point are really meager and choppy, and an ex post facto justification for said choppiness (“It was an evil 5D demon, playing with chronology!”) really doesn’t hold up, either on the first time through or on re-read (one wonders if the evil 5D demon is also responsible for the protagonist’s lack of any notable personality, the decision to make the last arc revolve more around Mr. Mxyzptlk than around Morrison’s own version of Superman, Morrison’s apparent disinterest in his own supporting cast, and Rags Morales’s art).

    Morrison needs to take a long break from superheroes at this point, and take some time to write about something else. He’s done it before and he can do it again – at times, he actually has written things that are at least peripherally concerned with the real world. As someone who thinks that Animal Man is stronger when it’s talking about the relationship between humans and nature, the frailty of human and nonhuman life, and the sense of powerlessness we feel when confronted with a strange and mystifying cosmos than it is when it’s talking about the pre-Crisis and post-Crisis status quo, I feel like Morrison is capable of a lot more than offering in-text commentary on the publishing history of superheroes. I’m hoping he remembers that.

  5. Illogical Volume Says:

    moose n squirrel – I think Mozzer pushed as far into “pure” superheroics as he was able to with Final Crisis and Batman RIP, and that his work since then has been a bit a bit too straightforward in its use of genre tropes – possibly because the reaction to those efforts was mixed, possibly because he burnt out on that style, I don’t know [1]. The trouble is that this shift can be seen in his non-superhero work too – Happy! and Joe the Barbarian both feel a bit too much like pocket movies to me, and neither of them are anywhere near as thrillpowered as Batman Incorporated or as scary-funny as Slaves of Mickey Eye. So, while I’d like to see Morrison trying to find new ways of approaching complex material too, I’m not sure that ditching capes is all that he he needs to do, necessarily.

    It’s probably worth saying at this point that I don’t find Morrison’s high superheroic work to be entirely unreflective of life either. I’m pretty disinterested in superhero comics about superhero comics these days, unless they use the genre play to achieve other, more interesting goals, and Mozzer’s been something of a broken record while talking about what’s wrong/right with superhero comics since Animal Man. Thankfully his work on Seven Soldiers, All Star Superman, Seaguy, etc isn’t *just* about that stuff. My main man Andre Whickey’s book on Seven Soldiers is a beautiful demonstration of how having the still-hot ashes of that comic blown up your arse with a straw can open up the world, and later works like Final Crisis and Batman aren’t totally inert when put into contact with that mysterious element known as reality, despite initial appearances to the contrary.

    With regards to Action Comics, I don’t disagree that the 5d assault angle is being used to justify some choppy storytelling – the jumps in chronology throughout the series feel like they’re driven by the need for guest artists more than anything else – but I doubt that even the inhabitants of Strawman Island have considered using it to excuse the other faults you list. I covered most of the same ground as you within the post itself, but I would say that I found the core cast members to be a bit more coherent on a second read through (they’re not exactly deep, but as a trio of slightly overconfident bright young things they didn’t seem too different from certain cocky but not yet fully formed youngsters of my acquaintance; there’s potential there, basically), and that I found the justification for the breaks in the main story cheeky and amusing in the end.

    Total agreemence on the fact that Mozzer’s “petit bourgeois” aversion to politics scuppers the book though – as I noted above, it’s a strange feeling to reread the run and realise that the best (most enjoyable) bits are those that totally abandon the initial premise/promise of the series.

    Plok – Lotta words there buddy, I’ll try to respond in more detail later, but thanks for underlining the bit about how Superman is never going to leap out of the book and wrestle his own copyright from DC’s hands. When I said the thematic tension of the book was unresolved, I initially meant that the natural unification of Morrison’s metafictional fallbacks and his abandoned attempts at politics would probably involve the Superman urging his readers to go out there and FORM A MOB TO TAKE BACK COMICS, AND THEN – THE WORLD!!! Your point makes the parallel even clearer because obviously DC would never print that comic, but even if they did the most energetic response it could ever hope to generate would be “Cool story bro”.

    And… shit, gotta go to work now, but if I *didn’t* I’d make a really clever point linking all of this to what I just said to moosey about Morrison’s comics and reality. So, quickly now: there’s a wall there between the two, and while a lot of Morrison’s comics work real hard to make that wall look like a mirror [2], Action Comics makes like it’s going to smash through it, only to sort of run up and flip back off it at the end. There’s a mix of excitement and disappointment in this performance and I think it’s related to some of the other stuff you’ve introduced into the conversation.

    [1] The Batman stuff is an exception: Morrison’s been trying to do light with B&R and Batminge, but there’s an inbuilt density to the story at this point that changes the results – for the better, mostly.

    [2] Of course – and this is pertinent to point [1] – sometimes what he ends up building is a reflection of unpleasant orthodox, so it’s not like this is a totally unproblematic approach either.

  6. Marc Says:

    It isn’t just Morrison’s aversion to politics, it’s DC’s. They haven’t let their star player go after crooked mine owners and arms dealers since 1940 and they aren’t about to start now. (I guess this is Plok’s point writ large.) That’s not to excuse Morrison’s abandonment of the most (only) interesting element of his premise, just to point out that in practice any political content was probably always going to be limited to soft targets.

    The frustrating thing about Morrison’s run (well, one of them – you’ve already covered all the rest) is that it keeps glancing up against the original villains in the Superman story, the ultimate obstacles to doing anything truly radical with him, Superman’s corporate owners and their treatment of his creators – but it can never quite bring itself to fully engage with them. The bloodstain on Superman’s noble crest seems like a great way to work that critique back in until it becomes an actual bloodstain, from a 5th dimensional princess no less, and stops being a vehicle for anything else. (It doesn’t help that she washes it clean at the end! The Siegel and Shuster estates should be so lucky.)

    The bit with everybody saying their names backwards, that should have been a classic Morrison reader-participation ending but it rang strangely hollow for me. Yes, yes, Superman is our imaginative construct for doing the impossible, but “doing the impossible” is itself a kind of blank, a placeholder that never gets filled. All Star Superman didn’t just end with its statement about Superman as the embodiment of our ideals, it made a case for what those ideals should be. Action is too timid to venture anything in that regard.

    Those two comics are so wildly disparate in their aims and execution that comparing Action Comics to ASS almost feels unfair – but then, whose fault is that?

  7. plok Says:

    Indeed. I was thinking about this again today, how it’s definitely possible to locate in a Superman-style struggle at least a sense of courage, sustained hope, or insert-positive-aspect-of-self-knowledge-here, in the grinding against this final and really undefeatable enemy. You can still be inspired even though the cause is truly hopeless? You can accept the odour of futility that surrounds this fantasy-play for what it is, without having to just give up on it all? Hmm, yet that would be politics in action too, wouldn’t it, and I’m not sure how I’d take it. In All-Star Superman it would perhaps go down a mite easier, than in Action Comics — the standalone “definitive” work is more free to skirt the issue, than DC’s flagship title would be even if it weren’t actually the locus of the most basic dispute. But, wow, what a locus it is, though! Superman holding up the car on the cover of Action #1 is, after all, what it’s all about; any accomodation within the pages of Action between what Superman allegedly stands for and what he actually is, would probably be really quite distasteful to see…a bit like my argument that it would’ve been more horrible for Morrison to pay the regular lip service to S&S in those interviews of his, and then go right back to business without having disturbed any fanboy in any significant way (including this one!), than it was for him to say something that made people mad? A more sophisticated approach would maybe have been more odious?

    More blameworthy?

    For a moment, Marc, I thought you were saying that Action was limited because of how it butted up against Superman’s traditional villains, instead of his “original” ones…Brainiac and Luthor and all that, and I think I might actually take that to be true as well: the Saving vs. Collecting thing that Ol’ Illogical references does seem like an opportunity lost, the possibility of reinventing Brainiac as anything more relevant beggared before it could begin. In my Superman fan-fic Zod is a Divine Right aristocrat, Mxy’s an interdimensional ultracapitalist, Brainiac is pretty frankly Space-Lenin…and I think all these associations really are there in the traditional antagonists, to be picked out and emphasized if anyone desired to do so…but it’s just not possible, is it? Without doing the politics that lingers here so ineliminably in a way more aggressive fashion.

    Whoops, burning metaphorical daylight…must run off…

  8. Illogical Volume Says:

    Marc – Good points, all, especially the one about DC’s role in mediating the sort of villains that Superman can go after.

    I agree with you about the emptiness of that final gesture too: it’s good comics, but like I said in the post itself, you couldn’t mistake it for an argument because there’s nothing there to mistake for an argument.

    Plok – Actually I was thinking about your post on Morrison, creators rights and lip service yesterday, and it occurs to me that this is what’s worst about the end of Morrison’s Action Comics run. As Marc has just pointed out, there’s a plot thread in this last arc involving the blood stain on Kal El’s family crest/Clark’s t-shirt that definitely feels like it’s supposed to meaningfully address the Siegel and Shuster situation, but never actually amounts to anything more than a surface-level Morrison conceit – “oh, you might think this is original sin but it’s actually an escape hatch into… A HAPPY ENDING!”

    If it’s not lip service, it feels an awful lot like it, and while I’m sorry I didn’t manage to complete this thought before hitting post I’m glad you two have nudged me into doing so here.

    More on the topic of Action Comics vs. All Star Superman later, apparently they expect me to go to work five days a week or something, weird.

  9. Marc Says:

    Plok – I don’t think it would have been more horrible for Morrison to ignore the ownership question. (I’m talking about Supergods here, not Action, which was always best in those fleeting moments when it came at the issue head-on.) I don’t ask that Morrison personally redress every grievance in the comic industry, I can’t object if he chooses not to tackle every act of creative exploitation, but I would prefer that he not actively defend them. Also, even if the more sophisticated approach were more odious: at least it would be more sophisticated…

    (And yeah, to spin his comments in Supergods as “raising the issue” or “just asking questions” – that’s the troll’s excuse, right?)

    You’re right, Action wasn’t any better when it was doing the traditional villains, was it? Morrison never seemed to have a handle on any of them, to the point where Luthor jumps from being an institutional player to a prisoner between issues. With the exception of Mxyzptlk, none of the players had any development or even a consistent hook to speak of.

    Speaking of which, David, to your point:

    I don’t disagree that the 5d assault angle is being used to justify some choppy storytelling [...] but I doubt that even the inhabitants of Strawman Island have considered using it to excuse the other faults you list.

    The prosecution rests.

    Ah, too much negativity. Let me end on this: I actually enjoyed the art for once! Those perversely flattened pages in the 5th dimension/red K delirium (ah, Morrison, damn your overdeterminations) looked great and the Wanderer designs weren’t bad either. Even if those were Brad Walker’s contributions, Morales really nailed the last page. I will give Morrison this – in the midst of the thoroughly unpleasant New 52 revisions he not only slipped in an issue chock full of salvaged Silver Age goodness, he gave us a cheerful, confident, optimistic Superman who is entirely at odds with his owners’ Red X predilections. I only wish Morrison had written more stories about that guy, before the last one.

  10. Illogical Volume Says:

    Marc the toilet tongue (sorry, joking, just read this overblown Pekar/Fiore scrap on tcj dot com and apparently the tone is contagious because I find myself wanting to puff my chest all the way out just for fun of it now) -

    Laura Sneddon is a more charitable reader of Morrison’s current work than I am, but while I don’t share her conviction that this 5D rug ties the room together perfectly, the prosecution has severely underestimated my ability to cling to technicalities like tiger pubes in a shipwreck if it thinks that this argument is over.

    Let’s look back at the specific claims that I said were too bold for even the inhabitants of Strawman Island to make, shall we?

    —> “…one wonders if the evil 5D demon is also responsible for the protagonist’s lack of any notable personality, the decision to make the last arc revolve more around Mr. Mxyzptlk than around Morrison’s own version of Superman, Morrison’s apparent disinterest in his own supporting cast, and Rags Morales’s art”

    The only paragraph in Laura’s piece that comes close to making these arguments reads as follows:

    —-> “The fragments can be jarring, until you read further and more gaps are filled. This is partly due to the nature of the Big Bad, a 5th dimensional bastard named Vyndktvx, but it also serves to both explain the multitude of artists on the book, and to fill in those five years between issue one and where the character is supposed to end up. Five years over a handful of issues results in snapshots in time, little episodes that are important in the forming of Superman himself rather than an exhaustive chronological list. Superman was hated and feared – but not for long. Superman gave up his Clark Kent identity – but not for long. Superman is exasperated by the perceived inactivity of the other superheroes – but not for long. Superman plays can and mouse with Lex Luthor – but not for long. Superman interacts with Lois and Jimmy – but not for long. And so on.”

    The ever-shifting art credits are definitely attributed to Vyndktvx’s assault as predicted, but Laura never blames the *quality* of Morales’ art on this conceit, and the 5d plot isn’t used to explain or justify its own existence, which is kind of a shame, because that sounds like top Morrisonian bollocks to me. Of course, Laura’s subsequent reading of this plot as a meta-commentary on DC’s New 52 is also fitting of that description, but despite her best efforts I don’t think Action Comics is too rewarding as a reflection of this elment of its construction.

    The question of whether Laura also uses the choppy storytelling as an excuse for the perceived flatness of this version of Superman and his supporting cast is certainly up for debate, but I don’t think the prosecution’s case is as strong as its desire for a quick kill might have lead it to believe. Sneddon may find Vyndktvx’s scheme to be a satisfying explanation for the brevity with which Morrison deals with the various aspects of the Superman mythos, but rather than arguing that this excuses a deficiency of characterisation, she describes the ways in which she finds the picture built up by these fragments whole and compelling:

    —> “We know who Superman becomes, we have seen that story before in a million different varieties. But for this Superman, what is important? The chance to say goodbye to his father. The return of his faithful hound who never left his side. The children who found shelter in his cape. His landlady who gave everything to help him survive. That Kents never give up and that no matter what, he’ll never really be alone.”

    The prosecution would no doubt like us to believe that this is an example of the exact sort of strained excuse making that I previously stated that not even an island full of glib figments would resoirt to, but I would argue that this ignores the positive testimony Laura’s article provides as to her reading experience. The argument being made here is not that Clark Kent and Superman lacked personality but that this is merely a side effect of Mandraak’s vampiric wrath Vindktvx’s evil scheme, but that Morrison has created a satisfying portrait of the man himself as reflected in the lives of those he is important to. Whether the prosecution finds this compelling is beside the point – that Sneddon is not indulging in the sort of rhetoric outlined in my earlier comment is all that needs to concern us for now.

    While Sneddon doesn’t discuss Morrison’s use of his backing cast in detail, I would ask the jury to consider whether the absence of extreme testimony on this aspect of the case should be taken as a point in the prosecution’s favour. I would suggest that to grant this would be to be to buy in too fully to the empty enthusiasm that has plagued the prosecution’s case, an enthusiasm that matches that in the comic at hand for its startling blankness…

  11. Illogical Volume Says:

    That was fun, not sure I could keep it up over several issues of The Comics Journal but if anyone wants a fistful of tiger pubes just give us a shout – you all know I’m good for ‘em!

    Marc/Plok – I agree with Marc that Action Comics was best when it addressed the issue of corporate ownership directly, with the proviso that in doing so it always exposed its own limits in the face of the sort of “impossible” problems its protagonist saught to address.

    Having spoken to Plok in person about the disruptive aspect of Morrison’s take on the Siegel/Shuster issue, I know he’s got an amusing routine on the topic (picture Morrison as Caligula introducing a suspiciously equine senetor) but while he might be right that Morrison’s comments stirred up more anti-DC feeling than a standard anti-corporate line would have, I still think Morrison’s eagerness to gloss over these problems in the name of pulp transcendence deserves harsh scrutiny.

    Like Marc, I now feel the need to end on a more upbeat note, so: anyone else want to give Plok some cash to write the further adventures of Space-Lenin?

  12. plok Says:

    THANK you, I was beginning to think no one was at all interested in Space-Lenin! What a depressing world that would be…

  13. Marc Says:

    While the opposing counsel has demonstrated his willingness, indeed his proclivity, to fondle the nearest seafaring Panthera tigris with abandon, I hope the members of the jury will take note that the island-dweller in question opened her argument with the statement

    But this is a legendary run – you just need to think five dimensionally

    thus dismissing any objections with reference to the aforesaid Morrisonian bollocks. If the remainder of her article fails to make that case, perhaps that speaks less to its rhetorical restraint than to the task’s substantive impossibility.

    I propose we continue this trial in person. You powder your wig, I’ll pack the white suit and the string tie.

  14. Illogical Volume Says:

    OBJECTION! The prosecution is trying to pretend that an opening flourish contains a multitude of arguments, once again conflating action with argument in a way that mimics the “Morrisonian bollocks” that is allegedly under scrutiny here. May I take a moment to suggest that if the prosecution loves this sort of bombast so much, why doesn’t he just marry Action Comics #18 and be done with it?

    In other news: I’m game for finishing this off in person if you are. I thought you’d rested your case already, but hey – I’ll bring the gavel if you bring the dip!

  15. Marc Says:

    The prosecution maintains nothing more than that an opening flourish is an argument, and that this opening flourish is precisely the argument the counsel insisted no inhabitant of his straw-filled, hairless-tigered island would make. Thus demonstrating the legal principle established in Nice things v. this is why we can’t have them.

    As to the possibility of marrying an inanimate object, that matter is currently before the highest court in my nation. Or so Senator Santorum insists.

  16. Illogical Volume Says:

    Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is clear at this stage in proceedings that the prosecution is too busy imagining his course fingers separating bag from board on his future bride to attend to the argument at hand.

    Laura Sneddon’s opening gambit does indeed suggest that she intends to make a case for Morrison’s Action Comics run that relies on “5 dimensional thinking”; I would simply ask that we judge the argument that Sneddon then goes on to make rather than the one the prosecution would like her to have written.

  17. Marc Says:

    If the good counselor would stop ravaging any charismatic megafauna that catch his randy eye, will he concede that Sneddon makes the argument in question, and that she is simply unwilling or unable to support it?

    She invokes the 5th amendment dimension and the discontinuous chronology repeatedly to excuse or dismiss any critical reactions. (Just a few of examples: “Unsurprisingly, many readers were somewhat lost at various points” – never tire of seeing that one trotted out to defend Morrison’s sloppier works – “The fragments can be jarring, until you read further and more gaps are filled. This is partly due to the nature of the Big Bad, a 5th dimensional bastard named Vyndktvx,” – note the claims that missing elements are just McCloudian “gaps,” along with the use of the scrambled timeline to justify the erratic plotting and lack of character development, not to mention all the usual appeals that we can’t understand the story until we’ve read the whole thing – an argument that loses its force when we have, in fact, read the whole thing.) That she does not or cannot follow through on these insinuations is not a point in her favor. There’s more of the Mandrakk Defense in that post than I think counsel cares to admit. As counsel does not seem to endorse any of the arguments in question, I must wonder at the pertinacity with which he maintains they are not there.

  18. Illogical Volume Says:

    The prosecution is correct to state that I do not share Ms Sneddon’s enthusiasm for the Scott McCloud defense of Action Comics, but as a good Imaginary American I will defend her right to hold this opinion with my dying breath. This might well seem like a strange case to turn into a freedom of speech issue, but ladies and gentlemen of the jury, ask yourself – is it not better to argue for someone’s right to be overly charitable than it is to battle for their right to vent bigotry and hatred into the atmosphere, as so many of my cuntrymen are want to do at this moment in history?

    Moving back to the matter at hand, I find myself in danger of committing the three cardinal sins of correspondence: repetition, repetition and repetition. Again and again the prosecution confuses his goals with goalposts and expects us to sit mesmerised while he kicks a ball between them unhindered. This trick would be impressive in a small child, but it is altogether less spectacular when performed by someone of the prosecutor’s considerable intellectual standing.

    That the prosecutor asks why I have dedicated myself to arguing that Sneddon does not blame various faults of Morrison’s Action Comics run on the fifth amendment dimension, seemingly forgetting that this was never the source of our dispute. The prosecution retains enough of his considerable faculties to list the various arguments that Ms Sneddon made in her article, but apparently finds himself lacking the inclination to check whether any of these arguments were among the ones presented as being too farfetched for even the inhabitants of Strawman Island.

    Having previously established that Ms Sneddon makes none of the arguments that I positioned as being beyond the limits of reality I have no desire to bore the court by going over these points again; however, given that the prosecution has so thoroughly lost track of the discussion, I will endeavour to bring him up to date at a private session later this evening on the proviso that wine flows freely throughout.

  19. plok Says:


    I will clear this courtroom!

    …So anyway, the thing that makes Space-Lenin so cool is that Jor-El harnesses 5D energy to successfully expel his infant son from the event horizon of Sagittarius A, what happens next is that…


  20. plok Says:

    So…politics and Superman…

    It occurs to me: is the chocolate mixing with the peanut butter a bit, here? The “think five-dimensionally” thing could easily be expanded to a blanket defence of all that didn’t work, and we’re all probably used to reaching a bit too far on occasion for a felix to append to every culpa in Morrison’s work…but the problem is that as hard as it is to grasp Morrison’s intentions at times I would be very surprised to find he wasn’t intending to lean on his 5D devices here, at least a bit. Or rather…maybe that isn’t the problem, but maybe the problem is that when Action Comics (specifically) meets Grant Morrison’s usual (and usually delightful) hobby-horses in a year like 2013, the argument about how far to stretch one’s effort in helping him construct his story can’t help but get conflated with the argument over how seemly it is to bring “token” politics into it? These metatextual approaches to the superhero don’t just form themselves out of pure “cool-idea-ness”, but necessarily rest on what the specific text is, that’s getting the meta-treatment: the text itself partly determines what clever new metafangled thing you can say about it, no matter how many extra dimensions adorn that saying. Which is, I guess, me committing the sin of correspondence myself, to say all that…but…

    Surely the point of the 5D stuff is to “mush stuff together”, right? To make the metatextual commentary hook right onto the shit that’s going on in the comic, to blow away the membrane of irony that segregates comment from content, that quarantines the politics…and that’s fine, but once “mushing-together-ness” escapes into the wild it may mush more things together than what its maker meant for it to. Well, the hypothetical residents of Strawman Island are also going to bind together the politics with the storytelling, aren’t they? I mean: can they avoid it?

    In this case, might not a laboured excuse for plotting and characterization and even art weaknesses be as one with a laboured excuse for political weaknesses? In Li’l Abner, when the retcon of Fearless Fosdick’s marriage also “frees” Abner, the point is that the illegitimate reasoning is funny, not redemptive: it doesn’t rehabilitate anything, it isn’t a symbolic victory. And it’s the same here? Except not really very funny.

    I guess I’m fortunate not to have read Supergods yet, since that’s where Morrison apparently does less evasion and more assertion, about this Original Sin business…still, yeah, as Marc rightly points out you can’t simper and “just ask the question” when the question is about politics: no amount of pop transcendence will cover that half-assery, in fact it only makes it worse.

    …Sorry, damn it, the phone rang and I lost the thread. How about another cup of coffee, Scarecrow?

    Well…maybe just one, okay…

  21. Marc Says:

    Or rather…maybe that isn’t the problem, but maybe the problem is that when Action Comics (specifically) meets Grant Morrison’s usual (and usually delightful) hobby-horses in a year like 2013, the argument about how far to stretch one’s effort in helping him construct his story can’t help but get conflated with the argument over how seemly it is to bring “token” politics into it?

    I think this is exactly right. Not that Sneddon explicitly defends the political economy behind Action Comics (she doesn’t address it at all, also not to her credit), but she sets up a defense so conveniently unbounded that she can offer it as means of explaining away *all* critiques of the comic. (Including, quite explicitly, the lack of development in the protagonist, lack of development in the supporting cast, and hideous/inconsistent/hideously inconsistent art, the great standing stones of Strawman Island.)

  22. Illogical Volume Says:

    Lads lads lads, we’ve got to be careful here or we might just all arrive at a point we can generally agree on!

    Plok’s dead on to say that the DIY, choose-yr-own-adventure gaps in Morrison’s comics are at the heart of all “you could travel between the stars, it began to seem, by assuming anything” defences of the man’s work, and that such rhetoric feels far more toxic now than it did in, say, 2007.

    I could keep going round and round with Marc on whether Laura Sneddon wrote her report on Action Comics from the middle of a joyously enigmatic celebration on Strawman Island (see “Illogical Volume’s girlfriend vs. Why do you want so badly to be right about everything all the time?” for precedent) but I agree with him that the arguments she’s making would at least earn her Visa to that most unusual of territories. Having made such arguments in the past, I know I could take a trip out there any time I want, and I dare say I’m not the only one her who could say the same.

    It is to Morrison’s credit that he has tried to engage with the political ramifications of his pulp-transcendentalism in Action Comics and Batman Incorporated; that his faith in his own worldview has survived without complication is somewhat disappointing, and as such the only part of Laura’s article I don’t like is the bit where it becomes obvious that she’s sold on Action Comics’ suggestion that THE POWER OF SUPERMAN is so strong that it reduces his real world origins to mere texture. It’s a little bit too close to the official company line – “When I wear the S-Shield I have the power to be my own person. To control my own destiny” – for my tastes, and call me old fashioned but I’d rather offered something worth buying in this sort of transaction, you know?

    Which reminds me, I was going to write about action as argument and All Star Superman wasn’t I? Ah well, another time then!

  23. RetroWarbird Says:

    A while back I implied that ‘Action Comics’ would have been successful had it had a better artist (Recently in an interview, Grant himself even mentioned that had the entire run consisted of one-shots with one-shot artists, things would have been structurally more sound). I still stand by it! I’m still forming opinions, and still actively seeking a working class affectation in its structure. I won’t rehash the criticisms offered here, they seem self-evident. They exist, and not in a way that can be written off as ’5 Dimensional Trickery’ affecting the title itself in some ingenius metacommentary.

    It’s hard for me to see a reconstructive modern ‘take’ on a DC comic without the art feeling like DC comic art – or having “Classic DC Sourcebook” style art, the Jose Luis Garcia Lopez kind, would add an instant relevance along with its weight, depth and anatomical prowess. Imagine if Jurgens drew this whole thing with his classic eye for design and making shit look straight out of the Byrne reboot? (Whoever designed most of this run had poor taste. Compare the dreary Brainiac, Metallo, Captain Comet, or hell, the Luthor Robot with even the mundane, but flashy and crispily handled Anti-Superman characters Kubert tossed out there.)

    But I am the sort of bullshit blasphemer who wishes there were an alternate “Not-Dave McKean” version of A Serious House on Serious Earth.

    In what strange world can’t Grant Morrison get himself a proper designer and artist for a run on ‘THE’ comic book title?

  24. Reviewing comics: process and theory | self-indulgent drivel Says:

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  26. Flashback! To “Star Trek: Into Darkness…!” | A Trout In The Milk Says:

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  32. Böcker jag läste 2016 – Says:

    [...] Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Brad Walker et al: Superman – Action Comics, Volume 3: At the End of Days (2013) Liksom 4D-upplösningen. Sammanfattning. [...]