The story of Superman’s voyage to Earth, as told by the spaceship itself enlivens the fifth issue of Grant Morrison’s ACTION COMICS.
Action Comics #5
With Krypton only moments from destruction, Jor-El and Lara exhaust all possible ways of escape, including an attempt to seek sanctuary in the Phantom Zone. As a last ditch effort, they place their son, alone, inside an experimental rocket and tell the on-board computer A.I. to search out a world where the child will grow strong. The child is found and the rocket trades hands from farmers to governments to heroes, and finally, into the clutches of a team of super-villains who might use its power to destroy the world.
It’s a classic story, one that’s been told dozens or hundreds of times over the years. So it’s a testament to the creative team that this very old story feels as fresh as if it were brand new.
Morrison takes the traditional beats of the tale, the El family and the rocket, and jazzes it up with a ton of other fan-favorite concepts. The Phantom Zone is shown as Jor-El’s first choice for escape, before the inmates make it clear that would be a fate worse than death. Krypto, in his new “white wolf” form, protects his family and dooms himself. And “Brainiac” is revealed to be the name of a Kryptonian Artificial Intelligence, meaning the Collector of Worlds is indeed a different character.
And that’s only the first five pages!
The middle of the book, however, is a pretty typical (almost mundane) take on the rocket’s journey to Earth and discovery by the childless Kents, interrupted only by Jonathan Kent being a total badass and tricking the government into thinking that a deformed calf from his farm was inside the ship.
The ending is pure Morrison info-dump/mind-freak, as Morrison introduces “The Anti-Superman Army,” a group of time-travelling foes seemingly powered by the different colors of Kryptonite, hounded through time by the Legion of Superheroes!
Morrison has a habit of making one issue a model-miniature of what his entire run will look like. Combining the “been there, done that” of the origin story with the super-coolness of his new plot gives you an idea of the overall structure of the work. Right now we’ve got a neo-1938 Superman fighting rusty robots, but before long, we’ll be dealing with time travelling monsters and teams of super-gods!
Andy Kubert is fast becoming my favorite comic artist. He was the only consistently good thing about FLASHPOINT, and his art here is no exception. Something about the shot of the Phantom Zone villains just seemed to capture the pure sci-fi comic gold of Morrison’s world, as did the ending splash page with Superman and the Legion.
My only real problem with the book is the amount of time spent on the ship’s journey to Earth. Comic pages are at a premium these days, and I was surprised to find so many pages used on the ship just cruising through space, and the classic discovery by the Kents. But I guess if this IS going to be the new origin for Superman, it needs to have all the elements.
I don’t have my copies of issues 1-4 with me right now, but I’m 100% sure that if you compare the scenes from issue 2 with the ship talking to Superman in Kryptonese and the same pages here in English, that Morrison is building a “real-fake” language, along the lines of Klingon or Elvish, as opposed to the ciphers used in letter-transposing that we had before.
The back-up story was a serviceable tale of the Kents trying to have kids, only to fail over and over again. The basics of the plot are elevated by the very hopeful notion that all the “bad luck” the Kents are having is only the universe keeping the door open for something truly great to happen later.
This is everything I want comics to be, especially Superman comics. Old fused with new, far out concepts and secret languages. I feel like a kid again, and am foaming at the mouth for the next issue.
A COMIC BOOK BLOG RATING
|This is the Morrison-on-ACTION I’ve been waiting for||A little too much decompression between moments of brilliance|
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