Action Comics Volume 2: Bulletproof

Collecting Action Comics #9-12, Action Comics #0, Action Comics Annual #1

Writers: Grant Morrison, Sholly Fisch, Max Lands

Artists: Rags Morales, Gene Ha, Cafu, Cully Hamner, Ryan Sook

DC Comics, $24.99, color, 224 pages

Action Comics Volume 2 is an incoherent mess. And despite that being a criticism some fans level at Grant Morrison, this time it's not his fault.

Here's the deal: This volume begins with the lead stories from Action Comics #9-12. Unfortunately, the lead story from issue #9 is a digression from the ongoing Superman saga, telling a story about the Superman of Earth 23, whose secret identity is President Calvin Ellis. Then we get back to Clark Kent's story in issue #10, picking up from issue #8 -- which was in the last volume. But at least that's the beginning of a three-story run of a continuing saga. Yay!

Unfortunately, that's the last time that sort of continuity happens in the book; the second half is a jumble of short stories (the back-up stories from Action #9-12, most of which don't make sense given the events of the lead story in Action #12, which we've already read), Action Comics #0 (unrelated story from early in Superman's career) and Action Comics Annual (another unrelated story, set ... I forget when).

That's a pretty confusing mess. But add this to the pot: DC doesn't use any demarcation between stories. No covers, no blank pages, nothing. One back-up story leads right into the next, with the same artist, and the reader often has no clue that the story he was just reading has ended and a new one has begun. Besides which, they are back-ups from issues we have already read, so we are also jumping around in time.

For example, in the lead stories by Morrison and Morales, Clark Kent gets killed, and Superman takes on a new secret identity. But Batman convinces him that Kent is a much-needed hero as much as Superman, and Clark's landlady (who is actually a fifth-dimensional being) uses her powers to erase Clark's death.

Yay! Except in most of the stories in the second half of the book, Clark Kent is still dead! What th-? Why is Lois Lane mourning a guy who returned from the dead a bunch of pages ago? Gah!

I honestly had no idea what was going on, because I had no idea Action Comics had back-up stories. I had to go online to unravel what I was reading, and mentally re-order it chronologically so that it made sense. And, to be honest, some of it still doesn't.

But what I did get out of it varied from pretty good to really good. Honest!

The "pretty good" is Morrison striving valiantly to re-create a number of Superman concepts that have become hopelessly dated or silly. That includes Steel, Metallo (now Metalok), Mr. Mxyzptlk (actually his girlfriend, the aforementioned landlady), Atomic Skull, Captain Comet(!), Lois Lane's imaginative niece Suzie, the Kryptonite Man and the origin of the Superman-Batman friendship. Some of these refurbished concepts work, and some are still iffy. But it's what I wanted from Morrison's run on Superman: A mythology updated for the 21st century, so that Superman remains relevant.

The "really good" are the little moments that flesh out the Man of Steel's character. That's Morrison's strength, and he doesn't disappoint. Superman's wink to a kid who "borrowed" his cape. Superman's determined refusal to let Lois Lane die (and becoming Super-Doctor in the process). The quiet moments Clark has with his landlady (who turns out, as noted, to be more than she seems), his first editor, the Justice League and Batman. Clark's refusal to kill, even in videogames. This is the bubbling stew of the Super-mythology from which everything springs, and nobody handles it like Morrison.

And there's the Calvin Ellis story, which is amazing not only for its quality, but that DC let it be published.

Here's the back story: The Superman of Earth 23 actually first appeared in Crisis on Infinite Earths back in 1986, where we saw a world where the Justice League was black. I think they died in the Anti-Matter Wave; I don't really recall. Anyway, Morrison resuscitated the concept in Final Crisis, and has now added Calvin Ellis and the black Justice League to The New 52 with their inclusion in Action Comics.

That's not the amazing part. What's amazing is the story itself, which is a barely-disguised criticism of DC Comics itself!

In Action Comics #9, a Lois, Clark and Jimmy from another Earth escape to Calvin's world. On their world, they had invented a machine that brought mental concepts to life, and the concept they brought to life was Superman. But they were bought out by a conglomerate, that changed the nature of their creation, which became a combination company mascot and a commercial conqueror. Clark, Lois and Jimmy were driven into poverty, as their creation went on to make tons of money for the greedy corporation that had taken Superman from them.

"We sold out," Lois tells Calvin. "They had 500 experts lined up thinking in harmony to streamline the Superman brand for maximum, cross-spectrum, wide platform appeal. They built a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero, concealing a tragic secret life, a global marketing icon."

Sound familiar? If not, Google "Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster." Might jog your memory.

Anyway, the Corporate Superman came to Earth 23, where Calvin Ellis defeated him as much through virtue as main strength (well, Lex Luthor helped). Lois says, "You must be Superman done right."

Whoa! You can read all sorts of things in that! You can, because I won't. I think we all deserve our individual reading of that line.

Anyway, as you can see, I loved Morrison's bits of business in this book. It's just a shame that there were so few, and the packaging was so incoherent. Maybe Volume 3 will make more sense!

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Clark's refusal to kill, even in videogames

Really? That seems pretty lame to me.

I wonder why they didn't just reprint the back-ups in the order they appeared as well, instead of making them the back-up of that volume. Seems like a really weird call.

Agreed. That was my first thought as well. Why not present the material as it was originally published? It took effort to move things around to make the stories less coherent, and they went to that effort. Weird.

As to the videogame thing, my first reaction to that was negative as well. But then I got to thinking about it, and realized that Superman is ... well, Superman. If Batman or Green Lantern or Wonder Girl copped that attitude, it would be really artificial and lame. But Superman isn't just any character, he's Superman. He is the ideal, the representative of the best we can be, the ultimate person. That would be the attitude he would take. That is what distinguishes the Man of Tomorrow from your average superhero: Not his powers, but his character.

Further, I want Superman to be like that. I want someone whose ideals don't vary along with pop culture. Superman's ideals should be top of the line, without compromise. Situational ethics come and go, but Superman's ideals should never bow to popular opinion. They should be made of steel. Because he's Superman.

There's a scene in the 1979 Superman movie where Lois Lane is interviewing the Man of Steel, and she snorts derisively at something he says, remarking something like "Yeah, right." But Superman doesn't react, he simply responds, "I never lie, Lois." She starts to laugh cynically, but his sincerity, his straightforward decency pulls her up short. She can't laugh at this man. She won't. It would make her feel too small, too ugly.

I remember that scene to this day. Because THAT'S the super-power Superman has that no other character does.

I dunno. I still rings hollow to me, but that's just me. It would have been better in my mind, if just said he didn't play video games. That makes more sense to me than saying he won't kill in a video game.  I guess all he plays his solitaire, and some of those puzzle games.

Did he not play army, or cowboys and indians with his friends growing up? If he did, what was he the doctor in the MASH unit? Maybe he played the conscientious objector.

I get your point, I do! And sometimes I feel that way, too.

But I've been thinking a lot about Superman lately, about how to make him relevant to today's audiences, and I realize that if you do change Superman to fit the times, then he's not really Superman any more. But maybe he should change, I dunno. Let's see how he fares in Man of Steel.

...Um...Journalism professor CC...Personal ethics of lying who he is aside , perhaps justifiable - WHAT ABOUT HIS FREAKIN' - um - breaking of ALL " journalistic objectivity/disclosure " rules in EVERY part of his life ??????????!!!!!!!!!!??????????

  I forget whether Peter David or that " The Law is an Ass ! " column in CBG pointed that out...



Captain Comics said:

Agreed. That was my first thought as well. Why not present the material as it was originally published? It took effort to move things around to make the stories less coherent, and they went to that effort. Weird.

As to the videogame thing, my first reaction to that was negative as well. But then I got to thinking about it, and realized that Superman is ... well, Superman. If Batman or Green Lantern or Wonder Girl copped that attitude, it would be really artificial and lame. But Superman isn't just any character, he's Superman. He is the ideal, the representative of the best we can be, the ultimate person. That would be the attitude he would take. That is what distinguishes the Man of Tomorrow from your average superhero: Not his powers, but his character.

Further, I want Superman to be like that. I want someone whose ideals don't vary along with pop culture. Superman's ideals should be top of the line, without compromise. Situational ethics come and go, but Superman's ideals should never bow to popular opinion. They should be made of steel. Because he's Superman.

There's a scene in the 1979 Superman movie where Lois Lane is interviewing the Man of Steel, and she snorts derisively at something he says, remarking something like "Yeah, right." But Superman doesn't react, he simply responds, "I never lie, Lois." She starts to laugh cynically, but his sincerity, his straightforward decency pulls her up short. She can't laugh at this man. She won't. It would make her feel too small, too ugly.

I remember that scene to this day. Because THAT'S the super-power Superman has that no other character does.

Actually, Emerkeith, it might have been me. I certainly mentioned it in my Master's thesis, and probably here as well.

To wit: Clark Kent lies to his employer every day about who he is. That's probably not acceptable in any workplace. Where he breaks the journalism code of ethics is where he covers any story having to do with Superman. In that case, he's lying to both his editors and the readers. Taboo!

Of course, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen broke all kinds of laws in the Silver Age, not just rules of ethics, all the time! Mostly breaking & entering, but also criminal trespass, misrepresentation, theft and all kinds of stuff. Just because you're a journalist doesn't mean you can break into a criminal's house and steal evidence against him, which I can remember Lois doing a time or two.

Oh, that Silver Age Lois. She was such a rascal.

But I've been thinking a lot about Superman lately, about how to make him relevant to today's audiences, and I realize that if you do change Superman to fit the times, then he's not really Superman any more. But maybe he should change, I dunno. Let's see how he fares in Man of Steel.

I think that is a very relevant point, Cap. I can count the number of times I actively collected Superman's adventures on one finger. I like the character, but never enough to continually follow him. Should they update him to today's standards? Make him above it all? I dunno, and apparently neither does DC for the most part. When was the last time he was a consistent seller to comic book buyers? 20 years ago when they offed him?

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