With “Action Comics” #13 in the same month as Halloween, it makes sense that Grant Morrison and Travel Foreman would try and bring us a ghost story of sorts. Considering that Superman has ghosts connected to him already, in a manner of speaking, it even fits the overall series. But “The Ghost in the Fortress of Solitude” feels like it falls short on several levels.
First and foremost is Foreman’s art, which is wildly variable from one page to the next. The first three pages set on Krypton detailing Doctor Xa-Du’s exile into the Phantom Zone look great; he uses negative space in an excellent manner, the shadowy silhouettes of the Kryptonians looking eerie and solemn. Likewise, the bright glimpses of the cities of Krypton are good, both looking futuristic and also serving as a contrast to the sentencing. Just a few pages later, though, the art is suddenly scratchy and unattractive. The pages of Superman in the Fortress look just awful, almost like they were rough layouts not intended for print. Once we go into the Phantom Zone, the shift in colors and the minimal drawing style helps a bit, but the art remains incredibly variable from one page to the next. Add in some messy layouts and a few panels where the action is genuinely confusing to follow, and this is a comic that on an artistic level never lives up to its initial promise.
Morrison’s script is also a bit of a letdown beyond those first few pages. With his run on “Action Comics” scheduled to end with #16, it feels like his heart is already no longer in the comic. The lines about Halloween on Krypton are good, but the resolution to Superman getting stranded in the Phantom Zone feels like a bit of a cop-out, and the appearance of the Phantom Stranger not only doesn’t quite jibe with what we’ve seen in last month’s “Phantom Stranger” #0, it feels a little too random in general. The last few pages are strong, which is some small relief. It doesn’t quite make sense, but it’s such an up note that it’s possible to forgive. Overall, while there’s some great promise as the issue opens, a lot of it falls flat.
It falls onto back-up creative team Sholly Fisch, Brad Walker and Andrew Hennessy to turn in a much more even story as we get the history of Superman and one of the residents of the Phantom Zone, which only has a few pages but makes their one-sided relationship believable and even a little touching. It’s not full of big crazy ideas like the main story in “Action Comics” #13, but this quieter side-story ends up being the main attraction.
Wrapped in what is quite possibly the most unattractive Bryan Hitch cover I’ve ever seen (if it wasn’t for the outfit I wouldn’t have even guessed it was Superman), “Action Comics” #13 just never comes together. There are good ideas and some fun moments, but this feels like a comic that could have used some revisions on both the script and the art. It’s frustrating, too; this is a comic that is 80% of the way towards being great, but the parts that don’t work drag it down to below average. This should have been a 4 or 4.5 star comic, and you can see pieces of it that qualify, but it stumbles one too many times.