It’s not quite clear what’s going on with Grant Morrison’s “Action Comics”. And I mean that in a very literal sense. After turning in a stellar opening issue for the relaunch, the comic has quickly turned into a complete sludge of high concepts and abbreviated storytelling. The problem, I suspect, is that there’s just too much going on. “All-Star Superman” was serene, pacifistic, packed with ideas but clear as a Mediterranean sea. This is not. It’s like a tornado, its shape broadly visible but resisting any fine comprehension through sheer complexity.
The issue sees the “modern” Superman — armor and all — arriving in the past alongside members of the Legion to repair the rocket that brought him to Earth. At the same time, they must face off against the anti-Superman army, who have gotten their hands on some Kryptonite. There’s a lot more going on, including a sequence set on the Kent’s farm even further into Superman’s past, and a fight with Titano, the, er, Super-Ape — but that’s the bulk of it.
The issue has all the quirks (some might say flaws) of Morrison’s current style. It’s about as far from decompression as you can get, with major story elements almost hidden away in secondary clauses of a speech bubble. Nothing is throwaway, but despite the apparent pace, it’s not something you can read quickly. If you don’t crawl through every word and image, you’ll miss something important. In that sense, reading it becomes a chore.
Kubert’s art is enjoyable to look at, but with so many characters and so little room for concepts to breathe, it’s not a book that you’d describe as art-led. Kubert seems to struggle to bend his natural style to fit Morrison’s demands, and the results aren’t working together well. Morrison needs an artist who is subtle and detail-oriented. Kubert needs a writer who is dramatic and cinematic, much as Morrison is on the final page. Apart, they’re both fantastic, but I’m not convinced this is a team that works together.
Perhaps I’m just grumpy because of the focus on characters I’m emphatically not interested in. The whole reason I bought “Action Comics” was because of the promise that it would focus on the “working class” Superman, disconnected from other books. Issue #5 was set on Krypton’s past. And this is set everywhere but the era that interested me, as in issues #1 – 4. As someone with little interest in the wider DCU, I find myself unimpressed to read a story about Legion characters teaming up with a version of Superman I chose to avoid.
The back-up strip by Sholly Fisch and ChrisCross, at least, is the best yet, and the first that feels like it might have something approaching a point. Examining the character’s final days in Smallville, it alludes to entire stories in single scenes, rendered in a tranquil and elegiac fashion by Cross. A welcome palate-cleanser after a disappointing main course.