Helping to kick off DC’s month of zero issues, “Action Comics” #0 sees Grant Morrison and Ben Oliver take the title exploring Superman’s early days back even further, telling a story set in the character’s initial days in Metropolis. As someone who quit the book months ago, the zero issue seemed like a good place to try it out again.
In many ways, this is good stunt for someone with Morrison’s sensibilities. The writer’s earliest issues were by far the best of the series, presenting a radically different and interesting take on Superman with very clear ideas about his situation. Recent issues have seen that gradually give way to something a bit more conventional (if you can call the super-armor conventional) but Morrison has taken the “zero issue” approach quite literally with a story that fits almost perfectly before last year’s “Action Comics” #1.
The flip side of that, however, is that it’s not quite the story it advertises itself as. “The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape” sounds, at its inception, like a potentially heart-warming and self-contained vignette about the impact and ethos of the character on those around him. Instead, the story feels more like a subplot, existing largely to explain how the character acquired his public nomenclature and came to the attention of Lois Lane.
Ben Oliver’s artwork is good, resembling the work of Rags Morales’ early issues in terms of framing and layouts, but retaining its own distinctive qualities. Oliver’s Metropolis seems oddly empty, and that helps keep the focus on the characters and gives a strange sense that this issue is set in an earlier time. What might seem like laziness under another artist’s pencil feels very deliberate here.
The book does do a good job of advancing Morrison’s plots and in particular joining some of the dots we’ve only seen allusions to (such as how Lois and Clark found out about one another, or how Jimmy and Clark became friends) but it struggles to get past the inherent restrictions of its time period. You can’t do villains, you can’t do team-ups and there are strange throwaway scenes about t-shirt manufacturing that are apparently aimed at people who don’t know when and where to suspend disbelief. It’s good, but the shadow of “All-Star Superman” still looms large over this book. We know Morrison is capable of so much more.
Meanwhile, the backup (By Scholly Fisch and Cafu) doesn’t really work at all. As a fairly casual reader of “Action Comics” and DC in general, it’s unclear whether I’m supposed to recognise the protagonist by name, but the ending suggests as much. It’s written and drawn competently enough, but I struggle to see what it brings to the table.
So a mixed bag — for the lead story, good ideas that never quite get the delivery they demand, and for the backup, decent delivery but no clear purpose. It’s the same combination that drove me off the book some issues ago, and that will fail to keep me around any longer for a second time.