DC Comics is no stranger to reboots. The Golden Age of Comics began in the 1930s and lasted until roughly 1951. The Silver Age began with a completely new take on the Flash in 1956 and Superman was put on a new direction two years later with most of his past stories now considered to be non-existent or the chronicles of a Superman who lived in a parallel universe. After the major story “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” Superman and much of the DC Universe were given an overhaul and a new history/continuity starting in 1986. A few more revisions happened along the way with DC almost a year into another reboot known as the New 52.
While the series “Superman” depicts the Man of Steel’s modern day adventures, the rebooted series “Action Comics” opened with a story arc taking place in the hero’s early days. Just as the original “Action Comics” #1 in 1938 first introduced readers to the strange visitor from Krypton, the new series of the same name establishes where this re-imagined Man of Tomorrow came from and how he became the first public superhero of Earth.
This story arc, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by a variety of artists, is chock full of references and revisions, acknowledging many stories and creators that came before even while it presents something new. Did you catch all the Easter eggs and jokes? If not, don’t worry! CBR has you covered with the latest in a series of annotations for Morrison’s “Action Comics.”
The alternate cover to “Action Comics” #2 by Ethan van Sciver is a callback to the classic trope of having Superman break out of chains. This has been appearing on Superman covers time and time again throughout his career, as the image was his official logo during the Golden Age.
The title of this story is “Superman in Chains,” though in this case, it’s a metaphor. The Man of Tomorrow is not literally chained, as we can see, but strapped to an old fashioned electric chair, which is a nice way of reminding us that, at heart, Luthor is an old-fashioned mad scientist too ambitious for his own good.
Superman’s shirt got a couple of minor rips last issue and here we see it’s pretty torn up. When writers started detailing the nature of Superman’s costume in the Silver Age, it was said to be made of Kryptonian fabric. Its natural fibers absorbed sunlight just like Superman’s cells, making it indestructible. In the 1980s, the costume was said to be ordinary Earth cloth but usually didn’t tear because Superman’s powers included a skin-tight force field fueled by solar energy (which also accounted for his invulnerability). This T-shirt is definitely made from Earth material but it’s also not protected by any kind of force field.
Panel 1 – Luthor repeatedly corrects people to refer to Superman as “it” rather than “he.” Starting in the late 1990s, writers like Jeph Loeb began putting Luthor in the habit of referring to Superman as “the alien” rather than by his superhero alias.
Panel 2 – This is the first time since the 1980s that Luthor has been said to have a doctorate of any kind. Since the 1980s, even when he was portrayed as a scientific genius, he seemed to have gone directly into business for himself rather than study anywhere to get a degree.
Clark being X-ray opaque implies that his skin, bones and muscles are denser than a human being’s, which goes back to the classic idea for why he’s invulnerable rather than crediting it almost entirely to a force field.
By the way, recognize who tells Luthor that Clark is X-ray opaque? It’s the dwarf again, with a smirk indicating his enjoyment that he is once again unnoticed by those around him.
Panel 3 – Notice that Luthor does not bother to look at Irons or Corben directly until he chooses to point out that Superman is not a human being.
Panel 3 – See how many energy drinks Luthor keeps on hand? Also, his interest in genetically engineering humans rather than creating high-tech exoskeletons echoes different stories where he’s attempted to give himself superhuman abilities.
Panel 5 – Did you miss it? Luthor salutes Irons with his energy drink as the man declares he’s resigning. What a jerk!
A page all about Superman’s cape. Originally, Superman’s costume was just that, a circus strongman style outfit with a cape. The Silver Age of Comics interpreted it as a suit that emulated Kryptonian fashion and was made from blankets left in Superman’s rocket, which became indestructible because the natural Kryptonian fibers absorbed sunlight in the same way Clark does. Starting in the 1980s, the uniform and cape were again merely Earth fabrics. Mark Waid made them Kryptonian fabrics again in 2003.
Here, Superman’s initial costume is just a customized T-shirt and jeans, but the cape is definitely Kryptonian. Its indestructible nature is exactly why Clark wears it as a cape. As he’s not quite invulnerable, it adds an extra layer of protection against attacks from behind.
Panel 1 – Luthor shows the “alien” he recovered from Clark’s rocket, not realizing that Clark himself was the passenger. This dead creature is malformed calf. How the government came across it is revealed in issue #5.
Panel 4 – Notice that Superman’s laughter is the first thing to cause Luthor genuine anger that he can’t disguise.
Panel 5 – Superman is using a form of his heat-vision to fry the equipment. There have been different explanations for this ability over the years. Originally, Superman’s X-ray vision was said to involve actual X-rays and if he focused this radiation it would discharge heat from his eyes. Later creators depicted the heat-vision as lasers from Superman’s eyes rather than radiation. Starting in the 1980s, it was decided that Superman’s X-ray vision was a heightened perception and didn’t literally involve X-rays, whereas his heat-vision seemed to be a direct release of the solar energy in his cells in the form of lasers or infrared/microwave radiation.
Panel 1 – Superman discovers the rocket that brought him to Earth. Since 1939, this star ship has usually been depicted in comics as a simplistic bright blue rocket with red fins. Starting in 1986, the rocket was altered to a dark blue and orange design, but later creators eventually brought it back to a more classic form.
Here, the ship evokes the classic, simple rocket design but now has alien symbols decorating it. The texture and shape was also meant to imply the appearance of a baby basket, since Superman’s origin has often been compared to Moses and Gilgamesh, both of whom were infants found in baskets.
Panel 2 – As we learn in issue #5, “Ha-la Kal-El!” is Kryptonian for “Greetings, Kal-El!” Although the Kryptonian language has been shown written in various comics, it is almost never given any kind of phonetic description.
The names Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van are mentioned. As detailed later, these are the names of Superman’s biological parents.
Clark makes contact with the ship and it seems to activate the crystalline exo-frame. The idea that Kryptonians used crystalline computers and machines was first introduced in “Superman: The Movie” (1978). The comics then adopted this idea in 2006, referring to it as “sunstone technology.” Sunstones are known for holding massive amounts of information and for having programmable structures.
Panel 1 – The rocket ship’s crystalline structure bathes Clark in artificial sunlight and we see the wounds on his face vanish as some kind of energy pulse washes the blood away. The ship, his crib, is protecting him even as he tells it to protect itself until he can safely retrieve it. This boost of sunlight recharges Clark and makes the rest of his escape much easier.
Panel 1 – We learn that although Dr. Irons ran the Steel Soldier program, Professor Emmett Vale was his second and is now in charge of the program. In previous continuities, Vale was responsible for turning Corben into Metallo.
Panel 3 – We see the Steel Soldier program is a high-tech exoskeleton meant to fuse with a soldier for combat. It makes sense that Dr. Irons would be involved in such a project, considering that he is fated to become the armored hero Steel. What’s more, this armor resembles the high-tech warsuit that Luthor first wore in the early ’80s to match Superman’s power in hand-to-hand combat. So in one swoop, Morrison has linked Metallo, Steel and the Luthor warsuit into one backstory.
The original Metalo (spelled with one L) was indeed a villain who wore a suit of high-tech armor. He was a scientist named George Grant and also used a strength-enhancement formula. After he was gone, there was a short story where Clark met a robot named Metalo. Finally, the name Metallo (double L) was given to a villain named John Corben, a journalist who was secretly a criminal turned into a cyborg by Professor Vale after he suffered catastrophic injuries. In the 1980s, Corben was not a journalist but a career criminal turned into a cyborg by Vale.
In 2009, Geoff Johns wrote Corben as a military officer and later revealed that he had volunteered to use a high-tech suit of armor against Superman, but received a fatal injury while wearing it, leading to Lex Luthor turning him into a cyborg.
Panel 4 – Note the photo of Superman lifting a car as people watch on in amazement. This is a reference to the cover of the original “Action Comics” vol.1 issue #1 in 1938, perhaps the most famous and most referenced superhero comic book cover of all time.
Panel 1 – Luthor is in communication with Brainiac, Superman’s other famous archenemy. In one of Brainiac’s earliest appearances, he teamed up with Luthor. The “Brainiac-Luthor Team” was a recurring problem for Superman throughout his career.
Panel 3 – Brainiac’s ship is a new design but calls back to some old elements. Brainiac’s famous skull-ship, first introduced in the 1980s, was known for having mechanical tendrils and hexagonal glass paneling.
Morrison is a big fan of Brainiac and had the villain appear in a Superman movie script he put together years ago. He was particularly fond of the incarnation of Brainiac that appeared in “Superman: The Animated Series,” believing that was a strong version of the character due to his connection to Krypton and his motivation to catalogue other species before destroying them.
Stay tuned to CBR News for further annotations on Grant Morrison’s opening “Action Comics” story arc!