Originally planned as the final issue of Grant Morrison, Brad Walker, and Rags Morales’s run on the title, “Action Comics” #17 is now the second-to-last chapter, the big finale pushed off one more month. With an extra issue’s worth of material available, you’d think that this would result in a smooth, coherent story with all those additional pages added into the mix. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
Morrison’s story skips around in time, with different eras and even universes colliding from one page to the next. It’s the sort of story that Morrison could normally tell in his sleep, but this one feels incoherent; in part because instead of feeling like it’s the culmination of a year and half’s worth of stories, it’s just a lot of random elements strung together. There’s no flow from one moment to the next, instead going with the “everything but the kitchen sink” method where bits and pieces are launched at us in the hope that one will stick. There are a couple of nice bits here and there (especially the final page’s dialogue, which made me laugh) and Morrison does attempt to try and give us a through-line for his run. But on the whole, it doesn’t come together at all.
Walker and Morales split the pencils in “Action Comics” #17, and there are once again a few good moments but on the whole it’s nothing to brag about. The image of Vyndktvx with multiple faces and limbs recruiting his army of Superman-haters is great, for example. In general, I like the way that they draw the Legion travelling through time in a stripped down, simple version of the Time Bubble. But on the whole, neither artist seems to quite get it together here; the page layouts, like the story itself, feel cluttered and not entirely together. With the last minute addition of an extra issue to this story, I suspect that no one on the art team had much time to put this together (with two artists penciling and another three inking, I think that’s a safe bet) and it shows.
The saving grace of “Action Comics” #17 is the back-up story by Sholly Fisch and Chris Sprouse. The kicker is that no one informed Fisch and Sprouse in time to create an additional back-up story, so it takes place after what will now be “Action Comics” #18. But it doesn’t matter; this is a story that could be told almost any time, and there’s a charm and grace to this simple tale of Superman getting to see his deceased parents one final time through the vagaries of time travel. Some of the backup stories have felt a little unnecessary in previous issues, but here it’s the sole reason for the rating of the issue being as high as it is.
Morrison’s run on “Action Comics” has had some real gems (including one in this storyline!), but it’s just as often crashed and burned. I’m glad “Batman Incorporated” still has a few more issues to go, because hopefully Morrison can go out on a high note there. This issue, unfortunately, is mostly disappointing.