I wish I could say that this was another perfect issue of Action Comics, but that would be a stretch. Grant Morrison rarely achieves perfection, largely because he is so interested in experimentation.
In this issue, we get to see his experiment in telling a Superman story without Clark Kent.
SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read last month’s issue of Action Comics, go out and pick it up before you read any further.
This issue asks, in a variety of ways, one of the most central questions of the Superman mythos: How important is Clark Kent to Superman?
The last issue saw Clark “sacrifice” himself on the steps of the Daily Star in order to save the life of his editor, George Taylor. Since that time, he has swapped out his glasses and notebook for a fireman’s uniform and boots. Despite filling the role of a “regular” hero, Superman seems to be losing touch with his personal humanity. He displays no real interest in interacting with humanity on a personal basis. Where Clark was part of his inner self, his new disguise is simply that, a mask that allows him to be Superman 24/7. The most personal moment in the book is a conversation with Batman on a rooftop in Gotham, where he does begin to question the wisdom of retiring Clark Kent.
When Superman, in the guise of Johnny Clark, visits the hospitalized Taylor, the editor laments the loss of Clark Kent, who he calls one of the world’s “good guys.” This begs the question: for the average person in Metropolis, who has the more important job? Superman, who battles robots and alien conquerors, or Clark Kent, the intrepid reporter crusading for the rights of the ordinary man? We do see Superman taking responsibility for the property damage done in his battle with the Metalek during the book’s opening, subsequently cooperating with the displaced residents to reconstruct the housing that had been destroyed. But, again, would these people not be better served by the efforts of Clark Kent to expose how they came to be in such substandard housing in the first place?
The situation is obviously temporary, as we have seen Clark Kent hard at work in the “here and now” title, Superman. Batman’s request for Superman to leave his problem in Batman’s hands suggests that Bruce Wayne, with his myriad resources, will be the one who manages to put the proverbial humpty-dumpty back together again insofar as Superman’s secret identity is concerned.
Morrison does begin to deliver a payoff on some of the long-standing questions that he has raised in the series. The foremost question being the identity of the hero whose activities preceded Superman’s arrival in Metropolis by some years. Morrison’s solution to this, if it is what it appears on its face, is an elegant one, and involves the first post-Flashpoint appearance of one of DC’s best Silver Age creations: Captain Comet.
The redesign looks excellent and adds a certain ominous quality to the character that might seem at odds with his rather shiny roots but is a welcome change if it does indeed herald the character’s return to the DC universe on a continuous basis.
If this issue has a real weakness, it is in the shifting of artists between different sections of the issue. While the necessity of such a thing is understandable given the tight schedules that these books must adhere to, it created a very disjointed feeling in the book, as if there were several stories going on at once.
Morrison also continues to sprinkle in wonderful easter eggs for fans of comic and science-fiction lore. As fireman Johnny Clark, Superman serves with the rest of Engine Co. 1938, and the opening scene with the Metalek is almost laugh-out-loud-worthy for anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Doctor Who.
The backup feature is a fun and endearing answer to the question that many readers have been asking: where does Superman get all of those t-shirts?
All in all, this was a fun issue of Action Comics. It was often funny, and certainly thought-provoking, and looks to set up what will be the driving story for the next arc of the series. If you intend to follow the adventures of Superman in Action Comics moving forward, this book is a must read.