Since the last issue of Action Comics ended that particular story arc, Grant Morrison and company took a brief detour this month, giving us a one-off tale of Calvin Ellis, the Superman of Earth 23. This is a character who was debuted by Morrison himself back in Final Crisis, when he was recruited into the multiversal army of Superman to fight against the immortal space-vampire Mandrakk. While that particular résumé could only have sprung from Morrison’s unchained imagination, the tale he tells in “Action #9” is a relatively easy-to-understand story.
Though it contains more than the title’s standard helping of Morrison-ian high concepts, such as machines that give life to tangible thoughts through shared vibrations, it is probably the most overtly political tale in the Action Comics run to-date. In addition to being his Earth’s Superman, Calvin Ellis is also the President of the United States.
He handles the role with the grace that one would expect from the Man of Steel, and it actually reminded me in places of the President Superman tale from the 1990’s Armageddon 2001 story arc.
Morrison uses the opportunity of an out-of-continuity Superman to spin a mad tale of crossed universes, with a Lois Lane, Clark Kent, and Jimmy Olson who have escaped from a world where their created Superman archetype has become utterly commercialized and overtaken by the lust for power of his sponsors, OverCorp. Here Morrison takes more than a potshot at corporatism, which has been a continuing theme in Action, and shows us his nightmare vision of what the powers-that-be would do with such an idea were it actualized and placed under their control.
With some help from an unlikely ally Calvin does manage to repel the beast while adding a new member to his own supporting cast. The back-up tale also shows how a President Superman would be able to bring an unprecedented way of dealing with international sanctions, using the long-time, middle-eastern, stand-in nation Qurac as a metaphor for the current debate over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
This take on the Man of Steel almost begs to be an ongoing in its own right. Assuming that Morrison’s run onAction will come to an end at some point, DC would be well-advised to let him take Calvin Ellis out for an extended tour. The character not being the “regular” Superman, combined with him being African-American, would give the book a tremendous amount of heft. Morrison also shows that he had more than a few ideas about the conflicts that Cal would be faced with, as the universe’s Wonder Woman poses some rather interesting questions to him in the final pages.
While some fans may be disappointed that we don’t get to see forward motion in the regular DCU this issue, the story is solid, the art by Gene Ha is dark and moody, and the overall feel of the book is probably closer to what Morrison really wanted to do with Clark Kent. In that respect, it is a terrific read. We get to see the writer at his best, creating impossible foes and using them as stand-ins for relevant political topics while loading the book with amazingly kinetic action.