Today, Peter and Shelby are discussing Action Comics 0, originally released September 5, 2012. Action Comics 0 is part of the line-wide Zero Month.
Peter: I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Grant Morrison. Sometimes he has very crisp writing that really delves to the point of the story and the characters. Sometimes it’s full of meta references and allusions that overwhelm the story he is trying to tell. Sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it isn’t. Really it boils down to how well does Grant Morrison fit into the work he is writing. I mean the man can write just about anything, but does it actually work? The fundamental question is of pairing a writer with a specific character or book; what makes a good match?
I want to preface the rest of this with the statement that I have not read ANY of Grant Morrison’s run of Action Comics until now. That being said, lets get going!
This zero issue plays out in a series of short events that connect together, and take place early in Clark’s time in Metropolis. Context clues suggest this is about 4 months into his move. Clark is out to make a uniform, and by make a uniform, I mean order 200 shirts with his Superman ‘S’ on it. Clark then accepts a job at the Daily Star. He then has to break it to his friend, and current roommate, Jimmy Olsen that he is moving out into his own place. Trouble is afoot! Kal, in his new identity as ‘Superman’, complete with blue t-shirt emblazoned with the ‘S’, jeans, boots, and iconic red cape leaps into action. After taking a few bullets, Kal is knocked off the building by a rocket propelled grenade, crashing to the ground in an alley. While groggy, a child makes off with the cape.
Using the cape for support, the child stands up to an abusive bully (step parent?). The cape protects him from a knife, and seemingly allows him to punch a whole lot harder. He then takes his friend and flees the bully, who is still writhing on the floor. They run to a train yard and end up directly in the path of a train, only to be saved at the last minute by Clark. The kid gives the cape back and makes a new friend, just as Lois and Jimmy arrive on the scene. The child asks Kal what the ‘S’ stands for, receiving a simple answer…‘Superman.’
By Morrison’s standards, this is an incredibly tame issue, and it while it simple, it really works for him and Action Comics. Yes, the obvious joke is that there for a comic called ‘Action Comics’, there really isn’t a lot of action going on here. But I still like it quite a bit. If anything this books does something that I have seen in recent Superman media; it makes Kal seem human, without trying too hard. That is the inherent problem with writing a Superman book. It’s too easy to keep Superman above everyone else, because he’s, well, you know, Superman.
Morrison used this issue to show how easy it is to craft a compelling Clark Kent — one who is both human and relatable yet also powerful and noble. Clark enjoys a definitive Superman moment in this issue that pays homage to his Golden Age, “man of the people” roots. But Jimmy Olsen also has a strong showing in this issue. Morrison sheds a great deal of light on what drives the character in the New 52 universe. The result is a more down-to-earth and independent-minded take on Jimmy than the flamboyant globetrotter Morrison wrote in All-Star Superman.
While I do find this issue compelling there is something that keeps bugging me about it. I don’t think it has anything to do with the writing or the art or the story, but with the entire concept of this book in the greater scheme of the New 52. The New 52 characterization of Superman seems to me — at least the one I am reading in Action Comics and Justice League — hard to categorize neatly, given that the time lines have been all over the place. However, the words that come to mind for me have been a little along the lines of cocky and arrogant. This is, quite literally, not the Superman whom we grew up with, which is really interesting because clearly DC was trying to do something “new” with the character since Superman was very easily criticized for being an “overgrown boy scout.”
I, for one, wanted a few years of Superman in jeans and blanket/cape. I wanted him to find Superman, to find his new identity as a hero, to understand the responsibilities bestowed upon him. Morrison has done a great job so far with this zero issue. I may start looking through the back issues of Action Comics. However, with both Action Comics, Superman, and Justice League running around the shelves, I am confused as to who Superman really is. Define the character DC!
Shelby: I don’t like Superman. I think he’s boring. Clark Kent is intentionally boring, as an aid to his disguise, and Superman is boring because he’s just too powerful; how do you write a conflict to challenge a character as powerful as Superman? You end up with either super-powered villains who have the same problems as Superman, or a situation to unpower Superman, which just defeats the character. So, that was the shiningly positive outlook I had going into reading this book. My final opinion on the title itself was merely “meh.”
One thing I really didn’t think I’d like about this title was the Superman uniform. Come on, a t-shirt? That’s dumb! But the second time I read through this, I realized it actually really works. This is maybe the only time time we’ve seen a realistic execution of a superhero costume. Clark is some 20-something moving to his first apartment in the big city; it is not unrealistic to assume he has neither the means nor the skills to create the classic spandex (?) suit we all know. I do have a problem with him just going to some crappy t-shirt company to get his shirts printed; you think that kid is just going to forget those shirts once he starts seeing Superman flying around the skies of Metropolis?
I guess, minor costume quibbles aside, I was ultimately kind of bored by this issue. It was a nice little story, I guess: Superman saved some kids from their abusive, Ace Ventura-lookalike dad. That’s nice.
This was just a feel-good story, good for introducing the players in this story. Really, that’s exactly what this title needs to be. Fine enough, I suppose, but since I don’t have any stake in these characters, I find I don’t really care. I guess a story that’s good enough but I don’t care about is better than something that’s just plain bad.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?