Grant Morrison’s run on “Action Comics” hasn’t had story arcs. Hell, before this issue showed up, it was hard to know if the entire run would have an “arc” at all. Instead, it’s had a myriad of plot devices and stand alone issues that didn’t look like they could possibly come together: The villain from the 5th Dimension. The 2nd death of Superman. The Legion of Super-Heroes. Nimrod the Hunter. The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape. The Superman of Earth-23. Lex Luthor. The Death of Clark Kent. These stories all came and went with threadbare connections to one another, if they had any at all.
So, did he do it? Did he fit it all together? The answer is irrevocably and without a doubt:
Written by Grant Morrison
Illustrated by Rags Morales, Brad Walker, Mark Propst, and Drew Hennessy
Backup Story Written by Sholly Fisch
Backup story illustrated by Chris Sprouse and Karl Story
• You don’t dare miss Grant Morrison’s stunning, extra-sized final issue of ACTION COMICS!
• It’s no small battle as Superman fights to save all of creation in this epic!
• This issue is destined to be a milestone in The New 52!
• Plus: In the backup story, whatever happened to the men of tomorrow(s)?
Grant Morrison does a smart thing with the very first pages of this issue. He addresses the death of Ma and Pa Kent, who have been gone since the ‘New 52′ started. For an initiative that was supposed to reset the table and build a new beginning, the decision to take away Clark Kent’s main touchstones to humanity was a questionable one. It marked the beginning of a new kind of Superman for the ‘New 52′ and it was one that seemed more defined by his power levels and his eye lasers than his struggle with identity or humanism. Unfortunately, one issue dealing with the Kents isn’t enough time to mine out a whole lot of thematic material and it does feel like too little, too late. Still, it was a nice touch to start the issue on and features some of the strongest art as well. More on that later.
From there, Morrison takes us back to Superman’s fight with Superdoom, who boasts that he is literally the manifestation of the “thought of a Superman” that is better than Kal-El. And that’s really what Morrison has been exploring the whole time with his “Action Comics” run, even if it hasn’t always been well-focused. He started Superman as a folk hero, his legend growing even larger than his abilities (which, if you’ll remember, have been dampened in the ‘New 52′). His legend grows through the people he comes in contact with, even in other eras and dimensions, which we all know Morrison loves to favor. Meanwhile, a de-powered ‘New 52′ Superman struggles to live up to that legend. In that way, Morrison has devised a pretty good threat for Superman – his own mythology. Of course, we all know that he’ll become the Superman that he needs to be, because that’s what “Superman” has always been about. In this way, “Action Comics” #17 is a fine look at Superman through a high-concept lens.
Grant Morrison’s run on “Action Comics” depends very much on mercurial concepts and metaphysical ideas. Look up “metaphysical” in the comic book journalists’ encyclopedia and you’ll see a picture of Morrison. It’s not exactly a novel thing to say about his work, but it totally applies here. He examines the idea of Superman in a very abstract way. That abstraction becomes more linear once he starts weaving all of those aforementioned plot points into place. But just because he puts all that stuff together in the same place for once, doesn’t mean that its narrative structure is much less tenuous. Although each plot point builds the mythology of Superman, the idea that they all weave into the plan of Vyndktvx feels like more of a convenience than it does an organic or logical sequence of events.
The art, as well, makes it harder to follow than it needs to be. And unfortunately, that’s been a hallmark of “Action Comics” for almost the whole run. Before we get into it, just take a look – there’s 2 pencillers and 3 inkers on this thing. That doesn’t include the backup. With 5 artists, it’s bound to be somewhat messy. The art flips from Rags’ Superman to Brad Walker’s Superman within the same sequence, at times. The inkers, too, can be pretty distinct at times, making characters look markedly different in the same sequence. Splitting art duties can work really well when they’re divided between different time periods or settings in the story, but with no clear demarcation points, it ends up being tougher to follow than it has to be.
Morales and Walker both turn in some really good emotional work in this issue, as their character acting and expressiveness is at its best. When the action hits, things get muddy, as not only is Superman battling against concepts that can not easily be depicted on paper in the first place, but weave between many other machinations of our villains. Morrison makes it tough on the artists with his meta-science, anachronistic Superman story, but the artists don’t rise to the occasion either. Walker’s art was much stronger in the more conventional Sholly Fisch backup stories. Walker is one to watch.
By the way, Fisch’s emotional backup story involves the Kent family and it is terrific. The perfect counterbalance to the way the main feature kicks everything into overdrive on the Morrison-meter.
Okay, so Morrison needed an additional issue to finish his story up. It won’t be over until “Action Comics” #18, but with his run clearly coming to a planned end you want to start seeing these threads coming together and they definitely do. It’s clear why he needed an extra issue and that in and of itself is equal parts the joy and the frustration that characterizes this run. The inconsistent art doesn’t help either.
Final Verdict: 7.9 – Buy. Easy to like, just hard to love.