Three Kings: Action Comics #1-3 From The Deck of The New 52

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Of the New 52 titles I’ve read, Grant Morrison’s Action Comics is the best example of a true revamp and not just a pressing of the “reset” or “ignore” button. it has even deviated from the actual mythos/story structure that Morrison has been building for the Superman character since his DC One Million crossover.

While I’m sure we’ve all read the line of him returning Superman to its social justice roots, he’s also going back to the idea of displaced, hunted alien vs. the world, which is reminiscent of some of the Jewish subtext other writers have found in Superman’s beginnings.  It also evokes Morrison’s 2000 Marvel limited series Marvel Boy.

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Marvel Boy’s main character Noh-Varr ( before he got scooped up by Brian Michael Bendis for his Avengers combine) was in no uncertain terms a lone alien as terrorist, retaliating against the world for the acts of one group. He goes so far as to use unwitting civilians as human shields and even as weapons.

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In the wake of September 11th, Morrison seemed to shy away from this idea and outwardly wrote stories that spoke against that type of ideology in subsequent works over the years.  However, unlike Frank Miller who went from Batman the Terrorist to Batshit Insane over the last decade, Morrison has come back to an old concept and reworked it to match the political climate, keeping Superman as an alien outsider but also as a political activist, tapping into the culture’s distrust over conglomerate and politicians coupled with it’s growing distrust over anything remotely foreign. One attitude is healthy. The other isn’t. It’s a delicate balance, but Morrison is doing a good job of it thus far.

So in the first storyline, Superman reports city injustices as Clark Kent, reporter for a struggling newspaper. As Superman, he combats these injustices head on and in a brash, emotional yet still effective manner. At the same time, political and military power are struggling to deal with him while his greatest threat, Lex Luthor, is struggling to prove that he’s neither remotely human nor worthy of compassion or consideration except as a genetic resource.

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Luthor’s shiftiness is just one of the amazing scenes caught so well by Rags Morales and other guest/fill-in artists Brent Anderson and Gene Ha who do well in preserving the overall look of the book.

And for those who think that the anti-alien backlash seen in issue #3 isn’t realistic, you haven’t been paying attention to the Obama-is-from-Kenya movement or some recent anti-immigration campaign ads over the last few years.

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Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen in this story are peers working for The Daily Planet (now part of the conglomerate for Rupert Murdoch stand-in Glen Glenmorgan) who try to lure Clark away from his good work. It’s effective for the story, though I don’t think it puts either character in a positive light no matter how glowingly Grant Morrison writes about them in the behind-the-scenes specials in the back of each issue.

But the best remade character is Lex Luthor, who Morrison has written sympathetically in previous tales. In this New 52 retelling, Lex is part manipulative swine and part classic pulp villain, completely unrepentant in his actions and holding views on Superman’s humanity that could have been attributed to late nineteenth/early twentieth century opinions on other races being less than human.  As seen in the panels below, he can’t even tolerate other human beings who aren’t Lex Luthor.

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The scene where he sincerely accuses Superman of having a “true form” (bringing out an animal that seems to have been in the ship that brought him to earth) evokes a mixture of disgusted amusement and pity.

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This version of Lex Luthor 70 years ago would have been teaching on phrenology and conducting his own Tuskogee experiment.

What keeps Luthor away from being a caricature is that he is ultimately an opportunist, getting in bed with another alien life form in issue #3 to take out Superman, even though it may ultimately be the threat that destroys the planet.

I haven’t read the previews for issue #4, which came out today, but the third issue’s final page and its flashback to Krypton’s destruction both suggest to me that the new threat is appropriating an idea from Superman: The Animated Series. If it does, I wholeheartedly approve, as it was this change in the animated show that helped the rivalry between the hero and the (possible) villain make sense in the show. It’s a good idea to carry over

This is a book with a nice departure from the norm and a subtle enough social conscience that engages without overloading. I read it as a fun experiment Morrison’s having and further proof that he’s been the definitive writer of the Superman character since the late 90′s. It’s the one new DC book I anticipate as a reader. Pick up the back issues and join the rest of us in Occupy Metropolis.

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About Chad Parenteau

I'm a poet. I run the Stone Soup Poetry series in Cambridge that runs every Monday night. I review comics in my spare time.
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One Response to Three Kings: Action Comics #1-3 From The Deck of The New 52

  1. Pingback: Draw Two: Action Comics #4-5 in DC’s New 52 Pick Up | wegotcomicissues

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