This first issue of Action Comics features a Superman that will seem unfamiliar to many people, but it’s a take on the character that goes back to the Man of Steel’s roots. Instead of the familiar compassionate and beatific Superman, Morrison offers a vision of the character as a social crusader that has no mercy to offer those that take advantage of their fellow man. This is a Superman that stands up for the common man and is intolerant of wrongdoing to the point of physical brutality. This issue delivers on the promise of the title with action from the first page to the last, and it looks like the relaunch of Superman is in good hands.
The issue opens on a businessman who is celebrating his financial success at the expense of the less prosperous. Modern readers can take some measure of cathartic pleasure as Superman tackles this corporate bad guy who seems lifted from the latest headlines. Superman arrives at the high rise loft where the businessman is basking in his decadence, he takes out his security detail with superpowered ease, and he abducts the crooked businessman. Superman proceeds to leap off the balcony with the businessman in tow. Superman was just trying to scare the businessman into confessing to using cheap and illegal labor, and this is an act of intimidation that is more like something Batman would do to get a source to talk. This idea of a more brash and brutal Superman using his powers to hold absurdly rich executives accountable for their exploitative actions is an intriguing concept.
The police chase this mysterious Superman who appears to be not only breaking the laws of Metropolis, but also the laws of physics. Even though this Superman is much less powerful than the one we’ve come to know, he easily evades the police by leaping tall buildings in a single bound and sprinting faster than their speeding bullets. The police quickly realize that they’re out of their element, and we see that General Lane and Lex Luthor are tasked with solving the Superman problem.
The next scene is another action packed application of Superman’s abilities to a relevant social issue. Instead of seeing Superman pummel a giant robot into submission, we see him protecting innocent people from the demolition of their condemned apartment building. Superman stops a wrecking ball from killing the inhabitants of the building, and we find out that Luthor engineered this endangering of innocents to lure the socially conscious Man of Steel into a trap. Superman is ambushed by tanks after he helps the apartment residents evacuate, and this relatively weak Man of Steel actually has trouble handling the war machines. Fortunately for Superman, the evacuated civilians put themselves between him and the tanks which allows him to leap away.
In the following scene, we’re introduced to Clark Kent, the industrious and intrepid reporter. He has trouble paying his rent and although he has a friendly landlady, he doesn’t exactly live in the most luxurious building in Metropolis. This Clark Kent is not the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist of the old DCU; this Clark Kent is a young, ambitious, and up and coming reporter who’s just begun to make a name for himself. This version of the character is more relatable than the old Clark Kent who already had his Pulitzer, who already created a name for himself, and who already climbed every mountain that he could find in the journalism field. It’s a smart move to show Clark Kent at the beginning of his career when we’ve gotten so used to seeing him as the established professional whose writing is known throughout the world.
Morrison rounds out the issue with yet another action packed scene that pits Superman against a racing locomotive. Clark Kent calls Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, and he tries to warn them against using the train system that may have been sabotaged. However, Lois sees Clark not as a friend but as a competitor, and she ignores his warning to pursue one of the corrupt businessman’s enforcers. Superman springs into action (there’s that word again) to single-handedly stop the out of control train and find out if he really is more powerful than a locomotive. In the midst of this exciting scene, Morrison gives us an interesting insight into the new Lex Luthor’s motivations. Luthor compares Superman to a “non-native” species that threatens to destroy the entire ecology of Earth. This is an interesting comparison between the alien Superman and animals introduced to the ecosystems of different continents where they invariably cause indigenous wildlife to go extinct. Instead of the petty and unreasonable hatred of Superman that Luthor often displays, this new Luthor’s motivation appears to be based on logic and scientific reasoning that suggests Superman is a threat to the survival of the human race.
This issue was a fast paced and exciting introduction to a Superman that isn’t the Buddha-like paragon of restraint that existed in the old DCU. This Superman is hot tempered and intolerant of social injustice, and this kind of superpowered crusader for the common man may prove extremely resonant with a modern audience. I would recommend this comic for new readers who need a continuity free introduction to the mythology of Superman, and old readers who would like to see a unique take on the Man of Steel that brings the character back to its roots.