Grant Morrison’s take on Superman as a socially conscious superhero is a refreshing update on the Man of Steel. It seems like the main thrust of his run on Action Comics is not to pit Superman against increasingly powerful supervillains, but rather to show the effects on society that an unstoppable crusader for civil liberties would have. This version of an amateur Superman sees that the system is corrupt, but it’s also like it’s made out of silly putty for his unbreakable hands, and he’s decided to go against the the law to right what he perceives as corruption and injustice. The heroic outlaw is a direction that is usually reserved for Batman, and Superman hasn’t been portrayed as such an anti-establishment crime fighter since the early days of Action Comics in 1938. It’s interesting to see the anti-establishment take on Superman back in a modern setting.
This issue opens on baby Kal-El on Krypton. He’s with his mother at a Kryptonian party of upper-class socialites. This isn’t Byrne’s unemotional and cold Krypton. This Krypton is a society of super-enlightened people who discuss unimaginable scientific discoveries over champagne. Instead of Byrne’s anti-septic and unwelcoming Krypton, Morrison’s Krypton seems like a place of beautiful architecture and glorious, hyper-evolved citizens who have progressed their civilization to a level of maturity that we can only dream of.
We learn in this scene that Jor-El is the Chicken Little of Krypton who is always screaming that the sky is falling. The partygoers, such as Lara’s sister and her mother, are skeptical about Jor-El’s claims that “Krypton’s recent quake activity ” spells certain doom for their entire planet. Apparently, Jor-El has a history of “apocalyptic hyperbole”, and no one takes his doomsday claims seriously. I like this idea of portraying Jor-El as the boy who cried wolf, or rather the man who cried planetary destruction. It lends a certain bitter sweet irony to the fact that no one listened to him when he was actually right.
The party is interrupted by Jor-El’s desperate pleas to his wife Lara for her to flee with their infant son Kal-El. Brainiac crashes the party and he starts to miniaturize Kandor because of Krypton’s imminent destruction. A little touch I enjoyed in this scene was Morrison’s choice to have Brainiac refer to his miniaturization process as “dwarf star lensing”, a nice nod to the technology that The Atom uses to shrink himself down.
We see that this entire scene was a nightmare that Clark Kent was having. It seems a little unlikely to me that he would remember any of that stuff in Kandor when he was just a baby, but you could easily say that Kryptonians can remember things from a much earlier age than humans. Clark Kent’s slumber is interrupted by his landlady and the Metropolis Police Department. The police are searching his apartment because of his activity as an investigative journalist and his constant struggle to “expose the corruption in Metropolis”.
I guess you could say that Inspector Blake and the MPD are on the corrupt Glenmorgan’s payroll, but I’m not sure you can randomly search a journalist’s apartment on the flimsiest of pretenses. Clark Kent didn’t even attempt to stop them or ask for a warrant which seemed a little odd to me. Putting aside the issue of a likely illegal search of his apartment, I enjoyed the idea that Clark Kent is an investigative journalist who doesn’t shy away from exposing the corruption of the rich and powerful. Although this Clark Kent masquerades as a scrawny and weak physical specimen, he doesn’t act like a wimp; he’s assertive when Inspector Blake tries to intimidate him into giving up his crusade to reveal the dirty tricks of powerful men.
I also liked the design of Clark Kent’s apartment. This isn’t a palatial loft. It’s a tiny apartment with room for about four people to stand in before the oxygen levels get perilously low. This kind of small living space is realistic for a journalist just starting his career in a big city like Metropolis. Clark Kent decorates his apartment with a star map, which I found appropriate for a guy that would look to the celestial bodies and wonder if one of those points of light was his home.
I also noticed that when the cops search his place, one of them picks up a copy of Walter Tevis’s classic sci-fi novel The Man Who Fell to Earth. This sci-fi book (famously adapted to a movie starring David Bowie in 1976) tells the story of an alien who lands on earth and seeks to find a way to transport his people from his homeworld to earth to escape the deadly drought on their planet. This was an extremely clever prop to have in Clark Kent’s room, and it’s these subtle references which really make me love Grant Morrison’s work.
There are a few more plot points that I don’t need to spoil in this review by going into too much detail. Suffice to say that you can expect to see the rise of Metallo and the coming of Brainiac in the following issues. I’m enjoying Grant Morrison’s take on Superman who is just starting his career, and the idea that he approaches crimefighting with an eye to righting the wrongs that the corrupt system ignores. His Clark Kent is not a pushover…he’s an investigative journalist whose work to reveal social injustice is just as vital as his work as Superman. I give this comic 5 out of 5 Raos, and I’d definitely recommend it to Superman fans and uninitiated readers as well.