We’re in the fourth issue of the relaunched Action Comics, and Superman (who has just started his crimefighting career) is facing his first supervillain of the series. Brainiac has come to miniaturize Metropolis, and the amateur Man of Steel has to fight off his invading horde of robotic goons. This is a comic that fires on all cylinders, and it’s apparent that Grant Morrison is writing this series with an eye for emphasizing the titular “Action” as much as possible. It’s a big budget blockbuster of a comic, and Rags Morales is doing a great job of illustrating the city shattering battle between a more brutish and earthbound Superman and an army of Brainiac’s robotic Terminauts. While you might not like the T-shirt and jeans version of Superman, or his decidedly anti-establishment attitude, I can almost guarantee that this is an issue that won’t bore you with its dynamic and action-packed pacing.
This issue opens on the debut of Metallo in the DCnU. Instead of a criminal whose brain was implanted in a robotic body, this revamped Metallo is a soldier who’s wearing an exoskeleton suit of armor specifically designed to destroy Superman. Metallo’s mind has been usurped by Brainiac, who has also infected the assembly line car factories to produce legions of robotic “Terminauts” instead of automobiles. These Terminauts invade Metropolis and begin to “preserve significant artifacts”. I like the design of these Terminauts; they look like they are makeshift robots that were haphazardly improvized from car parts. There’ also an argument to be made that Superman was originally conceived during the Great Depression as a reaction to the newly emerging assembly line production of cars and other machines that rendered the average worker all but obsolete, so it’s appropriate that the Man of Steel would fight these factory produced death-bots. However, I have mixed feelings about this new Metallo.
Traditionally, Metallo’s mechanical body is powered by a Kryptonite heart. He’s the cold, unfeeling Tin Man without a heart whose humanity has been replaced by a lump of green death. Metallo’s threat level is considerably high because he’s not only superstrong and durable like the Man of Steel, but his very essence radiates energy that’s deadly for Superman. Given the right circumstances, I think Metallo could kill Superman. The reason I mention all of this is that the Metallo that debuts in this issue appears to be lacking the Kryptonite heart that, at least for me, defines the character. He does have some sort of green energy power, but no Green K heart, and I’m not convinced that this green energy is kryptonite related at all. This Metallo also is not the mind of a human implanted in a robot body. Rather, it’s a human being inside of a robotic suit. His humanity is preserved although hijacked by Brainiac.
While I have some issues with this new Metallo, I still like his redesigned look, and I think he serves his purpose as a physical antagonist for Superman. He’s also the figurehead for the much more faceless army of Terminauts, and I think it’s a smart move to give those devoid of personality automatons a leader with a human face. Superman versus the Terminauts was a great fight as well. Rags Morales really captures the brute physicality of this amateur Man of Steel who seems more prone to recklessly smashing obstacles than his elder statesman self of the future. Superman punches these Terminauts, and Morales draws them as exploding into clouds of car parts and metal debris, which I thought was a particularly cool image. The fight between the Man of Steel and the army of Steel Men was a well written and illustrated spectacle.
This issue also has the debut of Steel in the DCnU. Steel (Great Rao, forgive me my puns) steals the show, and I’m interested in seeing more of this revamped version of the character. Instead of basing his entire superhero persona off of Superman, Steel has a little more individuality in this incarnation. His armor doesn’t sport an S-shield or red cape, and he built the Metallo armor as a means of beating Superman, not replacing him. Steel basically saves this relatively underpowered Superman from Metallo, and cements himself as an effective superhero in this continuity who takes the initiative on his own instead of merely being inspired by the death of Superman. You can also catch a back up feature at the end of this comic starring Steel in a more detailed version of his brawl with Metallo.
The third character to debut revamped and redesigned in this issue is Brainiac. We only get a shadowy and obscured shot of him as he observes his collection of bottled cities, but I’m intrigued by the reimagining of this character’s appearance. He’s a caterpillar-like being with an elongated body that has many insect/robot arms. This less humanoid and more insectoid version of Brainiac is interesting; I like the idea that Brainiac, the obsessive compulsive collector of worlds, is more like an emotionless bug than a humanoid being.
Overall, I think this is a great comic. Grant Morrison is heavily emphasizing the Action in Action Comics, and it seems like almost every issue is packed with dynamic and fast paced scenes from the first page to the last. If you’ve read Morrison’s comprehensive analysis of superheroes in Supergods, you might recognize some of his commentary on the original Action Comics from 1938. It’s obvious that he’s attempting to apply the dynamic, perpetually in motion Superman of that formative run to his relaunch, and I think this back to basics approach is one that’s working well. I give this comic five out of five Raos.