Grant Morrison is infuriating.
Wait, let me explain. At times, his writing is so convoluted that it is almost unreadable in single issues. Instead you have to wait for the graphic novel and dedicate time to reread the story until, hopefully, all the pieces fall into place. Sometimes he treads the line of quirky, otherworldly plotlines with strong characters navigating the nebulous terrain. Despite the potential for a heavy dose of "What the frell?" in all his books, Morrison is a fantastic writer that keeps me chomping at the bit for his works.
Which is why it makes me so damned angry when he writes something like Action Comics Issue #0. It's the perfect example of taking the heart and soul of a character like Superman and weaving a simple yet heart-wrenching story that showcases all the best of the man with the red cape.
The issue begins with Clark's first few weeks in Metropolis, which are evidently pretty busy. He puts in the order for the iconic t-shirts that become his new uniform, gets a job at the Daily Star and shares some time playing video games with Jimmy Olsen before moving out after three months staying there. This is where we learn Jimmy's gritty new origin story and where Clark confesses his intrigue for Lois. Sorry, I mean his interest for her writing, of course.
Oh and there's also his first appearance as Superman. Yet that's almost incidental, as Issue #1 of Action already told that tale. The real story is about the boy who steals Superman's cape.
Smart kid, he figures out quickly that the cape is nigh indestructible and uses it to stand up to his abusive father, saving his little brother from a beating. Or worse. This dad may be the cliche violent alcoholic but that just makes him exactly the kind of man you want to see defeated. I won't spoil the ending but if you know the man with the S on his chest, you can imagine how things turn out.
Morrison's writing of all the characters feels very authentic: Clark is awkward but intelligent while Supes is kind and charming with every quip. Lois is sassy but tough as nails. Jimmy has a more realistic tone than in pre-52 stories (though anything feels more realistic than the man who married an ape more than once) while still maintaining the smart-ass, eager photographer we all know and love. Perry is no nonsense and is the reason Lois and Jimmy investigate Superman's first appearance, to get the proof they need of the new guy in town.
Ben Oliver's art with Brian Reber's colours are simply gorgeous. Mixing standard panel breakdowns with more dynamic angles during action sequence shakes up the flow of the book and generates an added layer of tension to the scenes. Oliver's use of silhouettes during key sequences conveys emotion and action with equal grace, creating simple iconic images that stick in the reader's mind. Best of all, every appearance Superman makes brightens up the warm but muted tones of Metropolis, the rich red and blue instantly comforting the readers. You're genuinely happy and filled with a sense that everything will be ok when he shows up. That's the core of the man in blue.
It's a great one shot for readers who know the universe and for those who've never opened a comic before. A simple but honest story about one of the hardest characters to write, which is why it's so frustrating that Grant Morrison doesn't always focus on that. There's room for whimsy and tall tales in a universe as big as DC's but being able to write Superman this simply, honestly and truthfully is something he should do more often.
Action Comics Issue #0