Yes, Superman is wearing jeans. And a t-shirt. And work-boots. But lost amid the hubub over the Man of Steel ditching the baby blue onesie in favor of a decidedly more working class look is the challenge that comes with taking Action Comics, which has run continuously since June, 1938, stamping a new #1 on the cover and rebuilding the Superman mythos from scratch. This, along with the renumbering of Detective Comics and the rebooting of Batman’s mythos, is the big risk of DC Comic’s push to make its way back into the hearts, minds and hands of America’s children and casual comic book readers, but beyond maybe making a few number-crazy fanboys upset, Superman’s new look and new(ish) mission should come as no surprise–in comicdom, everything is up for revision.
Unlike Superman-Red/Superman-Blue, the Clark Kent presented by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales actually seems like he’s able to bring the character into a new era. Rather than spending time on his origins (Morrison has already captured Superman’s birth as perfectly and as quickly as possible in All-Star Superman), Action Comics jumps right into Kent’s formative days as a superhero. His mission is to make sure that the ultra-rich of Metropolis abide by the same laws as the ultra-poor, which makes his choice of wardrobe nothing if not appropriate. With his jeans rolled up and his cape hanging to his t-shirt by the force of will, this Superman looks more comfortable putting in a hard day’s work than being a paragon of virtue.
There are some issues with Superman’s voice, which at times leans a tad dictatorial, but those will either be worked out as Morrison further embellishes Clark’s working man ethos or will lead to an eventual philosophical showdown with Lex Luthor. What I like best about this Clark Kent is that even he has an appreciable sense of wonder about himself. When somebody asks if he can really jump over Metropolis Tower, he says “I’ve never tried from here.” He takes mortar fire and wrecking balls, but he’s not yet experienced enough to shrug them off, he still grunts and grimaces in pain. The people he rescues and the cops emptying round after round into him in futility are also astonished, but it’s nice to see Clark discovering himself, and not in the “Oh-ho, I see I’ve developed the powers of ice breath and super-kissing this week!” way. He’s still developing, still finding himself.
As such, he seems truly vulnerable to Lex Luthor for the first time in, well, forever. Luthor, of course, isn’t the kind of person who questions himself. He recognizes Superman as an alien strain, believes him to be a threat to Earth’s native population, and will stop at nothing to have him taken out…so long as he’s paid an out-of-this-world consulting fee. Morrison has Luthor down perfectly as a calculated, never in over his head master tactician. While the world goes crazy around him and four-star generals bark at him over wasted money, Lex calmly sips his energy drink and orders the wrecking balls to move in on occupied apartment complexes, trying to smoke Superman out.
Grant Morrison’s set-up is right and, assuming you can get past Clark Kent looking like a musclebound Harry Potter, Rags Morales’ art is exactly the blend of expressiveness and explosiveness you want in a comic like this. Action Comics, true to its name, sets out to be a summer blockbuster but, beneath the book’s shiny new coat of paint, it’s possible to see Morrison working out some big ideas. It’s early, but the Man of Tomorrow looks to be going to a good place.