Comic Book Review: "Action Comics: Superman And The Men Of Steel"
DC Comics New 52 flagship title, Action Comics, reintroduces Clark Kent (A.K.A. Superman) as he first appears in Metropolis, five years ago (before “now”). This is the story of his struggles as a young superhero (mid-twenties) and budding reporter during his first adventure against his first adversaries both at home (Lex Luthor and the military) and outer space (Braniac). Everyone knows he’s an alien. No one trusts him. Although the people he saves love him, the government fears him. In his first adventure, “Superman and the Men of Steel” (written by Grant Morrison with art by Rags Morales and Rick Bryant) he doesn’t sport his classic Superman costume, but an “S” t-shirt, a red cape, blue jeans, and work boots for a costume. (Later, he gets a newer updated version of his old costume.) He has to deal with his own sense of obligation to help those in need even as those he saves treat him as a worldwide threat. This story does what every die hard Superman fan has been dreaming of: making Superman relatable and the sympathetic underdog we all root for. He’s a young naïve, idealistic, misunderstood vigilante who’s just trying to use his super-powered gifts to help others and do the right thing—The Original Superhero.
As issue 1, “Superman Verse The City Of Tomorrow”, starts, Glen “Mister Metropolis” Glenmorgan is holding a party in his high rise penthouse. He’s talking to a short man with glasses as Superman in a red flash rushes through the French windows and beats up his armed henchmen. MPD Detective Blake and a large police squad show up. Superman is hanging Glenmorgan off of the ledge. He demands Glenmorgan confess to the police, saying that the law is same for rich and poor. Glenmorgan refuses to confess, so Supes jumps off of the balcony with Glenmorgan. They safely land on ground. Glenmorgan fanatically confesses to bribery and corruption. Blake tells Superman he’s under arrest. Supes x-rays Blake’s ulcer and tells him he should spend more energy on real criminals, so he doesn’t have to do their work for them. Police open more fire on him as he runs off at super-speed; he’s heard someone calling for help. At a local military base Lex Luthor and General Sam Lane talk about Supes. He’s shown up six months ago and Lane’s daughter, Lois, coined the name Superman. Luthor says he can capture Superman and mentions Lane’s Steel Soldier budget. Luthor isn’t doing this for money; he loves his country. He is going to use the demolition of Galileo Square (which is still inhabited) as a trap for Superman. As Supes saves everyone from the wrecking ball military tanks show up. One of the tanks fire; Superman uses the wrecking ball on first tank. The second tank fires and hits him. The crowd he saved rushes the tank protecting him as he flees. He returns to his apartment and changes into “Clark Kent” mode. His landlady Mrs. Nyxly wants the last two months’ rent. Clark says that all the stories that he’s written about Superman saving people has paid off. He gives her the rent due. He leaves to call Jimmy Olsen about the Glenmorgan incident. Jimmy and Lois are about to broad a train; they are trailing Gus “Guns” Grundigs, an ex-enforcer for Glenmorgan. Clark got a call from someone called Icarus, there’s a bomb on the train. Jimmy and Lois Lane (who work for a rival newspaper) shouldn’t get in the train. She disregards him and they both get on. Clark rushes to save them. The train is going 200 MPH as Superman tries to slow it down. The bomb goes off and the train careens through the street with Superman at the nose and smashes into a concrete wall pinning him to it and knocking him out. General Lane and Lex Luthor see this on a video feed and Luthor explains that this was the only way to get Superman captured. Lane is mad that Luthor put his daughter in harm’s way for it, but Luthor dismisses his complaints, saying that Lane wanted Superman at any cost and here he is.
In Issue 2, “In Chains”, Superman is imprisoned at the military base. Lex Luthor is experimenting / torturing him with gas and electricity. It has little effect on him; it’s weakens him but does no lasting damage. Luthor keeps referring to him as “it”. Dr. John Henry Irons and John Corben walk in on them. Irons wants an explanation, torturing anybody on USA soil is not allowed. Luthor say it only applies to human being: as Superman is an alien, it doesn’t count. General Lane doesn’t disagree with Luthor view; Irons quits on the spot thing out of disgust. The military want to use Superman’s DNA for their Steel Solider program, but they can’t get a blood sample; the needles keep breaking. In another part of the base they are shooting at Superman’s cape. It’s as invincible as Superman is. General Lane is informed that Lois wants to see her father is at the base entrance. She knows Superman is there. She’s brought information that proves that he’s a hero, not a villain. Her father neither denies nor confirms that he’s existed or is there, but if he did and was, he would be safe hands. He takes her dossier and leaves her with John Corben; her old boyfriend. She starts warming up to him. Inside, Luthor is interrogating Superman; he’s been giving information about his species, his rocket, Krypton, and the spaceship above Earth that’s ready to invade. Luthor won’t let that happen. He doesn’t even believe that “human” is Superman’s real form. He bets Supes really looks like that dead, dried-up calf wrapped in foil in a glass box next to him. Superman starts laughing. He’s says that Luthor’s speech allowed him time to regain his strength. He’s used his x-ray vision to fry all the equipment in the room. He breaks out of his restraints, rips the metal door off of its hinges, beat up everyone, grabs Lex Luthor and demands his cape back. As more guards show up, Superman throws Lex on the ground and leaves. He finds his cape and as he’s leaving he hears the Kryptonian rocket “speaking” to him. He finds it in an examination room. He tells it that he will be back for it. He gets cornered in a stairwell by armed guards. He bursts through the wall into the elevator shaft and runs into Lois, who’s stolen a pass key from her old boyfriend. He excuses himself and escapes. Later at the base’s lab Dr. Emmett Vale and Corben plan to try the Steel Solider robot suit against Superman, even though it’s not been tested. While riding in a limo, Lex Luthor is on the phone with his informant. Yes, he he’s the world’s leading scientist, how did he know about Krypton and Superman. He’s actually talking to the aliens from the spaceship hovers above Earth.
Issue 3, “World Against Superman” begins back on Krypton. Lara Lor-Van (Supes’ mom) is attending a party. Baby Kal-El (Clark Kent) is in the corner playing. Everyone is gossiping about everyday life. Suddenly, Lara gets a call from Jor-El (dad). The planet’s leading scientist just killed himself. There is a computer virus that’s infected the entire world’s computers. Kandor is being invaded. They have to leave. She tries to warn everyone. Alien robots appears, saying the planet’s database has been copied and filed, and then start killing everyone. Lara manages to escape the building and see the robotic invasion all over the city. On Earth, Clark wakes up from his nightmare. His phone is ringing; and his landlady is banging on the door. He’s trying to hide his Superman clothes and is half-dressed as Inspector Blake and the cops bust in and ransack his room. They are harassing him for writing stories and going after Glenmorgan. They think he’s working with Superman. He brushes off they’re threats. They leave him with a warning. Mrs. Nyxly shows Clark his Superman clothes, she’s hide them from the cop as they searched his room. Clark meets up with Jimmy. They talk about Superman being a scapegoat for Glenmorgan’s corruption coverage. Perry wants to offer Clark an escape route. Lois tries to charm him. Clark says he owes Taylor and The Star for publishing his work when no one else would. But, there is growing resentment for Superman; people are listening to Glenmorgan shifting attention onto Superman; blaming him for the train crash and the homeless. Clark gets another call from Icarus about Glenmorgan: He planned for the bullet train to crash to kill Angus Grundigs so he couldn’t rat him out. Now he’s funding robot driven trains to replace the bullet train, hoping to improve his damaged image. Later a mob attacks Superman for saving a child from a car crash. At home Clark is sitting on the floor looking at a picture of his earth parents, telling them he’s sorry, he tried; his Superman clothes in the trash can. The next day, Clark is interviewing Mr. Tide who runs the Factory For Tomorrow, start saying he fired too many people in favor of the robots. Tide gets mad at him. The other reports didn’t ask negative questions. Lois and Jim show up start arguing with Clark. Mr. Tide tries to kick all of them out. Suddenly, there a voice saying the planet’s database has been copied and filed. Robots start showing up (Terminauts). At the military base lab, the Steel Soldier project is underway with Corben in the robot suit. As they plug him in the Braniac computer virus infects the suit, burst his heart and takes over his body. He says that he is now “The Voice of the Colony of the Collector of Worlds”. Lex Luthor introduces himself and reminds him that he’s made a deal with them. The Corben demands to know where Superman is.
In issue 4, “Superman And The Men Of Steel”, the robot are mobilizing all over Metropolis. The news is going crazy. Corben is destroying everything at the base as he demands Superman’s location. Lex is running away saying that he, as the greatest scientific mind, has a deal to survive the invasion. At the factory, Clark tells everyone to run, as he runs away leaving the Lois, Jimmy, and Mr. Tide alone. Doctor John Henry Irons is listening to the news and decides to use a super-suit he has in the closet. Superman shows up, and begins fighting robots at the factory. The police try to arrest Superman. More robots show up, they want the Kryptonian specimen; Superman tells the police to either arrest him or let him do his job. Corben shows up at the factory looking for Superman. He sees Lois and asks her for help; some part of John is still there. Lois tries to reason with him as he fades between Man and Robot. He’s telling her that she broke his heart and having no heart is better. Terminauts are stealing stuff from the city museum to preserve rare artifacts. Superman arrives and punches Corben; he doesn’t fly back or fall down. Corben says that since the government learned that Superman existed, they have been developing a weapon against him; this Experimental Warsuit Metal-Zero suit. A fight ensues. Lex is trying to escape. He calls the aliens and says that the deal was that he survived. Corben initiates a Dwarf Star Lensing. He tells Superman that the collection is complete except for Superman. Clark says he had a dream about this. Dr. Irons shows up in a metal suit and fights off Corben. He says he built the Metal-Zero and knows how to fight it. He defeats Corben with an virus to shut the suit down. After he’s defeated, Corben is teleported into space. (The fight is told in the back-up story). Suddenly, a bunch of huge metal spiders show up and create a walled section around a huge part of the city, known as New Troy, and it disappears; leaving a huge crater. Superman is cornered by General Lane. He tells him that his daughter was in that globe. He asks Superman if he can save her. Superman says he has an idea, but he’ll need some help.
In the beginning of issue 5, “Rocket Song”, back on Krypton, long ago, Jor-El and Lara and trying to find a way to save themselves and Kal-el from planetary destruction. First, they try the Phantom Zone, but the prisoners inside try to revolt and attack them. Krypto the family dog attacks the prisoners and the prison’s portal shatters with Krypto inside. Then Jor-El and Lara try an experimental sentient rocket called Braniac. They tell it to find a world with a healthy, long-lasting sun with lower gravity, and send Kal-El off, wrapped in Jor-El’s cape, as the planet exploded. The rocket finds Earth. As it comes out of Superspace, its systems fail, and the ship crash-lands in Smallville, Kansas, U.S.A. Jon and Martha Kent are stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. Martha says that the dead calve they went by was a bad omen. (The back-up story tells the tale of their wedding and attempted pregnancies, in vitro fertilization, a miscarriage, and hopes of adoption.) The ship crashes nearby. They find baby Kal-El. They think he might a Russian experiment as military helicopters surround the downed ship. Jon tells Martha he has a plan. The Braniac ship scans the Earthlings, sees that they are too primitive for advanced technology, and shuts down into “silent mode”. The military stop the Kent’s as they drive by. Jon says they found a spaceman. He’s in the back of the truck. It’s the dead calf they found wrapped in foil. They take both the dead calf and the ship back to based and experiment on them. Now, years later in the present the ship “wakes up” as Superman returns, (this is when Supes escaped the base in issue 2) and when Luthor tries the escape with the military. Then, a third time, later in a space station, a group known as the Anti-Superman Army, steal the Kryptonian engine from the rocket as it sits in the base. (They’ve travelled back in time to steal the engine at a time before the Fortress of Solitude was built.) The army escape with the engine as a “future” Superman and the Legion of Superheroes arrive, too late to save the engine.
In issue 6, “When Superman Learned To Fly”, the short man with glasses from Glenmorgan’s party in issue 1 is telling the Anti-Superman Army that the engine core is encased in Kryptonite, which can be cultured into different elemental crystals (such as red, black, blue, silver) all which can be used to fight and kill Superman. He wants to make them pay him for it. They protest because they are the ones who stole it in the first place, it rightfully belongs to them. He says that he will give them all one piece of Kryptonite if they each do one thing in his name. In the Space Station orbiting earth “future” Superman, Saturn Woman, Cosmic Man, and Lightning Man, are pondering what’s happened. Supes says at this point in his life (the past) he was just facing off against the Terminauts. He wonders about the Legion tampering with the space-time continuum. Saturn Woman says that in the 31st century they use time bubbles (Tesseract space) to hold extra information; it’s not a big deal. They discuss how, without the engine, the Sunstone Lattice (Superman’s rocket) will die and the evil Braniac original virus will re-infect the earth. [Apparently, the Army of Anti-Supermen travelled through time to steal the Kryptonian engine, which changes history, so the Legion of Superheroes travel back in time to “now” to get present Superman, so they can go back to “five years earlier” (aka Superman’s early years) to fix the time rift.] There is something else in the base with them; Eric Brekker, a mutate ape that can change shapes. He attacks them. Superman tries to reason with him to get the information about the location of the army and the engine. The legion help subdue him (turning him into a worm and trapping him in a bottle) and get the answers: Nimrod the Hunter fired a microscopic lead pellet into Superman’s brain with a time-space bubble in it that can hold thirty people. Saturn Woman says she needs to read Supes memories right away. Back in his youth Clark, aware of his past and having his super strength, is talking to his dad, Jon. He feels like his Kryptonian parents sent him away, cast him out. Jon says they gave him a life boat, so the he could do some good here on Earth. Clark wonders what the “S” on his cape means. Jon tells him to use his strength to help and inspire people, to remind them of the good in all of us. The Legion also appears in this memory (they went back in time to see Superman as a kid and end up meeting him). They realize that that day is when Nimrod fired the pellet (a space time rift thing). They open a Tesseract in Superman’s head. The anti-superman army and the man with glass are hiding in the pellet in his head. The legion shows up and a fight ensues, the Kryptonite explodes and shrapnel flies into Superman’s brain. Superman starts screaming and holding his head. Dekker escapes his jar and grapples him as a huge jelly fish. Superman figures it out: the radiation from the Kryptonite in his head will save the rocket. He fights Brekker as he struggles to reach the rocket before it dies. He remembers Jon Kent telling him, on his death bed, to always by good; to fight the good fight, helps other in need, and never give up. He fights his way to the rocket, transfers the Kryptonite radiation to it. It revives itself and blast Brekker. Superman saves the rocket, the past, future and himself (Star Trek style). The Legion returns from Clark’s brain with the man with glasses. They take Superman back to his real time and go back to their own time. They ponder the irony: Superman had inspired them to be heroes. So, they traveled back in time to meet him as a kid. This early meeting actually inspired him to become Superman (they also teach him to fly). The back-up story reveals that by the time Clark heads off to college in Metropolis both his Earth parents have died. He sells the farm to a family friend and reminisces about his life growing up on Earth on a farm.
Issue 7, “Superman’s Doomsday Decision” brings us back to “younger” Clark and the Terminauts. Superman uses an oxygen tank and runs fast enough to break through the atmosphere (25,000 MPH) into space to get to the alien ship. As he gets there, a robotic tentacle electrocutes him, and drags him inside. The robots try to subdue him, but he escapes and finds a room filled with miniature bottled cities, and displays cases with artifacts and treasures in them. He recognizes the Kryptonian clothing. Inside the miniaturized Metropolis, Lois, Jimmy, the military and Lex Luthor are trying to figure out what’s happened. They are attacked by metal spiders. They run into the bar at Glenmorgan’s hotel to hide. Luthor says that he has the aliens on speed dial. He calls and he’s told that the deal was he survives and he does…inside the bottle. The bartender is the small guy with glasses. Lois looks outside and sees “giant” Superman looking into the bottle. A “Colony” robot attacks Superman and explains that he is the Collector of World and needs Superman and his Rocket to complete the collection of rarities from extinct worlds. He tells Clark that he has been everywhere in the universe, and known as many names: Computo, Pneumenoid, Mind2, Braniac on Krypton; and on Earth, the Internet. The Colony makes Clark choose which world to save: the bottled Kandor (the home of his ancestors) or bottled Metropolis (the world that fears him). It gives Superman 15 minutes to choose between Nature and Nurture. He says he protects all of them. He breaks the glass case with clothes in it and put them on (it’s his new Superman costume). He says he will defeat the Colony and then return all the bottled cities to their homes. The Braniac alien says the worlds are destroyed after the collection is complete. Krypton is dead, Earth is next, and Superman must join the collection or die. Corben (in the Metal-Zero Suit) shows to confront Superman. In backup story tells how John Irons (Steel) helps clean up Metropolis in the aftermath of New Troy is bottled and removed.
At the beginning of issue 8, “Superman Meets The Collector of Worlds”, Luthor explains him to Lois. Sided with aliens (Braniac) was the only way to save the human race. They were going to collect rarities of Earth take a city with people and add them to the collection and the destroy earth. He had no choice, they had already destroyed Krypton and needed Superman and the rocket to complete the collection and neither the world nor Superman was powerful enough to fight back. This was the best (albeit, painful) possible outcome; at least the human race is saved from extinction as a trophy in Braniac’s collection. If he hadn’t agreed, Braniac would have destroyed the entire world and saved nothing. Outside, Superman is fighting Braniac and Corben. Corben says it was his idea to save Metropolis (as compared to another city), to save Lois; if she dies because of the fighting, its Superman’s fault. Supes tells Corben that if he really cares about Lois he’ll fight against the program. Corben does fight back and turns on Braniac. He tells Supes to save Lois and Metropolis if he can. Supes breaks the glass and grabs his rocket ship. He throws it at Braniac and it “explodes” and encases him in a huge Kryptonian crystal. He’s stopped the annihilation of Earth and now has complete control over the space ship. After returning Metropolis to Earth, everyone is rejoicing. Luthor secretly slips away saying, the world is now a different place and he “needs time to think,” Glenmorgan, completely delirious from the imprisonment, wants to fully confess his crime. At the Daily Star, Mr. Taylor congrats Clark for persistently going after Glen Glenmorgan, and it worked: He was caught and labeled as going crazy. Taylor says he met Clark’s parent once in Smallville. They were good people and they’d be proud of him. Later, Clark calls Icarus. Unbeknownst to him, it’s actually Lex Luthor who’s been feeding him info all this time. Lex tells him that he wants to make the world a better place and to just call him Icarus. At the military lab, Lane is studying Corben. He’s alive, but without a heart. They plan to keep an eye on him. Mrs. Nyxly promises to keep Clark’s secret identity. As Superman, he appears with the mayor as he gives him the keys to the city. He explains to the crowd that he is from a planet called Krypton and he came to earth as a baby. He’s going to helps everyone who needs help; he’s here to stay. Later, Clark goes to the Smallville cemetery and talks to his parents graves, telling them that he’s doing the right thing and using his powers for good. He flies off to the Braniac ship and now using it as his Fortress of Solitude and looks out of the Earth, as a watchful protector. The backup story is a prologue showing the short man with glasses asking Nimrod the Hunter if he can shoot a bulletproof man. He replies that nothing is bulletproof.
This is a very intense origin story for Superman; it’s classic and yet modern. It’s very clever and endearing. It makes Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman fresh and relatable. It breathes new life into a stale character created almost 75 years ago. It makes Clark even more human, because he embodies the classic human trait of perseverance; he never gives up. He believes, wholeheartedly, in right and wrong. That people are good, deep down inside—there’s good in everyone. This story has many fantastic aspects of other stories and genres; there a little bit of Star Trek in it (The time travel incident; the Braniac aliens are very Borg-like). There’s a little Spider-man in it (Superman is viewed as an enemy, even when he’s trying to help) there a little Batman (both parent are dead, and he’s trying to honor their memory). [Of course is should be noted that Superman was created before any of these characters, but using them as inspiration gives his story even more depth than we’ve seen in a long time.] This new origin story gives us a 21st century view of Superman in a xenophobic world. Luthor sees him as a germ-riddled alien parasite. The military fears what it can’t control, before even talking to Superman to understand his intentions. The concept of Lex Luthor feeding Clark information in intriguing; He seems to be playing both sides of the fence. Does he know Clark is Superman, or does he believe Clark is in contact with him? Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen working for rival papers is another twist, as is his landlady finding out he’s Superman. Superman using the confiscated alien ship as his Home base is different. These great little plot points make he almost a completely new character and most importantly—makes him exciting; you want to read that next issue; to see what next for this “new” superhero. The only thing about this origin story that is unrewarding is “future” story in issues 5 and 6. It appears out of nowhere with a completely foreign, and seemingly unrelated, story. It seems out of place; disjointed. It breaks up the flow of the origin story. Yes, it takes place around the time of Clark’s defending Earth, but you can physically read issue 4 and then jump to issue 7 and not miss a thing. It is a distraction from the momentum of younger Clark/Superman saving the world from an alien invasion to seemingly remind us of the “future”. It really could’ve been the next story arc instead of shoehorned into this one. However, on the merit of the 2-issue story itself, it is an interesting and engaging story. This New 52 Superman is very well created: he’s still the good-natured Boy Scout who’s raised by simple American heartland farmers with strong valves of right and wrong, selflessness and helping those in need, no matter what. Yet, he’s infused with more modern elements from other edgier superheroes (Batman, Spiderman) which give him just a little bit more depth. If he was just the “perfect” superhero, no one would care about him; there’d be nothing to relate to. Here, he’s a stranger in a strange land, and yet, he values Truth and Justice in a world choked with Lies and Corruption. He’s a reminder of the important valves of the human race, even if he’s not from here. He embodies the same universal values of 2012 and he did in 1938: the hope of a better world and a better tomorrow for all people everywhere.
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