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Mild Mannered Reviews - Action Comics

Action Comics #5 Action Comics #5

Action Comics #5

Scheduled to arrive in stores: January 4, 2012

Cover date: March 2012

"Rocket Songs"

Writer: Grant Morrison
Penciller: Andy Kubert
Inker: Jesse Delperdang

"Baby Steps"

Writer: Sholly Fisch
Penciller: ChrisCross
Inker: ChrisCross

Michael Bailey Reviewed by: Michael Bailey

Click to enlarge

Action Comics #5 Action Comics #5 "Rocket Song"

Jor-El and Lara watch in horror as Krypton dies around them. Their only hope lies in entering the Phantom Zone but the prisoners inside make it clear that that isn't an option and with the help of their dog Krypto the two manage to escape from the villains. Jor-El tries to think on another way to save themselves but it is Lara that suggests they place their infant son into the model spacecraft they had built together. With heavy hearts they do so and Kal-El rockets away from the planet as it finally explodes.

Jor-El had programmed the artificial intelligence in the ship to find a world with a younger, fiercer sun and so it does. The ship crashes in Smallville and is found by the Kents, who immediately come up with a way to throw the authorities off the scent of the baby they have found. As the ship is found by the military Jonathan drives up to a check point and shows them the body of a deformed calf, which he tells them is spaceman.

Years later Superman finds the space ship while being held by the military and Lex Luthor. Sometime after that a group of shadowy villains break into the Fortress of Solitude and steal the ship's Kryptonite engine. This is discovered by Superman and three members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who realize that the engine is now in the hands of the Anti-Superman Army.

4Story - 4: Well that was unexpected.

I could be wrong here but I thought Grant Morrison said something at last year's San Diego Comicon about the fact that they weren't going to re-do the origin. It is possible that I misheard him. Maybe he said he wasn't going to start out with the origin. Whatever the case I got it in my head that we weren't going to see how this Kal-El ended up in Smallville and I made my peace with that. This wouldn't be the first time that DC has kept a new continuity's origin story under wraps.

And yet here's how this particular Kal-El was rocketed as a baby from the doomed planet Krypton and found by a kindly farm couple.

As I said...unexpected.

When I realized that this was ostensibly an origin issue my first and most intense reaction was frustration at the fact that this would be the fourth comic book origin of Superman that DC has given us in nine years. To be fair SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE was out of the mainstream DC continuity of the time but that is still three different takes on how Superman came to be before this one. I realize that the intent of the New 52 was to start over (except for the properties that were popular before the re-launch) but as a long time reader it is irritating that every few years we are given another new take on Superman's backstory especially given the hype surrounding SUPERMAN: SECRET ORIGIN. It is amazing to me how a company can put so much into a project and bill it as the new origin for the character written and drawn by superstar creators and then sweep it under the rug so easily.

So what's the big deal? Why am I upset that the origin keeps getting changed? And nine years is a really long time anyway, right? Well, I'm upset and annoyed because I like consistency in my serialized fiction. I come back again and again and again because the writers and artists involved have created a world that I care about. Changes in continuity can be annoying but they are only part of the problem. I can deal with shifts in continuity as long as the final product is consistent and that they don't keep making radical changes when something isn't working. Doing so is the equivalent of building a house, not liking the way the upstairs looks and tearing the whole thing down to rebuild it instead of remodeling the upper floor to make it look the way you want it to.

And nine years really isn't a long time, at least to me. Heck, it seems like yesterday that we were getting ready for INFINITE CRISIS to hit.

So I am a bit put off by the fact that we have been given yet another origin for Superman.

The thing is...I really liked this one.

The opening scene on Krypton grabbed me right from the beginning and would not let go. I loved the fact that Jor-El and Lara are given equal importance. Usually Lara is kind of a mess and Jor-El is the one that takes charge and places the baby Kal-El into the ship. Here we see the two of them working together. I also loved the fact that Morrison had them try to escape into the Phantom Zone first leading to a creepy and exciting scene. My biggest complaint throughout the whole NEW KRYPTON story was that Zod was far too sympathetic to be an effective villain. We don't have that problem here. The prisoners looked and sounded evil, which I dug quite a bit. Add Krypto saving the day and you have an amazing scene.

Morrison makes one of several call backs as Lara and Jor-El finally get around to the whole rocket thing. In the 1940's radio series Jor-El suggests that Lara get in the ship so she can escape Krypton's destruction but Lara refuses and insists they send Kal-El because her place is with her husband. We get something similar here while it is a small Easter egg I liked seeing it here. As a bonus Morrison has Lara suggest the rocket, which I dug quite a bit. It elevates Lara as a character and gives her more importance in the mythology.

The second and third call backs surprised the heck out of me. While the Kents had always been described as childless in the Pre-Crisis era it was Byrne's MAN OF STEEL that went into the hows and whys of that albeit briefly. In this issue the first glimpse we get of Martha Kent is seeing her despondent over the fact that she had a miscarriage. I appreciated the fact that my favorite era of Superman was being represented even if it is a horribly depressing thing to think about. Then, a page later, Martha posits that the baby might be Russian, which was what Jonathan had suggested in MAN OF STEEL #1. So it looks like Morrison is pulling from all of the previous eras of Superman for his version of the character, which should bug me but frankly they are mostly small references to support the ideas he is bringing to the table and are thus easier to accept.

The rest of the story was odd but in a good way. I like the explanation as to what the heck Lex Luthor showed Superman in ACTION COMICS #2 and I get the feeling that the reason Superman laughed at Lex was that he knew the real story. Some people (including me I think) wrongly believed that the deformed calf was Krypto but alas this wasn't the case and is another example of how fans can believe something and get really upset about it only to have it turn into a non-issue several issues later. The sequence with the Anti-Superman Army was interesting and I think this story has a lot of promise.

My only real problem with this issue is that it is interrupting the flow of a story I have been following for four issues. Not only that the timing doesn't feel right for this. I honestly believe we shouldn't have seen Superman in the armored costume in this title until it was explained how he got it. It is fine seeing it in SUPERMAN because that title is set in the present, but for ACTION I would have appreciated getting the full story before it appeared in the title. Despite that I look forward to seeing how this particular story plays out.

One final thought; I am curious what new readers think of this origin. It occurs to me that my baggage comes from reading the Superman titles for twenty-five years, so I have seen a lot and then seen it again in a new form five to ten years down the road. I wonder what someone who didn't read BIRTHRIGHT or SECRET ORIGIN or EARTH ONE thought of Morrison's take on the backstory. That would be cool to know.

5Art - 5: The artwork in this story was fantastic. I have admired Andy Kubert's art for years so it was nice seeing him work on a Superman story. The Krypton scenes had a great deal of excitement to them and I particularly liked seeing the Phantom Zone villains.

The real strength to the art is how Kubert makes the characters feel alive through their facial expressions and body language. You can see Lara's anguish on the first page. You can see that Zod is just evil incarnate on the second page. Martha's pain is apparent when she is introduced and Jonathan has a smug expression when he is putting one over on the soldiers. These are small details but they make the difference between good art and great art.

Oh, and I REALLY liked the last shot of Superman and the Legion members. Kubert has a great handle on the new Superman costume and with art like this that design is getting easier to like.

"Baby Steps"

Jonathan Kent and Martha Clark are married and immediately start planning to have children. This proves more difficult than they thought it would be and after hormone treatments and other procedures don't work they look into adoption. Martha is rather upset on the drive home as they have spent all of their savings on the in vitro fertilization attempt but Jonathan suggests mortgaging the family farm to pay for the adoption fees. Martha tells Jonathan she loves him and warns him to watch out for a rough patch in the road so they won't get stuck again.

5Story - 5: Once again the back-up story threatens to be better than the main event.

In earlier reviews I complained that it felt like Jonathan and Martha Kent were being all but forgotten in this new version of Superman. Thankfully this has turned out not to be the case. Sholly Fisch tells a very sad and all too real story that illustrates how much these two people love each other. I connected to this story in a very personal way though I won't go into why at the moment. Suffice to say I know what Jonathan and Martha went through before finding Clark.

What floored me the most about this story is how Fisch (and Morrison in the main story) took a minor story beat from MAN OF STEEL #1 and used it in this new version of Superman. While John Byrne mentioned it in WORLD OF SMALLVILLE the fact that Martha had several miscarriages and a still birth was never explored like this during the Post-Crisis era. This may sound odd but it was nice to see something that I consider intrinsic to the Superman mythos brought back for this version of the character.

The only negative thing I can say about this story is that the Martha at the end of this story seems to be in better spirits than the Martha we see introduced in the main story. It is a minor quibble and can be easily explained as I have seen firsthand the highs and lows this subject can bring about in people.

So far these back-up stories are worth the extra dollar on the cover price. I hope this trend continues. If they are as good as the first two I have nothing to worry about.

4Art - 4: The only thing I didn't like about the art in this story is how weird Jonathan and Martha look through the entire story, especially Martha. Her facial expressions are just odd. The characters look like they belong in a Vertigo title, not a mainstream DC book. The storytelling is very clear, though, and the emotions the characters feel come through, which is important given the subject matter. So while I didn't love the art I did appreciate it.

4Cover Art - 4: The only problem with this cover is that I really don't like the black S on the blanket/cape. This is the one area where I will dig my fannish heels into the ground regarding the new costumes. I don't really have a problem with the "older" costume and the "newer" one continues to grow on me but the S on the cape is a source of considerable frustration.

Otherwise this is a fantastic cover.

5Variant Cover Art - 5 (Krypto): Krypto!

This is one of the best variant covers I have seen for this series. It just made me smile. It has a lot of energy and enthusiasm to it and I like the idea of a young Clark Kent wearing this outfit and playing with his dog.

Now that's a story I would like to see.

5Variant Cover Art - 5 (Black and White): As usual I love the black and white variant. As usual I think it really shows how a black and white image can look better than one with the bells and whistles of computer coloring. This one looks a tad different than the past variants but I kind of liked that.

Again, as usual, I really wish I could my hands on these. Just to have in the collection.

Mild Mannered Reviews


Note: Month dates are from the issue covers, not the actual date when the comic went on sale.

January 2012

February 2012 March 2012 April 2012 May 2012 June 2012 July 2012 August 2012 September 2012 October 2012 November 2012 December 2012

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