By: Grant Morrison (story), Gene Ha (art), Art Lyon (colors)

The Story: This is a president who can honestly say “Yes, I can” to just about any situation.

The Review: It’s a fact that a lot of people had high hopes and expectations for this series, not the least because Morrison had writing duties.  This was the same man who did wondrous stuff with our hero in the now semi-required reading, All-Star Superman.  When you think of the truly awe-inspiring ideas that story contains—arm-wrestling with Atlas, solving a Sphinx’s riddle, the intelligent black sheep of Bizarro World—you have ample reason to expect the same here.

Thus far, however, much of what Morrison has written has been functional, but lacking the inspiration he demonstrated before.  The stories have been either weirdly straightforward or just straight-up weird, failing to hit that perfect balance of imagination and accessibility we enjoyed in All-Star, not to mention the sheer energy you felt (and still feel) in the former work.  Mostly, it feels like Morrison’s been scraping his brain for enough leftover ideas to cobble together a story.

So it is with pleasure and relief to find this issue bucks that trend.  In what is quickly becoming a great week for parallel universe stuff, we get to revisit the Earth of black Superman, AKA President Calvin Ellis, whom we first (?) met in the last issue of Final Crisis.  At the time, he seemed almost like a gag personified, a way to poke fun at real-life President Obama’s heroic image and perhaps make an indirect bit of commentary about race in comics.

Here, Morrison not only gives Cal a life of his own; he makes Cal feel more like Superman than Superman-classic has been feeling lately.  Everything you want out of the Man of Steel is here: unembarrassed corniness (“I don’t care how big you are!  You fight—like—molasses!”), endearing politeness even under pressure (“Give me one second, Courtney,” he says to his assistant as he fights a robotic menace from another Earth), and a virtue that beats the band (“I don’t know why you tried to shoot me.  I don’t know who you are—but I’m here to help if I can.”).  It takes a true Superman to pull this kind of thing off, and Cal is a true Superman.

Morrison also brings some of his trademark intellectual commentary that’s also been missing for a while on this series.  On yet another parallel Earth, Superman is no living being, but rather a construct conceived into being by experts to “streamline the Superman brand for maximum cross-spectrum, wide platform appeal.  They built a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero concealing a tragic secret life, a global marketing icon.”  Instead of empowering people, this Superman allows others to project themselves onto him, making them “feel part of something big and new and cool,” and helping them “forget the reality of their drab, obedient, lonely lives.”

Perhaps that’s why Luthor hates Superman so much and why he lashes out at this “demon-Superman,” calling him “the raw essence, the beast in Superman!”  If Superman simply acts in place of the people, rather than inspire them to greatness of their own, then he really is a fascist, as Luthor believes him to be.  This question ties in pretty well to Sholly Fisch’s back-up feature, where Nubia, the Wonder Woman of Cal’s Earth, questions the ethics of Superman using his physical powers to enforce his alter-ego’s political agenda.  Fisch does little more than beg the question, but at least he does it thoughtfully, and he gets strong artistic support from Cully Hamner and Dave McCaig.

As for the art on the main feature, Ha has a tremendously flexible style that can easily tackle both the “serious” aesthetics of an indie comic, and also the action-adventure epics, which makes him a terrific match for Morrison, who strides high concepts and pure entertainment at the same time.  Ha’s work makes this Superman tale look dynamic and fun, while retaining an overtone of gritty drama.

Conclusion: Easily the most fun I’ve had on this series since it relaunched; now this is the Morrison-penned Superman comic we’ve been waiting for.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – What with the “Monitor Machine” making an appearance over in The New 52 #1, it seems like every Earth across the board is developing a method of connection to each other.

– I have never been more horrified than when I saw demon-Superman ravage the Earth of the tiny Justice Leaguers, then carrying the corpse of Lil’ Superman into battle.

– On Earth 23, not everyone who’s white goes black and vice versa.  Cyborg and Vixen retain their African-American heritage and Batman remains stubbornly white.