By: Grant Morrison (story), Rags Morales (pencils), Mark Propst (inks), Brad Anderson (colors)

The Story: Is the god among men ready to face the legions of heaven?

The Review: Like a lot of people, I imagine, I was immediately struck by the covers to this issue.  You have Superman assailed by a flock of angels—with wings and togas and flaming swords, the whole deal.  How can you look at that and not think, What the what? or some more vulgar equivalent?  That there, my friends, is the very thing that gives Morrison a big name among comic book writers: an unwavering commitment to the wondrously strange.

As it turns out—spoiler alert—these angels actually represent the Multitude, which has laid waste to various worlds, rebuffed only once by Jor-El of Krypton, and now targeting Earth.  True to any Morrison concept, the Multitude requires a great deal of abstract imagining on your part, for it is “all one thing—a single weapon with countless points aimed at us from a higher, 5th dimension.”  That’s comparatively tame when you consider some of the truly crazy ideas seen in other Morrison projects, but nonetheless, a worthy challenge for Superman.

Forced to repeat his father’s feat, Superman engages in some highly implausible science to pull it off.  Once he hears Superman’s plan, one scientist protests, “You’d have to unify gravity and electro-magnetism.”).  Suffice to say, if there’s someone up for that particularly impossible job, it’s Superman.  The only problem is you don’t quite understand how unifying gravity and electro-magnetism works, and whatever’s Superman doing on the page, using his own body as a conduit or conductor or whatnot, it doesn’t clarify things at all.

Consequently, defeating the Multitude, despite the fancy language Morrison uses, doesn’t appear any harder than simply electrifying them all at once.  But this is also an issue where Superman forms a treaty between humans and sentient construction vehicles on Mars, and where he confronts a godlike being (the Multitude is what composes his hand) bent entirely on making the Man of Steel into “the ultimate loser!”  That’s a very impressive task list for one issue.

Much as this three plots-in-one deal feels rushed and a bit deflating after all the build-up of earlier issues, they all reveal the essential appeal of Superman: he’s completely devoted to protecting us.  In some ways, he really does come across as a “man-god,” as Vyndktvx calls him.  If you’ve heard the old bromide about God knowing the fall of every sparrow, Morrison evokes the same feeling when Clark hears the faint cries of a mere handful of people, pleading for help from another planet altogether, and he flies to their side.  And when Vyndktvx twists his victory into failure, you can feel Superman’s anguish at being helpless to save them as he promised.

I’ve been on the fence about Morales’ work on this title for a long time, and now I can finally say that I think he was a bad fit for the kind of stories Morrison wants to tell.  Morales excels with grounded plots that reveal the humanity of characters.  Forcing him to convey Martian landscapes, techno-aliens, upper-dimensional beings—that all seems way out of his niche.  He does his best, and with Anderson’s warm colors he does manage to create a book that recalls the simple spectacles of the Silver Age, but that falls far short of the modern epic vision we expect.

Sholly Fisch, after taking point on Action Comics Annual, returns to back-up duties in his little tale about Superman seeing his birthplace firsthand.  Even though the use of real-world scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson feels rather gimmicky, it’s a charming way to incorporate some genuine physics into an extraordinary plot, and the haunting imagery at the end provides a poignant contrast to the upbeat, almost educational bulk of the feature.  I don’t know who this Chris Sprouse is, but his art is like the lovechild of Cliff Chiang’s elegant lines and Cully Hamner’s simple-but-detailed approach to figures.  With Karl Story’s confident inks and Jordie Bellaire’s cool, clean colors, Sprouse draws a knockout of a back-up.

Conclusion: The story suffers from both breathless pacing and unimpressive art, and a solid back-up feature can do little to help that situation.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Why does Superman always have to deal with at least one ungrateful whiner per adventure?  One lady shrills, “You promised we’d be okay!  It’s easy for you, Superman—you can survive anything!  What happens to us?”  When her husband tries to cut her off, she snaps, “No, he promised.”  Way to be a role model for your child, lady.

– An unfortunate side-effect of Fisch’s back-up is it takes place after Superman’s Mars mission.  So whatever happens next issue, he survives it, none the worse for wear, evidently.