ACTION COMICS #17

By: Grant Morrison (story), Brad Walker & Rags Morales (pencils), Andrew Hennessy, Mark Probst, Cam Smith (inks), Gabe Eltaeb & Brad Anderson (colors)

The Story: Superman lives the worst days of his life all at once.

The Review: If you’ve decided to be a Morrison fan, then you’ve already resigned yourself to the serious highs and lows that kind of commitment requires.  Because when the man is on, he is on and you have the pleasure of reading something that can very well remain a part of comic book history.  And when he is not so good, it really is a crisis of faith, isn’t it—where you begin to reconsider whether Morriosn really deserves the reputation attached to him.

But I’m projecting.  My point is, you read Morrison knowing he aims high, so there will be falls along the way.  The worst is if he makes the descent at the end of an arc, when his trajectory should be in the opposite direction.  Most unfortunately, that seems to be the case here.  Though he spent the last year laying all kinds of bombs set to go off at this, Superman’s finest (thus far) moment, the release of energy here is chaotic and confused, with almost no sense of control.

Although playing with chronology is an old trick of Morrison’s, he ultimately takes a risk every time he does it.  Though this kind of storytelling radicalism does give an epic scope to a tale, it also interferes with a reader’s ability to follow along in a sensible way.  You really have to take care to make sure the audience stays with you as you traipse about the timeline in this willy-nilly manner, and unfortunately, there are moments in this issue where you are just lost.  After a couple panels, he’ll give you a sense of where you are—but only for a few more panels before the next jump in time, which can go in any direction over any span.

If that’s not confusing enough, you also get Morrison’s typically loose, almost random style of dialogue.  There are some vagaries spoken by Vyndktvx that I find it hard even to begin to analyze for meaning: “Still, it worked with old man Kent’s handkerchief, Glenmorgan’s tie.  The rules of isomorphic magic says I can use Superman’s cape to help bring about his downfall.”  In the words of the great Liz Lemon: what the what?

As for what happens in the issue itself, there’s nothing all that surprising.  Basically, it continues to be a bash-fest with a few moments of Superman classicism thrown in along the way: Pa Kent telling his son to keep fighting the good fight; the Legion hopping about the timeline themselves to set history back on course; and the citizenry coming to Superman’s aid when he’s down.  There’s a lot going on, but nothing that indicates a history-making story in the works.

Perhaps with an artist like Frank Quitely or even Chris Sprouse (more on him later) working on the issue, Morrison’s ambitious script might have borne more fruit.  But both Walker and Morales seem too focused on the literal aspects of the story, depicting the action as straight as possible, with little embellishment or care to give the story more clarity.  Just as Vyndktvx finds it difficult to maneuver in so few dimensions, Morrison’s story seems stifled in the plain confines of Morales and Walker’s art.  Anderson and Eltaeb can’t do much to spiffy up such art, either.

While I’m not sure I like Fisch’s constant attempts to wring your heart with his back-ups, I have to admit he does a good job with such touching material, and he doesn’t exactly push their sappy qualities in your face.  The conversation between Clark and his pa is predictably heartwarming, but just a little more predictable than heartwarming.  With Sprouse’s light, flexible art (which is both retro and modern at the same time), even the cheesiest moments seem genuine, like both Kent men declaring in unison, “Kents aren’t quitters!”  Karl Story’s inks give great body to Sprouse’s lines, and Jordie Bellaire’s deep and bright colors makes reading the back-up a far more pleasurable experience than the main feature.

Conclusion: The best thing that can be said about this issue is that it’s an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite pan out as anyone would hope.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – This anti-Superman (or whatever he’s called) seems to have something stuck in his brain: “Why not just die!  Die again and again and again!  You’re at your best when you’re dying.

Grade

Conclusion