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Action Comics #18 – Review

ACTION COMICS #18

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

The Story: Does anyone know which dimension we’re in?

The Review: Morrison is a complicated writer.  We all know that and many of us even love that.  But there are times when he’s complicated with purpose, and there are other times when he’s just complicated.  Unfortunately, I think his stature has gotten to a point where DC just greenlights pretty much everything he produces without much interference (quite a contrast to the treatment given other, lesser-known writers, if rumors be believed).

I don’t mind it when content and substance have layers that require a little more effort on your part to parse through and appreciate.  I cannot, however, abide needlessly confusing structural choices.  By far, Morrison’s worst problem is that characters frequently don’t seem to actually respond to each other’s lines.  Take Ferlin, son of Mxyzptlk and Nyxlygsptlnz, accusing his dad, “It’s your fault my dear mother’s blood stained this foul item I’ve treasured in her memory.”

Yet Mxyzptlk’s reply seems to veer around Ferlin’s statement altogether: “And why wouldn’t it, you dummy?  Who brought you into this world, huh?”

Trust me when I say there are a lot of moments like this, where lines don’t follow each other so much as go past each other.  Every character seems to be operating on their own one-track agenda, to the point where they ignore or overlook anything anyone else has to say.  The Legion, convinced that Ferlin is a “damaged edge of Vyndktvx” and determined to use him in some completely unspecified way to defeat the villain, ignore both Ferlin’s and Lois’ reasonable protests that he’s done nothing wrong (as far as Morrison has let us see) to deserve this.

Speaking of which, there are a lot of problems with this revelation.  First, it defeats every bit of sentimental value Sholly Fisch put into his back-up on #15.  Second, it’s unclear if Ferlin’s birth is accidental or something Mxyzptlk planned for (and if it’s the latter then the 5D imp really is kind of cruel).  Third, Morrison doesn’t do anything significant with it except as a cheat to defeat Ferlin’s alter-ego.

If you can set this rather formidable flaw aside, the rest of the issue does reach for that dazzling sense of scale and metafictional impact Morrison always goes for.  Vyndktvx’s defeat requires a union between Superman’s mind and that of everyone else in the world, as well as an additional impossible feat even after the villain retreats back to the Fifth Dimension.  And then there’s the cyclical doom placed on Mxyzptlk once he takes up the crown as King-Thing, realizing his story will repeat endlessly—and it is indeed a story, a whimsical tale told by Lara to amuse her infant son, Kal-El.  It’s Morrison’s way of reassuring us that Superman’s story will go on forever, always turning in upon itself in a self-devouring sort of way, but always with a happy ending—for all of us.  And you don’t really get a better Superman story than that.

More than ever I’m convinced that Morrison’s story would have been every bit as epic and spectacular as he envisioned had there been a different artist who had the chops to capture that vision.  Both Morales and Walker, though fine artists, with warm human styles, are too grounded in their ideas of reality to successfully tell a story that challenges the boundaries of time, space, and dimension.  Though that final splash of Superman, smoking, scratched, and dusty, but with a huge grin of victory on his face, is one for the history books, it is the exception to an otherwise unsuitable artistic product.

I’m rather curious as to what an artist like Chris Sprouse might have done with the main feature’s script.  He has such a clean, deft line that seems capable of drawing practically anything, yet he also has that same warmth as Morales and Walker.  No wonder Sholly Fisch’s mostly wordless back-up leaves you with such a lighthearted feeling; it’s not just the heartfelt tale of a little alien boy taking courage from Superman’s example to stand up to his bullies.  More than the sweet story at hand, it’s Sprouse’s art (with Karl Story’s confident inks and Jordie Bellaire’s vivacious colors) that really touches your heart.

Conclusion: Powerful in many respects, but confusingly executed.  This is Morrison’s eager, ambitious work in its rawest form, which is unfortunate because some polish on both the textual and artistic sides would have easily elevated this story to something approaching a masterpiece.

Grade: B-

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: * One of the best things in this issue is the “Wanderers…  Neo-sapiens—superwarriors from half a dozen worlds,” yet another exciting concept which Morrison casually tosses in for good measure, only barely making use of their potential.  Consider Elvith, from “Assassin’s World,” where “Blademaster Go-Jan-Ji taught that [killing] should be accomplished with utmost joy and a cold-blooded dedication to perfection.”  I want to go to there.

- I do like that in speaking backwards, Superman states his name as Clark Kent first, Kal-El second.  Exactly how it should be.

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