Monday, July 28, 2014
Superman: Action Comics Vol. 3: At the End of Days is a fantastic conclusion to Morrison's Action run, exciting and moving but also a thorough head-trip as only Grant Morrison can deliver. As with Morrison's Batman, the big ideas in Action have started small, but by this third volume they're nearly ballooning off the page and out of this dimension.
[Review contains spoilers]
Volume one of Action Comics was a Brainiac/Luthor/Metallo story; in volume two, Morrison reimagined Captain Comet as a sort of post-human prophet. The quick concept of volume three is that Morrison writes a Mxyzptlk story, but surely, surely this book is more than that, especially since Mxy is central to the story but appears almost not at all. I'd even venture that At the End of Days goes down as one of the all-time classic Mxyzptlk stories, even despite that Superman largely fights Vyndktvk and his minions most of the way through.
Many of the themes that have made Morrison's Seven Soldiers, Batman, and Final Crisis so interesting are also blended in to Action. We have a multi-dimensional attack, a spear thrust from another universe that becomes marauding angels in ours (see also Final Crisis's bullet shot through time). Superman's adventures are ultimately a story being told by a jester for others' amusement (again, Final Crisis, the Monitors, and limbo; also that we are, by implication, a dimension looking in on the comics dimension). We learn that Vyndktvk has been taking revenge on Clark Kent for something done in the future by attacking Clark throughout his past (Batman's hole in everything and again the selfsame magic bullet). Vyndktvk is defeated ultimately by a kind of worldwide collective consciousness, hearkening here all the way back to Morrison's JLA. And it certainly seemed for a while that Vyndktvk was the Devil (and maybe he was), not unlike Batman's Dr. Hurt.
I don't begrudge Morrison revisiting these themes at all. Quite to the contrary, I'm glad to revisit these themes through the guise of Superman (at times I think DC ought just give both Superman and Batman to Morrison and let him go wild). I am less immediately familiar with Morrison's All-Star Superman, but undoubtedly there's some overlap between that and Action Comics, too; certainly anyone who was concerned at the outset of the New 52 that the new Superman would be more ornery than heroic need only look at Superman's constant concern for the people around him to find some kinship with All-Star.
Indeed what always impresses me about Morrison is that despite how ultra-cerebral his stories are, he's equally able to write character and emotion within his works. The book starts with a rather charming story that introduces Krypto into the New 52 (and Sholly Fisch's Krypto backup story is equally delightful). Morrison also recasts the classic Silver Age Superman story of the Kents' death to include Vyndktvk and the result is distinctly heartbreaking (here again, Fisch's backup is a fine complement).
Action also continues a Morrison tradition where the reader finds themselves in the middle of a puzzle they didn't know they were trying to solve (see also Seven Soldiers). Sure, I took note of Mrs. Nyxly mentioning that Superman's three friends had shown up looking for him, but I'd long-since forgotten that clue by the time I realized Morrison's Action to be a non-linear, time-spanning adventure, a conspiracy from start to finish. I also thought one of the strongest aspects of Morrison's story was his use of Erik Drekken, whose actual battles with Superman are never shown but whose character we come to understand by piecing him together through a variety of time-displaced details.
Early on in Action Comics I felt there were some mildly distracting art shifts between Rags Morales and Brad Walker. By this volume, however, the changes are much cleaner, and indeed often the artists' work appears side-by-side on the same page, reflecting Superman's past, present, and future. Whether this was originally intended or a patch due to artist schedules, it's an effect that works quite well in these pages.
Morrison hits one key continuity note in this conclusion, heavily referencing Doomsday and the death of Superman. There's an interesting twist in that the characters refer to red skies on the day Superman died (and indeed it's never said directly that "Doomsday killed Superman," so much as they reference Superman dying with a Doomsday-like Vyndktvk avatar on the page); there's a moment in the third chapter where Mrs. Nyxly looks directly at the camera and seems to be referencing Crisis on Infinite Earths just the same as she could be talking about present events (or even Final Crisis?).
"Doomed" is currently ongoing in the Super-titles, and I'll be curious if that story builds on what Morrison has set up here, or if Morrison's story was intentionally vague precisely because how and by whose hand Superman died in the New 52 is still up in the air.
I haven't generally felt that Grant Morrison's New 52 Action Comics run has received as much acclaim as Scott Snyder's Batman or Brian Azzarello's Wonder Woman, but I think it's equally worthy. Action Comics Vol. 3: At the End of Days especially, solidifies Morrison's Action run as firmly a part of the Morrison canon. To be sure, all of this is plenty to whet my appetite for Morrison's Multiversity.
[Includes original and variant covers, character and cover sketches. Also the Phantom Stranger. Also Vartox!]