Review by Jamie McNeil
Grant Morrison might as well be dubbed ‘Mr Superman’, having revitalised or reworked the Man of Steel before, most notably in multi- award winning All Star Superman. Here he takes Superman back to the beginning for a reboot of Action Comics.
Superman and the Men of Steel is full of vigour and youthful eagerness, and follows a young 22 year old Superman starting out in the hero business. Clark Kent has just moved to Metropolis, beginning his journalistic career with high ideals while trying to navigate the world without the moral compass that was Jonathan and Martha Kent. It’s set five years before the New 52 Superman volumes, giving Morrison the freedom to develop characters from a new perspective. Clark/Superman is idealistic, yet with a cockiness and sense of immortality twenty-something’s have. His abilities are still developing, so he lacks the full range of powers from past works, can’t yet fly, and can still be hurt. What he loves is the fact he can get back up again.
His relationship with adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent is told in flashback (very nicely illustrated by ChrisCross) creating the sense of a well-raised and loved person with a deeply instilled sense of justice, but also conveying loneliness. He’s looking for identity, but the people who could help him find it are all dead, on Earth and on Krypton. What identity he has is focused on making a difference as a vigilante and journalist, exposing corruption and corporate greed while rattling the cages of the oppressor with displays of superhuman feats.
Superman feels less noble here. He hasn’t gained the wisdom of age and experience so his methods are gung-ho, putting him at odds with the Metropolis Police and the military. He is less inclined to work with them, preferring to question and antagonise. He’s young and dumb, trying to impress and prove himself in his outfit of jeans, t-shirt and the red cloak he was wrapped in when he left Krypton. It’s ‘boy becomes man’ with big bumps and lots of bruises.
The pace is blistering. Morrison quickly and efficiently introduces a very dense story with Superman characters both familiar and unfamiliar. Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Metallo, Braniac, General Lane, Legion of Superheroes and Dr John Henry Irons (Steel) are all worked in, with new and interesting takes on each (hence the title), and who is the mysterious little man appearing everywhere? There are, however, so many characters and meandering storylines that plot gaps occur, and Morrison’s love of alternate realities and time travel confuses matters further. Too many elements are introduced too rapidly, and the story switches back and forth between perspectives so often it loses traction.
Rags Morales’ artwork here is first-rate, beautifully capturing the essence of this younger Superman and his co-stars. His action scenes are jaw-dropping, really accentuating Morrison’s “back-to-the-first-Action-Comics” take as Superman wrestles trains and swings wrecking balls at his opponents. Morales’ big and bold art is occasionally supplemented by pencillers Gene Ha and Brad Walker, inked by Rick Bryant and Bob McLeod in the Kryptonian sequences. Andy Kubert draws a past-and-future storyline revolving around the rocket that brought Clark to earth told from the perspective of Braniac technology. The different styles complement each other largely due to Brad Anderson’s bright and consistent colouring.
There is a lot to like about this reworking of the Man of Steel. Morrison makes subtle changes that give Superman a contemporary feel, a blend of early Action Comics and TV series Smallville that heads back to the roots with believable characters Morrison continued to build in Bulletproof.