Morrison opened Action Comics #1 showing us someone who could be a hero of the people. With the event series Flashpoint, Geoff Johns rebooted the whole DC Universe, and in this new universe, the first images we saw of our new Superman was of an idealistic young man in a blue t-shirt and red cape lifting a corrupt businessman named Glenmorgan over his head. He tells the officers on the scene that he’ll put him down, “… just as soon as he makes a full confession. To someone who still believes the law works the same for the rich and poor alike.” How exciting would it have been to see Superman as a social crusader after the past years where we had to deal with corruption and greed nearly destroying everything? Businessmen like the corrupt Glenmorgan are more scary than Lex Luthor and Brainiac could ever be.
A crusading avenger fighting for the people who couldn’t fight for themselves; that’s the journey that it looked like we would be taking with Morrison and Superman. The earthy and rugged artwork of Rags Morales seemed like the perfect fit as a counterbalance to the divinity-infused artwork of Frank Quitely. Drawing a boy that was barely a man, Morales’ Superman is full of a righteous anger that only truly idealistic young adults can pull off. Those opening pages of Action Comics #1 looked like a true new start for the DC universe as it may be giving us heroes that truly matched our times rather than the stuffy old heroes and villains that were still products of the Golden and Silver Ages.
Morrison never successfully reimagines Superman for this new continuity. His All Star Superman was a celebration of everything fun about the character. With Frank Quitely’s grand artwork, All Star Superman was a lovely ode to those corny Silver Age stories that defined the character for decades. In Action Comics, Morrison tried to cherry pick what parts of the old continuity to keep and which to kick out. As Morrison attempts to carefully navigate the waters of this new continuity, he never manages to conjure the wonder that he could in Seven Soldiers, the many Batman series, or All Star Superman.
Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #1-18 was never going to be All Star Superman 2.0 no matter how much we wanted it to be. Even so, it’s still disappointing that it doesn’t even get to be JLA 2.0 as just a solid, crazy superhero story. For whatever reasons, Morrison reigns in his normal all-over-the-board narrative structure as his total story never delivers on the promise of those first few pages in Action Comics #1. For a brief moment, Superman was going to be fighting for us, for the little man in a world of millionaires and bureaucrats. He was going to fight for truth and justice but then he just ends up fighting his reimagined rogues gallery. The New 52 Action Comics wasn’t so much a new Superman as much as it was a newish take on an old, possibly worn out character who only has so much narrative potential and Morrison may have used up all of his own potential already with all of his other Superman stories.