Almost everyone, whether a comic fan or not, knows the basics of Superman’s origin story: a baby from a dying world is rocketed to Earth, adopted by a sweet Midwestern couple who raise him with all-American values, and the little guy grows up to become the strongest and most heroic individual on the planet. Thus, when I heard that Action Comics #5 is a retelling of Superman’s (more distant) past my first thought was “interesting, let’s see how Morrison and company handle this.” How is Superman’s New 52 backstory? How is it the same? How has it changed? And is it an interesting read, especially for those so well-acquainted with Supes?
Action Comics #5 commences with the fall of Krypton. The planet’s explosion is imminent yet while most Kryptonians run frantically one couple has a plan. Lara and Jor-El, along with their son Kal-El and dog Krypto, decide to head to the Phantom Zone, a dimension Jor-El discovered and used to house Krypton’s worst criminals. When they arrive at the portal, however, they are met with the threats of the criminals within. As a villainous hands breaches the phantom zone (an occurrence which Lara deems impossible), Krypto rushes to the rescue, biting the hand and charging into the portal, shattering the El’s escape route but preventing their death at enemy hands. Luckily, the family constructed an experimental rocket which cannot accommodate the entire family, but at the very least will carry Kal-El to safety. Interestingly, Jor-El purposefully instructs the intelligent ship to take Kal-El to a planet with a strong Sun and weak gravity to ensure he can become a super-man. Kal-El is soon discovered by the Kents who keep him away from government surveillance, and the rest is history.
The plot of this comic, however, does not end there. Next, we’re treated to the conflict of this interlude: some strange beings, perhaps from an alternate time or dimension, seek out Superman’s rocket which carries some important power which will protect the Earth. These (potentially) Kryptonite-powered beings steal the ship’s Kryptonite core. Who will stop these miscreants? Why it’s Superman from the future (seriously) and the League of Super-Heroes, a team from the 31st Century. The comic ends with a sidestory concerning the marriage of the Kents and their difficulty in having a child.
Action Comics #5 has a somewhat odd plot, especially as it diverts from the central story introduced during the first four issues. I, however, trust Morrison and believe all of this will somehow play into the main plot. I liked the rehashing of Superman’s arrival on Earth, as at the very least it will explain the story for the inevitable newcomers to comics who won’t know much about his history. The idea to make his ship key is also interesting, as I’ve never heard of it having TOO much significance in the past other than carrying Sun Crystals and the like. Using time travel, however, can be messy, but since it seems we’ll only see small doses of this trope I’m not worried. The extra story at the end is also cute as it lets us get to know the Kent family more. The plot is thus pretty good, and will truly be judged once we see how things continue in the next part of the story.
I’ve stressed again and again in past reviews of Action Comics that Andy Kubert and company perform to a high standard. Issue #5 continues this timely tradition. One especially well done and powerful scene shows young Superman in his rocket flying away from an exploding Krypton: from Brad Anderson’s exciting colors to Patrick Brosseau’s amazing lettering job, everything about this scene resonates with emotion and power. The character designs, from an altered Zod with a missing limb, to the new versions of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Kid, and Lightning Lad (of the Legion of Super Heroes) all look great. I wish we could have seen more of the new villains, but I suppose that will have to wait for the next release. The artwork, however, was not perfect: baby Superman look strange and off-model in a few scenes, and the flashback to events in Issues #2 and #3 was a bit sketchy and lacked the details normally associated with this team’s work. Nevertheless, I was pleased with the art in this entry in the Superman saga.
The comic also includes a brief story at the end titled “Baby Steps” which concerns the early years of the marriage of Johnathan and Martha Kent. Written by Sholly Fisch and pencilled by Chris Cross, the story is an interesting look at the struggles of Superman’s adoptive parents. Here, we’re treated to stories of their struggles to have a child, and we see what great lengths they pursue in their dream of starting a family. Eventually, of course, they find the baby Kal-El, but even so this was a nice look at two characters who have received little time in comics of the past. As with the extended Steel story at the end of Action Comics #4, I’m sure we’re in for more of these interesting plot supplements in future issues of the series.
The current Action Comics team continues to impress with Issue #5. They’ve sown numerous plot threads (probably some we haven’t even recognized yet) which will surely become key even beyond the Collector of Worlds arc. The art, though a slight decline from previous issues, continues to remain superbly intriguing. Superman fans who haven’t checked out this series really need to see what they’re missing.
Brett Simon is a twenty-two year old comic enthusiast. As a dog lover, he admired Krypto’s loyalty to defend the El family and hopes Supes can somehow rescue him from the Phantom Zone in future issues.
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