Thursday, 17 April 2014

Superman, Action Comics, Volume 3: At the End of Days Review (Grant Morrison, Rays Morales)

The cover gives you a very good idea of what to expect from the book with bits and pieces that are clearly fragments making up a more-or-less coherent whole. That’s basically what reading the final volume of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics series feels like. 

If you know anything about Grant Morrison, you’ll know he has a bit of a reputation for mixing in avant-garde, experimental storytelling techniques into his comics that continually divides readers – some hate being confused at all when reading and some enjoy the twists and turns. Arguably the most suitable characters in the DCU for Morrison to write are the 5th Dimension Imps, like Mister Mxyztplk, which is why Action Comics Vol 3: At the End of Days is one of the best suited mainstream Morrison books ever because it’s all about those characters - but it’s also why the book disappoints. 

Simply: I don’t care about Mister Mxyztplk. I get that he’s an interesting oddball of a character who’s not your usual Superman villain in that he’s not super-strong with a plot likely to end with a dull beat-em-up fight scene, and that’s fine; but to put him and another imp, Vyndktvx, as, not just the main villains of this book, but the main reason behind everything in Morrison’s Action Comics run… it doesn’t feel epic, it feels very small and underwhelming. Basically this whole series is about a feud between the two imps and Superman is their battleground. 

The way the book is structured is really smart but super frustrating to read. The 5th Dimension Imps distort reality so time no longer becomes linear, events that happened become undone, dead characters momentarily come back to life, and characters from other dimensions show up in our dimension – it’s a very disorienting experience and Morrison reflects Superman’s feelings of confusion in the book’s structure with panels and events skewing every which way, so the reader feels disoriented as well. 

It’s typical of Morrison’s brilliance that he would take this creative and enormously imaginative approach – but it’s hell to read! I had to keep going back and re-reading pages just to figure out how we made it to certain scenes, even going back to the previous two volumes to see how the series as a whole synced up. Look – I love the creativity here but (and I know how dim and unadventurous this makes me sound in the face of Morrison’s genius) when I pick up a comic, I prefer to read a comic, not a piece of performance art and/or abstract art project that is disguised as a comic but is really something else. I appreciate the effort but it made the book very easy to put down.

Which isn’t to say the book is a wash – there’s lots of great stuff outside of the arty framework. The opening story of Superman going into the Phantom Zone to get back Krypto, his dog, was my favourite part of the book. I think Krypto’s a great character and gives Superman this relatable quality to readers everywhere as a pet owner, but it’s also a great Superman Halloween story with ghosts! 

Sholly Fisch and Chris Sprouse deserve a big mention for their contributions to this series. They did the backups to these issues and I found myself enjoying Fisch’s stories more than Morrison’s, in part. I mean, Neil Derasse Tyson meets Superman in this book!!! This wonderful story sees Superman on his annual NASA visit to watch a planet 27 light years away – Krypton – before it exploded. The distance to Earth means the images we get from our satellites show it still there prior to explosion. 

And, in keeping with the time-travel weirdness in this book, present-Clark goes back in time to the past for a brief chat with Jonathan Kent in a very sweet story. I wish Sprouse had drawn the whole book as I’m not a big fan of Rags Morales’ work which is just ok in this book – fine for what it is, but nothing exceptional, though seeing Lion-Head Superman and Ant-Head Superman was a funny surprise! I do miss t-shirt and jeans Superman from the first volume whose look was one of the highlights of this series.

I can’t fault Morrison’s ambitious, complex storytelling – I wish more writers were like Morrison, but then his unique talent is what makes him so darn special, right? – but I have to be honest as well and, while I see what he’s doing (and I’m probably missing a whole lot more too), it was so disjointed and manic so often that I had no problem setting the book down and picking up something else. I got through this, and it’s got a great ending, but for long stretches of the book I found myself not caring what was happening. I wouldn’t say I was bored because, if nothing else, Morrison is never boring, but I wasn’t as engaged as I usually am with his work with this book – still, it was an interesting finale to an uneven but above-average Superman series. 3.5 stars.

Superman Action Comics Volume 3: At The End of Days HC (The New 52)

1 comment:

  1. Morrison seems to be an expert at dividing fans, doesn't he? Look at his Batman run, which was hated as much as it was praised.

    Either way, love the blog, and have subscribed.

    I'm planning on following Action comics until this volume and then giving it a rest- what Superman-family series would you suggest I take up next?