By James Seals
By James Seals
During an open panel at the 2002 Wizard World convention, DC Comics unveiled plans that all its Superman titles would see a major creative change in 2004.
In addition to adding three new titles, DC also announced that all new creative teams were in place to take over its existing serials in April. The intent was simple, to revitalize interest in the medium’s original superhero.
Now with the event well into their fifth month, Editor’s Pull List takes an in depth look at the “Superstorm” revamp in this exclusive to Viewpoints three-part report, starting with Superman’s longest running comic series, “Action Comics.”
Action Comics #814 – 818
By Chuck Austen & Ivan Reis
The new creative team on “Action Comics” isn’t pulling its punches this time around.
Love him or hate him, writer Chuck Austen has once again taken a poor selling title and placed it on the map in the sale’s charts with his “outsider’s look” at the superhero genre. Upon taking over writing chores with April’s 814, “Action Comics” has since seen a singular leap in sales that would make even Lex Luthor smile with unrestrained glee.
And much like his well criticized works at cross town rival Marvel Comics, Austen is just as controversial in his writing here as well, delivering a Superman that is one part sweet talker, and one part wise cracking superhero.
Were one to move past Austen’s writing, however, it is quite clear that Superman’s greatest strength in “Action Comics” is not the various super powers that the earth’s sun has given him – it’s in Ivan Reis’ artwork.
Without question, Reis manages to capture it all. In one issue alone, he manages to show a range so impressive that most artists might not capture in their entire careers.
With these five issues the artist has proven time and again that he is just as at home with the all out, action intensive sequences – an all too common staple with this “wide-screen” approach seen in modern comic writing – as he is with expressing the delicate nuances present in the characters’ emotional responses. For instance, Clark Kent’s relieved expression whenever he is given a chance to toss in his press pass and don the red cape is such a nice touch that it alone makes these issues worth a second reading.
Where this creative team does come up short, though, is with the writer’s “new” interpretation of the main character.
Austen makes no attempt to hide his adoration toward the character’s original 1930s source material. Hell, there are several times when “Action Comics” almost reads as an unabashed love letter to Superman creators Siegel and Shuster. Charming and charismatic, Austen has created a Superman that is, on the outside at least, perhaps the truest we’ve seen to that era’s version in decades.
However, Austen still manages to overlook one vital ingredient in his equation. And thus he misses the main reason that Superman has endured as long as he has.
The original Superman was a social activist.
That era’s Superman was a progressive in his thinking and his actions. Sadly, this is no where to be seen in Austen’s script.
Whereas Austen seems almost content with having his Superman cracking wise and engaging in epic struggles against such godlike extraterrestrial entities as Darkseid and Gog, Siegel wrote a character that was steeped in that era’s social climate.
The Siegel Superman stood up against an at times oppressive, capitalistic governmental power structure that would place human worth second to economic gains.
Thus, Siegel’s work painted Superman as the common man’s hero; a champion of the oppressed.
Perhaps in later issues we will see Austen’s take on the character mature into this given time. However, I’m not holding much hope. And although I applaud Austen’s attempt to recapture that same spirit and imagination, the result is sorely lacking.
What’s sad is that without this mindset toward addressing much needed social amelioration, Austen’s Superman is more akin to the ’60s era Lee/Ditko Spider-Man in content, if not in appearance than he is to the hallmark Siegel/Shuster Superman that the writer tries so hard to invoke.
With solid, and at times drop dead gorgeous artwork, mired in some lukewarm characterization, this title isn’t the must read that DC might’ve hoped. Overall, “Action Comics” doesn’t deliver much more than that, an action intensive romp that is pure escapism with a couple humorous one liners.