It’s interesting that I was finishing up Gregory Macquire’s Out of Oz as I was reading Action #14. Because in retrospect, reading Out of Oz before reading Action #14 now seems prescient. I found Macquire’s other-Ozian references a little too cute, a little too knowing. The MGM film, the Wiz and Oz-culture references appear in Out of Oz. Baum however, resisted being externally referential, rather choosing to stay within his Oz. Whereas Macquire imposes the collective Oz in his books. Our culture has become so self-referential that creativity often suffers, as it does in Action #14.
Superman flies to Mars to save a scientific expedition under attack from robots that look like skip loaders trying terraform the humans’ own terraforming project. The robots, known as Metaleks (complete with Metalek brand identification tattooed across their iron and steel breast plates) appear to squawk in a tone and cadence that recalls Doctor Who’s Daleks as they utter “exterminate.”
A couple of panels illustrate a fight, but then whatever it is the Metaleks were running from shows up and the Metaleks become catatonic. One would think the Metaleks would put down roots a little sooner when being chased, that they’d create a beachhead, something to defend. One would also expect them to be a little more conciliatory to potential assistance, but no, these metal-re-tractor-treads require worship even as their pursuers arrive from the 5th dimension to apply a heavy spectral gnaw to their hoses and wires.
I’m awarding two creativity knocks against Action #14 even before the heavy stuff happens. First against the Metaleks who look as otherworldly as the metal minions that service an Iowa industrial corn farm. Second, “Bow to Metalek!” Really? I appreciate the panel-spanning, bleed-over artwork from Rags Morales, but I have to say that Grant Morrison is giving up the reigns none too soon. Even the youngest DC readers can point to a cliché’ when it’s yelling at them.
And then there is Superman. Maybe it’s just me, but I want my superheroes to work harder, to stress a little. In Action #14 Superman stresses some. He is drawn in one entire panel looking more than a little forlorn, but then he pithily comes to an epiphany, and considers the impossible, which turns out to be impossible for less than a page.
What Superman accomplishes might well be nearly impossible given the timeframe involved. The real miracle occurs when the damage to the technology can be repaired with little more than a good wrench. I’d like to see Superman struggle with something meaningful across a couple of issues. Not the threat of something physical, but to intellectually grapple with a problem that needs time, research and serendipity to solve. That would be an adventure.
Although Superman ultimately loses a few scientists as he meets a third assailant in Vyndktvx, he isn’t done for the day. At the end of the book, he gets beat up by a super-vest-wearer astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, using the power of all of the world’s telescopes, reveals to Superman the light of Krypton as it reaches earth 27-years to the day that the 27-light year distant planet exploded (viewed vividly through a Big Data integration capability, or power, I didn’t know Superman possessed). Because of the work done by Tyson, Superman sees his homeworld of Krypton, just as it explodes.
And the rest, they say, is revisionist history.
As I said already, Morales did a fine job of penciling Action #14. I’d like to see an investment in the writing in future issues that requires more investment from the characters, and more from the reader.