Grant Morrison is a beast in the comicbook industry. On nearly every occasion he’s been given, the man has reinvented or reinterpreted classic characters in whole new ways, offering perspectives and ideas very few comicbook writers (or any fiction writers, for that matter) can match.
More often than not, well-regarded writers throughout comic history have found a precious balance between weirdness and relatablility with their narratives—it’s a factor many of the best series/runs of all time have in common. Morrison seems to buck this trend whenever he takes over on a given character. Take his Seven Soldiers of Victory reboot in 2005: no one had really given much thought to an outdated, outmoded team like the Seven Soldiers, but somewhere in the constant acid trip I imagine his brain being, Morrison created a grand epic that spanned across history, the cosmos, and the limits of humanity by way of an intricately beautiful set of seven miniseries. A second example would be the sprawling Batman saga he’s been writing since 2007 that encompasses runs on no less than three regular series and over 60 issues so far.
Action might be one of the shortest, yet most complex runs Morrison has ever penned. With next month’s Action #17 being his last, Morrison’s ongoing narrative has packed more than story and intrigue into 18 issues (including a zero issue) than I’ve read in a long time. And it wasn’t until I reread every issue back-to-back this past week that I was finally able to wrap my head around the surreal tale of dimensional warfare and the greatest threat to Superman’s life. This long-form style of writing is something Morrison is well known for—his unique brand of slow-burning, multiple storylines that interconnect on a level that only really makes sense at the end makes for incredible tales that earn their reputations as some of the best comicbook stories ever.
But that’s also part of the problem. As a whole, Action by Grant Morrison is phenomenal, but as far as individual issues go, many of them leave a lot to be desired. I’ve been keeping up with Action on a monthly basis since September 2011, and while I’ve enjoyed every issue, I’ve understood each one to varying degrees. Sometimes, the story is straightforward and purposeful, while at other times, I felt completely lost and confused as to how things came to be.
And therein lays a central conundrum many comicbook writers face: to write a series issue-by-issue, or to pen a grander tale that requires analysis and rereads to fully grasp the intricacies and narrative decisions. Obviously, Morrison takes the latter route by introducing plot elements at various points to maximize cohesiveness while building a new history for the Man of Steel. Basically, Action #16 has two levels of meaning depending on how you’ve read the story up to this point.
The first time I read this issue, I was disappointed. Not because Morrison’s writing is bad, or because the art was lackluster (which it isn’t, thanks to Rags Morales’ deeply expressive work), but because I felt personally responsible for not remembering and/or connecting the various plot points that came to a head. If you’ve been reading Action each month and that’s it, you’ve likely let many of Morrison’s foreshadowing and chess-like moves slip through the cracks. Even Krypto’s appearance was alluded to in Action #3. Unlike, say, Dan Didio and Keith Giffen’s defunct O.M.A.C., which was all about simple, comicbook action, Morrison’s stories take work to understand and enjoy to their fullest.
As I mentioned earlier, things come to ahead this month as the Anti-Superman Army makes its move against the Man of Steel in the endgame of the 5th dimensional sorcerer Vyndktvx, whose been manipulating Clark Kent’s entire life at the same time. If that sounds complex, the reason Vyndktvx is so obsessed with Superman is for something Clark hasn’t done yet. Morrison takes the idea of a 5th dimension to crazy lengths by suggesting that it’s inhabitants can perceive, alter, and influence the third dimension in ways that shatter our notions of space/time laws of physics. It’s all very exciting. Unfortunately, a lot of what Morrison writes this issue is full of spoilers that frame the climactic conclusion of his run, so suffice it to say, there’s a lot of puzzle pieces that fall together. Superman is facing the greatest threat of his career, and he’s got the wrath of a vindictive god crashing down upon him with the precision and power befitting a foe of Earth’s greatest hero.
It’s hard to find an opponent worthy of Superman without resorting to planet-decimating technology or mind control. Grant Morrison’s vision for the Last Son of Krypton includes an astonishing amount of throwbacks to Superman’s history without the stranglehold of decades of continuity. The New 52 was a chance to reinvent characters from the ground up, and not many creators established an entirely new status quo while keeping the core elements of a character’s essence and meaning.
Expecting anything less than totally weird and surreal from Grant Morrison would be like believing the rumors about Oasis getting back together that surface roughly once a year. For Batman, the enemy needed to be something he couldn’t manipulate with fear, hence Leviathan. For Superman, the enemy is something that can’t be punched or thrown into orbit or heat-visioned into ashes. Vyndktvx reflects all of Superman’s weaknesses—there’s going to be a good old-fashioned reckoning next month and I cannot wait.