Confronting the Self as an Idea, Time and Time Again

"Action #18"

by Jay Mattson

26 March 2013

Grant Morrison's almost magical insight into storytelling crescendos in his final installment of Action…what if the only real struggle was to confront the idea of yourself, over and again through time…
cover art

Action #18

US: May 2013

Grant Morrison’s unique narrative style values surrealism and complex ideas over clarity and straightforward storytelling. This approach is significant because the man produced some of the most brilliant comicbooks tales in the past 25 years. Morrison never looks to fundamentally change the characters he writes, only to add his own sense of wonder and mysticism into the mix. For Animal Man, that meant shedding the character’s humorous exterior to find the true hero under the silly gimmicks. For Batman, it meant pitting the Dark Knight against a scorned lover with more power and influence than nearly any individual on Earth. And for Superman, Morrison makes the Man of Steel confront and overcome the idea of himself. There are varying degrees to this narrative concept, and Action #18 gives readers a phenomenal look at just how all of it connects to the Last Son of Krypton and his place in the universe

The showdown between Clark and SuperDoom—the unofficial name of the otherdimensional amalgamation of Superman and classic villain Doomsday—reflects this idea, that Superman must defeat a horrific alternate version of himself to save the entire world. While this interpretation isn’t terribly difficult to understand, it’s Morrison’s deeper meaning that gives the face-off between these two titans such gravity. SuperDoom is the perversion of the concept of Superman—created by a corporation, composed of a patchwork of ideals and vague ethical boundaries, and meant to be a symbol of power and order. Obviously, things didn’t work out so well, and the malicious Vyndktvx seizes the opportunity to exploit this terrible failure by sending SuperDoom through the multiverse to kill off other versions of Superman.

As explained last month in Action #17, the fifth-dimensional nature of Vyndktvx gives him the ability to attack Superman at various points in his life simultaneously. While the death of John and Martha Kent is the one example of Vyndktvx’s handiwork in the past that Morrison has chosen to show us, it’s more than implied that a majority of the negative events throughout Clark’s life—past, present, and future—are either directly or indirectly caused by Vyndktvx’s meddling. The biggest flaw of this plan is that, technically, Vyndktvx only stages a single attack. The imp from the 5th Dimension has spent years planning and orchestrating this intricate endgame, while Superman has been experiencing it as the darkest moments of his life—basically, different perspectives on a nonlinear event. At the end, though, it starts to become clear that the little 5D magician has lost sight of his goals—Morrison finishes his run without ever giving context to the catalyst that started Vyndktvx’s simmering hatred for the Man of Steel. Perhaps it’s like the decades-long blood feud between the families Montague and the Capulet, and Vyndktvx simply cannot recall why he’s so angry at Superman. Maybe it was the years of planning and intricate navigation of five different dimensions that caused his initial discontentment to fall between the cracks of his memory. Or maybe he’s just so blind with rage that he cannot accept his own hubris.

In the end, Grant Morrison’s Action is about the concept of “Superman”, nothing more and nothing less. If our Superman is supposed to represent the best of humanity, then SuperDoom symbolizes the darkest of our species’ thoughts and desires, the idea that corporate interests trump those of the people. Then there’s the subtle social commentary Morrison sprinkled throughout Action #18 concerning Superman and how he exists in a world (ours) where he is nothing more than a character in a book of sequential pictures. Superman’s red Kryptonite acid trip really exemplifies this concept, as Vyndktvx taunts Clark with images of the name ‘Superman’ exploited for financial and political gain. In a way, this is perhaps a veiled jab at DC for their ongoing feud with the Shuster Family over the rights to the character of Superman. Superman is a symbol of good, simply put, and this is exactly how Morrison makes his point: Superman has the ability to inspire the best in people, not only in comicbooks, but in real life as well. It’s only when the Man of Steel can overcome the polar opposite of this ideal—SuperDoom—that he’s able to stand victorious. Even Vyndktvx’s query of “Was that a punch? Or an argument?” provides an example of how Superman’s humanistic ideals are just as impactful and important as his physical prowess.

Grant Morrison’s Action has been comicbook quality of the very highest caliber. The man’s awe-inspiring narrative structure and storytelling style have as much or as little affect as he wants them to. All-Star Superman was set outside DC continuity so Morrison could play around with the Man of Steel more than ever before, while the first two acts of his expansive Batman saga were firmly planted in DC’s main continuity. Morrison’s work on Action is a gem because it’s the combination of the two ends of the spectrum—it had to exist securely within the New 52, but since this was a new origin story, Morrison was allowed to take things to the extreme and redefine the Man of Steel for the 21st century. Superman has always be a symbol of truth, justice, and good triumphing over evil. Now, there’s real meaning behind those ideals, which makes Superman a better character than he’s ever been before.

Action #18


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