Comic review: Action Comics #5

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Updated on December 10, 2021

action_comics5Action Comics #5

Written by: Grant Morrison
Art by: Andy Kubert

This month’s issue delves into an extended take on Superman’s origin story, “for the very first time.” As the cover ironically notes (“It begins… again!”), this is hardly the first time in comicdom we’ve seen Superman’s origin story majorly revised (which I’ll go into later this post).

The “New 52″/DCNU origin story features most of the traditional aspects of Superman’s backstory: Krypton explodes, Kal-El is sent to Earth in a rocket, found and adopted by the Kents. Among other aspects pertaining to this version:

  • Once again, Superman’s cape is from a blanket included in the rocket that brought him to Earth, and is invulnerable (like the Silver Age version’s).
  • Contrary to earlier reports of Krypto being thrown under a (Kryptonite) bus, it looks like Krypto escapes Krypton and could survive in a way that he could come back in new stories! Even if (unfortunately) he now looks a bit “extreme”; here, he’s drawn as some Kryptonian wolf/dog hybrid thing.
  • The rocket that brings Kal-El to Earth now has Brainiac technology built into it, and even “narrates” (via caption boxes) part of the story. Shades of “Superman: The Animated Series” version of Brainiac? Also, his rocket here looks like the version from the Wayne Boring stories of the 50s (pointier edges, versus the more streamlined cylindrical version from Curt Swan’s renditions).
  • Like in more recent versions of the origin, Lara plays a role in having built Kal-El’s escape rocket, a positive change.
  • The Kents’ side of the story is played up in the remainder of the book, as well as in a backup story. The usual “unable to have children, but find Clark and adopt him” aspects are seen, but it looks like they’ve updated two aspects for the modern age: the Kents unsuccessfully tried in-vitro fertilization, and the US military was aware of the rocket entering Earth’s atmosphere/find the rocket (but not its passenger). Older stories either showed Kal-El landing on Earth before Sputnik was launched or didn’t take into account the existence of space satellites/modern Earth space travel (though I suppose the rocket could’ve been invisible to Earthly forms of detection). As for the Kents, comic book time‘s moved up Clark’s birth to circa-1983 by this point…thus remarks about “test tube babies” from “a few years ago.” (Superman’s traditional birthday of February 29 is coming up, appropriately enough…)
  • Admit I was reminded of a line on “Johnny Test” when Pa Kent fools the Army soldiers (“Pfff! Hello, I just outsmarted the United States military!”). Granted, A) cartoon characters almost always fall for dumb disguises and B) this is the same comic book universe where one can be fooled by a “disguise” consisting of a pair of glasses (and a few other superficial changes).
  • I did like the ship’s “remarks” about how primitive humans are (and justifiable reason to shut off its ability to speak).
  • The backup story reveals the Kents (or the “New 52” versions anyway) were Baptist. Another identifying point for me, as I went to a Baptist church as a kid. (Though not religious by any means now…)
  • Superman’s seen (at the end of a confusing part involving the “Anti-Superman Army,” who I assume’s an update of the old “Anti-Superman Gang” and the “Superman Revenge Squad”) with several Legionnaires. I assume that the recent re-insertion of Superman having been Superboy (in the Legion’s era mainly) is still valid… which is fine with me.
  • Pa Kent at one point notes maybe they’ll “open a general store in town,” a reference to the Silver Age version of the Kents. While Wikipedia says most farms are family-owned, I’d think the unfortunate increasingly corporate nature of farming would make the idea of the Kents owning a store (maybe a hardware store?) sound a bit more modern. I suppose it’s one of the lingering effects of Byrne’s origin revamp in 1986 (plus the 70s Superman movies)…

As for how many times we’ve seen Supes’ origin revised, by my count this makes official comic book version #6. To wit:

  1. The Golden Age (or Earth-2) version, first seen in “Action Comics” #1 in a one-page insert, and expanded up on in “Superman” #1 in 1939 (though the newspaper strip of the time also told Superman’s origin).
  2. The Silver Age/Bronze Age (or Earth-1) version, first seen technically in 1945 (with Superboy’s introduction), but not truly cemented until the 50s/early 60s. “Superman” #146 from 1961 is probably the definitive Silver Age version, while several stories from the Bronze Age refined this version with a few updates (“Limited Collectors Edition C-31” from 1974 and “Action Comics” #500 from 1979).
  3. Byrne’s “Man of Steel” version from 1986.
  4. “Birthright,” published in 2003-2004.
  5. “Superman: Secret Origin,” published in 2009-2010, the shortest-lived of all the origins!

Next issue promises more of the Legion…

Anthony Dean

Anthony Dean is the owner of Diverse Tech Geek and Diverse Media Notes.

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