Superman by Grant Morrison Omnibus (2021)
Reprints Action Comics v2 #0-18, Annual #1
Written by Grant Morrison (with Sholly Fisch)
Art by Rags Morales, Andy Kubert, Brent Anderson, Gene Ha, Brad Walker, Cully Hamner, Ben Oliver, Cafu, Ryan Sook, Bob McLeod, Travel Foreman, Chris Sprouse, Karl Story, and more
It’s interesting to read these Grant Morrison stories alongside John Byrne’s Superman work. Byrne was tasked with rebooting Superman in the wake of the Crisis in 1986, reworking concepts and cutting away things considered to be too old-fashioned. Morrison was partially asked to do the same thing in 2011 when the New 52 initiative was rolled out. I don’t think Morrison was allowed as much leeway as Byrne because D.C. had become much more integrated alongside their parent company Warner Media. Like Byrne, Morrison is taken well-known concepts around Superman and trying to make them relevant for their time. However, they are a professed lover of the Silver Age, so Morrison isn’t entirely willing to make everything a modern parallel to our world. In true Morrison fashion, we get a tale of metaphors made reality, of meditations on fictional universes, and ultimately a vision of Superman that would be quickly discarded as editorial interference kept the New 52 from ever amounting to much.
While the Superman title published simultaneously was set in the present day, Morrison’s Action Comic took place five years earlier to detail the origins of this version of the Man of Steel. They adhered closely to Siegel & Shuster’s portrayal of Superman as a champion of the people. Morrison refashions Lex Luthor back into his role as an evil scientific genius and creates Glen Glenmorgan to hold the spot as Metropolis’s malicious businessman. A young Clark Kent, wearing an “S”-shield emblazoned t-shirt, jeans, and his indestructible cape leaps across the city to shut down one of Glenmorgan’s operations. This Superman, like the original, cannot fly yet.
We quickly learn that his appearance on the scene has drawn the attention of the U.S. military. General Sam Lane has enlisted the help of Lex Luthor in capturing and studying this alien being. We learn Sgt. John Corben, working under Sam Lane, has a former relationship with the general daughter, Lois. Lois and Jimmy Olsen are sneaking into the military base where Superman has been brought after his capture. Objecting to the brutal treatment of Superman is Army engineer John Irons. Superman eventually escapes, but not before encountering the ship that brought him to Earth, which is sentient and speaks to him.
Morrison takes us on a wild adventure with his first arc, feeling like their own idea for what a Superman movie could be. It’s paced like a film, with lots of action set pieces, multiple villains, and incorporation of the characters and elements you would expect to see in such a picture. Morrison begins to introduce several new villains to Superman’s rogues’ gallery as the series goes on. Nimrod the Hunter. Xa-Du the Phantom King. Metaleks. The Red, Blue, and Green Kryptonite People. Morrison is definitely playing with a world they had wanted to for a long time, taking the opportunity to rethink Superman at a time when D.C. was more open to that concept.
I don’t think this run is as good as their classic All-Star Superman mini-series, but that’s okay because that title was focused on doing something else entirely. Here, Morrison is trying to answer the question, “Where did Superman come from?” We also get a look at other aspects of Superman through Morrison’s use of the Multiverse. Calvin Ellis, President Superman of Earth-23, is introduced as well as the overly corporatized SuperDoom. I enjoyed these brief dips in the Multiverse the most out of this entire run, and it may be why I enjoy Morrison’s Multiversity so much. The writer is at their best when they are getting deep in the metafiction of the D.C. Universe. In many ways, Morrison is the perfect post-Crisis writer in an age where D.C. as a company has become so interested in its own continuity.