Humanity, Heroism, and Action:

Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #5

Smack in the middle of the first story arc, the narrative shifts to the past for a tale about the rocket that brought baby Kal-El to Earth. Morrison promised in the supplemental material to issue 2, “the cape, the rocket, the costume . . .  everything is part of the story and has characters arcs of its own” and while the idea that the rocket has significance of its own is great, the shift from the Collector of Worlds capturing Metropolis to the destruction of Krypton is somewhat jarring and interrupts the flow of the first arc. Still, the two issues that prolong the first arc are fantastic and are a welcome distraction from the main narrative.

The first page returns us to Krypton for its destruction. Andy Kubert will replace Rags Morales for these two issues and while Kubert is a fantastic artist in his own right, Gene Ha’s work on Krypton in issue 3 is vastly superior in capturing the strange, and beautiful world of super-heroes that Krypton represents. What Kubert lacks in skills to render an ethereal, alien world, he more than makes up in the way he choreographs action (which will be essential in the next issue in particular).

Jor-El grabs his father’s cloak (Superman’s cape) and wraps baby Kal-El up. In addition to establishing the rocket’s backstory, we have effectively established a lineage for Superman’s cape as well. It’s further interesting that the cape is Superman’s grandfather’s cloak because Kal-El’s grandfather has never really been someone of importance to the mythology. Even saying “Superman’s grandfather” sounds strange because the character has never been established. The mentioning of the cape is a very small moment, but it does much to achieve the much allusive humanization of Superman. Superman has a grandfather and every time he dons that cape, he is honoring his family.

Jor-El and Lara scramble to save themselves and their son by journeying into the Phantom Zone, but the criminals of the Phantom Zone make it clear that they are unwelcome. One criminal with a metal hand threatens Lara by saying, “We will rip her mind to shreds while you watch, a phantom unable to stop us from corrupting your son” and with this, Kal-El’s faithful dog Krypto leaps into the ghostly realm to battle the criminals there. Horrified at his failure, Jor-El mutters, “There must be a way. There’s always a way. Think” showing that father and son are connected in their hope that they can save lives. This moment with the Phantom Zone criminals will later be revisited in Action Comics #13 (perhaps the best issue of the entire run), but for now, it is meant to show that the rocket was the only real solution for Kal-El’s survival.

The rocket is finally revealed and Lara comments that it has “onboard Brainiac A.I.” and Jor-El says, “Brainiac: target worlds with younger, fiercer suns, where he will grow strong” which connects Kal-El’s salvation with the invasion of the Collector of Worlds that is currently attacking Metropolis in the current arc. Then, as the rocket takes off and Krypton explodes, the narration is taken over by the rocket itself. Now, the issue is actually being narrated by Brainiac computer system that controls the rocket.

While the origin has remained the same, the Brainiac computer system adds an interesting twist to things. Had it not been for the Brainiac computer created by the Collector of Worlds, Kal-El never would have come to Earth and never would have been Superman. But, it could perhaps also be argued that without Superman coming to Earth that the Collector of Worlds never would have found the planet and never would have collected Metropolis. While there has been a relationship established between Superman and Brainiac in the past, it was relatively simple where Brainiac attacked Krypton for the sake of doing so. But Morrison has made the characters dependent upon one another and intertwined their narratives.

The typical story beats continue to play out as the rocket crashes to Earth and is found by Jonathan and Martha Kent who have nothing but bad luck, it seems. Martha had a miscarriage, their cow had a deformed calf, and their vehicle is stuck on the highway in the middle of winter. However, once they find baby Kal-El, their world seems to change as their truck is magically able to drive again down the road and they cover up their kidnapping of Kal-El by making the military believe that the deformed calf was the passenger of the rocket ship which connects back to Luthor’s interrogation of Superman from issue 2 when Luthor accused the hero of being a shape changing alien whose true form was that of a dead calf. Kal-El’s influence is so powerful that the mere presence of him is enough to change the luck of the Kents to give them a happy and fulfilling life.

As the military approaches the rocket, the Brainiac A.I. calls the people of Earth “apes with atom bombs” which seems to go along with the idea that Krypton has an advanced civilization of brilliant super-hero thinkers, but it’s when Brainiac criticizes their machines as “imbeciles” that “lack voices, opinions, and self-direction” that things really become interesting. Technological singularity is the moment when our technology becomes self-aware and is able to reproduce on its own. Some theorize that when the technological singularity is achieved, then mankind will become obsolete because machines will be superior, and so there have been a number of science-fiction novels and films that have portrayed what the result will be (with the Terminator movies being the most famous of these). However, when Brainiac compares Earth technology to Kryptonian, the reader can infer that the Kryptonians could possibly have not only achieved technological singularity, but also coexistence with machines. This is what Morrison means by a “scientific utopia” in the supplemental material of issue 2 and what Lara means by “we built paradise” at the beginning of this issue.

After a brief recap of Superman’s meeting with the ship after his torture in issue #2, and Luthor getting into the back of a truck with the ship, the ship narrates, “and when the collector was done, everything changed forever. A doomed level 3 world achieved level 4 developmental potential. What had been yielded to what was to come, as the seed of Krypton grew and bloomed. And so began the age of superhumans.” This shows us that Earth was doomed until the arrival of Superman, and so it was saved because he came to the planet to inspire an entire generation of heroes. On a metatextual level, we can read this as a representation of Morrison’s idea from the introduction of Supergods, “Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea. Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea” (xv). The idea of an altruistic hero god who loves everyone and will sacrifice himself to save others is an idea that the world needs. While there were other super-heroes created before Superman, it was the idea of Superman that has been imitated again and again and optimistically, we could say that our world is a better place for having this idea. Even though Superman isn’t a living being, the idea of the hero is a powerful and important thing.

The issue winds down and a group of time-traveling villains have broken into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude in order to steal the rocket’s Kryptonite powered engine. We won’t see these villains revealed until next issue and even then, their full stories will slowly be unveiled throughout the rest of the run. However, for now, we can infer that the bandaged man with the metal arm is the same Kryptonian criminal from the beginning of the issue. The issue ends with Superman arriving from the future along with Cosmic Man, Saturn Woman, and Lightning Man from the Legion of Super-Heroes and the rocket’s narration explaining that, “The engine that was my heart. My power source. Without it, I am doomed to die and when that happens . . . so too dies the Earth . . .”

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Cody Walker graduated from Missouri State University with a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Education. He is the author of the pop culture website and the co-creator of the crime comic . He currently teaches English in Springfield, Missouri.

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Also by Cody Walker:

New Life and New Civilizations: Exploring Star Trek Comics


The Anatomy of Zur-en-Arrh: Understanding Grant Morrison\'s Batman


Keeping the World Strange: A Planetary Guide

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