Humanity, Heroism, and Action:

Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #8

The issue begins inside the bottle city of Metropolis as Lex Luthor explains that he has no desire to be rescued by Superman and then tries rationalizing his alliance with the Collector as a plan to pit two warring alien races against one another. He summarizes how the Collector and Superman are diametrically opposed to one another by describing them as “two warring alien empires – - one synthetic, mechanized, antiseptic; the other sweating, biological, germ-laden.” Readers write off Luthor as being insane and harshly judging Superman because of Luthor’s xenophobia, but the twist the Collector offers later in the issue should cause readers to realize that maybe they are a little more like Luthor than they realize.

Luthor further justifies his alliance with the Collector as necessary to saving the world from the apocalypse, but he is unclear about exactly what that will entail. Though it is easy to dismiss Luthor as a villain given his history and the methods he goes about achieving his goals in the series so far, we should remember that Luthor is just like Superman, but he emphasizes the worst things about humanity. So, while Luthor’s intentions were to save the world, his actions betray humanity. He does all the wrong things, he seems to be doing them for the right reasons, and for that, Luthor should at least get a little bit of credit for having good intentions.

However, John Corben cries out to Lois Lane, “I told it to spare Metropolis and it did. That was me!” So, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Luthor betrayed humanity out of jealousy towards Superman and is now trying to take credit for something that Corben did. And that’s the brilliance of Lex Luthor. While he may not be the evil genius that Morrison made him in All-Star Superman, his cowardice and his manipulation of the truth make him such a wonderful villain here. Usually, when writers want to make Luthor into a legitimate threat for Superman, they give Luthor some advantage (battle armor, or a serum to give Luthor powers) so that the two characters can slug it out. But Morrison never resorts to this idea in the pages of Action Comics because he is emphasizing that the two are opposites in every way meaning that they will never reach a physical confrontation. And so, while Tim Callahan may dismiss Lex Luthor as “a sniveling know-it-all rather than a central threat,” that’s the way it should be, in a way. Superman is significant and Luthor is not because they are opposites. Superman is the man of action and Luthor is the man of opportunity.

Meanwhile, Superman’s first villain, Glen Glenmorgan, seems to have lost his mind. Referring to the Dealmaker who appeared in the previous issue, Glenmorgan says, “it was the little man – - he did this to me – - he gave it all to me and took it all away – -“  and then he says, “the little man is the devil.” While this might seem like a throwaway line that one might say when confronted with a strange being, it’s similar to Jim Gordon’s comment of “Why did you have to choose an enemy that’s as old as time and bigger than all of us, Batman?” in Morrison’s Batman #665 which foreshadowed Dr. Hurt as the Devil. Both Glenmorgan and Gordon telegraph the main villain and in both instances, the main villain is a Satanic figure.

Outside, Superman battles the Collector of Worlds who has merged with John Corben in his Metal-Zero armor. For the most part, it’s a fairly standard slugfest that one would find during the conclusion of any Superman story. The Collector tries to make it interesting by declaring that Superman choose nature or nurture by choosing to save either Kandor or Metropolis, but it’s a conflict that feels forced and unnecessary. However, when the nature of the collection is finally revealed, things begin to get interesting. The Collector of Worlds explains that “the multitude is on its way. Failure to join the collection means annihilation.” The full implication of the Collector’s words won’t be understood until later, but it’s clear that he believed that he was doing the right thing. Superman defeats the Collector by using the miniaturized version of his rocket as an indestructible bullet that shoots into the Collector and turns him into the large crystal that we saw at the end of issue #5.

Much like Lex Luthor, the Collector of Worlds represents the idea of good intentions justifying desperate actions. In an attempt to save lives, the Collector preserves worlds and civilizations in bottles. Previous incarnations of Brainiac portray him as being a collector for the sake of having a collection. But the Collector was acting out of what he perceived to be heroism. The Collector is not unlike Jor-El who considered the Phantom Zone as a last resort to protect his family from a dying planet. And while these desperate acts may seem necessary evils to protect the greater good, that is only because Superman hadn’t become a hero yet. Now that the world has Superman to guide it to a new super-hero utopia, nothing is impossible. Superman ALWAYS saves the day because that is what he does.

As the first arc winds down, Jimmy Olsen takes pictures of Dr. John Henry Irons in his new Steel costume and asks him, “is this the start of a new career as a superhero?” thereby fulfilling Superman’s quote from issue #6 that the word “superhero” was just coming into the world. Steel may not have had much of a role in the arc since he first arrived, but he is the first person that Superman inspired to be a hero and so he has a strange kind of connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes in that way.

Clark Kent has revealed Glen Glenmorgan as a corrupt businessman and the Glenmorgan empire has fallen, but Clark ponders to his editor at the Daily Star, “who fills the vacuum?” Then, it’s revealed that Clark Kent’s secret informant, Icarus, is actually Lex Luthor which leads to a number of questions: Was Glenmorgan responsible for the train crash in issue #1 or was Luthor simply pinning it on him by using Clark? If so, does that mean that Luthor will fill the vacuum left behind by Glenmorgan? Or was Glenmorgan responsible for the train crash and Luthor was taking credit for it at the time because his ego couldn’t allow for him to admit to General Lane that something wasn’t part of the plan. Given his opportunism while in the Metropolis bottle city when he took credit from John Corben for saving humanity, it stands to reason that Luthor isn’t responsible for half the things he claims, but he claims them to make a name for himself.

We have to wonder when Luthor says, “maybe together you and I can turn this dungheap around,” if he is being sincere or if he is just using Clark as part of his own agenda. The more optimistic interpretation seems to have more textual support because Luthor doesn’t appear with Superman’s greatest villains from issue #6, so perhaps he will one day be redeemed. This point is further emphasized by the conclusion of the issue when Superman travels to his first Fortress of Solitude, the Collector’s ship. In the end, Brainiac is redeemed by acting as Superman’s satellite computer which goes to show that perhaps Luthor will one day be redeemed as well.

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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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