Humanity, Heroism, and Action:

Grant Morrison’s Action Comics #10

After taking an issue off to visit Earth 23 and President Superman, Morrison returns the narrative back to Maxim Zarov (also known as Nimrod the Hunter) who was last seen killing a T-Rex at the end of issue #8. In that issue, Nimrod quotes the Bible, saying, “Nimrod was a mighty one upon the Earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.”  The Biblical Nimrod was Noah’s great-grandson and the founder of many cities including Babel. It is never stated in the Bible that Nimrod was responsible for the beginning of the Tower of Babel, but it is usually interpreted as such. The phrase, “a mighty hunter before the Lord” is generally interpreted as “against God” meaning that the Nimrod of Action Comics is against Superman (his Kryptonian name of Kal-El meaning “the Voice of God” in Hebrew). Given that the Dealmaker is godlike in his own way, we could we could also interpret this as Nimrod being a mighty hunter for the Dealmaker himself.

Nimrod was first mentioned in issue 6 as the villain who, according to Saturn Woman, “used a teleport rifle to fire a microscopic lead pellet” into Superman’s brain. He differed in appearance in that issue because he was wearing a metal mask and cloak; here, he seems like a normal hunter on safari.

The first page has Nimrod investigating what used to be the Kent farm. He boasts, “I have killed everything that ever lived” and on the next page, we see Nimrod lighting a cigar over the corpse  of the dead T-Rex from issue 8. But wait – that would mean that his cigar lighting would be a flashback because that was when the Dealmaker was hiring Nimrod to hunt Superman and the scene on the former Kent farm was part of the investigation. While this may seem like nothing more than a means to dramatically introduce Nimrod, it is also indicative of the effects of the 5th Dimension on the narrative of Morrison’s Action Comics. Time is going to go all wibbly-wobbly in later issues (and given that issues 5 and 6 revolved around the Legion of Superheroes traveling back in time, we could argue that it has already begun) , but for now, this could be interpreted as a very subtle hint that time will be disrupted for Superman later.

Clark is alerted to Nimrod hunting him, but is distracted by the story of a kidnapped child named Emily Zatnick. Off he goes to investigate (note that the locker Clark pulls his costume from is “38” which is no doubt a reference to the year Superman was created) and he comes to the apartment of a balding, heavy man named David Marigold. At first, Clark tries interviewing Marigold, but the man responds, “Outta my face. I do important work for the government. You want me to call the cops?” Clark leaves and returns as an exceptionally frightening Superman. Dressed in a red shirt, with his heat vision readied, Superman bursts through Marigold’s front door, slams the man against a wall and shouts, “I could put you through hell! I could burn out the parts of your brain that make you hurt people – But I won’t.”

There is no indication that Clark had any evidence that Marigold was responsible for killing Emily Zatnick, so the whole scene seems strange, but Clark does know that Emily lived in the Hob’s Bay area, and the scene begins with Marigold confessing to his two hamsters, “I spent the last hour cleaning that bath out again. Then I still find blood and hair in the drain.” So, even though we don’t know of any specific evidence, it is plausible that Clark went to Hob’s bay and used his super-senses to hunt for the killer which directly connects to Nimrod’s own hunt for Superman.

In issues 4 and 7, Clark wore a white Superman shirt to reflect his role as savior of Metropolis as he ascended to heaven to battle the Collector of Worlds. Now, dressed in red, Superman is a vengeful god judging the sins of an evil man. The violence that Superman threatens upon Marigold is uncharacteristic of an older Superman and there is something sad in this. Though it can be interpreted that the older Superman is more in control of his emotions, it also suggests that the older Superman lacks passion that his younger self had.

The incident with Marigold is Morrison’s way of exemplifying the young Superman as an idealized 20-something who does the right thing outside of the rules of society. Furthermore, by having Marigold state that he does “important work for the government,” Morrison is further putting Superman in a rebellious role as he battles corrupt government workers the way he did in issue 2 with Lex Luthor trying to weaponize him for the government. Taken all together, Morrison is presenting his vision for the perfect 20-something god passing judgment on the corrupt and further judging an evil government.

But Superman isn’t all violence. When Marigold asks Superman, “What about my pets? Who’s gonna feed my hamsters? ‘s gonna happen to Jack and Bobby?” the hero lives up to his promise to the Collector of Worlds in issue 7 when he says, “I won’t choose between any one life and another! All of these people are under my protection, you got that? Every living thing!” Though they are only hamsters, Superman takes responsibility for their lives because of his love for all life. However, he soon realizes that the other members of the Justice League aren’t of the same mindset.

Superman calls a meeting of the Justice League in a barn (though with Morales’s art, it looks more like an industrial factory) and asks, “Nobody wants two adorable hamsters and nobody wants to start tackling poverty in Somalia? So what do we do now? Sit in a barn until some more evil aliens turn up?” – certainly damning questions for a team consisting of “the king of an undersea empire, an amazon princess, and a billionaire playboy.” The Justice League has the ability to do anything and not only are they unwilling to solve poverty, but they won’t even take care of two little hamsters. Ultimately, the Justice League exists as a reactionary organization to defend the world against monsters. Rather than taking a proactive stance in saving the world, they will only work together when something needs hitting.

The Justice League’s ineffectiveness works on two levels. First, and most obviously, it is a critique against the nature of superteam books in general. Morrison is going through the same arguments that have plagued superteams from Marvel’s Squadron Supreme to DC’s The Authority and back to Marvel’s The Ultimates. If a team of ultra-powerful people got together, they would want to become proactive and change the world. But given that Morrison has been so critical of government in his run on Action Comics so far, we could also read the scene as a critique of the ineffectiveness of government. Americans can identify the problems that our nation faces, but the only thing our government is able to do effectively is perpetuating the military industrial complex. In short, we are good at killing, but we have a harder time with combating poverty.

The first to object is the Flash who was hoping for the Justice League to “hang out and talk business” which reflects Barry Allen’s personality of needing to relate to everyone. But because he is a cop, Barry further justifies his refusal to act by saying, “I think it’s important to stay within the law” which prevents him from seeing the big picture that people are suffering in the world and they have the ability to enact change. Barry’s strict “letter of the law” code of ethics prevents him from fixing the world while Superman knows that he has the means to fix the world’s problems and wants to save the world regardless of whether everyone will approve. But, it’s Batman’s reaction to Superman’s statements that proves really interesting.

Batman argues, “I don’t want to be part of a gang of authoritarian living weapons from America. I won’t march into countries uninvited to ‘fix’ problems we barely understand.” Years later, Batman will create Batman Inc to combat global threats, but here in his younger days, Batman’s worldview is too narrow. He can only see problems as threats to Gotham City and nothing more, so he is unable to put himself in a mindset that the rest of the world needs saving as well and that he can be an agent of that change. But, perhaps Superman’s beliefs in taking a more proactive role in the world will later influence Batman to create Batman Inc. Or even better, when Batman travels through time due to Darkseid’s Omega Effect, and returns a newly enlightened Bat-god, perhaps this enlightenment has resulted in Batman ascending to Superman’s elevated view of the world.

Even though Batman will come around to Superman’s way of thinking eventually, the two tackle the issues of change in very different ways that reflect their ideologies. Batman is the ultimate capitalist superhero and therefore tackles world issues through a corporate structure. Heroes are funded through Batman Inc. which is funded through Wayne Enterprises and the heroes of Batman Inc. seem to be largely reactive heroes who battle the terrorist organization Leviathan rather than invoking real-world change.

Meanwhile, Superman is the ultimate socialist superhero and believes in the potential of the individual rather than a corporate structure. In this issue, he is calling upon the strength of his comrades to raise people out of poverty and he is denied. He believes that their strength and their abilities will be enough overcome any obstacle, because Superman’s greatest power is his ability to believe in overcoming impossible odds. He is fueled by this belief and tries to instill this belief in the other members of the Justice League because he believes in the strength of the individual as opposed to the flaws of government.

Of course, Superman’s world-changing philosophy could be interpreted as the rantings of a fascist looking to mold the world in his image and Alan Moore interpreted this idea this famously in the never produced crossover event Twilight of the Super-Heroes, but Morrison once again writes against Moore with his interpretation of Superman’s utopia. Superman is a perfect creation who is infinitely good and does the right thing, so whatever course of action he takes to change the world will be a right one. Besides, through the science utopia of Krypton, Morrison has already shown what the world will be like if the superheroes took over. Though battling poverty in Somalia may seem impossible, Superman is the idea that the impossible can be overcome. After all, in issue 7, Superman had never reached speeds to break through Earth’s atmosphere, but because he HAD to in that moment, he was able to overcome his limitations. Superman’s utopia is possible because he believes that the idea is possible.

In the end, the Justice League scene can be best summarized with Morrison’s quote, ““Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea. Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea” (xv).  Superman was created because two men had an idea about what the perfect hero would be and that idea is more powerful than any weapon. Superman’s utopia may only be an idea, but that is an idea that is more powerful than the reactionary role of the Justice League, more powerful than the government weaponizing Superman, and it can be achieved so long as people believe in it.

After his unsuccessful meeting with the Justice League, Clark meets up with Lois and Jimmy for a scene that exists to mostly just plant seeds for the next two issues. Lois takes Clark’s hamsters and plans on giving them to her step-niece Susie (who sharp-eyed readers will remember that a Susie was mentioned as a villain in issue 6 along with Earth’s first Superman). When they go out, Clark notices Nimrod in a local diner watching him.

Out in the street, Clark confronts Angus Grundig who was seen in the first issue trying to hijack the train that Lois and Jimmy were on. Grundig now has dynamite strapped to his chest and through his tears he laments “you people ruined my life. I’m just news to sell papers nobody wants to read no more.” He then commits suicide as Clark saves the life of his editor at the Daily Star, Mr. Taylor. However, it appears that Clark Kent is dead as well. Then, Nimrod visits Clark’s apartment and is confronted by Superman who easily defeats the hunter and accidentally causes Nimrod’s face to be scarred. The issue ends with the Dealmaker visiting Nimrod in the hospital to recruit him into his Anti-Superman Army.

The last page is odd given that the prologue of issue 8 showed that Nimrod had already been hired by the Dealmaker to try and kill Superman. So, when the Dealmaker promises that he can supply Nimrod with “weapons – stronger weapons from other worlds,” the reader has to wonder why he didn’t just do that in the first place. Then again, the Dealmaker looks younger in this portion of the story, so perhaps even though this is Nimrod’s second meeting with the Dealmaker, this could be the Dealmaker’s first meeting with Nimrod (Morrison pulls a similar device in his JLA run when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner meets the time-traveling robot Hourman for the first time, but it wasn’t Hourman’s first time of meeting Rayner due to the nature of time travel). So, perhaps the Dealmaker promises to arm Nimrod, but then later in his life, he had to hire Nimrod in order to fuel his hatred of Superman so that he could arm him.

In short, time travel is confusing and it will get a lot worse from here.

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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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