Preview: Grant Morrison on ACTION COMICS #17 and the Big Finale

Action Comics #17

Action Comics #17

Last week I spent ten minutes on the phone with Grant Morrison to talk about Action Comics #17 and 18, the big finale of his denim-clad tenure on the New 52 flagship.

To start, I asked Morrison about punctuation. His All-Star Superman story culminated in just about all of them, from multiple exclamation points to question marks and ellipses to a definitive, resolute period. Could such an ending be possible within an ongoing? Can we expect a firm conclusion or a torch held out to incoming Andy Diggle?

“It’s a very different kind of ending,” said Morrison. “As suits this book, it’s a more scrappy kind of ending, a feisty ending. It sums up the tone of this book in the way that All-Star’s was an elegy for Superman.” Though this is a culmination of events and themes from the first issue, the adventure remains, of course, ongoing.

This particular run will almost certainly be summarized for its working-class Superman outfitted in t-shirt, jeans and boots. I asked Morrison whether he hoped other writers and artists would play with that iteration of the character in his formative years or if he looked at it as something more personal that he’d satisfied with his 18 issue story. Morrison explained that his motivation was to use the five-year gap within his story to deliver the Superman we see in Jim Lee’s new costume design. He chronicled the formative years, ushering Clark over the coals to that point in his development. And yet, “There’s some mileage in it, I think. There’s a lot more space to tell stories. I think people would be topically interested in a book that told more stories of the very young Superman when he was having trouble lifting up tanks and he could still be hurt by bombs.

Asked what he believed was his most important contributions to the character in the New 52, Morrison said it all had to do with attitude. “Superman for a long time seemed like a Republican dad or, at best, he was your sister’s boyfriend. He was always this establishment figure. I think the greatest thing we’ve done is that he seems tough again. He’s more of a alpha male. I think the character needs that to set him apart from other superheroes. He needs swagger. He needs confidence.”

That extends to Superman’s alter ego. “By the same token, Clark Kent is much stronger,” the writer said. “He’s an activist. Rather than being a bumbling country oaf, he’s more like a shabby kid who lives in the lower east side and writes amazing journalism.”

It all comes down to lending the character a contemporary, dynamic persona and drive. “Everyone was really getting bored with the wimpy, emo Superman constantly questioning his own actions, unable to move forward in case he hurts someone. Superman is tough and confident again. He’ll stand up for right.”

Morrison said he probably won’t return to the traditional Superman character for at least a few years, though the black Superman character plays a primary role in his upcoming Multiversity project. Action Comics is his final word on Clark’s mythology, at least for now. “It really kind of says it for me,” he laughs. “Certainly I’d never say never about Superman or Batman. These characters can suddenly fascinate you all over again.”

Here’s a sneak peek at Action Comics #17, on sale February 20th.


  1. Completely opinion,

    Morrison is pretty okay at times,
    but damn, when he sucks, he f*cking SUCKS.

    Action Comics, issue 15 for proof.

    • Completely opinion,

      I personally though that issue #15 was a fantastic issue. I loved the back story it gave for the 5th dimension stuff and the love story between Mrs. Nyxly and Mr. Mxyzpptlk, especially in the back up feature. It, along with issues 5, 6 , 9, and 13, are my favorites of the entire run, and I can’t wait to see how Morrison wraps it all up.

    • Issue 15 was where it all started to tie together. As someone who’s been reading since the start, it was an incredibly satisfying issue. The only way I could see someone not enjoying it is if they weren’t reading along from the start, and therefore didn’t see how it was all beginning to wrap up.

    • Wow! 15 was an incredibly inventive comic, and to write all the issues leading up to that in the way he did, and to have it all make sense…pretty damn intelligent. You can hate the story, but in my opinion, 15 is proof that Morrison is a comic book genius. And I agree with davidtobin100, if you just picked up that issue on its own I can fully understand your sentiments. Otherwise, it was THE issue so far of the series. The cornerstone if you will.

    • #15 was very good and the above.

  2. I have absolutely hated his run on Action Comics. I am excited to see it end and someone else get a chance to make it readable again.

  3. I agree it’s not his finest work (or even his finest Superman work), but I didn’t hate it. It’s certainly not nearly as bad as some make it out to be. It had a lot of great moments. Even at its worst, it just suffers from jarring transistions and incosistent artwork. Looking back on it, I can remember several points that were full of excitement and potential.

    Sometimes Morrison’s grand ideas just don’t translate well for various reasons that may or may not be his fault. I’m a huge, longtime fan of his work, but sometimes you can get the concept and still not care for the execution.

    That said, I’m looking forward to seeing him wrap it up. This is the longest I’ve ever stuck with a Superman title, and it’s run its course for me.

    • I think I feel much like you do, but my opinion of the artwork is considerably lower. I’d wager that this story is actually pretty decent, but it’s hard to enjoy it when it is wrapped in such unenjoyable art. It’s possible Morrison simply missed the mark for me, but I feel the art deserves most of the blame.

    • I agree. If we’re pointing fingers, Morales is on the top of my list of reasons this didn’t work as well as it could have.

    • I dropped the book after #12 but your comments sum up my feelings until that point.

      If you look at Grant Morrison’s best work it is always with an artist (or artists) that is given time to deliver great art. Morales was rushed throughout the series to keep up with DC’s strict shipping schedule. I remember reading an interview with Morrison early in the series where he straight up said Morales can’t produce the quality of work he wants to because of time constraints. That’s something nearly every DC book has suffered with.

      I also felt editorial mandates trickling in after the first couple issues as Morrison started working in DC’s ‘present day’ Superman continuity. They even started using that hideous new costume. I don’t mean to absolve Morrison of all the blame, at the end of the day he’s the writer of the book. But I’d say Action Comics was knee capped from the start.

  4. I don’t know if this run was good or bad, but i got really frustrated after a few issues and moved on, so its been quite a wile since i’ve read Action. Excited to see what’s next. I just hope DC can bring back some good ol fashioned Superman story telling. Feel like they’ve been wandering in the wilderness for a while with this character.

  5. Generally i’ve really enjoyed the series, The biggest problems for me on AC have been the inconsistant art and the Legion issues throwing off the pacing. Rags overall has been poor, best issues artwise have been by Gene Ha, Ben Oliver & Travel Foreman.

  6. I want the old Superman from the original continuity back where he was more mature, powerful and looked like a true leader.He’s nothing but a “boy” in the New 52 who also can get his ass handed to him by Aquaman, Ocean Master and the Cheetah.

  7. I normally love Morrison but this was a snooze fest for me.

  8. I love it when people, particularly aging foreigners, equate “Republican dads” with “bumbling country oafs”. If it was any other group being talked of this way, alarm bells would go off and the speaker would be pegged as a bigot for the rest of his life.

    To make matters worse, Morrison’s young Clark Kent hasn’t really been much of an “activist” at all. It’s like, even from an (honest) left-wing point of view, this Action run is dreadfully inadequate. There’s nothing “radical” or unusual about any of this.

    • He didn’t do that. That’s a completely unfair assessment of the interview. He equates Superman’s character to the Republican dad which is fair, and the Clark persona to the bumbling oaf which is also fair. He does not say “republican = oaf” at any stage. This is how the two sides of the character have been handled historically. If you take issue with this protrayal surely it should be with every writer OTHER than Morrisson.

  9. I only made it through 4 issues. I might revisit it in trades. Perhaps it will read better as a whole.

  10. I drop action after issue 6. In my opinion this felt like Morrison heart wasn’t into it. I’ll be back on superman when Snyder and Lee get on man of steel

  11. Ever since Superman renounced his US citizenship, I thought Morrison would bring a type of liberal take on the character, (he did describe Supes as Bruce Springsteen), only that story never truly materialized which was disappointing. Even without that slant, AC did not provide a compelling or fun read. It was all over the place. I’m not sure if this is what Morrison intended, regardless his run was a swing-and-a-miss.

  12. It’s not his best work, but it’s not bad by any stretch. My only complaint, and the 0 issue is exempt on this one, is that there should have been 1 (or 2) consistent artists on this with a visual styles that weren’t such a boring industry default as what we got. Someone like Peter Snejberg or Cameron Stewart could’ve added some real charm and long-term accessibility to this work, but in time I think this run is destined to become nothing more than a footnote to “All-Star Superman”…

  13. I really enjoyed this run. There was the usual Morrison re-reading (to make sense of the Legion issues, especially), but that’s the fun with him. You know nothing is meaningless, and you know you have to wait three more issues to see how it fits. That’s WHY you read a Morrison book. I’m always confused when people criticize him at this point for being “all over the place”. That said, the art did let it down. Rags can do killer work on single issues (like #1) or minis with a year lead time, but he is no monthly artist.

  14. Huge fan of this run. I Think Morrison sums up perfectly what the character needed in relation to what he brought. I like a cocky Superman who wears jeans. I like a Clark who is doing exposés on corrupt city officials and businessmen. He’s for the little guy again and still dealing with global threats. A working class, blue collar Superman. The grass roots of the character is resurrected with a new attitude.
    Can’t wait to see more of President Superman in his upcoming project.

  15. I may not be the popular opinion but I can’t wait for Grant Morrison to be off this book. The story has been all of the place, ridiculous, and not entertaining.

  16. This is indeed one of Morrison’s lesser works, but compared to the rest of the new 52, it’s a masterpiece.