Action Comics #9 (Review and Commentary)
By Andy Frisk
May 2, 2012 - 17:42
Writer(s): Grant Morrison
Penciller(s): Gene Ha
Inker(s): Gene Ha
Colourist(s): Art Lyon
Letterer(s): Patrick Brosseau
Cover Artist(s): Gene Ha, Art Lyon
Calvin Ellis (Kalel) is both Superman and the President of the United States. He is of African-American visage, although he can’t truly be called African-American because he is Kryptonian, and he’s perhaps the most unique multiversal Superman we’ve ever seen. Not because he’s black, but because he is the most politically charged and allegorically challenging Superman we’ve ever seen. Leave it to Grant Morrison to come up with a story like this story and all its massively packed metaphorical aspects. Calvin Ellis/Superman is so similar to President Barak Obama in so many real and imagined ways that Morrison might as well have called him Obama-Man. Calvin Ellis/Superman is an absolutely ideal Superman in every way, but he is not without controversy…
To begin, a Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen of another parallel Earth arrive on Earth 23 (our story and Superman’s Earth) by traveling through a “Musical Meta-Machine ringing at impossibly oblique frequencies.” They are fleeing, while searching for help with in defeating, the Superman of their Earth, a fascistic creation of the masses (complete with a swastika looking chest emblem) that “everyone wears…it makes people feel part of something big and new and cool. Superman helps them forget the reality of their drab, obedient, lonely lives.” The images of this Superman’s world are ones of fascist domination. Of course, the liberal Pres. Calvin Ellis/Superman of Earth 23 defeats this fascist Superman, surprisingly with the help of the Lex Luthor of Earth 23.
Grant Morrison first came up with the Pres. Ellis/Superman character way back in Final Crisis (remember that?-another Crisis that apparently was unnecessary in its effect) just after Barak Obama won the election. It was a very hopeful image, although it bought a little too much into the “Obama as Savior” hype that was making the rounds of the nation at the time (except in the racist or far right wing areas of the Deep South-I know, I live in “the Deep South”). Obama had a lot to live up to and did the best he could with what he had to work with (although his handling of the Wall Street robber barons-as shown in the recent episodes of Frontline-left much to be desired). The potential adventures and story behind this unique Superman of Morrison’s creation got many intrigued, and Morrison finally returned to him here in Action Comics (2011) #9, but besides loading his story with lots of metaphysical weirdness, like he packed his brilliant The Invisibles with, he didn’t do much with him. He had the liberal Superman beat the far-right Superman. Ho-hum.
It is Sholly Fisch’s follow up story in Action Comics (2011) #9 that really stirs things up, taking the shine off this Superman and making him such an interesting and complex a character that even I, a Superman purist who really doesn’t like The New 52’s Superman, really, really want to see more of him. If he’s written by Fisch than all the better.
In “Executive Orders,” President Ellis/Superman wrecks Qurac’s (the metaphorical Iraq/Iran of the DCnU) nuclear capabilities while speaking on the phone with Qurac’s extremist leader and offering him a place at the table of world nations if he gives up his extreme ways. As pointed out by Nubia/Wonder Woman though, Ellis/Superman violates many international laws (and isn’t even legally able to be President since he wasn’t born in the USA-sound familiar?-and is misleading the American people with his secret identity). He’s skirting a thin line between technicalities and legalities while doing what’s best for the world and its people. As Nubia/Wonder Woman states though, “—Calvin Ellis’ actions now affect even more people than Superman’s. Tell me, what happens when, one day, you do what you think is the “greater good”—but the world sees it differently?” Obviously, Ellis/Superman is a good guy and noble in his actions. He believes in what he is doing and is saving millions of lives with his actions. He is undoubtedly the “good guy” in every way. He is breaking the law though, both American and International. Are his actions justified?
No violation of the law is justifiable. If Ellis/Superman continues to do so, he is not in the right even though what he does is right. It’s a conundrum that has faced several US Presidents, world leaders, authority figures, and everyday men and women over the course of the years and bears further philosophical, legal, and fictional exploration by anyone talented enough to intelligently take on the further adventures of Ellis/Superman. In Ellis/Superman’s case, does might make right? Does might coupled with impeccable morality make right? (Ellis/Superman has the same code against killing that our Superman does). Is anyone, or could anyone be, as impeccably moral as Superman (a fictional character?). Wow, the possibilities that this Ellis/Superman character’s story could stir up narratively give me goose-bumps. It’s sad that another Superman, who isn’t the regular monthly published Superman, can do this. I’ve been pretty critical of Morrison’s run on Action Comics, especially at the outset, but it has gotten steadily better, and is leagues beyond the low quality that is dominating Superman right now.
The most important thing though is: what do you all, as readers, think of the potential behind the Ellis/Superman character? Is the character a cheap marketing ploy to boost the sales of a lagging superhero title, or is it another brilliant creation of Morrison’s that is ripe for more appearances and some potentially brilliant storytelling? I’d love to know what you think. Comment below!
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