When it was first announced that Andy Diggle would be taking over Action Comics from Grant Morrison, I responded with some trepidation. Sure, Diggle is a tremendous writer, but I wondered whether he was the right guy for Superman. Then, with all of the waves being made about his public and mysterious departure from Action Comics mere weeks before his first issue hit the stands, it was almost easy to forget what a top-notch storyteller we were gonna miss out on. Action Comics #19 is not only a perfect place for readers unfamiliar with this “new” version of Superman to jump on, it’s a darn good Superman story. As a matter of fact, Andy Diggle and Tony Daniel’s Action Comics #19 is one of the best issues of ANY DC comic I’ve read since the character got his “fresh start” in 2011.
First of all, I should get this out there in the interest of full disclosure: I am a huge Grant Morrison fan. I automatically assumed that anyone following hot on his heels at the conclusion of eighteen issues of Action Comics was in for a rough time. As big of a fan of Morrison as I am, I’m also willing to admit that he’s a tremendously divisive figure among comic book fans and his most recent run on Action Comics continued that trend. Unconventional, non-linear, dense, and high-concept are words I would use to describe it, although some fans may be less charitable. Maybe Morrison wasn’t the perfect choice to reinvent Superman at such a crucial juncture when fans were already apprehensive about wholesale changes to the entire DC Universe. I thoroughly enjoyed Morrison’s tenure on Action Comics and I’m sure it will reveal itself further under the scrutiny of repeated readings. But sometimes it’s better to lay your cards on the table early, hit some classic beats, and let the fans know what’s what…which is exactly what Diggle and Daniel have done with Action Comics #19.
Other than Superman/Clark Kent, the two most important and recognizable figures in the Superman mythology are Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, both of whom have been somewhat underserved across the Superman family of titles over the last year and a half. But without these two characters functioning at their peak you lose fundamental components of what makes the Superman universe function. It’s crucial for creators to continue to hammer home why the most powerful being on the planet would continue to be intrigued by (even if these days he’s not fully immersed in a relationship with) a mortal woman and this dynamic is nailed perfectly on the first page of Action Comics #19. Right off the bat, this is classic Lois and Clark banter and Lois makes it clear that she’s every bit as fearless as the guy with the powers.
However, it’s Lex Luthor who really steals the book. Lex shows up for five pages and thanks to Tony Daniel’s art, has the stage presence of David Bowie in his prime. His eerie calm and brilliant (no, really, it’s pretty darn original…but I guess Diggle gets the credit for that, not Lex) plan to take down Superman is a perfect updating of the brains/brawn Lex/Superman equation. Is there anything in Superman lore more iconic than a Superman/Luthor confrontation? While it seems run-of-the-mill, it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a classic chess match between these two, and it’s about time we got one in the New 52.
At its heart, Action Comics #19 is a classic Superman tale. In fact, if you set aside Tony Daniel’s slick, ultra-modern art style and Superman’s new costume (which, I might add, looks really sleek thanks to Daniel’s pencils and Batt’s inks), the structure of this story would fit right at home in the pre-Flashpoint or even the pre-Crisis DCU. As strange as it sounds, this “classic” approach that still looks and feels like a modern book is EXACTLY what has been missing from BOTH Superman titles recently. Between the revolving creative teams on Superman, and a general coyness about putting Supes’ biggest baddies to good use (and considering that Man of Steel is on the horizon, hopefully we’ve got some serious General Zod in our near future), Superman has sometimes felt a little bit…directionless.
Unfortunately, Action Comics #19 will be the only Andy Diggle-scripted issue, as he walked off the book last month. Tony Daniel will complete this story, which will finish in Action Comics #21 from Diggle’s plot, and then he’s moving on as well. That’s a darn shame, too, as Tony Daniel has a real flair for the Man of Steel and the high-powered technological menaces he gets to tear through. Generally, my taste in artists runs more towards guys like Chris Samnee and Marcos Martin, but Tony Daniel and Batt made me a believer with this one. The creative team for Action Comics #22 hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully they’ll be able to build on what we’re teased with in this issue.
Even if you haven’t picked up a single issue of the New 52, or any Superman title in years for that matter, you probably already know everything you need to know to enjoy Action Comics #19. In other words, it’s a classic Superman comic, regardless of whether he’s wearing the red trunks or not. Making the Superman cast feel fresh and exciting while still remaining true to what makes them so enduring isn’t an easy task, and as we’ve seen in recent years, very few creative teams can do it. Andy, Tony…are you sure you won’t change your minds?