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Comic Book / Grant Morrison's Action Comics

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The Man of Steel brought back to his roots.
"Rats. Rats with money. And rats with guns. I'm your worst nightmare."

When Action Comics was rebooted for the New 52 in 2011, All-Star Superman writer Grant Morrison took the reins for the first 19 issues (#1-18 and the prequel issue #0). Morrison's run was set in the early days of Superman's super-career, and established the character's origin story in the New 52 continuity.

The run consisted of three main story arcs, with a few single-issue stories scattered among them. In the first story arc, Superman defeats his first major alien menace and learns about his Kryptonian heritage. In the second story arc, he faces the metahuman Captain Comet and angsts about the potential danger he's putting his friends in just by associating with them. In the one-shot stories, a group of supervillains travel from the future to kill Superman while he's relatively young and defenseless, and a group of heroes (including the Superman from the New 52's present day) travel back to stop them; a superpowered menace moves between alternate universes battling the Superman in each; a boy's life is changed when he "borrows" Superman's cape; and, in a Halloween issue, Superman is troubled by ghosts that are actually the prisoners of Krypton's Phantom Zone.


The final story arc of the run draws together elements from all the preceding stories into a complicated story about Superman's first encounter with one of his classic adversaries which is simultaneously that adversary's last encounter with Superman and a close-run battle against a new, more dangerous enemy with a grudge against them both.

Starting from 2011, the series was Superman's new origin story. However, as of Superman Reborn, it was replaced with Superman: Secret Origin, though Doomsday Clock implies some parts of it have either remained in canon or have returned in a minor sort of Cosmic Retcon.


Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Early Appearance: The New 52 version of Steel makes his debut during the early months of Superman's career, showing up to help the young Kryptonian hero during his very first clash with Metallo. In the pre-New 52 continuity, Steel's first appearance only came decades into Superman's career.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Morrison's run is split into three volumes, each actually embodying Superman's life during several eras in comic book history:
    • Volume 1 is essentially Superman's transition from the Golden Age to the Silver Age, demonstrated by Supes finding himself facing the very alien Brainiac after spending his heroic career as a Bully Hunter as well as Clark no longer working for the Daily Star, which is what the Daily Planet was originally called.
    • Volume 2 is pure Silver Age, including plots such as Time Travel with the Legion Of Superheroes, Superman needing to create a new secret identity after Clark Kent supposedly dies, and the sudden buttloads of Kryptonite popping up.
    • Volume 3 is about the Bronze Age and the Modern Age, demonstrated by the appearance of a Doomsday-like monster, the franchising of Superman's character, and the return of what seem to be silly concepts coming back to demonstrate how useful and cool they are even in a modern context. Not to mention some Spiritual Antithesis-style Call Backs to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?.
  • Arc Symbol: The color red.
  • Arc Words:
  • An Arm and a Leg: Vyndktvx loses an arm killing the king-thing of Dimension 5.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: The scene where Superman performs surgery on Lois seems to be mostly to show off how "super" Superman is since in spite of studying up on decades of medicine at super speed, Superman doesn't necessarily see any problems with just using his fingernail to make an incision instead of an offered scalpel even though he bothered to wear surgical gloves.
  • Ascended Extra: The Metaleks were sentient machines that first appeared in very brief background moments in Morrison's Batman run. Here, they take on expanded roles as Vyndktvx's mooks.
  • Badass Bystander: The two people who remove the Kryptonite chains from Superman in the last fight.
  • Because Destiny Says So: For reasons they can't understand, the Lois Lane of Earth-45 and Superman of Earth-23 admit they feel an unusual connection, despite having just met.
  • Beta Outfit: Superman's first costume is a T-shirt (with the S-symbol printed on it) and jeans, accessorized with a red cape (made out of the blanket he was wrapped in when the Kents found him). After he learns about his Kryptonian heritage, he uses Kryptonian technology to create the more familiar outfit.
  • Big Damn Heroes:
    • Krypto, in the finale, saving Superman from the Kryptonite Men.
    • The Neo-Sapians in #18, who take out the rest of the Kryptonite Men, and save Krypto.
  • Big Good: Gsptlnz helps get the "defeat Vyndktvx" ball rolling.
  • Big Red Devil: Vyndktvx takes on this look during the final battle. Only with some extra faces.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Superman triumphs, but the Kents are still dead as a result of Vyndktvx's schemes and Clark will never know that he avenged them. He even forgoes his one magic wish that could've brought them back and instead used it to resurrect the murdered Mars colonists, because he made a promise that he'd protect them.
  • Blood Knight: Evlith of the Neo Sapians, who was raised on Assassin's World, and has no qualms with killing, much to Captain Comet's frustration.
  • Boom, Headshot!: How Mrs Nyxly is killed during Vyndktvx's attack.
  • Brought Down to Badass: Vyndktvx is a fifth-dimensional Reality Warper, but ends up constrained by the presence of time and meaning when in the DCU's dimension.
  • Bully Hunter: Superman is depicted this way, as he was back in the earliest issues of the original Action Comics.
  • Call-Back: The ideas thrown around about the 5-D entities are all ideas that showed up in Morrison's own run on JLA.
  • Call-Forward: A lot of the storyline is contingent on the fact that Vyndktvx is attacking Superman before he and Mxyzptlk start their legendary clashes. Superman claims to have never met Mxyzptlk while Gsptlnz explains that it's because Mxy hasn't come at him yet.
  • The Cameo:
    • Vartox and Super-Turtle get mentions when Mxyzptlk shows up. Apparently they were attacked by Vyndktvx as well.
    • All of the named Phantom Zone prisoners in #13 are actual Kryptonian characters from past comics. And if you know your comics, you'll know that "Ak-Var the Wrongly Accused" is very likely to have been wrongly accused.
  • Canon Character All A Long: Clark's landlady Mrs Nyxly turns out to be a fifth-dimensional imp named Nyxlygsptlnz, the New 52 counterpart of Miss Gsptlnz.
  • Child Prodigy: Susie Thompkins, Lois Lane's niece, is a hyper-genius with an unusual grasp on reality. She's also a Neo Sapian, one of a rare breed of being found across the galaxy. Vyndktvx forces her to attack Superman with her powers by threatening her parent.
  • City in a Bottle: The DC Universe, along with 329 other worlds, reside within Mxyzptlk's derby hat. Many of them were destroyed by Vyndktvx when he damaged the hat.
  • Civvie Spandex: Superman's first costume is a T-shirt (with the S-symbol printed on it) and jeans, accessorized with a red cape (made out of the blanket he was wrapped in when the Kents found him).
  • Composite Character: Superdoom is a physical mix of Superman and Doomsday, having Superman's hair and general facial features, but with Doomsday's spikey protrusions and skin-colour.
  • Continuity Nod/Mythology Gag: The first few issues hark back to the first few issues of the original Action Comics, and reclaim some of the famous Early Installment Weirdness: Superman can't fly yet, is a lot more concerned with ground-level (sorry) social justice issues like poverty and domestic violence, and Clark Kent is working at the Daily Star, not yet the Daily Planet.
    • Lex Luthor's initial appearance is more out-of-shape than normal, confirmed by Morrison to be a reference to the notably rotund Golden Age Alexei Luthor.
    • Gsptlnz mentions Superman's contests with Mxyz, which for him haven't happened yet.
    • In New 52 Superman's Fortress of Solitude his blue containment suit is seen inside of a display case in issue 13.
    • One of the hallucinations brought on by Red Kryptonite has Superman transform into a humanoid lion, a likely reference to Action Comics #243 where Superman was transformed into a lion by a sorceress. Another one gives him an ant head like another transformation.
    • The Death of Superman is referenced, but even the characters themselves seem to be confused how that day fits into the New 52 history.
    • An arc deals with villains siphonic Superman's power, using beings called Quarmer, leaving him much weaker and vulnerable. A side effect of them processing it makes a sand clone of him with eighty percent of his power. This all directly references the Bronze Age Superman.
  • Cosmic Retcon:
    • Gsptlnz uses one of her three wishes to retcon away Clark Kent's death.
    • It's heavily implied that Vyndktvx is (at the very least, partially) responsible for the New 52's reboot of Superman's history.
  • Crapsack World: Vyndktvx's manipulations turn the 31st century into one, ruled by a despotic Universo, with the Science Police out to kill the Legion of Superheroes.
  • Creator Cameo: Grant Morrison and backup writer Sholly Fisch are among the people saying their names backwards.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Mr. Mxyzptlk is a 5th Dimension imp who works as the Court Jester for the land of Zrfff. He entertains the kingdom by annoying the heroes of several worlds, including Superman, and letting Zrfff watch. Enraged with jealously over Mxyzptlk's popularity and success, the kingdom's other jester, Vyndktvx, decided to uses his powers to secretly make Superman's life a living hell before eventually killing him, even assembling an "Anti-Superman Army" — and do it all before Superman ever met Mxyzptlk in the first place. Of course, Superman has no idea who he is, but Vyndktvx holds him responsible for Mxyzptlk's success because the kingdom really liked how he was the only hero to best Mxyzptlk.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The King-Thing of the 5th Dimension's death caused 230 of these at once.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Vyndktvx.
  • E.T. Gave Us Wi-Fi: Almost literally. As revealed in issue 7, one of Brainiac's many identities throughout the worlds is Earth's Internet.
  • Evil Counterpart: Superdoom, a version of Superman from Earth-45 that is an artificial creation, a living franchise designed to kill any and all potential competition. Like, say, Prime-Earth's Superman.
  • Fantastic Racism: An alternate reality version of Luthor is fighting against a black version of Superman. This Luthor is as white as his mainstream counterpart, and is adamant that he hates Superman as a fantastic racist, and not the normal kind. Simple mistake, he is a bald white guy known for his fanatical hatred of a black guy.
  • Fisher King: The King-Thing of the 5th Dimension. As long as he's depressed, his entire kingdom is grey and gloomy. It brightens up again when Mxyzptlk starts performing for him.
  • Flanderization: Not in this run, but most of the other New 52 comics featuring Superman. Morrison's run was supposed to show Superman Taking A Level In Kindness from his Good Is Not Nice Bully Hunter roots, but writers didn't seem to get the memo and wrote the present-day Superman as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Foregone Conclusion: One of this run's arcs is Superman faking Clark Kent's death so he have an easier Secret Identity. All other New 52 books, which take place five years after Action Comics, have Superman continue using the Clark Kent identity, it is a given that he will return to using it.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • In the first issue, Mrs. Nyxly mentions that three people, two men and a blonde woman, had stopped by looking for Clark.
    • A homeless man hints at Krypto, noting that there's a ghost dog watching over Clark when he walks past him.
    • In what at first seems like a Series Continuity Error, Miss Nyxly refers to Ferlin as her nephew as opposed to her son as shown in the final issues. This is because the neverending cyclical nature of the fifth dimension made Vyndktvx her own brother, uncle, and nephew at the same time.
    • Ferlin Nxly is somehow a "damaged edge" of Vyndktvx, and he is used to send the 5-D villain back to his home dimension. This turns out to be significant as Vyndktvx is revealed to be the son of Mxyzptlk, who will become the King-Thing Vyndktvx kills.
  • Got Me Doing It: How Superman defeats Vyndktvx, by having enough people say their names backwards to the point where even Vyndktvx is compelled to follow suit.
  • Halloween Episode: Issue #13 is a ghost story, and an admitted homage to the stories of Ray Bradbury.
  • Ignored Epiphany: An alternate Lex Luthor realizes that Superdoom is the monstrous, egotistical bully of an alien that he always suspected his own Superman of being. However, he quickly goes back to wishing the BOTH of them dead after this brief moment of insight.
  • In a Single Bound: At the beginning of the run, as in the earliest Action Comics, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but not yet actually fly.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: Action Comics #9, sandwiched between "Superman Versus Brainiac" and "Superman Versus Captain Comet (While Batman Chuckles At His Secret Identity Problems)", was an interlude involving parallel universes, a Corrupt Corporate Executive who buys a machine of incredible power, and a black version of Superman who is the president of his America. The monster, Superdoom, comes to fight Superman in issues 17 and 18, at the behest of Vyndktvx.
    • It also establishes the new form of the Multiverse, which gets explored several years later by The Multiversity.
  • I Was Quite the Looker: Gsptlnz, though she never says it herself, as shown in flashbacks.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Vyndktvx directly addresses the reader on several occasions in the finale.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Vyndktvx. It's even implied that he's the reason that Superman's character and life are so different from the norm.
  • Meaningful Name: Vyndktvx is vindictive.
  • Meta Origin: John Henry Irons (Steel) and John Corben (Metallo) both got their Powered Armor from the US Military's "Steel Soldier" project, which was designed by Lex Luthor and headed by Lois Lane's father, General Sam Lane. Further on, it's also revealed that their suits were reverse-engineered from Brainiac's technology, and that Brainiac's psychic influence was the initial cause of Metallo's insanity.
  • Mistaken for Racist: In the alternate universe depicted in issue #9, where Superman is black, Lex Luthor (who is still a white guy) is shown arguing that he is not a racist and hates Superman because he's an alien, not because he's a black man.
  • The Multiverse: Action Comics #9 shows other versions of Superman from around the multiverse.
  • Murder by Mistake: Vyndktvx's first attempt to kill Mxyzptlk instead resulted in the death of the king, who had borrowed Mxyzptlk's hat for fun.
    • The ending of the run reveals that Vyndktvx technically succeeded, along with murdering his father at the same time.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • During Superman's battle with Captain Comet, he's trapped in a Lotus-Eater Machine daydream in which he's happily married to Lois Lane — which he quickly sees through because at this point in his history he and Lois barely know each other.
    • Jimmy Olsen's phone, which he uses to talk to Clark, has a ringtone similar to his signature signal watch.
    • "There's always a way."
    • When a young Clark met the Legion of Superheroes, he asked them if he was also from the future, referencing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original idea for Krypton to have been a futuristic Earth.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Superman suddenly shows the ability to read digital information, allowing him to read the contents of a USB drive without plugging it into a computer. It's a rather common power Grant Morrison often has Superman use before.
  • Noodle Implements: According to the laws of what Vyndktvx refers to "isomorphic magic", he uses items like Jonathan Kent's handkerchief, Glenmorgan's tie, and Superman's cape to put his mischief into motion. The last item being stolen in Issue #0 is what forces him to assemble the Anti-Superman Army.
  • Not Me This Time: Superman initially assumes that the Multitude is responsible for Krypton's destruction, but Brainiac corrects him that Jor-El had actually managed to ward it off, and the planet's end was nothing more than unfortunate timing.
  • Oedipus Complex: Vyndktvx's hatred of Myxz is because he won the heart of Gsptlsnz, and the end of the story reveals she is both their mothers, due to the cyclical nature of the 5th Dimension.
  • Origins Episode: Issues 1-8 focus on Clark's debut as Superman and his initial six months in the role, as he fights to protect the oppressed and poor from ground level threats and corrupt businessmen, as well as poverty and domestic violence, while also balancing his day-to-day job at the Daily Star. Then Brainiac arrives and threatens to permanently keep Metropolis as part of his collection, which leads Superman to fight and successfully defeat the Collector of Worlds, while also finding what eventually would become his actual uniform as Superman.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Though Clark defeats them the same way, Jor-El's repelling of the Multitude is never shown on-panel.
  • Off with His Head!: Red Kryptonite Woman gets her head cut off by Elvith of the Neo Sapiens.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mxyzptlk and Vyndktvx were both abandoned by their father, King Mxyzptlk, when their mother died giving birth to them. Vyndktvx's statements during the finale implies that he knew this all along.
    • Meanwhile, Mister Triple X and Miss Nyxly's son Ferlin also claims his parents weren't that great.
  • Prequel: To the rest of the New 52, being set in the early days of Superman's career.
  • Pro Wrestling Is Real: Given a meta twist. Superman comes across an underground wrestling ring where gods maintain their followers and thus their existence by reenacting their legends in wrestling matches. The matches are very real, with any injuries from the legend being incurred, but the promoter Scheherazade can heal them by recounting their stories behind the scenes.
  • The Quisling: Here Luthor hypocritically conspires with Brainiac to take out Superman, knowing he will invade Earth, under the agreement that he will survive. Of course survival in this case means being collected along with the rest of Metropolis.
  • Rule of Three: Gsptlnz has three wishes, given to her by Mxyzptlk.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Ship Tease: Superman and Lois never hook up within this run nor do they ever actually display romantic feelings for each other. But Because Destiny Says So, it's implied all of this is because they just haven't gotten around to it yet. When Superman sees an illusion of a world much closer to the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe, he's married to Lois, even though he no idea why of all people it'd be her who's his wife.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Mxyzptlk takes a backseat to Gsptlnz and Vyndktvx, but it's because of him and his rivalry with Superman that the events of the storyline is happening.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Several of the new villains introduced serve in part as retools of older ones, though this seems to be less to substitute them and more provide alternate takes on their deals without replacing them.
    • Nimrod is similar to Terra-Man: both are Badass Normal-types, both extensively use guns, both seem to fight Superman more for the thrill than anything, and both represent a common pulp archetype: a Great White Hunter instead of a Wild West outlaw.
    • Xa-Du is based on Zod: both are Phantom Zone Kryptonians who were prominent criminals in life, both have a connection to Jor-El, and even their names are similar (though this is a lucky coincidence, as he takes his name from an older Kryptonian villain). The major difference is that Xa-Du swaps out Zod's Putting on the Reich attitude for more of an undead king aesthetic, leaning into the "Phantom Zone" idea more.
    • Vyndktvx is essentially Mxyzptlk, if Mxy were actively malevolent and devilish rather than simply a jerk looking to entertain himself. Though Mxyzptlk does actually appear, Vyndktvx is the one driving the story.
    • Superdoom is, self-evidently, Doomsday; aside from the obvious similarities in name, he's a corrupted Kryptonian whose powers are mostly steeped in raw brute force that increases with time, with the goal of killing Superman. His metaphorical idea is that he represents Superman being corrupted into a mindless corporate franchise, which makes him rather fitting as a substitute for a character seen as the embodiment of 1990s market-driven excess.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Linear time goes out the window when Vyndktvx begins his attack on Superman. That is, every attack he's sent coming Superman's way was his only attack.
  • Trainstopping: In Action Comics #1, Lex Luthor causes a Metropolis bullet train to go out of control. Superman is able to stop it, but being as this is set in his early days, when he was weaker and couldn't even fly yet, stopping the train almost kills him, allowing Lex and the military to capture him. (Added Stealth Pun: Superman has to be faster and more powerful than a speeding bullet locomotive!)
  • Tulpa: One issue depicts an alternate reality in which Superman was a tulpa created by Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. He only lasts a few minutes, and their attempts to recreate him do not go well for anyone.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The tenement inhabitants that Superman saved in issue 1 are initially glad to the favor by shielding Superman from the military, but immediately turns against him when his alien origin is revealed.
  • Vicious Cycle: The rivalry between Mxyzptlk and Vyndktvx is actually a never-ending 5D fable.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Vyndktvx undergoes one as represented by Mxyzptlk's disgruntled son panicking and accusing his parents of treating him like a fool in #18. This is because Ferlin Nxly is actually a "damaged" edge of Vyndktvx.
    Ferlin Nxly/Vyndktvx: I get that you're insane and a fraud! I get that everything I worked so hard to achieve is just some joke to you! My life is a lie, is that it?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Brainiac is bottling and collecting cities from various planets because those particular planets are doomed. It's later revealed that all these planets are part of a list of planets fated to be destroyed by the Multitude, if they weren't already.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Vyndktvx's first victim is the son of some scientists Superman had just saved from the Multitude.
  • Yandere: Red Kryptonite Woman is after Superman because he apparently "rejected" her.


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