"–With unbelievable scenes repeated across the country and the world! Auto and manufacturing plants are producing robots by the thousands."
That's the opening line of Action Comics #4, and, despite being the fourth installment of a story arc, that's all you need to know about the situation in order to understand the issue. I can say this with authority because I read the Action Comics #3 and don't remember a single thing about it, story-wise. I remember being somewhat disappointed, but that's all my brain will recall.
Action Comics #4 is Act 2 material, so it's all sturm und drang and forward motion, as Superman (hilariously sporting a white tee bearing his S-shield) punches the above-mentioned robots (called "Terminauts" — wonder how long that name sat in one of Morrison's notebooks, just waiting to invade the world) and the rebooted Metallo ("Metal-Zero") stomps across the city to find the big guy. It probably has the most impact if you've read the first three parts, but there are things in this one that should entice a newbie into catching up. For example, Action Comics #4 contains a scene wherein a giant, previously headless robot picks up a tank, places it on top of its shoulders, and then fires said tank right into our hero. Were I not already, that's something I'd want to be a part of.
"Superman and the Men of Steel" certainly lives up to its name, what with all the literal and figurative "Men of Steel" in this issue. We've got Superman himself, vaguely humanoid robots, Metal-Zero (a man-machine hybrid) and Steel (a man inside metal armor). Grant Morrison doesn't forget that his Superman fights for the little guy, so the two-page title splash has him punching Terminauts to robo-death to protect the automotive factory workers who were protesting outside the plant. Neither Morrison nor artist Rags Morales make a point of it, either. It's just something for keener readers to pick up on. If not, to the average reader it's just Superman punching robots, not that they'll complain.
What fans may complain about is that the story ends with the promise that it'll be continue in Action #7, pending a two-issue fill-in arc drawn by Andy Kubert. I'm burnt out on being frustrated with comic books, so nerd-rage at your discretion. At least there won't be a substandard fill-in artist to mar a story arc — just a quick interlude.
So, yeah — Rags Morales continues to draw the book, aided not by Brent Anderson fill-in pencils this time, but a couple of inkers. Morales has gotten some flack from readers for some loose, dodgy pencils and for occasionally drawing some derpy eyeballs. Due to the different inkers, there are slight shifts in art depending on the page, but nothing so distracting that it ruins the story. Personally, I dig Rags' art — it's warm and friendly and I'd much rather him draw Action than some rigid, pose-obsessed '90s imitator. Also, I was one of those Hourman superfans back when he was drawing that underrated series, so I'm glad to see he's getting the recognition he deserves.
Action #4 finds DC finally getting their shit together in coming with a proper reason to charge $4 for this comic book. Some of the previous issues had extra-long stories. Issue #3 had a bullshit inexcusable "behind the scenes" section that was essentially a thinly veiled attempt to sell Action readers on the other Superman Family books. Here, we get a backup story by kid-friendly Brave and the Bold writer Sholly Fisch and Brad Walker, focusing on Steel's battle with Metallo from earlier in the issue. It's a fun little read, giving us some background on the rebooted John Henry Irons — He thinks cool scientists are cool! He understands the thematic importance of his name! He uses his brains as well as his brawn! — as well as concluding the scene Morrison cut away from in his section. Hey, remember when Joshua Fialkov was announced as the gu writing this backup? What happened to that?
Outside of the nod to labor protests, here's a touch of class warfare in all this robot fighting that gives Action Comics #4 a hint of depth, at least. Steel is a fairly well-off scientist. I mean, he drinks the nice vodka, wears a tie, has both a secret compartment for his battle armor and a bust of what appears to be Martin Van Buren in his study. He knows how to use his technology for the good of the people. Battling him is John Wayne Corben, a military stooge whose consciousness has relented to the ease of technology. All he wants is to get rid of Superman, who's disrupting the (declining) society with all his ideals and proactivity. The Terminauts, I suppose, are then every piece of technology threatening to put a good, skilled laborer out of a job. Maybe Brainiac is Steve Jobs, ready to reduce entire societies into bottled "apps" for his spacePod?
I dunno, man. The one thing I'm sure of is that Superman is a becaped Springsteen in a T-shirt and jeans who can chuck a news van directly into a robot's crotch.
Danny Djeljosevic is a comic book creator, award-winning filmmaker (assuming you have absolutely no follow-up questions), film/music critic for Spectrum Culture and Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin. Follow him on Twitter at @djeljosevic or find him somewhere in San Diego, often wearing a hat. Read his comic, "Sgt. Death and his Metachromatic Men," over at Champion City Comics and check out his other comics at his Tumblr, Sequential Fuckery.