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Review: Action Comics #13

The Return of the Phantom King

You can tell Grant Morrison has been having a lot of fun writing DC Comics‘ “New 52” Action Comics, and in this month’s Action Comics #13, you can almost see Morrison smiling on each page. Easily one of the best issues of this incredible series, Action Comics #13 gives Superman fans a special Halloween story that is sure to become one of the most remembered and best-loved single-shot Superman stories in years.

Xa-Du De-MaterializedAction Comics #13 begins in the past – Krypton’s past to be exact. One Halloween night long ago on Krypton, Jor-El and the K-Council condemn a mad scientist named Xa-Du to the newly created Phantom Zone, where he will live as an utter phantom, with a chance every twenty years to “plead” for his release. Xa-Du does not take kindly to his sentence, and before being swept away to nothingness, he swears vengeance upon Jor-El and his progeny. Twenty years come and go, and on the very day of Xa-Du’s scheduled “parole hearing,” the planet Krypton explodes. Fast forward to present day, and Superman is going about his business in the Fortress of Solitude. As he is about to go deal with an “anomalous weather condition” in the South Pacific, Supes hears a strange noise reverberate through the Fortress. Knowing that there should be no other soul in the Fortress besides himself, Superman begins to wander into the darker parts of his ice castle. He comes upon an old Kryptonian artifact he has salvaged from the Bottle City of Kandor and finds himself face to face with the de-materialized Xa-Du. The spectre of Xa-Du disappears, and while Superman is busy figuring out what exactly the giant, mirror-like artifact is, Xa-Du flanks the Man of Steel and sucks our hero into the Phantom Zone. While inside the Zone, Superman must enlist the help of a certain mysterious stranger (that’s with a capital “S,” mind you) and his long lost dog Krypto to escape and prevent Xa-Du from exacting vengeance on the Earth.

Superman is hearing thingsThere are two big things going for this particular issue of Action Comics that makes it so enjoyable. For one, Morrison’s writing is on another level here. He frames the issue as a ghost story you would tell around a Halloween camp-fire, except this story has Superman in it. His writing – and narration – technique greatly evoke the works of Ray Bradbury, to whom Morrison has actually dedicated this issue. I found myself glued to every page as the smooth and streamlined prose drew me deeper and deeper into the mystery haunting the halls of Superman’s Fortress. Secondly, Travel “Animal Man” Foreman’s psychedelic art style really helps create this other-worldly feel to the issue. Travel Foreman has become one of my favorite artists ever since that first issue of the New 52 Animal Man, and to see his take on Superman was a dream come true. Morrison could not have picked a better artist to work with on an issue where the Phantom Zone and its phantoms are displayed predominantly. Foreman’s color palette and whimsical lines create a truly unique Superman experience that is beyond enjoyable to look at – you seriously could get lost in these panels for hours.

So since it’s that time of year, do yourself a favor and spend your Halloween with Superman, Grant Morrison, and Travel Foreman – you won’t be disappointed. I know I’ll be revisiting this issue again on Halloween night, and probably for many more years to come.


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