DC's grand experiment, "The New 52" titles starting over at issue No. 1, launched with 13 of them on Sept. 7, with augurs and portents of success -- especially for Superman, whose "Action Comics" No. 1 seems to be the biggest seller.
There are no official numbers yet, but shop owners and customers reported sellouts nationwide, especially "Batgirl" No. 1, "Swamp Thing" No. 1 and the surprise hit, "Animal Man" No. 1.
These anecdotal reports are encouraging. But comic-book readers in this country total less than 1 percent of the population, and it's not only current and lapsed readers that DC is hoping to reach, but new ones. The bitter irony is that there's a huge superhero revival on the big screen, but that success is leaving the comics market, from whence those characters leaped and flew, untouched.
That's DC's true grand experiment: the hunt for new readers. Part of the calculus is the same-day release of all DC comics digitally at ComiXology (www.comixology.com).
But DC is definitely putting its best foot forward.
In "Action Comics" No. 1, writer Grant Morrison has a lot to say about Superman. He has written a lot of critically successful and often controversial comics, and there's probably no one who has thought as much, or as well, about superheroes. He's especially philosophical about Superman, the first and greatest superhero, the one who created the genre and gave his name to it.
The Man of Tomorrow's early incarnation "was a hero of the people," Morrison wrote. "The original Superman was a bold humanist response to Depression-era fears of runaway scientific advance and soulless industrialism."
While it's a lot to read into a single issue, it appears that Morrison's Superman in "Action" will return to those roots. After forcing a confession from a ruthless corporate CEO, the new/old Superman announces: "You know the deal -- treat people right, or expect a visit from me!" To blue-collar workers being forced from their homes: "If you need me, I'll be there!" Even his Clark Kent persona -- working for one of the Daily Planet's competitors -- is a crusader for the little guy.
Superman's power levels also hark back to his past: He only leaps instead of flies, and he isn't invulnerable. There are hints that his power levels are increasing by leaps and bounds, though, so we might not have long to enjoy this Man of Steel 1.0.
This is a huge departure from decades of the character's role as invincible protector of the status quo. And to tell you the truth, it's fresh air. The rich and powerful don't need a champion, but the rest of us do. I like this all-too-human Superman, and I think you will, too.