Back when The New 52 was first announced, one of the most crucial aspects of it – one of the first images released, in fact – was the refurbished Superman as reimagined by Grant Morrison in the newly renumbered Action Comics #1. The ostensible point of the whole relaunch was to streamline 70 years of continuity, alternate realities and heroic routine and open the doors to all kinds of new stories with the protagonists tweaked to make what was once sacred no longer quite so intractable. The idea was that storytelling with the revamped icons was wide open. So why is it that Morrison seems so entirely bored with The New 52 Kal-El less than ten issues into this relaunch that he can't focus on one story – or even one timeline?
After derailing his promising opening arc with a confusing crossover with the time-traveling Legion of Super-Heroes, Action Comics #9 takes place entirely in an alternate reality – that of Earth 23, although they also fold in an eye-patched dimension-traveling Lois Lane as well, complicating things even further – against the established goal of The New 52. Maybe Morrison is building to some massive crossover story, but it honestly seems like the New 52 hasn't proven to be the fertile ground for Superman stories that everyone thought it would.
All that said, Earth 23's version of Kalel is actually a pretty interesting character, despite being a weird riff on 'What if President Obama were Superman?" He's got the same origin as Kal-El, except both sets of his parents, natural and adoptive, are black, and the "poor but kindly" couple who adopt him appear to live in an industrial factory town instead of idyllic Smallville. He grew up to be President Calvin Ellis, and he seems to merge his powers with politics in ways our usual Superman doesn't. However, he's still noble, he still has a maniacal Lex Luthor trying to kill him (insisting "I'm not a racist! It's everything ELSE about you I hate!") and he heads up an entire Justice League who's black – except Batman, curiously.
While the weird storyline about science warrior Lois Lane and her flash-fried science geek cohorts Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen and their mentally-imagined, mind-melded, high-fi Superman-Machine gone wrong doesn't really inspire (and helps me to understand why, when I ask someone to explain to me how Fantomex of Uncanny X-Force works, they just shrug and say 'Grant Morrison'), Super-Ellis is compelling. He seems to be very much in the vein of All-Star Superman, in that he is just as high-tech weird in the Silver Age style. Case in point, he has a bunch of robot doubles who fill in for him on presidential duties if he's busy beating up a bad guy or something (run by Brainiac A.I., even). In a short back-up story from Sholly Fisch and Cully Hamner, we see Ellis is not afraid to apply his superpowers to real-world problem solving, as he destroys the secret Quraci nuclear program and their "Firestorm labs" (nodding to the nuke allegory currently unfolding in The Fury of Firestorm books) not only with his own might, but with Wonder Woman (aka Nubia) at his side as well. He strongarms the Quraci mad dictator with threats of "sanctions" that include Amazon invasion, Markovian natural disasters and an Atlantean seizure of water sources, which is a really strong arm. However, it's in service of the greater good, an "Alliance of Nations" working towards collaboration and demilitarization. It also appears that, despite the lack of a mask, he's maintaining a secret identity and lying to the world about who he really is – that he's an alien who can't legally be president.
This is a guy I'd like to read more about. There are a lot of interesting elements at work here. And by the by, Gene Ha's art is solid, imaginative work, and Hamner has a notably different style that serves the story well, too.
Might this be a huge new story that will eventually involve the standard Superman, or could we hope this could be a spin-off series of its own? Or will the next several issues of Action Comics be devoted to various other alternate Earths? Who knows? It's Grant Morrison.