WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for Action Comics #1000, which is available now.
DC’s celebration of Superman’s 80th birthday has mostly concentrated on his comic book history, and rightly so; after all, 1,000 issues of a single series is a huge accomplishment for any superhero. However, it would be a mistake to forget the legacy the character has left behind in television, movies, and animation. Luckily, Action Comics #1000 doesn’t miss the chance to include other mediums in its celebration.
In today’s world of multimedia conglomerates, no property is restricted to a single medium anymore. Comic book characters are now regularly featured on TV and in film, so it’s fitting that DC was sure to honor Superman’s history on the big and small screens over the last 80 years. Creators like Richard Donner, who gave us the first two blockbuster Superman films, contributed with the story “The Car” alongside Geoff Johns and Olivier Coipel. Paul Dini, one of the masterminds behind the DC Animated Universe, added a story called “Actionland” with the legendary Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It was cool to see them included among the greatest Superman storytellers of all time.
While most of this issue focuses on the character’s comic book history, if you blink you may miss quite a few clever references to other media. Most of those references come courtesy of Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who contributed the 15-page story “Never-Ending Battle.” Vandal Savage sends Superman through an endless reel of dimensions, timelines, and alternate universes. The plan is to use the Man of Steel’s past against him by making him fight alternate versions of himself.
In the story’s third segment, Superman is seen lifting a tank above his head during World War II. The costume he wears, especially the black S shield, harkens back to the old Max Fleischer cartoons from the 1940s. These animated shorts were the pinnacle of animation in their time and have been considered some of the most influential cartoons in both comics and animation. Having this Superman rubbing elbows with legends like Neal Adams, Jerry Ordway and Curt Swan just seems right.
A little further into the story, Superman is seen fighting “The denizens living below the surface,” which is an obvious nod to the Mole Men from the the 1951 film Superman and the Mole Men. Superman was portrayed by George Reeves in what was the character’s first live-action adaptation. The success of this movie launched the Man of Steel into television stardom with Adventures of Superman. If you look closely, Gleason’s art is rendered in black and white, which is a perfect tribute to the film.
Superman is then forced to fight different versions of himself, one of which is very clearly rendered to look like a cartoon. This is the Superman that was featured in the Super Friends cartoons that debuted in 1973 and continued on in various forms until 1986. The show was produced by Hanna-Barbera, which Warner Bros. owns and DC has been dusting off in comics for a few years now. The cartoon may be made fun of for its hokey representation of superheroes, but it certainly deserves a place among the greatest adaptations of Superman.
Tomasi and Gleson’s final reference comes as a two-in-one on page 12. Superman is shown to be locked away within the Phantom Zone, just like it was seen in Superman II from 1980. We see the Man of Steel pressed up against the window of the paper-thin representation of the prison. Instead of Zod and Ursa below him, though, we see Jax-Ur and Mala as they were rendered in Superman: The Animated Series. At the time of the cartoon, Zod was deemed off limits, so other Kryptonian criminals were used to replace him. It’s quite the twist on a famous film scene and makes sure that one of the greatest Superman cartoons of all time got in on the celebration.