Action Comics #1,000
Writers/Artists: Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Scott Snyder, Peter J. Tomasi, Neal Adams, Patrick Gleason, Paul Levitz, Brian Michael Bendis, Marv Wolfman, Rafael Albuquerque, etc.
Publisher: DC Comics
How do you celebrate the 80th birthday of arguably the most famous and greatest superhero of all time? With a 93-page extravaganza that not only celebrates the hero’s past, but also looks ahead to his future, of course.
Last week’s Action Comics #1,000 is a milestone in comics history, as it also marks the 80th anniversary of the creation of Superman in Action Comics #1 way back in 1938.
Featuring a stellar roster of writers and artists – including Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Scott Snyder, Peter J. Tomasi, Neal Adams, Brian Michael Bendis, and many more – it is a fitting tribute to the Man Of Steel’s long and storied history.
The opening story, From The City That Has Everything, gets things going with Metropolis celebrating Superman Day, even if Superman himself is a bit too preoccupied with an invasion by the alien Khunds. While rather wordy and a little too fawning at times, it does get the mood of this celebratory issue going.
The subsequent story, Never Ending Battle by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, plays up the nostalgia of the character, using the context of a “hypertime” attack to send Superman on a journey through his greatest hits over the past 80 years – from the simplicity of his 1930s Golden Age run-ins with tommy-gun-wielding gangsters, to iconic battles with villains like Silver Banshee and Mongul.
Tomasi and Gleason, who are ending their epic run on the main Superman title soon, pay tribute to some of Superman’s most iconic moments in a story chock-full with Easter eggs and homages. These include references to stories like Final Crisis, Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, and even films such as the 1951 feature film Superman And The Mole Men and the classic 1978 Superman: The Movie.
While the title is “Action Comics”, some of the best stories in this 93-page extravaganza don’t involve much action at all. The Game (by Paul Levitz and Neal Adams) sees Superman taking on Lex Luthor in a game of chess, while Five Minutes (Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway) is more about Clark Kent’s job as a reporter than it is about Superman.
Based on an original story by Cindy Goff, Curt Swan and Butch Guice (with a script written by Marv Wolfman), An Enemy Within answers the question “how does Superman choose where he is needed the most” with a simple story revolving around the police trying to resolve a hostage situation.
My favourite story, however, has to be The Car, co-written by the ever-reliable Geoff Johns and Richard Donner. Yes, THE Richard Donner, director of Superman: The Movie, which is still the greatest Superman film ever made.
If you’re familiar with the first ever Superman story in Action Comics #1 80 years ago, you’ll probably recognise the character Butch, who was driving the getaway car during a kidnapping and ran into Superman, who hung him on a telephone pole.
In The Car, we get a continuation of sorts of Butch’s story, with him climbing down the telephone pole by himself and then taking his car to the mechanic. What happens when he meets Superman again is a nice little ending for a character who would have otherwise been left dangling on that telephone pole 80 years ago.
Another highlight is seeing Superman catch a bullet meant for a hostage in Faster Than A Speeding Bullet (Brad Meltzer and John Cassidy), which isn’t so much about the hero inspiring the people, but rather, the other way around.
For an issue that is supposed to celebrate the life of Superman, it’s a bit of a surprise to see two stories about death. The Fifth Season, by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque is a well-written if low-key story about how Lex Luthor finally offs the Man of Steel in the most unassuming way; while Of Tomorrow by Tom King and Clay Mann is set just before the death of Earth itself.
Not all the stories are winners, though. The Mr Mxyzptlk-led Actionland (by Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez), about a Superman theme park, is a bit of a muddle, to be honest.
And then there’s The Truth, Brian Michael Bendis’ first story for DC Comics since defecting from Marvel Comics. With art by Jim Lee, it serves as a prelude to Bendis’ upcoming The Man Of Steel mini-series, and introduces a new villain named Rogol Zaar, who proceeds to pummel Superman into submission and might have more to do with the destruction of Krypton than we thought.
While this is without doubt the most action-packed story in Action Comics #1,000, the story feels like the odd one out in an otherwise solid collection of stories celebrating the Man of Steel.
First of all, it features Superman getting his butt kicked quite convincingly. Secondly, there just doesn’t seem to be much substance to the story itself, especially with the relentless pace and action and the frankly uninspiring design of the new villain.
But most damning of all is Bendis’ script, in which he seems to be obsessed with highlighting the fact that Superman is wearing his red trunks again.
Yes, we know that Superman’s new costume has the red trunks again, Bendis, you didn’t need to have two unnamed characters having a completely pointless conversation about why he wears his underwear on the outside.
While I shall reserve judgement on Bendis’ writing on The Man Of Steel until the book is released on May 30 (and when he begins his stints on Superman and Action Comics), it’s a little disappointing that in a book that is all about celebrating Superman’s past, the weakest story is one that looks ahead to the Man Of Steel’s future.