Award winning fan favourite comic writer, Brian Michael Bendis, is the new writer for Superman which celebrates the 1000th issue of the DC Comic this month. He speaks to Rod Quinn about Superman, Clark Kent, his past and Bendis’ wish to write a character he felt a connection to.
In 1938, the first issue of Action Comics featured the debut appearance of Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster’s Superman. That comic reached a once-in-a-lifetime mark last month with the release of Action Comics #1000. On the red-booted heels of the issue’s success, later this year, DC will reprint Action Comics #1000 as a deluxe hardcover, and it’s going to include the first two Siegel and Shuster stories that started it all.
According to DC, the initial run of Action Comics #1000 sold over 500,000 copies, making it one of the company’s most successful issues in years. The deluxe edition will be the definitive version, with additional extras, while also retaining the issue’s original short stories by the following all-star creative teams: Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee; Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund; Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason; Tom King and Clay Mann; Geoff Johns and Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel; Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday and Laura Martin; Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan; and Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway. Paul Levitz and Neal Adams will also have a story in the hardcover that was previously only available with the digital version of the issue.
In addition to the previously mentioned Siegel and Shuster reprints, the bonus material for the Action Comics #1000 hardcover includes scripts for each of the original short stories, as well as a side-by-side art and script comparison for Tomasi and Gleason’s tale, “Never Ending Battle.” DC is also reprinting the eight decade themed covers within the hardcover, as well as 18 of the special retailer exclusive variants.
Additionally, fans will also get the chance to see the original Curt Swan artwork for “An Enemy Within,” a previously lost tale that was preserved in the collection of writer Marv Wolfman for many years.
The Action Comics #1000 Deluxe Edition will be released in comic stores and bookstores this fall.
WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Action Comics Special
What if Superman‘s most dangerous enemy discovered his secret identity? That’s the question asked in DC’s Action Comics Special, bringing the Man of Steel to face a terrifying threat: an unknown foe who knows his every secret. In the modern DC Comics universe, that means Clark Kent isn’t the only one at risk… but his wife and son, as well.
DC’s Rebirth initiative relaunched Superman’s story by reintroducing the older Clark Kent who had married Lois Lane in the 1990s. Marriages seldom last in superhero comics, but this one has lasted long enough for Lois to give birth to Superman’s son, Jonathan Kent, a.k.a. Superboy.
The family dynamic has given the Superman comics an emotional center they have lacked for the last few years. But it also makes the secret identity even more important.
Superman has a deeper reason than ever before to conceal his identity, now that he has both a wife and son (who has sporadic and unpredictable powers) to think about. In Action Comics Special, the risks of being close to Superman become alarmingly clear. A dark, shadowy enemy launches a series of terrifying attacks, and wants Superman to know he’s responsible for every single one of them. With Lois away on a trip, he even sends Jonathan a text with his mother’s flight and seat number. And appends the name, “Mrs. Superman.”
As Superman’s enemy reflects, “This isn’t about bringing down a plane. It’s about psychological warfare.” Superman’s foe is determined to break the Man of Steel, and his opening salvo is certainly effective. Subtle clues lead Superman to Lex Luthor, who he furiously accuses of having learned his secret. Lex hasn’t, and fortunately for Superman, his unguarded words don’t give it away.
The ultimate question of the Action Comics Special is a simple one: what lengths will the Man of Steel go to in order to protect his family? As great and good as Superman may be, he can be pushed – and his loved ones are the perfect way to get the leverage needed. It’s the kind of threat Superman is less than familiar with, one making him suddenly and sickeningly vulnerable.
Unfortunately, a last-second plot twist avoids truly answering these questions and mysteries – but perhaps that’s for the best. If Superman’s secret identity were ever to be known, he’d be changed forever as a character. And if he actually killed in order to keep his secret… he just wouldn’t be Superman anymore.
There’s a strange sense in which this issue parallels Batman V Superman, where Lex Luthor tried to force Superman to kill in order to destroy everything he claimed to stand for. This one-shot uses a similar idea, but like BvS it also avoids forcing Superman to ultimately make the choice.
Action Comics Special is available now from DC Comics or your local comic book shop.
Just days after comedian Michelle Wolf killed it at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, she’s being followed by Superman. In an unbelievable coincidence of timing, the upcoming issue of Action Comics Special #1, out Wednesday from DC Comics, involves Clark Kent giving a speech at the dinner infamous for using comedy to mask the tense relationship between journalists and the White House. And because it’s Superman, he needs the help of Pulitzer-winner Lois Lane to get him through this overwhelming challenge.
On Tuesday, writer Mark Russell, best known for his outstanding The Flintstones and Snagglepuss comics at DC, tweeted a preview of his upcoming Superman story contained in Action Comics Special #1, an anthology one-shot being released to mark the end of series writer Dan Jurgens’s tenure. In Russell’s story, Clark Kent gives a speech at the annual WHCD. But two weeks prior, Clark is fretting at the kitchen table, where Lois Lane explains to him why it’s so important to mock leaders in power. “To prove they can,” she tells him.
“Only a psychopath is incapable of laughing at themselves! Making fun of them to their faces tells them you think they’re stable enough to take it,” Lois says.
Clark answers: “I suppose you’re right, Lois. What harm could it do?”
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If only Superman lived in the real world. At the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, Wolf, a former Late Night writer who emceed the event, punched up at President Donald Trump and Republicans (for obvious reasons), and at Democrats, whom she mocked for being ineffective. Her monologue ran the gamut of gender and sexual politics, referencing #MeToo and virtually everything that’s been a headline the past two years.
“I can’t get to everything,” began one of Wolf’s jokes. “I know there’s a lot of people that want me to talk about Russia and Putin and collusion, but I’m not going to do that because there’s also a lot of liberal media here and I’ve never really wanted to know what any of you look like whether you orgasm.”
Unfortunately, no one in attendance seemed to have any humor, with critics calling out Wolf for being “cruel” — though really, she was just being honest. One of Wolf’s best jokes was criticizing Trump for once again not attending the dinner during his presidency. “I would drag him here myself, but it turns out the president of the United States is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab,” Wolf said. “He said it first, yeah he did. You remember? Good.”
Russell’s Superman story is eerily-timed, as it takes months before publication to write and illustrate a single comic. When a Twitter user asked Russell, “Are… you a prophet?”, Russell responded, “The future’s pretty obvious when you keep making the same mistakes.”
Action Comics Special #1 will be released on shelves and via Comixology on May 2.
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In March 2017, DC Entertainment, the arm of Warner Bros. that controls the commercial rights to the comic-book icons Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, among other superheroes, decided it was time to brag about its newest hire.
It had earlier lured away Brian Michael Bendis from rival Marvel, snagging the writer who for nearly two decades had helped reshape and create the characters that served as the basis for multimillion-dollar movie franchises along with animated series and four Netflix shows. It was a seismic industry move, not unlike when ABC’s chief hitmaker Shonda Rhimes suddenly moved to Netflix last year, roiling the TV world.
Now, DC wanted to further ratchet up expectations.
Brian Michael Bendis
Family: Wife Alisa and four children
On advertising posters placed in popular comic-book stores around the country and on full-page ads within its books, a triumphant Superman, his hands at his hips, was standing alongside a chunk of large, bold type that announced: “BENDIS IS COMING!”
Besides promoting Bendis, the ad was an homage to perhaps the last hire from Marvel that was this significant: Jack Kirby, in the early 1970s. Kirby was one of the creators of, among other characters, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, the Avengers, Hulk, Thor and the X-Men. Back then, in an attempt to lure Marvel’s loyal fan base to DC, the company blared, “KIRBY IS COMING.”
Today, Bendis, 50, is one of a handful of writers and artists (including Jason Aaron, Gail Simone and Scott Snyder) whom readers will follow from title to title and whose interpretations can completely help redefine a character and provide plotlines for television and film.
“Think about how much Bendis has shaped what is the current Marvel world,” said Sean Howe, author of “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.” “He is in the position to have a big effect on DC.”
There’s no denying the effect Bendis had on the Disney-owned Marvel but also on popular culture. He reinvigorated Daredevil, restarted the Avengers in 2004 and introduced Jessica Jones, the foul-mouthed superpowered private investigator who is now known by millions of binge watchers through Netflix’s adaptation.
“There are very few creators who can be an impact player from the moment they walk in the door,” said Jim Lee, the DC co-publisher. “And Brian is one of those people. As soon as he walked in, you knew he was going to make a difference. Not only the attention he brings, but the quality of story he tells.”
A die-hard fan
There are those who have declared the fate of any superhero on the page irrelevant, given the financial success of movies and television and video games based on those same characters. But as John Jackson Miller, a comic-book writer and former trade-magazine editor who tracks industry circulation for comichron.com, points out, the death of the medium is a myth — for now. From 2011 to 2016, there was intense growth in sales across print and digital — largely because of individual comic books acting as a serial outlet for graphic novels. In 2016, sales in the industry hovered around $1.08 billion. And while numbers for last year are expected to show a decline, they will still exceed $1 billion.
Bendis has not been shy about his desire to move beyond word balloons. He is writing an X-Men spinoff movie for Fox to be directed by “Deadpool” director Tim Miller. His original character, Scarlet, which he created with artist Alex Maleev, has been picked up by a television network that Bendis said he couldn’t yet name.
He’s fully aware, however, of the limitations of comics. After all, to date, “Black Panther” has made $667 million domestically, and become a pinpoint in popular culture — but that won’t mean $667?million in new comic-book sales for the Black Panther character.
“That has never has happened,” Bendis said, referring to the bump effect of a popular film. “Since the Christopher Reeve Superman movie, there’s just people who will never read anything — comics, magazines, books; they love their television and film.
“And that’s the way they want to experience these characters,” Bendis added. “But inside that mix is a group of people, usually young people like myself when I was a kid, that finds a character that captivates you, and someone says you should read the comic, and all of a sudden you’re reading the comic and are a die-hard fan of comics. You become a die-hard fan of the medium.”
Bendis was born in Cleveland. At age 6, when he discovered that writing and drawing comic books was an actual profession, he declared that someday he would be the artist on Spider-Man. By 19, he managed, after a rejection, to get accepted by the Cleveland Institute of Art. He began drawing cartoons for The Plain Dealer while also working on independent comics that brought him critical if not financial success. In order to stay afloat, Bendis worked as a caricature artist.
Then came Marvel. Bendis, who began writing for the publisher in 1999, can remember vividly the moribund offices in New York as the company crawled out of its 1996 bankruptcy. This was not the raucous center of counterculture that Stan Lee had romanticized in the 1960s. This was a broken company, one where even the filing cabinets were being put up for sale. At the time, he wondered if he was going to be the person to write the final Marvel comic.
Instead, he had a front-row seat to what he described as the “great business comeback story of our time.” He consulted on the development of every Marvel movie from “Iron Man” to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” He wrote video games and worked on animated Spider-Man television shows. (Warner Bros. executives, responsible for bringing DC characters to the screen, have already expressed interest in Bendis’ participation in their endeavors.)
In August, as Bendis’ contract with Marvel was coming to an end, he sat down with the DC co-publisher, Dan DiDio, in Los Angeles for coffee. The two had never met, but they soon found common ground, talking about what characters they liked growing up, their visions for the industry and what Bendis could do in new environs.
DiDio made a lucrative and creatively powerful offer. DC would act as a distributor for Bendis’ independent, creator-owned works under his “Jinxworld” line, which he produces with artistic partners like Michael Avon Oeming and Maleev. Bendis would head up his own imprint using DC characters, overseeing a select group of artists and writers while also writing himself. Perhaps most symbolically, Bendis was given a chance to work on the established, marquee character of his choice. While DiDio expected him to pick Batman — everyone wants Batman — Bendis chose the Man of Steel, the most prominent and most difficult character in the DC canon.
“Even if Superman is not our best-seller,” DiDio said, “the success and the positioning of the company works because of Superman. If Superman is working well, the entire line seems to be working well. If it’s not working well, then it seems like something’s out of whack. It’s intensely important for us to make sure that the Superman franchise is in good hands.”
Bendis came perilously close to losing this chance to reboot his own career. In December, he nearly died of an MRSA infection, admitted to intensive care at a Portland hospital three times. For most of the month, he said, he could not see. Drifting in and out of consciousness, he would wake, often to find a member of Portland’s comic-book community sitting by his bedside. That led him to rewrite his final Spider-Man story for Marvel, one in which Bendis’ version of the character — the half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales — has a similar experience, finding different heroes of the Marvel universe there for him when he needed them most.
Now he will be leaving them, for Superman.
His broad chest is emblazoned with a big S, his huge red cape billowing in the air as he picks up a car and smashes it against a tree. The assembled bad guys are dazed, cowering in fright. As introductions go, it doesn’t get much more heroic and more famous than the first-ever sighting of Superman 80 years ago this month, on the front cover of Action Comics #1. As the first page of his first story, written by Jerome Siegel and Joe Shuster in early 1938 trumpets: “Superman! Champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!”
Read more: 70 years of Superman on screen
And so a legend – and an entire superhero cosmos was born. “He took a mild-mannered infant industry and art form and revealed that it had the power to make imaginations leap tall buildings, to make hearts pound faster than a locomotive,” writes DC Comics’ Paul Levitz in a fascinating introduction to new book 80 Years Of Superman, the Deluxe Edition.
“The concept of the superhero is crystallised here,” he continues, “combining elements from science fiction, the pulps and even prose historical novels into a form that would invade and conquer virtually all forms of popular media for the next 80 years.”
Levitz is right about that. Forget Batman or Iron Man, Spider-Man or the X-Men for a moment. Superman’s adventures alone have been adapted into six blockbuster films, novels, radio shows, video games, musicals, television shows, songs and even theme park rides. Just last month, American television was treated to an origins story, Krypton.
And yet look back at that very first strip, which has been republished in 80 Years Of Superman along with other important comics from across the decades, and there’s something quite obviously different from, say, the image of Christopher Reeve racing across the Metropolis skyline, finest fist forward. There is no one uttering the immortal line “Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Superman!” – not least because in his first iteration, Superman couldn’t actually fly. He didn’t have X-ray vision and couldn’t freeze lakes with his super-breath – as famously witnessed in Superman III.
He could, however, “leap one-eighth of a mile, hurdle a twenty story building and raise tremendous weights… and nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!”. The flying would have to wait until the 1940s – as would the tales of saving the world. Back then, Superman was far more humble, rushing to the scene of a “wife-beating at 211 Court Avenue” after his journalist alter ego Clark Kent is tipped off in the office of the Daily Star. The miscreant in question, of course, does not get off lightly.
Still, this first comic strip laid the groundwork for what was to come. It’s not overstating Superman’s case to suggest when he swiftly became the star of his own stand alone comic – a world at war with Hitler was in need of someone to believe in. During the Second World War, Superman delivered ammunition, disabled a U-boat and helped wounded soldiers, so by the 1950s, the all-American Man of Steel was ready to become a radio and television star too.
Some of his appeal was undoubtedly because of the alluring dual identity device, meaning people could fantasise about leaving their humdrum lives to do something heroic. But more broadly, Superman has always been a blank canvas to soothe a troubled world, which is possibly why, when Lex Luthor plans to fire a nuclear missile into the San Andreas Fault in the first Superman film, it struck such a Cold War chord in 1978. But the more he changes – witness the navel gazing Superman of Man Of Steel (2013) sent to save America from itself – the more he seems to stay the same in the minds of people who fell for this virtuous, moral and endearing character. It’s why 2016’s Batman vs Superman was in the end such a disappointment because there’s no wit or fun to be had. It’s just two superhero franchises bashing each other before bashing a weird creature even harder.
There’s none of that in Superman’s debut in Action Comics #1. The story ends with our hero grabbing a corrupt senator and leaping from the Capitol building. We don’t know if he’ll make it to the building on the other side of the street: the last image has Superman joking “missed – doggone it!”. But the wonderfully clear storytelling and artwork makes us want to find out.
“And so begins the startling adventures of the most sensational strip character of all time: Superman!” Siegel and Shuster could never have known when they wrote those final words in Superman’s debut that their creation which they sold to DC Comics for $130 (Dh477.53) would become that sensation. They died before a pristine copy of Action Comics #1 sold for a staggering $3.2 million (Dh11.75m). But as Laura Siegel Larson – Jerry’s daughter – writes in the book, they never doubted Superman would be loved all over the world long after they were gone. The brainiacs were right.
Action Comics: 80 Years Of Superman the Deluxe Edition (DC) is out now
Eighty years ago, Action Comics was released, introducing the empowered everyman to the world.
Superman is the most American of heroes. Sent from a faraway land facing destruction, he lands on Earth, where he develops spectacular powers. Superman #1 explains that the “love and guidance of his kindly foster-parents,” who teach him as a child to use his gifts “to assist humanity,” shaped the man he would become. He is great because of simple things that any of us might emulate. He just happens to be invulnerable. The character is a love letter to the best of America written from the margins of American society.
To understand what makes Superman so special, it is worth sketching out what the world of his creators was like. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, of Cleveland, were two young Jews of immigrant stock. Shuster, in fact, was a double immigrant, whose family had come first to Canada before their move to Ohio. At the time that they released Superman, 60 percent of the American public held strongly anti-Semitic views, and Father Coughlin, a pro-Hitler priest from Michigan, had a national talk-radio program with millions of listeners and a popular newspaper, Social Justice. A year later, the Roosevelt administration turned away nearly 1,000 Jews seeking asylum from the Nazis — not because of general opposition to immigration but specifically owing to anti-Semitic opposition. (The majority of those who returned to Europe would die in the Holocaust.) Siegel and Shuster were Americans, but the country did not seem to care much for people like them.
Despite their experience in a hostile America, their most famous character appealed to American ideals, even when the people and the state did not live up to them. The idea of America was something that they could belong to, and their stories showed it. Superman’s early foes were not otherworldly menaces, but grounded, relatable villains who were familiar to its working-class, Depression-era audience. In the first issue, Superman saves a man from a lynching, not only using his strength to do so but also explaining that justice cannot come from a mob. Later, he confronts a wife beater and throws him against a wall, shouting, “You’re not fighting a woman, now!” He is not a bully, but an equalizer, who uses his powers to protect the weak and to show that no one is beyond the reach of justice. In fact, in an early story, he takes on a K Street lobbyist in D.C. and follows the trail to a crony capitalist who is trying to embroil the country in war to increase his sales.
There is a populist underpinning to the character, but not a jingoistic one. Rather, he represents an America that anybody can belong to — an America that these two boys from Cleveland wanted to belong to. In the traditional telling, Superman is immediately welcomed as an American hero (though recent adaptations have strangely decided to greet him with a hostile military response).
There was a silly fracas a few years back, during which political commentators accused the comic of being anti-American (and successfully caused the issue in question to be pulled from continuity). In the storyline that caused the offense, Superman follows his commitment to America’s founding freedoms and defends anti-government protesters in Iran. The move angers the U.S. government, which sees him as a rogue actor who is defying the state. As a result, Superman symbolically renounces his citizenship (of course, in his real identity as Clark Kent, he remained an American citizen). Why the episode inspired such irritation is beyond me. There are few things more American than standing up to the state for the sake of freedom.
Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” would not be written until a few years later, in 1942, but Superman sits in much the same vein, celebrating what an ordinary person might do, given superpowers. Decades later, scores for Superman adaptations would draw on Copland’s composition, in a musical tribute to that cultural moment. An official fan club, the Supermen of America, called “All Red-Blooded Young Americans!” to become a member “upon the pledge to do everything possible to increase his or her STRENGTH and COURAGE, to aid the cause of JUSTICE, to keep absolutely SECRET the SUPERMAN CODE, and to adhere to all the principles of good citizenship.” Perhaps it seems silly to look back on, but it seems to me that this “Code” showcases much of what makes the American experience special.
What greater contrast could there be between, on one hand, this private and voluntary organization, calling on young people as individuals — not as representatives of a race — to improve themselves and behave with civic responsibility, and, on the other, the dark, state-run youth organization that had emerged in Germany, to the legal exclusion of all other organizations, with eventual mandatory membership?
His sense of duty to everyone around him (and his sheer power) mean that failures hit him that much harder; he cannot save everybody or solve every problem, but he represents a yearning to do just that.
Superman’s association with American values did not go unnoticed around the world. The short 1940 strip How Superman Would End the War showed the hero flying to Germany and grabbing Adolf Hitler, nabbing Josef Stalin in Moscow, and bringing the two to the League of Nations to be charged with “Modern History’s Greatest Crime.” After the strip’s release, Das Schwarze Korps, the SS’s official newspaper reprinted it with mocking and angry commentary, accusing the writers of sowing “hate, suspicion, evil, laziness, and criminality” in the hearts of American children.
Grant Morrison, an acclaimed Scottish comic writer, grew up near an American naval base in Dunoon, Scotland. The base’s presence meant the very real possibility of war, but the Americans stationed there brought with them, via comic books, superheroes “who laughed at the Atom Bomb,” he says. In his memoir Supergods, he recalls:
I was beginning to understand something that gave me power over my fears.
Before it was a Bomb, the Bomb was an Idea.
Superman, however, was a Faster, Stronger, Better Idea.
He goes on to call Superman “a perfectly designed emblem of our highest, kindest, wisest, toughest selves.” This theme of the empowered everyman runs through Morrison’s Superman comics. Perhaps it is easier for a foreign writer to pick up on what is implicitly there, because Americans are liable to take it for granted; maybe this was woven into Shuster’s original creation, coming as he did to America as a young man.
Superman is the first, and greatest superhero. On the surface, “The Big Blue Boy Scout” might seem boring compared with the colorful cast of the X-Men or the dark detective work of Batman. His seeming invulnerability, too, makes him less interesting to many readers. But Superman, for all his imperviousness, is only physically invulnerable. His sense of duty to everyone around him (and his sheer power) mean that failures hit him that much harder; he cannot save everybody or solve every problem, but he represents a yearning to do just that. Many comic writers have long argued that Clark Kent is the true expression of the character, and Superman is the identity he dons — the opposite of most superheroes. He is able to serve the people because, fundamentally, he is one of us. “Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely.” So too, Superman.
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.
Although Action Comics #1 launched in May 1938, DC Comics is celebrating 80 years of the Man of Tomorrow a little early with today’s release of Action Comics #1ooo, a bumper collection of tales reminding us about why we love the last son of Krypton so much. But a future-looking tale in the issue adds a new mystery around Superman’s origin.
Of course, this is nothing new when it comes to detailing how Krypton perished and an infant named Kal-El came to Earth. After all, 80 years is a long time, and part of the reason why Superman has endured over three quarters of a century’s worth of adventures is that he has grown and evolved as a character over those years, as beautifully illustrated in Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Alejandro Sanchez, and Tom Napolitano’s story in the anthology, “Never-Ending Battle.” Frankly, it’s one of only a handful of stories in Action Comics #1000 that does something relatively interesting with the celebratory retrospective nature of this special issue—wildly, DC already released the far-and-away best story in the issue, Tom King, Clay Mann, Jordie Bellaire, and John Workman’s “Of Tomorrow,” over a month ago.
But Superman has also lasted so long because of fresh twists and takes on his own past, modifying it and adding layers of mystery to keep the age-old tale of a dying world and a little boy in a rocket still as fascinating as it was back in 1938. The latest attempt at that shows up in the final story in Action Comics #1000, a preview of what’s to come now that Brian Michael Bendis has taken on writing duties for the Man of Steel after he surprisingly jumped ship from Marvel late last year.
Featuring art by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair, and lettering by Cory Petit, “The Truth” sees Superman and Supergirl confronted by an unknown assailant, one that is more than happy to knock the pair about like they’re not some of the strongest people in the DC multiverse. Clark actually spends more than half of the issue knocked unconscious, while Kara battles the unseen foe and, weirdly enough, two civilians caught up in the fray drag Clark’s unconscious body to safety to, err, discuss the return of his red underwear.
But when Clark wakes up and rejoins the fight, we finally get a look at who this powerful new threat is. And, if said threat is to be believed, they may not be that “new”—they’ve apparently hated and killed Kryptonians for a very long time. The assailant is a hulking alien named Rogol Zaar, who reveals that it wasn’t a natural disaster that wiped Krypton out of existence: He did.
Zaar has apparently then spent the years since taking out Kryptonian survivors, “cleansing” the galaxy of their “plague” as he dramatically puts it to Superman as he bores a gaping hole in Clark’s chest. That’s all we get, outside of a promise to learn more in Bendis’ upcoming Man of Steel series, but once again, 80 years on, the real reasons behind the death of Krypton have been changed again. That is, if Zaar really is as sinister as he claims to be.
Action Comics #1 changed comic books forever when it debuted 80 years ago, introducing a new character whose wild popularity created the genre that became synonymous with the medium. Superheroes have since jumped off the page and become bonafide pop culture juggernauts, and Superman laid the groundwork, starting with comics before moving into highly successful radio serials, TV shows, and movies. Action Comics is the first American comic-book to reach issue #1000, and DC Comics is celebrating this milestone with an 80-page prestige format special paying tribute to Superman with 10 short stories by a variety of creators.
Action Comics #1000 (DC Comics) is an emotional, exciting celebration of Superman’s evolution and the core tenets that have stayed constant through these changes. It explores the hero’s past, present, and future, examining his relationships with his city, job, friends, family, and enemies. Departing Action Comics writer-artist Dan Jurgens—the man who killed Superman back in the ’90s—kicks off the festivities by having the people of Metropolis and Superman’s superhero allies gather to show their support for the man who has shaped their lives, and fellow ’90s Superman creators Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway look at how Clark Kent balances his job at the Daily Planet with his costumed crusading. There’s a new story featuring unpublished art by Curt Swan, who defined Superman’s look in the Silver Age, but it’s one of the flimsier stories because it has writer Marv Wolfman inserting Superman into pages that weren’t created with him in mind.
The high point of the issue comes from the current Superman creative team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who take the hero and the reader on a journey through Superman history courtesy of a time-travel trap set by Vandal Savage. Gleason and colorist Alejandro Sanchez create full-page illustrations brimming with character, and they capture the spirit of each era in the tone of each image. A standout visual shows Superman shortly after his debut, putting intense effort into stopping a train because his powers weren’t as strong. It sets a point of contrast for the shot that immediately follows, which has the indestructible Superman picking up a tank on the battlefield, fully realizing his larger cultural potential as a symbol for U.S. superiority in World War II.
The best stories in Action Comics #1000 highlight how Superman is a symbol for the strength and resilience of the human spirit. “The Car,” written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner with art by Olivier Coipel and Sanchez, cleverly uses the cover of Action Comics #1 as the foundation for a story about how Superman helped pull American citizens out of the turmoil of the Great Depression. Coipel draws a stern, sexy Superman whose build and posture call to mind the circus strong-men that inspired Joe Shuster’s original design for the hero, with a splash of Jon Hamm in the facial features.
Clay Mann uses a Christopher Reeve likeness for the Superman in his short story with writer Tom King, “Of Tomorrow,” which adds an extra dimension to this reverent eulogy for the planet Earth and Clark Kent’s adopted parents. As the Earth’s sun expands into a red giant five billion years in the future, Superman gives Jonathan and Martha one last update about their family, which has survived and grown over the millennia. It’s a beautiful goodbye that is also the only story to focus on Clark’s relationship with his parents, and that one shot of a Reeves-inspired Superman incorporates the memory of the actor who was the character’s face for a generation of fans.
The weakest piece in Action Comics #1000 is the one that’s been hyped the most. “The Truth” marks the DC debut of writer Brian Michael Bendis, who leaves Marvel Comics after nearly 20 years, and his story with artist Jim Lee sets up an upcoming plotline rather than offering a self-contained work speaking to a larger theme. There have just been nine stories that showcase the complexity and depth of this hero, and this underwhelming prologue ignores what makes Superman so interesting. Bendis kicks off his run by making Superman a punching bag for a villain that is totally basic in both characterization and design, and having civilian bystanders come to his aid while spouting awkward, out-of-place dialogue commenting on the return of Superman’s red trunks.
There’s one good moment when Superman stops himself from flying through a window, but it’s not enough to elevate a bland fight scene that readers have seen over and over again. Bendis is about to take over both Action Comics and Superman after the six-issue, weekly Man Of Steel miniseries, and while “The Truth” isn’t very inspiring, DC is providing multiple easy entry points for readers to get a taste of what Bendis is cooking up. Next week’s DC Nation #0 has Bendis delivering a second Man Of Steel prologue with the legendary artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez—who contributes a story with Paul Dini in Action Comics #1000—and as one of three stories in a 25-cent one-shot, it’s going to be read by a lot of curious DC fans. The publisher is banking a lot on its high-profile hire, and the wave of Bendis Super-books over the summer is going to reveal if that investment pays off.