Anniversaries like this don’t happen all the time. In fact, it’s never happened before.
One thousand issues of “Action Comics” is something that likely never seemed possible to even the most optimistic comic fan in 1938, or 1958, or even 1988. But this has been inevitable for some time now, and DC has had plenty of time and opportunity to put together the best assemblage of talent possible, to toast the big guy and his flagship title in style. Did they succeed? Keep reading for our spoiler free review.
Written by Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer, and Brian Michael Bendis
Illustrated by Patrick Gleason, Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Jerry Ordway, and John Cassaday
Penciled by Dan Jurgens, Curt Swan, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Jim Lee
Inked by Norm Rapund, Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger, Kevin Nowlan, and Scott Williams
Colored by Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin, and Alex Sinclair
Lettered by Rob Leigh, Tom Napolitano, Nick Napolitano, John Workman, Carlos M. Mangual, Josh Reed, Chris Eliopoulis, and Cory Petit
Celebrate 1000 issues of Action Comics with an all-star lineup of top talent as they pay tribute to the comic that started it all! From today’s explosive action to a previously unpublished tale illustrated by the legendary Curt Swan to the Man of Tomorrow’s future—this very special, oversized issue presents the best of the best in Superman stories!
This oversized issue attempts to highlight some of the most iconic Superman creators that are still with us, as well as spotlight certain eras of Superman’s history, and highlight some of DC’s biggest talent of the current moment. While this sounds like a good idea in theory, these oversized anniversary issues tend to be filled with a lot of fluff, and lack substance. This issue, sadly, falls into that category.
The book begins with a piece from Dan Jurgens, “From the City that has Everything,” one of many stories about Metropolis celebrating Superman. Here, we get to see familiar faces like Perry White and Maggie Sawyer talk about why Superman matters to much to the city. We also see a reformed criminal talk about how Superman saved his life, as well as the mayor of Metropolis lavishing praise on him.
There’s a reveal at the end of the story that is supposed to nail the point home about how much the world needs Superman, but it comes off as trite and silly, given some of the participants in the scene. Overall, this is inoffensive and properly celebratory, but it comes up short in terms of being compelling.
That said, Jurgens is as important an “Action Comics” creator has we’ve had in the last 30 years, and his visual style is clearly identifiable with the early-mid 90s Superman. These were halcyon days for comics, with “Death of Superman” bringing the comics market into the forefront like never before. It was right to given Jurgens a story in this collection; I just wish he worked to make it more impactful.
The next story faces a similar problem, but overcomes it with stellar artwork. “Never Ending Battle” by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason is told entirely through splash pages/pinups, all of which recreate iconic images or put Superman in situations that clearly evoke a particular book or event. It’s all framed through a device of ‘weaponized hypertime,’ which is a DC phrase if I’ve ever heard one, and while no real new ground is broken here, the exceptional Gleason art makes this story stand out.
Gleason is obviously a talented artist, but his range is is exceptional, essentially doing a pastiche page for every decade of Superman’s existence, with some fun, odd choices thrown in as well. Again, there’s nothing new here, but Gleason’s art makes this one of the most effective stories in the issue.
The next story is an odd one, and requires a little background. Unused Curt Swan pages were discovered, and Marv Wolfman took them and created a new story around them. It is unknown how close to the original, Cindy Goff-penned story it remains, but there are a few elements that seem likely 2018 additions to the story, specifically a non-lethal solution to a hostage crisis.Continued below
But what makes this really odd is that Swan never once draws Superman in these pages. The final page reveal of Superman is from a different Swan-driven story, and doesn’t even really resemble the ‘classic’ Swan Superman. It is understandable why DC would want to involve one of the all-time great Superman artists in this volume, but it seems far more appropriate to include a classic Swan story in the accompanying hardcover collection.
Geoff Johns, again, teams up with his old boss Richard Donner (director of Superman: The Movie) to write “The Car,” a short story about the car held aloft over Superman’s head on the cover to “Action Comics” #1. This is, of course, the most Johns-subject for a story imaginable, and if it wasn’t for the wonderful Olivier Coipel art, it might have felt like a wasted story.
Granted, nothing really happens here. It’s another version of the reformed criminal story in “From the City that has Everything,” but Coipel’s artwork just sings. It’s a little simplistic, storywise, especially for two guys who clearly know how to break a story, but it is what it is.
The next two stories are from current DC talent, and folks who haven’t written much Superman yet, but likely will in the near future. “The Fifth Season” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque is a pretty spot on Kal/Lex story, with both characters being written pretty authentically, and Albuquerque doing his inimitable thing. His Lex looks almost more alien that Superman does, and that absolutely works here. This is probably my second favorite story of the collection, if only because you can’t write out every beat before it happens. The story feels more organic and natural than most of the others in this collection, and was a really nice change of pace.
“Of Tomorrow,” from current “Batman” creative team of Tom King and Clay Mann, was visually stunning, and presented a new type of Superman story, but did so in a way that only could come from the pen of Tom King. I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment.
In a story that should be wistful, about Superman visiting his parents’ graves for the last time, King makes it really off-putting and cold. King’s Superman becomes almost rude to his parents’ memories – and seems to be doing some weird shit to keep Lois and Jon alive years and years later – and the whole thing just feels wrong. I applaud the attempt at a new kind of story, but it just gets spoiled by the wrong tone being taken.
To me, the most effective story was one of the shortest. “Five Minutes” by Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway both nicely reflects its mid-90s origins and also tells a story that is equally Clark and Kal. Ordway’s art is so expressive and joyful, it perfectly reflects the message of the tale: that both halves of Superman’s life bring him joy. It’s a fun and breezy tale, yes, but it absolutely works.
A lot of that credit needs to go to Louise Simonson, who doesn’t get enough credit for all the work she did in the Super books, or in comics in general. I want more Simonson stories in my life – make it happen, DC! She also includes Bibbo, a personal favorite of mine, so I couldn’t help by smile at the sight of him talking about “Sooperman!” This hit me right in the nostalgia sweet spot, but also told a different type of story for the collection. Ideally, each story in this book would elicit this reaction from a different set of readers.
Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s “Actionland” has a predictable twist at the end, but is one of the most visually rewarding stories in the collection due to Garcia-Lopez’s absolutely timeless style and effortless grace in his pencils. One of the best artists to ever – ever – come through DC, his Superman is majestic and playful and the villains over the top and menacing. He does a fantastic job taking a plethora of Super side characters and cramming them in here.
Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday’s “Faster than a Speeding Bullet” isn’t anything all that special, though it has a nice moment at the end of the story, where Lois can tell based on Clark’s mood if he met a “good one” today, someone who inspires him as he inspires others. That one touch saved the story from being totally forgettable.Continued below
But the main course here is “The Truth,” the first prologue to Brian Michael Bendis’s upcoming run on both “Action Comics” and “Superman.” This is the story I’m most worried about spoiling, so I’m going to say very little about the actual plot machinations, but there’s still plenty to say. First of all, this story is penciled by DC co-publisher Jim Lee, a sign of confidence from DC if there ever was one. Lee has lost a step from his best days on “X-Men” and his early Image work, but his style is still iconic, and adds a bit of bombast to what is really a relatively small story.
There are unmistakable Bendis touches here, like the two characters who spend the entirety of the issue not worried that Superman is on the floor of their business, but rather why the trunks are back. The interaction with a new villain leads to some interesting ideas for Bendis’s run, but overall, it’s just a teaser. It’s not supposed to be anything more than that, and so it doesn’t really disappoint. It’s also the only forward looking story in the collection, really, and so that lends a tone to the story that is absent elsewhere.
Ultimately, this collection feels unworthy of such an incredible milestone, but what could live up to it? How can you accurately sum up not just 80 years of Superman stories, but 80 years of superheroes, 80 years of American obsession with this character, and 1000 issues. Sure, there are weekly books, either in Europe or in manga, that have easily reached 1000 issues or more, but this still feels significant and special. Here’s to – at least – 1000 more.