Written by Paul Cornell and guests
Illustrated by Pete Woods, Jesus Marino, and guests
Superman returns to ACTION COMICS just in time for the title’s historic 900th issue, which clocks in at 100 pages! Everything Paul Cornell and Pete Woods have been building to over the last year culminates here in the ultimate Superman vs. Lex Luthor battle! But that’s not all – this story will lay the grounds for an insanely epic story coming out this summer in the pages of ACTION!
Plus, an incredible roster of guest talent help us celebrate this landmark issue, including the screenwriter of The Dark Knight, David Goyer; famed Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner; the co-creator of Lost, Damon Lindelof; and the creative team behind the hit DC UNIVERSE ONLINE game!
While it’s not quite 100 pages, this is one powerhouse of an anniversary issue. Not only is there an oversized finale to Cornell’s first Action Comics story, it’s also the true beginning of the Reign of Doomsday – and more. Guests galore are to be found in this issue, both timely and of spiritual tribute, making the 900th issue of the first superhero comic ever a true landmark.
But despite it’s obvious marketability, is it a good issue? Find out after the cut. As a note, mild spoilers are discussed.
As far as the capes and tights sect of comic books go, Action Comics is arguably the single most important comic book of all time. It held within it the birth of the superhero genre, wrapped up in red, blue, and a straight moral compass. Since then, it has remained one of DC Comics’ flagship titles, being one of the main titles to read the adventures of the Man of Steel.
Except for this one tiny note where the book hasn’t actually featured Superman since the destruction of New Krypton. Instead, the past ten issues have been dedicated to his arch-rival as Lex Luthor attempts to harness the power of the black rings from Blackest Night. It’s been somewhat of a transgressive odyssey for Lex, pushing him far and beyond his usual comfort zone and at odd with a variety of villains in the DCU who have attempted to both manipulate him, steal from him, and/or kill him. It’s been primarily the exact opposite of the virtues of Superman, going as far away as possible from the ideals of truth and justice to instead focus on characters obssessed with power and greed.
Well, who could’ve guessed that in the end, that was the point?
Superman makes his quite triumphant return to the pages of Action Comics #900 in a story that both dramatically concludes the Black Ring saga and sets up the next arc as Superman, having finally noticed the return of Doomsday and his missing family members. Of course, now we have God-size Lex Luthor floating out in space and furiously thrashing at the cosmos to do the one thing that he has always meant to do: kill Superman. Lex Luthor’s primary motivation in the comic book has always been to take down this alien who is stifling human potential, because in doing so he believes that humanity will stop relying on a man in the skies to solve all of their problems. It’s a hypocritical belief as Cornell established in his run that Luthor is truly jealous of Superman’s power, but also because Luthor could have worked with Superman on multiple occasions instead of being at odds with him. All of that is besides the point however, because now Luthor has the infinite powers to take Superman down on Superman’s level.
What follows is probably the single greatest tale to the true grit of Superman since Action Comics #775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” Action Comics #775 put Superman in a world where kids no longer cared about Superman or his ideals, focusing on the newer and more dark heroes – at which point Superman has to prove why this isn’t such a great thing. In Action Comics #900, Superman is put against the power of Lex Luthor at his worst, who throws Superman into the timestream to relive his most painful memories as a tool to break Superman and prove, once and for all, that Superman isn’t human. However, the backfire to this is that (through a series of wonderfully arranged guest artists), the plan absolutely backfires, proving Lex Luthor wrong and showing that as alien as Superman might be, he is more human than the self-declared champion of the human race.
It’s a set of scenes that pays tribute to the recent history of Superman and the various tragedies that befell him and brought on Grounded, but also an incredibly definitive moment for the character in multiple ways. As Luthor learns, the power bestowed to him is meant to only be used for good, and if he uses it only to try use it solely to kill Superman that power will be taken away. Luthor accidentally washes the world in an intense wave of happiness, leaving Superman the choice of taking down his rival or simply laying down arms in order for the entire world to benefit – which he does. In an absolutely wonderful scripted moment by Cornell with some of Pete Woods’ best artistic work to date, Superman pleads to Luthor to end their battle, saying that he will gladly let Luthor win if it means everyone else can be happy. However, Luthor ultimately chooses his own selfish wants and needs over the race of humanity – thus pulling full circle Luthor’s story in an incredibly dramatic fashion.
See, Superman has always been a commentary on man, at our capabilities and who we could be. No, we probably won’t be flying or shooting heat rays from our eyes, but Superman is a paragon for unadulterated good. Superman sees the big picture in a way that we never could, because Superman is not native. He was brought up in a small, rural village where the evils of the world couldn’t weigh on him, and in turn he grew up to be a champion of virtue. This is something that a character like Lex Luthor, who represents the selfish and shallow minded, could never see. Luthor is too blind by his own ambition that even when his greatest goal – the betterment of humanity – is in front of him, he still can’t see past that one little speck of imperfection. Luthor was a character who wanted to help the world, and when he had the means to do so he didn’t, and that’s the primary foil element that makes Luthor the villain for Superman. A more perfect pair you could not have: an alien who wants to help the world versus a human who wants to be the alien saving the world. Luthor is man’s blind ambitions towards cosmic capabilities with the inability to truly understand the responsibility that this entails, and Superman is the benevolent force that we as a race should aspire to.
Or, in other words: this is the basic message of Action Comics #1 wrapped up in a brand new skin and served without a side of excessive preachiness, just as it should be.
Action Comics works beautifully on this two-fold scale. On the one hand, we simply have a comic in which two fantastical forces battle it out on an epic scale that is the pay-off for the past decade or so of Superman stories and the circular nature of the story that shows us the emotional conclusion to the ten-issue story Cornell had planned out from the beginning. On the other hand, it is a testament to the greatness of the greatest superhero of all time, who 900 issues after he first arrived is still just as much of a true hero as he was when he first arrived to save the day.
That, dear readers, is how you write an anniversary issue. Detective Comics #900 – the bar has been set.
I have of course nothing but wonderful things to say about Paul Cornell and Pete Woods. Paul Cornell’s initial gameplan is fully revealed as the story ends and the next is set up, with all the characters Luthor ran into during the story briefly showing up to add a final cap to their involvement in the story. Cornell clearly always had a plan in the background of the story, pushing Luthor in a very specific direction that resulted in the ultimate showdown present in this issue. Having been able to watch that story run it’s course until this bombastic finale ended up being quite the show and tell for the character, and it’s particularly interesting that Grounded – the story that was supposed to show Superman’s strength as the champion of our people – ended up being shown up in one single issue of a comic that, for the most part, Superman had no part in. That’s a testament to Cornell’s strength as a writer if nothing else is.
Meanwhile, Pete Woods and a bevy of guest artists interweave to tell one of the most visually emotional versions of Superman’s heroic journey that I’ve seen in a long time. Since Superman travels through various arcs that we’ve all (assumedly) read, having most of the artists of those stories return – especially Gary Frank for the Braniac moment – adds a whole new level of emotional resonance to the story that any reader who has been with Superman on his journey can instantly relate to, and even those that haven’t can artistically appreciate. Pete Woods, on the other hand, creates a wonderfully explosive finale as only he can. Woods has the real opportunity to make these characters his own, with God-Lex visually being such an impressive feat due to the hyperactive detail in his gargantuan design, you feel dwarfed by his presence on a page that is (assumedly) smaller than you.Continued below
As far as the finale to the Black Ring goes, the story absolutely warrants a perfect 10.0.
That’s not the end of this mammoth sized issue, though. The issue also features the coalescing of the Doomsday stories to their “dastardly reveal,” at which point Reign of Doomsday can finally begin, intermittently drawn throughout the book by Jesus Marino. The Doomsday arc, whose point should be clear by now (but I’ll refrain from spoiling), is an interesting place to take the story after the Black Ring storyline. The sad nature of the beast is that Black Ring has ended up being such a perfect and defining initial run that the bar is set incredibly high for Paul Cornell by himself. It’s a bit early to tell on which side the coin will fall, but as someone who had initially questioned an entire saga starring Lex Luthor, I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow further, let alone urging you to do so as well (no matter your initial thoughts on the return of Doomsday).
The issue also features a series of smaller stories celebrating different aspects of Superman. Damon Lindelof tells of Superman’s origin from a completely new perspective, Geoff Johns gives a brief but amusing tail-end to his never-finished Legion work, and Paul Dini attempts, through an alien perspective, to talk about why Superman works and matters. I would assume that, simply based on personal opinions, these stories and their brief nature could be rather hit or miss. For example, Paul Dini – a writer I usually enjoy – ended up telling a story that I felt was far too introspective and muddy to fully get it’s a point clearly across, and the Richard Donner story felt like a chore to read since it was simply a script with storyboards as opposed to a comic (which, honestly, just felt weird).
However, the story that is really worth talking about is David Goyer’s. Goyer tells an incredibly audacious story that feels both incredibly appropriate and out of place. The story is effectively this issues “Grounded” entry, in which Superman is questioned by a representative of the US government about his actions in a foreign country. Superman is all about “truth, justice, and the American way”, after all. However, literally taking a page out of the news, Superman joins the protests in Iran, standing in between the rioters and the police and refusing to move for 24 hours. This sparks the beginnings of an international incident, since Superman’s actions are viewed as American due to his citizenship – at which point he renounces his citizenship to America, stating that the world is too big for him to only care about one part of it. It’s quite an interesting little story, because when paired to the rest of the issue, it actually ends up being a tad bit hypocritical. See, Cornell’s Black Ring finale was all about how human Superman ultimately is, and how despite is alien nature he really is one of us. But Goyer’s story, while trying to operate off this idea that Superman cares about all of us, includes a line that kind of throws it all away when Superman announces that he is not human, but alien – and that’s why he is making the decision he makes. He is an alien, and he sees things differently, so he can’t focus on just America. It’s a line that warrants a fair amount of discussion, because in a story that went to extra over-sized lengths to show us the humanity of this alien, why would we then want to read a story where Superman uses his alien nature somewhat as an excuse? While Goyer’s story wasn’t neccesarily bad due to it’s honest attempt to enforce multi-cultural unification in a comic book world where other countries only matter when the Earth is being blown up, it also rather quickly dismissed the key idea of Cornell’s story due to one awkwardly out of place bit of dialogue.
To wrap up, the Black Ring has without a doubt in my mind ended up being the best thing to happen out of Blackest Night and the fall of New Krypton. The most defining story of Superman as a true hero was All-Star Superman, but the Black Ring certainly gives it a run for it’s money in a non-traditional way. As All-Star Superman focused on the greatness of Superman, the Black Ring gave us a series of stories about Lex Luthor which turned around and ended up perfectly defining what is so great about the Man of Steel. While the rest of the issue is hit or miss depending on personal opinions, there’s no doubt that Paul Cornell has made his first major run in the DCU quite the amazing one.Continued below
Final Verdict: 9.0