Action Comics #1000 review 

It’s Superman’s 80th birthday. Eight decades ago today, Action Comics #1 appeared on US newsstands and an industry was born. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s ‘champion of the oppressed, the physical marvel who has vowed to devote himself to helping those in need’ has changed a lot throughout the years and this 80pp giant aims to be a tribute to the character and the many creators who have told his story. So does it succeed?

The book opens with a story written and pencilled by Dan Jurgens, who has been involved with Superman for decades, in two long runs. He’s been writing this series for the last couple of years but is making way for a new guy. He signs off with From the City That has Everything, a wonderful day in the life tale. It’s Superman Day in Metropolis but the Man of Tomorrow is distracted by the threat of an alien invasion. Sharply inked by Norm Rapmund, this is a charming look at what Superman means to the people of Metropolis, as well as his peers. It’s classic Jurgens – full of heart. 

Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, who step down as the creative team on Action’s companion title, Superman, this week, go epic. Vandal Savage, the immortal villain who in publishing terms has been around almost as long as Superman, wants to take down all Earth’s heroes, starting with the mightiest, most inspirational – Superman. Mad science allows him to send Superman into Hypertime, where every world you can imagine has happened. Superman has travelled through versions of his comic strip continuities previously, in the excellent Time and Time Again arc (it’s traded, if you don’t have it, buy it), but this is a more meta narrative; the Man of a Steel connects to the altered versions of himself to the extent that he feels he’s actually lived these lives. Which, of course, he has. The gimmick of Never-Ending Battle allows us to see Superman not just in his canonical comic continuities, such as the Golden and Silver Ages, but as he appeared in the Fleischer cartoons, on the Silver Screen and in Elseworlds. Tomasi’s Superman doesn’t panic, he works out how to get home, while Patrick Gleason shows massive versatility evoking the styles of other times and places. And the final page reminds us what a treasure the Tomasi/Gleason-guided adventures of Clark, Lois and Jon Kent have been. All this and a cameo from Easy Company… what more could you want?

The Enemy Within is a real curiosity, a five-page story comprising four pages of unseen Curt Swan artwork with a final splash reprinted and repurposed from one of DC’s first mini-series. An original story by Cindy Goff, penciller Swan and inker Butch Guice is reworked by Marv Wolfman, a writer who made a big impact on Action in the Eighties. It’s a pretty straightforward Brainiac vignette showing us that inspiration is a two-way street. The final page is by Swan and his contemporary Kurt Schaffenberger, and it’s a little jarring after the previous pages – Guice’s dark finishes are miles from Schaffenberger’s smooth blacks, but if this is the only way to get two Superman greats, Swan and Schaffenberger, into the book, I’m all for it. And Wolfman does a fine job with what little room he has. I am curious as to the story behind the story, though – Goff’s only previous Superman work seems to have been a Lois/Jimmy team-up in Showcase ‘95 and the long-ago Metropolis SCU mini-series, which starred cop Maggie Sawyer, who takes centre stage here while Superman is present basically as narrator… maybe it was a cut scene from there?

Neal Adams, whose art revolutionised DC back in the Bronze Age, and who drew dozens of memorable Superman covers, illustrates a very smart Superman and Lex Luthor encounter (DC must really like it, as it’s in the 80 Years of Superman book that’s just come out). The Game is written by Paul Levitz, a classic DC writer who never had a run on Superman. This short hints that we missed out there. I prefer Adams with an inker – his best work was made with the late Dick Giordano – but you can’t blame a guy for wanting to get his vision down on paper undiluted. And the story does look great, complete with the iconic ‘breaking the Green K chains’ image Adams gave us a few times. 

Ever wonder what happened to the hood who drove the automobile Superman is smashing up on the cover of Action Comics #1? Writers and film guys Geoff Johns and Richard Donner have, and in The Car they connect the rufty tufty original Superman to the more compassionate guy he became. The script is terrific, and art by Olivier Coipel ensures this is a huge, unexpected treat. 

Lex and Superman are together again, at the Smallville Planetarium, in The Fifth Season by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque. It’s a nice conversation piece between two people who’ve known each other their whole lives and can’t understand what each has become, with snappy dialogue and some wonderful shots of Luthor by Albuquerque. I just wish I understood the final panel – the story seems to pause rather than end. 

Of Tomorrow is all about endings – Superman is five billion years old and saying goodbye to Earth. The planet’s sell-by date has been reached and he’s ready to let go… but not before one last graveside chat with Ma and Pa Kent. I’m not a fan of the ‘Superman is an immortal’ bit, it makes him a little too alien, but writer Tom King uses the conceit well, while illustrator Clay Mann and colour artist Jordie Bellaire convince me that the sun really is flaring to its final farewell. 

Two more great Superman alumni return to the spotlight as writer Louise Simonson and artist Jerry Ordway spend Five Minutes in Metropolis. Clark has a Daily Planet deadline to hit but there are urgent jobs for Superman. Simonson and Ordway’s return to Superman’s supporting cast, such as Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Bibbo and Ron Troupe, is effortless, and welcome. I’d take a Superman series by these two any day of the week. 

Somewhere out there lies Actionland, where interstellar tourists can look back on Superman and his world. It’s one thrill ride after another, but there’s a problem with the event’s climax… Paul Dini brings in one of Superman’s classic villains and his rarely seen girlfriend in a clever piece of whimsy. A cameo of the Bronze Age DC heroes allows penciller José Luis García-López to remind us why he was DC’s go-to guy for licensing art for many a year. Every page, though, is a gem, all of them inked with a more delicate than expected touch by Kevin Nowlan. 

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet is a matter of maths as Superman fears he won’t be in time to save a hostage from a gunman. This is high-concept heroics courtesy of writer Brad Meltzer, artist John Cassaday and colourist Laura Martin. 

And finally, the story that begins a new period in Superman’s publishing history, as big name transfer from Marvel Comics Brian Michael Bendis gives us The Truth. Allegedly. There’s a majorly powerful new space villain, Rogol Zaar, in Metropolis and he’s beating the heck out of Superman and Supergirl. While the final revelation is nothing we’ve not seen previously – and as shocks go, small beer compared to Action’s recent Mr Oz silliness – the story moves along nicely, and I like that Bendis has two citizens doing their bit to help Superman, though they do exhibit the trademark inappropriate glibness of his Marvel characters. It’s good to see Supergirl in there, even if she does about as well as her cousin against the baddie, and she’s looking darn powerful in the best Jim Lee/Scott Williams art I’ve seen in a long while. We were promised an explanation for the return of the shorts, and it boils down to ‘Superman didn’t look like Superman without them’. Fine by me

The issue is rounded out by pin-ups by John Romita Jr, Walt Simonson and Jorge Jimenez – well, the physical copy, anyway, they’re not included in the digital version from ComiXology. What we do get is every one of the decade variants, my favourite being the Mike Allred Sixties spectacular. So of course, that was sold out at the comic shop, meaning I opted for the gorgeous Steve Rude 1930s image – it’s a hugely powerful piece and boy, that original logo, with ‘COMICS’ almost as big as ‘ACTION’, never gets old. 

I’ve read a lot of anniversary issues, and plenty trying to encapsulate what Superman ‘means’. This is one of the better collections with some absolute aces, and everything else pretty darn solid. A splendid birthday gift for the Man of Steel. 

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Action Comics #1000 review, DC Comics, Superman

25 thoughts on “Action Comics #1000 review 

  1. Man, I liked this issue. I think my favorite story of the bunch was “The Car” — especially since I'd just reread Action #1 in the 80 Years collection. But wow, Pat Gleason's art in Never-Ending Battle might be the best I've ever seen from him. He really pulled out all the stops.

    I don't think that Levitz/Adams story is in the print editions; if so, I was so tired last night from the midnight release party that I skipped right over it. So that might be a trade-off for those pinups.

    As for the Bendis story: Boy, Jor-El is getting dragged through the mud lately. I'm curious to see how this plays out. But as for the “inappropriate glibness” — which I enjoy more than you do, I suspect — I laughed out loud as the women speculated about his shorts. “Why does he wear them on the outside?” “I read somewhere that on his planet, it stands for 'hope'.”

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  2. Thanks so much for the super-speedy comments, Rob… you managed to get a thoughtful response up while I was still cleaning up the odd typo! Anyway, you’re spot on, that Adams/Levitz story isn’t in the print version. The shorts talk did make me smile but I just think that when someone as powerful as Superman is in this much trouble, you shut up and act, or run away. Good on them for acting… they reminded me of Chris Claremont ‘extras’.

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  3. I see what you mean; the action would be a little more realistic without some of that chatter. (Of course, some people gab when they're nervous, so it's not out of the question, either.) But I think the action would also be less entertaining without the dialogue to accompany it, or purely utilitarian dialogue. I'm happy to accept it as a convention of the form, in the same way superheroes will have extended conversations during a fistfight, or the way people in musicals break into song without anyone batting an eye. The conversation is an entertaining layer overtop the action, and if it's not strictly realistic, it still has to take a backseat to the two dudes from outer space beating the snot out of each other.

    And I agree with you about “The Fifth Season,” too. I liked the story for the most part, but the last page seems like it's meant to leave us hanging — like there's a sliver of hope that the relationship is at a point where it could fundamentally change, but the story refuses to resolve it. I don't think it quite succeeds in that regard. I like that Superman's trying to give him an out (“You can still have come here just to stargaze, Lex.”), and when Lex refuses to take it, Superman wants to give him a second chance at his answer. I think that's what the “But maybe” is all about.

    In any case, the planetarium show is a great lead-in to Tom King's story. (I'm of similar minds about “Immortal Superman” as you, by the way. I'd rather have him dead and gone and part of ancient history by the time the Legion rolls around.)

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  4. I hate them bringing back the shorts. It's stupid! I don't understand how people become so attached to something so ridiculous as a pair of shorts outside the pants. The characterization of Superman is what makes him Superman, not the silly shorts.

    I like Bendis, but your point about the glibness is spot-on. I want him to remember that Superman is not Tony Stark, and while I think Lois can be a bit glib, or snarky at times, that Superman rarely is except on very rare occasions when he zings someone like Batman.

    I am hopeful, because I do think he's a good writer, and some of what I saw here was good.

    The shorts, though! Come on!

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  5. I’m a sucker for stories that reference Clark and Lex’s boyhood friendship, reminding us what a great force for good Luthor could have been.

    And after five billion years, surely even an old newshen like Lois would be trying something new.

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  6. I think a lot of us are attached to the shorts because that’s the look we imprinted on very early, as kids. Superman was the first superhero I saw and so that’s what a superhero looked like; later, I learned the strongman connection but that didn’t legitimise it any more. Like the women in the story say, that’s just what Superman looks like.

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  7. My hope is that he plays Superman fairly straight, as he seems to do in this story. Superman doesn't have much dialogue in this: He thanks the women for helping, apologizes for the mess, and warns them to take cover. The closest he gets to glib is to tell the villain “You started this fight. Sorry it's not working out like you hoped.” That seems pretty in-character to me.

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  8. Thanks for the review and showcasing art featuring Kara in her hot pants costume. As I'm potentially no longer buying (new) comic books ever again, I was possibly going to ignore this issue altogether, but if I even bother to keep a physical copy, I can add this to my original-Kara collection. Seeing new art with Clark's costume/ S-Shield from the cover of Action #1 makes me happy also!

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  9. Great, enthusiastic, review! I wonder if the Swan sequence has some connections to the Action Weekly from the late eighties or to the Wedding issue, because it rang some bells, to me.
    Funny how I've always loved both Swan and Schaffenberger on Superman but was fairly unimpressed by the works they did together: subverting the Swanderson principle, the overall result was less than the sum.
    Talking about great team-ups: yes, the Simonson-Ordway job is astonishing; might this be the actual first time they work together? When Simonson was on Man of Steel, Ordway was penning his final issues of Adventures, so I think they hardly did, at the time, except for some occasional anniversary issues random pages. They surely had to coordinate on the arcs, though.

    Finally, I SO want more García-López Superman (and Supergirl)

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  10. Rob, I read the ToC of the 80 Years collection in an online preview: did they actually put a Human Target's story in it, or is it just a typo?? Can you confirm?

    I understand Action Comics is more than just Superman, but why just that story? They also basically skipped a decade worth of Superman stories and placed that Chris Chance stuff from ish 419 (1972)… I'm baffled, to say the least.

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  11. I agree, Kurt and Curt just didn't gel well, but seperately they defined Superman and Lois for a generation. I'd love to see some lost Schaffenberger, particularly. Hmm, I think I have a Twomorrow book on him still to read.

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  12. I think it was also included to recognize that Action started as an anthology title, which is why Zatara and Vigilante also appear. (The reason other backups, like the Legion, the Atom, or Congorilla don't make the cut is that they debuted in other comics.)

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  13. @Martin, I'm starting to accept the fact that 70s' Superman is destined to be confined in back-issues limbo and internet scans (except for a few classics like the short lived O'Neil tenure). I'm just content they included that small gem that is Superman Takes a Wife, probably the best Lois & Clark story, period.

    I know it's not the best Superman ever, but it's not that terrible, either, I mean, they printed a nice Shazam! Showcase book, which, besides some great Schaffenberger and Oksner art was, well… Would it be that bad to make a couple for Superman of the same age?

    @Rob I totally see their point, still, “80 years of Superman” is not “1000 issues of Action Comics”. Two milestones, two books…

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  14. It’s a rotten shame, Nobile – you can pick up pretty much any Bronze Age Seventies Superman or Action Comics and get a fun, solid story (we’ll, apart from when that sodding lynx appears!) yet they’re ridiculously under-collected, as you say.

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  15. I did like what I saw here, though I am not a Jim Lee fan. Not sure why Lee needs to insert himself into these things, but it could be worse, because while I am not a fan, I can admit that he is very good at what he does.

    I am hoping, big time, that this reimagining of Superman's origin doesn't go too far astray. Some of his origin is non-sensical, IMO, but it is so iconic that to go too far astray with it would turn me way off just like the Jor-El and Zor-El becoming villains thing has really bothered me.

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  16. Me too. Well, I love the 80's sans headband. Growing up in the 1980's my first exposure was the hotpants,experienced the original in reprints through DC digests (an invaluable source of Silver Age DC Comics, especially the Legion,) and her “Daring New Costume.” However, aside from the costume I fell in love with her in, I had always loved the hotpants costume because of the smaller “S” and how she stood out from her cousin.

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  17. I'm not a fan of Jim Lee either, I was, but I don't like his ego nor a more scrutinized look at his art. I was especially disappointed with the regular cover because he seems to do things in a rush now and the lines aren't tight anymore. It feels more like a sketch. In any case, his work sells, so that's why he's in the forefront.

    As for the origin, I think it's so tired. In the past eight years we will now have had four retellings. Geoff John's “Secret Origin,” finished in 2010, which was then the definitive origin of Post-Crisis Superman after both John Byrne's and Mark Waid's. Then in 2011 we have The New 52. In 2016 we have Rebirth. Now in 2018, we have Bendis' version. What is most disturbing is that with the “be careful what you wish for” tweet concerning Supergirl, is whether (and since Kara/ Power Girl is currently in limbo) is if Bendis will decide to make her an Atlantean or a Matrix again, or something else.

    Despite supposedly being one of his favourite characters, Bendis took Jessica “Spider-Woman” Drew's origin and completed messed it up, undoing continuity not just with her but other characters, including Bova (who played a part in Jessica's story but also The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's, for example).

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  18. I just don't understand why writers feel the need to always reinvent the wheel. Isn't it more of a challenge to work with a character is he is rather than reinventing him just to make your story easier to tell?

    SMH, also, I am really confused by DC's current strategy. I thought Rebirth was about melding old and new, but it seems to me that it has just become a huge mess what with whatever is going to happen with it all after Doomsday Clock, Metal, and now Bendis screwing with it (is Superboy in Limbo too?) it seems like DC's universe is a giant jumble of WTF.

    Of course, if it turns out this is the point and that the Doomsday Clock story then causes a reset that brings it all together, I will have to eat my words, but as it stands, it is a huge mess.

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  19. Hector, I suspect the reason Jim Lee likes to insert himself into things is royalties… Dick Giordano, when he was high up at DC, often seemed to ink prestige issues of books he wasn’t associated with. Too cynical? Maybe Jim Lee gets asked by editors to give books a good kick-off and he agrees… he always seems a nice fella in interviews. That regular cover really is sub-par, like journeyman colouring book work.

    And I’m also sick of Superman constantly being re-origined.

    Uncle, I agree, Bendis can be rotten at continuity, and leaving plot threads dangling and never resolving them (eg Agatha Harkness in the cupboard). I really hope he gets properly edited but I suspect DC has given him a power of veto… again, he seems a decent enough fella, but the best writers have the best editors.

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