For all of us Superman fans, the release of Action Comics # 1000 is landmark event. From his first appearance in Action Comics # 1 in June, 1938, Superman has become the iconic representation of Truth, Justice and the America Way. I began collecting Superman comic books in the 1960s and my collection includes most everything from about 1959 to the late 1990s, with sporadic issues afterward. Readers of this blog are aware I have been vocal in my dislike for the Zack Snyder films, and I have been critical of the poor editorial choices that have plagued the series for many years.
Critics and fans alike have been united in their disdain for the way the Superman Family of characters have been handled, and re-boots, re-launches, or whatever you want to call it, are always beneficial to cash flow problems. You don’t need a slide-rule and a pocket protector to figure that out. Therein lies the heart of the problem. A continuing story arc involving crossover titles is a ploy to increase sales, but that’s not storytelling, that’s marketing. This is compounded by a focus on continuity and revisionist character biographies, which have been continuous for the last forty plus years at DC, if not longer. I don’t mind change, but what I’m really interested in are good stories. Gone are the days when a three-part story was a special event. Stand-alone stories of 23 or 24 pages are extinct. The focus has changed to a continuing soap-opera style story-arc that can be republished as a trade paperback and labeled “graphic novel.”
That doesn’t mean it’s all bad. In fact, I have enjoyed the DC “Rebirth” titles, and Superman has been handled with respect by writers Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi. I enjoy their stories much more than those of other current writers. Geoff Johns, the current president and Chief Creative Officer at DC, has also turned in some fantastic stories in recent years. His Braniac sequence in Action Comics a few years ago is a modern classic.
Action Comics is the flagship title for Superman, and to celebrate the inclusion of this landmark issue in my collection I thumbed through some boxes to re-acquaint myself with past glories. Obviously, the 1960s offered a wealth of nostalgia, including Action Comics # 350 and 361, the first two appearances of The Parasite. The stories got better in the late 60s, and Curt Swan’s 1960s cover art is all classic material. Neal Adams and Nick Cardy also turned in some memorable covers. My favorite Nick Cardy cover is Action Comics # 425; an image that evokes both the nostalgia and endurance of the world’s most popular adventure character.
The release of Action Comics # 1000 was orchestrated to coincide with Superman’s 80th anniversary. On April 11th, Comic Shops received their orders of the deluxe hardback compilation celebrating 80 years of The Man of Steel. This release to Comic Shops preceded the April 17th release on Amazon and other retail booksellers. That’s a remarkably unique exclusion involving Amazon, and a coup for Comic Shops who then benefited first from selling Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman to the public. The book is beautiful. With dust-jacket cover art by Jim Lee, and a hardback embossed cover reproducing about 36 covers, the volume includes a never before published mid-1940s Superman story by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and their studio staff. Also included are some ashcan covers, and a new short story by Paul Levitz and Neal Adams. This is Neal Adams’ only contribution to the 80th celebration. Numerous covers and key stories are reprinted, including the first appearance of Braniac and Supergirl. It’s not the best anthology of Superman tales, but it makes for a fantastic celebration of Superman’s long career.
Action Comics # 1000 was released on April 17th with nine official variant covers. The basic newstand cover is by Jim Lee, with subsequent covers evoking the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and the 2000s by artists Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Michael Allred, Jim Steranko, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, and Lee Bermejo. There is also a blank variant cover which is a longstanding and rather cheesy marketing ploy to produce an issue that fans can take to conventions and pay to have an artist draw something on it. The variant covers are all beautiful, fantastic pieces of art. However, noticeably absent is a cover by Neal Adams who was instrumental in depicting Superman in the 60s and 70s. This exclusion is baffling.
Action Comics # 1000 is an 80-Page Giant with much ballyhoo surrounding the debut of writer Brian Michael Bendis who takes the reins as Superman’s scribe. DC Comics is betting that Bendis’ popularity and talent, recruited after a productive career at Marvel, will increase sales on the Superman family titles.
Action Comics # 1000 is a beautiful book. At every level, the design, high-quality glossy paper, and distinctive artistic styles all pay tribute to the Man of Steel and his creators. There are ten stories included here. The first by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund reminds us why Superman is so popular; Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason follow up with a tribute to his richly textured history; and then Marv Wolman and Curt Swan offer an unpublished and slightly revamped tale. Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel tell a vital story about a car the Man of steel once lifted above his head; Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque offer some insight into Lex Luthor; Tom King and Clay Mann deliver an enigmatic homage; Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway shine with a tale the reminds us how important Clark’s Daily Planet job really is; and Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez get whimsical. The Brad Meltzer and John Cassady brew reminds us that Superman may not be perfect, but he’s still Superman. There are also several stand-alone pin-up pages scattered throughout Action Comics # 1000.
These are all short tales, precisely what I mentioned have been missing for many years. They work pretty well, and while it’s true that such short-shorts suffer from a sometimes abrupt conclusion, they still work. This brings us to the eagerly awaited debut of author Brian Michael Bendis whose story is brought to life by artist Jim Lee. The artwork is fantastic, as expected, and appropriately enough, Bendis jumps right into an action-packed tale. The story is 12 pages, and mostly involves the Big Blue battling a new villain named Rogol Zaar. I am promoting a cautionary approach here, because we are a long way off from delivering a final verdict on Brian Michael Bendis. The problem is this - Rogol Zaar comes across as a roadshow re-imagining of Doomsday, and Doomsday is a character we’ve all seen too much of. DC Comics really flogged the Doomsday horse time and time again. I was hoping for a character that didn’t seem like a pastiche. We didn’t get one, at least not in these initial 12 pages.
Bendis also plays the revisionist history card, which was announced in one of DCs press releases. We don’t know exactly what changes Bendis has planned for the continuity, but I’m on record as stating how unnecessary those changes are. The last page of the Bendis story (which will be continued in the forthcoming The Man of Steel # 1... yeah, they’re doing that again), struck me as cheap dramatics.
Still, I’m willing to keep an open mind. Bendis is a truly fine writer, and there is potential here. As a fan and collector, I’m only interested in seeing him maintaining Superman’s integrity as a seminal figure in pop culture, and reading some fresh and exciting stories. Time will tell if Brian Michael Bendis is yet another media event, shining brightly at the onset, but fading quickly like John Byrne before him.
Overall, Action Comics # 1000 is a great tribute, and seeing artwork again by Curt Swan, Jerry Ordway and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez was a treat. I am particularly pleased that Jerry Ordway was involved in this project. But now that’s it’s over, I still can’t help but to wonder – where was Neal Adams?