SYNOPSIS: 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 From today’s explosive action to a previously unpublished tale illustrated by the legendary Curt Swan to the Man of Tomorrow’s future—this very special, oversized issue presents the best of the best in Superman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!
In 1938, a flimsy bunch of paper stapled together with a circus-looking strongman on its cover was placed on newsstands across America. It’s a bit difficult to imagine what people would’ve thought when they looked at it, maybe next to the copy of their local newspaper they grabbed that morning. A paper, of course, cost three cents back in those days, and this vibrant, full-color cover was asking for a dime. Did anyone forego their news for the day to pick up this flimsy little book, the first of its kind? Or did they just go about their business, not realizing that they may have glanced and chuckled in dismissive amusement at the birth of an enduring idea? It’s this idea that saw our myths reborn with capes and cowls, and a book that ushered in the first appearance of the World’s Greatest Hero: Superman. With his first adventure, every single character we call a “superhero” owes a debt to the Man of Steel for starting it all, 80 years, and 999 issues ago.
This week marks the release of the highly-anticipated Action Comics #1000, the first ongoing comic book series to reach that momentous landmark publication number, and an 80-year celebration in the making for DC Comics’ standard-bearer, Superman. As a celebration, it’s a wonderful collection of stories from a number of high-profile creative teams that is very much worth reading just for that reason alone, but it also represents something of a modern turning point for Superman as we prepare to welcome a new primary creator, who has been given leeway with the Last Son of Krypton in a way not seen since John Byrne took his proverbial reins back in the mid-1980’s.
Past and Present: The Collection of Stories
Each story comes at Superman from a different perspective. In the first story, “From the City that Has Everything,” writer/artist Dan Jurgens closes out his own current run on Action that began with DC Universe Rebirth in 2016, and built on his own character-defining work from the 90’s and 2000’s. It’s got a good message and a wonderful sentiment, and serves as a great opening salvo for this big party of an issue. Next up is “Never-ending Battle” by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, which sees Mr. Gleason flex his considerable muscles as a penciller to reimagine several of Superman’s defining moments over the last eighty years, while also serving as something of a “birthday card” to the big guy. The story emphasizes the considerable amount of history that Superman has been at the forefront of throughout his existence and forces him to relive it to a degree, and also doubles as a beautiful “final bow” for the creative team, who’ve done a wonderful job during Rebirth over on the main Superman title. Trust me, gentlemen: the pleasure was ours.
Next up is a bit of a blast from the past, in more ways than one: “An Enemy Within” serves up a story by classic DC scribe Marv Wolfman (The New Teen Titans, Crisis on Infinite Earths) with artwork by one of Superman’s most defining artists: the late Curt Swan. Although Mr. Swan died over 20 years ago, his contributions to Superman’s legacy cannot be overstated, and some of his artwork from both seen and unseen projects has been re-purposed into this new offering for Action #1000. While the writing offers a nice look into Superman’s perspective on humanity, seeing Curt Swan’s art once again grace a Superman story is a true sight to behold. After that, we come to “The Game,” by another team of DC living legends: writer Paul Levitz (The Great Darkness Saga, JSA) and artist Neal Adams (Batman, Superman vs. Muhammad Ali). It’s a fun, if brief story about what happens when Superman just tries to play a game of chess with his nemesis. If you like a classically-told tale of good vs. evil, it’ll put a smile on your face.
The next tale in this book reunites DC comics writer extraordinaire Geoff Johns (Doomsday Clock, Batman: Earth One) with his friend and mentor, director Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie). The two actually collaborated on a brief run in Action Comics back in 2006-07, and they come together with artist Olivier Coipel (Thor) for a story called, “The Car.” That title is a reference to the very same vehicle that Superman has raised over his head in the iconic cover to Action Comics #1, and is even set in the same period as that issue’s publication year of 1938. It’s a brief, but charming tale that sees Superman confront the owner of that car, asking him to be a positive difference-maker. Beautifully realized by Coipel, the dialogue also seems like it’d be right at home coming out of the mouth of Bud Collyer, the voice actor who played the Man of Steel on the old radio show, and in the timeless Fleischer Studios cartoons, with more than one touching moment in its brief duration. The following story takes us back to the modern day with a story from the original creative team of Vertigo’s American Vampire: writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Dark Nights: Metal) and artist Rafael Albuquerque (Blue Beetle, Batgirl). In “The Fifth Season,” Snyder and Albuquerque give us a rare, quiet moment of reflection between Superman and Lex Luthor, while both briefly and deftly illustrating what makes them so different.
After that, current Batman scribe Tom King unites with artist Clay Mann (X-Men: Legacy) for “Of Tomorow,” a story that tells a deceptive little tale about the end of the world, billions of years in the future. What does someone like Superman do when he’s confronted with the end of his first adopted home? What’s his life like? The answer to both of these questions will likely surprise you, and leave you with a delightful and unexpected sense of hope. That story is followed by “Five Minutes,” a tale that reunites writer Louise Simonson and artist Jerry Ordway, two of Superman’s most prominent creators from the 1990’s. It does a wonderful job of showing you just how many delicate eggs Superman has to sometimes juggle all at once, and how saving the world — and on a tight deadline, no less — suits him just fine. That’s followed up with “Actionland!,” written by Paul Dini (Batman: The Animated Series, Detective Comics) with art by José Luis García-López (Detective Comics, Jonah Hex). At first looking like the recounting of a vision of our hero’s status quo (his origin, his city, his allies and enemies) in a future Superman-centric theme park, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s actually something of a moment of appreciation for Big Blue from one of his greatest enemies. Fun, irreverent, and solid.
The next story, “Faster than a Speeding Bullet,” is one of my favorites in this collection. In the capable hands of master storytellers Brad Meltzer (Identity Crisis, Justice League of America) and John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men, Captain America), the tale looks like it will be one of tragedy. Instead, though, Meltzer’s story goes in a beautiful direction bound to Superman’s very constitution, all the more accentuated by Cassaday’s absolutely gorgeous pages, along with a tear-jerking dedication to Christopher Reeve. It’s that rare kind of a story that hits the essence of its main character so well, that it borders on one of the most definitive short Superman stories to hit the pages of comics in a good, long while.
Future: Bendis’ Tease
The final story is where the issue’s main event lies: “The Truth,” by upcoming Superman, Action Comics, and The Man of Steel scribe Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, The New Avengers) in his DC Debut. DC rolls out the big guns by pairing him up with none other than co-publisher and superstar artist Jim Lee on art duties. In our first look at Bendis’ perspective on Superman, he brings his trademark sense of humor and even a laugh-out-loud funny confusion of what his trunks mean from some Metropolis citizens. Ultimately,this story serves as more of a teaser for the forthcoming first issue of the new miniseries The Man of Steel, but it should make for a very engaging — and unexpectedly humorous, but still appropriate — take on Superman.
Action Comics #1000 is the kind of comic book that comes along once in a generation, and not for its numbering. That kind of book only comes around once in three generations. In all this fan’s years reading comics, though, this is the kind of celebratory Superman book that is the rare encompassing of everything that makes Superman one of comics’ — and indeed, one of mythology’s — absolutely greatest characters. His versatility is on full display across multiple revisited eras in this book, uniting wonderful creative teams to tell stories worthy of the character they’re celebrating. Action Comics #1000 is a must-buy because it trumpets Superman, and because it effectively transitions us from everything we know about the character’s previous 80 years of stories, and teases us with the possibilities of a creator who will, no doubt, attempt to redefine him for modern times while maintaining his longstanding core essence. That’s no easily accomplished goal, but Mr. Bendis may very well be up for the job if his previous work is any indication. Just ask Daredevil. Or Spider-Man. Or Jessica Jones…or Squirrel Girl.
It’s hard to forecast the future and say whether or not he’ll be successful in that most unenviable of tasks, but that doesn’t mean that here and now, this issue doesn’t succeed on all fronts. Action Comics #1000 is a win on every level. Happy thousandth, big guy. Here’s to 1,000 issues — or eighty years — more. – Chris Clow