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Review: Action Comics #1000 Captures Superman’s Inspirational Power

In Action Comics #1000, an all-star team of writers, artists, and colorists try and for the most part succeed at getting to the heart of Superman. Some stories touch on different eras of history from his time in the 1930s as a non-flying, slumlord buster and the Mort Weisinger Silver Age sci-fi kookiness to classic comics like Kingdom Come. Others look at his relationships with his parents, wife/co-worker Lois Lane, and his arch-nemesis Lex Luthor. One story even looks far in the future of the DC Universe while another acts as a semi-controversial prologue to Brian Michael Bendis’ upcoming Man of Steel miniseries and his runs on Action Comics and Superman.

To give each story the attention it needs, I will do a short review of each one and score it at the end of the paragraph. A final aggregated score  will conclude this (hopefully not that long) “80 page giant” review.

Action Comics #1000 opens with one hell of a curtain call from writer/penciler Dan Jurgens, inker Norm Rapmund, and colorist Hi-Fi that acts as a victory lap for Jurgens’ DC Rebirth run on Action Comics and his tireless work turning Superman from the edgy, armor wearing New 52 version to his classic role as a heroic hope bringer and a family man too. The story is simple. Metropolis is holding a Superman celebration day, but Superman doesn’t want their praise and adulation and wants to keep saving the day. However, through a little trickery from Lois and the Justice League, he ends up getting his moment in the sun. Jurgens’ writing cuts to the core of Superman and his positivity with a small-time Metropolis criminal named Benning talking about how he got him a job after prison so he wouldn’t keep relapsing and running with different supervillains. His art is a little old school, but that’s not a bad thing, and Rapmund’s inking helps make the crowd shots sharp in a story that shows Superman’s bond with the citizens of Metropolis and the superhero community while not neglecting the family elements that have been a big part of the Rebirth era of Superman. There really wouldn’t be a superhero genre without him.

Story: 9.5 Art: 8 Overall: 8.8

The next story “Neverending Battle” from the Superman creative team of Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Alejandro Sanchez is a tiny bit philosophical, somewhat historical, and definitely epic as a story only done in full page spreads. It’s about Vandal Savage weaponizing Hypertime to trap Superman in his own history so he can’t get back to Jon and Lois to celebrate his birthday. Tomasi’s writing is a little corny at times with adages like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “History repeats itself”, but Gleason and Sanchez’s glorious visuals and the through-line of Superman consistently overcoming great odds wins out just like Superman over Vandal Savage. The first spreads are the most iconic with Golden Age Era Superman punching out gangsters, stopping locomotives, and throwing tanks around with Tomasi commentating on the simplistic, good vs. evil nature of these early stories. But he and Gleason aren’t afraid to get vulnerable with a poignant homage to the scene in The Dark Knight Returns where Superman is weakened after stopping a nuclear explosion that blocks out the sun or a page where he’s trapped in the Phantom Zone. However, despite cunning and powerful enemies and occasionally death itself, nothing will stop Superman from being a hero or spending time with his loved ones on his birthday. Gleason has a strong handle on the moral clarity and goodness behind Superman’s strength and I look forward to his upcoming work as the main Action Comics artist.

Story: 8.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.3

The third story “An Enemy Within” with a script from Marv Wolfman, Butch Guice and Kurt Schaffenberger inking over recently discovered Curt Swan, and colors by Hi-Fi straddles a thin line between optimism and naivete and definitely falls on the naive side. Superman is too busy fighting Brainiac in Japan so he relies on Maggie Sawyer and the Metropolis PD to take out a mind controlled teacher, who is holding his students hostage. There is an opportunity to address social issues, like school shooting, gun control, police violence, and even homelessness in a scene towards the end, but Wolfman, Swan, and Guice gloss over these issues with a simplistic “humanity is good and will save themselves” mantra and use the mind control plot device to cover their asses. Honestly, your enjoyment of this story will depend on how much you believe in the idea of original sin or your tolerance level for after school specials. Guice’s inks bring an interesting grit to Swan’s usually clean, bright pencils, and honestly, the best part of the story is a solemn Superman pinup at the end inked by the late Schaffenberger.

Story: 4.5 Art: 6.5 Overall: 5.5

Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Olivier Coipel, and Alejandro Sanchez turn in a stoic, 1930s era Superman story about a small time crook named Butch who gets his car beat up when trying to fight Superman. It’s probably the car from the cover of Action Comics #1. Johns and Donner’s take on Superman is a little rougher and little more stern, but he has a solid moral compass and cares for humanity as shown by his empathy towards Butch, who lost his dad in combat during World War I. Coipel’s art is wonderfully rough hewn and is like Norman Rockwell’s work without the sentimentality, and he even plays the “It’s a bird, it’s a plane…” line for sardonic, silent comedy. His Superman commands the page and is someone who you would listen to and definitely take seriously. He doesn’t smile either. But the ending of “The Car” has an earned happiness and is a little spark of light in a cynical world. Johns and Donner really get that heroism is about the little things and not flying the world backwards or time travel shenanigans.

Story: 9.5 Art: 10 Overall: 9.8

Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Dave McCaig tell a quiet, yet time spanning story about the relationship between Superman and Lex Luthor, and how Superman chooses to see the good even in his worst enemy. The story starts intense with shadow wreathed art and dark colors from Albuquerque and McCaig as Luthor has assembled some powerful MacGuffins to take out Superman. But he’s actually just star gazing at the Smallville Planetarium? Albuquerque’s art is sharper and sadder after that with a nostalgic orange palette from McCaig as Lex tells Superman that the planetarium was an escape from bad weather and his abusive parents. They seamlessly blend past and present as it’s revealed that a young Clark Kent gave Lex’s space laser a little boost and saved his life. Snyder uses this anecdote/flashback sequence to hold out hope for a time when “maybe” the cycle of hero and villain will be broken between Superman and Lex Luthor as the story fades to black.

Story: 9.6 Art: 9.8 Overall: 9.7

Tom King makes a case for winning back to back Eisners for Best Short Story in his, Clay Mann, and Jordie Bellaire’s contribution to Action #1000, “Of Tomorrow”. It’s a tone poem about Superman’s last day on Earth as he says goodbye to Ma and Pa Kent one last time as the Earth is engulfed in the sun with flames and winds that are reminiscent of the last days of Krypton. King writes Superman as an old man wrestling with his past and legacy, wishing he could save more people, and being supremely proud of his wife and son. And it gets deep at the end when he reflects on his father’s blend of science and faith. Mann captures each tiny, beautiful moment in his artwork as he makes art with his strength, tears, and freeze breath: a frozen statuette of Jonathan and Martha Kent like the one of Jor-El and Lara-El in the Fortress of Solitude. Bellaire goes for Earth tones in her colors as Superman immerses himself in his adopted planet before flying off forever. He loves his parents, he loves Earth, but he realizes that all planets die and all story ends. (Except for his comic book for now.)

Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10

Two veteran comics creators Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway show they still have a lot in the tank in their “Five Minutes” story with colorist Dave McCaig that expertly intertwines Superman’s life as a superhero and Clark Kent’s life as a journalist in five minutes. Simonson’s narration shows that both Clark and Superman’s “powers” come in handy in different situation as Superman is able to dart from a train accident to a hold up and finally to save the city from an asteroid just like Clark is able to write a story and get it in under deadline. It’s a quick, zippy read with a lot of heart and a kind of cheesy “twist” ending, but Simonson and Ordway show how much passion Superman/Clark Kent has for both saving people and reporting. He is precise, efficient, and knows when to fly to next crisis just like a writer juggling different projects. Plus there’s a Bibbo Bibbowski cameo, which will be a treat for Superman fans of the 80s and 90s.

Story: 8.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.3

Paul Dini, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Kevin Nowlan, and Trish Mulvihill turn in a cheeky homage to Superman’s history, Garcia-Lopez’s ability to skillfully render almost every DC Comics hero and villain, and most of all, Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mxyzptlk has the ability to wipe out Superman from the existence in the blink of an eye, but he’s more of a prankster than a coldblooded villain and enjoys toying with him instead. Dini, Garcia-Lopez, and Nowlan also provide a little meta-commentary on how stories involving superheroes in comics never seem to end even after they’re killed off or have passed their mantle to sidekicks or legacy heroes. Probably, because they’re too much fun. This story’s kryptonite is Dini indulging his sleazy side towards the end, but the energy and humanity of Garcia-Lopez’s figures and Mulvihill’s heroic colors more than make up for it.

Story: 7.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 8.0

In a much darker story than the previous one, “Faster than a Speeding Bullet” happens in a very short span of time as Superman tries to stop a domestic abuser from shooting his girlfriend, Lila, in the head. Artist John Cassaday tells the story in a series of freeze frames as you can see the strain of Superman flying to stop the bullet, and the red, yellow, and blue of Laura Martin’s colors as his chances increase. Brad Meltzer starts incredibly dark in his script with Superman running calculations in his head that he won’t be able to save Lila and ends with Superman admitting that he is inspired by humanity as much as they are inspired by him. “Faster than a Speeding Bullet” is a taut, mini-thriller that also captures Superman’s essence and the strength of his and the people he inspire’s resolves.

Story: 8.5 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.5

The final story in Action Comics #1000 is Brian Michael Bendis’ DC debut with Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair doing the art. Lee and Williams definitely put the “action” in Action Comics, and most of the story is a third act of Man of Steel fight sequence with collateral damage galore as new giant sword wielding alien conqueror villain Rogol Zaar crashes all over Metropolis and tries to kill the last two Kryptonians on Earth. Yes, Supergirl has a cameo in this comic and is there to get her ass kicked as much as Superman. Bendis’ writing is quippy as ever and doesn’t really pair well with the disaster movie feel of Lee and Williams’ art. He seems to be going for an “Avengers Disassembled” type of throughline in his approach to Superman by physically breaking him down and also taking shots at his past. Yes, the final page of Action Comics #1000 is a huge retcon for Superman’s character, and hopefully, Bendis has the reasoning and great story to back it up, or Rogol Zaar might just be a Mongul knock-off with a cooler sword.

Story: 6.0 Art: 8.0 Overall: 7.0

 

Story: Dan Jurgens, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Scott Snyder, Tom King, Louise Simonson, Paul Dini, Brad Meltzer, Brian Michael Bendis  Art: Dan Jurgens with Norm Rapmund, Patrick Gleason, Curt Swan with Butch Guice and Kurt Schaffenberger, Olivier Coipel, Rafael Albuquerque, Clay Mann, Jerry Ordway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez with Kevin Nowlan, John Cassaday, Jim Lee with Scott Williams  Colors:  Hi-Fi, Alejandro Sanchez, Dave McCaig, Jordie Bellaire, Trish Mulvihill, Laura Martin, Alex Sinclair
Story: 8.2 Art: 8.8 Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

DC Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review