Action Comics #1000
Writers: Brian Michael Bendis,Paul Dini, Richard Donner, Geoff Johns, Dan Jurgens, Tom King, Paul Levitz, Brad Meltzer, Louise Simonson, Scott Snyder, Peter J Tomasi
Artists: Neal Adams, Raffaele Albuquerque Jordie Bellaire, John Cassaday, Oliver Coipel, Patrick Gleason, Dan Jurgens, José Luis Garcia-López, Clay Mann, Laura Martin, Jerry Ordway, Tim Sale, Curt Swan
Review by Sean Frankling
Break out the Kryptonian formal wear and set up the Fortress of Solitude’s disco ball! This week’s Action Comics #1000 marks the Man of Steel’s 80th anniversary as the world’s best-known superhero. It’s funny, though. You’d think they’d have come up with something more substantial to fill it with. But hey, at least they brought the red trunks back.
The issue compiles an anthology of short stories — a sort of tribute Mix Tape to Superman’s long and storied history. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that premise. After all, there’s a lot of ground to cover. The reckless vigilante Superman of the golden age; the goofy adventures of the 60s and 70s. Not to mention the massive weight of cultural significance Superman carries as a role model to kids around the world. An anthology is a great way to cover all those aspects in a way no single story could.
Well, maybe some single stories could. But All Star Superman has already been written.
The problem is in the individual pieces in the anthology. The scenes include a Metropolis civic holiday honouring Superman for his service, a visit to a theme park run by 5th dimensional villain, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and some pure action segments built more around dynamic visuals than coherent story. However, while there’s plenty of genuinely spectacular art to bring them alive, the stories fall kind of flat.
In theory, each of these stories aims to represent a key aspect of Superman’s character. Unfortunately, though, they do so in ways that fall victim to the oldest pitfall in writing. They don’t show. They tell. They tell us how important Superman is. They tell us how much he inspire us. But they never really take the time to show us how or why.
Instead, they lean on phrases like “up, up and away” and “truth, justice and the american way,” using the established weight of those words to remind us why we care about the Blue Boy Scout. But despite the nostalgia behind those phrases, many of the stories are just too broad to bring them home. You can’t just run ten unconnected splash pages of Superman in vague action scenes and pretend it’s a fitting tribute merely because you slap the phrase “never ending battle” on the end of it.
There are a couple of truly great stories to be found in here. For one, Geoff Johns’ and Richard Donner’s “The Car,” which shows Superman confronting the terrified crook whose car he smashed on the cover of Action Comics #1. The way he insists the criminal has the chance to change — be a better man — offers a brief glimpse at the emotional heart of the character.
The overall result, though, is an anthology of fairly bland Superman stories. They rarely stop to bring him down to earth or investigate his key themes with much depth. It even strips out most of his supporting cast. All-time favourites like Lois, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White get reduced to minor cameos. On the one hand, that makes room for more shots of Superman whooshing around. On the other hand, though, it trades stunning visuals for emotional depth. Without a supporting cast to play off, the stories skim along too fast to delve into any real emotional significance.
There are plenty of stories that forget Superman is anything more than a set of powers. In fact, that’s exactly where we get legions of fans claiming he’s a boring character. “He’s too powerful,” they love to cry, or “Nothing can hurt him.” And yes, if Superman was entirely about the action, then these critics would be right. There are dozens of characters in comics who could fill the same role in an action scene, from Iron Man to the Martian Manhunter.
Instead, Superman’s importance stems from the emotional and idealistic core of his character. He’s been the world’s most recognizable superhero for 80 years because there’s something about him that people believe in. And it’s all tied up in the one aspect of his character that barely shows up in Action Comics #1000: Clark Kent.
That sweet, doofy, Kansas farmboy is what grounds Superman. Clark reminds readers that for all his godlike powers, he really is just like us. Whether he’s wearing his red cape or his reporter’s hat, he’s out there giving everything he has to make people’s lives a little better. He just happens to be blessed with something extra to give. Incorporating that identity, Superman represents a promise: if we’re willing to use all your powers to take care of people who need you, then we really can make a difference. He reminds us that if the world’s greatest hero can take the time to save a cat from a tree, we can be there when someone needs us, too.
The Verdict: Skip it.
Though the art in Action Comics #1000 is great and some of the stories do try to incorporate some of Superman’s core ethos, none of them quite manage to deliver the emotional punch they need to. While it might seem harsh criticism to demand that this one issue capture the all-time greatness of a character, you’ve got to ask — what else is the 1000th issue-milestone for?
Funnily enough, the non-milestone Superman #45, also out this week does an amazing job of exploring exactly these themes. So if you’re looking for a fitting way to commemorate the Man of Tomorrow’s 80th birthday, check that out instead.