The image of men running in terror. One fleeing from the scene, another on the ground in confusion, and the final running straight towards the audience with a face that can’t seem to comprehend what he’s witnessing. A crimson and yellow sky engulfs the scene while at the centre, the destroyed remains of a 1937 Plymouth hoisted up by a mysterious figure. Clad in blue and red, a flowing cape, boots and trunks, with an emblem across his chest that screams “I am here!”. This is the cover to Action Comics #1. Cover date June 1938 with a copyright date of April 18th. 80 years later we celebrate that mighty figure on the cover with the publication of Action Comics #1000 on April 18th, 2018. That figure:
Action Comics #1000 brings together ten stories by all-star creators, three pin-ups and an array of glorious variant covers. Celebrating 80 years of THE premier superhero. The talent contained within these 80 pages ranges from industry favourites such as Brian Michael Bendis and Jim Lee, long time Superman creators like Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway, and current staples of the industry including Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason.
From The City That Has Everything:
The book opens with one of the longer stories “From the City that has Everything”, a title nod to Alan Moore’s famous “For the Man who has Everything” issue. Written and pencilled by long time Superman creator Dan Jurgens. The city of Metropolis throws their own celebration for the Man of Steel. All the while Clark is on edge as he knows of an impending invasion from the Khunds. During the celebrations people come forward on stage to talk about the good Superman has done for them. Some are police officers, others are former criminals who Superman never gave up on. When Daily Planet Editor-in-Chief takes the stand, he tells the crowd:
“When I think of Superman, I think of what they used to say about the best fighters in the World. That they always answered THE BELL. For Those of you who don’t know boxing, answering the bell means that during a fight, in between rounds. When the bell rings, telling the fighters to get off their chairs and FIGHT some more. No matter how beaten and weary they are. They get up and FIGHT.”
As Perry continues, Clark realises that something is wrong and that what he’s been tracking with his senses is completely off. As he takes off into the sky, Wonder Woman comes to stop him. Informing him that the threat he has been so worried about has been taken care of by the Justice league, wanting to give him this day off. The league appears on stage along with all the others grateful for the impact he has on all of them.
“Your father is the most understanding man I’ve ever met, Jon. He knows he shares a bond with Metropolis. And That every now and then, in appreciation for all he’s given them. The people get to return the gesture. That’s what makes him Superman.”
From the writer/artist team of Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. “Never-Ending Battle” is a wonderful tribute to the legacy and 80-year history of the character. Framed as Clark telling Lois and Jon about his day and how hard he had to fight just to make it to them in time. An encounter with Vandal Savage has him using time distortion and disruption against Superman. A fantastic plot device that makes full use of it’s premise in order to highlight and celebrate everything from the 1930s, the Elseworld outings and iconic scenes from both Kingdom Come and The Dark Knight Returns, right up to modern day and DC Rebirth.
“I want you to remember an old adage. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Staying true to yourself. Abiding by the morals and ethics ingrained in you by your mom and dad. Along with the lessons you’ll learn in your own life, can pull you through the DARKEST moments. But if even THAT’S not enough. Sometimes pure GUMPTION and WILLPOWER are all you need to get you where you want to go and be with who you want to be with.”
Combined with there 2-year long run on Superman, which saw it’s final issue release on the same day as this. Tomasi and Gleason prove that they know what Superman is and stands for. Gleason’s art is stunning and stylised. Making full use of entire pages rather than shifting to panels.
As Superman’s quest through time and reality comes to an end, we catch up with Superman together with his wife, son and dog Krypto. Calm and happy as the story concludes with a birthday cake. Complete with 80 candles and a lovely message to the Man of Steel from the two authors.
Pin-Up: John Romita Jr.
The first of the books pin-up illustrations, John Romita Jr returns to Superman after his run on the New 52 incarnation. Unfortunately, this maybe the weakest of any of the book. His style doesn’t fit the character in the same way it does that of Batman or Wolverine. The composition and framing is wonderful, though the choice of Romita Jr. over someone like Gary Frank or David Finch is a confusing one.
An Enemy Within
As Super as he is, Superman can’t always be there. What makes it worse is that even when he’s rushing to one disaster, he can hear another. As Superman is on the other side of the world, trying to stop Brainiac’s latest scheme. He can hear it taking effect back in Metropolis. Causing a high school principle to snap and take his students hostage. As Superman is still in Japan, he can hear how the good people of Metropolis take care of the situation. Praising Maggie Sawyer’s strong but compassionate command. Superman’s actions do help as it’s Brainiac’s devices causing the insanity, but the story still uses Superman to praise the hardworking people that keep Metropolis running. Fantastically focused story by Superman veterans Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan.
“You can knock them to their knees and threaten them with any number of tortures, but even against overwhelming odds, they won’t long bow down to any master. Compared to the natives of other worlds, their bodies are fragile. But it always amazes me how strong they can be. And while human passions can be infuriating, their unstoppable will to ultimately do right, even under the threat of danger, is INDOMITABLE. And I’m the one they call SUPERMAN.”
Ever wonder what happened to that car? The one on the cover that started it all. In “The Car” Geoff Johns, Richard Donner and Oliver Coipel explore the driver’s life. As he takes the car into a mechanic, tries to explain what happens and takes a long walk home, only to run into the man who stopped the car. Superman. He tells Superman all about his life. How his father was killed in the war, his mother died when he was thirteen and life in an orphanage was rough. He was stopped by Superman before in the middle of a crime. And yet instead of dragging the man back in, he leaves him with something to think about.
“You’ve had your fair share of knocks. And you can keep knocking the world back like you’ve done. Or you can make a decision. Today. It’s your life Butch. You can fix it, or you can junk it. it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”
A short but very interesting look at the part of Superman’s first outing we never saw.
The Fifth Season:
Perhaps the most surprising of all the stories in Action Comics #1000. The team behind American Vampire as well as the iconic Batman writer, Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque give one of the most grounded and heartfelt looks at the relationship if Lex and Superman. Joining the pair in an observatory as Lex explains to Superman, unaware the he truly is the Clark he once knew. The talk about how Lex used to spend his free time in the observatory, trying to send messages to other planets. Wanting to contact intelligent beings. Feeling stuck in this small town and unappreciated. He confides in Superman that on one occasion he made a mistake and didn’t heat up the nitrogen in his experiment. He should have died. Through a change in perspective, we see the reason he didn’t was because Clark had stumbled in and used his heat vision when Lex was looking away. The story of the two of them there as children are wonderful parallels. Lex wanting to make contact due to feeling alone, and Clark possibly there for a similar reason, but instead of comfort, he wanted answers.
From a writer that’s more known for his darker takes, particularly with Wytches and Batman. This story feels so full of heart for them both. A fantastic surprise from a master of horror.
A short but bitter sweet tale from the minds of Tom King and Clay Mann. A future where the Earth is degrading. Superman comes back every year to a world that’s almost fire and brimstone, talking to himself about how he needs to stop coming back. That it feels like this is the five billionth visit. That Jon is growing into a fine man. Lois is being kept alive with an eternity formula, though is growing to hate the taste. That ‘they’ would be proud of Jon on Lois, before finally turning away and leaving. Revealing the final resting place of Ma and Pa Kent.
“We’re all Stardust Fallen. And so, we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”
Clay’s earthy artwork fits the story beautifully but adds a whole new level of depth by drawing his Superman to heavily resemble the late Christopher Reeve. Another fantastic nod to the legacy and history of the character.
Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway prove once again why they are legends when it comes to Superman. “Five Minutes” is a fantastic little day in the life piece of both Clark Kent and Superman. As Perry is shouting over that Clark has five minutes to finish his story while the presses are on hold. Clark hears a disturbance and hurries out of the building. The fantastically energetic and invigorating story shows everything that could possibly happen to him in those five minutes. As he manages to rush back to his desk and finish on time, Perry shouts over that the stories dead and that Clark needs to take Jimmy and go report on Superman’s latest outings.
“The rush! The focus! The fact that I’m helping people – sometimes even SAVING them. Superheroing. Reporting. They’re not so different if you do them right. Man, I love my jobs.”
Though short, it feels like we see the world through Clark’s eyes. How fast paced and to the bone his world can be, and yet just like the Man of Steel himself. We can’t help but love it.
Perhaps the strangest, and most divisive story in the collection. Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez bring us a roller-coaster amusement park history of Superman. Already a strange concept, but when it’s revealed to be all the doing of Mr. Mxyzptlk, it feels like one big loving send up to the silliness of the silver age and all the fun Superman comics can be. An enjoyable story that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, heightened by Garcia-Lopez’s stunning artwork.
Pin-Up: Walter Simonson
Industry legend Walt Simonson brings his classic and dynamic take to the Superman in this fantastic pin-up! While the style may not be to everyone’s liking. It’s dynamic and attention grabbing presence is undeniably Simonson.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet:
Brad Meltzer and John Cassidy bring up an interesting but heartfelt take on what it feels like to be Superman in an emergency. Flying as fast as he can, he can hear a woman in distress. He can hear the trigger on the gun as he cocks, and he knows that he’s going to get there a second too late. To his surprise, the woman does something that buys him those few seconds he needs. The short story shows not just how Superman inspires others, but how he is inspired by them. Their courage, ingenuity, and bravery. The final moments show how humble Clark is, as Lois is the one to point out that today, “he met a good one”.
Pin-Up: Jorge Jimenez
The final and strongest of all the pin-ups. Jimenez continues to prove why he is one of this decades best Superman artists. Dynamic, strong, with an overwhelming presence, but completely natural. Embracing even the classically mocked trunks as symbol of strength once more. Jimenez’s use of lighting gives Superman and ethereal presence. A man who has fought for truth, justice and the American way but remains true to who he is. A symbol of hope.
Finally, the last story in the collection had both the most to prove but brought the least. With art by Jim Lee, who’s style really doesn’t fit the character, and the Superman debut of Brian Michael Bendis, the story acts as a teaser for his upcoming run on both Superman, Action Comics AND his Man of Steel mini-series. The few pages lack substance. The focus should be on this new villain and his final page ‘reveal’. However, the most memorable parts are two women debating about Superman’s trunks, and Supergirl piledriving into the villain. It’s possible that due to this being Bendis’s first outing, this could be a result of nerves or pressure, but let’s hope with time he improves.
The companion Deluxe hard cover, Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman, puts Superman’s history on display for the world to see. Action Comics #1000 honours that history. With a mixed array of takes on the character and an all-star creative team, here’s to many more years of the Man of Steel!