Back in 1938, Action Comics #1 turned up at the newsstands and drugstores of America. The cover featured a man in a blue and red suit and a cape running while holding up a green late model automobile.
The comic-book cost ten cents.
In 2014, one of the few remaining copies sold for over three million dollars.
In 2018, DC Comics published issue #1000. It’s an 80-PAGE GIANT, making it about the length of its famous predecessor. Whereas that Depression-era funnybook only devoted its first story to the Man of Steel, 2018’s is all about the Superman.
While we all know Superman’s origin, it’s probably worth taking a look at his recent history in DC. I will try to be brief. If such an exploration doesn’t interest you, consider leaping my paragraphs and landing on “General Information.”
In 2010, as the dust settled from the landmark, year-long 2006 series, 52, DC released Superman: Secret Origin. Laugh at the title, of course, but it managed to retread the familiar territory in engaging ways, updating Superman for the twenty-first century while honoring the various past incarnations of the character.
Almost immediately, DC blasted that version out of continuity. Starting in 2011, yet another reality-warping event led to The New 52. Various characters (in particular, various female characters1) disappeared or faced revision. Batman preserved his existing continuity but had it shoved into an implausibly (even for comics) short time-period. Bruce Wayne apparently went through Robins like so many gadgets in his utility belt. Upon the usually happy and slightly goofy Flash they foisted a tragic family history and angst. Several characters received collars and brooding looks, fresh from the comics of the 1990s. And Superman received a new origin story, a new costume, and a single status. Gone was his long-established marriage to Lois Lane.
Granted, this new Superman had an interesting run; you didn’t know where his stories would take him. To a lot of readers, however, he didn’t entirely feel like Superman. Ultimately, he died and—unlike his predecessor—he has thus far stayed dead.
Naturally, yet another universe-warping event reestablished the earlier Clark Kent/Superman. As a prelude to this issue, Action #999 had Lois, Clark, and Jon finally reconcile with Lois’s estranged father, even while the Man of Steel reconsiders the legacy of Jor-El, and builds a more humane prison for a villain trapped in the Phantom Zone.
However, new dangers await….
Title: Action Comics #1000
Main cover artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair
Variant cover artists: Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons and Angus McKie, Michael and Laura Allred, Jim Steranko and Laura Martin. Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclar, Lee Burmejo.
Stories: “From the City that Has Everything”
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artists: Norm Rapmund, et al
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Patrick Gleason, et al
“An Enemy Within”
Writer: Marv Wolfman
From a story by Cindy Goff, Curt Swan, and Butch Guise
Artist: Rob Leigh, et al
Writer: Geoff Johns and Richard Donner
Artist: Olivier Coipel, et al
“The Fifth Season”
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Raphael Albuquerque, et al
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann, et al
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Jerry Ordway, et al
Writer: Paul Deni
Artist: José Luis García-López, et al
“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet”
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: John Cassaday, et al
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Jim Lee, et al
Superman, in and out of his disguise as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, has a series of adventures. Some take place in current mainstream DC Comics continuity. Others do not.
None of these stories feel earth-shattering—though the final installment recalls the destruction of Krypton. Most make for fun reading, with above-average art. “From the City that Has Everything” follows from previous issues with a predictable but fun story of the sort one expects from an anniversary issue. Guest-stars abound. “The Car” gives us an engaging look at the story behind the iconic cover of Action #1, and includes some of this issue’s best artwork. I liked “Five Minutes,” but would have liked it more if Astro City hadn’t already told a very similar tale back in the 1990s.
I would have preferred fewer, more developed stories. “The Fifth Season”‘s exploration of Superman and Lex Luthor needs more space to develop. And I sympathize with those who frown at that final story, very much an advertisement for a forthcoming limited series.
Artwork: 5/6 I especially enjoyed Gleason and Olivier Coipel’s work, which captures the history of an iconic character. Coipel and his team evoke the 30s in the car without being too obvious. Tones have been muted, but they’re not sepia. The imagery feels like an actual past, with the addition of a superhero. We’re within the original comic, but without the often-crude artwork of that era.
Characterization: 4/6 Maggie Sawyer stands out in “An Enemy Within,” while “From the City that Has Everything” reveals just what kind of person it takes to be the spouse of a defacto demigod. Characterization may not be consistently great, but the guy with the big red “S” on his chest is consistently Superman…
Emotional response: 5/6 …I suppose that’s all one can ask from the thousandth issue of a periodical originally intended as cheap entertainment for kids seeking cheap thrills and, from dusty sidewalks during hard times, a glimpse of hope.2
The comic gets a +1 bonus for the sheer fact of lasting so long.
In total, Action Comics #1000 receives 30/42
1. Where do we start? Renee Montoya largely disappeared. Certainly, her days as the Question ended, and the old, recently deceased male version of the character reappeared. DC replaced the Stephanie Brown Batgirl, popular with female readers, with the more familiar Barbara Gordon Batgirl. Since Babs had passed the last few decades as the character Oracle, it meant that one of the few disabled characters in mainstream comics also vanished. Batwoman, meanwhile, never made it to the altar with her female partner. Amanda Waller, an actual plus-sized comic-book woman apparently went on a crash diet. Harley Quinn, one of the few female villains who hadn’t previously dressed in fetish gear, suddenly acquired the standard comic-book female hot ‘n’ spicy sartorial style, for which she has now gained widespread recognition.
2. In an amusing bit of nerd humour, a bystander wonders if wearing red underwear outside one’s clothing might be a Kryptonian symbol of hope.