Friday, 20 April 2018

Superman: Action Comics #1000 Review (Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Lee)


80 years ago Superman was introduced to the world in Action Comics #1 - and we’ve been yawning ever since! 

Just kidding – Superman’s my favourite superhero after Batman - but I know a lot of people think he’s boring because he’s essentially a cross between a near-invincible god and a bland boy scout, and what the hell is interesting about that? Well, unfortunately Action Comics #1000 isn’t going to convince the naysayers otherwise and even a huge Superman fan like me found it to be a disappointing read. 

Action Comics #1000 is a bumper-sized anthology issue featuring some of the finest comics talents who’ve contributed to the Superman mythos over the years (though Grant Morrison, who arguably wrote the greatest Superman book, All-Star, is notably absent), many of whom basically trumpet the same schmaltzy message here: Superman is as inspired by humanity to be what he is and do what he does as humanity is inspired by him. That’s sweet and all, but it’s not a story. And that’s why this comic is so dull. 

In Dan Jurgens’ contribution, everyone gathers to applaud Superman for being Superman – that’s it. In Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason’s effort, they replay images of Superman’s greatest stories before giving him a birthday cake – that’s it. We get super obvious in hackmeister Brad Meltzer and John Cassaday’s short where Lois literally says “People always say they’re inspired by you but I know your real secret. YOU’RE the one inspired by THEM.” Faceplant. 

Then we get into the dregs. Marv Wolfman’s worthless short about Brainiac neither features Brainiac nor Superman; Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque contribute some instantly forgettable token garbage about Lex Luthor; Geoff Johns and Richard Donner write a rubbish and pointless story about the car Superman’s hefting on the cover of Action Comics #1 – seriously! Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway’s short was the most painfully generic Superman story you could imagine. This is woefully banal stuff. 

Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s short about Mr Mxyzptlk was a baffling inclusion and Tom King and Clay Mann’s story about Superman talking to his dead parents at the end of the world was decently put together but felt empty and calculatingly sentimental. 

Weak opening acts aside, the comic could’ve been saved with a killer main event: former Marvel star writer Brian Bendis’ major label DC debut… and it was unimpressive. A new Big Bad, connected to Krypton’s destruction, is punching Superman and Supergirl around Metropolis. Meh. Jim Lee’s art is equally unremarkable. It’s just preamble to Bendis’ forthcoming Man of Steel six-issue weekly miniseries, which itself will precede his imminent tenure on both Superman and Action Comics in July, but, given the hype, I’d hoped for more and instead got the kind of uninspired guff Bendis could write in his sleep. Of course I’m gonna read a whole mess of his comics before making up my mind on his take on Superman but this isn’t the amazing start I’d hoped for. 

Look: it’s totally appropriate to get all mushy about Superman on his 80th anniversary – the first superhero title to reach 1000 issues is a helluva achievement, seriously well done DC – and a certain level of mawkishness is fitting for a character as guileless as Superman is (usually) written; it just doesn’t make for a compelling read when that’s basically all you’re serving up. 

I enjoyed most of the art, Bendis, Dini and King’s stories were readable enough, and the dedication to Joe and Jerry at the top of the issue was nice, but overall it’s an underwhelming celebration of the character. The fact that the main talking point of Action Comics #1000 is the return of Superman’s red pants and yellow belt (which everyone notices but no-one explains) tells you that the comic is severely lacking in substance! I wanted to like it more and unfortunately it left me unimpressed. 

*

On a more personal note, I am genuinely inspired by Superman. As silly as it sounds, reading Superman comics has gotten me through some difficult times and I draw enormous inner strength from the character. I’m not religious so Superman is the closest I’ll probably get to believing in a god somewhere. 

80 years ago Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster inadvertently created the superhero genre with Superman who went on to become an icon of 20th century pop culture and the archetype against who all other superheroes would be measured – a hero for everyone who means a great deal to a great many, then and now. 

With sincere love and respect, thank you Joe, thank you Jerry, thank you Clark/Kal/Superman. 80 years flew by faster than a speeding bullet – here’s to 80 more! 

If you want to read some amazing Superman books, I heartily recommend the following: 

All-Star Superman
Birthright
Secret Identity
Red Son
Brainiac
Up, Up and Away!
Peace on Earth
For Tomorrow
John Byrne’s Man of Steel
Grant Morrison’s Action Comics
Lex Luthor: Man of Steel
Final Crisis (not technically a Superman book but contains a stunning Superman side story)

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