Let’s just acknowledge the significance of the occasion. Action Comics — the book that introduced Superman and thus helped push comic books from a cheaply produced delivery system for reprint newspaper strips into something unique — has reached its 900th issue. To commemorate the occasion, DC has released the ish as a “96-page spectacular,” opening with a 51-page lead, followed by five shorter pieces examining facets of the Man of Steel’s life. Written by such familiar names as Damon Lindelof, David S. Goyer and director Richard Donner, it’s the latter half of the book that’ll most likely appeal to readers who haven’t been closely following the DC Universe.
The lead story, Paul Cornell and Pete Woods’ “The Black Ring/Reign of Doomsday,” proves a bit more dubious. Culling together plotlines from five different DC titles, it primarily features our hero in an extended debate with a god-like version of perpetual villain Lex Luthor. The chapter ends with a resurrection of the monster who once “killed” Superman, Doomsday, and whether that will warm your heart most likely depends on if you were the right age to fall for the original “Death of Superman” storyline when it was first published/publicized in the nineties.
The other tales examine our hero’s original and place in the superhero world. Lost’s Damon Lindelof, aided by artist Ryan Sook, looks at Superman’s father Jor-El in the time before Krypton’s cataclysm, and while Sook’s art is typically moody, the story details themselves seem a bit too Earth-bound, not alien enough. In contrast, Paul Dini and R.B. Silva’s “Autobiography,” which also shows the Man of Steel’s home world, has an appealing visual strangeness typified by Silva’s depiction of a hippopotamus-y alien named Serva.
Geoff John and Gary Franks’ “Friday Night in the 21st Century” is a lightweight look at Lois and Clark’s relationship, while director Donner and Derek Hoffman’s “Only Human” uses a faux movie script/storyboard (sketchy graphics courtesy of Matt Camp) to tell the tale of a scientist who tries to artificially replicate Superman’s powers. Of all the back-of-the-book entries, this ‘un reads most like a story rather than a vignette.
The fourth entry, David S. Goyer and Miguel Sepulveor’s “The Incident,” is the one that’s been generating the most fannish comment, however. In it, the longtime icon for “Truth, Justice and the American Way” renounces his U.S. citizenship after witnessing a citizen demonstration in Iran. “I showed up in solidarity,” our hero says, a gesture which brings the president’s national security advisor out to determine if our hero has “gone rogue.” He hasn’t, of course, though judging from the contentious politicized responses from many fans, you might think otherwise.
Those of us with a longer view of the character, though, know that with an established figure like Superman, every major change is a reflection of the time in which it occurs (could you imagine DC’s editors trying something like this in the immediate wake of 9/11, for instance?) — and is something that can very easily be undone by subsequent editorial regimes.
You don’t last 900 issues without enduring a lot of editorial tweaks along the way. Remember when Superman had a mullet?