Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman is quite possibly the most well-known superhero in the business. He is meant to be someone you look up to. He’s meant to be someone people can aspire to be like. Even his symbol means hope in Kryptonian tongue. In 1938, he debuted in Action Comics 1. The series was an immediate success, and although sales numbers have risen and fallen over the years, hitting its peak in the late 80’s at 6 million copies for The Death of Superman, it’s remained a constant staple in the comics industry for decades. It’s only fitting that 80 years later, Action Comics reaches its 1000th issue. The very first comic series to reach 1000 issues legitimately. Even if Detective Comics is also nearing 1000 issues, this is, in a sense, a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s possible that even if I wasn’t working full-time, this would be the only comic I’d review today, because there’s a lot to get to.
Action Comics 1000 features 10 different stories, all with a different creative team. If I were to mention every single creator, that alone would take up several paragraphs. Look at the tags on this blog post for the credits. The only people I’ll specifically mention will be Richard Donner (yes, the guy who directed the 1978 Superman movie) and Brian Michael Bendis, making his DC debut.
Some of the stories in this massive comic are great. It opens up with Superman fighting an alien invasion, while he’s supposed to be attending an event in Metropolis celebrating him. He’d almost rather fight the aliens than show up, showing how dedicated he is and that he’s not doing his superhero work for glory. But when there don’t seem to be any signs of a further invasion, he goes to the event anyway. It’s a nice story that shows both the humble side of Superman’s personality and the different kinds of people he’s made a personal impact on. Oh, and a bunch of other superheroes cameo at the end, with a handful of his closest friends giving a line or two.
The second story feels like it could have been a mini-series or something, and it’s an intriguing idea, but as a one-off story in the middle of Action Comics 1000 it feels rushed. Superman is fighting a villain that sent him through time. It shows different eras within Superman’s past, but often only in single panels, told through Superman’s own narration as he explains to Lois and Jon why he’s late for his birthday party. And I didn’t count, but it looks like there are 80 candles on his cake. Fitting. I also like how the art style often imitates the era that the page is exploring – sometimes even blending multiple art styles into one panel. It’s kind of entertaining, but it’ll make you want to read a handful of classic issues more than it’ll entertain you.
The third story is a retelling of a classic tale that mostly focuses on side-characters, but it’s a good one.
The fourth story, co-written by Richard Donner himself, is a nice simple story of Superman confronting a well-known jerk, but instead of arresting him or something, encourages him to be a better person. It breaks down morality to the simple choice of whether you make the effort to be a good person or not. It’s a simple yet powerful message, told from the point of view of a man who’s clearly lost. Again, a short but sweet story. It’s also worth mentioning that this is based off of a tale from Action Comics 1, which was also featured on the iconic cover.
The fifth story is a relatively civil and deep conversation between Superman and Lex Luthor, talking about a “fifth season” in places like Smallville while also talking about the stars. There’s also a brief yet fun cameo from Jon Kent, preventing a young kid from making a mistake that Lex Luthor mentions he also made as a kid. It’s a neat story and worth the read.
The sixth story takes place at the very end of the Earth’s existence, and it’s basically Superman saying goodbye to his earth parents. It’s ok, but I’ve seen enough of that in other comics, done better, that it doesn’t feel special. Some other reviewers said this brought them to tears though, so others might like this more than I did. Maybe it’s also because I’ve recently experienced loss and I’m trying not to think about it. I don’t know.
The seventh story is a quick but fun story of Superman just being a superhero while also rushing to meet a deadline in his Daily Planet job. It’s entertaining and feels like a classic story. Nothing else to say here.
The eighth story is probably the weakest in Action Comics 1000. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s weird and kind of pointless, showing Mr. MXYZPTLK goofing off. You won’t miss much by skipping this one.
The ninth story is decent, showing Superman barely saving someone from a bullet in time, while also showing that woman try to defend herself in a way that makes her rescue possible. Again this is worth reading, but it’s not special on its own.
And finally, the tenth story is more of a teaser than anything else, but it marks Brian Michael Bendis’s DC Comics debut. It’s a teaser for an upcoming 6-issue miniseries where Superman is fighting a very powerful enemy who claims to be the one who destroyed Krypton. He spends most of this fight either on the defensive, or even being helped by citizens as the police briefly confront the powerhouse. Supergirl also makes a brief appearance in this, making me hope she’ll also be in the mini-series. And considering this villain’s goals and power level, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d need additional help on top of each other. With that said, its tone is also completely different than the rest of this comic. It’s a great teaser, but it kind of feels out of place.
Personally, I find the best stories in this massive collection would be the first (“From The City That Has Everything”), the fourth (“The Car”) and fifth (“The Fifth Season”).Besides the eighth story though, all of these are at least worth a read. I would argue however that today’s Superman 45 has a better individual story than anything in this comic. That’s not to say this isn’t worth picking up by any means. It’s true that none of these stories on their own are worth the $8 price tag, but as a whole, it feels like a celebration of Superman. It looks at almost every level of his storied history, while also focusing on where he is now. It explores how while Superman inspires a lot of people both in and out of universe, the people of earth often inspire him as well.
Action Comics 1000 could have been a lot better, but it’s still worth picking up for Superman fans. There is enough to like about this comic to warrant the price. And it’s both great and somewhat surprising that they got so many people involved with this. But I also feel like this would have worked better with perhaps capping this at 8 stories (one for each of Superman’s decades), allowing some them all to be a bit longer so they could dig a bit deeper. As much as Action Comics 1000 is a once in a lifetime experience, and it is mostly a great work as a whole, at times it doesn’t feel that way.