Something For The Weekend: Action Comics #1000 Vs. Superman #400

by Oliver MacNamee

Well, that as the week that was and what a week for comics! Action Comics #1000 was one Hell of a milestone issue and I simply had to make a mid-week visit to the comic shop to grab me a copy, or two. With so many amazing variants its as a very tough decisions, but eventually I decided on the Dave Gibbons 50’s cover and the Mike Allred 60’s cover. Which one did you get, I wonder?

But, let’s forget the covers, can we, and take a look underneath the bonnet of this 80 page beast.

And, what we have is a great anniversary issue worthy to be included in the best anniversary issue of all time, which would have Superman #400 at the very top. So, how does it compare to the comic both me and incoming Superman and Action Comics scribe, Brian Michael Bendis rank as the best anniversary issue of all time? Very favourably indeed. In fact, we may even have a contender to the crown in this one. It’ll certainly be the litmus test that other upcoming anniversary issues should look to, I reckon.

Like Superman #400, this comic is an issue that looks to some of the industry’s best to create a stand alone comic book for the ages, I believe, and not the conclusion, or starting point for a new story arc (although with Bendis and Lee’s concluding strip, ‘The Truth‘, there is that too, even though I personally felt it shouldn’t have been included because it disrupts the rest of the issue’s tone somewhat). An issue that focuses on the best Superman has to offer, with a distinct, somewhat ironic, lack of action, considering the name of the book. But then, that’s the point.

Superman may very well be the best of the best, but in this landmark issue it’s his humanity, determination and respect for his fellow man and woman that is put on show. And rightfully so. Superman has always been more than a muscle bound hero who smashes his way out of a situation. Even if, from time to time, we forget that, because of the sheer powerhouse he is. He is an example to us all, regardless of his fictitious status; having touched many of us, I dare say, in sometimes profound ways. And, as such, this is a love letter to the man, the myth and everything that is good about humanity from the great and the good. Past, present and future stars too.

While there’s no John Byrne – which I personally think was a shame, given his well received and game-changing reinterpretation of Supes after the universe shattering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and regardless of how cantankerous he is these days –  there is Curt Swan, Marv Wolfman (who helped add a script to the four lost Swan pages unearthed an presented here), Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway, to name but a few of the creators who have been intrinsically associated with the Big Boy Scout over the years. And, as such, it brings a certain sense of legacy and gravitas to this enjoyable, optimistically-toned issue. Which is somewhat missing in Superman #400, now I think of it, with it’s focus more on including all killers and no fillers in the talent department.

Names such as Steranko (who provides the 70’s variant cover for this), Frank Miller and Moebius and Jack Kirby all provided art for that issue. While there was no room for Swan then, I am so glad they were able to include the man who’s Superman was known to a whole generation of fans, including myself as a little kid discovering the dying days of spinner racks, which held a cornucopia of comics to choose from. Hey, I’m not knocking the Superman #400 issue – I mean, just look at the talent that was included on this odyssey through time – but Action Comics #1000 was far more of a nostalgic look back than Superman #400. Or, maybe I’m showing my age.

And while there are far too many strips for me to comment on them all individually, I will focus on some to give you a taste of what you’re in store for should you be picking up your copy this weekend.

Starting with the one I felt most closely linked to the aforementioned Superman #400, and that was the Peter J Tomasi scripted strip, ‘Never-ending Battle‘, which uses the somewhat hokey concept of Hypertime (something of a ‘get out of jail free’ card/reset button kinda narrative device for me) to offer use a set of full page pin-ups, essentially, that allows artist, Patrick Gleason, to look back at the 8 decades of Superman in his various interpretations.

From the man who could leap one eighth of a mile and looked far more like a circus strongman, to the Superman of Kingdom Come, we witness Superman in a series of vignettes and moments from his amazing and long-winding history. And, just as he was a man of his era back then – fighting off the exploitative bourgeoisie during the desperate days of the Great Depression as the world’s first Socialist superhero (sorry, America, but he was!) – so too is he a man of all season to this day, too. It reminded me very much of the travel through time narrative in Superman #400, but in the case of Action Comics #1000, looking at the past and the present, with some nods to the future, too.

Superman has been a shining example throughout his time and will continue to teach us, to show us, what we can be ourselves. He is, also, a great example of what immigration can bring to a country. And, at a time when immigration is being questioned by the more right-wing in society, Superman shows that we are far, far more enriched by the inclusion of new ideas, cultures and beliefs.

The whole story-arc of Superman #400 was a trip through time and what Superman meant to the generations to come. One can easily forget why superheroes became so popular at that time. The dark, depressive economy and impending war was a catalyst that sparked a revolution in American comics, and Superman not only led the charge but as a shining example. As we have been told many times since, whenever a universal threat appears and only Superman can take it down.

And, as I look around me at a world still gripped in an economic depression, there seems to be no end to, and those goddamn bourgeoise (nowadays better known as the more on-trend ‘One Percenters’) exploit not only our labour, but our very privacy, there has never been a better time for the ethical example that is Superman. Truth and Justice, and the other one.

Add to this such touching stories as the Depression era set, ‘The Car‘ by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner (y’know, Superman The Movie?) and the future, end-of-time, ‘Of Tomorrow‘ by Tom King and Clay Mann, and you have an issue that is, in tone and focus, a good comparison to my previously favourite anniversary issue of all time. That’s right. My previously favourite anniversary issue. I think this one may very well have pipped it to the post. Congrats, Superman. You’ve still got it, and you’re still leading the way in comics, even today.

As for the he cherry on the Birthday cake? ‘Mr DC’ himself, José Luis García-López, coming out of retirement and illustrating one of the more wacky and wonderful strips, written by Paul Dini, ‘Actionland‘, in which we enter the bizarre Superman theme park created by… well, go get your own copy if you want to know. You may find the odd issue out there still, I imagine. Needless to say, as well as this being a celebration of Superman, it’s also a celebration of his diverse and, oft-times, simply daft, but loveable, villains.

All in all, Action Comics #1000 is everything I’d hoped it to be, with a reverential look back at Kal-el’s past while looking to the future too. Whether that be the inclusion of current leading stars like Scott Synder (with one of the best Superman/Luthor meet-ups ever!) or a taster of Bendis’ own run, this is an issue that reminds us all – and anyone keen to simply pick up this single issue because of its importance –  of what Superman really means at his very core. It’s not the heat vision, the super strength or his ability to fly, but his deep rooted moral core and the time he takes to get to know you whenever and wherever you can. A morality we should all still strive to emulate, I think. And we do. We all have a little bit of Superman in us, I’d like to think.

Here’s to you, Clark, and to the next chapter in your story. You can keep your moody, brooding Batman. For me, Superman has always been #1. Or, should that be #1000?

Up, up and away!

%d bloggers like this: