By (in order of appearance) Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Hi-Fi, Rob Leigh, Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Alejandro Sanchez, Tom Napolitano, John Romita Jr., Danny Miki, Peter Steigerawald, Marv Wolfman, Curt Swan, Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger, Geoff Johns, Richard Donner, Oliver Coipel, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, Dave McCaig. Tom King, Clay Mann, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Carlos M. Mangual, Paul Dini, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Kevin Nowlan, Trish Mulvihill, Josh Reed, Walter Simonson, Brennan Wagner, Brad Meltzer, John Cassaday, Laura Martin, Chris Eliopoulos, Jorge Jimenez, Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Lee, Scott Williams, Alex Sinclair, and Cory Petit
Covers by Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair, Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons, Angus Mckie, Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Jim Steranko, Laura Martin, Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, and Lee Bermejo
About 15 years ago when I started working at a comic store, I had a conversation with a former co-worker: “What do you think Action Comics #1000 is going to be like?” As the pragmatist between the two of us, my co-worker couldn’t be bothered to think about something that far off. “That’s something like 20 years out,” he told me, “how can you even be thinking about something that far away, if Action Comics even makes it that far?” I refused to yield my youthful dreams to those terms. It had to be an 80-page giant or bigger, filled with plenty of reprints, a who’s who of legendary creators paying tribute to the Man of Steel; it would be the superhero comic to end all superhero comics. As I slowly built my collection of every main Superman title over that decade and a half, the milestone drawing closer every month, I frequently revisited that burning question. After all that waiting, with the book finally in my hands, I found myself with a significant dilemma. How do I evaluate the finished product against such an extensive period of anticipation?
While preparing for this review, I decided to take a couple of steps to ensure my reading experience was as special as possible. First, despite having early access, both by the graces of All-Comic’s sovereign webmaster, and by virtue of checking in new shipments every Tuesday night, I chose to forsake those opportunities in favor of the full Wednesday new comic day vibe. Second, I opted to apply something introduced to me by my cousin called the Encounter Principle: the idea that first impressions with the cover of a comic alone are as important for the overall reading adventure. (Full disclosure, I did get a chance to peek at all the covers when I checked them in on Tuesday night, but I did my best to re-experience each cover during my Wednesday pickup.) The goal of these to objectives was to strike a balance between what I wanted Action Comics #1000 to be, and what it actually is. Without burying the lede any further, here’s the result.
It’s an amazing feeling when a group of creators, across a wide variety of styles and approaches, come together to show love and admiration for Superman as a symbol, as a representative for hope and fun in comics. From the selection of covers, down to each individual story, the total escapade of Action #1000 is pure fun, an element of superhero comics often overlooked or ignored in a post Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen world. As a celebration of Superman’s legacy, the way every component comes together to unify this magical comic is breathtaking.
From the encounter side, the variety of available covers starts the process. Each showcases the energy and momentum from each era of Superman’s history, from the 1930s through the 2000s, all the way to the standard Jim Lee cover representing Superman from here and now. On top of artists paying homage to each decade, DC ensured all covers maintained consistent design structures representative of when they appeared. Choosing one cover from the bunch was the first hurdle to jump since each and every era cover is perfection. Although DC attempted this same feat with Superman Unchained, the era covers were not only used as order incentives, but as a marketing tactic encouraging retailers to order big on a comic with big name creators. Although Action #1000 has the same level of all-star talent (I’d argue even better talent), every cover was available on an as-you-like ordering basis. Tied to a milestone issue for one of the most recognizable comic characters of all time, the formula may be the same, but the effect is quite different.
Because I grew up reading Superman stories from the 1960s, the Michael Allred cover was the obvious choice for me. It serves as an embodiment of the wacky sci-fi attitude offered up during the heyday of the Silver Age. All the divisions, harkening back to an annual or 80-page giant celebration, is a flood of emotion, joy, and memories. Old friends from stories I haven’t read in ages are reborn, and while poring over minute details it’s difficult not to have flashbacks of panels and pages I thought I had forgotten. Before opening the comic itself, the encounter permeates my curiosity, priming me for what’s to come inside. The rush of excitement from simply looking at a comic on the stand is something reserved for back issue hunting, finding that treasured gap in a collection bringing it one step closer to complete. A new comic producing that same kind of reaction once at the jaded comic fan stage is almost unthinkable. This selection of covers affords the same kind of connection for Superman fans of any generation, that same flurry of excitement and suspense awaiting comic readers of any age ready to dive into the latest Superman adventure. From the cover alone, it’s not just another comic on the shelf, it’s a beacon; the inescapable force of the encounter.
After the encounter response subsides, the entire 80 pages still linger. Collectively, these stories explore the virtuous array of what makes Superman great: friendship, family, loyalty, believing in humanity, and more. I suppose my responsibility for reviewing this comic includes a focused examination of at least a couple of the nine stories found within. I can’t in good conscience fulfill that obligation. As each story begins, creators new and old infuse a kind of pure admiration into a character who has stimulated the imagination of fans for 80 years. It isn’t a process of simply making something for fans to cherish, it’s one of digging deep to share what Superman means to those behind the scenes.
As one story ends and another begins, they feel like movements in a symphony. Slowly building up to a crescendo, the pages turn, the music trickles to a soft decrescendo, until the echo of a final sustained note fades into profound silence. On a surface level, these stories seem like throwaway tributes found in an annual or special. But each serves a purpose much deeper than that. Superman getting a moment to feel special in a world sometimes without hope; that family and love are as important as heroics; that sometimes people need a chance to see the good within to change; that even mortal enemies can find common ground and friendship. It’s easy to dismiss the Man of Steel like an invincible boy scout, a boring character lacking darkness and therefore depth. Stories like these showcase why Superman is a necessary component of comic storytelling, that our heroes can stand for the absolute best aspects of humanity and still be compelling.
While I do have grievances, they seem meaningless compared to the impact of the encounter and experience. Sure there’s no reprints, but a week before this issue came out DC released a sort of bonus track companion book loaded with 350 plus pages of quality material. And if you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the Bendis story, it’s a few preview pages for an upcoming release, and very out of place. There it is. Beyond that, Action Comics #1000 is an expedition through the absolute best of what Superman has to offer. Now it’s time for a reread.