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Action Comics #1000 [Review]

action_comics_1000From the City That Has Everything

Writer/Artist: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Norm Rapmund
Color: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

This is the “primary” story of the issue–a sort of stand-alone “finale” to Jurgens-and-Co.’s run the last couple of years and 45-some issue run. We open on a narration/captions of Jon Kent and Lois talking, against imagery of Superman battling a Khund warship. Jon’s worried his Dad won’t get here in time, as Lois reassures him he’ll be here. As Clark arrives, Lois reminds him that people just want to thank him. We see that they’re at a Thank You, Superman presentation in the park–Metropolis has gathered to try to offer thanks to Superman, though knowing they can’t begin to cover it. Amidst various testimonials of how Superman has impacted and saved folks, Clark keeps thinking he sees further traces of a Khund invasion…perhaps just looking for an excuse to get away from this presentation. Eventually, the crowd gets to see Superman fly into action, as Clark can’t ignore his senses. He finds Wonder Woman, who reveals that there was indeed a major Khund incursion…but it’s been handled. By everyone. Even his fellow heroes are fans, and thank Superman for his role in everything. Without him, none of them would likely be there.

On its surface, this is a rather cheesy story of little substance. There’s some presentation to honor Superman, and he’s avoiding it. Then, alllll the other heroes are there as well, because they wish to honor him, too.

Neat and simple, right? Evocative of classic Silver Age stories (to me), and not terribly deep.

But back to “on its surface.”

See, this is the 1,000th issue of Action Comics. 80 years of Superman. This is a major event, a one-issue spectacular. An anthology of sorts with numerous shorter stories making up the whole. It’s a standalone issue, something that draws from and can influence other stuff, but it’s not truly coming off any To Be Continued… message. It’s (as an issue) not leading directly into anything. It’s expected that this will be read where the previous few issues, or dozens of issues, or even hundreds of issues, have not been read.

There’s loads of “meta” to this–as a story, and as part of the issue.

This Superman–Dan Jurgens‘ Superman–comes from a take on the character where Clark Kent is the man, and Superman is a “mask.” This Superman is Clark Kent…who does what’s right because it is right–not to show off, not for accolades and recognition–and is actually rather uncomfortable being the center of attention. And we get to see that…as we get to see a bit of Lois’ personality. She teases him for trying to get out of the ceremony, but we come to see that she’s the one that spearheaded the gathering of the heroes, and helped coordinate with Batman and the others to “cover for” Superman, so that he could have this day, this event. We also see Jon, the son, both AS the Son of Superman and as a kid. Not fully understanding everything going on, loving his dad but not sure if he’ll make it, and an eagerness to stand in for him, recognizing the importance of the situation and wanting to live up to the family tradition.

I knew going in that Norm Rapmund was involved with the art…and I was loving the art all through the story. There was something extra familiar about it, though, that had a slight smile trying to escape me as I read it, but I couldn’t quite place it. Until I looked consciously at the credits for the story and realized why the art seemed that much more familiar and was evoking such a reaction in me: Jurgens on the pencils. Of course! Regardless of conscious realization in words, on sight I had recognized the (somehow UNexpected) presence of work by probably my favorite Superman artist!

Superman reluctantly accepts the recognition…somewhat awkwardly. The final spread with all the heroes and fans and such…metatextually, real-world…without Superman, there probably would NOT have been any of these other heroes. Certainly nowhere near as many, and probably not even a comics industry.

This story is a send-off of sorts from Jurgens–capping off his run, as well as recognizing and thanking Superman.

And for one such as me–a 30-year-fan of Superman, introduced to him when I was but 7 years old–this is a powerful piece, meaningful and deep, and moving…and if one has to put a one-off story as a capstone to a run, that stands alone and evokes the past, has elements from the run, but isn’t beholden to it and all that…this does it well, and is a worthy opening to Action Comics #1000!

action_comics_1000_variants_30sNever-Ending Battle

Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Patrick Gleason
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: Tom Napolitano

This story opens with a rather hellish, red-tinged image of Vandal Savage having Superman engulfed in some sort of red energy and alien machinery. The narration is Superman, speaking to Lois, apologizing for being sidetracked on the way home–he’s late. Basically, Savage tried to blend Superman with the past, trapping him and leaving the future open for him (Savage) to rule without Superman’s interference. So we get a bunch of pages evoking some key eras in Superman’s history, as we know it in the real-world; but in-continuity the character himself acknowledges that despite the familiarity, he knew it was impossible to have been there in the 1930s, for example. These are all full-page images with the “voiceover” going along with them…not necessarily tied exactly to the image whose page the words are on, but particularly for those familiar with the history of the character and the stories/eras being referenced, the words take on additional (and deeper) meaning than they might otherwise. And the story ends with a shot of Superman standing at a table with a lotta candles (one can assume there are probably around 1,000 of ’em!), Lois and Jon on either side, a “Happy Birthday” sign strung up behind, and even Krypto in the foreground, as we celebrate Superman’s 80th birthday, and the 1,000th issue of Action Comics.

Normally I would not care for this sort of story. Had this been a 15-page sequence in an otherwise-20-paged issue of something (especially if at a $3.99 price point) I would be disappointed and annoyed. Even as one of the longest stories within this issue, it’s still a “mere” 15 pages, and as such, even this sequence is a relatively small portion of the entire issue. As a “short story” in this “anthology” issue of numerous creators…it works quite well. We have a basic story–Superman faces a villain, is flung throughout time, makes it home safe. This reminds me of other stories I’ve read, and feels rather familiar, like it’s a sort of “trope” at this point–where you can have a numerous-issue “event” of a character being thrown through time, or it can be just a casual backdrop “referenced” but not really the point of a story.

Here, this does both: it’s a sort of casual-ish “reference” thing…but the pages as we go through show Superman through the decades–Gleason‘s imagery evoking the general “style” and depiction of Superman through the decades. One page reminds me loosely of the Superman vs. Superboy issue from early in the Byrne era; the next is a familiar image from Miller‘s Dark Knight Returns (and signed by the artist after Frank Miller). There’s a page with the black-costumed, long-haired Superman fighting Mongul, with Steel and Superboy in the background, in reference to the Death and Return of Superman…Reign of the Supermen. There’s a page with a version of Zod, the pointy-crystal Fortress of Solitude in the background, and a Superman trapped in the pane of glass version of the Phantom Zone. There’s even a page showing the Kingdom Come Superman facing Magog, a mushroom cloud in the background with several of the other heroes. And there’s a page showing the New 52 Superman breaking through a wall, shifting to the black-costume, bearded Superman of JurgensLois and Clark, shifting into the Rebirth costume, into the Reborn costume, punching Savage out.

This is an appropriate celebration of Superman, of how (ultimately) he easily overcomes situations, fights through whatever is thrown at him, and that Tomasi puts as Superman’s words: “Each and every time stream, in the end, led home…to my family.”

Tomasi and Gleason being the primary creatives the last couple years on the named Superman title that has run alongside JurgensAction Comics, this is a highly-appropriate story to cap off that run, to share in this issue, and to celebrate and acknowledge the rich history of the character. I often find I’m not overly thrilled with Gleason‘s art–just a personal issue due to comparing it so often to art I prefer–but here, particularly for the time-tossed pages, it shines excellently.

An Enemy Within

Script: Marv Wolfman
Art: Curt Swan
Inks: Butch Guice, Kurt Schaffenberger
Color & Production Assist: Hi-Fi
Letters: Rob Leigh

I appreciate the history of Wolfman with the Superman character, as well as the very fabric of the history of DC Comics in-continuity and out; ditto the importance of Curt Swan as one of THE Superman artists. That said…I did not really care much for this story.

Basically, we have narration from Superman as he’s halfway across the world dealing with a Brainiac threat, while we’re shown a hostage situation involving a principal and one of his students. From the narration, we get that the principal is being mind-controlled by Brainiac, and that Superman is facing the villain…but that action all happens off-panel, concluding with a single image of Superman, that may be recycled from a previous publication. The story is simple, has potential, but for me, personally–especially stacked against the Jurgens and Tomasi stories in this issue, and against numerous episodes of Law and Order: SVU I’ve been watching the last few weeks, it just doesn’t really hold up in a way I particularly care for.

It’s not a horrible story, and the art is solid in and of itself…I respect the inclusion here, but other than the “inclusion” aspect, I just don’t really care for this one.

action_comics_1000_variants_blankThe Game

Storytellers: Paul Levitz & Neal Adams
Colors: Hi-Fi
Letters: Dave Sharpe

This is an interesting, short piece, where Superman shows up to the roof of Lexcorp Tower, and he and Lex talk over a game of Chess…and I’m reminded strongly of the Xavier/Magneto imagery from the Fox X-Men films. Luthor springs a trap of animated Kryptonite chains that wrap around Superman…before the hero straightens, flexes, and bursts the chains with an orange background obviously reminiscent of the Kryptonite Nevermore! from the original Superman #233. Superman reveals that he’s got a Mother Box with him that temporarily prevented the Kryptonite radiation

This is another short piece that I don’t particularly care for. I like the concept well enough, and it reminds me (as said) of the Xavier/Magneto stuff…and the more I think on it, I realize there’s also a bit of that Batman/Joker meeting from The Killing Joke in here, too.

Adams is another whose work I appreciate, whose place in comics history I appreciate…but I just can’t get into his Superman art. I didn’t stick with The Coming of the Supermen, I didn’t care for an Action Comics variant I had from some “Neal Adams Month,” and his Superman in general looks rather “off” to me here.

As this is “only” a 5-page story, though, it’s not horrible; but I might have liked a prose version a bit better, as I dig the story much, much more than I do the art.

action_comics_1000_variants_40sThe Car

Story: Geoff Johns & Richard Donner
Artist: Olivier Coipel
Colors: Alejandro Sanchez
Special thanks to: Matt Wilson
Letters: Nick Napolitano

This is an interesting story that seems to be set in the ’30s; the color palette and general art style certainly gives it a rustic, “period piece” look that fits very well with the story being told. A busted-up car is brought into a shop, and when the mechanic tries to get its story from the owner, the tale is a little bit “out there”–all this damage caused by one man? One man lifted it and smashed it against some rocks, apparently. We then move to the owner–Butch–noticing a colorful figure…that of the “man” who smashed his car. Superman chats with him, showing compassion and having come to “understand” more of Butch’s “side” of things, and leaving him with the notion that even having made mistakes, one can choose to make their life count for something, choose to make something of themselves, better the lives of others rather than doing harm.

I’m sure I would have realized pretty quickly that this is a sort of “sequel” to a big part of Action Comics #1; but this benefited SO beautifully from my having just re-read the Superman story from that first issue, and being probably THE freshest-in-mind Superman story for me prior to this 1000th issue.

This Superman feels very much like the “modern” Superman, though; less of the rough ‘n tough version from that first appearance. But it works, and makes for an interesting piece overall. Especially when one considers just how heinous Butch’s crime was–kidnapping a woman for rejecting him…and one could likely predict at least a couple likely outcomes of such action.

I haven’t cared a lot about the Johns/Donner stuff–particularly the Last Son of Krypton, and Escape from Bizarro World stories, even as those are (now) a good dozen years in the past. I didn’t care for them at the time as part of a seemingly-overly-overt rewriting of Superman away from the version I’d grown up on and back to more of a Silver/Bronze Age version. But this single story, I liked; the modern art showing the classic original Superman, with the feel of the contemporary Superman…and this being both a continuation/sequel and yet even if one doesn’t know or connect that context, it works very well as a singular, one-off bit…

And of the “shorts” in this issue, I think this is one of my favorites.

action_comics_1000_variants_50sThe Fifth Season

Script: Scott Snyder
Art: Rafael Albuquerque
Color: Dave McCaig
Letters: Tom Napolitano

I’m not quite sure what to make of this piece. In a way, I think something to it is “over my head,” perhaps..in a way that I definitely do NOT care for in my comics.

Superman arrives at the Smallville planetarium to find Lex Luthor, who has found the “Eye of Xotar” and Chronos’ “Time Scissors”–that together can be used to literally erase any genealogical line from history. Given this is Luthor…obviously, that’d be Superman’s line, the House of El. As the two muse over their shared past, and the present situation, we see a flashback to Luthor’s early days in Smallville, where we also see that a potentially fatal accident that could have killed Luthor was prevented by a young Clark Kent–Superman as a boy. We also get a bit about a “fifth season,” between Winter and Spring, when the weather can be wildly unpredictable…which seems to be a statement of the story itself. Luthor intended to wipe Superman from history, but maybe discovered that it was Superman that had saved him, and so opted not to.

This isn’t a horrible story, but as said, something about it just feels like it might be over my head, needing extra consideration, disproportionate to its size in relation to the rest of this issue. The art also isn’t horrible, but not really to my liking. On the last page particularly, I don’t care for the depiction of the “S” shield…its top and bottom seem way too thin compared to the middle, especially compared to the “standard” licensed version I’m used to, that I tend to hold mentally as the “standard” to which the various takes on the “S” are compared.

This also plays on Luthor and Superman having known each other as kids–something that was NOT part of the story I grew up on, and so I’m a bit biased against it. Still, knowing that and seeing what’s being gone for here in a way, I’m ok with the story, but won’t single it out as a favorite or such.

Then there’s the narration in the background speaking to the idea of Sol, our sun, eventually expanding: “…and eventually, the sun will eat our Mercury…and then Venus…and then Earth. And then, our time…ends.”

Which seems almost intentionally to lead into the next piece:

action_comics_1000_variants_60sOf Tomorrow

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann
Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire
Letterer: John Workman

Superman kneels, scooping up some coal from the ground and squeezing it into diamond. He stands and we see blazing fire all around, amidst his speaking. It’s been BILLIONS of years, and Earth is finally about to be swallowed up by the red giant Sol has become; no matter that Superman had apparently pushed the entire planet of Earth out of its orbit, it still finds itself being consumed. And Superman speaks to his long-dead parents–Jonathan and Martha Kent–as he says goodbye for the final time. He’s got to let go–of them, and of Earth itself. After five BILLION years. Somehow, Superman, and Lois, and Jon, have been essentially immortal, thanks to (apparently) an “Eternity Formula.” He speaks of them, as he forms the diamond into a specific shape. He tells his parents “I miss you. I love you. Every day. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. It’s still every day.” And as the planet burns up and wee see the grave plate reading:

KENT
JONATHAN & MARTHA
BELOVED PARENTS & GRANDPARENTS
YOU GAVE US HOPE

Superman leaves with the words “We’re all stardust fallen. And so we look to the sky. And we wait to be reclaimed. Good-bye, Ma. Good-bye, Pa. And thank you. For everything.”

This is an odd sort of story. While we can consider that the ongoing story of Superman is not one that’s gonna end anytime soon; while we’ve had stories of Superman surviving into the far future–thousands, even millions of years…to consider that he’d live another five BILLION years seems a bit out there for me. It changes the character. It’s best not to dwell on.

The point is: to the end of the Earth–literally–Superman has been shaped by his parents. He’s continued to live. He’s lived his life. He’s gone on–but that doesn’t mean that he’s forgotten. The love of his parents–his adoptive parents, the REAL parents he actually knew–they molded him into who he became, and that’s NOT something that changed with time. Their brief moment with him lasted through time, a huge legacy, outlasting the planet itself.

But on a smaller level, this speaks in an abstract sort of way to anyone who has ever lost loved ones. Wondering at the futility of visiting a grave, of speaking to those gone before, and I’d say to how even a year can feel like a lifetime, several years like countless lifetimes, when separated from the loved ones.

And on a “meta” level, Superman has outlived this planet, outlived all those lives…as he outlived his creators, and has and likely will outlive so many others.

On the literal level, this reminds me of an old story of an ancient Supreme or Mr. Majestic (I believe written by Alan Moore) (edit: yeah, I’m pretty sure that was Wildstorm Spotlight: Mr. Majestic #1: a story called The Big Chill.) recalling a world he once spent time on…he thinks its name had begun with ‘E’.

On the general level, that abstract level…this just speaks to the heart and I got choked up contemplating loss to come and what that’ll mean to me personally; and teared up considering losses I’ve already experienced. In a way, this had no reason to hit me like it did; yet, this is its own deeply personal, powerful piece…certainly worthy of being a Superman story, and well worth its inclusion in this issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_70sFive Minutes

Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Colors: Dave McCaig
Letters: Carlos M. Mangual

This is another 5-page “short.” Clark is trying to finish a story, with Perry and Jimmy standing by, noting they’re 5 minutes to deadline, with Printing already giving hell for holding the presses. Even as Clark points out he’s nearly done, he’s hearing cries of distress, and jumps from his seat to go into action, while Perry tells him he has five minutes. Superman stops a runaway train; saves Bibbo; stops space debris from crashing to Earth, and still makes it back to the Planet to finish his story. But turns out in being so focused on that, he didn’t even consider the impact he just had, saving numerous people, maybe much of Earth…that the story he WAS working on is nothing compared to the story of Superman’s recent super-feats.

This is a neat piece, and as with others in this issue of Action, not one I’d care much for as an entire issue, but as a “backup,” as a piece included in this issue, I really like it. And with Louise Simonson writing and Ordway on art, it’s one that’s hard to beat, having such positive memories of both creators’ work in the ’90s on my early Superman comics.

And the idea of Clark Kent, Reporter, working, having to deal with stuff as Superman and still make his deadline is not new, but it works well here…and the fantastic art just makes it a beauty to behold.

I enjoyed this for that, and its relative timelessness.

action_comics_1000_variants_80sActionland!

Script: Paul Dini
Pencils: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez
Inks: Kevin Nowlan
Colors: Trish Mulvihill
Letters: Josh Reed

What would a big, giant Superman comic be without Mr. Mxyzptlk? This is a short story showing an amusement park take on Superman and his history, where visitors get to “ride” in a replica of the ship that bore baby Kal-El away from Krypton; lift a tractor like little Clark in Kansas, witness Superman performing super-feats, view other heroes that served with Superman, as well as villains that were fought, and then the way things ended, with Superman… sacrificing himself…giving his life…the ending? The scene we’ve been seeing is a reality of sorts from Mxy, who just can’t quite figure out how he’d like to see the story of Superman end, even though he himself has the power to blink him out of existence with hardly a thought.

I think my initial thought–that it’s “fitting” to have Mxy get a story in something like this–comes from the Newstime special after the death of Superman, where there was some throw-away piece referencing the character, sort of explaining his showing up during all that, and yet not having an actual issue til well after the return.

Story-wise, I’m not overly enamored. It’s a solid enough piece with an interesting premise. Structurally, not a bad story. I think I’ve just kinda felt put-off to Mxy stuff after Superman: Reborn and being reminded of stuff from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? recently. It has its merits–a glimpse at parts of Superman’s origins; shows us Mxy himself and reminds us he’s around and his powers, and that he can be “just” an imp messing with Superman without wanting to truly destroy him. I just didn’t singularly like this story that much.

Art-wise, this is solid, and though Dini has plenty of pedigree himself, having a new Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez story is quite appealing on principle. I can’t say I’d recognize the art on sight, but knowing Garcia-Lopez has significant association with Superman, this certainly deserves its place in the issue!

action_comics_1000_variants_90sFaster Than a Speeding Bullet

Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: John Casaday
Colors: Laura Martin
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos

This was an interesting story, touching on elements that I don’t often think of with Superman stories. A gunman with a hostage prepares to pull the trigger…while from a significant distance, Superman’s flying as fast as he can to the scene. We get Superman’s inner thoughts as he zips toward the gunman, even as he pulls the trigger and the bullet begins to move, as Superman does the math and everything remaining as-is, knows he will not make it in time. Yet, it turns out while he was focused on the gunman, the hostage was shifting, which bought the extra fraction of a second Superman needed to get there, and he saves her. He compliments her on her bravery, that she could be Police, and flies off.

The story here does a good job with building tension as Superman tries to get to the scene. All too often we have the imagery and stories of Superman getting somewhere JUST in the nick of time to bounce bullets off his chest, or pluck them from mid-air, mid-movement before they strike their intended target…but we rarely get something from his point of view, where even he might realize he will be a fraction of a second too late. We get a positive ending here, though, as the woman–Lila–shifts to resist her attacker and Superman is able to save her.

I was not expecting a Meltzer piece, but he’s another name that I feel certainly deserves his place and involvement with the issue…if not for prior Superman work, then for his real-world involvement with stuff–helping bring attention to the Siegel house, helping bring about the Superman display at the Cleveland airport, and other involvement with folks preserving the history of Siegel and Shuster and all that.

The art isn’t bad…and actually, is quite good–overall. There’s just something to the way Casaday does Superman’s face that seems really “off” to me. It looks like someone else’s face, a stranger’s face, is pasted onto a body with “a” Superman costume. Where some artists’ Superman is recognizable just by the face, I wouldn’t be able to look at the faces in this story and just form those know this was Superman.

For another “short,” I can’t really complain beyond that about this one!

action_comics_1000_variants_2000s“The Truth”

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Pencils: Jim Lee
Inks: Scott Williams
Colors: Alex Sinclair
Letters: Cory Petit

Outside of the number, I’m sure this story is one reason for a lot of people to pick up this issue: it offers a prologue to a prologue to a mini-series that itself will lead into the ongoing story in the continuation of this title and rebooted-numbering fifth-volume of Superman. This piece kicks off Bendis‘ work on Superman…and does so with a beaten, bloodied Superman crashing through what looks like a cave wall, and on zooming out, we see a couple more hits as he smashes through the ceiling and out the side of the L-shaped Lexcorp tower, and then hits a road so hard he bounces a few times, destroying pavement, vehicles, and storefronts. Bystanders of course whip out cellphones to take photos/video of the fallen hero, while they try to drag Superman behind a counter. They comment on him wearing “the red shorts” again (rather than the cosmetic change being just there). Some giant creature with a huge battle axe is after him, and after taking a huge punch and repeated jabs from the just-arrived Supergirl, hits her once, taking her outta the fight (sending her flying toward the huge globe of the Daily Planet). Maggie Sawyer and the SCU shows up, though their weapons do nothing to the creature. There’s more discussion from further bystanders of him having “the shorts” again, and the creature continues to get the best of Superman, continuing to physically beat the crap out of him (so to speak), and a simple energy-blast wave-of-the-hand takes a just-returning Supergirl back out of the fight. Transforming the handle of the axe into a sword, he seems to plunge it with a splash into Superman’s chest, as he claims to be wiping out remaining Kryptonians, finishing the job he started when he destroyed Krypton.

Once upon a time, Jim Lee was just about my favorite Superman artist–perhaps behind or tied with Jurgens and Ed Benes. But here, I just don’t care for the art. I’m sure part of it is the coloring…this seems “dark” and “grim and gritty” especially compared to the rest of the issue, and feels out of place visually with the rest of the issue.

Ditto on the story side–this beating, this violence and Superman just being pummeled and beaten and such, and Supergirl coming off as completely ineffective as well–is sickening after so many happier, brighter, celebratory bits.

Sure, this is a new villain, but we don’t even get the name here. We just get nothing but fight. Superman himself points out he hasn’t gotten a name, and the villain accuses him of stalling, rather than giving his name. And sure, on one hand, it would be old-style, stereotypical monologuing or such to just give a name at that point…typically, the villain would be depicted in a large panel with a logo-style word balloon declaring his “cool”-sounding name and such, so instead he calls Superman out for stalling, and on a technical level, I guess this is good to get away from the typical.

I don’t like that we’re thrown into the middle of a fight like this, that we end on a cliffhanger, when the entire rest of this issue has been self-contained one-off stories and whatnot.

Surely we could have started on a brighter note, seen a bit of a different status quo or perspective maybe hinting at this villain’s coming or some such. I don’t know–but based solely on this 12-page piece, I’m not looking forward to the upcoming Man of Steel mini, and I’m suddenly quite concerned about what to expect from Bendis‘ run, where until now I’ve been content to “wait and see” and been fairly optimistic. I suppose I’ll now have to “wait and see” what we get in the DC Nation #0 issue and go from there.

I guess it’s appropriate enough in its way to launch Bendis‘ run with this issue…and yet despite assurances to the contrary, the part of me that suspects his “coming” heralded the end of Jurgens‘ and Tomasi‘s runs feels like they should have had more pages to play with in this issue, and Bendis could launch with DC Nation or The Man of Steel (after all, the last time, one creator (Alan Moore) ended the previous Superman, and it was the interstitial mini-series Man of Steel where Byrne‘s stuff started.

This is 12 pages of what’s likely a multi-year, dozens-of-issues run by one writer, so ultimately may not be indicative of what to expect on the whole and long-term…but for just these pages, and to come after such positive stories for the other 60+ pages…this just seems out of place and inappropriate for something as celebratory as a 1,000th issue…especially seeing nothing but Superman take a beatdown outta nowhere.

Overall Thoughts on the Issue As a Whole

I’ve looked forward to this issue for a long time. In some ways, I’ve probably looked forward to it for nearly 30 years, ever since the first issue I ever owned of the title (#651). At the least, I’m sure I wondered at a comic making it to #1,000 during the Doomsday! and Funeral for a Friend stuff, and the years following, as Adventures of Superman hit #500, Action hit #700, Superman (vol. 2) hit #100, and so on. I certainly wondered about it seven years ago when DC announced what came to be The New 52, that every single title including Action Comics and Detective Comics would be restarted with a #1. Though I still feel that Action making it to #1,000 technically needs an asterisk denoting the 1-52 sequence (there are no issues numbered 905-956) from the New 52 run. But I give DC a “pass” on that, as it was only one “hiccup” in the numbering. Given cover dress, paper condition, and literally the pricing should anyone actually find a copy of the original issues 1-52, one just needs to add 904 to the issue number to know what the issue is in that sense. There have not been numerous iterations where multiple hundreds of issues here, a hundred issues there, another several dozen issues, a mini-series, and a couple of less-than-20-issues runs suddenly add up to a big number. Number-wise, there’s virtually no reasonable confusion.

When Rebirth was announced, when it was announced that Action Comics and Detective Comics would get their original numbering back, and that Action Comics (especially) would indeed get to make it to #1,000, I jumped back in. And all these issues and almost two years later, here we are. I feel like this issue is a sort of reward, an attained destination, a prize that’s been driven toward since Action Comics #957 back in 2016.

A few months ago, there was some definite ambiguity as to formatting and such for the issue and what to expect for the issue. Part of me thinks this should have been even bigger, included even more–both in the way of original stories as well as reprints. But the companion hardback collection Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman handles a lot of that–with essays and reprints of stories both for characters and creators tied to Superman, and Action Comics itself. I was also a bit curious about what the issue’s story would be, or if it would be an anthology/”jam” issue.

Back in the 1990s there were periodic special issues such as The Wedding Album that were key, integral chapters in the ongoing Superman story unfolding in the actual, ongoing titles; though this would be an actual numbered issue, I’d wondered if this would have any singular through-story that just happened to have a bunch of different artists and maybe some narrative structure allowing for different writers to leave a mark on the story.

Obviously what we got was 15-page chunks of the two main creative teams of the ongoing titles, and then 8 more stories/contributions, and a 12-page launch sequence from the new writer coming onto stuff.

As with my excitement for Rebirth and Action Comics #957, I bought this digitally, and I bought this in-print, and I’ll gladly buy the hardcover edition that I believe will be out this Fall. I also ordered the “Decades Variants” through DCBS, and will be getting the 1,000 covers poster, which will be an excellent, appropriate addition to my comics space.

This is an issue that rightly deserves the “celebration” that variants offer. There are artists who may not otherwise have had involvement with the issue, who get to be associated with Action Comics #1000 if only with a variant. And as the first American comic book to make it to #1000…it’s more than worthy. 80 years of continuous publication of a comic titled Action Comics is nothing to sneeze at. I’m among the first to complain and gripe and grouse about variants, and will continue to, where they merely cheapen stuff and are “abused” (really, does a #17 or a #81 or a #962 truly deserve a variant? What makes such numbers special if they’re just another issue?) But this 1,000th issue deserves the added recognition, the “fun” of certain variants…especially what I’ve seen of the “Decades” variants, that bring back the logo style and even the DC logo of each decade…the DC Bullet I grew up on is back with several of the issues, and even the “swoosh” logo gets some love with the 2000s variant.

$7.99 for a single issue is a bit much in most cases. This is squarebound and has 81 story pages with no ads between stories nor interrupting any stories, and the cover is a stronger cardstock…so this is absolutely worth its price for the physical product as well as the content it contains.

None of the stories seem to specifically continue from anything; nothing I’m aware of comes off of a To Be Continued; and other than the Bendis segment leading into stuff out of/after this issue, that’s still 69 or so pages that stand alone quite well, neither requiring previous reading nor requiring subsequent reading. This is well worth getting just for itself; a 1,000th issue; a standalone, celebratory Superman issue. Perhaps it’s an endpoint; maybe it can be a starting point; it’s definitely an excellent one-off, special thing.

I highly recommend this to any Superman fan or anyone interested in checking out some Superman content, period, and especially if you don’t want to commit to anything ongoing or long-form.

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Ninjak (2015) #1 [Review]

ninjak(2015)001Book 1; The Lost Files

Writer: Matt Kindt
Art: Clay Mann, Seth Mann, Butch Guice
Colors: Ulises Arreola
Letters: Dave Sharpe
Cover Art: Lewis Larosa, Clay Mann, Brian Reber, Dave Johnson, Marguerite Sauvage, Trevor Hairsine, Tom Muller
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Entertainment
Cover Price: $3.99
Cover Date: March 2015

I can honestly say that while looking forward to the debut of this series, I hadn’t really noticed its release was quite so imminent until the morning it was due out. Once I did, I found myself REALLY looking forward to getting it and sitting down to read the thing.

The cover is a bit of a mixed bag. The image is rather cool, showing off the title character and his toughness–both swords drawn, angry face, and arrows sticking out from all over…obviously he’s not some ordinary man that can be stopped with even a hail of arrows and shuriken. I dig the solid coloring to the cover text, company logo, and title…it looks good with the image, complementing it while standing out clearly and avoiding any trouble being made out against its background. However, outside of the UPC box it looks to me more like an ad than actual ads for the issue have! The advertised image that most stood out to me had the standard Valiant trade dress and the title logo at the top. At the size presented on this cover there’s no real reason I see to not have it at the top. If it were significantly larger it’d make sense to move it down to avoid covering most of Ninjak’s head/face. So while I applaud the image and the cover text coloring/use individually, it looks like a draft rather than a final piece.

For the $3.99 cover price we’re given a 22-page main story as well as an 8-page backup. This was a real treat to get the extra content withOUT losing pages from the main story…and certainly adds content value to the issue. There’s also a several-page “preview” of Bloodshot Reborn that–with the backup–makes this a fairly thick issue that physically feels a lot more worthwhile than most $3.99 comics.

The main story flips back and forth between Ninjak present-day and his past, allowing for some nice compare/contrast and insight into who he is now and where he comes from. It’s rather cinematic, which I both appreciate and enjoy here. I’m not particularly invested in the character as yet, only knowing him from a couple issues I’ve read of the ’90s incarnation and his appearances in other contemporary Valiant titles the last couple years. As such, I’m interested in learning more about Ninjak and the man behind the costume…which is something we get plenty of here. We see him on his own, in his element as he takes on a particular mission…and we see glimpses of his past which lets us see more depth of character than we could reasonably get seeing only the present. The split nature of showing present and past allows us this new story with the character, an “in” to his past, while avoiding our being forced as readers to endure simply a solo adventure or simply some prequel-esque/Year One type story.

Buried within the story itself is a little gem that made me grin and think to myself “of COURSE! That is GREAT!” In the back of my head, I’ve always wondered at the name Ninjak. Where’d it come from, why would this secret agent/spy/ninja call himself that? (Other than the fact that it’s definitely a product of the early 1990s). Being paid from a “black slush fund,” several previous ninjas were labeled A through J…Colin is the 11th: Ninja-K.

The backup IS fully set in the past, providing an uninterrupted narrative of one of Colin’s first missions. While I’d likely balk if the main story were shorter to allow for the backup, as (functionally) bonus content it’s a welcome addition, allowing even further insight into where Ninjak’s come from.

I definitely prefer Mann‘s art in the main story to Guice‘s art on the backup. Guice‘s art is gritty, moody, and works very well in what it does, and definitely fits its story. Mann‘s work is a bit cleaner and has the benefit of consistency with recent-past appearances of Ninjak. The coloring of both stories also has an impact with the main story being a lot brighter and thus fitting more into the superhero mold while the backup is darker and more fitting as a spy story.

Whether you’ve followed this incarnation of Ninjak from X-O Manowar #4 back in 2012 or simply remember the character from the ’90s (or just want a ninja-“superhero” adventure) this is a great first issue. You’re introduced to the character–where he is now as well as where he’s come from.  We see some extension to the cast around him with hints on where this’ll go. We’re set up for the story that’s unfolding while getting a decent chunk of it here…by no means a full story, but enough to work with and get a feel for things. If you’re starting here, it works as-is…and if you’re familiar with the current Valiant universe and continuity there’s added depth to be found..

Valiant takes a character that’s been around most of its history and for the past several years in its current run, and truly rewards us with an excellent first issue…from Kindt‘s writing, Mann and Guice‘s art, and the entire creative team. It’s just that cover that bugs me, from the design standpoint. Highly recommended!


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X-O Manowar (2012) #5 – the first appearance of Ninjak in contemporary Valiant comics.

Ninjak #1 cover ad and what I’d expected of the standard cover.

X-O Manowar #34 [Review]

xomanowar0034Dead Hand part 1: To the Last

Writer: Robert Venditti
Penciler: Diego Bernard
Inker: Ryan Winn
Colorist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
Cover Artists: Lewis Larosa, Jorge Molina, Das Pastoras, Butch Guice
Associate Editor: Tom Brennan
Editor: Warren Simons
Published by: Valiant Comics
Cover Date: March 2015
Cover Price: $3.99

This issue is fairly distinct as the first “overlay” cover I’m aware of from this incarnation of Valiant. In addition to the “regular” cover, we have another piece covering half the front and all of the back of the issue, providing the same house-ad in color on the back (but nothing on the interior) and half the image of the front (in black-and-white with nothing on the interior side). The overlay includes the arc designation Dead Hand and story chapter (1), while the main/actual cover itself underneath is entirely in color with no arc designation or anything to indicate a new or specific arc.

Compared to prior issues where the “A” cover was outright MISSING half the image as a “variant”/”interlocking” sequence of covers for a single issues, I’ll gladly take this. I don’t really “get” the need for the overlay–the arc title doesn’t cover much and fits the title logo and simply looks like a comic cover. I’ll also accept this as an alternative to having a “black and white variant cover” and a “color variant cover” or some “virgin art” variant cover. Seeing this process done infuriates me all the more on the matter of variant covers.

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That said, the cover isn’t bad but doesn’t really stand out to me other than the presence of the overlay.

I like the story quite well, and caught myself contemplating that I’m pretty sure Venditti has been on this book for 35-some issues now (including the #0 issue) which in this day and age is a significant run despite barely being 3 years. While I’ve had previous issues that I didn’t totally “follow” consciously, this one felt nicely rooted in a general continuity–I’ve read since #1; I read the Planet Death arc a couple years ago I read last year’s Armor Hunters stuff; and so this flows nicely out of everything that’s developed so far. I enjoyed seeing Aric return to Loam (and that I recognized the planet’s name) and felt like the Vine (aka “spider aliens”) could be sympathetic characters if only generically. I also quite liked Aric’s sense of responsibility toward ’em.

The art for the issue is solid, and while nothing stood out to me as singularly spectacular or such, it’s really good and fits the story quite well. The design of this issue’s Armor Hunters (with their armors) have a cool look to them and made me think of an “X-O Manowar Corps” in a sense.

This is clearly the opening chapter of an arc, as it basically “just” introduces stuff for the main part of the whole: we see Aric with his people as he prepares to leave; we’re introduced to what I believe are previously-unknown Armor Hunters; we’re introduced to Dead Hand; we see Loam and its reception for Aric; and we’re left on the cusp of a significant event for Loam and Aric as the issue ends. Though a reader would certainly enjoy this most as an in-context story, there’s just enough introductory stuff that I’d say this would be a good jumping-in point for someone to give the book a shot. Unfortunately, this IS “just” an opening chapter of a larger arc so that lends its own aspect to the book in general: there’s NOT a “full story” just in this single issue, which does promote the advantage of waiting for a collected volume to get an entire story in one book.

Whatever complaints I’ve had on variant covers, or my general complaint toward the $3.99 price point, this is a solid issue, and fresh off from reading it, it’s a nice validation of my enjoyment of the series as a whole. As the premiere and presently longest-running Valiant title, if you aren’t checking it out issue by issue, it’s at least well worth checking out in collected edition format. Significant as the Armor Hunters saga was, Dead Hand looks to be extremely significant for Aric and his supporting cast of characters minus additional issues outside of X-O Manowar itself to follow. Very much recommended!

Ruse #1 [Review]


Full review posted to cxPulp.com
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Story: 4/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

Captain America: Reborn #6 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Leters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Designer: Rian Hughes
Covers: Hitch and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin; Joe Quesada, Danny Miki and Richard Isanove
Assoc. Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort

Before I read a single page of this issue, I was impressed by a stark difference I’m entirely unused to. This issue–at least, for the version of the cover that I bought, keeping with the visual style of the covers I’ve chosen since issue #1–sports not only a wrap-around cover, but a gatefold as well. That is, we have a 3-“panel” cover that folds out to the width of 3 comic covers, as a single, large image. Meanwhile, the latest Justice League of America issue from DC features HALF of a two-panel image as each of two different editions of the same exact issue. I dislike variants, but have a much easier time tolerating them when each is at least its own complete image. And the “build-an-image” motif where covers connect to form a larger image is cool, so long as it is multiple different issues–whether consecutive issues of a series/mini-series, or of a crossover/story arc.

Picking up where the previous issue left off, this issue finds Steve Rogers in his Captain America uniform, his body in control of the Red Skull’s consciousness, ready to murder his old partner Bucky, now the current Captain America. Meanwhile, a number of friends/allies fight for not only the rescue of Steve but also of those who have become entwined with the Red Skull and his machinations. Steve battles for control of his body, and unsurprisingly (especially given the title of this series) Steve wins out, the Skull is dispatched, and Steve is left–stable and no longer being bounced throughout his own history–in the present, to deal with a world in which he’s been absent and missed the Secret Invasion and most of Osborne’s Dark Reign.

The art on this book is high quality stuff. While it’s not perfect or anything, It really brings a lot to the story, enhancing the story and never particularly distracting from the reading experience. There are a couple of “iconic” full-page shots that were a little distracting as a result (in a good way, though). Despite the distraction–of noting the enormity of the moments depicted–they were a couple of my favorite moments of the entire issue. One shows Steve and Bucky rushing into battle side-by-side…two Captain Americas existing side-by-side. The other is Steve leaping into the fray, shield raised, the sunlight glinting off it, as many of the characters realize that THEIR Captain America is back.

While I tend to enjoy Brubaker‘s writing, this issue seemed so anticlimactic as to lack any real enjoyment for me. The enjoyment I found was in the art, in those images mentioned above. It doesn’t help that there wasn’t much to “wonder” about in this series. The title itself gave away the ending: Captain America would be reborn…and as we’d pretty much JUST wrapped up an 18-month mega-arc introducing a NEW Captain America into things (Bucky’s transformation from enemy agent to Shield-bearer)…it was pretty darned obvious. This issue in particular was spoiled by the fact that its first “epilogue” shipped some 4-5 weeks ago. Why that couldn’t have simply been held is beyond me–but it gave us an issue of Steve obviously back, obviously no longer bouncing through time, obviously alive, and Bucky alive as well. All that was left was the exact, specific details as to how things would wrap up.

If you’ve been following the series so far, it’s worthwhile to snag this issue to wrap up and such. Otherwise, wait for the collected edition–which will HOPEFULLY contain not only this 6-issue mini, but BOTH epilogues: Who Will Wield the Shield? and Who Will Not Wield the Shield?

Story: 5/10
Art: 8/10
Overall: 6.5/10

Captain America: Reborn #4 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers: Hitch, Guice and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin, Joe Kubert and Laura Martin
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer and Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

I’m not 100% certain I bought/read issue 3 of this, offhand. Even if I not only read issue 3 but also reviewed it, I don’t at present recall issue 3. Despite that, it’s almost an irrelevant point as this issue finds Cap still bouncing through time, the Skull and crew still getting things assembled, and Cap’s allies still playing catch-up.

Skull and crew arrive in Latveria at invitation of Doctor Doom. Doom fixes their time device, while Cap’s allies are finding out what happened with Sharon and how she–and her blod–hold the key to what’s going on with Cap.

As Doom’s device is activated, things come to a bit of a head as a body is present, though all may not be quite as promising as it appears.

The art’s easily the best part of this story. Hitch draws a great Doctor Doom, and I found myself enjoying the visuals even as the story sped through its own pages. Brubaker’s done a great job overall with the Captain America saga. This series seems just a bit much, though, and something feels a bit “off” from what I enjoyed in reading the first omnibus and the 1.5-year saga following up on Steve’s death and Bucky’s installation as the new Cap.

If you’re specifically a fan of Brubaker’s work you’ll probably enjoy this; ditto if you’re a fan of Hitch’s art. If you’ve been following this mini thus far, probably worth finishing out the story. Otherwise, you’re probably just as well holding off for a collected volume.

Plus, with a collected volume…you won’t have two different titles for the same story (three, if we count the fact that this essentially IS the Captain America title right now, outright replacing the main title for its duration).

Story: 5.5
Art: 9
Overall: 7

Captain America: Reborn #2 [Review]

By: Ed Brubaker, Bryan Hitch and Butch Guice
Colors: Paul Mounts
Letters: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Covers: Hitch, Guice and Mounts; John Cassaday and Laura Martin, Tim Sale and Dave Stewart
Assoc. Editor: Jeanine Schaefer and Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Well, I’m glad I picked the cover I did for the first issue…it seems that that was indeed the “standard” cover, meaning if I follow through with this entire series, I won’t be left feeling like one of my covers is out-of-place with the others.

I continue to be baffled as to why this couldn’t just be issue #602 of Captain America (or better yet, #53 or whatever without the renumbering). After all, while we have a different artist in Hitch on the visuals, the story is still Brubaker’s, and honestly looks and feels like any other issue of Captain America. If it’s about the chance at a #1 in the face of combining all previous runs to make the fat ol’ #600…then surely part of the trade dress for this story could have displayed a “part #1” or “part #2” while having the actual issue number in small print.

As said…this story is very much a Brubaker issue of Captain America. Amidst some Lost-styled time-hop scenes of Stever Rogers reliving scenes of his earliest days as Captain America (and his transformation from scrawny kid TO Captain America) we learn a little bit about the time-flashing that likely foreshadows something significant for later in the story. We also see the present as the current Captain America–formerly Bucky–and the Black Widow face Norman Osborne’s “evil” (or is that “dark?”) Avengers and see that Norman’s now got a stake in things as he issues an ultimatum to act as the issue’s cliffhanger.

It seems almost a given to me that Brubaker’s writing is high quality and in top form here–whatever “event” this is billed as, and whatever elements may or may not have been “forced,” he makes the story work in and of itself in its own sandbox that we’ve seen since his run started…while incorporating obvious and relevant elements from the larger Marvel Universe as a whole.

Hitch and Guice provide excellent visuals that capture the tone of the story very well. Though the art may not match up 100% with what the bulk of the Cap series has had, it certainly fits very well with it…having its own style without being a departure from what longer-time readers are likely familiar with. In itself, no complaints from me on the art.

Taken as a whole, this issue was pretty good. I was actually intending NOT to buy this issue due to the price tag and figuring on waiting for the collected edition if anything–but with Marvel’s pricing of late, it’s probably cheaper this way, and I have the feeling this pulled-out-into-itself mini-series will greatly inform whether or not I return to the monthly Cap book this fall.

If Cap’s your thing, this is well recommended. Otherwise…you would probably be more satisfied waiting for a complete arc to read.

Story: 7/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 7/10

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