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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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Doomsday Clock #1 [Review]

doomsday_clock_0001_supermanThat Annihilated Place

Writer: Geoff Johns
Illustrator: Gary Frank
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Gary Frank & Brad Anderson (Lenticular based on existing art by Dave Gibbons)
Associate Editor: Amedeo Turturro
Editor: Brian Cunningham
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 2018
Cover Price: $4.99 ($5.99 Lenticular variant)

It’s been a long time, offhand, since I read a comic quite so dense as Doomsday Clock #1. And I use the word dense as a good thing overall–in this age of $4.99 comics that hardly take any longer to read than a $3.99 or $2.99 comic, where everything is written to flow seamlessly as a 4 or 5 or 6-issue "graphic novel," it’s great to have a comic that just wants to be a single issue.

I was rather frustrated to learn that the image I’ve seen MOST USED in association with this issue (the Gary Frank Superman cover pictured above) is actually a VARIANT and not the "main" cover. The main cover seems to be a generic "The End is Here" cover (that leads into the issue itself as the classic Watchmen covers did!). In keeping with my usual, though, wanting the cover I’ve most seen advertised and such with an issue, I managed to get the Superman cover. Of course, then I saw a lenticular variant, one I had probably heard of/read about, but not paid attention to (again: VARIANT)…but it being lenticular, and "cover price" (albeit $1 more than the standard issue to account for the lenticular-ness) and me really getting a kick outta the design–Rorschach’s face goes from just the blobs to the symbols of "the trinity" (Superman/Batman/Woder Woman), I went ahead and got that one as well. It’s certainly no worse than having bought a Marvel lenticular, where the lenticulars were entirely different images from their "regular" covers.

I don’t know what I expected from this issue. Being that it’s an obvious follow-up to Watchmen, and apparently integrating those characters into DCU canon (if not continuity, then perhaps affecting continuity from the outside), and seems to have been "timed" to release at the 25th anniversary of Superman’s death (real-world, that is–November 17-20ish 1992), and stuff previewed or "leaked" online indicated an in-issue reference to that date…I had extremely high expectations for this issue. It’s honestly been a long time since I feel like I actually was taken in by "the hype," usually seeing the hype entirely for what it is and maybe "choosing" to "give in," say, on actually getting a variant cover, or actually getting an issue of something I don’t normally get, or diving into an event I’d intended to stay away from. Here, it’s more of an emotional hype…one that left me feeling rather let down.

As said above–this is a dense story–one that would take a long time to really summarize, and for my own reading experience, get well beyond the initial reading I tend to do for reviews. Essentially, we meet a new Rorschach, who is piecing stuff together, much as the original did, starting out the original series. We get glimpses of this current world–late 1992, about seven years after the original’s 1985 setting, as we meet various characters and are re-exposed to older/originals. We also learn that Ozymandias has a sort of countdown clock of his own going this time, but in a much different way than before. Finally, the last several pages give us a glimpse into a non-Watchmen DCU, and an extremely familiar-looking take on the Kents…which makes sense, given Frank was the artist on Superman: Secret Origin, that laid out a particular vision for the characters.

While this has a lot as a single issue, and certainly many layers with stuff that’d be picked up after a second or third or FIFTH reading, still more to be picked up on STUDYING the art beyond the words, and even more on top of that to be noticed after subsequent issues come out and shed more light on stuff…on my single-read-through I hit the end and thought "Wait…that’s IT?" and was starkly reminded of similar disappointment with Grant Morrison‘s Final Crisis.

This is not a "casual" issue, apparently. Picking it up and reading it "cold," even if you’ve read Watchmen, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to it. It’s a first issue, and world-building or re-world-building. It’s surely a strong foundation on which the rest of the issues will draw. But for me, in just picking it up, after all the months of hype, I just did not enjoy it or get much out of it. And I’m steeped in comics history, especially DC, and even more specifically Superman.

Visually, it’s a very good issue–I’m quite a fan of Gary Frank. I felt like there was a lot that was recognizable and familiar here, despite Frank not being Gibbons, and outside of not seeing a Superman costume or a Batman costume or a Wonder Woman costume–really, it felt like there was virtually nothing actually DC in this issue–I felt like this was set in the world I recalled from reading the original Watchmen all those years ago. There’s also a LOT crammed into this issue: it seems to me that the lowest panel-count on any given story-page was five…which is a far cry from the all-too-often-used "cheats" of full or DOUBLE-page splashes with barely a word to go with the art. I welcome the "grid" layouts of the pages, the actual panels and "traditional" gutters–both for squeezing in more content as well as mimicking the style of the original.

Basically, this seems like a really slow start to something, and that it was vastly overhyped, as well as being quite "confusing" as far as the covers go–once again, a major problem with doing variants AT ALL. The $4.99 cover price is rather steep, even with 30 pages of story (if a 20-page issue is $2.99, another 50% would be only $4.50!) but I suppose it’s a bit offset by some of DC‘s issues being $3.99 (the 1-per-month books) so this actually fits that rate.

I wanted more–I wanted something brighter and splashier out the gate than what I got here–but I’m still looking forward to the next issue, looking forward to see how things build, though I suspect this will be a far more impressive story in larger chunks or as a whole rather than as a single-issue-at-a-time monthly (or less-frequent) journey.

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From the Archives: Superman #650

superman0650Up, Up, and Away! (part 1)

Writers: Kurt Busiek & Geoff Johns
Artist: Pete Woods
Colorist: Brad Anderson
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Associate Editor: Nachie Castro
Editor: Matt Idelson
Cover Artists: Terry & Rachel Dodson
Cover Colorist: Alex Sinclair
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

It’s been a year since Superman apparently disappeared, and the fine folks of Metropolis have moved on, though many take an evening to revisit the past, watching a retrospective on the life and times of their favorite son. Among the spectators are Lois Lane and Clark Kent, who discuss the authenticity of the retrospective with a couple different viewpoints. Shortly after, other familiar elements of the Superman story are reintroduced–Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Perry White. A familiar "villain" is introduced here as well–one that may be familiar to older readers, but I’m not sure this character has appeared in the Superman comics since the mid-80s reboot. As this villain is attended to, we as readers are clued into at least part of why Superman has been absent for a year.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this issue. I’ve been concerned at the idea of "my" Superman–that is, the character (re)introduced in Byrne‘s Man of Steel mini-series–being shuffled off to the side in favor of yet another/different reimagining of the character. While this is only the first of an 8-parter that re-establishes the character post-Infinite Crisis, the writing team of Busiek & Johns has assuaged some of my concerns as several aspects that have defined the character and supporting cast for the last 18+ years are re-established here. However, there seem to be a number of minor or subtle shifts that distance things from the past, settling the characters very much in a sort of "timeless" present.

Busiek wrote my favorite Superman story in 2004’s Superman: Secret Identity. Johns on the other hand has written some other very compelling stories that I have really enjoyed over the past several years (including pulling me into following The Flash for 30 issues after never previously caring for the character). That said, both writers have a lot to live up to in my eyes, and for the moment, I’ll cautiously advance the idea that yes, they have lived up to those high standards.

The writing here is clear and definitely gets across the idea first of the broad strokes of Superman’s history that just about anyone will be vaguely familiar with (whether you know the character solely from last month’s issues, the Christopher Reeve films, Smallville, Lois & Clark, a parent/grand-parent’s stack of older comics, or just picking up on elements from years of the character’s suffusion of popular culture. If this is the first-ever comic starring Superman that you’ve read, you’ve got yourself a good starting point. If you’ve been following these comics for 20 years, you’ve got a good read that revalidates the character for the present, showing that both the old and newer elements can come together in a single well-written manner that gives us a story of Superman.

Offhand, I am unfamiliar with Pete Woods‘ art, but this issue makes for a good introduction. Everything seems nice and clear/clean–reading along with the story, the art shows exactly what is going on and pretty much just does it’s job of enhancing the written word to contribute to the overall look and feel of the issue. The art’s not perfect–but very little is. The main quibble I have is the depiction of the S-shield; it comes across a bit too "shiney" or metallic for my own tastes.

However–whether in Woods‘ art itself or the coloring (or both)–this issue somehow has a "brighter" feel to it than a lot of recent DC issues–by design or not, this lends itself to this being an upbeat, bright start to a new "generation" of Superman.
I very much recommend this issue, whether you are a new, old, or an on-the-fence reader.

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From the Archives: Adventures of Superman #648

adventures_of_superman_0648Look…Up In The Sky

Summary: Lois Lane reports on the destruction of Bludhaven and the response of the super-heroes.
By: Lois Lane
Photos by: Jimmy Olsen, Karl Kerschl and Renato Guedes
Additional Reporting by: Greg Rucka, Nunzio DeFilipis, Christina Weir and Jami Bernard
Graphic Design by: Richard & Tanya Horie
Copy Design: Rob Leigh
Editors: Eddie Berganza and Jeanine Schaefer
Editor in Chief: Perry White
Cover Art: Karl Kerschl, colors by Dave McCaig
Publisher: DC Comics

[ This review originally written for and published at comiXtreme/cxPulp some time back while the issue was new–within the first days to a week that the issue was available for sale. ]

This issue is another logoed Infinite Crisis crossover issue. This is where we get the immediate response/fallout to the destruction wrought by Chemo in Infinite Crisis # 4. Rather than dialogue and seeing "inside" the heroes’ reactions to that event, we get it from the perspective of some citizen of the DCU reading reporter Lois Lane’s article covering the heroes’ response as she observed it.

This makes for an interesting perspective, if not entirely original. The "narration" is simply Lois’ story, which provides the only words found in the otherwise "silent" issue. One moment that stands out to me offhand is a full-page panel of Green Lantern amidst the wreckage, obviously deeply pained over the event. I believe this would be apparent even without Lois’ observation.

My initial reaction to this being where the plot thread gets immediately dealt with was surprise–given that many characters have "signature cities" that are often as much a character as any humanoid supporting cast member. Shouldn’t this be dealt with in another book? Except of course, Superman being Superman is obviously going to help. And given that Superman’s so powerful (here, the specific focus is on his invulnerability), it’s not like the character’s going to stand by and let others die just to maintain some "image" or such.

The style of this issue remind me of the Superman issue (# 79, I believe) that was told in this same way, except it was Ron Troupe’s story scattered in the otherwise silent issue which showed the Cyborg Superman stopping an attempt in the White House on the president’s life, and that president’s endorsement of the Cyborg as the "real" Superman. Given the destruction the characters rally to face, I’m also reminded of the "Black Cover Spider-Man Issue" (Amazing Spider-Man v.2 # 36, I believe).
Getting the story simultaneously after-the-fact (Lois’ words) and as it unfolds (the visuals) works pretty well–and for the most part might be the only way to truly cram so much into one issue. If there was dialogue with us seeing/hearing the characters talking to each other and coordinating and whatnot, this issue would have be be double, triple, or even quadruple-sized.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that there are four people listed for the writing–three beyond regular writer Greg Rucka. I can give the benefit of the doubt on it to the writing style and giving voice to Lois’ writing, as journalistic writing is not quite the same entity as character-writing and may be more collaborative.
Visually, there’s a fair amount of blank-space on these pages, as the images are pretty much contained to panels, and those panels’ layout tends to somewhat resemble photos placed on a fixed-size page. Though the art is not by a single person, it works for me here.

I found myself reading the text, using the visuals almost as an abstract, seeing them but not diving in deeply. Letting the visuals enhance what I was reading.
No real complaints with the art–it’s not perfect by any means, and this issue continues a trend of having "extras" credited, assumably to get an issue out exactly on-time (given what it covers, this issue pretty much had to be out right after Infinite Crisis # 4. Same week, and someone reading this issue spoils a major part of that issue; two weeks after, and it’s old news compared to books that also touch on the ramifications.

Other than describing how some of the mess is specifically cleaned up quickly (which might be mentioned in other books–I don’t know), this issue doesn’t strike me as essential reading. It will enhance one’s reading of the overall Infinite Crisis event, though. The issue doesn’t even have to be a Superman one–this could almost have been labeled "The Daily Planet – The Day After Infinite Crisis # 4" and been a "special" or "supplement" issue.

My initial reaction to the issue was that it wasn’t all that good, but it is actually quite well done, and serves its purpose as a followup to one of the more catastrophic events in the DCU.

Action Comics #976 [Review]

action_comics_0976Superman: Reborn Part 2

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, Trevor Scott
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Patrick Gleason & John Kalisz
Associate Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Special Thanks To: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Late May 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

[ SPOILER WARNING! This issue WILL BE SPOILED below… ]

I suppose I shouldn’t be entirely surprised, yet I still managed to be: after three issues building toward something HUGE…this felt very anti-climactic. Rather than coming off as "organic," to me–at least on this initial read-through–it came off as rather forced and after-the-fact than an organic, planned development.

[ I really will be spoiling this below, so consider this your final warning…spoilers after this line are preceded by plenty of SPOILER WARNING to absolve me of feeling guilty for discussing the issue in detail plainly. ]

We open on Mxy going off on Superman…or at least A Superman. In Mxy’s pocket-existence where Jon’s being held, A Superman and Lois have arrived. Jon recognizes them…they fail to recognize him. While Mxy revels in the chaos, even taunting this Superman, Jon realizes with horror that the woman he believes to be his mother doesn’t even remember him. While two spheres of blue energy approach Jon, Mxy opts to leave, warning of someone far beyond even himself as the cause of everything. That he–Mxy–was merely taking advantage of a situation already present. Channeling power from the blue ‘ghosts’, Jon manages to oppose Mxy, who offers him one last chance to leave this existence. Jon refuses, and Mxy leaves. As the reality crumbles, the blue energy merges with the New 52 Superman and Lois, restoring their memories of Jon and their lives together…and all reality re-knits, merging what we knew from pre-Flashpoint and the New 52 into one continuity, with Superman simply…Superman. But married to Lois, and with their son–Jon–as Superboy. Somewhere else, Mr. Oz looks on and marvels at the situation, at the love shared between Lois, Clark, and Jon, and how it unites realities. And finally, a hint that there’s someone–and/or someTHING–else out there still influencing things.

I feel like this was telegraphed a mile off, so to speak. New 52 Superman and the "real" Superman would merge, their realities fused/merged into one, to simply BE Superman, supposedly no more "divide" and smooth over stuff.

It doesn’t really work for me, as far as the in-story stuff goes. I could even have probably "bought" the notion of Mxy re-setting stuff somehow, though usually his machinations are undone when he disappears. Just continuing to merely "hint" at something else out there is getting old, and I’m ready to just be TO whatever ‘event’ that will be, and get beyond it. To just have A single DC Universe, even if it’s actually a multiverse, and either the New 52 completely wiped away or officially merged and just have a set UNIVERSE that is what it is and get on with stuff.

Visually, parts of this issue were quite "off" for my preferences, but not bad. I really like the "new costume" for Superman, essentially being the classic costume minus the trunks, and a modified (solid) belt (instead of the dots of red thing that’s been going on awhile). We seemed to have pre-Flashpoint Lois and Clark turned into energy and merged with the New 52 versions…but then a sort of switch up with the new costume, and it seems that Jon’s been given additional power (I had it in my head that he couldn’t fly, and he seems to be, here).

This resolution and issue as a whole seems to be an attempt to bring stuff together and "unify" fans of either Superman by making it so that both are one and the same–that New 52 Superman was always part of THE Superman, and the pre-Flashpoint Superman we had from Convergence, Superman: Lois and Clark, and the past ten months of Rebirth was not himself whole, but is now, with the merging of the new. This combined with stuff from last November’s Superman Annual would seem to have stuff in line for that, to firmly establish Superman is Superman and now whole, PERIOD.

I guess time will tell.

There’s still plenty of dancing around the fine details…even with the double-pager showing stuff from "both" continuities, it’s hard to tell–for me, at least–exactly what’s what, or supposed to be what–and what’s just looking different because of the artist’s rendition.

While I’ll grant that the "new costume" deserved its full-page "reveal" and the double-page spread of the "new history" deserved the room, I’m also a bit disappointed at how quick a read this was.

My feelings on this issue are certainly victim to the "hype machine," and to wanting to see some overt reference to Superman Red/Superman Blue, to SOMEthing more with the notion, at least, of Red and Blue, and some overt explaining of things. Instead, a lot seems to have been left to the visuals, to whatever the reader wants to interpret. Maybe it’s stuff to be explored in coming issues–but to consider this a conclusion seems to understate things, and though I certainly appreciate NOT having stories stretched out, I think Superman Reborn certainly deserves to be at least another chapter or two, to really lay things out and concretely state what’s what and when and all that.

Superman Reborn started strong, with a lot of epic possibility and potential. Sadly, it–at least for me–ends far short of what I’d hoped for, underwhelming me despite itself. I trust that stuff will play out in coming weeks and months, with further details and ramifications touched on…and hopefully this mainly just means that we’re NOT locked into "the graphic novel" of exactly X issues to a story with hard stop/starts. Perhaps this is just a "main event" and the full details WILL be revealed here and there–organically–as things continue.

I had to go to two different shops to find a copy of this issue, and got the last copy at the second shop…so I’m pretty sure that a number of people have been grabbing this issue even if they hadn’t been getting previous issues. Perhaps the nostalgia, more likely the hype–particularly from sites like Bleeding Cool–and jumping on for whatever this one issue would hold, regardless of continuity. Story-wise, art-wise, it’s a solid enough issue (note my feelings of its failings above) well worth getting if you’re already following either/both titles or this particular story.

But it’s not worth the "hype," at least on one read-through and thinking on it. That said, I won’t be surprised to have my feelings on it changed by further thought, analysis, and points of view…this post simply being my initial thoughts/reaction to the issue on a single read-through.

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Action Comics #975 [Review]

action_comics_0975Superman: Reborn Part 2

Pencils: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Cover: Patrick Gleason & John Kalisz
Associate Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Special Thanks To: Peter J. Tomasi & Patrick Gleason
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: Early May 2017
Cover Price: $3.99

[ SPOILER WARNING! This issue WILL BE SPOILED below…even the Second Feature’s title may give it away! ]

While this issue’s cover did not grab me the way Superman #18’s cover did last week, it had its own way to stand out, in the form of the large S-shield on blue as the main background, and the shadowed Clark Kent tugging his shirt open to reveal the classic "bleeding-S" first used with 1992’s Doomsday! / The Death of Superman. I didn’t even consciously notice until later that the title’s logo–Action Comics–was done as a white outline, virtually disappearing with the rest of the cover standing as itself. The green bar on the left seemed a contrast to last week’s issue…but when I held the issues together, they fit together perfectly, pretty much as I’d expected (except I’d figured chapters 1 & 2 would be top-left/top-right with chapters 3 & 4 as bottom-left/bottom right, respectively rather than top-left/bottom-left so far).

And these are–to best of my knowledge–STANDARD covers, the NON-variant covers, just being covers in and of themselves, no fancy tricks, no bags or accessories or foil or die-cut cardstock or 3-D lenticular/hologram stuff.

Just a 38-story-page issue (one 20-page lead story and an 18-page companion piece) for only $1 more…making an EXTRA-SIZED anniversary issue cost…the same as a 20-page Marvel comic.

Since virtually the beginning of Rebirth, the "human Clark Kent" has been a mystery. Things took a turn toward the creepy with the character lately as it became particularly obvious there was something "off" about the character, beyond our not knowing him any better than characters in the comics. The "slow burn" of that "subplot"–a through line in the books for most of a year–finally comes out in this issue as we learn the identity of the mysterious doppelganger.

After Jon disappeared, Superman and Lois go immediately to "the Other Clark"’s apartment seeking their son. Jon’s nowhere to be found…but the couple meet Clark and "our" Clark finally realizes who they’re facing. Though the figure is revealed…we get a few pages of shape-shifting with Superman glimpsing a number of prominent figures in his rogues gallery. Ultimately, a new threat arises, as we’re left on a cliffhanger for the next chapter exactly at the staples of the issue.

[ SPOILERS TO FOLLOW! ]

I generally–and this time is not an exception–find it interesting when I find myself guilty of something a main character is accused of. In this case, I did not see this coming, though in retrospect, I should have. I think I "got" it right before the first of the splash pages featuring other villains, as things all clicked into place, making sense across the months in a believable way that I really dig…though the particulars still have some shaking out to be done.

Mr. Mxyzptlk is our "Mystery Clark," having used his powers on HIMSELF, even, to complete the act–forgetting himself who he was and truly believing himself to be the genuine article. However, the imp is highly cheesed-off at being "forgotten" by Superman…an accusation I realized immediately I’d been guilty of myself…being unable to remember the last time I read a "new" story with the character! As punishment, Mxy will have Lois and Clark forget Jon even exists, though they won’t forget Mxy!

Art-wise, I have mixed feelings on this first half of the issue. The visuals are quite good, and I mostly like ’em…there’s just something slightly off, that I’m apparently not used to…or not consciously, anyway. Mahnke‘s style is very good, but some of the faces–particularly the villain splash-pages–seemed a bit off, and it’s definitely unsettling to see Mxy in this way…reminding me slightly of the character’s tone in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? without going quite that "sharp" and such.

Story-wise, this seemed way too short a segment, with a good quarter of the issue being a villains-show-off (#975, anniversary issue, lets see a bunch of best-known Superman villains!) and not really much plot advancement to the Reborn story other than actually pulling off "the mask" so we could see who’d be the antagonist of the rest of the story, or so it seems.

This is made up for by the Second Feature.

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The Man in the Purple Hat

Writer: Paul Dini
Artist: Ian Churchill
Colorist: Mike Atiyeh
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Assoc. Editor: Paul Kaminski
Editor: Mike Cotton
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza

Mr. Mxyzptlk has Jon Kent as his prisoner. We learn that Clark had told Jon stories of him when he was younger…though Mxy was simply "The Man in the Purple Hat" or to Jon, "Ruppletat." Mxy reveals what he’s been up to for years–having been captured, held, and tortured by Mr. Oz, keeping him "off the table" while Oz’s plan for Superman has unfurled. Mxy had contented himself initially with the sincere hope that Superman would be along to save him within days (when Mxy wouldn’t show up at Day 90, surely Supes would check into why the imp hadn’t reappeared for the traditional every-90-days challenge!) Time passed and no one ever showed up to rescue him…so he had to escape on his own. Once he did, he saw a way to kill two birds with one stone: hide himself from Mr. Oz while helping his buddy Superman in the process, but putting the "Secret Identity" back in the bag. Mxy had to mind-wipe himself to complete this…and was none too happy when he redisovered his own secret…and now he’ll have his revenge utilizing Jon to get at Clark.

I’m pretty sure it’s Churchill‘s art in this segment that put Mahnke‘s art in the first to seeming less thrilling to me. Churchill’s work here is great, with one of the best renditions of Jon Kent I can think of, and a sort of detail to Mr. Mxyzptlk that’s going to make other artists’ take look weak by comparison.

Story-wise, I love that Dini gives us a clear, reasonable explanation for Mxy’s actions and motivation, and this single story’s impact drives back to last May and retroactively adds to those previous issues! This gives us a spotlight on both Jon and moreso, Mr. Mxyzptlk and bridges the gap between whatever his last appearance was and now, while setting him up as an extra-scary antagonist. This is a strong complementary piece to the main story…expanding and contextualizing without having to me its own separate ISSUE or chapter, which will presumably make the "core" chapters that much tighter a story in the end.

We even get some breaking of the "fourth wall" without breaking continuity…and actually suggesting the rich DC multiverse all the more in a way that totally fits Mxy’s character, and allows readers a smile and "a-ha!" in recognizing other ways in which Mxy has appeared over the years.

This is an "anniversary" issue…that is, attention is on the issue’s NUMBER: #975. The round 75, marking off 25 issues since the 950th (which was still part of the New 52 Action Comics #s 0-52 numbering hiccup)…and 25 to go until the big #1000 mark next year.

While a new reader could certainly wade in and likely follow the story a bit…this issue as a whole is like a gift to the readers who’ve been following stuff for awhile, and is certainly a huge treat for me, paying off some ten months of stuff and doing so not only to mere satisfaction but in a way that leaves me eager to continue with the story! It makes sense to me, is believable within my conscious following of stuff, and does not let me down. The "villain pages" in the first story are a bit disappointing as those pages go way too quickly for me just trying to read the story…but they’re a sort of "special" thing for an anniversary issue, and aren’t the cop-out they’d have been if this was not an extra-sized issue.

Action Comics #975 is well worth its price simply for number of story pages, and is a great payoff to months of story-build while keeping things going for whatever’s coming as Superman: Reborn continues.

Super Sons #1 [Review]

super_sons_0001When I Grow Up… part one

Story and Words: Peter J. Tomasi
Artist: Jorge Jimenez
Colorist: Alejandro Sanchez
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Cover: Jimenez and Sanchez
Associate Editor: Paul Kaminski
Group Editor: Eddie Berganza
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: April 2017
Cover Price: $2.99

I’ve been looking forward to this title for quite some time…for a number of reasons. One being the fondness with which I recall reading some of the "classic" "Super Sons" stories in Grandpa’s old comics. Another being the inspired nature of putting Damian and new Superboy Jon Kent together and seeing the two playing off each other–my having come to "accept" Damian, and being quite open to the possibilities of a Superboy who is not "just" Superman as a boy or an adopted "clone" or such…but the biological, actual SON of Superman. Then there’s the simple fun of "Son of Batman" with "Son of Superman" and their being kids, and far less "need" for decorum, professionalism, etc. As kids…there’s bound to be a certain lack of a "filter" and hijinks can ensue.

We open with a creepy-ish scene with a family that reminds me a bit of that episode of The Twilight ZoneIt’s a Good Life–with a kid having a family/town in thrall. Then we jump into some action with Robin and Superboy racing away from a crowd of creepy doppelgangers of themselves. And then…we jump to the recent past to see how they got there. We follow Jon on an otherwise normal day, seeing him dealing with being a kid, going to school, and trying to stand up for someone who can’t otherwise stand up for themself, while he HAS the power to do something. We also see Damian dealt with parentally by Batman, forced to face academics rather than action. Of course, he winds up sneaking out anyway, and enlists Jon’s assistance, as Superboy and Robin are on the case. Little realizing what an appropriate adult figure they’d bump into…the boys are in trouble, one way or the other, and we’re but one issue in.

I don’t know what I expected, exactly, from this series, outside of the hype and promise of its potential (see my opening paragraph). I’m at once drawn to, yet put off by, the art. It has a clear, energetic quality to it, a bit cartoony without being ridiculous. And I suppose it reminds me a bit of the look of the Young Justice series from the ’90s somehow, though that may just be a track of thought with no fruit…the mind can be a funny thing sometimes.

The art certainly fits the title, but I guess visually I was just expecting something more along the lines of Jim Lee, Ed Benes, or some other familiar/iconic Superman and/or Batman artist.

So while not my first choice, the art IS good, fits the story, and one can follow the action and such just fine. I’m sure it will grow on me, and become iconic in its own way, if there’s not a rotating art team or such on this title.

Story-wise, this fit in quite well with the "backdoor pilot" story we had a couple months ago in the Superman title, as well as fitting with what I’ve read of both Jon and Damian over the years in general.

We seem to be getting a new "villain" for the story, some new threat that is NOT just the kids facing some cheesy or cast-off villain from their dads’ rogues gallery(ies). And though the dads are part of the story, the story is not about them–they’re rather typically incidental.

But we’re also given plenty of first-issue material here (which is good since this IS a first issue!) in being introduced to the title characters, their supporting cast/relevant family, see them in their own elements, together, and then they’re brought together TO "team up," and encounter a threat that may be beyond either of them individually…and then a direct encounter with someone neither one of them would WANT to encounter.

This is a rich issue for me, having read plenty of (older) Batman and Robin stuff, and plenty of stuff throughout Damian’s 12-ish year existence, as well as the past 8-9 months of Rebirth-era Superman stuff, and the earlier Lois and Clark mini that came out of the events of Convergence (itself nearly 2 years ago). But just knowing tangentially that these are the biological, actual SONS of Superman and Batman, you can jump in and pick up from this issue alone, with its own context and  such.

The primary drawback here is that this is but one issue, and compared to the biweekly main Superman/Action and Batman/Detective books I believe this is monthly…so it’s going to seem drawn out. And though elements I’d expect of a first issue are here, it’s "just" part one of the story, and I’d be quite shocked if this is any less than 6 chapters…this feels like a solid opening chapter of a serialized graphic novel.

All in all, if you have enjoyed these characters in the past–individually or their "team-up" in Superman a couple months back–or are at all intrigued at the notion of the sons of Superman and Batman interacting/having their own adventures…this is a good start. I’ll certainly be giving it another issue or so myself before deciding if it fully seems more worthy of a graphic novel than being strung out as single issues.

For now? It’s only $2.99, and well worth at least giving it this single issue to get your interest up, with what it shows AND what it "promises."

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