Back in 1938, Action Comics #1 turned up at the newswtands and drugstores. The cover featured a man in a blue and red suit and a cape running while holding up a green late model automobile.
The comic-book cost ten cents.
In 2014, one of the few remaining copies sold for over three million dollars.
In June of 2018, DC Comics published issue #1000. It's an 80-PAGE GIANT, making it about the length of its famous predecessor. Whereas that Depression-era funnybook only devoted its first story to the Superman, 2018's is all about the Man of Steel.
While we all know Superman's origin, it's probably worth taking a look at his recent history, leading up to #1000. I will be brief.
In 2010, as the dust settled from the landmark, year-long 2006 series, 52, DC released Superman: Secret Origin. Laugh at the title, of course, but it managed to retread the familiar territory in engaging ways, updating Superman for the twenty-first century while honoring the various past incarnations of the character.
Almost immediately, DC blasted that version out of continuity. Starting in 2011, yet another reality-warping event led to The New 52. Various characters (in particular, various female characters1) disappeared or faced revision. Batman preserved his existing continuity but had it shoved into an implausibly (even for comics) short time-period. Bruce Wayne apparently went through Robins like so many gadgets in his utility belt. Upon the usually happy and slightly goofy Flash they foisted a tragic family history and angst. Several characters received collars and brooding looks, fresh from the comics of the 1990s. And Superman received a new origin story, a new costume, and a youthful, single status. Gone was his long-established marriage to Lois Lane. Gone, too, were the red outer-underwear.
Granted, this new Superman had an interesting run; you didn't know where his stories would take him. To a lot of readers, however, he didn't entirely feel like Superman. Ultimately, he died and—unlike his predecessor—he has thus far stayed dead.
Naturally, yet another universe-warping event reestablished the earlier Clark Kent/Superman. As a prelude to this issue, Action #999 had Lois, Clark, and son Jon finally reconcile with Lois's estranged father, even while the Man of Steel reconsiders the legacy of Jor-El, and builds a more humane prison for a villain trapped in the Phantom Zone.
Of course, new challenges await....
None of 1000's stories feel earth-shattering, though the final installment recalls the destruction of Krypton. Most make for fun reading, with above-average comix art. "From the City that Has Everything" follows from previous issues with a predictable but fun story of the sort one expects from an anniversary issue. Guest-stars abound. "The Car" gives us an engaging look at the story behind the iconic cover of Action #1, and includes some of this issue's best artwork. Coipel and his team evoke the 30s in "The Car" without being too obvious. Tones have been muted, but they're not sepia. The imagery feels like an actual past, with the addition of a superhero. We're within the original comic, but without the often-crude artwork of that era. I also liked "Five Minutes," but would have liked it more if Astro City hadn't already told a very similar tale back in the 1990s.
I would have preferred fewer, more developed stories, however. Even for an 80-PAGE GIANT, ten tales is too many, and storytelling suffers. "The Fifth Season"'s exploration of Superman and Lex Luthor needs more space to develop. And I sympathize with those who frown at that final story, very much an advertisement for a forthcoming limited series.
Despite most stories running fewer than eight pages, some of the writers manage thoughtful enough characterization. Maggie Sawyer stands out in "An Enemy Within," while "From the City that Has Everything" reveals just what kind of person it takes to be the spouse of a defacto demigod. Throughout, the Kent family relationships feel weirdly plausible. Most importantly, the guy with the big red "S" on his chest acts and feels consistently like Superman.
I suppose that's all one can ask from the thousandth issue of a periodical originally intended as cheap entertainment for kids seeking cheap thrills and, from dusty sidewalks during hard times, a glimpse of hope.2
Main cover artists: Jim Lee, Scott Williams, and Alex Sinclair.
Variant cover artists: Steve Rude, Michael Cho, Dave Gibbons and Angus McKie, Michael and Laura Allred, Jim Steranko and Laura Martin. Joshua Middleton, Dan Jurgens, Kevin Nowlan, and Alex Sinclar, Lee Burmejo. A "blank" variant also exists, but it has no artist. That cover may be the cheapest way to drive the collector's market I have ever witnessed.
"From the City that Has Everything"
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artists: Norm Rapmund, et al
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Artists: Patrick Gleason, et al
"An Enemy Within"
Writer: Marv Wolfman
From a story by Cindy Goff, Curt Swan, and Butch Guise
Artist: Rob Leigh, et al
Writer: Geoff Johns and Richard Donner
Artist: Olivier Coipel, et al
"The Fifth Season"
Writer: Scott Snyder
Artist: Raphael Albuquerque, et al
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Clay Mann, et al
Writer: Louise Simonson
Artist: Jerry Ordway, et al
Writer: Paul Deni
Artist: José Luis García-López, et al
"Faster Than a Speeding Bullet"
Writer: Brad Meltzer
Artist: John Cassaday, et al
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Jim Lee, et al
1. Where do we start? Renee Montoya largely disappeared. Certainly, her days as the Question ended, and the old, recently deceased male version of the character reappeared. DC replaced the Stephanie Brown Batgirl, popular with female readers, with the more familiar Barbara Gordon Batgirl. Since Babs had passed the last few decades as the character Oracle, it meant that one of the few disabled characters in mainstream comics also vanished. Batwoman, meanwhile, never made it to the altar with her female partner. Amanda Waller, an actual plus-sized comic-book woman, apparently went on a crash diet. Harley Quinn, one of the few female villains who hadn't previously dressed in fetish gear, suddenly acquired the standard comic-book female hot ‘n’ spicy sartorial style, for which she has now gained widespread recognition.
2. In an amusing bit of nerd humour, a bystander wonders if wearing red underwear outside one's clothing might be a Kryptonian symbol of hope.