Friday, April 20, 2018

Truth, Justice, and Unprecedented Achievements: Action Comics #1000

The following is my review of Action Comics #1000, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


In June 1938, the first issue of Action Comics came out, introducing the hero by which so many future heroes are still measured. Toady, it's impossible to assess the state of modern superheroes without appreciating the impact of Superman. From the early days of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to the modern era Geoff Johns and Dan Jurgens, the position Superman holds in the pantheon of the superhero genre is without parallel. He is very much the ideal in terms of just how great a hero can be.

It's hard to imagine how Siegel and Shuster expected their creation to evolve over the years. It's hard to imagine their reaction to the knowledge that this series that began in the latter part of the Great Depression would go on for another 1,000 issues that span eight decades, two reboots, a rebirth, multiple movie franchises, a slew of cartoons, and a never-ending supply of merchandise. Action Comics isn't just special to the brand of DC Comics. It's very much an institution, one in which the milestones carry even more weight.

That's why Action Comics #1000 is a truly momentous achievement for both Superman and the superhero era that he helped to start. It's one of those rare comics for which there is no template to draw from. No other series can offer insight into how such a milestone comic should be handled. That doesn't stopped DC Comics from assembling an all-star team of writers to pack plenty of content into a single comic with a $7.99 price tag.

With so much talent and so many reasons to celebrate, the expectations for Action Comics #1000 are almost too big to contemplate. Then again, much of Superman's entire appeal is his ability to defy the impossible, do what's right, and do it for the right reasons. He already embodies the ideal for multiple generations of superheroes. It's only fitting that he set the bar for such a milestone issue, if only to make things a little less daunting for Detective Comics and Amazing Spider-Man.

Action Comics #1000 doesn't try to reinvent Superman, push him to new extremes, or make him more up-to-date with modern audiences. More than anything else, it's a celebration of who Superman is and everything he represents. It's not just that he can fight off a fleet of alien invaders and make it back to his family in time for dinner. It's not just that he can outwit Lex Luthor, save an innocent woman being held at gun point in the blink of an eye, and even beat an army of alternate versions of himself.

These are all feats of strength and that's par for the course with Superman. There are plenty of superheroes in superhero comics, fiction, and mythology of all kinds with obscene strength. What sets Superman apart isn't in how he uses it. It's in how he inspires others with it. That's what sets Superman apart and makes him the kind of icon who can transcend decades, generations, and trends of all kinds. From upbeat and hopeful to grim and gritty, Superman finds a way to inspire. Of all the impossible things he does on a day-to-day basis, that's the most meaningful.

Celebrating that core ideal of Superman's character is difficult to do with just one story. Action Comics #1000 doesn't bother trying. Instead, it tells a series of short, concise stories that embody the best of who Superman is and why he's such an inspiration. Each story varies in terms of theme and challenge, but the message is the same. Superman doesn't just overcome the impossible. He raises the bar for everyone.

He can even do this without having to throw a single punch. In one story by Dan Jurgans, he attends a special celebration that Metropolis is holding to honor Superman. He's there as Clark Kent, but constantly worrying about other threats. Then, when he finally decides to don his iconic cape and red underwear, he finds out that he doesn't always have to be the one to right these wrongs. The people he inspires, from the heaviest hitters in the Justice League to the ordinary people on the streets, can do the right thing too when the opportunity arises.

In another story by Geoff Johns, Superman confronts the man who he hung from a telephone pole in the first issue of Action Comics in a fitting extension of that historic first issue. Whereas most other heroes are content to either let the man wallow in his humiliating defeat or just throw him in the nearest jail cell, as though that somehow is enough to make someone change their ways. Superman dares to go the extra mile

He talks to the man, but he doesn't talk down to him. Superman tries to relate to him, showing the kind of empathy and understanding that resonates with him. The fact that he can do this while being an alien from another world helps show the strength of Superman's humanity, despite the fact that he's not human. If he, an alien can embody that level of compression, then what's everyone else's excuse?

Through each story, there are insights into Superman's legacy and how he went about crafting it. They cover current and past era, referencing different timelines and iconic moments. Action Comics #1000 doesn't try to tie them all together through some elaborate sub-plot. While that renders the stories disconnected, they still convey the right message with respect to who Superman is and why his legacy matters.

Like the man himself, these insights are crafted to reflect an ideal. They show just how good a hero can be. They demonstrate that just being exceedingly powerful, able to stop a speeding train or break chains of Kryptonite, is not enough. The real power that makes Superman great is in how he uses it, doing the right thing and never hesitating to do so.

A being of his power can do so many other things, right and wrong. He's even tempted at times, both by circumstance and by men like Lex Luthor. No matter the situation or the challenge, Superman will still do what's right and he won't compromise that. He won't make excuses, either. That may make his decisions predictable, but the way he goes about making them only reinforces why he's an icon who has endured for so long.

The fact that Action Comics makes it to 1,000 issues, despite changing trends in culture and the superhero genre as a whole, is a remarkable accomplishment. Action Comics #1000 does plenty to celebrate the past and chart Superman's course for the future. There's still only so much a single issue can do to encapsulate over 80 years of heroics, even with extra content and a higher price tag. Since the stories are so short and focused, it's difficult to show the breadth of Superman's story through the ages.

For a hero like Superman, though, even a 1,000 page comic isn't be enough to tell every aspect of his story or why he's the most iconic hero of all time. It doesn't have to, though. Like the Man of Steel himself, Action Comics #1000 does plenty to raise the bar and bring hope to generations past and present. What started Siegel and Shuster nearly a century ago is still going strong today. It still seems impossible that any character could endear for so long, but that's exactly what makes him Superman.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

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