Action Comics #1000 is a monster book, with a page for each of the 80 years Superman has existed. It features 11 stories and is perhaps best evaluated on the merits of its individual vignettes, rather than as a whole. So, let’s take a quick look at the good and bad, before doing a ranking of the stories that comprise this historic publication.
The Good: Action Comics #1000 is a trip through the past, present, and future of Superman, one that is ultimately a meditation on not just Superman/Clark Kent, but on why fans have read about powerful beings in capes for eight decades plus.
The Bad: Not enough Lois Lane. I didn’t count, but Mr. Mxyzptlk’s wife might have more lines in one vignette than Lois in 80 pages. Lois is a presence, certainly, but a story about the Lois-Clark relationship should be here. (I’ve talked about the importance of Lois before.)
10. The Game by Paul Levitz and Neal Adams
This story is strong and its art stronger (Neal Adams has been doing some great work again lately). That said, it’s one of two stories about Superman and Lex, and it’s the lesser of the two.
9. An Enemy Within by Marv Wolfman and Curt Swan
A decent story that inverts the usual relationship between people and Superman, this one examines how mankind inspires its Kryptonian protector. It’s pretty good, also standing as an homage to the character’s political history, taking aim at the teachers with guns nonsense, police violence, and individuals resisting nefarious manipulation. It’s a fine work, just not one of the more memorable in the book.
8. Actionland! by Paul Dini, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and Trish Mulvihill
One of the book’s best-looking stories, this one is expertly handled by Paul Dini and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. But a whole section for Mr. Mxyzptlk? He should be included, as one of Superman’s most interesting and oldest foes, but this is almost a story entirely about Mxyzptlk. The other pieces focused on specific places or characters (Luthor in The Fifth Season, Daily Planet in Five Minutes) still take a backseat to Superman, making this a bit confounding.
7. Five Minutes by Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, and Dave McCaig
I’m a writer at a trade magazine and my wife is a reporter with the LA Times. I should love this story of Superman being a powerful superhuman AND a heroic journalist. The problem, however, is it's a Daily Planet story without Lois. A Daily Planet story...without Lois. Freaking Bibbo gets in here and Lois does not. I liked it, though, especially this line:
Superheoring. Reporting. They’re not so different if you do them right.
But why not give the reporting heroics to Lois, a human who fearlessly does the job, often putting her life at risk?
6. The Fifth Season by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque, and Dave McCaig
The issue’s most complex story, this is a tale of Superman and Lex Luthor. Admittedly, I didn’t understand it well upon first reading. It’s not low-hanging fruit, but it’s classic Scott Snyder, rewarding those who invest effort to really digest and understand. This story deals with shades of gray, questions of results versus intentions, nurture versus nature, and, ultimately, whose road is harder: the human genius or the powerful alien striving to be altruistic. Basically, it's a perfect encapsulation of the dynamic between Superman and Lex.
5. From the City that has Everything by Dan Jurgens and Norm Rapmund
With quiet and consistent work, Dan Jurgens has over the years established himself as an all-time great Superman writer, and stories like this illustrate why. It expertly blends significant parts of Superman’s past and present—big galactic adventure, being a symbol of inspiration and hope, believing the best of mankind, newfound domesticity—to create a modern incarnation of the character that started superheroics 80 years ago. There’s even a touching panel here with the heroes of the DC universe thanking Supes for his influence. I’m excited for Bendis' run (more later), but I also want to thank Dan Jurgens for his service. His contributions to Superman are appreciated and will be missed.
4. The Car by Geoff Johns/Richard Donner, Olivier Coipel, and Alejandro Sanchez
In this story, Superman follows up his adventure from Action Comics #1 by finding Butch, the tough who drove the green car from the cover. The Coipel art and Sanchez colors are gorgeous, and the panels are laced with callbacks to history (a bird, a plane, a line about the trunks). It’s the best type of Superman story, in that our hero saves a troubled soul, makes the world better, and doesn’t throw a single punch. It’s a clever conceit, but better still, it suggests Superman’s real heroism is his ability to understand and inspire, not his fantastic powers.
3. Faster Than a Speeding Bullet by Brad Meltzer, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin
This story had my favorite panel in the entire book. Just look at this beauty:
Its construction is stunning, but, moreover, it shows the enormity of Superman’s task, how even though he can fly and whatever else, he’s still a single man who can only be in one place. He is, by no means, omnipotent. It also has a wonderfully simple setup: an assailant shoots a woman in the head point-blank as Superman rushes to save her; with a powerful outcome: a little bravery by the woman gives Superman the slight help he needs to succeed. A funny joke about Batman, a touching dedication to Christopher Reeve, and we’re out. There’s an odd choice made, however, with the woman’s look, in that she bears a strong resemblance to Lois Lane. We also later find out her name is Lila. Still, this is a nigh-perfect story nonetheless.
2. Of Tomorrow by Tom King, Clay Mann, and Jordie Bellaire
Of Tomorrow was pretty good the first time I read it, but during my third read, I found myself near tears as I fully realized what it was about. Tom King is a master at poignant stories about family and superheroes, and this is one of his best. It’s essentially a man talking to himself after multiple lifetimes, contemplating his childhood, marriage, son, and the cause to which he dedicated his life, as close as a writer has come to capturing the human condition in five pages about a guy in a cape.
1. Never-ending Battle by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, and Alejandro Sanchez
Vandal Savage imprisons Superman by weaponizing hypertime, trapping him “in a fabric of yesterdays--a loop that never ends,” which sees our hero living out his past lives from the decades in which they were published. He powers down in the 30s, fights World War II in the ‘40s, is consumed with Silver Age goofiness thereafter, and so on. He's even fried and nearly destroyed in what is presumably the ‘80s, with a piece Gleason signs with a nod of the cap to Frank Miller, whose Dark Knight Returns deconstruction was an obvious inspiration here.
Superman fights Savage’s time manipulation onward, reaching the versions of himself that followed Death of Superman all the way through to Alex Ross’ and Mark Waid’s depiction of him aging in Kingdom Come. Not to spoil the exact nature of how Superman saves himself, but in the end we are given a comforting shot of him and his family as seen them Tomasi and Gleason’s now-concluded Superman run.
I loved everything about this section, from the villain (Savage is one of my favorites) to the logical exploration of the character and his past to the hopeful domestic note it ends on. Gleason’s art and Sanchez’s colors make for truly beautiful pages. If I could pull one story from this compilation and turn it into a fully-realized issue it would be this one.
Disqualified: The Truth by Brian Michael Bendis, Jim Lee, and Alex Sinclair.
I’m disqualifying this one because it has the unfair advantage of ending with “TO BE CONTINUED…” while the others are inherently self-contained. I will say, however, I’m more excited for Bendis’ run than ever after reading this. Bendis’ villain concept is fresh enough for an 80-year-old character/mythos, but where he really shines is in depicting average Metropolis folks reacting to Superman. Bendis has said he wants to make the city a realized and vital place, and he’s off to a good start. I can’t wait to see what he does with the Daily Planet.
Overall: I'd been looking forward to this celebration of Superman for months (if not longer) and this book did not disappoint. Today really felt like true observance of Superman and what he has meant to the world over the years. It was an anthology, so some stories were always going to be stronger than others, and I definitely wanted to see way more Lois Lane, but overall I'm glad I not only got to read this book, but be apart of comics fandom during its release. 9.5/10
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.