The first major comic I read as a kid was Superman #75. This isn’t unique to me. Released on November 18th, 1992, that book was the culmination of the Death of Superman, in which Supes and beastly kill machine Doomsday perished at each other’s hands. I was 9 and not exactly an active participant in our economy, so I had to read a copy belonging to a friend’s older brother in the basement of their house. I can still smell must mingling with that glorious new comic aroma.
It was formative. I loved Superman almost as much as I did my parents (again, I was 9). Every page in the book was a single panel; this was something special, something epic and grandiose. There had even been stories on the news—TV and print—about the gravitas of it all. Basically, it felt like we’d never see a comic so huge again, and I’d argue that we haven’t.
You can make a case for other books in the past 25 years being more influential or important, but it’s hard to argue another comic has garnered as much attention upon release as Superman #75—until now. Enter Action Comics #1000.
Landing on April 18, 2018, just shy of 80 years since the landmark Action Comics #1 launched the superhero concept, this book will celebrate all things Superman, and, in many ways, all Superman has given rise to, including superheros, shared universes, accessible science fiction, and so many allegories about hope. To mark the occasion DC has tapped a veritable army (or at least a squad) of the best artists in comics to do variant covers.
A cynical view is that DC is simply milking this achievement for every last dime, and, for sure, these variants are a sure fire way to bank. The more optimistic take, however, and the one more fitting for Superman, is that each of these artists had a moment like I did when I was 9, a moment blending an intense love of the character with a sense that his adventures were meaningful, and that these variants each represent that feeling, that formative bit of our histories put to paper.
Anyway, there’s no denying these covers look great, which is why today we’re taking a look at some of our favorites, and sharing a few thoughts about what makes them special.
Behold! In no particular order our favorite Action Comics #1000 variants:
Newbury Comics Variant by Patrick Gleason
One of the best parts of DC’s Rebirth publishing initiative (which is essentially ending with Action Comics #1000, but that’s a whole other story…) was how it revitalized Superman by putting his wife Lois and son Jon back into his life. Patrick Gleason, the artist responsible for this cover, was vital to that run, which he commemorates beautifully here, depicting Superman, Lois Lane, Jon, Krypto, and the flag of the good ol’ U.S. of A.
1960s Variant by Michael Allred
Of course Michael Allred (one of my favorite artists in comics) did the 1960s variant, of course he did. His kitschy pop art aesthetic is a perfect fit for Silver Age Superman, from the beefy stature, to the colorful details, to the spiderweb of panels showing the most beloved and maligned of 60s Superman tales (Lori Lemaris!). I wasn’t a big fan of the other cartoony Action #1000 variants, largely because of my firm belief that this one is absolutely perfect.
Kings Comics Sydney Variant by Nicola Scott
One idea permeating Action Comics #1000 is that Superman is character with strong core values, but also one that remains malleable to best fit the present decade. You can really see subtle ways he’s changed from decade to decade here, be it through his hair, logo, facial structure, and, yes, The Trunks. Superman is also a character built on hope, and the Superman in the forefront of Scott’s wonderful piece looks more hopeful than any of his predecessors, as if he has learned from recent mistakes of the past (ahem, no trunks), and is still determined to make tomorrow better. That’s a thought that gives me goosebumps.
1980s Variant by Joshua Middleton
This cover really lives in the decade it depicts (look at Lois’ blouse, hair, makeup!), with an aesthetic best described as Deathly Sincere 80s Adventure Movie Poster. It also, however, has a timelessness to it. See the facial expressions that perfectly capture the essences of Superman (determined and brave, charging off toward peril), Jimmy (wow!), and Lois (confident and ready, pen poised). Oh, and then there’s Luthor speeding across the frame while a terrifying visage of Braniac looms high above all. Wonderful.
Third Eye Comics Variant by Kaare Andrews
Okay okay, so I said these were in no particular order, but I have to admit this cover is my top choice. Besides from just being straight-up gorgeous, it speaks to one of my favorite things in all of comics: the Superman-Lois Lane relationship. I’ve written about this at length, so I won’t belabor it again, but Superman without Lois Lane is hardly Superman at all. She’s been there from issue one, so having her central was always going to be a must for my favorite cover.
Forbidden Planet Variant by Jock / Bulletproof Comix Variant by Gabriele Dell'Otto
I don’t really have deeper thoughts about either of these, other than “Hoo boy, look at this!”
1990s Variant by Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan
I'd like this one quite a bit more (heavy Lois presence and all) if not for the Kaare Andrews cover, which I like better.
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.