Action Comics #900
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Wow! Nine hundred issues. Coming from a landmark series like Action Comics, one would hope that the content within live up to such an impressively long run. This should be a comic that tells us in no uncertain terms why DC's marquee character Superman is so vitally important to the medium. It should be a celebration of the character's many and varied interpretations from some of the industry's best creators. Ideally its content should blow readers away. It certainly got people talking about Superman's supposed rejection of his American citizenship. And that does demonstrate that the mainstream still cares about Superman, if only as a talking point. As a media event, the interest is mostly superficial. Most of them probably haven't picked up a Superman comic in years. I doubt much of the vitriol expressed indicates any real familiarity with this actual comic issue. Still, it's nice to know that the character can still earn a lot of attention. As for the stories themselves, they're okay I guess, but mostly fall short of being truly memorable.
The main story combines the continuing "The Black Ring" and "Reign of Doomsday" storylines, which involves Lex Luthor manipulating his way to obtain ultimate power, while Doomsday separately kidnaps various members of the Superman family, then assembles them within a cloaked satellite. These two threads are respectively drawn by Pete Woods and Jesus Merino, which irritates me because I find the resulting dissonance between the various art styles styles unnecessary. Plus the Doomsday plot is clearly the much weaker part. He's not a particularly interesting solo character, never transcending his original purpose as a life threatening complication for Superman. However, the sudden manifestation of a new power set just dilutes his identity as a vicious slugger who likes to punch through just about anything blocking his way.
Lex Luthor on the other hand is one of those characters with proven staying power. Like most long-lived properties, he's gone through numerous interpretations: from thuggish mad scientist, criminal mastermind, to megalomaniacal businessman. But whatever form he takes, he's always been the perfect foil to Superman. DC has positioned the modern incarnation of the villain to be Superman's self-proclaimed opposite - Metropolis' abusive benefactor to contrast with Supe's genuine altruism. While the plot involving the villain being bought down by his own hubris is predictable enough, and I still have no idea how he obtained his godlike abilities even after reading the dialogue of this issue, the story's a neat summation of how big of a dick Lex can be. Given the choice between saving the entire universe and killing Superman, he barely wavers in his decision. His delusional belief that he's more human than The Man of Steel feels like an apt expression of his own ludicrous self-importance. It's perfectly rational in its own right while at the same time being completely wrongheaded, given his terrible upbringing. And the revelation of his arch-nemesis' true emotional depth is a nice gotcha moment. I thought it was a perfectly satisfactory way for Lex to get his comeuppance. But this being a continuing series, it's only a matter of time before he returns. Maybe I'm just a mark for these kind of morality tales. But without bad guys like Luthor around, Superman's kind of a bore.
The backup stories in anniversary issues are usually one-offs not meant to impact DC's larger continuity (until DC, in their infinite wisdom, decides otherwise). Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook's "Life Support" derives its emotional pull from a fatalistic understanding that the main characters interacting during Krypton's last days will face a horrible death. Paul Dini and R.B. Silva's story "Autobiography" is a vignette were Superman listens to a previously unrevealed alien who chooses to spend its senescence as part of the Fortress of Solitude's menagerie. But its brevity is nothing compared to Geoff Johns and Gary Frank's "Friday Night in the 21st Century", which ends with a two page spread of Clark Kent and Lois Lane hosting a party with Legion of Super-Heroes as guests. Wait, that's it? Should anyone even care that they're watching football on the TV? Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman's scripted "Only Human", with storyboards by Matt Camp, adds nothing new to the Superman mythos. Depressingly, it reveals how he can be both a hero and a prick at the same time. He's only human, right?
Then there's the infamous "The Incident" by David S. Goyer and Miguel Sepulveda. Reading it doesn't change my original complaints that Superman renouncing American citizenship was technically speaking, a nonsensical ruse because of the Clark Kent secret identity vs. Superman's publicly acknowledged alien origins. But it's also a very unsubtle attempt to address real world political developments via the character's humanitarianism. DC usually tends to avoided such direct references. So is Iran going to be swept under the rug now that Goyer has had his say? Because I doubt this can be a sustainable storyline within this fantastic shared universe. The controversy being stirred up over his patriotism is of course, complete bullcrap. It needs to be pointed out that Superman didn't renounce his American-bred values. If anything he was only trying to shut down any perceived restrictions to his aspirations to take a slightly more active role on the world stage. Still, if this real world approach were to be seriously followed up in the future, it would bring him just a tiny bit closer to the behavior of The Authority and Miracleman.
I've got no problem with the pinup by Brian Stelfreeze. He nicely incorporates a number of more recent visual styles. It's funny how earlier Supes was renouncing his American citizenship, and in this picture is clearly portrayed wrapping himself around the American Flag. But I wouldn't have minded including reprinted work from the most significant artists to work on the character. And for such an occasion, it would have been nice to have made a more generous acknowledgment, outside of their names being mentioned in the story bylines, of his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Not doing so leaves a bitter aftertaste.