Nine-hundred issues. That's a milestone no US comic has ever reached and it's fitting that after some time away, Superman returns to claim his book back. I've enjoyed arch enemy Lex Luthor's time as placeholder - more than a lot of Superman runs - but all good things must come to an end. And as a bonus, Lex writer Paul Cornell is staying on the book.
It's a shame, though, that the conclusion of Cornell and Pete Woods' multi-part story is derailed (I'd go so far as to say 'sullied') here by having another storyline shoehorned in. For this isn't just the finale of The Black Ring, it's the continuation of the Reign of Doomsday serial. If you've been lucky enough to miss this, it involves Doomsday, the spiky bore who once kindasorta killed Superman, turning up in various books, bashing people with the S-emblem and kidnapping them. So it is that as we join him this issue he has, secreted away far off in space, Superboy, the Eradicator, Cyborg Superman, Supergirl and Steel. Their attempts to escape, while avoiding Doomsday, are interspersed with the regular story, and they're frankly not very interesting, so let's go where the action is.
That's with Lex Luthor, bumped up to godlike status and wondering what to do with his new power. The first order is, of course, to torment Superman, attempting to goad him into anger by claiming that he's not capable of real human emotion. Except that humanity isn't a question of physiology, it's a state of mind, a matter for the heart. And Superman is every bit as human as Lex. But where Superman's humanity manifests as goodness, Lex's forte is hatred. And it's the pettier side of this big emotion which proves his downfall, with a little help from the Lois Lane Robot built by Lex to challenge him. She does that, and no mistake.
The interplay between the hubristic Lex and quietly measured Superman is stellar, boding well for Cornell's continued tenancy, and their encounter is brought to cosmic life by Pete Woods, who excels at both emotion and energy. Woods is leaving the book and I wish him the best in future endeavours, he's served Lex well.
The Doomsday sequences are drawn by Jesus Merino, a penciller I like, it's just a shame he's having to draw a storyline that shows every sign of being editorially mandated, rather than one in which any writer or artist is particularly invested. Mind, I certainly expect things to improve next issue, as Cornell gets to focus on Doomsday as the main event, rather than a distraction.
I wonder if DC could strip out the Doomsday pages when they collect the back half of the Black Ring storyline, and let Cornell, Woods and Luthor have the good-looking, cohesive showcase they deserve. Merino would be in there too, having already produced work for this arc, as would this issue's talented 'memory lane sequence' guests - Gary Frank, Dan Jurgens, Norm Rapmund, Ardian Syaf, Jamal Igle, Jon Sibal and 'Bugger the story flow, I'm signing my work now for original art sales' Rags Morales. A shout-out, too, to colourists Brad Anderson and Blond, who bring a real vibrancy to the pages, and letterer Rob Leigh, who shows that not all comic book gods get pretty fonts. David Finch provides the cover, which is well done, but rather gloomy for a celebration of the Man of Steel.
So that's Lex Luthor's starring role in Action Comics over and, despite the final issue blip, it's been a better run than ever I expected - congrats to Cornell, Woods and all their collaborators. I hope this isn't the last we see of their Lex - even though they did ignore my nagging to give him back his eyebrows.
This is a big issue - 96 pages - meaning there's room for shorts by guest creatives we'd not normally see in these parts, gathered by editors Matt Idelson and Wil Moss. Time to load up the bullet points:
Life Support by telly writer Damon Lindelof sees a young boffin asked by Jor-El to assist him in helping baby Kal escape Krypton's coming destruction. It's a sharply written piece, there's a little poignancy, and artist Ryan Sook's Krypton is beautiful, but the point of this depressing tale is Lost on me.
Paul Dini, king of DC's animated cartoons, presents Autobiography, a conversation between Superman and an older peer about their place in the universe. A meditative three-pager, cutely drawn by RB Silva and Rob Lean, it's a little depressing.
The Incident, by Batman Begins screenwriter David S Goyer, covers well-trodden ground - it's the 'what can one Superman do?' bit again. The Man of Steel tries a little civil disobedience in Tehran. So far, so Grounded. But then Goyer pushes things further by having Superman renounce his US citizenship, something that really shouldn't occur in a bound-to-be-throwaway tale. It's a tad rude of Goyer to come into Superman's house, throw a rather important toy out of the pram and then leave, with no follow-up apparently due. Tut. I think we'd better consign this attention-seeker immediately to the land of Elseworlds, despite some fine artwork by Miguel Sepulveda. Comics gossip guy Rich Johnston is having all sorts of fun with this as I type, chatting to the US media about the story's perhaps controversial nature. I found it rather, well, depressing.
Only Human, by Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner and one Derek Hoffman, wastes the talents of superb penciller Matt Camp by tasking him with sketchy storyboards for a decidely average Metropolis romp. Had someone turned the script into an actual comic strip this would likely have been good fun, in a Seventies style. As it was, I found it, well, not depressing, just dull - a chore to wade through.
Oh, hurrah for Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who write and draw Friday Night in the 21st Century, a tale that tells us something about Clark, Lois, their relationship and their attitudes towards friends - all in four pages. It's good to see that at least one guest creative team realises there's room for joy in a book marking 900 issues of the original superhero comic. The spread showing the Legion of Super-Heroes partying on down chez Kent is my favourite illustration in the book ...
... well, tying with Brian Stelfreeze's pin-up, The Evolution of the Man of Tomorrow, a stunning homage to the artists who came before.
The soon-to-be-forgotten renouncing moment from Goyer's short
Stelfreeze's tribute is a fine capper to a giant issue which, while not entirely successful, deserves major points for efforts. And for giving us 93 pages of story and art - that's the equivalent of almost three free comic books - for just $5.99 DC merits extra praise