It’s the last hurrah for Dan Jurgens on Action Comics. And ‘hurrah’ is the last reaction you’ll get from me - I’ve been a big fan of his latest run as writer, and occasionally artist, on Superman. Good on DC, though, for letting Jurgens say goodbye with an extra-sized special. The 30pp Last Will and Testament of Lex Luthor is a capper to the long-running storyline, begun in Geoff Johns’ Justice League, which has seen Superman’s arch-foe fighting on the side of the angels.
The tale opens with someone sneaking into the Fortress of Solitude while Superman’s away and discovering something big.
It’s Lex Luthor, and he’s now in a position to take his final revenge on the Man of Steel. Apparently he’s had enough of either trying to be a better man, or pretending to be one, and ready to destroy Superman’s life once and for all. And if that means Lois Lane has to die, so be it.
Over in Metropolis, Superman is returning home late from a Justice League meeting (‘Bruces strategy sessions go on forever’), meaning he’s missed seeing Lois leave on a flight to Paris, but Jon’s happy, Dad’s brought his favourite pizza. A text message wipes away the smile.
Intuiting the danger to his wife, Superman takes off, but not before telling Jon to get to a protector’s side.
And in the proverbial nick of time...
Clark and Lois ponder the possibilities and decide only one man has it in him to have carried out this attack. Time to call on Lex Luthor.
Hmm, is he telling the truth? That certainly looks and sounds like Lex earlier in the story. With one difference, which I won’t spoil. What’s more, an x-ray vision examination of a nearby vault shows Lex’s armoured super-suit hadn’t been taken out for 36 hours. Is someone framing Lex?
The answers come quickly in this done-in-one story, and make sense in a delightfully Bronze Age way; heck, the telling details are right there in the words and pictures of the first two pages, but I never spotted them - I’m not one for too-close examination of a story on first reading, I prefer to be swept along at whatever pace seems natural.
The only thing that isn’t especially typical of the Bronze Age - doomy ‘Relevance’ stories apart - is the ending. We close on a rare note of pessimism from Superman, one that would be entirely fitting for most of us, given the circumstances, but Superman? I prefer more hope with my heroics. See that big, silly grin Superman has as he’s flying home with the pizza at the start of the book, courtesy of artist Will Conrad?
That’s how I wanted this issue to end, with a happy Superman to mark what’s been, Mr Oz apart, a triumphant run from Jurgens.
Ah well, got to let the writer follow his muse, eh? Just getting a special issue, acknowledging how much Jurgens and his collaborators have done for Superman over the last couple of years, is great, and I enjoyed this story a lot. Clark, Lois, Jon and Lex are all spot-on so far as characters and interactions go. I especially liked the story’s subtle nod to one of the most famous John Byrne tales, in which Luthor put lots of resources into discovering his foe’s other identity, came up with Clark Kent... and his own ego wouldn’t let him believe a man with all that power would pretend to be a regular human. There’s also a callback to Lex’s early romantic interest in Lois, something that’s not been referred to in decades. And Superman acknowledging that Supergirl could protect Jon as well as himself, that’s nice.
There’s a good exchange between Luthor and Superman which made me think of a column from Chris Sims at the old Comic Alliance entitled ‘The Thin Line Between Love and Hate’.
A story focussing on the fundamental differences between Superman and Lex is a fine way to end a run. And having this happen...
... is Jurgens saying we can expect to see all the good work he, and Superman series writers Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason have done in recent days crushed by a hairless egomaniac. Nah, Jurgens is far too nice a guy, too much of a grown-up, that ain’t meta-symbolism, it’s just a moment a mayhem.
And one beautifully captured by Will Conrad, whose panel-to-panel storytelling is all kinds of excellent. The big moments and smaller scenes work equally well, each having their proper weight in the narrative and looking splendid. Take this panel:
Right there we have a sense of the weight and bulkiness of Lex’ warsuit, Lois’ mixture of panic and grit - and what a great detail that she’s lost her shoes while falling through the air. Or check out that pic of Superman flying away from Jon, above - you can see the tension in his knuckles. Small details help make great artists. The colours are provided by Wil Quintana, who captures the various moods of story and settings, while letterer Rob Leigh provides the usual sharp words.
Conrad and colourist Ivan Nunes provide the cover, showing a fighting-mad Superman confronting his shadowy foe. For once, the heat vision eyes cliche is justified, and it looks brilliant.
This issue also has a couple of back-ups. Suprema Est Lex is a flashback tale showing Lex at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where Lois and Clark are among the speech-makers ‘roasting’ those around them. Its seriously awkward stuff, the jokes are excruciating, but I understand that these things actually happen. Anyway, Lex is among the targets.
The result. He decides to stand for President.
Mark Russell hasn’t written a terrible story, but it is puzzling. Why explain a plot point that dates back to 2001? I suppose the key moment is this.
Lex can’t laugh at himself, ergo, he’s a psychopath. But haven’t we known that for nearly 80 years Why are Lois and Clark even at the do, I don’t know, were they ever political hacks? Mind, according to Rich Johnston over at Bleeding Cool: ‘It is said that President Obama’s jokes about Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in 2011 so offended Trump, that it persuaded him to double down and win the election, as well as destroy any legacy of Obama’s Presidency.’ Which would make this short story a little heavy handed.
Ah well, it’s an OK read, and the art by Jill Thompson and colourist Romulo Fajardo Jr is pretty nice, but it reads as filler.
The final story really is filler - it was originally part of last year’s DCU Holiday Special, then pulled for reasons that never came out, though some of us saw it in the digital edition before it was updated and wiped out like Earth 3 in a Crisis.
But as fillers go, it’s really rather excellent, a lovely little tale in which Superman shows compassion to a man taking the wrong path, and gives Lois a truly special Christmas gift. It’s great work all round from writer Max Landis, artist Francis Manapul and letterer Steve Wands.
All in all, Action Comics Special #1 is a terrific ending to an era. Everyone involved produces good, if not great, work, but it’s Dan Jurgens’s issue. He’s been involved with Superman on the artistic and writing sides since 1987 and his work still has the energy of a tyro. Anyone want to bet against him returning to Superman within a few years? Bring it on!
Action Comics Special #1 review, Dan Jurgens, Will Conrad, Wil Quintana, Rob Leigh, Mark Russell, Romulo Fajardo Jr, Jill Thompson, Max Landis, Francis Manapul, Ivan Nunes