Action #900…

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A DC Comics milestone suitably celebrated with a 96 page spectacular, 2011’s Action Comics #900 would court considerable controversy, but not in the tradition fans may have expected.

Unusually for the comic-book universe, one of the many anthology stories in this issue would cross over into international news headlines due to Superman’s renouncement of one of his defining attributes – upholding ‘Truth Justice, and the American way.’

Ironically in a collection also featuring Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner as a guest writer, this publication slams the book firmly closed on the ‘classic’ Superman interpretation and in retrospective, clearly paves the way for what would evolve into the ‘Man Of Steel’.

David Goyer (yes, that one) in a short story entitled ‘The Incident’ manages to plunge Superman into real-world controversy (something the late screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz always insisted the character should always avoid) by attending a peaceful protest in Iraq.  When questioned about his actions by US Officials, Superman at once declares that the world is now a smaller place and ‘Truth and Justice isn’t enough anymore’ (third pic), effectively ending his status as a representative of the US.  While the story is well-crafted, the notion of Superman becoming politicised and being anything other than ‘A Friend’ seems somewhat irresponsible writing given the ramifications.

Continuing SUPERMANIA’s series of posts for recommended comic reading for fans of the classic Superman series is a challenge in this instance, not least by the contribution of two of its greatest contributors (Donner and artist Gary Frank) but for what a wasted opportunity this was to unite them.  Indeed, Frank’s wonderful art (still shamelessly channelling Reeve) is relegated to a few pages (second pic) in a large chunk of otherwise poorly illustrated Saturday morning cartoon silliness that is the first story ‘Reign Of Doomsday’ (the finale of the ‘Black Ring’).

The worse news is that Donner’s mini-screenplay (written with Derek Hoffman) somehow manages to be utter tripe, a poor soulless attempt to merge Superman with the movie ‘Hancock’ (even acknowledging Superman’s nemesis as ‘like Will Smith’) and similarly failing to engage at every turn. Presented as storyboards (feebly rendered by Matt Camp) with accompanying dialogue and story notes (bottom pic) its astonishing to think that Donner may have had anything to do with it.  It has to be read to be believed.

There is little more to be enjoyed beneath the moody cover (by David Finch) but the absolute highlight of the whole issue is a somewhat abstract story entitled ‘Life Support’ with mature, sharp dialogue (by Damon Lindelof), lavish art (by Ryan Sook) and an indisputably epic, cinematic tone.  Amazing how something as simple as Jor-El’s recruitment of an aide to build a part for will become Kal-El’s StarShip can be told so elegantly and effectively.

Only this and the tiny vignette ‘Friday Night In the 21st Century’ by the always-dependable Geoff Johns (coupled with Gary Frank’s art) emerge worthy of the ‘spectacular’ status as declared.  A landmark issue to be sure, proving, if little else, June 1938 was a long time ago…

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