The Comic Book Club: Action Comics #900 and The Mighty Thor

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EVAN: I’ve liked Cornell on Action, but this was a terrible way to wrap up such a strong run. I actually liked the Luthor portion as an ideological face-off between Supes and Lex, but the Doomsday sequences were just awful.

Mostly, this milestone puts me in the mind to make an urgent plea to all future Superman writers: take the symbolism out of your stories. Yes, it makes for great soundbites, but a terrible, terrible plot. Every story in this anniversary issue smacks of folks who feel like they need to make a Statement about Kal-El: the indestructible man who’s just as vulnerable as the rest of us, what it’s like to be an orphan of the universe, and so on.

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But the fact of the matter is that the deeply resonant super-symbolism that everyone goes on about accrued in stories that were about something else. I remember the first time it hit me how much the Kents’ deaths would hurt Superman. It was a pre-Crisis Curt Swan story written by either Elliott Maggin or Cary Bates, an everything-you-need-to-know-about-Superman deal that was reprinted in a cheap, black-and-white digest. The plot was about Luthor, a Kal-El clone and kryptonite, but tucked away in it was one of those old-school “*choke*” word-balloons with a tear in the corner of Superman’s eye. (Actually, after some quick Googling, it turns out the story was in Action #500, which you mentioned in your anniversary gallery, and was written by Marty Pasko.)

DOUGLAS: We’re all about Pasko this week. (Here’s where I date myself: Action #500 is where I got on the bus–it’s the third or fourth comic book I ever bought.)

EVAN: My point is that the proportions feel off now. Even if Pasko was intentionally trying to unpack the idea of Superman a little bit, the story he was telling still felt like it took precedence. Self-consciousness reigns for writers coming at Clark Kent, and it rarely pays off anymore. Running the guy through a gauntlet of emotional pain has become a cliché itself. It reminds me of the recent state of affairs with Daredevil at Marvel, where for decades most people focused on how self-sabotaging and guilt-ridden Matt Murdock was. There are other ways to interpret that character. (Thankfully, it looks like Mark Waid’s being brought in to do just that.)

I hope the new era of Superman writers is driven by guys who just want to tell some Superman stories. Before he’s a metaphor or a symbol, Superman is an adventure character. He’s still a hero that can give creators entree to great sci-fi contrivances and ripping yarns. If the work happens to stumble onto something profound, don’t worry. Somebody somewhere will pick up on it.

GRAEME: Superman is an especially hard character to get right – for the reasons you talk about, Evan – which may be why Cornell’s Lex story has been so much fun for the last few months. The resolution of that here is by far the best part of the issue, especially hinging the entire story on Lex’s amazing ability to self-sabotage, but that lead story is ruined by pushing the Doomsday storyline on top of it, and cutting back and forth between the two threads; I get that DC really, really wants us to care about the Doomsday story, but squashing it into the resolution of an eleven-month-long plot about entirely different characters altogether really wasn’t the way to do it.

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(That said: Lex finds out that Superman is Clark! And has the best reaction I could have wanted! Shame it gets undone by the end, but still.)

I really like the idea of this anniversary issue more than the content, if that makes sense. A 96 page issue, with a 51-page lead story, for $5.99? Back-ups with art by Ryan Sook, Gary Frank and RB Silva? That sounds about right. But Cornell’s lead story and maybe Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s four-pager – which feels like the set up for a joke and then they just give up – aside, there’s something lacking from the stories here, and I think Evan’s really put his finger on it: People are afraid to write Superman as a character, preferring the metaphor or the icon. They’re too respectful of Superman for his own good.

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