This is going to sound like heresy, but bear with me: reading “Action Comics” #900 made me wish that it was a shorter comic, not a longer one.
There are three distinct elements to this anniversary issue: the conclusion of “The Black Ring” storyline with Lex Luthor, the continuation of “Reign of Doomsday,” and a series of short stories by a host of creators. And the entire time I read this comic, I kept wishing that we’d just gotten the conclusion of Lex’s storyline without everything else involved.
The reason why I say this? Well, for starters, it’s the best part of the comic. After last month’s installment felt a little uneven, this is back to Paul Cornell and Pete Woods’ strengths. Superman returns to the pages of “Action Comics” and confronts the newly-powerful Lex Luthor in space. Not only does Lex’s summary of what happened last issue come across more interesting than the issue itself was, but the conclusion of Lex’s quest for power fits in with everything we’ve learned about the character. His rise and fall here (because you know we aren’t going to have Lex Luthor with godlike powers permanently, right?) has everything to do with Superman, but more importantly has everything to do with Lex, himself. Lex’s personality is more often than not his own downfall, and Cornell uses that to good effect. After last month’s disappointment, this was a satisfying conclusion to “The Black Ring.”
Or rather, it would be if that’s all we got. Mixed into the lead story are also pages drawn by Jesus Merino, as Cornell picks up where all the other issues of “Reign of Doomsday” left off, with the five kidnapped characters trapped on Doomsday’s space station. First off, Merino’s pages don’t look up to par for his normally high standards. I’ve loved a lot of his recent solo work, but this is angular, harsh, and even a little ugly. From Supergirl’s bizarrely flat hair (did Doomsday destroy her conditioner?) to Superboy’s thick veiny neck, this is a group of characters you recognize by their outfits, not by their faces or general appearance. I’m hoping Merino drew these pages because they’ll be pulled into their own collection, rather than have this lackluster story taint the second “The Black Ring” story. Even Cornell’s contribution to “Reign of Doomsday” here feels not up to par. A lot of the wit and fun that Cornell brings to the page is missing. Clearly, Doomsday’s true power is to sap the talent out of otherwise strong creators. I’m not looking forward to more issues of “Reign of Doomsday” here in “Action Comics,” alas.
The second half of “Action Comics” #900 is a little uneven. The best contribution is easily from Damon Lindelof and Ryan Sook, a story from before Krypton was destroyed. You know where it’s going almost instantly, but that’s not what matters; the plot is second to the emotion that the duo evoke on the page. Lindelof takes a slightly cliche moment and makes it feel sad, and Sook’s art is as expressive and gorgeous as ever.
Some of the other stories are little more than vignettes, like Paul Dini and R.B. Silva’s story of a blue space hippo, or Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s pizza party that feels more like two pages of set-up for a big pin-up than an actual narrative. They’re both nice, and beautifully drawn, but forgettable minutes later. David S. Goyer and Miguel Sepulveda have a story where Superman says he’s going to give up his United States citizenship, a revelation that feels a little odd for coming from someone not actually working on the Superman titles at the moment, and while the art in the story is great, the story itself feels like the ultimate stereotypical Superman story.
Last up is a mini-screenplay by Richard Donner and Derek Hoffman, with storyboards by Matt Camp. It’s, unfortunately, unremarkable. I enjoyed Donner’s co-authored storylines with Johns on “Action Comics” a few years ago, but if this was Donner’s first “Action Comics” work I’d have probably written him off as being there solely for a stunt name, rather than someone who had something to say. A shame.
Like so many anniversary issues, “Action Comics” #900 is a mixed bag. Cornell and Woods together provide the best material, while Doomsday drags the comic down, and the other contributions hover at various points in the middle. It’s not a bad way to celebrate the anniversary, but with a little more of just the strong material, it could have gone from a good comic to a great comic.