I’ll admit that I was more than a little pleased when I first saw the cover for “Action Comics: Futures End” #1. Lee Weeks and Dave McCaig’s image of an old iconic face — the Sand Superman that Denny O’Neil and Curt Swan created at the start of the Bronze Age era of “Superman” — was a real surprise and beautifully rendered to boot. But once you get past the cover, Sholly Fisch, Pascal Alixe and Vicente Cifuentes’ comic feels a little flat and predictable.
The story itself moves through a pattern that very quickly becomes recognizable; we find someone in crisis who mysteriously gains one of Superman’s abilities, and how it helps them get past the immediate moment, only to then have those abilities taken away by the mysterious Sand Superman. Meanwhile, Superman tries to garden in the infertile ground of Ethiopia. It’s funny that Fisch resurrected a Bronze Age character concept for this comic, because in many ways it feels like a throwback to the sort of storytelling that you often saw in the ’70s; very repetitious and hammering the reader with the point it’s trying to make.
Fisch keeps it from going into a full nosedive by making the three recipients who temporarily gain Superman’s powers to be somewhat likable. The girl who briefly gains the flying powers in particular shines here, because Fisch makes you understand how much joy has entered the life of someone who moments earlier was ready to kill herself. Fisch’s backups for “Action Comics” always showed a good understanding of the human spirit, and that’s the skill on display here that ends up being the highlight of the script.
Alixe and Cifuentes’ art is pleasant, with pages of realistic, soft features. Since this is a comic that focuses more on the human condition than anything else, having these two work on the book is a smart call. The Sand Superman gets to stand out as a result by being the one non-realistic creation in the comic, and its body lacking cohesion (with sand continually spilling off of it, which is a nice touch) proves to be a nice contrast to everyone around them.
“Action Comics: Futures End” #1 isn’t a bad comic, but it doesn’t stand out either. It doesn’t add much to “Futures End” (other than giving a tiny bit more back story to Superman), but it doesn’t take away from the series either. It is worth noting, though, that this feels like a story that could have just as easily been told in the present day. Once you notice that, the comic suffers a bit more. Without that little glitch, this would have been a completely average, down-the-middle comic. Missing the whole point of tying into the timeline of “Futures End,” though, feels like a wasted opportunity. A slight stumble for a comic that was already otherwise average.