Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman // Review
With a thousand issues of comics, and 80 years of history to choose from, DC has amassed a very neat collection.
It’s been 80 years since 1938, when Superman first graced the cover of Action Comics #1. So, of course, DC figured it was time to release one more collection celebrating a milestone. Last time, it was 2013’s Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years, and the collection was… bittersweet for some reason. The collection featured a lot of Superman’s death and failures, as well as other melancholic stories for a celebration, but wasn’t bad overall. Does DC do it better this time around?
For this milestone collection, DC didn’t just focus on Superman in spite of the title. We also get the first appearances of Zatara, the Golden Age Vigilante, the original Supergirl, and Christopher Chance, the Human Target. While not all of them are world-famous like Superman, it’s really nice to see this book celebrate the times that Action Comics was an anthology book and not just focus on Superman himself. Indeed, the stories chosen range between either a solid first appearance of a beloved or landmark character, while the others are classic tales from yesteryear.
One of those classic tales, Action Comics #554’s “If Superman Didn’t Exist...” from 1984 is a neat tribute to Superman. A bizarre little one-off, Superman is wiped from existence by Vandal Savage in a flashback, leaving Earth to be conquered by all sorts of alien menaces while somehow being stuck in a medieval setting. It isn’t until two little kids, Jerry and Joe, dream about their ideal hero that things begin to change.
Eventually, they come up with the hero to save Earth: Superman. Spawned into reality with nothing but hope and prayer, Superman saves the world. He then leaves, his job done, to return home… to his creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Who have just had the idea to create him. Written by Marv Wolfman, with art by Gil Kane and colors by Tony Tollin, this story is one of those gems.
However, one thing does blow the other stories out of the water: a previously-unpublished Superman story. Saved from the junk heap by Marv Wolfman himself, this story is called “Too Many Heroes” and is presented like those pages Wolfman found on a visit to DC’s offices a lifetime ago. Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Joe Schuster, this story isn’t one of their best… but seeing it in this state is nothing short of amazing. Long story short, a multi-millionaire has vowed to leave his money to the most heroic person the week of his death. Chaos, of course, ensues. Still black and white on aging paper, it feels like something out of the past that you somehow shouldn’t be seeing. This alone is the reason to pick up this book, or at least rent it from your local library if they have a copy.
In short, it’s hard to find a single complaint with this collection. The stories included are all excellent, the digital remasterings are all on-point, and even the essays included by various creators and comic historians intended to remember Superman throughout the eras are fantastic to read. There are a few small omissions that feel odd in retrospect, such as Action Comics #775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”. However, as this and other stories were already included in the previous collection, it makes sense it was omitted here. It also doesn’t explain why Action Comics #0’s “The Boy Who Stole Superman’s Cape” was included here while being in the previous collection. It is still a good story, but seems odd that they would double-up on one story while omitting the other at the same time.
It is completely odd what the editors chose for the final story. “The Game,” written by Paul Levitz, with art by Neil Adams and colors by Hi-Fi, was just published in Action Comics #1,000 as one of the many stories included celebrating the milestone. It is still a great story, but feels like it may have been included to placate some of the confusion over the initial press releases over the book, implying that all of Action Comics #1,000 would be included.
The collection even includes a smattering of covers from the various eras of comics Superman has lived through, which also works as a recommendation list for those looking to read more excellent stories. Considering the volume is already packed full with content, it’s really nice to see a list of further recommended reading in the end.
For $29.99 (or less), you get a complete bundle of great stories and thoughtful essays about arguably the most important comic character of all time…and an unpublished story. It’s one heck of a deal, and worth reading.