By Jonathan Edwards
I love Superman. Plain and simple. When I was a kid, I only really liked him because, well, I was a kid, and he was a superhero. The superhero. And, for a few teenage years, I didn’t like him for all of the easy, low hanging fruit reasons to dislike him. He’s too strong. He’s boring. His one weakness is too readily available. Blah blah blah. But, when I finally sat down and actually read books like Superman: Birthright, Superman: Secret Identity, Kingdom Come, and All-Star Superman, I quickly came to love him for everything he truly embodies. So, you better believe I was hyped when I found out that, among other things, Rebirth meant the original Superman was returning to the limelight. Now, just a couple of weeks ago Action Comics #1000 came out and paid thorough homage to the legacy of the Man of Steel. Admittedly, I stopped reading Action Comics after a couple of months, mainly because I found the other Clark Kent (when that was still a thing) to be insufferable. However, I absolutely picked up that issue, and it was fantastic. So, I am kind of surprised to see Action Comics Special #1 come out this week. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a bit strange, maybe even pointless, to release a special right after the infinitely more special 1000th issue.
Three smaller stories comprise this book, the first of which being “The Last Will and Testament of Lex Luthor” written by Dan Jurgens. It opens with a “mysterious stranger” breaking into the Fortress of Solitude and discovering that Superman is actually Clark Kent. From there, he goes after Lois in an attempt to finally take down Clark, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the “stranger” is an alternate Lex Luthor (as the normal Lex is quickly proven to be innocent). At first, I thought it might be the pre-New 52 version somehow reappearing post-Rebirth, but it isn’t, and the actual explanation isn’t terribly interesting. That being said, the overall story functions well enough, though it would’ve been nice for Luthor to learn something in the end rather than be kept in the dark. Also, Will Conrad’s art is generally pretty good throughout if a bit generic.
Next is “Suprema Est Lex” written by Mark Russell, and it’s easily the weakest of the three. The story focuses on Lex and amounts to little more than giving a brief history on him, showing him get made fun of at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the present, and then deciding to run for president. That’s it. Sure, there’s some obvious social commentary going on, but it’s all superficial and doesn’t make up for the lack of purpose and reason to care about anything that happens. Furthermore, I’m not really a fan of Jill Thompson’s art. Luthor and the Flash both look okay, but everyone else looks distractingly off-model and, at times, just plain goofy.
Finally, we have “Driver’s Seat” written by Max Landis, a story that apparently was originally supposed to be a part of DC Universe Holiday Special 2017 #1 (which I just so happened to also review). Is it weird to have a Christmas story come out at the very beginning of May? Yeah, kind of. Is the story good despite that? Yes, it is. While Clark’s preoccupied apprehending an amateur criminal, Lois gets into a car accident. She’s fine, but her car, which had a lot of sentimental value attached to it, is totaled. But, in the end, Superman comes up with the perfect Christmas gift to make her feel better. It’s nothing too deep or complicated, but the emotion and spirit of the season are there, and in this case, that’s the most important thing. Although, it should be noted that Francis Manapul delivers some great art with especially beautiful watercoloring that really makes this one visually stand out among the three stories.
I don’t know if it’s just my review copy or if it’s an intended sneak preview (because it quite literally comes out of nowhere), but this special ends with a five or six-page origin story for a new character called Firebrand. As far as I can tell, she has zero relation to any of the previous characters who bore that moniker, but I thought I recognized her from a short scene near the end of Justice League of America #29. Sure enough, Steve Orlando is listed as a co-writer. I’m not going to say much about it (partly because I’m still not sure if it’s included in retails copies), but I guess it’s part one of “Call of the Unknown” from The Unexpected, and it’s alright. Other co-writers Ryan Sook and Cary Nord seem to be capable of offsetting Orlando’s characteristic shortcomings, even if there’s definitely more narration than necessary. As for Action Comics Special #1, it’s not bad, but I don’t know if it’s worth picking up. Landis’s “Driver’s Seat” is the best of the bunch, as well as the only one to offer real emotional satisfaction with its conclusion. Compare that to Action Comics #1000, where, at the very least, each and every story included makes an honest point about the nature of Superman and what he stands for. Hopefully the upcoming Superman Special #1 will be more like that, but for now, I’d say you can skip this one.
Action Comics Special #1