Action Comics: Rebirth – Year 1 Complete Recap

So when I made our first Rebirth Year 1 video, I put a Patreon poll up asking what series people would like me to go over for Rebirth’s first year yet.  The series that won, and the comic line most requested by our viewers in general, was easily Action Comics, which pretty much outpaced everything else with ease.

At the time, it was easy to understand why.  I was already familiar enough with the Action Comics of the Rebirth era and their outstanding quality, so I figured it would be an easy experience going through these comics in more depth.  Indeed it was, and even though I already kind of new what to expect, I was still impressed by just how good this series has gotten in the time of Rebirth.

Action Comics #963. Who Is Clark Kent?

There’s so much Action Comics gets right that it’s very easy for me to understand why a lot of our viewers and comic book readers in general have started to really take an interest in this almost 1,000 issue long comic book line.  I almost don’t know where to begin.  Both the story and art are well done throughout the first year of Action Comics.  Dan Jurgens handled the writing during this period, while more artists worked on this thing than I can count or go through individually.

Yet the art does deserve a metric ton of praise.  In spite of a lot of different people being involved throughout these comics, the artists and colourists do an amazing job at keep a certain consistent quality to this series.  Everything is so realistic that every facial expression registers well.  I don’t think there’s a weak penciller, inker, colourist, or even letterer on the team, though two people stand out that I want to give a special shout-out to.  First is Doug Mahnke, who’s special level of detail is nothing quite like what I’ve ever seen before.  It’s got this iconic Jim Lee quality too it but has this level of detail I cannot compare to any other comic book artist… ever.  It’s pretty amazing and just impresses me over and over again.  The other shout-out I want to give is to Robert Leigh, who does some pretty fantastic lettering for the series.  Near the end of Revenge, he does this thing where any dialogue spoken in Mandarin is done in blue text.  It’s a very simple, small detail, but one I thought was very effective at showing the New Superman was speaking a different language as well as a handful of other characters who can also speak Mandarin, like Superman when he is talking to Kong or when Blanque is able to telepathically communicate with the young hero.

It’s a very little point but one I really appreciated, and looked a little better than what comics usually do to denote a foreign language through the use of brackets or subtitles.  The massive art team behind Action Comics is full of competent, clever, and simply beautiful work throughout this entire first year of issues, and really, it’s one of the best features of this comic.

action comics #957 superman clark kent

It’s not the only feature, though.  When I started making this video I stumbled on a Reddit discussion about the series before it had premiered.  Remember at the time we were at the tail end of the New 52, deep into the half-baked, half-Marvel style soft reboot known as DCYou, and the content at the time was less than impressive.  DC hadn’t shown it’s hand yet, so we only had announcements to go by and well, doubt was deeply ingrained in the comic book community.  It still is, by the way, as to this day I meet many would be comic book fans that haven’t heard the good word of Rebirth yet, and assume comics have been the same mediocrity they have been for the last several years.  Yet things have changed, and Rebirth really is showing that you can meaningfully progress superhero stories in fun, interesting, and most importantly, new ways.

Yet before all this we were skeptical, as was this Reddit thread talking about Action Comics.  The sentiment at the time was doubt for this series, too, and I understand why.  It was cool that they were going back to this long-running series’ original numbering, but with the announcement Dan Jurgens was writing this series,and the first story arc was about Doomsday, people were understandably worried.

comic island action comics logo

Dan Jurgens is an interesting fellow and a choice that surprised a lot of people, but when we consider his career and the fact they very much lined him up to be the writer in the build-up to the historic milestone of Action Comics #1000, it all makes quite a bit of sense.  This is an old school writer who first started out in the 80s and has a long history of writing for Superman.  You likely know him best as the guy who wrote Death of Superman, but he’s done a lot more than that.  He created Cyborg Superman, wrote a couple of really cool crossovers with various other companies, and has been responsible for several other comic book gems over the years.  He’s a cool guy, but I’m not going to pretend he was ever one of my favourite writers.

I’m not afraid to admit that Death of Superman is not a story I enjoyed or look back on fondly.  I’ve heard that story described as the Micheal Bay movie of comic books, and I’m inclined to agree with that sentiment.  It’s not bad, strictly speaking it’s just… boring.  Superman and Doomsday fight… and they fight… and they fight, until eventually, Superman just sort of… dies, for a while, at least, before some really weird, confusing nonsense happens and pretty soon he is back.

In the modern age, Jurgens had been making a lot of comics I’m afraid I really can only describe as mediocre at best, and, to be honest, more often than not, were just plain awful.  I did not care for his time on Green Arrow and Future’s End just sucked, but he did alright with some of his Superman comics and did a straight up good job with Batman Beyond.  All this set the stage for Rebirth, and a lot of people, myself included, were pretty ambivalent about him taking on Action Comics.  Add in the fact this first story arc was about Doomsday, even though we just had a major story arc featuring the villain less than a year before Rebirth began, and you should be able to at least understand why I and others were so skeptical about this thing before we started.

Of course, healthy skepticism is fine, so long as you approach the material in question with an open mind.  I and many others did, and boy, were we rewarded from it.  Let me make something clear, having just gone out of my way to underlie just how ambivalent I was about Dan Jurgens before reading Action Comics – this series is a brilliant read and one of the best written runs to ever come out of this particular series.  Obviously, in almost a thousand issues, there are plenty of great runs throughout the history of Action Comics.  The Rebirth era is easily one of my favorites, though, and for many reasons.

Action Comics #958 doomsday

The central points of Action Comics in the Rebirth Era are twofold.  First, there is a concrete focus on action.  This is to be expected out of something called Action Comics, but the creative team here do a good job at not only writing out lots of high-stakes action with Superman and associated characters, but the art team delivers on Jurgen’s strongly paced action issue after issue.  Secondly, Action Comics has a huge, consistent focus on solid character work.

From major characters like Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor, to more minor but important figures like Lana Lang, the God Slayer, and even Mr. Mxyzptlk, every character is written with not only a surprising degree of nuance but also with a lot of depth to them.  I singled out Lois, Clark, and Lex in particular because they are both well written but provide the bulk of the comic’s narration.  It’s so well done, getting into these character’s thoughts and feelings about the world around them.   It delivers on little moments, like Lois and Clark figuring out Doomsday’s behaviour at the same time, due to their heavy level of experience and Lois’ incredible familiarity with all things Superman.  Lois in particular really stands out in the comics.  She constantly has interesting stuff to do and is often very directly involved in the plot in important ways, and not once did I ever feel like she was forced into any comic.  Lex Luthor is great too, and his time in these comics are filled with great little moments as well.  His narration is super interesting, like when we learn that he had no idea Superman had thoroughly investigated him long ago, or the gradually building of trust between these two, after Lex explains, with quite a bit of sincerity, that the New 52 Superman taught him the value of being a hero during the events of Forever Evil.  That’s smart, and the sort of follow-through from events and character development that superhero stories lack far too often.

We learn a lot about these characters through the story and Dan Jurgens deserves so much credit for writing these characters so well.  He really lays it all out nicely in the first story arc.  Superman is changed from the man who first fought Doomsday at the cost of his own life.  Kal-El learned from that experience and fights smarter, but also with a sense that he cannot die like he did last time – after all, unlike then, it would now mean that he’d be leaving his family all alone on this strange new world.

In spite of me not really liking Death of Superman, this first story arc nicely followed up on that content in an informative and creative way.  Jurgens shows early on that he’s gotten a lot of polish in his storytelling these days, and he keeps delivering one high-quality story after another after this.  I initially thought the Godslayer arc might get boring or just wind up being filler, but the villains were very compelling, rounded out characters, while the story itself was not only super interesting but also a direct follow-up to the events of the Darkseid War.

Action Comics #966. Return To The Daily Planet.

Then we got Superman: Reborn, which not only paid off the Clark Kent mystery quite nicely, but also resolved any potential confusion over the two timelines in one fell swoop.  Revenge, the last story arc of Action Comic’s first year of Rebirth, shows us the potential of having a Superman merged with his New 52 version, and also the sheer, astounding fun we can have with this crew of various Supermen that is put together to face Zod and the others.

It’s all good.  Time and time again, we are delivered entertaining content with characters who are presented in a way I could pretty much follow indefinitely.  I suspect, looking over the career with Dan Jurgens and the struggle he had with various editors from Marvel and DC, and thinking about the type and quality of stories we are getting out of Rebirth, that a huge part of this is that the editorial gloves really are off for most of Rebirth.  By and large, it seems like the writers have a sense of creative freedom they simply did not enjoy during the New 52 era.  It’s hard to tell if this is the case for sure, but it would explain why writers like Dan Jurgens suddenly started making these phenomenal comics the second that Rebirth started, and the palatable shift in tone and quality Rebirth seemed to kick off.

Whatever the case, whatever happened behind the scenes that led to this, whatever DC has had to do to deliver content like this, it was worth it.  These were amazing comics I am so glad I read, and I highly recommend you check them out for yourself.  It’s a wonderful result of many story threads and ideas – in fact, that might be the one thing holding this series back.  You kind of need to read a lot of comics both inside and out of this series to fully appreciate Action Comics, but if you do, well, the pay-off is very much worth it.

Superman has changed but only for the better.  His family grounds him, while his many allies and enemies give his story colour and life.  I’m not going to lie to you, if Action Comic stays at this level of quality, they could easily go for another 1,000 issues.

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