Not a bang, but a whimper
This week marks the full-scale beginning of DC’s Universe-wide reboot, but before we hit the reset button on every superhero’s origins and adventures, it’s worth acknowledging the end of one of the longest running comic series in history: Action Comics Volume 1.The first issue, which came out in June 1938, it the holy grail of comic collectors. Copies have sold for as much as a million dollars, and the cover is arguably the most well-known comic art in history.
Now, over 70 years and 900 issues later, the first volume of Action Comics has come to end with issue #904. Unfortunately, the story that ends the series is not the story fans deserved, and I can’t help be a bit disappointed with DC’s closure to a major era.
**Warning: Major Spoilers Follow**
After nearly a year of being absent from the pages of Action Comics, Superman made his dramatic return to the series in the landmark issue #900. His nemesis, Lex Luthor, had been center stage for the previous year as he sought out the god-like power of a Black Lantern ring. After finally achieving his goal, Luther and Superman collide in outer space in what could accurately be described as the ultimate showdown. Ultimately, Luthor’s arrogance and myopic hatred for the man of steel causes his own downfall, but their battle is only the half-way point of the final story.
Action #900 was actually issue 6 in a 10-issue crossover series entitled “The Reign of the Doomsdays.” The title itself is a throwback to the epic 1993 storyline “The Reign of the Supermen.” Following his death battling Doomsday, four characters — Steel, Superboy, The Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman — laid claim to Superman’s legacy until the man himself returned months later.
Death is almost always temporary in the world of comics, so not surprisingly Doomsday returned from the dead as well and has had several “rematches” with Superman in the two decades since they originally met. But “The Reign of the Doomsdays” was different in that it featured and focused on the same characters as the original “Reign” storyline. Starting in a Steel one-shot and continuing in issues of Outsiders, Justice League of America, a Superman/Batman Annual and Superboy, the plots centers on Doomsday hunting down and battling the four characters who appeared during Superman’s absence in the 1990s. Things were noticeably different almost immediately, however, when Doomsday displayed different powers and objectives than he ever had before.
The product of Kryptonian genetic engineering, Doomsday is an ultra-powered, mindlessly raging beast who has the ability to regenerate (even after death) and evolve to adapt to whatever harms him. In his first battle with Steel, however, he shows the ability to mimic the powers of those he is fighting. After making short work of Steel and the other would-be Supermen (and Supergirl), rather than kill them as he would ave done in the past, Doomsday gathers them up and teleports them to a mysterious spaceship. At this point the story shifts back to the pages of Action Comics.
Shortly after defeating Luthor, the original Superman makes his way to Doomsday’s ship, which ends up containing a “pocket universe.” For those not familiar with pocket universes in the world of comics, they are self-contained universes that operate on their own space-time continuum. They can be as big or as small as they need to be and time can go faster/slower with zero regard for the universe in which all the other characters exist. In other words, they are a blank check for writers to do whatever they want and not worry about the logistics. The one contained inside this mysterious ship is no different. Much like the internet, the ship’s innards are a series of tubes, some that apparently go for hundreds of thousands of miles. Upon breaking into the pocket universe in Action Comics #900, Superman finds the imprisoned characters bearing his symbol and another major surprise: Doomsday is still dead from his previous defeat, and the monster the others have been fighting are actually multiple monsters, each a clone created by Luthor for the sole purpose of distracting Superman while Luthor pursued the Black Lantern ring.
It would seem Luthor’s plan was not a brilliant one, as Superman didn’t even pursue any of the Doomsdays until after defeating Luthor himself. What follows are really just the unforeseen consequence of Luthor’s original plan. The ship itself was not something Luthor created, but rather something he stumbled acroos in outer space. He simply decided to setup shop and use it as a place to keep the other “Supermen” captive.As the heroes try to escape in Action Comics #901, they end up battling four Doomsday clones at once, and Supergirl tosses one of them down one of the seemingly endless tubes within the ship. Shortly there after, a new enemy appears, an intelligent Doomsday-like creature wearing cybernetic battle armor and calling himself “The Doomslayer.” Truly awful name aside, introducing a new foe three issues before ending an entire series seemed like a ballsy move on DC’s part. By the end of the story however, it turns out the move wasn’t so ballsy after all.
The Doomslayer’s stated objective is to end the existence of Doomsday and all his clones, but his plan to do so involves destroying the entire planet Earth. After meeting resistance from the heroes, The Doomslayer unleashes the remaining three Doomsday clones on Earth, again as a distraction to the heroes, leaving Superman alone to face the creature and save the world yet again.
In the last issue, a final series of twists reveals the ship to be an intelligent sentient being that traveled to our world as a “probe” from another dimension. The probe was damaged after Luthor discovered it and was unable to return to its home dimension. The Doomslayer, it turns out, is just the forth Doomsday clone, the one Supergirl tossed away. Spending thousands, possibly millions of years stuck in the pocket dimension (remember, it has its own space-time continuum) this Doomsday evolved to mimic the technology and intelligence of the probe it was stuck inside of, thus becoming The Doomslayer. His new perspective of Doomsday as an “infection” needing to be purged is a likely reflection of the ship’s own view of him as he was trapped inside it.
So the final battle of Action Comics really just ends up being Superman vs Doomsday one last time, but after nine issues of build-up the confrontation itself is a big letdown. I loved the original battle between Superman and Doomsday, but this final battle is resolved so quickly I can’t help but think more was planned, but ultimately discarded after DC’s decision to reboot everything.
Instead of a massive battle, the story is resolved extremely quickly as Superman repairs the damaged ship, which then transports back to its home dimension, taking every version of Doomsday with him. The story then shifts to the following evening, with Clark Kent and Lois Lane having dinner. Lois tells Clark just how inspiring he is to others and gives quick summary of all he good that Superman does for the world. While a poignant scene, it seems like it was hastily added after it was decided this would be the final issue.
While “The Reign of the Doomsdays” is not an awful storyline, it certainly did not live up to its potential. As a crossover story, the writing and artwork are really hit-and-miss along the way, until the story hits part 6 and is produced by Paul Cornell and Axel Gimenez the rest of the way. Cornell is a great writer and still manages to produce some decent scenes, but the general lack of exposition and hasty resolution leaves a bit to be desired. The best written portions of the story actually come when the story crosses into the pages of Justice League and Superman/Batman Annual, both of which are penned by James Robinson.
A lot of different artists contribute to this story, especially in Action Comics 900, but Gimenez’s work is given the most space. I am not a huge fan of Gimenez’s artwork. He draws Superman too young for my tastes, making him look like he just celebrated his 21st birthday, and his sketchy detail work made it hard to tell The Doomslayer was actually wearing armor until I saw another artist’s variant cover artwork. It’s not bad, it’s just not great, and Action Comics really deserved something great at the end.
Andrew DuPont is a video editor who hails from Royal Oak. His video production company can be found online at www.wordslinger-productions.com