The famous face-off between Batman and Superman often times feels overstated when taking several factors into consideration. These include power sets, film quality, rogues gallery, supporting characters. The idea is that for the most, things usually favor one of the sides more so than the other. This leads the opposing side to maneuver through logic loops and hoops just to stand a chance in the argument (Superman would wipe the floor with Batman in a 1v1 fight, don’t @ me).
Today we find ourselves asking a different question, taking this whole Batman vs. Superman debate a bit further. Having read the two landmark issues, I will decide which hero did it better based on 3 categories. Since there aren’t any huge milestones as big as these, what other time to do this than now? Let’s just hope this time around, both find themselves on equal footing.
These are landmark issues. Although the #1 relaunches add skepticism as to whether DC Comics completely earned it, coming in at around a 1K total is still impressive. With that comes a lot of history and it’s only appropriate these issues would commemorate it.
This is why I think Action Comics #1000 does a much better job as a whole celebrating the character of Superman. And I’m not even talking about the one story by Dan Jurgens where the whole city celebrates Superman Day and the rest of the DC Universe decides to take his place for the day. You take that story out and the rest of the comic still delivers on that front. Peter J. Tomasi’s story with Superman fighting Vandal Savage over different periods of times encapsulates some of the most recognizable moments in Superman history. Then you have the story called The Car using the Action Comics #1 cover as its reference point. It’s little things like that which add an extra layer of undertones of celebration to tell a short yet impactful story. You can see this element even in the worst of the short stories within the issue.
With Batman, that whole angle isn’t as relevant. Despite having more pages, more room to show-off, that component is missing. Superman and Batman are two different characters. What should usually feel as triumphant, victorious in a Superman short should probably be mythical, mysterious in a Batman one. Instead, for the most part, we have stories that feel more like regular stories which stand nicely on their own but add nothing to the landmark. Tying Batman’s chest plate to Joe Chill’s gun replicates some of that along with The Precedent (Robin themed story) and the Tom King story. Still, there’s not enough of that here.
Superman takes the edge here because anyone picking up Action Comics #1000 would understand the weight of the character. Even to a casual reader, the writers implement Clark’s past, present, future, themes, motivations, values, all into this one comic. And for that Action Comics lives up to its landmark issue name more so than Detective Comics.
Yet again, I must state the fact that this is an issue #1000. An event that happens every 80 years. So, of course, I expect the most out of both of these books. But what of the talent involved? I’ll be looking at each talent roster and judge whether it fits.
For Action Comics #1000 we have Dan Jurgens who made his biggest contribution to Superman in the 90s with the Death of Superman and the Reign of the Supermen. Over the years he’s revisited Superman several times whether it be through writing or art. He is a must to include. Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason may be newbies but they already made their signature stamp on the character.
The Richard Donner and Geoff Johns team-up is obviously huge. Working on the Superman movies obviously gives this list that much more value. Louise Simonson definitely deserves her spot on this list with her long-running Man of Steel run. It helps her story is actually good in the issue itself. Cut Swan is a major contributor here! I just wish an editor at DC would’ve taken the time to make him look better in the comic by assigning a better colorist. Other notables are Jerry Ordway, and Marv Wolfman whom with John Byrne redefined Superman in the 80s.
The talent that sort of doesn’t fit on here is Scott Snyder, Olivier Coipel, Tom King, Clay Mann, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom King, Brad Meltzer, Rafael Albuquerque. They’re the guys who haven’t exactly made their marks on the character in any definitive way. The writers and artists that were missing are John Byrne, Grant Morrison, J. Michael Straczynski, Shane Davis, Gary Frank, Kurt Busiek, Frank Quitely, Alex Ross and Mark Miller among many.
Now looking on Batman’s end we have notable names such as Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo from their memorable New 52 run. The two icons: Dennis O’Neil thankfully made it on here with a sequel to one of his most famous stories and Neal Adams with someone who should’ve gotten a different inker and colorist. The Richard Donner of Batman here is no other than Paul Dini. He has contributed to the character in cartoons, video games, and comics. Then we have the peeing Kevin Smith, hushy-hush-hush Jim Lee, Alex Maleev, Geoff “One” Johns, long-eared Kelly Jones, James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Buero, Tom “Bat/Cat” King, Tony S. Daniel, Joelle “Meow” Jones, Doug Mahnke, and Peter J. Tomasi.
The ones I really thought sort of didn’t fit were Steve Epting, Christopher Priest, and Brian Michael Bendis (again). On the other hand, they were missing a ton of big names like Jim Starlin, Alan Moore, Frank FREAKING Miller, Mike Mignola, Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, Steve Englehart, Dave McKean and many more! Not including these guys is a crime within itself. Having said this, the roster represents Batman’s history and has only 3 names that don’t entirely fit.
And with that, I think I’d have to say Batman would take this round with ease. Paying attention to who is writing or drawing at a moment in history like this is important. These are the people who created these characters, defined them and made them out into what we first think when we hear the words “Batman” and “Superman”. That’s why it’s a shame we also didn’t see DC ensure the names outside of comics who made their contributions whether it be film, games, TV shows, etc. Now, we move onto the final round that takes a bit more scrutiny into account.
Moving on from what should be a given when it comes to 1000th issues, nothing is more important than the quality itself. In this section, I shortly wanna skim through most of the stories, not all – since that would take far too long. I’ll narrow it down to the ones I have something to say. We’ll start with Superman.
Right off the get-go, we have a pretty standard and generic short written by Dan Jurgens called From the City That Has Everything (a cheeky reference to the title of the famous Alan Moore story). Metropolis is celebrating Superman Day, Lois has a funny costume reveal, civilians share their stories of how Superman helped them and things from there take a nose dive. Lois was trying to set up a surprise and the minute Clark figures she’s not speaking on the phone with Perry White he automatically assumes she’s been affected by a villain because you know, the plot has to progress somehow and forget good storytelling.
He quickly storms off, not to mention reveals his super suit around a giant crowd. He flies into Wonder Woman who tells him Martian Manhunter manipulated Superman’s mind into not noticing anything bad happening within the city. They wanted to give him a day off so that justified their questionable behavior.
As any sane person can tell, it’s rushed and out of character for everyone. Apparently, the entire Justice League signed off on breaking Superman’s trust by controlling his mind. It comes off in poor taste, “unhero-like” and easily something that was put together last minute. Not a great way to start off the major issue. Likely why Detective Comics #1000 had more pages seeing the underdeveloped nature of a lot of these. That’s not to say they give us better stories, but back to Supes.
The next short is Never-Ending Battle with Peter J. Tomasi who clearly understands Superman as a character. This is the story that spans through multiple time eras of Superman as he’s trying to return to the present and defeat Vandal Savage. It’s incredible work all around. And each page feels like it’s worth putting up as my phone wallpaper thanks to Patrick Gleason’s return to working with Tomasi. A match-up made in heaven. Just reading Superman doing a commentary on all his eras of existing truly carries this segment for me. It’s writing like this that makes me smile through its sheer accuracy and comprehension of who the writer is writing about. Definitely in my Top 3 of Action Comics #1000.
Skipping to The Car we have Richard Donner teaming up with Geoff Johns for the writing duties, and Olivier Coipel on art. Superman not smiling once in this thing somehow makes it that much better. He’s simply having a heart-to-heart, talking to a criminal named Butch. None of that fake patriotism you see, that forced smile too many associate with Superman. Clark Kent deals with serious topics and his emotions and interactions are appropriate to how he deals with people.
The fact that the crook isn’t made out into just that, the notion that there is a backstory to him and his rough life is so much. Using Clark’s reporter skills to get to that is also some extra gentle fine touch work. The tone succeeds because the expressions of the characters are detailed, they don’t overdo what they want to get across and Alejandro Sanchez’s dusty colors in the morning scenes ground everything so well. The final panel sort of confused me. I wasn’t sure what happened there. I imagine Butch fixing the fire hydrant, but what are those kids doing in there? They’re clearly some imaginary projections of Butch. If someone could explain that part to me I’d be thankful.
The Fifth Season I do not understand at all. Scott Snyder is trying to be too meaningful here. I like the 5th season concept a lot but he tries to tie all the loose threads together. Comes off like the reader is at fault for not following. One second Lex is talking about sending an S.O.S. signal, then somehow that evolves into Superman discussing the destruction of Krypton and trying to find answers, and then they’re back to mentioning the fifth season and then Lex Luthor’s ability to kill Supes. Too much ground covered. Too jumbled. Someone explain.
Of Tomorrow is surprisingly a crazy good tale from the brain of Tom King and the mind of Clay Mann. Earth is uninhabitable, approaching its end, unknown how much time passed and Superman monologues at the grave of his Ma and Pa Kent. Every nook and cranny of the planet destroyed. In exception of the grave because that’s the thing that will live on. Everything they taught Clark will go with him and nothing, not even the end of the world could ever tarnish that. Jordie Bellaire obviously making the most out of the colors. It all plays into it. Some of the Tom King mark-key pretentiousness is still there but the idea works so well I’m willing to let it go.
Five Minutes is just an all-around a fun little short. Then we have Paul Dini’s Actionland. Probably also in my Top 3 of this issue because Superman isn’t even the main character. The idea of Actionland alone excites me (they should make it into a real thing). Every Superman writer is basically playing the role of Mr. Mxyptlk. If you look at it from that perspective especially, you realize how well it works. Just an around fun story.
Faster Than a Speeding Bullet is weak. Superman acts a bit cocky if you ask me, “Fortunately, she has me”. And just all around the interactions seem a bit forced. And then we close off the issue with Bendis’ The Truth which basically boils down to an advertisement to his future series. This is a terrible way to end a comic like this. Very disappointing, and just ruins the flow of the entire issue by dropping the celebratory approach of the previous shorts.
We first open with Batman’s Longest Case which is one good way to grab the reader’s attention. The return of the Dynamic Duo of Snyder and Capullo sets things up for a better start than with Action Comics #1000. I liked how the story ended but it felt like it was building up to something the entire time. Introducing the Guild of Detection seems like a thing someone would do introduce in a bigger story arc. Glad they did that here, but also that it fits.
The Legend of Knute Brody is just great. I love the idea of this character. I was sort of sad to find out they were the Bat Family members undercover. He just seems like too much of a good idea to waste on a gag, even if the gag is really satisfying within itself. Paul Dini like Peter J. Tomasi for Superman understands Batman. The only difference here is Paul Dini has a better case of writing better stories. And it shows here.
Up next, we have Warren Ellis’ The Batman’s Design and I have no idea how to come to a verdict on this one. At first, I found it extremely effective to see Ellis write everything with a self-aware sense of humor. Batman is blowing people up, jumping on their spines and then he follows that up by saying, “None of this is lethal, of course. Just painful.” or, “This won’t kill him,” but there’s nothing else to it really. The fight just happens and that’s it.
Finally, the return of Denny O’Neil with the story, Return to Crime Alley and honestly, I’m a bit confused and disappointed. I really like what O’Neil was trying to say about Batman, this was not the place. The dynamic between Bruce and Leslie Thompkins feels completely off and unlike what we’ve ever seemed before with the two. Here, she’s cold, judgmental and angry at Bruce instead of disappointed. The major flaw in the story is how brief it is. Just as the scene picks up, it ends. I would’ve loved to see the themes explored with a character that fits these traits. Initially, when I heard a sequel to one of my favorite stories was going to happen, I was excited. Seeing how it turned out is a major let down.
The art shifts from amazing and stunning to funny and overly awkward. The expressions, especially with Thompkins, are off, cringe and a perfect of what I was earlier talking about Olivier Coipel’s The Car. There he managed to avoid overblowing the emotions from ruining the nature of the scene. It seems that moral was not learned here. If an artist doesn’t see this problem they end up overshadowing their great art with silly faces at moments like these.
This expression, not impressive.
I do love the first page referencing the classic first-page teasers that would be used in Silver and early Bronze Age. The issue as a whole has plenty of potentials. It’s misused, overdone and misplaced when it ends off on a note that doesn’t finish its climax. Denny once said, to write a captivating story, you skip the beginning and start it at its most exciting spot. He mentioned skipping the ending. This would be a good indicator as to why.
“—Pulmonary contusion likely stopped his heart…a martial arts strike. Calloused palms and flexor carpi radials distension – a swordsman. Signed follicles suggest tattoos lasered off,” is Christopher Priest’s writing in a nutshell. I appreciate his willingness to actually do research or implement such terms into comics. It adds some credibility to his writing but everything else is forgettable. His credibility shouldn’t be the only event of reading his books. Priest is also trying to implement his chapter-like story structure which as is comes off forced. And then things end on a vague note. Is there a part two to this? Is this a set-up? Are we supposed to call this writing? A story? Oh, bother.
Then we have the really cool story by Geoff Johns which feels like the greatest middle finger to Tom King. Apparently, Bruce and Selina have a daughter named Echo (and I thought DD knocked off Batman). Or that’s at least what I thought it was until I read the last page which sort of feels like an auxiliary to King’s Wedding arc, only this one isn’t so blunt. It’s actually really touching and doesn’t focus on telling you one thing over the other. And Kelly Jones’ art only makes this better co-oped along with Michelle Madsen’s rich colors. The transitions between the candle flame and the bat signal are smooth to give off the simultaneous effect. That’s something not easy to pull off in a comic book where usually each panel is supposed to lead to the next action. Meanwhile here it’s to show one single movement to lead to another one at the same time.
The Precedent is one solid story that caps it off really nicely with the final panel. I am loving well-timed references. Then we have Tom King’s story which is annoying to get through because almost every Batfamily member is acting out of character. Ace being the clear exception. The concept is genius, however, we have the dialogue to come and screw everything up. I do like how you can tell who is speaking by simply reading the text. That shows King has an understanding of how good storytelling works in theory. I think he really wanted to show off the ability to have a reader know who’s speaking without giving any cues. And that’s where I realized Tom King’s biggest problem lies — flexing.
King obsesses over his capabilities as a writer that he doesn’t care if he’s bringing into question the rules established within the universe such as how our Batfamily members act. Quit trying to flex or at least do it at times that don’t include Cassandra trying to convince Tim to make out or where Jason repeats himself whether he’s off the team or not.
Okay, this is pretty cute.
The final story also feels like a little waste of time. The weird thing is this is the only one that tries to actively show Batman’s vast experience with the impressive villains gallery aside from the Kevin Smith story. Unfortunately, it’s also an advertisement for the next issue. I hate the idea of not having an entire issue dedicated to just individual stories that don’t necessarily lead to anything.
I am intrigued by the introduction of Arkham Knight that hopefully won’t have anything to do with Jason Todd this time around. It just doesn’t it in an issue that people should be coming back to over the years. Decisions like these — allowing stories like these to make it into the anniversary issue — is what will make future readers disinterested and unimpressed with comics as is. Let’s keep the sacred things sacred. No need to make every issue interlined with the next one.
Now as for the winner of the Quality category. The will grant one of our competitors the winning point. But before that, a little closing off statement for both.
Overall the stories in Action Comics #1000 were pretty standard with the goodies eventually thrown here and there (Never-Ending Battle, The Car, Of Tomorrow, Five Minutes, Actionland!). Out of the 10 stories, the 5 only satisfy while only 3 of those really get you going. For a comic like this, every story should be top notch. This just goes on to reaffirm my criticisms of the editor’s job within the comic industry. If I reviewed the issue it’d be a low tier 7/10. If it weren’t for the couple great stories this issue would be a shame of a waste.
Side Note: One thing I would’ve added was one story about Clark being his usual self, as in acting like a normal everyday person. He’s not always on hero duty. He’s like you and me.
Unfortunately, I wish I could be more optimistic about Detective Comics however, the situation is gloomier. I realized the main problem of Detective Comics is its inability to tell a complete narrative. Snyder sets up the Guild of Detection and a library of history’s most unsolved mysteries, Ellis’ doesn’t go anywhere, O’Neil’s cuts off, Priest’s comes off as a set-up for future stories and Peter J. Tomasi’s is a set-up for the next issue. When piled together the flaw stands out. That’s 5 out of 11 stories that trail off as opposed to Action Comics’ 1 out of 10. The only ones that tell a strong cohesive one are from Geoff Johns, James Tynion IV, Paul Dini and Kevin Smith. They’re the ones that are focused and on top of that happen to play into what makes Batman so interesting, complex and important as a myth. The rest aren’t worth talking about that much. 6/10 from me. Given how DC should’ve learned their lessons from Action Comics #1000, and should’ve realized they should put more care into these (not less) makes Detective Comics look only worse.
Side Note: Where is Hugo Strange? Also, I was hoping for a Detectiveland! storyline since the ending of Paul Dini’s story in Action Comics teased we’d see something similar here. Sadness.
That’s all folks.
Turns out Batman and Superman were pretty much on equal grounds in this argument, only in a way I hoped it wouldn’t. Call me a tough critic. I just expect much more from events as big as this, as expensive as this and as needed for the industry as this. Will people remember these stories or even the issue a year from now? I doubt it. Pick up your slack.
Thank goodness the people running the comic industry don’t run something as ambitious as Avengers: Endgame.
Fun Fact: Notice how for both 1000 issue anniversaries, the character’s costumes were reversed to resemble their most iconic suits (undies, iconic color pallets, standard costume accessories).
P.S. Apparently, there’s a story by Paul Levitz and Neal Adams that apparently wasn’t in my copy of Action Comics #1000. I ended up running into this online. Can anyone explain why exactly? Is this story a digital exclusive? Was I the only one that didn’t have it? Maybe for the better because it’s awful.