Ah, that Action Comics issue 900. The one where Superman abandons the ‘American Way’ aspect of the mission statement that everyone imagines he said but can’t remember where he said it, and declares himself a citizen of the world. It’s a PR coup – boosting the series’ presence in the mainstream media, and goading the right wing press into a pinko-bashing reactionary tizzy. The comic itself has now sold out, leaving those curious stragglers (perhaps you’re one of them), tap-tap-tapping their apps and ebooks and whatnot.
Written by scriptwriter David S Goyer, who is encouragingly involved in both the new Superman film, Man Of Steel and Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie, ‘The Incident’ features Superman flying to Tehran, very much the Tehran of the real world in the current Arab Spring (Persians aren’t Arabs, but the people who give names to historical movements don’t seem concerned by that) of simmering tension and revolt. Superman holds the forces of state repression at bay simply by being there, standing amid the crowd while the riot police stay at arm’s length. Explaining his decision to an enraged US government bod, he makes his speech about the world being too big and interconnected, him being unable by his nature to see anything other than the bigger picture, and announces that he’ll be renouncing his citizenship to ensure he’s above petty national interests.
It’s lovely, it’s sublimely written and Goyer understands the concepts of power and humanity in a way that gets the heart racing for a sophisticated and complex Superman movie that Superman Returns wasn’t. The problem is for the ‘controversial’ issue 900 of Action Comics, that this is a back-up story – one of a few of varying quality (one is about inviting the tediously dull Legion Of Super Heroes to dinner, and one is about a space hippo). It might not even be mentioned again and the rest of the issue is far from controversial, it’s a safe, predictable collection of bad ideas that we’ve all come to expect from major comic-book ‘events’.
Divided between the resolution of Paul Cornell’s brilliant run with Lex Luther as the star, and the climax to the Reign Of Doomsday storyline in which the Big Bad of the Nineties, responsible for the death of Superman in the book’s last big media frenzy returns to try and recaptured some of that circulation-boosting magic. It’s pure videogame sequel, with a false victory in which the original Doomsday is felled by the combined might of Superman, Supergirl, Superboy, Cyborg Superman, Eradicator, Steel and Dobbin the Superhorse, only for the proverbial curtain to open an a whole host of super bad-ass cyborg Doomsdays to emerge. Imagine the sort of thing a teenage boy weaned on Rob Liefield, Lobo, Spawn and the worst of the Xtreme Nineties would come up with in his school notebook – that’s the level of creative prowess we’re operating at.
Poor Cornell, having to feed his story into this monster like it’s a human sacrifice. All the subtlety and brilliance of his time with Lex Luther reduced to a painfully compressed conclusion while Superman is en route to fighting Doomsday Squad X.
For all the headline grabbing controversy getting tossed around and debated endlessly, Action Comics issue 900 is as lifeless and uncontroversial as, well, a good number of the 899 issues which preceded it.