01st May2018

‘Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman – Deluxe Edition’ Review

by Dean Fuller

Written by Various | Art by Various | Published by DC Comics

ac-80yrs-Superman-cover

To paraphrase John Lennon, before Action Comics there was nothing. Action Comics was the comic book industry equivalent of the Big Bang. Prior to Action Comics you had comic books, but these were usually collections of previously published newspaper strips, repackaged to encourage people to double dip, or newspaper style strips with Flash Gordon type characters. In fact Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, Superman’s creators and effectively the fathers of the superhero comic book industry (Stan Lee can be a honorary uncle) originally conceived of Superman as a newspaper strip, and had tried to shop it around but no newspaper syndicate would touch it. Their loss was most certainly our gain.

Action Comics issue 1, dated April 1938, was rushed out by National Periodicals (DC) to capitalise on the growing fad for comic books. Their Detective Comics book, still a year away from a certain headliner called Batman, had been doing well. Action Comics had the usual strips already in place, but needed something to headline. Siegel and Schuster’s rejected Superman strip fit the bill, and the cover of Action Comics #1, and that first page detailing Superman’s origin are now two of the most iconic pages in comic book history. If you wanted to get your hands on that issue now, it’d cost you a cool $3 million plus. Superman was a hit, and the floodgates opened as hundreds of new costumed heroes appeared almost overnight. Superman, though, will always be the first, and will always be the best.

DC know this too, and have released a stunning looking deluxe edition celebrating 80 years of Action Comics. Simultaneously a celebration of the world’s longest continually published comic book, and of possibly the world’s favourite character. The first thing to notice is the production values are superb, from the framing pages, the text pieces by Paul Levitz, Jules Feiffer, and Laura Siegel Larson and others scattered throughout the book, to the creators biographies and a breakdown of the various eras. As great as the individual stories are, the many extras liberally sprinkled throughout make the book simply magical, and it’s them that make you know the book was put together by genuine fans, not just as a corporate money grab. as fan’s we are resigned to spending far too much on our hobby, but when it’s nice and shiny like this we can forgive that detail.

With 80 years of publishing, and 1000 individual issues, the task to try and present a sort of ‘best of’ is truly epic. The approach decided on has been to pick stories, from every decade, that have had lasting importance on the mythology of Superman, rather than just pick the absolute best stories. So, we get good selections from all eras, and all creative teams, old and new alike. So for example, you get the first appearance of Supergirl from 1959, a personal favourite story of mine, and also a great Grant Morrison story from 2012. Poles apart in style and tone, but both of great significance to the character and his history. The linear presentation also works really well in that we can see the evolution of the character of Superman, his mythology and supporting cast, and appreciate just how adaptable a character he is. He always manages to reflect the times he lives in.

Many of the stories contained in this volume, especially from the 1970′s onwards, I actually have in single issue form. If you do as well, don’t let this put you off, as the superior production values here make the story and art much clearer and easier to appreciate. The new Paul Levitz and Neal Adams story, and the previously unpublished Siegel and Schuster tale, are both worth the price of admission alone. The book celebrates Superman‘s status as the world’s greatest hero, sure, but also those writers and artists that put him there. Everywhere you look there are legends. Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, John Byrne, the list goes on.

Do I have any criticisms? A couple of minor ones, yes. A certain Alan Moore wrote some great Superman stories, but nothing made it in here. Also, I know why most of the stories were selected, but I personally would have lost a couple that are present and put even more important ones in their place. This is a little subjective though of course, and there are plenty of older collections out there that collect these and other stories also.

Action Comics is the oldest continuously published comic book in the world, and Superman has been continuously in print since his first appearance in 1938. Every story in this collection, and every writer and artist, has had a part to play in keeping Superman popular, relevant, and where he is today. The stories in this book made me believe a man can fly all over again, and I hope they do the same for you too.

This book is both a celebration of the previous 80 years of Action Comics, but also an introduction to the next 80 years. Up, up, and away indeed.

***** 5/5

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