The comics industry — at least the one in North America — achieves a significant milestone this week with the release of Action Comics #1000. It’s not just that it’s the first title in this marketplace to achieve that long a run, but it’s also because of what that title represents. Action Comics #1 in 1938 introduced Superman and spawned an entire genre of fiction, one that now dominates pop culture. Sure, Superman wasn’t necessarily the first costumed hero — there were others in the pulps before him — but the Man of Steel resonated with an audience in a way no other adventure hero had before.
But as we celebrate this moment 80 years in the making, it’s worthy to note Superman didn’t lead us on this cultural journey alone. Action Comics #1 also introduced Zatara the Magician, and that character’s legacy lives on in Zatanna, who’s broken through in pop culture as well, albeit to a lesser degree than Superman. Other characters joined them in the initial anthology issue: Chuck Dawson; Pep Morgan; Sticky-Mitt Stimson; Scoop Scanlon, five-star reporter; and Tex Thomson (later Mr. America and the Americommando) among them.
As I looked back on my four decades of memories of Action (half of its unprecedented run), it occurred to me my favorite stints weren’t linked exclusively to Superman stories, but rather to issues that included and involved a diverse array of DC characters.
I first got into comics in the late 1970s as a kid, and I was a DC devotee from the start. It wasn’t long before issues of Action found their way into my world, and what grabbed me was the fact that many of the issues from that era featured not only Superman stories, but short, eight-page backups featuring Atom, Air Wave and Aquaman — sometimes in solo adventures but also in team-ups with one another, written by Bob Rozakis and illustrated by Alex Saviuk (and sometimes Romeo Tanghal). DC included these eight-page backups (albeit featuring different characters) throughout its lineup of monthly titles into the early 1980s. I especially loved it when characters such as the Atom and Air Wave — that had no direct connection to one another — would be brought together, and it’s something about super-hero comics I still love to this day.
Case in point: next on my list chronologically of beloved runs in Action Comics is the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths run from #584 to #600 by John Byrne, which turned Action into the regular Superman team-up title, replacing DC Comics Presents, which was cancelled in the wake of Crisis. I loved Byrne’s take on Superman in the late 1980s, but I loved team-up titles even more. The title lacked only one element to make it perfect: the established logos of the two properties Byrne was bringing together in one comic that month, a la DCCP and The Brave and the Bold.
That run on the title was immediately followed by one that returned Action to its roots as an anthology title (one that still featured Superman in every issue). What was interesting about it was that it became Action Comics Weekly with #601. It didn’t even make it a year, with the weekly run ending with #642, but at that point, weekly comics in American super-hero comics were pretty much unheard of. The format saw six DC properties getting short ongoing stories in every issue — five of them at eight pages each (harkening back to those eight-page backups in the late 1970s) and one two-pager Superman strip in the middle. The Man of Steel was initially joined by Green Lantern, Deadman, Wild Dog, the Secret Six and Blackhawk; rotating in and out later were characters that included the Phantom Stranger, Nightwing, Black Canary, the Demon, Speedy, Phantom Lady and more. The covers for this run featured top-tier talent from the comics industry, and there was no shortage of stalwart creators contributing to the storytelling inside.
My love for this inventive but short-lived run on Action has instilled in me something of an obsession when it comes to my other hobby: collecting original comic art. I find myself driven to seek out pages from Action Comics Weekly, though I’ve only got three in my collection thus far.
I’m not saying these were the best runs ever in Action Comics, just the ones that come to mind for me when I think about the title fondly. I suppose it comes as no surprise that the nostalgia is rooted in the days when I first started reading super-hero comics and in my teen years. Still, even now in my late 40s, I’m looking forward to this week’s Action #1000, which appropriately is an anthology as well, though one that rooted firmly in the lore of the Man of Tomorrow.