Billed as a “96-page Spectacular,” Action Comics #900, released today, is most spectacular in bringing to a close writer Paul Cornell’s clever Lex Luthor storyline. For a while now, Luthor has replaced Superman as the central figure in Action Comics, one of the oldest titles in comic-book history and the one that introduced Superman in 1938.
Cornell proceeds from the notion that the only place to take Luthor, after decades of megalomaniacal behavior, is over the top — or “first things Lex,” as the villain puts it. Nipping at the concepts of DC Comics writer Geoff Johns’ vast Blackest Night/Brightest Day miniseries, Cornell has spent months of Action Comics having Luthor trying to master the Black Ring, a pure-evil bit of jewelry. It imbues the wearer with “enormous power”; Luthor says, “My reach extends across the universe [now].”
Some things never change. Luthor’s goal remains to “destroy Superman,” but the originality and wit of Cornell’s Action Comics reside in how that destruction connects both the villain and the hero. While the visual action (provided by chief artist Pete Woods, Jesus Merino, and guest stars including Rags Morales and Gary Frank) ranges across the universe on the grandest scale, the drama is quite intimate. Each man is forced to reduce himself to his most basic level: Luthor as a tragic man consumed by hate; Superman as an alien do-gooder who too rarely experiences pain, mental or physical.
All this, plus Android Lois Lane, who’s been a consistent hoot in this story line. “The Black Ring Finale: Reign of Doomsday” can take its place among the best Action Comics stories.
As for the rest of issue 900, there are pleasant, short trifles, short-story riffs on the Superman mythos by Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof; Batman Begins screenwriter David Goyer; Geoff Johns; Paul Dini; and an underwhelming story told as a story-boarded screenplay by Superman movie director Richard Donner. However, don’t let these uneven contributions keep you from the main Lex Luthor event.