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Comicscape: Action Comics #775

What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?

By Joel Rickenbach     June 13, 2012
Source: Mania.com

Action Comics #775, published in March of 2001, may be the single best issue of the modern era. A fact to be debated for sure, but there are aspects of this book that, a decade later, almost feel downright alien, and more than a little refreshing. Have you read Action #775?
After we all dodged the Y2K bullet, we could finally get back to what was most important in life- Comics. The hottest thing on the racks was The Authority, between writers Warren Ellis and Mark Millar, and artists Bryan Hitch and Frank Quitely, they created a super team for the modern era. A group of anti-heroes with incredible amounts of super powers, powers they often used with a bit more reckless abandon than your average Marvel or DC character. The tone of The Authority was a different one, there wasn't a lot of positive vibes radiating from the book. The concepts were high, the characters morally ambiguous and the comic fans were in a frenzy. The way people started to look at the comic world as a whole started to shift. Suddenly, the icons people used to love were no longer relevant. How could you pick up a book like Superman, one where you knew he would never break his code of ethics, when The Authority were breaking new ground, killing when necessary (and unnecessary) and basically pointing out how silly everything else was.
In the midst of all this came Action Comics #775. The Superman books were actually enjoying a bit of a good run with writers Jeph Loeb and Joe Kelly, who were finding new ways to make Superman an interesting read. However, the doom was creeping in, the questions were being raised by fans on the internet and at conventions- In the age of The Authority, is Superman really relevant? As far as I remember, Action #775 took everyone by surprise. There was no fanfare or tease from DC. One day it was on the shelves, and the next day everyone was talking about it. Writer Joe Kelly and artists Doug Manhke and Lee Bermejo, answered the "Relevant" question in 23 pages.
The short version goes something like this- Superman encounters a new super team named The Elite (a not-so-subtle analogue for The Authority), a team who is taking the world by storm with their "kill now, ask no questions because they deserved it" ethics. Personified by their leader, the chain smoking, leather jacket wearing, Manchester Black, The Elite dispose of their enemies with a cocktail of hyper-aggressive powers, and lack of caring. The public is more divided with every passing encounter- Eviscerating a King-Kong sized robotic gorilla, vaporizing a team of Japanese super villains etc. Superman, obviously, struggles with their existence, and tries to reason with them, but is greeted with a "Thanks, Has-been, now step aside." Superman loses his cool, and cold cocks The Hat, this doesn't go over too well with the rest of The Elite, and they vanish with the challenge of "Tomorrow". That night Supes lays in bed, awake, contemplating his battle in the morning, Lois worries that he may not actually be powerful enough to win. At dawn, Superman leaves a note for Lois, and goes to meet his fate. His one request (and one that doesn't occur to The Elite) is that the fight take place off Earth to spare any innocent lives. So, off to one of Jupiter's moons they go, and the real fun begins. If you haven't read it, I'll leave the details for you to discover, but the outcome is the masterstroke of the book. Superman finds a way to not only win, but to prove to the world why he is still relevant.  It was a shot heard 'round the comic world.
What's so amazing about this issue is the strong point of view on display from writer Joe Kelly. Rarely has a response to hype come so succinctly in the form of 23 pages. Joe Kelly wasn't about to sit there idle, he, along with the other Superman creative teams, was feeling the tide turn against them. Can you imagine finally getting your dream job of writing the world's most iconic hero, only for the taste of the industry to change? Kelly wasn't just proving that Superman was relevant, he was proving that he, and his fellow writers, could craft stories that were as well. You've probably noticed I've made a point throughout this article to mention the issue's 23 pages, and that's the other amazing feat of Action Comics #775- it tells a complete, character redefining, story in one issue. It wasn't a 6 issue arc, or character-wide crossover, it was one single issue. I am personally all for longer form storytelling, and breaking from traditional page count, but what Joe Kelly did was nothing short of incredible. Once again, using the classic parameters to prove his point. I honestly can't remember any other single issue that floored me the way Action #775 did. Sure there's been plenty of fantastic one-shots and graphic novels, but  to walk into your comic shop unawares, expecting business as usual, and wind up experiencing one of the best stories of your comic reading life, now that's special.
Sadly, as is tradition, The Elite came back, a lot. It would have really been something if their only appearance was in Action #775, but that's comics. The story has just been turned into an animated movie- Superman VS The Elite, out now on DVD and Blu-Ray. Included with the disc is a digital copy of Action #775, and the issue is also available on DC's digital shop for 99 cents. I encourage you to check it out, whether digitally or by scouring back issue bins, it's worth the effort.
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Joel Rickenbach is a curator of cult cinema at the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA, and can be heard every week talking film, TV and other geekery on the You’ve got GEEK podcast. Follow him onTwitter and hilarity will no doubt ensue.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 7 of 7
1 
jedibanner 6/13/2012 10:47:16 AM

I guess the comic itself could be interesting but I never really cared for Superman in Comics. I did liked and bought the run with Richard Donner but other then that...as Batman said to Superman in Infinity Crisis: ''The last time Superman made a difference is when he died''.

For me...since he died, have't cared for him. To each is own.

shac2846 6/13/2012 11:18:46 AM

Joe Kelly proved that there are no useless characters only useless writers. I'm not a huge Superman fan either but action comics 775 is great. Some of the best runs on comics have been by creators that take a struggling or in some cases canceled title and resurrect it and breathe new life in it.  I'm not saying that's where superman was at the time but that is the struggle Kelly had. He had to make superman relevant again. Grant Morrison had basicly the same influence in doing his late 90's JLA run. He said comics had gotten so anti-hero and DC itself was trying to distance itself from having the flashy costumes and wouldn't allow the original seven to be in the same book. They said it was dated. Morrison did the exact opposite of their guidelines. It was consistanly a top five book when he wrote it. Even when they forced the electric blue superman on him. WTF was that? 

I'm hearing mixed stuff about the animated adaptation. We'll see, it's a shame if it sucks.

lazarus 6/13/2012 12:14:41 PM

Shac, I have a copy of it, the story good but the animation SUCKED, that part really makes me mad.

Looked like someone hired the Pokemon animater to do it. The story is not bad but the hardlineness of the Elite is not really ever conveyed effectly. This is one of the films they could have gone more PG-13 but instead they went more PG. It is worth a rainy Sunday afternoon watch but I wuold not buy the DVD for $15.

lazarus 6/13/2012 12:17:36 PM

And the sweet irony to me is, to be semi-realistic, the govt would never allow super villians like this to live. If they were captured they would not be used to power the city grid, they would terminated and disectted for study.

joelr 6/14/2012 10:08:51 AM

@jedibanner I really recommend you check it out.You can get the physical issue for anywhere between $0.25 to $1.00, and the digital copy is $0.99. Much like shac2846, I was never a big Superman guy either, but this story is almost timeless.

I'm bummed to hear the animated version isn't all the great, hopefully I'll have a chance to check it out this weekend.

decepticons2 6/14/2012 11:07:52 AM

Bad is not even close to how horrendous the animation is, think mid run simpsons. People get upset with animation when its different but I am willing to accept that its art and they may be going for something else. I was hoping the premature crap rumour was just not understanding the art style chosen by the animators.

At first you get the impression that maybe they are going for a simple classic look. But the faces change shape so much and the expressions are such crap. Leaves only one excuse, cheaply done. This is not art. I believe Young Justice and half the animated stuff on tv. The running time and the barely PG nature implies TV run to me. Withe comercials it probably comes in right at 90 mins.

Now for the story it really is good. Infact after seeing this I believe this would make a way better live action movie then another Zod flick. This story is truly more relevant to Superman then any I have seen in the last  10 years. Superman is a 50s character that has not age with society.  I remember a time when you werent allowed to swear in schools. My teacher friends say it is just part of there vocabulary its like punishing us for saying "Shit".

 

InnerSanctum 6/14/2012 4:40:21 PM

 The death of Superman was a very badly written PR stunt/series.  But, I remember everyone buying up thos lame spin offs.  Dear lord, the 90's.  When Ghost Rider was king and everyone thought Rob Liefeld was talented.  Oh, and those glorious alternate covers that are now worthless.  

After reading this review...I think I'll have to hunt down this comic.  If I remember correctly, that decade gave us some great alternate Superman stories that, sadly, I don't see today.  

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