Geoff Johns and Richard Donner reunite to co-write “The Car”, a short story in Action Comics #1000 that captures the heart and soul of Superman, despite the Man of Steel not being the main character.
Early in his career, current DC Comics President and CCO Johns was an intern and production assistant for Donner, director of 1978’s Superman. Years later, the two would co-write a fan-favorite run on Action Comics, making them a must-have team for the landmark anniversary issue. They’re joined this time around by Olivier Coipel on art, Alejandro Sanchez on colors (with “special thanks” to Matt Wilson) and Nick Napolitano on letters.
When small-time thug Butch has his car towed to a body shop, the owner asks him, “What’d you hit? An Elephant?” “A man,” replies Butch, “Wearing red underwear.” And the titular car in question? Well it sure looks a lot like the car Superman smashes on the infamous cover of Action Comics #1. As Butch wallows in misery, the Big Blue Boy Scout shows up for a stern talking-to.
First off, the entire art team crushes it on this five-pager. Coipel’s Superman is straight out of the 30s. He’s built like a brick wall, and his costume looks like a circus strongman’s, just how Siegel and Shuster wanted. He’s rugged and stern, a serious Man of Steel. But then, in just one close up panel, Coipel shows a softness that reflects the heart of gold we all know is there. His face work conveys such a wide range of strong emotion, and with such subtlety. It looks effortless.
Sanchez’s colors are muted yet bright; they add warmth and compliment Coipel’s pencils to create a more realistic world. And Napolitano’s lettering creates fluid sight lines that make an already short story just fly by.
The story by Johns and Donner also reflects a more stern, Golden Age version of Superman. It’s nothing fancy, but it reminds us of what makes the character great. He doesn’t like bullies. He believes in people, and that people can change. And, perhaps most importantly, he has a simple worldview: you either live a good life, or you don’t. As he tells Butch, “it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.”
Superman is supposed to be a reminder. He’s meant to remind us to be the best versions of ourselves. Life is hard, and it’ll knock you down, but it’s up to us to take all that bad and still put good back out into the world. That’s the essence of his character. It’s not about fighting giant, intergalactic threats. It’s about being good in spite of all the crap that’s thrown at us on a daily basis. That’s true strength.
And that’s the beauty of making Butch the main character in this story and not Superman. Butch is the reader, a regular guy, and Supes only shows up to remind him to be good, just like he shows up at our local comic shop every month to remind us.
Johns, Donner, Coipel, and company nail their story in Action Comics #1000. There is literally no action in these five pages, but it’s still a quintessential Superman story worth revisiting whenever you need a little inspiration.