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My British accent is impeccable.

§ April 26th, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 21 Comments

More specifics about the actual content of the 1980s Superman reboot will come in future posts (yes, it’s continuing into next week). You can find the previous posts under the newly-created “byrne reboot” tag, so I don’t have to keep adding a large list of links to past posts at the top of each entry.

Today, I wanted to post up something else I found in that long preview articles from Amazing Heroes #96 (1986). Now, I’d read this ‘zine when it originally came out, and I know I absorbed every column inch of this article in anticipation of the Byrne reign of Superman. It’d been several…well, decades (egads) since I’ve read it, and peeking back at it as reference for this series of posts have reitroduced me to some interesting bits of information.

Specifically, this plan for a Superman team-up comic (like the defunct DC Comics Presents) as part of the reboot, written by…well, take a look:

When I spotted this, I immediately popped it up on Bluesky and it generated some discussion.

Bully the Little Fanzine Bull noted that this magazine “was pretty infamous for just letting creatives run at the mouth and printing that as news, though,” which, you know, fair enough. That is the foundation for many a ‘zine, prozine and fanzine alike, and while this article does appear to be informed by primary sources, I’m sure some of the noted plans weren’t firmed up yet, or no more than floated ideas.

Like, this Alan Moore thing sounds like it was no more than “can you do it?” “strewth, I don’t have the bloody time, mate” “oh okay thanks” and that was that. At that point in Moore’s career, I’m sure he got lots of job offers like this. “Can you write West Coast Avengers for us?” “Flippin’ ‘eck!”

Adam Knave had the probably very correct response in saying “I’m sorry we never got it and glad he didn’t do it at the same time.” I mean, yeah, Watchmen (or The Watchmen) would end up being an ugly mess re: merchandise royalties and creator ownership, not to mention being plundered by lesser talents for knockoffs. Probably best that there’s not also a one or two year run of Superman team-up stories by Moore to provide content to be clumsily reinterpreted later by writers whose names might rhyme with Reff Rohns.

But on the other hand, would we have read a run of Alan Moore-written Superman team-up comics? Oh, you bet your sweet bippy we would. Imagine, like, 24 or 36 issues of comics on par, or even better, than this one. That would be an absolute treasure, Moore just traipsing through the DC Universe.

On the other other hand, this was the period when Moore was at his deconstructive height, pulling apart the very idea of superhero comics and looking at their components in a new light. I don’t know if DC, in their fragile “we’re not sure entirely what’s going on here” post-Crisis phrase, trying to rebuild continuity after the structural damage inflicted by Crisis on Infinite Earths, would want Moore going through its new direction upending things even more.

Just picture the aftereffects on Adam Strange, after his brief 1987 appearance in Moore’s Swamp Thing run, and how his reinterpretation there still affects Adam Strange stories to this day. Now picture that with dozens more characters in addition to the ones he’d already touched with his wizardy powers. It really would be Alan Moore’s DC Universe now.

But even if the Moore thing had been a done deal, as blogging brother Andrew said on Bluesky, “the question then would be ‘how long until Byrne and Moore got on each other’s nerves and one/both quit'” and he ain’t wrong. I feel like the two would not play very well together. All it would take is Byrne saying “hey what you’re doing here with Superman isn’t in line with my vision,” and Moore would be all “blimey, you’re a barmy bloke, I’m gutted” and he’d be in the wind.

Anyway, thought that was an interesting bit of forgotten trivia involving this particular time in funnybook history. I don’t know how close this actually came to happening (like I said above, probably not too close), but it’s still quite the thing to think about.

Orange is the new Luthor.

§ April 24th, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 16 Comments

So last time I talked a bit about the first issue of John Byrne’s Superman revamp, and how it felt to encounter it as it was happening, after having read Superman comics prior to this and witnessing the changes to the franchise in real time. I pointed out a number of those changes that happened just in that one comic, but a few of you beat me to the punch and started bringing up other alterations later in the Man of Steel mini-series.

Right out of the gate in the comments, David slings the following at me

“I always felt like the biggest change in Man of Steel was the change to Lex Luthor. His pre-Crisis persona was genius supervillain. Man of Steel established him as a genius businessman, who hated Superman, which moved him to villainy.”

Luthor went through several changes in the character’s history (a number of which I listed in this long-ago post which may amuse). The “mad scientist who hates Superman” remained fairly consistent from Luthor’s inception up through this point in the 1980s, cosmetic costume/hairstyle overhauls aside. The biggest alteration to the character was the adding the idea of Luthor having grown up in Smallville, concurrently with Clark/Superboy, and establishing the origin of his hatred (i.e. blaming the Boy of Steel for the loss of his hair).

But with the reboot comes A New Take (not to mention the loss of Superboy — more on that in a future post — effectively removing Smallville from Luthor’s backstory) and apparently Marv Wolfman had the idea for Big Businessman Luthor some time before Byrne came along. Here’s a bit from an article in Amazing Heroes #96 (1986), previewing the reboot:

Now the new idea as to why Luthor hated Superman had to do with him being the most powerful man in Metropolis…until the Man of Tomorrow showed up.

Hair still comes into play, as Superman’s first post-reboot encounter with Luthor in Man of Steel #4 ends with Lois hairline-shaming him:

Yes, I borrowed these scans from a two-year-old post where I go into a little more detail about the changes in Luthor’s motivations over the years. I’ll repeat here what I said there, in that there were some comments at the time that New Luthor bore some resemblance to Marvel’s “respected businessman” villain Wilson Fisk, AKA the Kingpin. Interestingly, both characters have had their evil shenanigans become increasingly more public knowledge as time has gone on, though still being able to hold high political offices (Luthor as President, Fisk as Mayor of New York).

Speaking of which, Byrne/Wolfman Luthor had that veneer of legitimacy crack a bit in that very “first” appearance, where Luthor was arrested. And as the years have continued, and DC continued its trend of backpedaling on the sweeping changes from both Byrne and Crisis on Infinite Earths, Luthor slowly became more and more like his pre-Crisis incarnation, to wearing versions of his early 1980s superarmor, to regularly being shown in prison. The “businessman” era still exists in current continuity, but now has more or less merged with previous versions.

Yet more reboot fiddling had initially made Luthor a much older man than previously portrayed. As you saw above, Lex and Clark were contemporaries in Smallville. In the reboot, he was at least a couple of decades older…he had to be old enough to believably have a son in his 20s, per a storyline a few years later. In Lex Luthor: The Unauthorized Biography (1989), he’s shown as a child, and friends with a young Perry White:

However, Luthor has gradually become younger, both with an in-story explanation of his brain being transplanted into a youthful clone body, and with a no-explanation “he’s just younger now” pushing him back to around Clark/Lois’s ages. In fact, he’s now back to having have lived in Smallville and hangin’ with Teen Clark. I think this return-to-form was first evident in the continuity-or-not mini Birthright, discussed here (where the series’ writer himself chimes in).

So this new version of Luthor was indeed a significant modification to the Superman saga. But like many of DC’s changes from the period, the inertial effect of previous portrayals force at least some reversals of those decisions. If DC can make (multiple) attempts at bringing back the multiverse concept done away with in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it shouldn’t be surprising that Luthor has traded his business suit back in for his prison greys (or oranges).

And that he played football in high school, that was somethin’.

§ April 22nd, 2024 § Filed under byrne reboot, dc comics, superman § 33 Comments

I know I’ve talked about this before, but bear with me for a moment. I will hear modern day criticisms of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s continuity-changing mini-series from 1985, where it is essentially summed up as being “a bad story.” Beautifully drawn, there’s no argument about that. But the actual plot and script itself are held up as flawed.

And, I mean, fair enough. I once posted on Bluesky “thou shalt not read Crisis for its prose,” as just reading it for the story is only part of the experience. And the part of the experience that is arguably most significant is one that simply can’t be captured decades later, by people who weren’t there for it in 1985 as it debuted. It especially can’t be captured after the onslaught of universe-changing events and crossovers and reboots and rejiggerings that have been churned out since Crisis.

It was the excitement at the time that fed into the Crisis experience. Yes, maybe the storyline was, to be kind, slightly nonsensical. But DC Comics promised BIG CHANGES in their series, at a time when readers weren’t quite so jaded to assurances like these, and right from the get-go we were getting those changes in this series. As you picked up each succeeding issue, you were left wondering “what happens next? What worlds will live, what worlds will die, what will never remain the same?” Things were happening in this series, seemingly irrevocable things, and readers were left in suspense month to month as to what was next.

Well, that was then, this is now, DC has spent nearly 40 years trying to undo Crisis, and after seeing, like I said, reboot after relaunch after reboot, the primary oomph that moved the series along has faded away, leaving a nicely-drawn comic with a story that no longer has the energy it once did. It’s like reading about a roller coaster that had been torn down long ago and you can no longer ride. Meanwhile, old farts like me are all “you just don’t get it, that roller coaster was awesome back in the day.”

Which brings me to Man of Steel #1 from 1986.

Crisis wasn’t the only engine of change over there at mid-1980s DC Comics. Superstar comic book artist/writer John Byrne moved from Marvel to their rivals to take command of a “reboot” of the Superman line of comics.

The previous five decades’ worth of Superman comics would be brought to an end, the two main titles (Action and Superman) would be put on a brief hold, while Byrne’s six-issue mini-series The Man of Steel would be issues on a biweekly basis. That series would essentially restart the Superman line from scratch, with a new canonical origin, redesigns of old establishing elements, and a shaking up of Everyhing We Know about the character.

Right from the first page we’re presented a new vision of Krypton:

Inspired in part its depiction in 1979’s Superman: The Movie, this new version of Krypton does away with the sci-fi pulp style cities we’d previously seen. We now have a cold and sterile environment, where the inhabitants shun contact with each other, where babies (like Kal-El) are created in a “birth matrix” without all the fuss and mush of mixed genetic material the old-fashioned way.

As I recall, Byrne’s intent was to create a Krypton that wasn’t a high-tech fantasyland, a wonderful and magical place, but rather a loveless world that was already dying even withoiut the whole “about to explode” thing. A place that a young Kal-El was lucky to escape from.

There were other changes in this first issue, too, such as establishing that Clark’s powers didn’t really come in full ’til he was older, thus doing away with the Superboy (and Superbaby!) era of the character. That only one piece of Kryptonite made it to Earth. That there was some sort of “aura” around Superman’s body, a thin one just above the surface of his skin, that would prevent damage to, say, a skin-tight superhero uniform made out of ordinary Earth materials. (As opposed to resewing super-strong Kryptonian blankets in which he was swaddled as a baby.) That Superman wouldn’t let on that he even had a secret identity, letting folks think he was just Superman all day, every day.

There were other little changes, plus plenty more in the rest of this mini-series, but the big change, the BIGGEST change:

…is Ma and Pa Kent still being alive.

This was the wild one, the choice that really struck me out of all the other decisions made for this new version of Superman. For years, one of the big emotional elements of the character was ultimately how alone he was…I mean, despite his cousin Supergirl and a whole freakin’ Bottle City of Kandor in his Fortress of Solitude. This was long before Lois new the secret, of course, which was still a reboot away. And I suppose he had his super-pals in the Justice League.

But when it just came to Superman in his own books, he was pretty much just on his own. No confidantes, no family (unless Supergirl was guest-starring), just him and his thoughts. Most notably there’s those scenes when he goes back to Ma and Pa’s now empty Smallville home (which he still owns, of course), and putters around there for whatever reason, sadly recalling his younger days. It’s especially evident when you compare this to, say, DC’s former line-up of superhero TV shows, where every hero has a support team, either back at the home office or out in the field, who all know his secret, who all fight beside him.

The other change this makes to the mythos is that we lose out on the lesson Superman learns, that there are just some things even a Superman can’t do.

That’s from DC Comics Presents #50, where Supes and Clark are split into two beings…long story. But the important element is there…”with all my power, I couldn’t save them.” Now the “save them from what specifically” isn’t important. In some comics it’s just old age, in others it’s a deadly virus picked up during a time travel vacation to piratey days (because Superman comics), but the result is the same. It’s an important lesson, one that even makes it into the ’79 flick.

Despite that, it is kind of fun to have them around, to have a home that Superman can go to and have actual parents around, versus ghosts and memories haunting him pre-Crisis. They add a little emotional depth to the proceedings. In recent years it was a little unclear what their status was…George Pérez had famously stated he couldn’t get an answer as to whether they were alive or dead for the New 52 relaunch. But Pa Kent died during a storyline prior to that, and post-New 52/Rebirth they had both apparently died in a car wreck, but [SPOILER] revived due to universal shenanigans in Doomsday Clock. So I guess they’re still around now, which is nice.

Now the Man of Steel mini itself, even at the time, took a little critical drubbing from reviewers and fans. Part of it was, I think, just out of spite. Folks thought a certain way about Byrne and they were always looking for a way to knock him down a peg. Plus Superman, despite having low-selling comics for quite a while prior to the reboot, was still an object of “well, this is the way it should be” backlash from some quarters, objecting to the alterations. And on top of all that…yeah, the series was a little clunky in parts. Byrne was trying to rush through several years’ worth of continuity and world-building in these six issues, catching Superman up to the “present day” of the DC Universe.

Like Crisis (remember Crisis from way back at the beginning of this?) this is a book that also suffers a bit in retrospect. I think it may be a little easier for readers new to it to understand that this book was a Big Deal at the time, given it was tackling the Biggest Hero in Comics and giving him a fresh start. And that, when all is said and done, this is the Superman that is still around today, despite whatever fiddling was done with continuity, despite the asides we got with the absolutely-distinct-from-the-post-Crisis-version New 52 Supes. Our current Superman is the John Byrne Reboot Superman. You can still draw a line directly from Man of Steel #1 to the latest issues of Action and Superman.

But that said…I feel like any readers not old enough to have read Man of Steel back in the mid-1980s may be in a similar position as those new to Crisis. They weren’t there, in real time, watching the pre-Crisis Superman getting wrapped up and put away, while this new series came along to reintroduce the hero. The excitement of change was there, as we wondered what this Byrne fella had in store for us as Man of Steel wrapped up and the new Superman titles launched and/or relaunched. It’s a particular frisson that’s missed when coming to the stories now, especially after all the retoolings both Superman and the DCU at large have undergone since then.

Special thanks to Sam Hurwitt for reminding me of that DC Comics Presents sequence.

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