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“Kryptonite…well, maybe a little more.”

§ October 11th, 2023 § Filed under superman § 8 Comments

So I had a copy of this comic fall into my hands the other day, Action Comics #485 (1976):

…which caught my eye as it was the Whitman variant, and would be worth a little money if this copy hadn’t been around the block a bit. But still, it’s nice to see, with its Neal Adams cover reminiscent of Adams’ cover for Superman #233 (1971):

And reminiscent it should be as the Action issue is a reprint of that Superman issue. Despite having run across plenty of copies of that Action over the years, I never bothered to look inside as I figured “just a reprint of Superman #233, move along.”

But this time I did look inside, and lo and behold, there’s a new framing sequence by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Josef Rubenstein:

Three pages at the beginning, which segues into the reprint of the the older Denny O’Neil/Swan/Murphy Anderson comic after Superman is zapped by a weapon in the intro:

…and we see the then five-year-old classic tale of the End of Kryptonite, an attempt to revamp the book by both removing the story crutch of that deadly mineral and depowering Superman slightly:

And then Flashback Over, as Superman awakes and defeats the bad guys in the last page (with one new panel drawn at the bottom of the last page of the reprints as a transition).

As you see, 1971’s Superman #233 is the issue where Clark Kent moves over the WGBS to be a TV reporter, a change to the status quo that’s still active by the time the story’s reprinted in Action a few years later. Unlike the whole “end of Kryptonite/Superman is weaker” business which, I believe, was over and done with fairly quickly. In fact, it’s a little surprising this story was chosen for reprinting as that particular shake-up to the Superman mythos was unshook as fast as it was. But still, it gave them a reason to run another variation of that Adams cover, a popular and eye-catching image, and it’s a good story regardless.

And I’m glad I took a peek inside the comic this time and found some surprise new-to-me Curt Swan work. We’re not getting any more new art from him, so it’s good to treasure what we have.

Mixed Pickles.

§ October 31st, 2022 § Filed under multiverse talk, superman § 27 Comments

So I forget where I saw it referenced, but somewhere out there someone had mentioned the 1996 Silver Surfer/Superman one-shot, which got me to wondering if I still had it. I had bought nearly all of the Marvel/DC crossover comics that were cranked out during that period of the 1990s when both companies were desperate to attract sales by doing pretty much anything, and that included joining forces to publish things like this.

Anyway, when I opened the shop, I pulled a boatload of comics out of my own collection to populate the back issue bins, and that included a lot of the attention-grabbing intercompany crossovers between DC and Marvel, once ubiquitous but now getting more and more difficult to find in the wild. I did give up my Superman/Fantastic Four treasury edition, foolishly, and I’ll need to replace that, but I did keep my other Superman-related Marvel crossovers, including that Silver Surfer/Superman comic by George Perez and Ron Lim:

Like how the “Death of Superman” story is Of Its Time, featuring the now-headscratching-to-newcomers elements of Red-Haired-And-Bearded Australian Son of Lex Luthor along with Artifical Glob-Life-Form Thingie Supergirl, Silver Surfer/Superman involves, for at least part of the book, the Contessa. Yeah, I know, “Who?” I’d completely forgotten about her, though once she popped up in the story I was all “oh yeah, that lady.”

She basically usurped Luthor’s position as the head of his company Lexcorp after…well, read this if you need to know her deal, and how she was sorta unceremoniously removed from the book. Anyway, she’s here in this SS/S funnybook for about the first half, and this sequence of panels features what I’m pretty sure is a writing/editing mistake EDIT: I’m wrong, I misread it:

Superman thinks the phrase “just pop out of range,” and the Contessa, just a couple of panels later, starts to mockingly quote what he thought, only to be interrupted before she could say “pop” by an actual “POP!” by the teleported entrance of the Impossible Man. And how did the Contessa hear what Superman was thinking? Did she have mind-reading powers that I forgot about? EDIT 2: Somehow I missed the “I told her” part. Ah well.

But speaking of Impossible Man, having him and Mr. Mxyzptlk as the antagonists of this story was a nice touch. The temptation of having the two heroes face off against Luthor and, say, Mephisto in a more serious conflict was likely strong.

The plot involves Mxyzptlk and Impossible Man swapping “universes” and heroes, pitting Mxyzptlk against the Surfer and so on. Which of course brings to mind Superman #50 from 1990, where it is implied heavily that Mxyzptlk travels to the Marvel Universe and torments the Fantastic Four as the Impossible Man, establishing the two characters are one and the same.

I don’t particularly like this early post-Crisis/early Byrne’s Superman run version of Mxyzptlk where he was a little nastier, a little more malevolent. I guess it was fine for one or two appearances, but I like Funny, Wacky Mxyzptlk, which he eventually evolved back into in the comics, more or less. Although I was okay with Goth Mxyzptlk from Alan Moore/Curt Swan/Kurt Schaffenberger in their “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” final pre-Crisis Supes story:

Mentioned in the story is the character Access, the Marvel/DC co-owned character whose ability was to cross characters over from either universe, and I’m presuming hasn’t been used much lately. And there’s also some track-covering with the idea that both Superman and Silver Surfer will forget this encounter, allowing it to kinda-sorta stay in regular continuity and explaining why, like, Superman won’t reference the event in a non-crossover-sanctions issue of Action or wherever.

I sort of miss those days where it seemed like every week we got a new crossover between different comic book publishers. They still happen today, of course, but not nearly as often. There’s a new Batman and Spawn book coming soon, for example. But back in the ’90s, I had that brief glimmer of hope we’d get that Swamp Thing/Man-Thing team-up the world deserved. Well, I deserved, I don’t know about you guys.

“To give away the secret would really spoil the fun.”

§ October 3rd, 2022 § Filed under superman § 9 Comments

So one of my regular customers popped into the store the other to show off a couple of his goodies from his collection. He wasn’t interested in selling, despite my generous offer of a nickel apiece, or even after I doubled it to a dime apiece. However, he did allow me to shoot some pics so that I may share them with you, the dozen or so people who still look at comical blogs.

What he’s brought in were two 1947 Superman record sets, each featuring stories “in song and adventure with the original radio cast!” Here’s the first one:

Followed by, naturally, the second one:

Inside the book was the story in radio play format so that the young’uns could read along (or even perform the story themselves in their unauthorized underground guerrilla theaters), accompanies by illustrations that I think were taken from the comics and not original to the booklet, but I could be wrong:

Each set came with two 7-inch records, that were remarkably colorful (and had the same design for both releases):

Now the cover ballyhoos these records as “unbreakable,” and I did give ’em the slightest bit of a flex to check their give, but I wasn’t about to put someone else’s 75-year-old discs through a full stress test. I believe the records were either a very thin vinyl, or each side was even thinner vinyl, like flexidiscs, glued to maybe a cardboard insert sandwiched between the two? I can’t say for certain. But it was certainly lighter than your standard vinyl disc of about the same size.

No, I didn’t play them on the store record player (again, someone else’s 75-year-old records) but thanks to YouTube, the Land Where Copyright Goes to Die, I can give you a sample of one of these recordings in action:

By the way, they’re not kidding about “in song” – characters do straight up break out into that very thing. Maybe you won’t listen to the whole thing, but at least check out the opening theme. And also maybe stick around to hear the voices of the bad guys “Frog” and Snicker.” Holy cow.

Hair today, gone tomorrow.

§ September 26th, 2022 § Filed under lex luthor, multiverse talk, superman § 27 Comments

Yup, I’m still addressing comments left on this site from nearly two months ago. What can I tell you?

So Daniel sez

“Byrne’s first meeting of Superman and Luthor in Mos #4 was soooo much more interesting than the pre-Crisis Superboy-causes-Lex-to-lose-his-hair-in-a-lab-accident”

Now let me just step in here for just a sec and defend the “Superman makes Lex lose his hair” thing. I’m not going to say you’re wrong for your position, for reasons I’ll get into, but I think Superboy being at least partially responsible is good actually, and fits tonally with the kind of stories being told in Super-comics of the time.

We’ve all probably seen this sequence, or something like it, from Adventure Comics #271 (1960) by Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino. Lex, the local boy genius who had been fast friends with Superboy, was working in his lab (built by Superboy, in fact) to create a cure for Kryptonite for his super-pal. Suddenly Science Goes Awry and the Boy of Steel blows out the flames and smoke in the exploded lab, only to discover:

This works in the Superman books of the day in that is fits the general low rent level of almost dreamlike myth-making in the stories. Motivations and broad and simplistic, intended to be easy for children to understand. (I’m put in the mind of an early ’60s Green Lantern story where the impetus for Sinestro’s actions was that he losing out in some popularity contest with another villain and he wanted to regain the top position.)

“You did something bad to me” (well, sort of) “and now I hate you forever!” is a plain enough explanation. Plus, it was probably a surprising twist for readers to discover that adult Luthor’s baldness was tied to the actions of a young Superman. It’s all very “closed-circle” kind of stuff. And this doesn’t get into the mythological/Samson-esque implications of a loss of hair equating a loss of strength and virility.

In other words, It Was Good Enough, at least for the time. As the actual stories of Lex vs. Supes played out, it was not so much about “my beautiful curls!” but just Luthor trying to find ways to commit crimes and outwit and/or destroy Superman. So the hair thing didn’t really play that much into the enmity between the two, aside from the occasional flashback. Now, had Luthor spent all his time trying to cause Superman to lose his hair, well, that’d be another story entirely. I think there were one or two stories like that, but it wasn’t, like, Lex’s thing.

When the Superman comics entered the ’80s, it was decided to change things up just a little bit. Not Crisis on Infinite Earths-levels of changing up, that would be a couple years hence, but for Superman’s 45th anniversary in 1983, here in Action Comics #544 by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, Luthor was given all-new reasons to hate the Man of Steel.

Long story short, Lex was living on the planet Lexor, where everyone loved him, and he and Superman were fighting, Lex fired an energy beam at him with his fancy new armor, the beam bounced off Superman and hit a big doodad that was keeping Lexor’s core stable, and everything went kablooie. Lex of course blames Superman entirely, resulting in:

A more brutal origin for an age when comics were, just very slightly, beginning to get a little edgier with their storytelling…not that Superman was going to suddenly become, I don’t know, Frank Miller’s Daredevil or anything. But we were getting to the point where the more fantasy-ish “loss of hair” origin wasn’t enough in comics, where a little more grounding in reality (relatively speaking) was becoming more in vogue.

As it turned out, this New Unleashed More Dangerous Than Ever Luthor only popped up a handful of times before the aforementioned Crisis came along, and frankly things weren’t much different than before except for Luthor having his new space armor suit.

With Crisis and the accompanying sweeping 1986 reboot of the Superman line by John Byrne, all that previous Luthor stuff was cast aside, and a new relationship between the two was forged. “Introduced” in Man of Steel #4, our new Luthor is now a wealthy businessman whose successfully hides his shady side from the public (causing a lot of comparisons to Marvel’s Kingpin in the process):

And yes, he has hair. At least until Lois slings this parting shot at him after an eventful evening:

…which, hey, I don’t know, don’t be hairline-shaming my man William Frawley:

But this being the motivation for Lex to start shaving his head clean (as he appears sans hair in EDIT: his very next appearance Superman #1 – was reminded in the comments he didn’t go Full Yul ’til after the Man of Steel mini was over) is frankly just as silly as Superboy blowing Kid Lex’s hair away after a lab fire. BUT TO BE CLEAR I know this isn’t the argument at hand. Hair is removed as a motivation for Luthor’s behavior…now it’s just a small point being made about his vanity.

Luthor’s hatred of Superman comes from the Man of Tomorrow’s replacing Lex as the most powerful man in Metropolis. This is a more modern, a more…well, using the word “subtle” for anything Byrne works on is bit of a misnomer, but it is a more nuanced take on his hatred for Supes than “I lost my hair.” It rises out of the character’s personality, a change that comes from the increasing demand for the approximation of “realism” and storytelling sophistication in comics.

In a way, though, it still hearkens back to the childlike simplicity of comic character motivations of decades past: “I was the biggest guy, now someone else is bigger, and I hate him.” It probably just comes down to being more relatable…everyone’s been jealous of someone else, but very few people have experienced a friend causing their immediate and total hair loss. Unless, you know, their arch-nemesis is an evil barber or something.

As a small addendum, one of the elements of the Smallville TV show I appreciated is the fact that the meteor swarm that stuck the town, the one in which baby Kal-El’s rocket was enmeshed, was responsible for a young Lex’s baldness. Bringing back the “Superboy was kinda responsible for that” which had been missing from the other live-action adaptations…nicely played.

Progressive Bully #1: Eye, Superman.

§ June 6th, 2022 § Filed under Bully, superman § 9 Comments

Hullo folks, hullo! Bully the Little Stuffed Bull here, America’s only stuffed bull comics blogger, sliding into some sort of Progressive Ruin towards which all of us are careening madly. I can see you opening your eyes wide in surprise at not finding here the usual master of comics blogging, retailing, and all-around fun, Mike Sterling, and many of you have been rapping at the door and I’ve had to shout back: “Mike’s not here, man!”

Where’s Mike? He’s here and well and at the helm and counter of Sterling Silver Comics; he’s just busy with other obligations that’ll keep him from blogging this week. But in the words of Chrissie Hynde, stop your sobbing, because I raised my hoof and volunteered to step in. Altho’ blogging about blogging is a crime, blogging still oughta be fun (if I may toot my horns briefly to plug my own comics blog, Comics Oughta Be Fun!) and I’ll be aiming to provide you all the Swamp Thing, Frank Miller’s The Spirit, and pog-filled content you can hold in two hands and still ask, Oliver Twist-like, for more.

To start off, I figgered I’d focus on a topic that Mike occasionally refers to: eyesight, and how good it is to have it! I’ve been following Mike’s travails with his own eyeball adventures, and I continue to wish him ongoing optical health. I hope that someday he might develop some sort of laser vision, which would be a pretty keen thing to have.

But what of other persons who seem to have eye problems, hmm? We need to also extend our understanding and empathy to those who have some a problem with an ocular orb or two or occasionally three. Folks like Clark Kent!

Clark Kent? Having vision problems? I can hear you ask across the vast expanse of the inter-majig-net, and it’s true; oh, it’s true. Because frankly, you can hardly read a Superman story without realizing the poor guy must have something stuck in his eye.

Oooh, that’s awful. I hate when that happens. Is it a bit of dust, Clark?

Maybe a splinter? Oh man, those things are awful!

Perhaps you need an eye wash, Clark? A little clean water’ll get whatever that is right out of there.

Maybe some Visine? Ben Stein has told me it will get the red out! And while you’re at it, lend Lois your handkerchief, ya crumb-bun.

Could it be pollen? That gets in your eye and you can’t help but blink all spring long.

Maybe you could ask Perry if he would spring for an air purifier for the Daily Planet offices?

Well, at least it’s a problem that only seems to affect the Golden Age Clark of Earth-2, and not an optical ailment that bedevils the current, modern-day Mr. Kent and OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD

Well, whatever it is that you’ve got in your eye, Clark, it doesn’t seem to affect your alter-ego Superman at all.

Yikes! Have you considered that whatever keeps getting into your eye is Kryptonite-based, Clark? Maybe you should ask Lois to take a look for you since she’s always so common-sense and level-headed.

Anyway, folks, that’s my first post subbing for Mike, and I hope if nothing else, we can all agree: I drove this stupid joke into the ground like a circus tent-post.

Presumably this counts as “Man vs. Nature.”

§ November 5th, 2021 § Filed under golden age, sterling silver comics, superman § 7 Comments

Found this panel while reading some Golden Age Superman books on the DC Universe Infinite app, and the casualness of the caption box made me laugh. Written by Jerry Siegel, art credited to Joe Shuster but actually drawn by Paul Cassidy, the story featured Superman taking on a hypnotist who, at one point, puts the whammy on the Man of Steel. Hence, his awkward charging through a tree…not on purpose, I promise you. (From Action Comics #25, June 1940.)

• • •

Just an additional note letting you know that today is the 7th anniversary of the opening of my comic book store Sterling Silver Comics. Since I’ve been in the comics retail business for 33 years, that means I’ve done around 21% of it on my own. Here’s to seeing that percentage grow. And thanks to all of you for your years of support. It’s much appreciated.

Here’s the post where I first announced my plans. And here’s the post where I reported on my opening day! (Boy, my store is a lot more full now than it was then.)

Did they stop drawing them prior to this? I’d only been checking sporadically.

§ March 12th, 2021 § Filed under superman, this week's comics § 11 Comments

So let’s celebrate this Friday with the fact that Superman (pictured here)

…doesn’t have those cuff-rings or whatever at the end of his sleeves.

Those little cuffs were the last vestiges of Jim Lee’s awful redesign of the Superman costume for the New 52 relaunch nearly ten years ago, which I presume were held onto stubbornly by DC editorial as they reverted all the other changes wrought upon the superclothes. I wrote about the problems with the costume here, and I hope it gets across the idea that it wasn’t a purely reactionary response to this new outfit in a “we fear change” Garth-from-Wayne’s-World sort of way. There were genuine messaging and conceptual issues with the costume, as well as basic aesthetic ones, as to why the redesign was so roundly rejected.

Anyway, if the cuffs come back next issue (or in Action, ignore this post. …And the comic itself felt like a reverting of tone to the pre-Brian Michael Bendis era. I do have to say every time I see Lois ‘n’ Clark’s super-son Jon Kent, there’s always the tickle in the back of my mind “so when are they going to decide to get rid of him?” Not because I dislike the character, but because his presence feels like a bending of the Superman premise perhaps just a tad too far, and sooner or later someone at DC (or someone in the Warner Bros. organization higher up than anyone at DC) is going to ask that everything in the franchise be changed back to how it was.

Or, you know, just have it all ended entirely and the Superman family of characters are handed over to the toy division for proper exploitation. Either or.

The New 52 armor costume is the honorary #6.

§ December 4th, 2020 § Filed under superman § 5 Comments

So in the process of backing up files and transferring things to the “new” computer, I came across a post I wrote for another blog back in 2006. It was The Horror Blog, a site run by a fellow named Steve up there in the wilds of Canada, who had also run a fun comics-oriented blog entitled I Was Ben. Now both sites are unfortunately defunct, replaced with either squatter “buy this domain” pages or some suspicious “SECURITY BREACH, YOUR IP HAS BEEN LOGGED” site. However, at some point I had the good sense to download a copy of my article and the images way back when and stored them away.

As such, since I’ve been busy working on a big post for Saturday, I’m going to present A Classic from the Golden Age of Comics Blogging and Not at All Just a Reprint, straight outta 2006: “Five Favorite Scary Superman Moments,” just in time for the scariest of all holidays, Christmas. Please enjoy!

• • •

Five Favorite Scary Superman Moments

When one thinks of “scary,” usually Superman comics don’t come to mind. Bright, cheery, sometimes even whimsical, sure…but scary? Not usually, but there are rare, very rare occasions when a moment in a Superman story will get under your skin, sticking with you long after the comic is put away. Here are just a handful of those instances, when the world of Superman was not as bright and friendly:
5. Superman is confronted with his own dead bodies (Action Comics #399, April 1971):

Following the explosion of an experimental power generator, Superman finds himself thrown out of our world…and into a giant crystalline “cell,” where he finds himself trapped with General Custer, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington. Eventually Superman breaks free of the cage to discover that he’s in the future, being studied by a time-travelling historical institute…and that the common thread among the “guests” is that they’ve been brought from the past from just before their imminent deaths!

That’s not the only surprise awaiting Superman, as the future historians explain that he is, in fact, the third Superman! Following the death of the original Superman, Earth scientists clones a second Superman to take his place, removing the memories of his death. And when that second Superman died, a third was created…the Superman that has been brought to the future just prior to his own demise.

Superman doesn’t believe this, of course, but by coincidence, the crypt containing the three super-bodies is just below the historical center:

For the most part, this is your standard Superman adventure, with the twist being that Superman was in fact thrown into the future of a parallel universe, and thus the history being related to him is not the history he lived…no cloning, no deaths. But that brief sequence, with Superman being confronted with his own dead bodies, and his own fear at having to see the final clone body, supposedly his own…it remains quite affecting.
4. Superman can’t save everyone (Hitman #34, Feb 1999):

Superman and Tommy Monaghan have a brief heart-to-heart talk about what it means to be not just a hero, but a symbol of what heroism is meant to be, during which Superman relates an instance in which his own symbolism adds to an extra level of despair to an already tragic disaster.

A nuclear space shuttle headed for Mars is in trouble, and Superman has his hands full trying to shield the shuttle’s escape craft from the atomic reactor leak, when he notices another astronaut, previously thought dead, huddling in one corner of the bay.

Superman can do nothing…he has to continue shielding the crew from the radiation or they will be lost. The astronaut in the bay is doomed…he knows it, Superman knows it…and, as Superman says:

3. That werewolf cover (Superman #422, Aug 1986):

Okay, the story inside is no great shakes…yes, Superman fights a werewolf, never actually turning into one himself, and yes, all the characters in the story are scared, but nothing in those pages is actually scary.

That cover, on the other hand…no Superman image can top the sheer wrongness of those hideously overdetailed head and hands attached to the smoothly streamlined body, drawn as only that master of the disturbing image, Brian Bolland, can manage. And on top of that, presenting the image in stark black and white, save for the red eyes…this image is one of the epitomes of superhero creepiness.
2. The final Luthor/Brainiac team (Superman #423/Action #583):

Taking place in the near-future, as Superman’s last battle approaches, arch-nemesis Lex Luthor seeks out and finds the crippled body of Superman’s other arch-nemesis, the robotic Brainiac. Lifting Brainiac’s head, Luthor is startled to discover that his mechanical “comrade” is not as lifeless as he seems:

Using Luthor as a host-body, Brainiac trundles off into the distance, preparing whatever revenge he’s planning to exact on the Man of Steel…

…Until the story’s climatic battle, when, face to face with a super-powered Lana Lang (don’t ask), Luthor is able to break Brainiac’s hold just long enough to plead for death from his fellow former Smallvillite:

And if that’s not enough, Brainiac attempts to continue commanding his dead host body, until it gives up completely:

That whole sequence is creepy in and of itself, but what makes it even more affecting is the unique position this particular version of Luthor holds in Superman’s long history. This is the sympathetic Luthor, the Luthor who’s protective of his young sister Lena; who loves the people of the alien world Lexor, who worship him as a hero; who admires Albert Einstein; and who, when the time came, was able to call out to a former childhood friend and beg her to release him from his living hell.
1. The Phantom Zone #1 – #4 (Jan – April 1982):

Of all the Superman stories ever printed, none can top this for what may be one of the most off-model adventures for the Man of Steel. A very basic explanation of the plot sounds like it’s right out of the Silver Age: the Phantom Zone villains escape their prison, trapping Superman (and former Zone prisoner Quex-Ul) in the Zone in the process, and then proceed to wreak havoc on the Earth while Superman tries to escape.

What makes this different, however, is the brutal storytelling of writer Steve Gerber and artist Gene Colan. Colan’s portrayal of the Man of Steel’s adventure is unlike any other artists…dark, moody, and mysterious, all shadows and swirly smoke, when Superman is usually presented as bright and triumphant. For example, the Phantom Zone itself, the extra-dimensional prison for Krypton’s worst criminals, usually looks like it’s just a room filled with grey clouds and transparent “ghosts” who are just normal looking folks colored all in white. Colan’s Phantom Zone looks more like what one would think of as a nightmarish spiritual world:

Gerber pulls no punches from the story’s get-go, as he details the crimes of the various Phantom Zone villains back on Krypton…mass destruction, mayhem, and, in the case of the PZ villain Faora Hu-Ul, tortured and murdered men:

This brutality continues, as the freed Zone villains begin their reign of terror upon the Earth, threatening civilians and easily overpowering the remaining superheroes. And it’s not the typical clean, antiseptic superhero action you’d expect. In Gerber and Colan’s hands, it’s horrifying: buildings are razed, people are burned and broken, and none can stand against the freed Kryptonian criminals.

Trapped in the Phantom Zone, Superman and his companion, the former Kryptonian criminal Quex-Ul, travel deeper and deeper into the depths of the ethereal prison looking for an escape route…and find themselves confronting the alien presence whose being apparently encompasses and creates the Zone itself. Bizarre beings and scenarios are thrown into their path, such as this temple of masked priestesses, whose masks hide a frighteningly symbolic visage for Superman:

As the series reaches its climax, Superman and Quex-Ul find themselves in direct contact with the central alien intelligence controlling the realm, which tries to absorb their spiritual forces into its own. Quex-Ul makes one final attempt at defeating the creature, flying directly into the monster’s maw, only to have his soul destroyed in the process. Superman, angry and defiant, makes his own attack upon the being, avoiding Quex-Ul’s mistake but finding himself in a place that wears heavy upon his soul nonetheless:

Having passed through this final portal, Superman finds himself back in the corporeal world, and the Zone villains are quickly dealt with. But General Zod, the most famous, most notorious of the Zone villains, gets some special treatment from Superman for the part he played in sending Quel-Ul to his death in the Zone:

And of all the elements of this particular story, this is the one that sticks with me the most. This isn’t the staid, mannered Superman of the Silver Age, tricking villains into defeating themselves, or finding himself in a superheroic domestic comedy, trying to hide his identity from Lois. This is a Superman who is showing real human emotion, real anger — this Superman is, quite frankly, pissed off. And, for the 13-year-old kid I was when I read this comic for the first time, back in ‘82, back before “pissed-off” superheroes were the norm, this was indeed just a little scary.

A tale of two DC Comics Presents.

§ November 9th, 2020 § Filed under superman § 7 Comments

So one of the series I’m reading on the DC Universe app is DC Comics Presents, the Superman team-up series that ran for 97 issues plus four annuals, from the ’70s into the ’80s. I read, probably, about a third of the run just buying it off the stands. The earliest issue I owned was a Whitman edition of #3, either out of a bagged three pack of comics, or perhaps in one of those batches of comics my grandmother purchased for me from a second-hand store. I’m pretty sure the first issue I actually bought fresh off a newsstand was #29, wrapping up the Mongul trilogy, the first two parts of which I wouldn’t read ’til I started going to comic shops with back issue bins on a regular basis. I would then proceed to pick up futher issues of the series, on and off, for the rest of its run.

Like I said, I read about a third of the series that way. I probably read another third, more or less (look, don’t press me on my math skills) via back issue purchases or by reading stories reprinted in digests. And now, with the aforementioned DC app, I am slowly working my way through the issues I hadn’t read yet via either method.

I’m two issues closer to having read the full run as of last weekend, as I decided to peruse DC Comics Presents #48 from 1982 (Superman and Aquaman), and DC Comics Presents #51, also from 1982, with Superman and the Atom. And I found I had a very different response to the two stories.

In the Aquaman team-up the King of the Seven Seas and the Fella in the Red Cape must join forces to defeat super-intelligent octopuses, which, sure, okay:

Of note, Aquaman uses his telepathic ability to control his unconscious body, citing the evolutionary connection to ancient sea life humans (and also, luckily for ol’ Arthur, Kryptonians) have. Pretty sure this is something Grant Morrison eventually picked up on decades later in JLA, if I recall correctly.

Anyway, point is, it was a perfectly fine, if odd, Superman story where he teams up with Aquaman. Superman does his thing, Aquaman does his watery stuff, the menace is defeated, and there, we’ve got a comic book. All very surface level (er, so to speak), basically shaking action figures at each other, but sometimes that’s what you need from a superhero comic to kill a few minutes.

Now the Atom team-up is just about as outlandish…the Atom, while visiting the past of 100 years ago, sees Superman there gettin’ killed by some alien invaders, and then he, Supes, and Professor Hyatt (who owns the time travel device the Atom had been using) eturn and try to solve the mystery. This also ties into an ongoing subplot from a previous issue I had read as new, involving the mystery of Superman’s ancestor Var-El.

Stuff happens, the professor gets separated from the heroes, and he runs into Var-El his own self, living as a mountain man in this time period (hence the get-up you’ll see). The professor tries to get Var-El to speak to his descendant (after spilling the beans about, oh, his home planet exploding), but Var-El is reluctant. Which leads to this exchange:

And that…was a bit of unexpected depth that caught me by surprise in what I thought was going to be solely another “how does this combination of super powers solve this situation?” plot. Some thoughtful comments on dealing with age and the knowledge that the world doesn’t stop when you do? There’s a conflict you don’t often see in the pages of a superhero comic.

It’s not much, just a few panels, but it gives the proceedings a little extra emotional depth, some weight behind the time travel and aliens and all that hoohar. And that made all the difference. The Aquaman team-up was fine…silly and weird and enjoyable with nice Irv Novick art, but ultimately empty calories. The Atom team-up, with just that slightest pensive touch, is a story that sticks with you maybe a little longer than simply dissipating as soon as you closed the covers.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not saying the Aquaman story is “bad” or “inferior” — there is absolutely a place for a plain ol’ all-plot, shallow-as-a-sidewalk-puddle story with a big gimmick (Aquaman “controlling” Superman’s boy telepathically) to sell it. But it’s nice when that emotional content gets in there, too. And I wonder, if I’d read this at the age of 13 when it was originally released, if that bit in the Atom book would have hit me as strongly, as opposed to reading it for the first time now as I approach 52. I suppose I may know the answer to that already.

Oh, and by the way, the Var-El storyline get wrapped up in issue #74 of this series, which I also hadn’t read yet. Guess that’s next up!

DC Comics Presents #48 (August 1982) by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, Irv Novick and Frank McLaughlin

DC Comics Preens #51 (November 1982) by Dan Mishkin, Alex Saviuk and Frank McLaughlin

Oh, right, remember Miracleman?

§ July 8th, 2020 § Filed under self-promotion, superman, this week's comics, x-men § 4 Comments

So a couple of days ago I asked you all for a little help regarding my eyeball-related medical treatments and associated bills via a GoFundMe campaign. I was thinking at best I’d reach the goal amount, which would cover some outstanding bills, a couple laser treatments to hopefully, finally stem the constant bleeding in my eyes, and a few follow-up visits (likely requiring more injections).

Well, you really came through for me. The goal was reached within twelve ours, and folks are still contributing. Any extra money I receive will continue to go to medical bills and debt. If, with any luck, I finally get through this eye stuff and money is left over, I’ll find a worthy charity to give it to.

I said this on the GoFundMe page, and I’ve been blathering about it on Twitter…but I have been very moved by this enormous outpouring of help from everyone. I just couldn’t believe so many people care about some dude who sells comics and also types too much about them on the internet. I can’t possibly thank you all enough for what you’ve done.

• • •

Okay, so this week’s new issue of Superman reminded me a lot of the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League series from the ’80s, and I’m sure having that series’ artist Kevin Maguire on this new book helped a lot.

It was mostly a light, funny read except, of course, when it wasn’t, as Superman and Dr. Fate try to work out whatever problems Supes is having. More something that’s essentially talking heads (what, in a Bendis book, who would’ve guessed) it remains compelling reading as Superman works through his feelings on recent events in his comics. It’s not often you see your mainstream superhero books tackle the emotional impact of whatever super-shenanigans they were responsible for. And here you do, and somehow it’s interesting.

Plus I forgot we had a new Dr. Fate, which is from…I don’t know, two or three reboots ago, right? So I didn’t know if that new Fate was still around or if we were back to the original dude. If the new guy’s turned up in other stuff recently, I don’t know, since I’m still behind on just about everything. I’m catching up, though, one comic at a time!

Now this one I was interested in, as, hold onto your hats, I’ve never actually read the original graphic novel! In fact, my primary memory of God Loves, Man Kills is when I somehow managed to catch some religious TV show in the early 1980s looking at some then-recent comic books, including that very volume. I can’t remember many specifics about what the panel on this show had to say, except they weren’t entirely thrilled with the imagery of Professor X being crucified, and that the ended the discussion with “this cost $5.95? I remember when they were ten cents!” (Also, they talked a little about Thor, and his being the “God of Thunder” which was also apparently a problem.)

Anyway, I finally have my mitts on at least half the story, and since this is the “extended cut,” there are a few new introductory pages of what I’m presuming to be a framing sequence (with the other part of the frame in #2), featuring Kitty Pryde. Oh, and it’s by Chris (excuse me, “Christopher”) Claremont and Brent Anderson, the folks what did the original book. You know, that’s kinda neat. And there’s some back matter, too, interviews and such about the making of this story.

The story is pretty much Peak X-Men, with all the characters you’d expect, hanging out in the mansion, getting persecuted for being mutants, all that sort of thing. I mean, when I think “X-Men Comics,” this is what I think of, down to being written by Mr. Claremont, back before the 1990s arrived and the X-franchise was splintered and more-or-less destroyed. Well, okay, maybe the endless array of never-ending subplots aren’t as involved, but you can’t have everything.

And it turns out, it’s a good story, in case you hadn’t heard about this here graphical novel. A Falwell-type religious leader has it in for them mutants, successfully taking them on in the media, and meanwhile, some bad people are going around killing mutants, and The X-Men Are There to put a stop to all this. A nice point that’s made is that in a televised debate between said religious leader (Stryker) and leader of the X-Men, Professer Charles Xavier, it’s Stryker who comes out the clear winner, being charismatic and convincing and knowing ahow to play to the cameras, while our Professor X, who doesn’t know how to deal with the media, comes out a bit off-putting. A nice comment on how “truth” and “facts” can get easily steamrolled.

Another interesting bit in this half of the story involves Kitty, and the aftermath of her fight with a fellow dance class student who thinks Stryker’s got the right idea about getting rid of mutants. Kitty, a mutant herself, clearly objects to this, and her classmate refers to her as a “mutie-lover.” Following a brief scuffle, the instructor of the class, Stevie Hunter, a Black woman, tries to calm Kitty down, to which Kitty responds how Ms. Hunter would have responded if the other student had said “n*****-lover” instead.

The N-word is not censored in the comic, which I wanted to address, if only because not that long ago, in Marvel’s Miracleman reprints, the same word was censored, when it wasn’t in the original. I suspect the difference is context, in which the X-Men usage is simply making explicit the X-Men’s allegorical themes regarding racism and bigotry, while in Miracleman it’s a Black man using the word to describe himself in a derisive manner. Both uses are about the racist treatment of Black people, but the X-Men example is a little more obvious in its purpose. …Or, you know, just different editors making different decisions, and I’m just reading too much into it, which, you know, I never do. Regardless, it was still a bit of a shock to see, particularly in the current questioning of whether white people should even be using that slur in any context, no matter the point being made. Look, I don’t even like typing the censored version here.

I am glad I finally read this, or at least half of it, after all these years. It’s definitely a product of its time, with evil folks using religious as a weapon against the oppressed. Whew, thank goodness that doesn’t happen anymore. Anyway, maybe I’ll get around to reading that New Mutants graphic novel next. Nobody spoil it for me.

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