You are currently browsing the superman category

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.

Oh for the days when I used to be referred to as “Get on Down Disco Dynamite.”

§ February 14th, 2020 § Filed under legion of super-heroes, superman, what § 5 Comments

So pal Brook (the very one who clued me in to the Hulk single) dropped by on Wednesday after perusing the vinyl record selection at the weekly flea market a town or two over. One of this acquired goodies was the following item, courtesy the year 1978:

And behold the back cover, if you dare:

A closer look at the back cover blurb:

…and if the song title “Lois Gets on Down” didn’t get you to buy this record, surely the idea of “Superman grooving out of sight” would do the trick.

Brook was good enough to let me borrow the record for the week, and…yes, it’s pretty amazing. A number of the songs are disco versions of movie theme music (and I didn’t realize there was another disco version of the Star Wars theme aside from Meco’s, though thinking about it I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised…and the two versions are awfully close). And if you’re wondering, “Mountain Funk” is a disco-ized version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

I’ve linked to a couple of the songs on this record already, but here’s the main attraction…the disco-enhanced recording of the John Williams theme from Superman: The Movie. You’re welcome. And be sure to stick around for the weird vocalizations (surely done by those kind women on the album cover).

Also, if I may add, speaking of that cover…Twitter pal Rob pointed out that the nice young lady on the right of the image bears some semblance to Saturn Girl and her ’70s swimsuit costume, and darned if Rob’s not onto something. And I’d bet one can of Billy Beer that there was someone at that same disco dressed like Grimbor the Chainsman.

The movies are a whole ‘nother matter.

§ January 6th, 2020 § Filed under superman § 8 Comments

Well, so far this holiday/post-holiday season appears to be “Mike’s short on blogging-time” season as well, which is one of the reasons I didn’t post last Friday. By all rights I shouldn’t be posting for today, and instead sleeping the sleep of the just, but I decided not to let the site lay fallow for that long, ain’t you lucky.

So anyway, a couple of updates…a few days ago I asked for your help in getting my friends the Beckners reach their GoFundMe goal to stay housed and fed through the month. And…they made it, thanks to all of you, and my pals on the Twitters. That means a lot to me that you all were able to chip in, and it certainly means a lot to them as well. Thank you very much.

I also wanted to leave one last reminder that I’m still taking your 2020 comics industry predictions before I start looking at how y’all did with your 2019 predictions later this week (hopefully)! 2020 is only a few days old (and what a few days those have been, sheesh) so get your forecasts in before it’s too late!

I would like as well to respond a bit to something Daniel said in the comments to my last post:

“The fact that people are more concerned with Superman having red trunks than with making the character interesting and compelling for a 21st century audience tells you everything that is wrong with DC Comics these days.”

Well, my friend, let’s not be too hard on folks here. First, regarding the costume…I’ve written here and on Twitter about the…inappropriateness of the New 52 Superman costume. The weird armor-style texture to the suit seemed unnecessary, the lack of the trunks left the solid blue of the suit unbroken in an unaesthetically-pleasing manner (giving the impression in a way that he was “naked,” kinda sorta), and the worst offense in my eyes was that collar. The raised collar had an almost regal feel to it, which had the effect of further setting Superman apart from the people he was protecting.

Now one of the things that would make a person like Superman bearable to regular folks is his aligning himself with the ordinary populace. Yes, okay, he’s still in a fancy costume, but the traditional Superman suit is an old-timey circus strongman costume plus a cape. It’s humbling, it comes from lowbrow origins and yet still has a colorful, dymaic flair. It’s fancy on a relatable scale. Once you start throwing in armor and that collar, the overall impression becomes one of being above and ruling the masses, rather than fighting with them.

So the trunks, I think, are kind of a big deal, at least on a psychological level. Their return is symbolic of the discarding of the unappealing, ugly costume and the ugly, unappealing feeling that it represented. Sure, we still have the collar-cuffs holding over, and frankly I’m surprised they’re still drawing those in even now, but those are a fairly minor offense.

To Daniel’s larger point, the need to “modernize” Superman for today’s audiences, is much trickier, and certainly not something that’s going to get cracked in a late-night blogpost by your pal Mike. The problem is that if you change Superman too much, it no longer feels like Superman (see, for example, the majority of the New 52 relaunch). Or you can update his supporting cast (a little more feasible) and/or his setting (which they do anyway…current Superman comics don’t take place in 1938, after all).

The main way to update Superman is through more modern storytelling techniques, which, like it or not, we’re getting now via Brian Michael Bendis’s tenure on the titles. For all of BMB’s…quirks, it feels like a modern Superman comic. Not to everyone’s tastes, perhaps, but it’s a step in that direction. It reminds me a little of the post-Byrne reboot Superman titles from the 1980s, where they expanded the ensemble cast, depended more on continuing subplots, etc., differentiating themselves from the simpler, more standalone stories prior to the reboot. Not to say there weren’t stabs at issue-to-issue ongoing character bits in the earlier Superman books, but that form of subplotting felt more tacked on then, versus being a more intrinsically weaving into the fabric of the stories post-reboot (and even now).

One could argue that something was lost in the transition from the more classically-styled Superman tales versus the soap-operatic style that replaced them. One can’t deny that Superman sales jumped enormously following that change, whereas one can argue, still, whether the character of Superman itself benefits best from this form of modernization. Being compelling for today’s audiences is a struggle not unique to Superman but faced by pretty much any current comic published by Marvel or DC. It’s a difficult balance to find, keeping what’s special about each property while adjusting it for today’s market. Superman’s managed to make it this far, where so many haven’t, so I wouldn’t count Big Blue out just yet.

Second time’s the super charm

§ December 16th, 2019 § Filed under superman, this week's comics § 5 Comments

When we last met, I was about to go under the knife for another eye surgery. Well, I’m happy to report things went swimmingly, I was in and out of the operating room in a flash (not so much the waiting room, which we sat in for quite a while) and my eye seems to be healing up nicely. The end result is that I now need glasses for pretty much any close-up lookin’, as the replacement lens in my left eye is meant for distance vision, but that’s okay…at least it leaves me able to drive.

Anyway, I’m fine, and once my other current eye issues settle down to the point of being able to get real glasses, versus the array of dollar-store cheaters I’ve been depending on, everything will be just dandy. Or at least as dandy as my eyeballs will allow.

And it turns out I can still read comical books, which I tested by getting caught up on the last several months’ worth of Superman, culminating in this issue:

[SPOILERS for said issue ahead]

…Okay. I’m fine with this turn of events, just as I was the last time this was done with Superman, near the end of the New 52 run just a few years back. I thought then that the public revelation of Superman’s dual life as Clark Kent made for an interesting twist in the ongoing comics, one we hadn’t really seen before in the mainline continuity as an extended storyline. That was kinda the last hurrah for that particular version of Superman before he was replaced by the return of the post-Crisis/John Byrne reboot/married to Lois/has a son version that had been the main Superman for the 30 years prior to the New 52. (Look, I know that’s a lot to absorb if you’re not familiar with Superman’s publishing travails over the past decades, so take a moment if you need one.)

My feeling about the New 52 version of the public revealing of the secret ID is pretty much summed up by my post about a story just prior to that, when Superman revealed his ID to just Jimmy Olsen. In short, it was fun to read, scratches bit of an itch, but these twists to the Super-formula don’t have the impact they should have had because it’s still this weird not-quite-Superman version of Superman DC was foisting off on us as part of their rushed-into-existence New 52 line-wide relaunch.

But now, we have…well, as close to the “real” Superman back in comics as we’re going to get, without Siegel/Shuster/Swan/Schaffengberger/Boring/Plastino etc. coming back from the dead to do more stories. I think Bendis has been doing a relatively decent job writing a recognizable Superman that falls in line with the Superman comics of the past, while still feeling like a “modern” comic. I mean, there’s the occasional rough edge, or some Bendis-istic quirk, but by and large they’ve been fine.

Thus, the repeat of the plot of “Superman Reveals Himself!” (ahem) so soon after the last time they did it still feels somewhat…new and fresh and interesting, because now it’s “really” happening to the “real” Superman, and not some What If — er, excuse me, “Elsewords” — version. It reminds me a little of [hold on…SPOILER ALERT for Batman: Hush, of all things] that time when it looked like Jason Todd had come back from the dead, but it turned out to be Clayface, which kind of honked everyone off, so Jason Todd really came back later on and though the shock of the return was just slightly muted by the previous fake-out, it was still a surprising twist that grabbed attention. Okay, that’s not a 1:1 analogy, but I think you get the idea.

Back to the current comic, here…yes, I think this will make for some interesting stories. And yes, I’m sure this will eventually result in some reset-button putting of the worms back in the can of restoring the secret ID (and hopefully not yet another reboot). But I’m willing to see where this goes, especially with the idea stated in this issue that Superman will continue living and working as Clark Kent. If that doesn’t result in someone shouting at him “WHY ARE YOU SITTING AT A KEYBOARD…PEOPLE ARE DYING IN ACCIDENTS ALL OVER THE CITY” in every issue…well, I don’t know what to tell you.

I also have a vague memory of one of the Elliot S! Maggin prose novels from decades ago — Miracle Monday, maybe? — where Superman’s ID is revealed, and someone discusses how weird it would be if he continued as Clark Kent, that it would be kind of perverse for him to continue acting like a normal human when everyone knew that he was an alien superbeing. I’m getting details wrong, I know, it’s been many years since I’ve read the book, but it’s something like that. But that message still colors my perceptions of what Superman still hangin’ out as Clark post-revelation in the comics would be like. It’d just be…uncomfortable, if realistically depicted.

On the other hand, the more modern interpretation of the Clark/Superman dynamic, as Byrne tried to firmly establish in his reboot, was that Clark was the “real” persona, whereas Superman was the “disguise.” That’s a difficult thing to do, given that the star of the comics, the guy that puts butts in seats, is Superman, so by default he’s the “main” identity. However, if one does keep in mind that Clark is the real person, then him continuing his life as Clark should feel less peculiar than how that long-ago Maggin book would have it. The end goal is probably something along the lines of “Hey, it’s Tony Stark! That’s the guy who occasionally does stuff as Iron Man!” instead of “Hey, it’s Superman pretending to be one of us, just a slob like one of us!”

This is all based on one single issue of the storyline, by the way. Bendis could very well be planning to address some or all of this in his comics, so I’ll just read it and see. …I did want to point out a couple things about this issue that…didn’t ring true for me. A couple of those quirks I may have mentioned earlier in the post.

First, Clark tells Perry White he’s Superman, and Perry gives him a hug. Okay, I can buy that, because they’ve been friends for years, but it’s not followed by Perry immediately firing him from the Daily Planet for years of journalistic fraud. Okay, it’s comics, suspension of disbelief and all that, but it’s a bit tough to swallow. Again, future storylines may address this, but just in this issue as a standalone story, it still felt wrong.

Next, Superman gives his press conference (a well done sequence for the most part, I thought), and after telling everyone “hey I’m Clark Kent, I’m married to Lois Lane, okay see ya” he flies off, basically leaving Lois to fend for herself. Maybe it’s not as bad as all that, but it felt odd to me that Superman would just bail on his wife and pals in the wake of this revelation. Or maybe off-panel he told ’em “meet you at Big Belly Burgers after the speech” and they all had some fast food after the issue was over. Hey, why not.

Before I shut off the computer for the night, I’ll add that I really did love the scene of Jimmy Olsen messing with Superman as he tries to convince his longtime pal that he’s really Clark Kent. Genuinely funny.

Okay, that’s that. Thanks for sticking around after my brief hiatus, pals, and I’ll be back soon.

After Swamp Thing, Sugar Plumm, and Krypto the Superdog.

§ July 3rd, 2019 § Filed under superman § 3 Comments

Look, I’ve had a long and troublesome Tuesday, where getting another injection in the eye was one of the few good things to happen, so for today let us just contemplate the fourth greatest character at DC Comics, the dread Kryptonian Thought Beast:

You know why the fans didn’t like that Man of Steel movie? None of these in it.

Have a good Fourth of July, where applicable, and I’ll see you after.

cover to Superboy #102 (January 1963) by Curt Swan and George Klein

Thank goodness I caught the typo in “makeshift lab,” that would have been embarrassing.

§ May 13th, 2019 § Filed under superman, swamp thing § 9 Comments

So when last we met, I had a lot to say about Swamp Thing comics and their treatment of superheroes, which hopefully you all were able to appreciate amongst all the typos*. I was a tad dismissive, in particular, of the Supeman/Swamp Thing “team-up” in DC Comics Presents #8 from 1979, which I described as a typical Superman comic that Swamp Thing happened to be in, and not reflective of the tonal shift superheroes would receive in the post-Alan Moore era of Swampy’s title.

Anyway, thanks to the DC Universe streaming service (as I’m not really able to read print comics due to my eyeball stuff) I was able to reread that issue for the first time in…gosh, a decade, maybe? And it turns out my memory of that book was just a tiny bit wrong.

I’ll explain, but just so we’re on the same page, as it were, and because there was some minor confusion over this point when I posted about it last Friday, the DC Comics Presents issue I’m talking about is not this one from 1985 by Moore, Rick Veitch and Al Williamson that everyone remembers:

…but, rather, this one from, as I said, 1979, by Steve Englehart and Murphy Anderson:

Now it does, on the surface level, look like a typical Superman comic. Supes is drawn in the traditional way (both inside by Anderson and on that greaet cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez), he’s fighting a supervillain, it’s in Metropolis, there’s Janet Klyburn from S.T.A.R. Labs, there’s Lois, etc. Oh, and there’s Swamp Thing, drawn in a style that fits right in with Superman’s world, the one concession to his mystery book origins being the drippy caption boxes:

Okay, and let me get this out of the way. The thing that bothered me about this issue when I first read it sometime in the early 1980s, more than anything else, and way out of proportion to the actual offense, is that Swamp Thing’s thought balloons are colored incorrectly. They’re supposed to be yellow on the inside, with the white outline. His speech balloons (all two of ’em) in this issue are drawn and colored the same way, and not as the jagged orange word balloons from the original comics. …I’m bothered less by it now, as I’ve mellowed in my old age, so let’s move on.

The general plot of the story is that Swamp Thing (who at this point still believes himself to Dr. Alec Holland, transformed by a hideous mishap of science into this muck-encrusted mockery of a man) learns about another swamp creature, Solomon Grundy, running around in Metropolis and causin’ trouble. Swampy wants to get his hands on Grundy and run some tests, hoping to find a cure for his condition, which brings him into conflict with Superman, who would take Grundy away and out of his reach:

As it turns out, there is some chemical hoohar in the sewers of Metropolis that is spontaneously generating duplicates of Grundy, who are running amock in the streets, forcing Superman to take drastic measures.

Eventually, Swamp Thing’s tests (using a makeshift lab he somehow built in the sewer tunnels) revealed what Superman already know, that Solomon Grundy and these duplicates aren’t really alive, but are instead, well…

I believe that would be the scientic term for it, yes.

Thanks to Dr. Klyburn at S.T.A.R. Labs, Superman has something-or-other that will destroy all these Grundy duplicates on contact that he can just fly around at super-speed and apply to them, saving himself the trouble of any more destructive brawls with a creature nearly as strong as he is. But when Swamp Thing hears of this plan:

He rushes to stop Superman from enacting this plan:

…but his attempt at getting the Man of Steel’s attention is futile:

…and Superman flies off and does the ol’ scrubbing bubbles thing on the Grundy menace:

Ultimately, in its way, this story is a definite precursor to the reinterpretations of DC’s superheroes we begin to see in the previously discussed Saga of the Swamp Thing #24. The Superman comics have always made a a big deal out of his code against killing, while also giving him regular “outs” to allow him to, well, kill things when he needs to (“oh, it’s just a robot,” “oh, it’s just some imitation of life,” “oh, it’s distorted weirdness”).

Solomon Grundy not being “alive” seems to be a case of splitting hairs…he moves, he thinks, he demonstrates understanding of concepts like “friend” and “foe” — that panel above, Swamp Thing realizes that it may not be specifically life as we know it, but it’s something. When Superman flies off to do his thing and save the day, freed by his belief that he’s not really kiling anything, the reader is forced, via Swamp Thing’s perspective, to consider that he is possibly (or, rather, probably) doing the wrong thing, that Superman is just straight-up fundamentally misapplying his code against killing, The story is one of failure: failure of Swamp Thing to prevent the destruction of the Grundys, and Superman’s failure to consider the possibility the Grundys may have some form of existence worth preserving.

I put “team-up” in quotes earlier as, while DC Comics Presents is “the Superman team-up comic,” Superman and Swamp Thing’s inability to team up is what leads to, if not a tragedy, at least a highly ambiguous ending. Without Swamp Thing’s involvement, if it were just a Superman story where he was coping with the same Grundy problem, the reader would likely think nothing of Superman’s solution. With Swamp Thing’s presence, with his point of view added into the mix, we suddenly get a superhero story where the flaws in the genre are brought forward and examined in the comic itself. This is as much a part of the lineage of the “realistic” takes on superheroes we see throughout the eighties and later as anything Moore or Frank Miller or Steve Gerber et al. have done. My mistake in dismissing this issue as long as I have.

Okay, the thought balloon thing still bothers me just a little bit.

* While my vision is improving, large blocks of text are difficult for me to process at the moment, and the irony that I seem to love writing large blocks of text is not lost upon me. Anyway, I’m proofreading best I can, but it ain’t easy…even the little squiggly red lines that the browser helpfully provides are hard for me to spot, so please bear with me.

« Older Entries