Saturday, July 13, 2013

Superman 233: "Kryptonite Nevermore!"

Welcome to the Bronze Age, Superman.

As the 1970's began DC was looking to both introduce a number of new characters, as well as revamp several of its most established stars in order to "freshen up" the line and retake the prime sales position from Marvel. Mort Weisinger, a brilliant but mercurial editor, had been the architect of the Superman titles for 13 years and was largely responsible for their unprecedented success through the 60's. After Weisinger retired from the position, the Superman books were brought under the control of Julius Schwartz, who had orchestrated the creation of the Silver Age Flash, Green Lantern, Atom, Hawkman and Justice League of America.

Schwartz had a vision for a line of Superman books that were character driven, and more grounded in DC's shared universe (Silver Age Superman comics, other than the occasional mention of Batman, basically existed in a world where Superman was the only superhero) he wanted to update the Clark Kent persona, and scale back the incredible powers of Superman. The core character of Superman would remain unchanged, and, unlike reboots now, this would all take place within the established continuity of the titles. It was the first whole scale reinvention of the Superman legend to come from editorial mandate,  He is also the man rather than organic development.

The natural choice to oversee this process was Denny O'Neil, who was one of DC's youngest star writers and in the process of developing a number of retoolings for Schwartz. Since 1968 O'Neil had been responsible for the brilliant, revolutionary Green Lantern/Green Arrow series which turned the sci fi adventure into the first major commercial comic book to examine American political issues like drug use, racism, slum lords etc. He was also the gentleman responsible for returning Batman to his roots, and finally sweeping away the camp elements the book had picked up through the 1960's. O'Neil's association of the character was long and fruitful, continuing and off until the No Man's Land event in 1999. He is one of a handful of people who can make a reasonable claim to being the best Batman writer of all time. He was also responsible for the horrific "All New Wonder Woman" which recast Diana as a swinging mod who used kung fu rather than superpowers to battle evil spies and sentient Asian Egg monsters. The less said the better.

O'Neil was hesitant to take on writing Superman, who he felt was too powerful to be interesting, and too iconic to be drastically altered. All of this made him ideal for Schwartz, who was looking to radically reshape the entire Superman line*, including the limitless power of the title character. He gave O'Neil a year to gradually introduce his new Superman, and O'Neil came out swinging with Superman 233, an issue that from its Neal Adams cover to the revelation of a brand new villain on the final page declares that Superman will never be the same again.

When an experimental Kryptonite powered reactor goes critical, Superman is standing by with a lead shield to minimize the damage. The shield holds, but the concussive burst damages Superman, who lays unconscious upon the desert sands for hours until finally returning to consciousness. Upon waking, he discovers that all the world's Kryptonite has been reverted to simple iron by the radioactive burst. To further complicate matters, Clark Kent has gone from the semi-anonymous life of beat reporter to the celebrity of TV anchorman, and his boss secretly works for Darkseid. "Will Superman now have to wait for commercial breaks?" Clark wonders to himself. Finally, Superman's first rescue "between the bulletins" takes him over the spot where he passed out on the sands after the K reactor went critical, and Superman's powers temporarily disappear-- leading to the creation of a strange man shaped creature made out of sand.

These three threads are the story, but since I'll be covering O'Neil's entire run I'll leave the latter plots for the issues in which they're paid off and concentrate on the main thrust-- the end of Kryptonite. Kryptonite had been in the books since 1949, and it had been in the radio shows even longer. It was Superman's greatest weakness, came in a variety of colors (all with different effects), and was seemingly as easy to obtain as bread or milk for criminals. Even as a fan of the Silver Age, I have to admit that the remarkable alacrity with which Kryptonite appeared in DC Comics would make the reader believe that the entire planet of Krypton had been shipped directly to Metropolis sometime in the 50's. It was definitely time to give it a rest, and focus on new angles.

One interesting additional point is the built in "out" for future Superman writers to bring back Kryptonite at their convenience (hopefully, when it had regained its menace) which is that any Kryptonite in space would obviously be unaffected. Just nice to see a writer looking out for his fellows, rather than assuming he has the absolute final word on the subject. Replacing Kryptonite is a new job which will require Superman to be more ingenious about his day to day routine than ever before. The news anchor position was the longest lasting change on the Superman books made in this issue (as Julius Schwartz felt like the "newspaper reporter" angle was outmoded) lasting fifteen years until the hard reboot of '86. I prefer Clark as a reporter, because it ties him less to one place and allows him greater freedom to roam, but it's hard to argue that the restrictive nature of the position isn't the point in this issue, which deals entirely with weakness.

Final note: This issue has the best Curt Swan art I have ever seen. Just every panel is totally perfect. 10/10.

All in all, Denny O'Neil makes a strong Superman debut in which the theme of weakness is explored throughout the book, as well as the run. This is simply the first chapter in a longer 12 part arc I will review for the blog, so stay tuned.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Superman Unchained 2: "The Fall"

There's a scene early in the second issue of Superman Unchained that perfectly encapsulates my problems with the book, and Scott Snyder's scripts in general:

Superman walks down into the Batcave, so Batman can deliver a large chunk of exposition to him. Batman is testing a new piece of equipment that hides him from Superman's vision, and when Superman admits he can't find him Batman pops out right behind him. Batman goes on to explain that this new suit "automatically detects how it's being looked at from anywhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, and automatically adjust-- in essence it's a personal Superman proof cloaking device.

Great! How does that stop Superman from hearing you move? Or your heartbeat? Or your voice? Or smelling you? Or stop Superman from noticing a Batman shaped null spot when he uses his X-Ray vision? In the effort to make Batman look really cool, they have totally forgotten the basic abilities of the main character. Now, I could forgive you if you felt like this is nitpicking, but it strikes me as indicative of the basic problem-- this book is just lazy. It's lazy writing to have Superman farm out his investigative work to Batman, it makes him look dull and unimaginative. He's an investigative journalist for crying out loud! Let him think! Does Batman call up Wonder Woman every time he wants someone to punch Killer Croc's face?

The Burj Dubai scene is definitely an improvement over the space station rescue from Issue 1, in that, even though Snyder continues to use the device of explicitly showing Superman's inner monologue when he should be allowing the reader to focus on the epic action beat he's constructed, he at least uses this action beat to show how Superman's sense of time is different from ours. A slight improvement, and a great visual, but nothing truly groundbreaking or emotionally investing.

Ascension is being handled extremely poorly, which is shocking because they were created for this book one issue ago, so you would think that there'd be no way to create weird inconsistencies. You'd be wrong. In the first issue Ascension are rejected as suspects in the satellite sabotage, because it's "above their pay grade." Two days later, Batman matter of factly states that they've demonstrated the ability to weaponize any advanced technology in the world. No one brings up that this is odd.

The Luthor stuff is totally incomprehensible to me: He's wearing Matrix shades in prison, quoting the Iliad (in translation, ugh) into a camera and standing in front of a model of Metropolis. You can only tell it IS Luthor if you remembered that he was reading the Iliad last issue, because his look is way off model. Then in the final scene, w learn he's built his model out of Gundam parts and has it on remote control to "save the world." Nothing about those scenes makes any sense to me.

For a series that promised a return to the traditional Lois/Clark dynamic, they've sure done their level best to make Lois as visually and intellectually boring as possible.

The finale  with Gen. Sam Lane is a collection of cliches that I consider personally insulting. Superman lets himself be drawn into an enemy position, that's shielded from his vision, listens to Gen. Lane butcher one of Aesop's fables, lets them unload a black hole powered artillery division, lets himself be attacked by it, and is saved by the Army Superman who actually declares (bless him) "He's mine!" The next issue promises a big ole fight. Joy.

Not recommended.

Monday, July 8, 2013

"A great metropolitan newspaper..."

Hey, we joined the Superman Webring which is very exciting. That blue widget on the right is a portal to the other fine sites you can peruse on the SW, and I would encourage you to investigate them.

Proper review is coming tomorrow of a classic Silver Age tale.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Adventure Comics 247: "The Legion of Super-Heroes"

Given the name of the site I suppose this review was inevitable.

When we go back to the Silver Age Superman we're not just looking at a single character or book, but an incredible universe that sprung up around the character throughout the 50's and 60's. ACTION COMICS and SUPERMAN were joined by team ups with Batman in WORLD'S FINEST, Superman leading the greatest superheroes in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, Superman's cousin fighting the good fight as SUPERGIRL, LOIS LANE and JIMMY OLSEN enjoyed long periods of success, and even a prequel series of sorts chronicling the adventures of Superman when he was Superboy became a hit in ADVENTURE COMICS.

It was in the pages of Adventure Comics' Superboy feature that my personal favorite corner of the extended "Super-family" was born-- THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. The Legion were a group of 30th century teen aged superheroes who, inspired by the legends of Superboy, had formed a "super hero club" which consisted of dozens of heretofore unseen superheroes who defended the galaxy from evil in their own time. Their great affection for Superboy led them to travel back to the 20th century in a "time bubble" to collect him and initiate him into the group so that he could join them in their adventures.

If ever there was a spin off more fertile than the idea that birthed it-- this was it.

Don't get me wrong, the Superboy strip was by no means a disaster in its own right, but its status as "the Superman comic for your younger brother" looked even more drab and hokey after you'd seen Superboy battle Mordru in the 30th century with a cadre of his fellow superheroes. What was intended as a fine "one off" about Superman and a group of three "future heroes" playing practical jokes on one another became, over the decades, a space opera of surprising depth and passion.

The Legionnaires were not just a high concept idea, they had real personality at a time when the mainline DC heroes (even The Batman) were basically interchangeable. They pranked one another incessantly, they were elitists about who could join their group, they made mistakes and had moments of weakness that characters paid for with their lives which made their essential nobility and camaraderie all the more touching. They were a massive army of Superheroes at a time before the Justice League existed, and they had bizarre and wonderful powers that felt like a kid had created them. They made Superboy less of an exact analogue of Superman-- by virtue of their richness and depth he gained added dimensions by bouncing off them.

Most importantly, they were implicitly optimistic as their very existence promised the brighter future that Superboy was destined to bring about through his example as Superman. Even though it's never explicitly stated in those early stories, the Legion existed as an affirmation of Superboy's faith in himself and his vocation. That's what makes the seemingly paradoxical blending of Superman's past and future so mythical and resonant-- it's hard to see where your life will take you when you're twelve. The Legion were a reminder to never lose hope in the development of humanity. Their existence promised a world beyond the problems of the 50's, where we had conquered the demons inside ourselves and had extended our grasp to the universe. And all this predated Star Trek by a considerable margin, by the by.

This story itself is not a masterpiece; it is an enjoyable short feature from the DC Comics of the late 50's. Skillfully written and drawn, it goes about its business of recounting the time Superboy met and horsed around with time travelling super heroes from the future with clarity and brevity. I don't mean to give it short-shrift in its own entry on this site, as it's a charming story and I think it sets the tone for the Legion stories perfectly by playing them as slightly edgy kids doing an elaborate "Hazing" routine. I also like the way Superboy effortlessly shows them all up in the final sequence and regains his primacy. These guys aren't Snapper Carr or even Robin, and the mischievous quality brings out an alpha male quality in Superboy that makes him a full character in his own right. This is a wonderful story.

But we have to be real, what makes it all so beautiful and wonderful is the world it promises and the stories it made possible by doing so. It's the prologue to one of the great epics of American comic books, and the first of many Legion stories to get profiled here. It was a great seed planted by men looking to meet a deadline which gave us a breathtaking space opera which continues to this day and so it deserves inclusion here.

Long live the Legion!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Adventures of Superman, radio program: "The Clan of the Fiery Cross"

When we look at Superman's history and draw comparisons we ought to remember how medium dictates story. A one in done story from 1971 has to engage its world differently than a written for the trade arc in 2011, or a feature length film from 1980, for example. You have to understand not only a historical context for these stories, but a formal context for that particular Superman and the world he inhabits. Every medium has its own advantages and contrivances. Every story that occurs outside our own minds is in some way a compromise to the demands of a physical medium.

That's what makes reviewing a radio serial starring the greatest and most visual character in American popular fiction such a wonderful challenge. To someone living in 2013, radio is defined by what it cannot do, but in listened with a sympathetic ear it's easy to hear why it was such a powerful medium-- like comic books there are no wasted moments and no unnecessary elements. Every line is designed to further the plot or develop the characters which allows us to create a clear and distinct picture in our mind's eye. It's also worth mentioning that unlike the radio shows I had been familiar with before reviewing this show, Superman is not a 30 minute weekly serial, it's a 15 minute daily serial which was recorded live. This necessitates building "breaks" into the serial for the lead actors when they needed days off, which is why Batman and Jimmy Olsen made their debuts in the Superman radio show before they showed up in his comic book.

Before I go on with this review I'd like to tell you about Kellogg's Pep, the Sunshine cereal. So light and crisp and tender it gives your appetite the old come on and makes you want to eat a hearty breakfast every morning. And now that we're sending these cereal grains overseas to feed fellows and girls overseas, remember not to waste it-- eat all your Pep!

(Thought you'd like a little local color there)

The story itself is really good; the kind of social consciousness stuff that permeated early Superman before being swept away in the 1950's. Superman takes on "the Clan of the Fiery Cross", an obvious analogue for the Ku Klux Klan, who have used a dispute between boys on a City League baseball team to incite a campaign of violence against a local Chinese family. I like the way they use a very small incident and build the tension solidly over two episodes before Superman even gets involved. They're also not shy about calling the Klan "Un American bigots and speak pretty specifically about what they do and why they do it.

I also like how adept they are at painting the images with words: the Klan members, illuminated by a single candle, drawing weird shadows in the sour milk light and Superman as a red and blue blur hurdling buildings in a desperate race to save Perry White. I could see these with greater intensity than some comic book images. It's a wonderful format.

The serial is quite long (16 parts of 15 minutes each) but well worth your time to track down and listen to. Here's a link to listen for free:


Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Superman loved Lois Lane.

Lois Lane loved Clark Kent and ached in vain to believe he was Superman.

Clark Kent loved Superman.

No one understood this.

- Elliot S! Maggin, Last Son of Krypton

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D

An adventure so great it takes place between the heartbeats of Clark Kent’s true love. A group of Supermen travel through time and space to save existence. 52 universes, limbo, and only something impossible can save the day…

What do you do with a super hero that can do anything?

You let him!

Superman Beyond.

Behind the cover…

“We‘ll be traveling through Bleed space between the universes, but you‘ll need to upgrade to 4-D vision to truly comprehend what you experience. Prepare yourself by wearing these Overvoid Viewers forged from Superman‘s own Cosmic Armor. Your ability to see 4-D perspective will develop spontaneously when you need it. It is crucial you cut your Overvoid Viewers out of the placard holder as indicated by the dotted lines, or they won‘t function properly. When properly formulated, your Overvoid Viewers should have the green part over your right eye and the red over the left with the rusted armor facing out toward the page.”

A pair of 3-D glasses await you (red and blue). Is this a gimmick is a proper response…and in anyone else’s hands…maybe. But not Morrison’s, these glasses are tied to the story, tied to the reader, tied to the creator. Morrison wants you to interact with the text. He’s offering you a way in, the images leap from the page to interact with you.

You’re about to break the fourth wall (a theme explored in his run on Animal man)  and enter a new dimensional space. Page 12 in issue 2 is the perfect example—"From a direction that has no name comes a sound like breathing... as if cradled"—you’re holding the book, right—Superman can almost hear you! And I wish I had more time to talk about the meta-textual aspects of this story but what we are interested now in something else entirely—

We open with a classic set up, Good vs Evil, Superman and an unknown foe locked in combat, the villain asks, “what shall we engrave upon your tombstone?" and opening with two splashes right away tells you Doug Mahnke’s style fits right in with what Morrison is trying to do, he presents classic DC archetypes mixed with a slightly over-lined and horror-ish embellishment on facial features and backgrounds are perfect for a reality spanning 3-D epic. Bottom line he draws BIG.

Previously in Final Crisis (this being a “tie-in” and all) Lois Lane had been mortally injured, Superman because only his heat vision can keep her alive has been out of the fight.

This is until a female monitor, Zillo Valla, appears, declaring she knows Clark Kent’s secret identity. The multiverse is in danger, she tells him, and only Superman can save it!

In return she promises him the life of his true love and with time frozen between Lois’ last heartbeat Superman kisses her good bye and boards the Ultima Thule, a monitor ship that can travel through the bleed between the 52 universes, joining an army of Superman analogues from other worlds.

What’s great about Beyond, and really Final Crisis overall is that almost all of Morrison’s work at DC is showcased, we get Limbo from Animal man and the return of the Seven Soldiers of Victory. In many ways I see Final Crisis as the culmination of Morrisonian themes and concepts, many stemming even from the Invisibles, within the DC universe; and Beyond is a perfect example. This is Superman, the first idea, the idea that’s greater than them all as allegorical a story as you’ll find from a mainstream comic. Superman fights a war in fictional space to save fiction with an idea.

The monitors who feed on the bleed, in my mind, have to be representative of the writers at DC who are forced to leech every last drop from their creations in service of the faceless corporate entity that controls them. Sucking them dry until there isn’t anything left and they are abandoned to limbo (the place where all characters go when they fall out of use or more accurately aren't making money).

In limbo there is a library where no one goes, within the library there is one book, a book that holds everything every written. A book with no duality, it is both good and evil, destroyer and savior. At the close of the first book the evil anti-matter Superman, Ultraman, attempts to wield the books power and discovers the existence of Mandrakk the dark god and possibly(?) original monitor from COIE, he attacks the people of limbo as reality crumbles, imploring Superman to “kneel before Mandrakk and die!”

And in a comic filled with superhero responses that make you want to jump out of your seat in quick succession you get my favorite two. First when Superman says in response to Ultraman, “Sounds like a challenge to me,” and shortly after that as the people of limbo fight back, Merryman asks, Superman to “Promise you’ll remember us, even if no one else does?” to which he replies, “I will. And they will (could he mean us??). I guess you can be a hero anywhere, Merryman.”  Morrison kills it with these lines, really if the meta-aspects of the story aren’t enough or you just don’t care for them, the simple superhero splendor is enough to leave any comic fan awestruck.

But the greatest piece of writing in this comic is at the end, as evil Superman and our Superman are combined by a very Watchmen-esque Captain Atom (he even says there are only symmetries) into one being beyond the 2D comic space.

Only Superman can save us now.
There are no dualities. Superman’s mind inhabits a being of pure thought, of pure idea, represented as a golden machine built in Superman’s image (calling back to the Golden Age). He has become the very idea that birthed the Superhero, the essence, the pure goodness that is Superman.

Mandrakk offers him the challenge; he holds a bottle of bleed, the only thing that can save Lois Lane. “All you have to do Superman is take it from me!” Take life and the idea back from the corporate entities that brand and buy images and wear them down, with reinvention after reinvention until they’ve crushed the very soul of the thought in the end.

But come on Superman can do the impossible.

Nothing could hold the bleed, They said. They were wrong.
Superman can. And with a kiss…(well, you know…Happy Endings and all)

And oh, in case we've forgotten, as for the words Superman would have carved on his tombstone? Well, considering all comics begin with--

Previously in…

It would only be right that Superman would write be continued.

Monday, July 1, 2013

About today's column...

My new weekly series on THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN will have to wait a week for technical difficulties. Stay tuned.

Superman Daily Comic Strip: "The Comeback of Larry Trent"

Hey guys, I have a bit of an oddball recommendation today.

The book you see above is wonderful collection of the daily Superman comic strips that were syndicated cross country in 1939. At this early point in the history of the comic book, comic strips which were well established throughout the great newspapers were considered far more prestigious than monthly comic books. Adventure strips, now a dying medium, often employed the finest cartoonists in the country and Superman joined the ranks of strips like The Phantom, Buck Rogers, and Flash Gordon. Superman made his debut in the newspapers in January of 1939, six months after Action Comics 1 hit newsstands, and would run continuously (along with a separate Sunday strip) until 1966. Counting a late 70's revival Superman has appeared in over 12,000 original strips. I find these collections not only a look at Superman in the form his creators intended for him, but also an opportunity to follow an adventure strip, which I've never been able to do in newspapers as they're published in the paper.

I've been working my way through the first year of the black and white daily strips, and my favorite story in the lot is the third one, entitled "The Comeback of Larry Trent." After the first long form version of the origin on Krypton (which is named here for the first time) and a retelling of Superman's first case, Siegel gives us a wonderful oddball story about Superman helping a broken down prizefighter and exposing corruption in boxing. There other stories that contain more iconic Superman imagery, but the plot of this story is just so bizarre that it's stuck in my head ever since I read it weeks ago. It's also so indicative of what's different about the Golden Age version of the character that it really recommends itself to a review on this blog.

When Superman saves former world champ Larry Trent from falling to his death Trent tells Superman that his life has become meaningless since his manager drugged him and cost him the title. Superman agrees to help Trent get into fighting shape while he fights his way back to an title shot in disguise. Superman, disguised as Trent, grabs the attention of Trent's former mob handlers, who try to cheat Superman the way they cheated Trent with predictable results. In the end, Trent wins back his title, Superman ferrets out the corruption, and Clark Kent receives a major promotion for his coverage of both stories.

What makes this unique? First, it's a human-interest, small scale story in which Superman not only saves a man from dying, but mounts a significant operation to restore his life. This story would be almost impossible just a couple years later when Superman's focus had widened to encompass the entire world. Secondly, Superman has no problem using his physical prowess on, presumably innocent, boxers who get in his way. This is still a raw and rough and tumble Man of Steel. Third, it's fun to see Clark get one over on his fellows by using Superman to help his journalistic career.

A fun romp that will be of interest toi any fan of classic comics, or Superman in general.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Action Comics (vol. 2) Issues 9-12; 0: "Bulletproof"

Welcome to the second part of my series on Grant Morrison's revamp of Action Comics! Last time we covered Superman's first showdown with his two greatest adversaries, as well as Superman and the Legion taking on the Little Man's Anti-Superman Army for the only piece of kryptonite in existence. Those issues formed a more or less cohesive story, but here is where Morrison's larger second story begins to take shape. Many of Morrison's most robust themes with regards to Superman: his status as a trans-universal archetype; the role of mass media and corporate branding on him; his impossible enemies; his essential humanity and heroism; get a more robust treatment here than they did in the first segment. Let's dive in.

Issue 9: "The Curse of Superman"

This issue seemed to be another digression at first-- a discussion of creator rights, corporate domination, and short-sighted political idealism smuggled into a backdoor pilot for his long discussed Multiversity series, but in coming back a year later, this issue is the one that feels the most like a microcosm of the entire series. What is essential to the superhero beyond his status as a corporate spokesperson? Why does he endure? Morrison has no pat answers here, frustratingly so for a writer who has had so much to say about this kind of conceptual work in New X-Men and JLA, but he is frightfully clever in this issue.

Consider the reappearance of his "Obama-Superman" from Final Crisis, a year earlier. The relentless optimism that character seemed designed to evoke is tempered by the first real indicia that the author(s) understand how scary a Superman who felt entitled to the office of President would be. This President can execute his OWN drone strikes. That said, he exists to serve a story function first and foremost: a Superman who is close enough to our own that we freely recognize him as partaking in the archetype, but different enough to remain distinct and justify his existence.

Confronting this new Superman are three distinct forces: a Lex Luthor who is much further along in his evolutionary process than our own, a Lois Lane who has sold out to the Little Man unknowingly and created a monster but who retains her essential heroism, and Superdoom a tulpa corporate Superman and who is rendered by stooges as "...a violent, troubled, faceless anti-hero concealing a tragic secret life, a global marketing icon." Which seems as much a condemnation of bloodthirsty comic book fans as it does the mass media corporations that control them.

The heroes win themselves a temporary respite, but the question has been raised: Can Superman exist as something more than a brand name and logo? The rest of Morrison's run is an attempt to find not so much closure as a possibility space for a real (in a psychological sense) Superman to survive both the original sin that created him (Siegel and Shuster sold him for a mere 200 dollars and watched their creation birth a media empire while losing all control over him) and the continuing exploitation by people who have no interest in what the icon represents and seek to use him as a distraction from, and not a call to solve, the world's problems. Morrison is recasting the entire world as a superhero comic, and it's daring if not totally realized work.

Issue 10: "Bulletproof"

A senseless murder, which Morrison has the good taste to merely allude to, triggers a crisis of conscience for the Man of Steel even as he's being hunted by the Little Man's latest pawn, Nimrod the Hunter. When a former associate of Glen Glenmorgan blows himself up to try and kill Clark Kent, Superman decides to use the incident as an opportunity to excise his human alter ego, and continue on as Superman 24/7.

This issue is the inverse of Issue 3, whereas there the Superman persona had been tarnished and attacked and Clark seemed willing to abandon it, here the real evil that humans are capable of, and the rest of the Justice League's hesitation to tackle it lead Clark to a huge blunder-- renouncing his human identity. Superman even tells a murderer he'll let "your kind" deal with him, which is a sign that he's in a bad place emotionally. Fitting that his Justice League compatriots seem all too human in their brief appearance; they're more concerned with their own secret identities (Batman) and families (The Flash) than with the systemic causes of human tragedy.

If the first portion of this run saw Clark learn that Superman must be a symbol and not a bully, this portion will teach him that he cannot become a symbol at the expense of being a man. The retooled Captain Comet who is shown coming to Metropolis will serve as a stark portrait of a "superman" who is unburdened by the concerns of the average man, and seeks to impose his will on the world writ-large. The subplot of Nimrod coldly stalking Superman through his life as Clark Kent, all the while not realized that Clark has picked up the tail and is baiting him in is satisfying emotionally, but not as interesting for the purposes of this analysis.

Superman has made his second mistake, and the next two issues will comprise the penance for it.

Issue 11: "Superman's New Secret Identity"

Rags Morales tells us the whole story in just a few pages: Superman handles alien machine xenoformers called Metalek and rebuilds the housing development destroyed in the battle, he doesn't even stop to say a few words before racing crosstown to his new secret identity as a firefighter named Johnny Clark, who keeps his coworkers at a distance. He smiles once, during a particularly tense escape from a burning building. He's Superman 24/7 now, and even though he loves saving people something doesn't feel right and Clark Kent's absence is palpable.

Superman's conference with Batman is refreshing, to say the least. After a frustrating conversation with the Justice League last month, Batman and Superman are working to help one another and try to understand the other's predicament. Morrison in a very short sequence helps us remember why these two are such a natural pairing in the first place. Best friends aren't carbon copies of one another, they're complimentary pieces and they can respond to one another with respect and sympathy. Good to see.

We're introduced (or, like Nimrod and Metalek reintroduced from Issue 5) to Lois' niece Susie Thompkins, who is no ordinary little girl. She's drawing a beautiful Moebius pattern, and talking about giving her hamsters  every name in the world at the same time and what it would sound like backwards. Not so subtle confirmation that it's the Fifth Dimension is at the heart of all this.

Meanwhile, Superman is onboard the Fortress trying to investigate why all these alien powers are coming to Earth. His Brainiac AI informs him that Earth is on a list of doomed worlds, and all the previous worlds on the list were destroyed, however Krypton which was on the list was not destroyed by The Multitude, because it was beaten back by Jor-El who "did the impossible." The issue closes with Captain Comet (who was introduced in the previous issue) attempting to abduct Susie (who identifies as a "neo sapien") who is too valuable to lose in the coming destruction of Earth. As Superman races to the scene in his new civilian identity, his fire truck is commandeered by a Metalek and it slams into Lois Lane. Superman is then subdued by Captain Comet's "4 lobed post human brain" as we close.

This is part two of a three part story so we'll save the overall analysis for...

Issue 12: "Return of the Forgotten Superman!"

A tour de force.

Superman is awakened from a perfect dream world by his own subconscious, which reminds him that Lois Lane is dying and he's being attacked by a crowd that's mind controlled by Captain Comet. Comet lets Susie read his mind, from which we learn his origin as an inhuman Superman, and meet the Oort-kind who scour the galaxy to preserve neo sapiens like Susie. Superman recovers from Comet's control, and empties his mind in order to finally beat him back. He then rushes Lois to a hospital, reads every medical textbook ever published in ten minutes, and performs life-saving surgery. Batman then arrives with a flash drive, which Superman reads without the aid of a computer and advises him to find a way to bring Clark back. Superman confers with Mrs. Nxyly who uses Fifth Dimensional magic to restore Clark Kent so that no one will remember his "death." She then informs Superman of the true threat all along: Vyndktvx, a 5th dimensional sorcerer has "closed his jaws around" Superman and there's very little time left. The issue closes with the Little Man, now named, offering Susie a deal...


Superman finally breaks through the negativity and second guessing that has plagued the last couple issues and once more recommits himself to his mission. in doing so, he defeats Captain Comet who is an obvious "dark mirror" for Superman. Facing down Comet, who was cast out by his parents and thus regards humans as animals, shows Superman once for all how strongly Clark Kent animated his values and priorities. Captain Comet is the conduit through which Superman remembers what was noble and wonderful about Clark, and the experiences that shaped. never once is all this explicitly stated, it's just the beautiful confluence of events that Morrison has put together.

The operation scene reminded me of the Silver Age Superman, in the best possible way. No fear, no "it's out of my hands", he takes the situation into his own hands quickly and confidently and does the job better than the best human could. Superman, as originally conceived, was "a Hercules in strength and a genius in intellect" one of the things that makes Grant a favorite 'round these parts is that he remembers the second part is as important as the first.

The ending not only contains a wonderful panel where Mrs. Nxyly shows Superman her "true" form, but also finally lays the situation out: for the first time, Superman is confronted by a 5th Dimensional entity who is well and truly EVIL. Not mischievous, not irritating, but a being that's coming to destroy him and everything he loves and has had time to prepare to do so. Which naturally brings us to...

Issue 0: "The Boy Who Stole Superman's Cape"


DC in its infinite wisdom decided that it would celebrate the one year anniversary of its reboot by putting out an entire month of "Zero Issue" prequel stories. So, just as Morrison is building narrative momentum, we jump all the way back to before Action 1 to see how the whole thing began, but with the benefit of everything we've learned so far.

Surprisingly, what could have been a disaster is the single best issue of the run since 5 and 6, and the credit has to go to Ben Oliver who did the art for this month's main story. His hyper real watercolors make the incredible moments, like Superman's cape breaking a butcher's knife, feel beautiful and cinematic. Morrison plays against the recent stories, and returns to the almost Golden Age redux tone of Issue 1 in a smaller story about Superman's first adventure, battling Glen Glenmorgan and domestic abuse while being hotly pursued by Lois Lane. The pure origin stuff we've seen before (though I confess I love that the issue begins with Clark ordering the first Superman T Shirts), but it's a warm and friendly familiarity that I don't mind. The classic beats can be revisited, if there's enough new for it to not be a simple rehash. Highly recommended.

Conclusion: This was a much more difficult piece to write than my review of Act 1 was, because the middle portion always begins in medias res and hints at something greater to come rather than standing on its own terms, but this is still the work of a prodigious artist. The simple moments of inspiration that Superman is capable of really shine through here, from rebuilding the destroyed housing after fighting Metalek to stopping the "powerful locomotive" from running over the boys in the zero issue, Morrison never forgets that Superman's standard of heroism is higher than any other. It's not enough to beat the bad guys and preserve the status quo-- Superman is always building towards a better world, by helping us see that it's possible to live in one.

What's also truly exciting is that Superman is facing down a 5th Dimensional threat that is far more subtle and insidious than any he has previously faced. Morrison may be the one living comic writer who could orchestrate an assault on Superman through space and time that is this vast and far reaching, and he's merely hinting at a foe whose mastery is so great that Superman is for the first time truly vulnerable.

Final Part coming soon, guys.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Big Announcement for LOSF

Starting this Monday and every Monday thereafter, LOSF will feature a regular column from me detailing and reviewing each issue of The Death of Superman storyline!

From Doomsday's first appearance in Man of Steel 17, to the final conclusion in Superman 83 I'll take a look at the best selling comic story of all time issue by issue, week by week, just as it appeared in newsstands.

If you always wanted to read this story, check it out along with me. For those who loved it when it first came out, give it another read. This is the story that, for better or for worse, defined American comic books in the 1990's, and it's getting the most in depth review we've ever done here at LOSF!

If there's a series, run, or selection of stories you'd like to see catalogued in this fashion next, please let me know in the comments thread!

Superman 400: "The Living Legends of Superman"

The single best comic ever produced by DC Comics, EVER.

Superman 400 is an exploration of the concept of the mythic hero, the historical figure, the person of interest as their story travels down through time and is received by further generations. This is Elliot S! Maggin's opportunity to fully flesh out his mythology of Superman's future, aided by the greatest team of artists to ever appear in a single issue of a comic. Seriously, check out this roster:

Joe Orlando; Howard Chaykin; Brian Bolland; Jack Kirby; Al Williamson; John Byrne; Jack Davis; Frank Miller; Leonard Starr; Walt Simonson; Marshall Rogers; Bernie Wrightson; Wendy Pini; Will Eisner; Mike Kaluta; Steve Ditko; Mike Grell; Klaus Janson; Moebius; Jim Steranko (writing his segment as well); Bill Sienkiewicz and Jerry Robinson. WITH an introduction by Ray Bradbury.

With a talent roster like that, you know it's time to just dive right in and see what we have. Please note, that because this issue is presented as an anthology we'll be doing capsule reviews, rather than a single essay which connects all these disparate parts, so that I can do justice to everything on it's own terms.

- As you can see above, Howard Chaykin's cover is a depiction of Superman forged directly from the souls of everyone who has ever loved him. Just amazing work.

- The framing story expresses the twin ideas of the piece: That time is a fixed point in time and that legends do not originate in a vacuum, but are animated by the people who transmit and receive them in powerful, simple, terms. This is just a wonderful metaphor for the continued creation of comic books through the ages, and it's expressed powerfully without being too "on the nose." Beautiful work.

- Wow.

- There aren't enough Jack Kirby Superman images out there.

- The next piece is a wonderful yarn concerning a futuristic flim-flam man's tall tale about being saved by Superman in space, and discovering his "super serum" which he's now willing to sell. It's accompanied by drop dead gorgeous art, and it's a fun yarn. A comedic piece to whet our appetites for the more serious stories to follow. It doesn't make any less lovely to read, but it's not the sort of story that benefits from in depth review. Just read it.

- Interesting to see how Byrne saw Superman, just a couple years before he became the architect of his world. He's a little younger here than he looks in Byrne's origin for him a couple years later.

- Maggin teams with Frank Miller for the next segment which uses the Pre-Crisis concept of "Earth-Prime" (which is literally OUR Earth) for its springboard. Basically, scientists in the far future develop a device to obtain relics from parallel dimensions, and today they have obtained an episode of The Adventures of Superman 50's TV show from our world, and will use it to determine the age old secret of Superman's true identity. The debate between the reporter (who is a descendant of Jimmy Olsen) and the scientists over the accuracy of the evidence and the speculation concerning who Superman really was (it seems the majority opinion was on and off Superman baddie and Darkseid lackey Morgan Edge) feels like gentle mockery of the "debate" concerning Shakespeare's authorship. Great stuff.

- How many times can I say something's incredible?

- Marshall Rogers illustrates an offbeat story where Superman's indestructible costume allows a simple vagrant to incite a revolt against an oppressive regime. Superman, even without being present, is such a powerful symbol that he can rip whole communities out of apathy. An interesting inversion of the idea that superhero comics are fundamentally a "distraction" from the real world.

- Powerful, dynamic, work from a true master.

- The next story clocks in at just three pages as we watch two college professors in a space school argue about whether Superman was actually real. Nothing masterful, but the point being made that history fails to capture the true greatness of our finest heroes. Fun.

- Mike Kaulta's trademark style animates a neat slice of life from a far future Earth where children imagine themselves as a Superman, who they have subtly conflated with Batman (though he is never mentioned). Makes the point that the methodology of Superman is not nearly as important as the concept of Superman, which will always endure.

- Of course, Ditko makes the letter on the college sweater an A. Of course.

- Striking.

- Maggin's best story involves a futuristic seder meal for his Superman holiday Miracle Monday. Superman himself makes his only appearance in these stories, and is delighted to discover that he's become a kind of post-modern Elijah. The final evolution of probably the essential Jewish-American character. Not just great Superman, but truly great science-fiction.

- Very few images of Superman are haunting, this is one of them. From French legend Moebius.

- Steranko contributes the finale, where Superman and most of his descendents have transcended their physical form, and allow Superman's final descendent to stop the heat death of the universe and restore the universe's capacity for Life. Probably Steranko's greatest work, and that covers A LOT of ground.

Conclusion: This would be a satisfying final issue for Superman, and it doesn't contain Lois; Clark; the Daily Planet; the Legion; and barely contains Superman himself. Incredible, incredible. It places the Superman myth in incredible and varied contexts and makes the mind and spirit soar like truly great science fiction does. It gives you world after world that you want to live in.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Interlude: Superman, Lunchboxes, and the Most Important Thing in the Whole World

Superman isn't real.

That's what they tell me, anyway.

All Star Superman is a story filled with so many wondrous moments that it's difficult to single them out, but one in Issue 10 has never left me. Superman is well and truly dying, and as he compiles his will and tends to his affairs he wonders whether humanity will be able to exist without him. Can we save ourselves from our own basest urges? So, he creates an infant universe which will live and die in what are merely a few days of his time. As the comic book progresses the narrative splits between Superman's actions in one day and the progression of history through the millennia in Earth Q; we see cavemen, religious thinkers, Nietzsche, until the piece comes together in this panel which manages to be haunting and thrilling.

I don't want to get into all the specific textual implications of this panel rather, I want to talk about why it works so well. There's always been something about Superman, even when he wasn't my favorite character, that was so much more primal than any of the other super heroes. it's hard to put into words, but I think it's the absence of emotional gimmicks. He's here-- and he wants to do good because he can. It feels like real myth where the hero is singled out by virtue of being so much greater than his fellows, and in this case the absence of the usual traumas associated with superhero origins actually works to Superman's benefit. Just as villains who are evil for evil's own sake take on a truly grand, operatic quality so too are heroes who are good for its own sake.

At first the character's goodness was a hard-edged thing: innocents were defended, criminals were harshly punished. He was as swaggering and physical as any adventure hero. As the character developed, the writer's conception of better became more sophisticated. Superman could not simply be better by virtue of his superhuman power and having the right ideals, his methods, his home(s), his past, his future (and the times when they overlapped), his friends, his enemies were all elevated. Superman stories of the 50's and 60's, in their juvenile ways, actually examined the question of what it meant to be the ideal of humanity at the same time you were fundamentally distanced from it. To borrow words from my youth he was "fully god and fully man."

The slightly paradoxical element of all this rambling, is that the more anti-real he became, the more outlandishly honorable he is presented, the clearer the essential message he projects becomes.

More than Green Lantern or Captain America, or even the X-Men, (all wonderful characters in their own right) Superman is a wonderful and poetic archetype whose mission is to express to us the most essential ethical truths we know. He exhibits a moral standard, which helps inform our daily lives.

There's a certain cynicism about comic book characters, about how marketable and commercial they've become, but no media blitz, or endless exploitation, or lousy movie can snuff out what is good and pure and true about Superman. that's what this site is truly about.

Long live Superman.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Superman Unchained 1: "The Leap"

I normally reserve this space for comics which are good, or at the very least interesting failures. However, this is DC's prestige Superman project led by it's biggest exclusive artist (who is part of management) and its A list writer. It was marketed specifically to capitalize on the success of Man of Steel, and is intended to be both an introduction to the contemporary Superman, and a high concept, high energy adventure for loyal Superman fans.

I'm not sure it succeeds on those terms.

The story is pretty thin, and feels like the first issue of a new run on Adventures of Superman in the early 2000's. It's dated, bland, stuff that I must have read a million times before. Point by point:

- I have no problem with the appropriation of Nagasaki for this comic's first scene, in theory. Some very fine science fiction authors have shown us that alternate history can be a springboard for great stories. However, real tragedies should be used with some real respect. You don't have the small Japanese boy who's about to be atomized by the weird blue energy man call out his own version of "It's a bird..." That makes you look emotionally tone deaf and exploitative. What did we gain from this scene that couldn't have been implied?

- The showcase sequence for Superman is problematic. Snyder borrows Jeph Loeb's trick of having Superman recall an anecdote from childhood that serves as a metaphor for what he's doing at that moment. I've seen this done a lot, but it's not a cardinal sin to borrow a successful beat from another writer. What is call for penance is the art: stiff, generic, hampered by a silly poster gimmick that borders on a real embarrassment. One side requires you to find the text box to know which way to hold it, and other is an impact shot with no force or visible effort. Not a disaster, but not what I'd expect from the DC A-team. The rest of the rescue is played big, but there's a giant missed opportunity as we are let in on Superman's thought process...only to find that he thinks exactly the same way you or I would. Doesn't this man's mind move at a million miles an hour? Haven't we any more insight than this?

- Superman recognizes the MO of bringing down satellites from one of Lex Luthor's term papers, so he goes to confront Lex as he's being transferred from his one man SuperDuperMax from Lobdell's recent issues on Superman to Gen Pop at Stryker's. Lex is shown here as the stupid person's idea of the world's smartest man. He's reading the Iliad (in translation, which doesn't seem right, and I suspect was done because Jim Lee can't be bothered to research what Ancient Greek letters look like), and when Superman attacks the copter he folds two of the pages into an origami skyline of Metropolis to show Superman what he's been working on. He exudes neither menace nor charm, and seems altogether like a wayward professor with delusions of grandeur and a taste for arts and crafts. It would have made a lot more sense if he had been absent mindedly doodling his new invention in the margins, but whatever. Other than mentioning the terrorist group Ascension for the second time in four pages this does nothing.

- The scene with Lois and Jimmy is just badly constructed. This scene exists to give two vital pieces of information: To explain Clark Kent's job status to new readers and to reveal to Clark that persons unknown saved one of the satellites he had given up on. It's crammed with so much unnecessary detail visually and textually that we're in danger of losing it. Less is more. Also, I got that Ascencion was important the first time, Scott, you don't have to keep mentioning them to me.

- Superman investigates the lost satellite, is fired on by an American sub, and we learn that the military has the Superman from Nagasaki in that location. Can anyone write an actual cliffhanger anymore? That's just a development, not something that makes me count the days till Issue 2, AND it's info we got on Page 3. Sloppy, lazy, writing.

- A two page epilogue (that Jim Lee couldn't be bothered with) reveals the crucial information that Perry White has ancestral binoculars that no longer work, and burned up man pulled from the ocean by a fishing trawler wants to see Lois Lane. Thrilling.

Conclusion: Events like this settle in the consciousness of readers and will help them determine just who and what this new Superman is to be. It's nice of Jim Lee and Scott Snyder to have made this one bland enough to escape notice, then. DC have had two tries at defining this new Superman in the almost two years since his debut in Justice League 1: Morrison's run on Action Comics and Lobdell's H'el on Earth storyline. Those two stories aren't playing on the same field with one another in terms of quality, but at least they were big bold adventures that took chances and felt fresh. This is yesterday's news for the Man of Tomorrow.

Not recommended.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Superman (vol. 2) 2: "The Secret Revealed!"

Before I get into the meat of it, I want to thank Chris Meaux for his kind words about our blog on his podcast Superman Lives! and implore you to check that podcast out because he's absolutely doing an outstanding job. Here's a link.


"May you find what you're looking for."
- Chinese curse

Lex Luthor is one of the five or so essential super-villains in American comics. Frighteningly intelligent and continually dangerous, he is, to steal from Raymond Chandler, "not so much a character as a state of mind." He is so confident, dangerous, and prepared that we suspect that he has chosen evil simply because he will not accept second place for anything. If Superman is THE friend to humanity, he will be THE enemy, because in whatever course he takes he must be the definite article. John Byrne understood this implicitly, and while lesser writers wrote he and Marv Wolfman's rebooted "tycoon" iteration of the character as a rich man's Kingpin, Byrne recognized exactly what he was to be: Satan, in a three piece. Perhaps no story demonstrates just who and what the new Luthor was to be than the second issue of the revamped Superman title, "The Secret Revealed."

The story opens with Luthor sifting through videotape of Superman sightings and noticing a distraught redhead (who we recognize as Lana Lang) in the crowd every time Superman shows up, until six months ago. Luthor orders his organization to identify the woman and track her down, and intimidates his project manager, Amanda McCoy, into joining him for dinner that evening. Then he joins scientists who are trying to extract the Kryptonite heart from the freshly retooled Metallo, ignoring their warnings about possible K radiation poisoning, and asks about their delay. The scientist informs Luthor that Metallo possesses a human brain, and removing the Kryptonite will kill him. After Metallo confronts Luthor for interfering in his fight with Superman in the previous issue, Luthor informs him that "the killing of Superman is a pleasure reserved for [Luthor]". With that, Luthor coldly rips the Kryptonite from Metallo's chest, apparently killing him.

We continue by following a pair of Luthor's thugs in Smallville. Luthor is digging for any information he can on Superman, and he's reasoned that Clark Kent, the reporter who broke the big scoop about who he is, might have some connection to him. The tough-guys tranq Ma and Pa Kent (!), ransack the place, find Ma Kent's Superman scrapbook, and kidnap Lana Lang on the way out. When Luthor, at dinner with Amanda, is horrified by the news that his goons have brought a random woman back to LexCorp, until he recognizes Lana from her photo. Luthor authorizes Lana's torture to discover her connection to Superman.

In six pages, this new Luthor is introduced in bravura fashion: he attacks Superman's closest friends and family, gains the means to Superman's physical destruction, and is well on his way to discovering Superman's secret identity. He's come precariously close to checkmating the Man of Steel, and our hero isn't even aware of the game. He's shown to be an expert at intimidation, and utterly apathetic to the lives of others. How could a mere human threaten Superman? A better question is how could this one NOT?

The second act is given over to Superman's response to this attack which is ultimately ill-considered and emotional, as he believes his parents to be dead. Lex debuts the Kryptonite ring, which would become such an important element of the character in the Roger Stern/Dan Jurgens years, and mocks Superman to his face. Lex is absolutely rolling, here and it's rare to see any comic book hero so completely outclassed by his arch-nemesis that it's a little disconcerting. Superman returns home to find his parents okay, and lick his wounds from his first real defeat.

The final pages are the punchline of this fantastic issue: Lex is convinced that there is a relationship between Clark Kent and Superman. He feeds all the known data into the giant computer that Amanda McCoy has invented, right down to the fact that Clark Kent never missed a single day of school from sickness. The computer comes back with the obvious answer...


McCoy is blown away by the machine's "flawlessly logical" conclusion, but Lex remains unimpressed. The next piece of dialogue is so expressive of Lex's character and so perfect for the situation that I have to just quote it in full for you...

"Logical? Is it? To a machine, perhaps. Yes...a soulless machine might make that deduction. But not Lex Luthor! I know better! I know that no man with the power of Superman would ever pretend to be a mere human! Such power is to be constantly exploited. Such power is to be used! [...] You have failed me, Amanda. This conclusion is utterly useless. Remove it from my computers at once! And then, remove yourself!

I have no place in my organization for people who can't see the obvious!"

And what has been a relentlessly bleak episode in the life of Superman, ends with a note of hope. If Luthor cannot conceive of what Superman truly is, he's vulnerable to the point where he cannot see the truth when it's staring him in the face. Luthor's strength is formidable, but he is weakness is equally large-- hubris. He literally cannot imagine motivations and behavior beyond his own sociopathic musings. This Luthor, unlike the Pre-Crisis version, cannot be redeemed-- but one day, he will be defeated, even if Luthor is the one who defeats himself.

This is not at that top rank of Superman stories, which speak directly to our human condition, but accepting it as a building block of the internal world of the comic which develops an essential piece of the mythos? It's a brilliant piece of superhero construction, filled with masterful art and writing by John Byrne.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Superman 141: "Return to Krypton"

This review is dedicated with love, kindness, and respect to Maria Kaplun, Svyatoslav Burik, Vitaly Taratut, and all my friends who have a second home somewhere.

What would you do to go back home again? What would you do when you got there?

Those are the questions asked by Superman 141, and while it contains many contrivances and short cuts to wrap it up, it's central concerns are so poignant and brave that it's hard for me to dissect it, for fear that in doing so I'll somehow destroy the magic which inhabits the pages. This is, for all its silliness, a sombre story by Silver Age standards, and in it Superman confronts all the most pressing problems of human beings: love death, meaning, free will within the context of this sci-fi fairy tale. It's a classic, and it's a real shame that no one makes comics like this any more.

We draw inspiration and strength from our heritage whether it be personal, familial, or cultural. Part of the American experience is the myth of the immigrant. Chances are your family is like mine and you've been told how you ended up in America. Even if you weren't, a common ritual in America is the listing of your ethnicities (Irish, German, English, and Portuguese for me) that make up your background. For many of us, these stories rest comfortably in the past, generations ago. For many others, and for Superman, they are very immediate concerns which powerfully shape the personal identity of a person. For all of us, there is the fantasy of seeing the ancestral home; a pilgrimage to discover a lost birthright. In our minds, there is a sneaking suspicion that  if we can return upstream we will find ourselves in the mists of the past. It's a common myth.

Of course we can never return to those places-- they're lost to time. Just as Krypton, that doomed and perfect world, is lost forever to Superman. Krypton is one of those rarities: a no fooling Greek tragedy in pop culture form. A utopia, but for the vanity of its inhabitants, and a place that for Superman is both irrevocably lost and omnipresent. We always harbor a suspicion that in those Superman stories of the 1960's, that our world so frustrates him at times that he longs to return to that forgotten cradle. Small wonder, when one considers how many writers and editors of the Superman line were displaced from their own homes and longed to return to a Europe that no longer existed.

This story then is the ultimate wish fulfillment: Superman returns to his native planet and, without the aid of his powers, shows himself to be every bit the hero we know him to be. He is intelligent, conscientious, brave, loving, and awed. He tries to prevent the destruction and when fate will not allow it, he resigns himself to death on Krypton with a new (and old) family he has created for himself. He has gone across space and time, only to discover his own pure, nobie, human, soul. It is a mark of the excellence of this comic that when he is taken from Krypton we grieve with him, even though we know it prevented his death.

The love story is the most tragic aspect, for Superman is finally confronted by pure love and respect from a woman who understands the "real" him. Lois may love Superman, Lana may love Superboy, but Lyla Lerrol loves Kal-El, and we soon understand that the possibility of that had never even occurred to Superman. He, a man who can do anything, is swept into a romance beyond even his imagination. Superman of course meets his parents, to whom he never reveals his true identity, but that doesn't stop them from loving him as family all the same. Jor El and Lara never consciously realize that they have brought their son into their lives, but their care and compassion astound even Superman.

This is a story for anyone who ever wanted to go home again, even if that home was gone. It is a story for human beings, flawed things that we are, who may draw sustenance from our hero's validation and imagine, in turn, our own.

Read this comic.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Hey, I've been pretty busy lately with life in the analog world, but I wanted to take this opportunity to plug a fantastic new podcast from fellow Super-Fan Chris Meaux, called SUPERMAN LIVES!. He's three episodes in, and I'm very impressed by his obvious passion, and breadth of knowledge. It's like spending a pleasant hour with a friend who truly loves Superman as much as you do. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Superman Lives!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Superman #17: When Titans Clash!

Superman #17: When Titans Clash!

Story by Jerry Siegel, art by John Sikela.

The July/August 1942 issue of Superman is a historically significant comic for several reasons. Of the 4 stories in the issue, 3 are historically vital pieces that would influence multiple Superman stories for years to come. The first story, "Man or Superman" offers a rare Joe Shuster pencil effort, a recap of Superman's history up to that point, and is the very first time that Lois suspected that Clark and Superman were one and the same. The issue's third story, "Muscles for Sale" has the first appearence of the Secret Citadel, Superman's mountain retreat that eventually evolved into the Fortress of Solitude. We'll be discussing the issue's last story here, the second part of the Powerstone Saga, "When Titans Clash!"

The story opens with Luthor, having been convicted of multiple offenses being sent to a date with 'ol sparky. Perry White chooses a quite shaken Clark to cover the execution, eliciting a typical response: "This--th-this is my first execution!" Luthor is strapped in the chair (and the looks of the guards is a lot like the Green Mile, which means that uniform must have been pretty common), and once the switch is thrown Luthor is reinvigorated with electricity, which he had harnessed in the previous story to give himself super-strength. Mayhem of course ensues, with Clark literally getting the chair himself, as Luthor hurls it across the room and Clark blocks it with his body. This scene was pretty much completely cribbed by Grant Morrison in All-Star Superman.

Clark switches to Superman and tracks Luthor down, and they clash again, fighting through the city until Superman throws him out of town, then continuing their clash in the countryside and involving Lois, who is of course rushing to get the story. The fight results in Luthor and Superman hurling cars at each other, including Lois' car (Luthor was nice enough to throw her out of it first). Luthor again escapes and decides he will trick Superman into bringing him the Powerstone so he can finally win.

Placing an ad in the Planet as a metallurgist, Luthor tricks Superman into bringing him the powerful relic, Luthor easily overpowers Superman, and grows to gigantic size as well, and he ultimately is able to strip Superman of his powers-the first time this has ever happened to the Man of Steel. Luthor throws Superman away, telling him he could kill him but he's rather he watches helplessly as he takes over Earth. Instead, Clark goes after Luthor himself, and shows that even without his powers he is still quite capable. Once he switches to his Superman costume, he finds something else out: that the costume alone cowers Luthor's men into fleeing. Finally catching up to their leader, Superman manages to outwit Luthor by challenging him to duplicate his various feats (the two often did "can you top this?" contests in those days), resulting in Luthor running around the ceiling, which caused the Powerstone that Luthor was wearing around his neck to fall off. Managing to knock it away, Superman's powers return and he makes quick work of Luthor and his men, and secures the Powerstone (for now).

This is another great tale and a fine follow up to the first part in Action #47. There are several firsts in this story, most notably the first time Superman loses his powers. A lot of the Powerstone Saga seems to be reworked from the unpublished "K-Metal From Krypton" story, Over the years, Superman losing his powers would become a common trope and a favorite way to challenge the Man of Tomorrow, but all those stories trace their origins back to this one. It also continued another new trend by Siegel-giving Superman physical foes to fight. Around this same time the Golden Age Metalo had first appeared as well, in World's Finest Comics #6. This trend didn't really last, but it was revived later on and has become the go-to way to challenge Superman, for better and unfortunately sometimes for the worse.

Another great early story, Siegel breaking new ground with many new ideas and fun action and fantastic art by Shuster studio ghost John Sikela. It's available in reprint in Superman Chronicles Volume 9.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Coming Super Attractions!

What an exciting first two weeks for our blog! I want to thank everyone for the kind words. If you're just finding us, stop and read. If you're reading us, comment. If you're commenting, don't forget to follow us.

We've got a lot of exciting content on the horizon for you:

- Guest Reviewers! Friend of the blog, Tom Pescatore will be taking an in depth look at the surreal Superman Beyond 3D. Meanwhile, friend to no man, Vitaly Taratut will lend his unique insight to Superman: Red Son.

- We eagerly anticipate the first pieces from Michael Torre (aka Lexrules), who I'm sure will bring all of his characteristic wit and love for the Big Red S to our fine blog.

- Our own John Craddock (aka Kurosawa) will be reviewing the Golden Age classic "When Titans Clash!" from Superman 17, and I suspect he'll have a word or two concerning that new Superman movie that's been causing such a fuss.

- I'm going to start off with an essay about how I came to be a Superman convert, and why the character means more than merchandise. So I don't get too serious, I'll be reviewing the Silver Age classic Superman 141, and explaining why I think it's one of the greatest comics of all time. I'll also be looking at two issues from Jack Kirby's run on Jimmy Olsen which stand as a truly great "lost" Superman story.

Until then, remember: We're all in this together, and we're all we've got.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Action Comics (vol. 2) Issues 1-8: "Superman and the Men of Steel" (Part 2 of 2)

Welcome back for Part 2 of my analysis of Grant Morrison's revamp of Action Comics.

Now, while the first four issues of this run were met with positivity, there were some cries of disappointment from the fan community. Looking back, a lot of that stemmed from comparisons to Morrison's earlier work with the character. Taken on their own terms, Action 1-4 stand as exhilarating collections of set pieces, filled with heart and crafted with great attention to detail. It's also where the main arc that Morrison has been building comes into focus, and we're reminded what a gold mine of mad ideas the old Scot is at his best.

Issue 5 is probably the single most divisive issue in the entire collection: it was not just a digression from the main plot in the previous issues, just as that action seemed to be reaching a climax, but a dense and complex one. If you loved it, you were hooked for the rest of the run, if you hated it, were glad to hear Morrison was only staying another year. Without further ado...

Issue 5: Rocket Song

 This issue follows the desperate final moments before the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El's arrival on Earth before flashing forward to a second story running parallel to the one in Action Comics 1-4, concerning the Little Man's Anti-Superman Army coming back in time to steal the Kryptonite engine and the Superman of the future returning with the Legion to stop them.

So began the Age of Superhumans. With new hopes, new fears, new wonders, new challenges...and new and unimaginable evils.

This quote, delivered to us by the self-aware rocket ship, is the essence of Morrison's entire project on Action. To recast the image of Superman in the mold of the great myths of the world, to restore him to his place as the first and greatest of all superheroes, and to pit him against an adversary who will test even his superhuman capabilities. Morrison is the primal storyteller, sitting around the fire, telling you a story you (and he) already know the ending of, but using it to explain the world around us.

The use of the rocket as the narrator is not just a standard bit of Morrisonian oddity, but an inspired narrative decision. We know how all this will turn out, it's the origin, but we afforded a new perspective on it through a different set of eyes. The machine assertion that humanity's technical skills (Level 10 tools) far outstrips it's ethical progress (in the hands of tribal warring states) is the situation that necessitates Superman coming here-- we need the next step. Even if Jor-El doesn't know Earth exists in this version, his arrival feels more like fate than ever before.

The heroism and humanity of Jor-El and Lara, desperately trying to save something of a dying world never doubting that there's always a way. The faith and resourcefulness of Jonathan and Martha, who defy the military and authority structures to do the right thing. They don't know it, but we know their faith will be rewarded when this infant repays the love he has been shown a million times over by becoming both Krypton's legacy, and Earth's favorite son. His entrance compels all humans to reach a new ethical level, or in words Morrison has already used, to understand:

"We're all in this together, and we're all we've got."

This new world is naturally met by temptation and cruelty on a new scale, in the form of the shadowy Anti-Superman Army led by the mysterious Little Man. Bringing us right into...

Issue 6: When Superman Learned to Fly

Morrison follows up his recasting of the origin with the greatest episode of Doctor Who never written. The Little Man offers the Anti-Superman Army (Drekken; Susie Thompkins; Nimrod; Xa-Du; The Kryptonite Men; The Sisterhood of Abiding Hate in Their Shroudship; and Metalak) who we are not yet familiar with a piece of kryptonite if they will perform an act in his name. Meanwhile, Superman and the Legion are in Brainiac's ship, which Superman identifies as his "original Fortress", and points out the various bits of time travel that have made this moment necessary. The Kryptonite engine has been stolen from the rocket, if it isn't returned the rocket will "die" and the Brainiac AI onboard will re-infect the station...and the Earth.

After a fascinating beat where Cosmic Boy reveals he could restart the Big Bang from a AA battery (good to know), Superman engages the first of his new villains, Drekken. The obvious symbolism of battling an evolver in a story whose subtext is that it is the evolution of the superhero myth should be apparent. Also, full props to Andy Kubert for making Drekken's Encephalo tyrannus form as terrifying as possible here.

Morrison drops a gorgeous, trippy, idea into our laps here: Earlier (but depicted later in the run) Nimrod the Hunter fired a lead pellet into Superman's head. That lead pelled contained tesseract space; making it bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The ASA have retreated with the kryptonite engine into Superman's head. Superman confirms this when he experiences subtle changes in his usually perfect recall. So the Legion travel back further into time, reveal that they've been disguised as the K-Men all along, whereupon the Little Man makes a tactical retreat, incidentally revealing that he's from the 5th Dimension when he disappears with a word.

The ensuing battle poisons Superman with the Kryptonite in his head, and Drekken tries to take advantage. Superman, filled with kryptonite energy reaches his rocketship which is repowered and defeats Drekken. The Legion return with what's left of the Kryptonite, saving the rocket. The story closes with Legion ruminating on what they mean for Clark; an absolute affirmation of the future he will create through his example.

These are actually my favorite issues of the run until the last three. Morrison just accomplishes so much, in so little time: a new origin with some surprising old faces turning up, an entirely new cadre of villains who are attacking Superman on a scale we've never seen before, and a reaffirmation of what the Legion is and what their place is Superman's mythos. But now it's back to the main storyline, and a showdown with the brand-new Brainiac in...

Issue 7: Superman's Doomsday Decision


Issue 8: Superman Meets the Collector of Worlds

For this final portion I will eschew a synopsis and concentrate on the themes of these two books, which form the conclusion of the first stage of Morrison's revamp, and what they say to us as comic fans, and people.

Superman is engaged in a two-issue battle against the avatars of fear. Brainiac is afraid of the Multitude, afraid of the universe, afraid of true growth. He bottles, preserves, collects with no thought to the quality of life for what he has preserved. Metallo is afraid, both as an agent of Brainiac, and as John Corben. He's afraid of what the concept of a Superman means to the ordinary man doing his best, he's so afraid Superman has taken Lois away, he doesn't understand that he never had her to begin with. Lex Luthor is afraid, and in that moment of fear he allows himself to be used by a force he doesn't understand, and ultimately humiliated by being saved by the very man he conspired against. It's a powerful lesson, but his tragedy is he'll only learn half of it. General Lane is afraid of anything he can't control and his standard response is to shoot that thing, and he receives a gentle put-down from a Superman who feels fear at the coming adventure, but never allows himself to be overwhelmed by it.

The Little Man creates fear, but for now, seems above it himself. He bears closer inspection later.

The major threat that Brainiac represents is eternal stasis; a null state. He may never grow, never change, never develop-- he must become part of the collection or die. A secondary threat is the temptation to affirm himself as god or man-- Kryptonian or Human. Superman re-affirms his primacy by embracing both sides of his nature, and assuming both aspects of his nature. Fully god and fully man, he recognizes that the earlier dilemma was inherently false. Only life matters.

Superman also changes and develops organically; the people of Metropolis show him through their vigil that they don't need a bully-- they need a hero. For the first time, Superman is conscious of his effect on human beings as a positive, and the Superman who emerges at the end is, paradoxically, both more human (at the ceremony) and more Kryptonian (aboard the Fortress). It's also a Superman that has a new set of challenges which are foreboding precisely because they haven't been explained yet: What is the multitude that Brainiac feared? Who is the Little Man? As Superman looks out into the ocean of stars in the book's final panel, it's hard to imagine this isn't pressing on him, as it is on us.