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The ’90s Revisited – Detective Comics Annual #5

90s_revisited

detectivecomics_annual005Acts of Madness!

Writers: Alan Grant & John Wagner
Penciller: Tom Mandrake
Inkers: Tom Mandrake, Jan Duursema, Rick Magyar
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Asst. Ed.: Scott Peterson
Editor: Dennis O’Neil
Cover: Sam Keith
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

The issue opens on The Ventriloquist’s Club and some sorta Scarface invitation-only event. We see various invitees of the Gotham Underworld milling about and mixing; and Scarface announces that he’s going straight, and insults some folks in the crowd. Meanwhile, Batman’s out ‘n about as usual for an evening, and ponders the event…that he obviously was NOT invited to. There’s a brief scene between Jim Gordon talking to his daughter on the phone, as we see that things are still raw–especially for him–regarding what the Joker did to Barbara. Back where Batman’s captured the thieves, he finds a black diamond and slips it into his utility belt to examine later before handing over. At the Ventriloquist’s club, we see that part of the event was to get all sorts of criminals in one place and listen in on "bugged" tables to find a heist to hijack. They decide on one involving some cash The Joker should be able to point ’em toward. In the Batcave, Batman examines the diamond, while Jim Gordon continues to struggle with his hate for the Joker. Ventriloquist/Scarface and goons break Joker out of Arkham; while Batman finds there’s something evil in the diamond; but is alerted to the Bat-Signal, where once with Gordon he learns that 1. The Joker’s out again and 2. meets another Gordon–Bruce Gordon…who fills Batman in on the black diamonds and Eclipso.

Elsewhere, Joker’s led Ventriloquist & Co. to one of his old HQs where he shows off HIS "wonderful toys." Back at the police station, Jim’s checked for more black diamonds, but after learning that Joker’s location has been discovered, insists on leading…but instead accidentally unleashes "an Eclipso," a manifestation that is fueled by Jim’s dark thoughts and feelings and makes its way to try to kill the Joker. Batman trails the creature and eventually engages it in battle; showing that he prefers no hand whatsoever in anyone’s death…even The Joker’s. (Jim) Gordon is horrified when he comes to and realizes what he’s unleashed and that it’s led to police injuries. He races to the scene, where Batman’s fight continues and smashes his car into the creature, allowing Batman the coup de grace. Though it looks like the Joker’s about to be back in custody, he uses some chemicals to create a smoke cloud and gets away. We close the issue with a note that this is "to be continued" in Robin Annual #1…but that "next week" Eclipso: The Darkness Within continues in Superman Annual #4.

I’m not a fan of Scarface/The Ventriloquist. Easily one of my least-favorite Gat-villains. Er…BAT…villains. That said, it’s been ages since reading a story with ’em, so there’s that going for it; and as an extended-length story without being stuck in a mini-series or such. I think I’m also put off by the cover having nothing about ’em and just featuring Eclipso and Joker, and yet, this is definitely much more a SF/V story than Joker story (he just happens to BE there). But that’s probably part of the selling factor…Joker sells (sold?) while SF/V doesn’t (didn’t?).

Though the issue kinda dragged on…at the same time, it seemed to FIT as a Batman story. It wasn’t some drawn-out 6-issue decompressed thing or mini-series…but it lasted much longer than "just" a typical "single issue" would have. It gave us a chance to see the parts moving around the board so to speak; spend time with multiple parties, and all that. To my 2022 eyes, it felt like the Babs/Jim Gordon stuff was “shoehorned in” arbitrarily…but it was still SOMEWHAT “fresh” at the time.

I don’t remember exactly what year it was that Killing Joke came out–I’m thinking ’88?–so this is a mere 4 years removed from that…still a pretty fresh story at the time. (Compared to my reading THIS 30 years after publication with Killing Joke now 34 years removed…and it’s been almost 11 that Babs has been back up and about with New 52-to-present). So in 1992, maybe written earlier than published, it makes sense that it’d be a topic still mine-able for the characters.

The art is also pretty good…though this is definitely a case where I prefer the interior to the cover. Sam Keith’s style is very distinctive and recognizable (at least to me), but definitely a bit "weirder" than I usually picture it here, and though it has a moon ("eclipse") and the Joker. The interior art feels very "classic" to me for late-’80s/early-’90s stuff; there’s some distinctive style stuff that screams "’90s Batman!" to me. Mandrake’s art seems very fitting, and reminds me a bit of Norm Breyfogle’s work somehow.

All in all, this issue seems rather generic and forgettable as a Batman story. But it still feels like a Batman story, that happens to have some Eclipso elements to it that it wouldn’t have if not part of this event. It packs a lotta story between its covers, and feels far more "meaty" than modern Annuals; not to mention my ongoing enjoyment of the fact that this is part of a large event that did not eat up the main titles and yet was contained TO the titles by their annuals.

Taken alone, it’s a decent read as a one-off; there’s a bit to "know" about Eclipso, but the reader can pretty much figure stuff out from Bruce Gordon’s words; and though this "continues" into the Robin Annual, it’s like a lotta formulaic Bat-stuff; where the villain gets away and Batman’s gotta continue on.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #21

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0021Ghosts

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Ed: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: March 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

It’s odd, somehow, in a way…this issue’s cover–Martha running through the field screaming "JON!" and seeing him laying face-down in it…even though I remember reading all these issues basically as they came out, as a kid…THIS one I feel deja vu or SOMEthing, I remember actually being AT Capp’s Comics, picking a copy of this issue up off the table there, the week this came out.

The issue opens with Lois standing on some sort of catwalk or platform with a huge whirlpool in the background, and Superman drowning in it. She "reports" on the situation, but seems oblivious to Superman’s need. It turns out to be a dream…obviously her guilt over only "reporting on" his battle with Doomsday and not doing anything substantive to SAVE him from Doomsday. The whirlpool is mirrored in real life as Metropolis is flooding! Meanwhile, the Kents arrive back at the farm in Kansas and reminisce; Jonathan especially confronts "ghosts" in the form of certain memories sparked by stuff around him. A poignant moment with young Clark and the calf Bessie…even as Jonathan had praised Clark’s care of her, Clark said it was Pa…Jonathan taught HIM how TO care!

Also meanwhile, in Cadmus, the Newsboy Legion finds Guardian and Dubbilex conflicted over keeping Superman’s body; while Lois talks with a cab driver as she heads to the park. Jonathan remembers young Clark and his raisin-oatmeal "airplanes" and a toy plane he gave the boy. The Underworlders continue to deal with the flood; the Newsboys lead Guardian to where the flood is getting into Cadmus…and we cut away to see Batman with Alfred, reflecting on the Kryptonite ring Clark gave him in case he ever had to be stopped. Lois joins the Underworlders and ultimately finds Superman’s body at Cadmus. They’re unable to actually take the body back before the alarm is sounded, but Lois is able to get back and expose the fact THAT the body’s been stolen/held. And though she’d spoken to them about it and promised she’ll see the body returned…the news being out there is too much for Jonathan and he collapses by the crater where baby Kal-El first arrived, leaving Martha holding him in despair.

I think I’d mentioned with Man of Steel #20 that Bogdanove‘s art is my least-favorite of the four Superman titles in this period. While that may be…I was rather surprised toward the end of this issue when I "realized" that I WAS reading an issue of Man of Steel…because somehow, that did not stand out to me here. It even took a little bit for it to "dawn on me" that this MUST be Man of Steel, given the heavy amount of page space given to the Underworlders. While the visuals are obviously Bogdanove…they fit this issue quite well and conveyed the story, and especially worked for the Kents’ scenes.

Just as with Adventures of Superman #499 where I did not remember the details of Turpin vs. Underworlders…I did not remember the extend of the Underworlders’ plight with the flooding for this issue. What I DID remember was Jonathan’s flashbacks/hallucinations/memories of Clark. Those are sort of "surfacey" in a way, only getting about a page each…but they’re deep when CONSIDERING them more deeply. I can by far appreciate more now than ever before seeing stuff and pausing, remembering. Seeing someone so clearly in "the mind’s eye," remembering just these tidbits or "moments" or a handful of words exchanged with a lost loved one. I’ve lost my Dad, so it’s not the same as a father having lost his son and remembering…but the tone, the feeling, the authenticity of it…hits hard.

I still don’t like the Underworlders stuff. While they "fit" in a world where aliens can be raised as humans, have superpowers and all that…they just don’t "work" for me HERE, in this sort of story where I’m more interested in character interactions than "action," and 29 years removed, don’t have the full, ongoing context that the Underworlders subplots had in 1992/1993. What I recall of the novelization excised them, and having read that several times as well as the comics over the years…they just don’t "hold up" for me nor have quite as important a part in what memories I’ve maintained OF the story in general.

This is definitely a solid issue…we get development and forward movement with the on-panel discovery of Superman’s body; that Lois knows; that she gets the word out. The plight of the Underworlders does show how their world has been upended by all this, not mention the allegory or whatever of people slipping through the cracks, which perhaps puts me in a bad light given my reaction to the characters and their presence in this story.

Much of this issue though is stuff I don’t care much for…but the scenes with Jonathan and Martha…and the (surprise/I’d totally forgotten about it) one with Batman and Alfred definitely make the issue worth reading.

I’ve got a couple scenes bubbling up that I apparently remember from the next/final chapter of Funeral for a Friend…and one may well be one of the harder ones for me of this entire story.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #686

90s_revisited

action_comics_0686Who’s Buried in Superman’s Tomb?

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: February 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

While literally a bit "dark" in coloring, this is another "recognizable" cover for me…specifically because it is part of this Funeral for a Friend story, with the black border, Supergirl starring in Action Comics, showing her on the cover, with the question "Who’s buried in Superman’s tomb?" The image is presumably the point of view of the empty tomb looking out, and is a memorable cover…even though prior to this re-read, I really could not have specified from memory what actually went down in this issue.

We open on the Guardian dealing with the hijackers of a van, before he’s summoned back to Cadmus by Dubbilex. Meanwhile, Luthor and Happerson discuss Superman’s missing body and Luthor wonders if all of this is some ruse by Superman to catch him unawares–we get slight flashbacks to the "truth" behind our young Luthor here. Luthor meets Supergirl, Turpin, and Maggie Sawyer to investigate the tunnels under the tomb, while Guardian arrives at Cadmus and discovers what Westfield’s been up to. Though appalling, with the argument that they might be able to–for Superman, for Metropolis–at least create some facsimile of the Man of Steel, Guardian hesitantly stands down. Back in the tunnels, Supergirl just manages to save her "crew" when an undetonated charge detonates, flooding the tunnel. Seeing the Superman cultists outside the tomb, they agree to keep the missing body hush-hush for now. And amidst these events, we see Lana and the Kents preparing to leave, and Lana and Lois get a connecting moment.

While–as said–I could not have recounted to you from memory what went down in this issue…having now re-read it, there’s a fair bit that stands out. I do remember that at the time–first time or so I read this–I pretty much totally "missed" the Luthor stuff. I mean, I read it…but I had no context at that point. I missed the entire "Death of Luthor" stuff by a few months and this Lex Luthor II was already present when I came back during the Eclipso stuff, end of Panic in the Sky, etc. in 1992. I also knew next to nothing about Guardian’s background, particularly the present-day status quo…just that he was a character that was "there." Having come to realize–particularly from the Death and Life of Superman novel–stuff seems natural and obvious to me here such that I "know" more than what’s let on.

While the Cadmus stuff is fairly important to the story, I would’ve preferred a lot more "tell, don’t show" on that with much more page space given to Lois, Lana, and the Kents and their relationship.

Visually, this is another great issue…though it did seem to have more double-page splashes than I remembered being in most issues. At least even those have dialogue, though, rather than being multi-page filler that we often seem to get in contemporary comics.

I’m really feeling like Funeral for a Friend is essentially two 4-parters joined as one 8-parter. The first four chapters with the immediate aftermath, moving to the funeral itself and into the heroes gathering to help on Christmas Eve. And then this Cadmus-steals-Superman’s-body stuff. That leaves this as another issue I’m not gushing over, and that I felt a lot more disconnect from, compared to the opening chapters.

As with Adventures of Superman #499…I’d definitely recommend this as part of the "set" of the story, but I definitely would not specifically, singly recommend this as a stand-alone in-a-vacuum issue.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #20

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0020Funeral Day

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Ass’t Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: February 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

This issue opens a bit like a tv show with a “soft open” or “prologue” before getting to the main thrust of the issue and its credits. We see last-second construction and prep-work/planning being done for Superman’s funeral, checking in with construction workers and Luthor/Supergirl. We see the Kents dealing with the pending event from afar…while Jimmy is discouraged at “praise” being heaped on him by a coworker for his “death photo” of Superman. Lois torments herself for not yet having CALLED the Kents, and turns down Perry’s offer to take his spot at the funeral (as primarily superheroes and world leaders will be officially the attendees, Luthor having extended an exception to Perry). Lois leaves to go up to the roof–or rather, the giant globe atop the building where she so often met Superman/Clark, then as she’s made her way back down and out of the building she trips over a memorial plaque placed on the ground where Superman fell. Jimmy finds her and escorts her into the crowd lining the street where the funeral procession passes by. Lois insists on going with the crowd to the end.

We then jump around with several scenes–a random scene with Lobo hearing Superman’s dead and flipping out. Keith (an orphan) comforts another kid letting him hold his cat, while Batman stops a would-be-bomber from turning the funeral explosive. Professor Hamilton and Mildred watch the procession pass, while the Underworlders do as well. Bibbo finds someone selling commemorative copies of “the death issue” of the Planet and rather than beat the guy up, buys every copy and offers the guy a job…after all, it’s the sort of thing Superman would do. Arriving at the park, the crowd begins to get out of hand and Lois and Jimmy are separated. As Robin and Wonder Woman are shown stepping in, Jimmy is menaced by a sleazeball trying to buy the “rights” to his “death photo.” As the funeral itself gets underway, Lois leaves to call Clark’s parents, but they don’t answer as–in Kansas–they’re out in the field where they’d originally found their baby–they’re burying a box of his things, all they have OF him TO bury, themselves. Back in Metropolis, the funeral concludes, the crypt’s cover is moved into place entombing the coffin…while elsewhere, Lois finally gets an answer, connecting with her almost-parents-in-law as the three realize they need each other.

I’m really re-amazed this time through at just how MUCH is crammed into these seemingly “simple” regular-sized single-issues! This is a far cry from many modern comics that seem so shallow by comparison, where a ’90s issue would be “decompressed” into at least 3-6 issues.

There’s so much going on here…I’m sure I took it all for granted being as familiar with this period of Superman comics as I am. I don’t need any introduction to the main characters–I recognize them, know the context, have read the issues alluded to, and so on. This is moving stuff to me even with the brief scenes and frequent scene-cuts.

This period of Bogdanove‘s art is certainly nostalgic for me for its time…but of the four Superman titles, it’s probably my least-favorite. Still, it’s strong art and “works” and “fits,” if only because it is what it is…WAS.

The double-page spread of the funeral procession is the image I see in my head when I listen to the opening of the audio drama adapting the Death/Funeral/Return saga…even though in the drama it’s actually a flashback to Luthor’s funeral.

The images of the crowds don’t really totally mesh with the descriptions we get. My own frame of reference for this is the crowds I saw on tv when Cleveland won the basketball championship back in 2015 or 2016, whenever that was.

Lois initially thinking she couldn’t bear to be at the funeral itself changing to having to be there at the end, following the procession…rings absolutely authentic to me, with the crazy way grief works, and one can swing from thinking one thing to realizing another. There’s also Supergirl early in the issue insisting on bringing in the memorial statue when conventional logistics fail, as “the last thing she’ll get to do for Superman.” In the moment, so many emotions, feelings, and expectations leave one all over the place and eager to do their part, to do MORE, to do SOMEthing for the person lost…it just rings really true to me. Also the Kents’ burying the box of Clark’s things. Bibbo’s scene isn’t as poignant/moving as his scene in Action Comics 685 was…but it still gives the guy some spotlight and adds to his characterization and what I came to love about the character.

Back to the art–while Bogdanove may not be my FAVORITE Superman artist, his work is distinctive without making the characters unrecognizable. And he draws a beautiful Wonder Woman. I can’t quite put my finger on WHY, but one panel of his Jimmy Olsen actually put me in mind of Rob Liefeld somehow…giving me the momentary half-thought as to whether Jimmy’s personality was in any way based on Liefeld in the early ’90s or if it’s just one of those dumb, random thoughts I can have.

All in all, another strong issue with a depth that comes partly from nostalgia, partly rose-colored glasses of memory, and partly the sheer tight ship of continuity the Superman books had at the time, telling a singular ongoing story while each creative team got to “focus” on their own subplots and such for individuality (Man of Steel here had the Underworlders, for example).

This is “the Funeral issue” the way Superman #75 was “the Death issue,” so is worthwhile in that regard. It also lets it stand alone a bit…you get all these allusions and subplotty stuff and the overall story of the characters being nudged forward a bit, but the issue is readable by itself as slice of life, especially if you know the characters…and there’s context one can pick up on otherwise, albeit not perfectly.

Certainly worth a purchase from a bargain bin or such, but as with previous issues, not something to pay more than a couple dollars for individually with the collected editions and digital available out there. While I’ve seen multiple printings for myself of much of the Doomsday arc and the first couple chapters of Funeral for a Friend, I’m not sure if this issue actually saw multiple printings offhand or not. The copy I read this time through I definitely got from a quarter-bin myself…the whole Funeral for a Friend set I’m reading through I picked up for $2.25 including the Justice League issue.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #685

90s_revisited

action_comics_0685Re: Actions

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice, Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Special Thanks: Tom Grummett & Doug Hazlewood
Cover Date: January 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

This issue opens with contextualizing…with the front page of the Daily Planet indeed using that ‘photo’ from the cover of Adventures of Superman #498 stating Superman–Dead. Tv news informs the world of the events of the day up to Doomsday’s rampage, and recaps some of Adventures 498 and the eventual official pronunciation of Superman’s death. Meanwhile, Westfield and his Cadmus people try to get the alien bodies–Doomsday AND Superman–but are met with resistance from Maggie Sawyer, Dan Turpin and even the Guardian himself…and eventually, some Team Luthor agents and Luthor himself…and the Mayor, with faxes from the President that Superman was an American and is to be honored as such. We then get a montage of scenes as we jump to a number of people and their reactions to this news and consideration of what it means–from Lois, to Perry and Jimmy, to the Kents and Lana, to others worldwide. We then get a scene with Luthor at the morgue where he loses it, smashing a chair over Doomsday’s body. Another scene shows us the uptick in crime with authorities busy and Superman dead, though Supergirl tries to fill some part of the gap. And we close on Bibbo making it back to the Ace o’ Clubs and closing the bar, and praying for the world Superman’s left behind…lamenting that Superman is gone, but he–Bibbo–goes on living.

This is another issue that had several scenes in it that have stuck with me. The image of the Daily Planet front page definitely is one; as is the Cadmus confrontation having happened, though I didn’t remember all the details. That they were presented with an order from the POTUS that Superman was not to be considered an alien is there; and a lot of the scenes of Lois, the Planet staff, and the Kents have blurred for me over the years, clarified in re-reading this issue in the moment.

Bibbo and his prayer, though, is probably the most memorable part of the issue for me; what I feel like I "know" Action Comics #685 FOR. Because that scene has long stuck out to me and been very moving…and I recall in the past it’s even moved me to tears. Now, it gives me an ‘avatar’ of sorts…replace "Superman" with "Dad" and I could BE Bibbo. I’m pretty sure this scene was also one of the key scenes to really make me appreciate the character, far more than the drunken buffoon that tagged along with Lobo in some issue I’d read a couple years earlier.

Having JUST READ Adventures of Superman 498 and still having THAT issue’s art clearly in recent memory, I’m not AS thrilled with the art on this issue. Which is absolutely not to say that any of this issue’s art is bad…just that it’s not QUITE to the level of Jurgens or Grummett for me, apparently. As with AoS 498, the characters are all totally recognizable and do not feel like some artist’s interpretation of things…just the natural fact of the matter that different artists’ work will look different.

Story-wise I’m certainly "too close" to things to be impartial. Along with the actual Doomsday story, this one I feel like I’m extremely familiar with from multiple re-reads over the years (plus the Death and Life of Superman novel by this issue’s writer Roger Stern!). While many cite The Death of Superman as the main story, my understanding over the years has come to be that THIS is the story–Funeral for a Friend–that the writers wanted to tell, and you needed The Death of to get here so that this COULD be told.

The issue’s cover is iconic in and of itself as this 2nd chapter of Funeral for a Friend…but ALSO because it’s an obvious homage to the cover of Action Comics #1 but with Supergirl instead of Superman. And it’s even quite relevant to the issue itself with a scene playing out in the issue of Supergirl picking up a car and shaking the goons out of it/smashing the car. Something modern comics are sorely lacking in–covers actually relevant to their interior contents.

BECAUSE I’m personally so familiar with the Death/Funeral stories of Superman, and this "era" of the titles and such….this "stands alone" perfectly well for me; all the more being only a day removed from the previous chapter. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with this era of the character(s) you’ll be sure to have some questions or "huh?" moments…but I do think the issue still makes a decent read as a one-off, slice-of-life thing in the immediate aftermath of Superman’s death.

This would definitely be worth getting from a bargain bin, up to cover price or a couple dollars at most…by far not something to pay anything significant for–it has at least 3 printings, has been reprinted in multiple collected editions, and is available digitally as well. But definitely worth getting, and reading.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #677

90s_revisited

action_comics_0677“…In Love and War!”

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Cover: Art Thibert, Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Dan Thorsland
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1992
Cover Price: $1.00

This issue details the background and a then-new status quo with Supergirl, and Lex Luthor II, the son of the late Lex Luthor, arch-enemy of Superman. We see this young couple as they’re new to each other, Luthor curious about this Supergirl’s background, and she’s totally fallen for him, as he’s a visual doppelganger at least to the man who created her and gave her life in a pocket/alternate universe. That background–that readers saw over the course of The Supergirl Saga and subplot elements following, and things that came out in the Panic in the Sky story–is recounted here, as Supergirl tells Luthor. This also serves as further introduction for newer readers as to this Supergirl, her background, and her abilities. Meanwhile, we get touchpoints in other subplots–Jimmy Olsen had been fired but now recently re-hired to the Daily Planet. Perry had been gone, but now is back, and we see him meeting a Ron Troupe. We also see development in stuff with Cat Grant and her career, as well as Sam Foswell, who had temporarily held Perry’s job. We also see Clark and Lois spending time together as a newly-engaged couple and whatnot, as well as reporters. And then the “core” of the issue, as Luthor announces Supergirl has joined Lexcorp, and Clark is quite concerned about what she may have let slip to Luthor–about him, his parents, and so on. The Superman/Supergirl discussion gets heated, she instinctively lashes out, and this physical altercation is caught on camera by one of Luthor’s cameramen–accompanying him as he pursued the Super-duo, trying to keep tabs on his girl. Though Luthor demands the tape from his man and promises it will never see air while he’s around, he neglects to destroy it, which keeps Superman at a certain point of unease, as we see that this bright, charming son of Luthor has a certain questionable, dark streak to him…that as the issue fades out, indicates could be quite threatening indeed.

In retrospect, this is quite a “key” issue, primarily on the Supergirl and Team Luthor front. In fact, much of this issue was pretty directly adapted in the Dirk Maggs audio drama Superman Lives!, which adapted the novelization Superman: Doomsday and Beyond based on this and other comics in the Death and Return of Superman saga.

I quite enjoy Stern‘s writing, and the Guice/Rodier visuals. Everyone looks as I remember them from this time frame…which would be expected, given the pretty consistent nature of the creative teams on the books in 1992, into the Death of Superman stuff and beyond. I even recognized Foswell, as much by name as appearance, given a story this issue is a few months from at this point.

Story-wise, this packs a LOT into a single, regular-sized issue’s page-allotment. Of course, this was in the midst of the best of the “Triangle Numbering” period, where the Superman titles all had their own focused subplots, but collectively served as a nearly-weekly ongoing singular title (with ongoing elements, but Action Comics really taking the reins on dealing with Luthor II’s background, for example, or Superman: The Man of Steel taking the reins on the underworlders, etc).

I remember being aware of this issue for awhile before acquiring a copy for myself back in 1993 or ’94–whenever it was that I actually did. I was even more aware of what the content of the issue was, thanks to the Stern novelization The Death and Life of Superman, which included loads of continuity detail from the Man of Steel mini-series by Byrne through key issues up to and including the actual Doomsday!, Funeral for a Friend, and Reign of the Supermen run. Finding that this one issue alone had so much key stuff that factored into the larger story–the comics AND Stern‘s novel–is quite cool on this read-through. It seems so odd in 2018, snagging this for 25 cents to recall that it was not an issue simply or readily available to me as a kid–and I think I may have paid $3-5 for it as a “priced back issue,” at the time.

While many of the “random” single issues from this time period might be relatively inconsequential, this one, and I believe the next, are a couple of rather “crucial” issues, and are much more worthwhile to pick up as single issues than most. That said, a lot of my enjoyment here is from being quite familiar with the history and context of these characters, including knowledge of information that had not quite yet been revealed when this saw publication and would have been originally read…and knowing where things go, and hence how important this is. It’ll be much more enjoyable to one familiar with this period of the Superman comics, or going through everything from the time, than as a one-off if you’ve no familiarity with the time or the Death/Return/etc.

I paid a whopping 25 cents for this particular copy…and that was well worth it to me to revisit this without digging through longboxes looking for a copy, or even having to deal with lugging a box off a storage rack just to get at it.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #19

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0019DOOMSDAY is Here!

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Bogdanove & Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: January 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1993/1

This issue has one of the most iconic covers of my life. It may not be a favorite, exactly–it’s not one that’d really work (for me) as a poster image or such–but for a lotta years, just because of the cover date–January, 1993–and being the first Triangle # of 1993, this was an image I pictured when I’d think of "1993."

The image is "just" an extreme close-up of Doomsday and Superman literally getting in each other’s face, the creature being larger/taller and bearing down on the (black)-bloodied Superman (though no real/obvious facial wounds for the blood, but hey, it adds effect, right? And had to get by the Comics Code Authority and all that.

Despite reading this entire Doomsday! story fresh, I’ve realized that part of my confusion on the gradual tearing-away of Doomsday’s suit and the reveal of the hulking grey-and-white creature is the inconsistency from book to to book of its depiction! While there was some severe tearing and a big chunk missing, where we left off in Action Comics #684, the creature very shortly later now has far more of it gone. I expect that’s the peril of having to get multiple issues drawn by differing art teams in a short time, and the thing was probably set on the notion that "most of the green suit is now gone," but no ultra-hardline visual "bible" to lead it. Of course, this is–to me–mere "observation," something I don’t recall consciously noticing quite in this way before, and I have no problem with it!

This issue has us down to only two panels per page in the several-issue declining-panel-count countdown to the main issue of the story, and as such is increasingly fast-paced with less dialogue and less room for pauses…just faster visual beats on the march from cover to cover. Perhaps it’s the increased action, the ferocity of the battle, but I dug the visuals on this issue a lot more than I did the previous issue, with several iconic moments (to me) in this issue: from Doomsday’s first kills in Metropolis, Superman trying to take the creature into outer space, Doomsday’s elbow-stab of Superman, and the Underworld explosion, Doomsday one-punch taking out Supergirl, hitting her so hard she reverts to her protoplasmic state, the look on Bibbo’s face as he, Hamilton, and Mildred realize they’ve not only angered the creature, but it’s gonna land right on them if they don’t jump…and the shock-cannon blasts from the Cadmus troopers as Superman and Doomsday pound on each other, with Superman thinking "Even if it kills me–Metropolis is where I hold the line!"

And in a way, that sums up the issue. Going from scene to scene, as Doomsday hits Metropolis like a wrecking ball, killing immediately and continuously, punctuated only by attempts to damage him, whether by Superman or Professor Hamilton with a sci-fi cannon of his own, and so on. There’s not much story, exactly, but this issue’s not intended to be all that deep in that regard, and receives no penalty from me for it.

It’s also a credit to the Dirk Maggs dramatization of the story that I "hear" echoes/flashes of that as I read this, as it definitely gets across the frenetic ferocity of the situation, and certainly moments out of this issue.

Yet again, there’s not exactly a whole lot to be gotten from this just as some standalone single issue at this point, picking it up some twenty-five years after publication. It’s a key chapter in the overall story, and maybe sees Superman take some of the worst physical damage ever to this point…certainly more than I remember offhand seeing him take on-panel in Superman #75. While I mentioned early in this post that I don’t see this issue’s cover making a great poster, I could probably be persuaded pretty easily, as I do think on a small scale this would work as wall art at its actual-comic-cover size (perhaps amidst the other issues of the story).

This is definitely well worth snagging from a quarter bin or otherwise bargain bin if you can get all the issues of the story (or all the issues you are interested in at the time), but I’d continue to recommend a collected volume of this story over the single issue for "best results" and maximum impact.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #684

90s_revisited

action_comics_0684…Domsday is Near!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Art Thibert and Denis Rodier
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1992/48

I like when an issue’s title is worked into its title page…all the more after recently re-noticing the way Marvel "cheats" by having a non-story page for credits/story titles that can simply be omitted from a collected volume to ignore the fact the story was serialized first.

Here, we open on a couple screens of news reports recapping recent goings-on and leaving off that authorities are trying to determine if "…Doomsday is Near!" We then pick back up with Superman, Guardian, and Maxima, and Guardian is no longer worried about lecturing Superman, and Superman has him get Maxima to a hospital while he–Superman–resumes taking on the Doomsday creature. Superman catches up to Doomsday after it takes out an overpass and hurls a car–Superman saves the car and driver. Then Doomsday wrecks a Lex-Mart (think Walmart)…but is able to take in a loud commercial from a tv about a wrestling match in METROPOLIS…and the creature is taught a word, a destination. Lois and Jimmy are on-site in a helicopter reporting on things, Lex Luthor II and Supergirl watch tv reports, and Luthor convinces Supergirl to stay put, to not leave Metropolis unprotected. Trying to get Doomsday away from populated areas, Superman hurls him into the distance, forgetting about Cadmus’ "Habitat" facility (fortunately deserted). Guardian catches up while the combatants are both stunned, and then Doomsday breaks free of the wreckage (knocking out the two heroes) and bounds onward, now intentionally bound for Metropolis.

This issue’s art is not bad at all…but the visual style is something different from both Jurgens and Grummett in a way I just don’t like the same way. Nothing’s particularly "off" in anyone’s anatomy; everyone is recognizable as who they are; I have no trouble following the flow of physical events and the story itself. I just prefer the former to Guice and Rodier here. That said, there are some stand-out moments to me–I do like how Supergirl looks (though she doesn’t get to "do" much here), and same for Lois. The wrestler in the commercial Doomsday sees reminds me very much of Hulk Hogan, which may have been the intention at the time (remember, this was 25 years ago that this saw print!).

Story-wise, this flows pretty well from the previous chapter, picking up much like an opening of a tv show where it’s not exactly frame-for-frame picking up, but picking up within the same scene within moments of where we left off. Though most of the issue is more battle, we get the "moments" between characters–Superman and Guardian; Lois and Jimmy; Supergirl and Luthor, etc. There’s no context given on Supergirl and Luthor…their status quo and presence were very much a part of "continuity" of the time…so they were just there, to be understood by longer-time readers or simply glossed over if one wasn’t familiar with stuff.

I hadn’t given it much thought, but as this issue continues the "countdown" (three panels per page, down from four), there’s more visual/unspoken action, and in a way, that leaves less room for story, and a quicker pace. We jump scene to scene essentially, but it works, as the whole battle is drawing out…we’re down to basically just Superman, as Maxima’s out and by the looks of things (and memory), Guardian’s basically out, and we already saw the rest of the Justice League taken out.

This is definitely another issue that doesn’t have much going for it in terms of being stand-alone; it is definitely very much a middle chapter of a tight, full story spread across multiple titles by multiple creative teams. Of course, it’s not a bad one if you come across it in a bargain bin to snag, but much more enjoyable in context of the full story. I do feel like–next to Justice League America #69–this is the issue of the story I’ve seen least in bargain bins, though come to think of it, Superman #74 may be similar.

This is the fourth of the Superman titles carrying the Doomsday! story–with the next two chapters being second issues of their titles with the story, before the Funeral for a Friend picks up.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #18

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0018Doomsday! part one

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Bogdanove & Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1992/45

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty five years since this issue was new! This cover remains one of the most iconic I can think of, certainly extremely recognizable at a glance for me. It’s the cover that started things off for The Death of Superman saga, and has remained locked in memory for me ever since.

Unfortunately, though we get some scenes of Doomsday tearing up the landscape–first as he digs/punches his way up/out of the prison he was contained in and then starting to make his way wherever it is he’s going (including squishing a random bird that landed upon his outstretched hand)–we have zero interaction between the creature and Superman himself…until the very end of the issue, no one even seems to know there’s anything important starting at all. As such, it hardly seems like this ought to be the opening chapter…this could have been a prologue issue instead of the first chapter, even part of a multi-issue prologue/prelude thing (along with the Justice League America issue), leaving Superman #74 as the actual opening chapter. But then, that’s the way I’ve been "conditioned" on modern comics to think, where "everything" is an event or an event prologue or there’s an event leading into another event that’s the prologue to the Really Big Event.

Instead, this issue is basically "just" another issue of Superman: The Man of Steel. The issue opens with Doomsday emerging from his confinement, then switches to the current moment in the ongoing continuity of the Superman titles. Interspersed with the creature’s emergence, we have an orphan boy–Keith–trying to find his mom, as Lois Lane investigates a tip about a danger threatening Metropolis. Underworlders (rogue clones/creatures/monsters) allied with Warworld refugees (from the then-recent Panic in the Sky story) are preparing to invade Metropolis and take over. First they "steal" the city’s electricity, then use a giant borer to tunnel to the surface with plans to have their war machines emerge from there. Keith sees Lois get captured and overhears her captors’ reference to holding no prisoners, and realizes he won’t find his mom this way. He manages to get Superman’s attention by spraypainting a huge "S" in a parking lot and leads Superman to the captured lady reporter. A scuffle ensues between Superman and the Underworlders with predictable results (Superman wins). Doomsday having moved from squishing birds and breaking trees moves to traffic interference, which finally gets him noticed by someone (Oberon, a Justice League ally), which leaves us to continue into Justice League America #69.

While I just lamented the lack of Superman/Doomsday interaction, part of that is that I never liked the Underworlders stuff, so that makes for a rather boring and "out there" story for me. On a technical level, though, this works quite well in that everything about Doomsday comes outta nowhere, as he should be just some other creature (perhaps akin to an Underworlder) and this is supposed to be just another day for Superman/Clark, Lois, and everyone else. Nothing as significant as Superman’s death is remotely a part of anyone’s plans.

Though the Superman books all continued a story essentially as a single weekly comic (with four creative teams each handling a week a month), I’ve come to see a bit more distinction in stuff with the different titles…and one of those is the Underworlders being a "thing" for this title, Superman: The Man of Steel.

I don’t care nearly as much for them, as said, which makes this (offhand) my least-favorite of the issues involved in this story. That’s not to say it’s a bad issue, but it doesn’t interest me beyond the snippets of Doomsday.

The art also isn’t my favorite, but it definitely hits some positive nostalgia for me as far as the appearance of all the characters. There’s a visual style that’s quite distinct to this title and this period, making it highly recognizable to me, and I wouldn’t trade it out, given said nostalgia.

As an issue from this time and part of this story, of course the issue is a keeper…and it’s totally etched into my personal history with comics and Superman, creating a bias that keeps me from being entirely impartial in terms of any review.

That said, in looking back across 25 years…I definitely would not recommend this issue as a stand-alone read. Taken only by itself in a vacuum, this is a boring issue, with the most interesting thing being the emergence of Doomsday itself. Of course, this is well worth getting if you want the entire "branded" story/set of Doomsday/The Death of Superman, and of course ought to be read if you’re reading the story in collected edition format.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #659

90s_revisited
action_comics_0659Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Three: Breakout!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor: Jon Peterson
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $0.75

I was a little bit correct and a little bit off in my assessment of Starman #28‘s place in this story…as reading this would definitely feel like something HAD been missed if that wasn’t read first. Yet, there’s context and footnote to explain the high-level "essential" stuff so you get what you "need" from this. Roger Stern was the writer on that, and is on this, so there’s some definite organic tie-in stuff, with the necessary retread for this era in which comics were not designed and destined for a "graphic novel" or collected edition.

We get a bit of that essential retread to start this issue, "Superman" confronting Luthor and getting the Red Kryptonite from him. We then move to Superman himself and Hamilton as they test out a suit of armor and things don’t go as well as either of them would like. Starman tries to be helpful, but is unable to cheer Superman at all. Meanwhile, Killgrave (a mad scientist/mad genius) launches his plan to bait Superman, take out the hero, and escape. Starman does super feats while Clark goes about life. When Killgrave springs his trap, Starman takes him on as Superman, to shocking effect before the real Superman shows up in his armor. Facing Killgrave, our hero gets lucky with a failsafe in the armor allowing him to bluff the villain. Killgrave attempts to escape, and the powerless Superman leaps back into action to attempt to stop him…but fails, and Starman has to save Superman rather than pursue the fleeing villain…which bums Superman out all the more. Mixed in there, Mxyzptlk uses Red-K dust in Luthor’s office to reveal that the Superman flying around is an imposter, which cheers Luthor a fair bit.

I enjoyed reading this issue…it originally came out toward the end of my first "run" with comics, when I was still getting to know this version of Superman and was really too young to "get" a lot of it, where I appreciate stuff a lot more now as an adult.

This definitely reads as a middle chapter, but does so in a good way…fleshing out the notion of a Superman without powers trying to find a way to "stay in the game" while conveying the danger and frustration he faces. It also touches on subplot stuff to remind us of the larger tapestry of the Superman saga and keeps things grounded and interesting. As a middle chapter, though, there’s only so much this can do, though it’s interesting to have Superman try the armor and lose it in the same issue. With contemporary standards getting, having, and using the armor would be a several issue thing in itself, with loads of variant covers and hype over the "new costume" for him and numerous artists’ interpretations of it and so on.

The art is quite good and very much to my liking. Though the story is good, I do think the quality art lent itself significantly to my simple enjoyment of this issue.

All in all, another good chapter of this arc, and another issue I’d recommend if you find it in a bargain bin.

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