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The ’90s Revisited – Superman Annual #4

90s_revisited

superman_annual004Enduring the Night!

Writer: Dan Vado
Penciller: Scott Benefiel
Inker: Trevor Scott
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth
Assitant Editor: Dan Thorsland
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

We open on Superman patrolling Metropolis, watchful for Eclipso-activity. He happens across an apparent mugging–some guy desperate to get off the planet before he’s possessed by an alien from the moon again. A police officer doesn’t take kindly to Superman’s intervention, nor the Man of Steel’s questioning of what part of the guy’s story he didn’t understand. Unfortunately, with a Black Diamond present, an Eclipso is unleashed. Fortunately, Bruce Gordon had just shown up, so is able to be part of the action…managing to save Superman by solar-blasting this particular manifestation.

Meanwhile, Lois Lane arrives in Crater Bay to investigate corruption (which just so happens to be where the "mugger" from earlier is from). She’s not exactly put at ease by her contact there, nor the hotel manager. And for good reason as it turns out the manager is a shape-shifted, Eclipsed Starman…and her contact is being blackmailed as part of Eclipso’s attempt to "get" Superman. Eclipso has also used this town to spread his Black Diamonds over the years. As Gordon and Mona near the town, an Eclipso creature ambushes them, and their solar trap is broken. Superman’s arrival saves the lives of the scientists, though not their car. As he flies them the rest of the way to Crater Bay, we cut to Lois, talking to her contact and being spurred to anger. It’s Superman arriving that tips her over the edge, and she’s possessed by Eclipso, thanks to the Black Diamond given to her by the hotel manager. Superman engages but is soon overwhelmed…not just by Eclipsed Lois but other Eclipsed individuals and manifestations. Mona sees the hero’s plight and as desperate times call for desperate measures, she grabs her Black Diamond and allows herself to be possessed, directing her rage at Eclipso and stalling things a bit. Ultimately, Superman is able to keep Eclipso busy til the sun rises, which releases the villain’s possession of Lois. Unfortunately, Mona is not so fortunate. As Superman, Lois, and Bruce debrief, Superman declares that he’s got to go back to save the rest of the town.

I’m definitely a bit mixed on this issue. I feel like I "understood" it better this time through than whatever previous time(s) I’d read it; though I definitely had a sense before that the Eclipso situation had been a bit more drawn out and dire by this point, where so far it seems and feels more like isolated incidents than a concerted event. While I don’t totally "buy" Lois losing her cool so easily, at the same time it works for this story…and hey, it gives us extended time WITH Lois, seeing her go about investigating and such rather than JUST being TOLD she does what she does. As she and Superman were engaged by this point and she knows he’s Clark, I don’t really see her getting angry at Superman as she’d surely "understand" his intent and not take his tone/words as patronizing or such.

There’s definitely a lotta brawling in this issue and some visuals and a Stephen King reference, but it’s not very deep. It does feel like the issue tries to take on a bit of "tone"–or play on "tropes"–of horror films/stories, I guess.

The visuals aren’t bad, but aren’t particularly memorable; the art gets things across but doesn’t really stand out. Which, really, means it does a good job as we get a story, that is a comic book, but the art isn’t trying to carry the entirety of the thing.

I do wonder a bit about Eclipso possessing Lois and her having all this strength to tear up trees, street signs, etc.–we’ve had the manifested "Eclipsos" show plenty of physicality, but it’s seemed til here that Eclipso’s possessing someone was just that–possession–and not bestowing of supernatural strength and such. If Lois gets all this power just by Eclipso possessing her, why does he need Superman’s body if he himself grants all this power?

I appreciated the general Lois story this time more than in the ’90s…but it’s still not exactly my favorite of these Annuals. That said, this is another that’s decently worth the one-off read if you can snag it from a bargain bin. Not entirely self-contained, but a pretty meaty chunk of story that can be decently appreciated as a "middle chapter" of a story in a way that standard-sized single-issues do not work on modern "decompression."

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The ’90s Revisited – Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #1

90s_revisited

supermanthemanofsteel_annual0001The Gathering Darkness

Pencils by: Chris Wozniak
Dialogue by: Robert Loren Fleming
Inks by: Brad Vancata
Letters by: Albert De Guzman
Colors by: Matt Hollingsworth
Assists by: Dan Thorsland
Edits by: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

We open in the offices of the Daily Planet, where someone vaguely Jimmy Olsen-ish suggests Clark (Kent) needs to see something–a monster tearing up the mall. Moments later–as Superman–he’s on his way and engages the creature. Eventually the situation is handled, as Superman meets Dr. Bruce Gordon and his friend Mona…who tell him about Eclipso. This is essentially a shared scene from Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1; but if you didn’t read THAT issue, it sets things up well for this one. If you did…well, it’s a few pages of deja vu. As Superman talks with Gordon and Mona, the (possessed-by-Eclipso) Creeper bursts in to antagonize the group and taunt Superman with a black diamond. While Eclipso fails to "get" Superman, it leaves the hero winded. In Eclipso’s moon citadel, the villain monologues a bit while we see the eclipsed Lar Gand (Valor) as Eclipso’s primary trophy so far. We then shift to a secret jungle mission where Phantom Lady has been captured and an undercover Starman has to reveal himself to the villainous scientist…who is an Eclipso "agent," and Starman is taken. Eclipso has another prize…this one with the ability to "hide" the fact that it’s "Eclipsed," giving the villain a way to spy on other heroes, beginning with "playing it normal" for an awakened Phantom Lady. Elsewhere, the boy that unleashed the "Eclipso" at the mall returns home and winds up unleashing another instance of the creature, resulting in a rematch between it and Superman. This is ultimately dispatched with heat vision from our hero–who gains his powers thanks to the sun, and thus Eclipso is vulnerable to it. Later, the Eclipsed Starman pays a visit to Kitty Faulkner and provokes her to bring out Rampage, leading to another Eclipsed hero. However…Eclipso’s found himself a conundrum as the focus of Rampage’s anger was "himself"–leading to a battle between Starman and Rampage, both as aspects of Eclipso. Superman eventually gets involved and is able to drive Eclipso out of Rampage (who reverts back to Kitty Faulkner)…but Eclipso escapes in Starman. While the rescued scientist is a ‘win,’ there’s no time to really rest. And we’re directed to Eclipso’s next appearance coming in Green Lantern Annual #1 in a week’s (real-world) time.

The writing for this issue is more or less on-par with Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1, lending a good bit of continuity to a second chapter of this ‘event’. Which makes sense as Robert Loren Fleming is a shared creator credit between the issues! The story is solid overall, albeit lacking the ‘depth’ I associate with the "main" Superman titles of the time. This is a separate work using the character, though, which explains its detachment from "proper" ongoing Superman stuff of 1992. While we DO get a footnote reference to the "recent adventure" Starman had involving Eclipso in Starman 42-45, it hardly seems to matter as it doesn’t really impact this story; neither Starman nor Eclipso particularly acknowledge anything from that story (Such as Eclipso himself being behind Starman getting his powers, and the villain long having had designs on utilizing Starman for his own nefarious purposes). The "reference" seems to have been shoehorned in to "justify" or "create" a sense of "continuity" with a then-very-recent story that involved the characters but apparently isn’t useful or relevant to this unfolding tale. There’s also no real indicator of anything particular going on between Starman and Kitty/Rampage…which seems to totally disregard their culmination from the 45-issue Starman series.

If this was a regular-sized issue, I’d have a huge problem with a 5-page re-tread of another issue. In 2022, that’d be 1/4 of an issue! However, this being an annual and more than double-length compared to a regular issue, it helps this one to stand alone…which is definitely a good thing! Other than the Starman/Rampage plot points ignoring/disregarding the characters’ developments in his solo series though, this wasn’t bad. And those continuity bits did not even phase me when I first read this issue in 1992…as I’d had no idea there WAS a Starman series and surely glazed over the footnote with zero knowledge of how recent that series was, etc. I believe I mentioned in my post on Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1 that it was my first exposure to The Creeper…but I think it may actually have been THIS issue; as I’m pretty sure I’d read this one prior to that one, first time through.

Visually this is not a bad issue, though it certainly steps a bit away from my preferences from the main Superman titles of the time. Superman himself comes off fairly generic here, almost seeming too large and such. That said, it’s definitely "’90s art" and fits the story pretty well…and while not uniquely memorable in and of itself, was very recognizable to me reading it this time through and recalling snippets of my reading it 30-ish years ago as a kid. There’s one panel in particular of Bruce Gordon as he is horrified to see Superman with a black diamond that reminds me very much, somehow, of Norm Breyfogle‘s art, and stood out to me in that way this time where it certainly never did before.

The cover may be the best visual of the issue, though, and is certainly one of THE "Eclipso images" I think of when I do think of this story…and while not one of my first few comics, it’s definitely a stand-out piece that takes me back to the earliest days of my getting BACK into comics in 1992. A friend had gotten the issue–it was a pretty big deal as it was a Superman comic, and it was a #1! (Back in 1992 it was still a rather novel thing for a comic to have a #1 on its cover, if you can believe it. Seems like there are several new #1s every single week now in 2022, and any given series gets a new #1 itself every couple years, pretty much). The cover is a Quesada piece, and while I see plenty of significance to his name (and Palmiotti!) now… in 1992 I didn’t know them from any other artist…it was just this cool image of Superman in space with an eclipse behind him ,and the stylized coloring of the S shield that wouldn’t otherwise be visible except…well, comics.

Eclipso: The Darkness Within was my first exposure to the villain, and by nature of this story–he’s actually a huge threat–he’s never been "just" a "joke" character/villain to me. Of course, it’s also the nostalgia of this being probably my earliest real "crossover" or "event" in comics–even though it was almost 20 years after the fact that I actually acquired the entirety of the thing.

I’m definitely eager to get into further chapters of the story, not to mention just getting to the whole of it. Re-reading Funeral for a Friend a few weeks ago had a deep, personal aspect to it so fresh off losing Dad…but it’s also reignited my interest in re-reading stuff…or in this hybrid case with Eclipso: The Darkness within, reading the event for the first time all the way through, including re-reading what issues I HAD previously read, this time in actual context of the whole.

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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: The Final Night #4

final_night0004The Final Knight / Week Four: Emerald Dawn

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colorist: Trish Mulvihill
Letterer: Gaspar
Asst. Editor: Ali Morales
Editor: Dan Thorsland
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1996
Cover Price: $1.95

After reading the previous issue, I lamented having forgotten the Parallax issue that went along with this series. I did cover that issue a couple years ago, though.

This issue sees a final gambit play out, as Kyle Rayner returns to Earth, believing he’s failed to convince Parallax to help. Luthor and the Genius Crew have had the Flash construct half a million force-field devices, that will be piloted into orbit around the sun, where they will be activated as it goes nova, containing the bulk of the blast and destroying the suneater. Having already survived one trip to the sun, it falls to Kyle to be the pilot…but he mysteriously disappears. Superman steps in, admitting he’d already intended to sneak onboard and replace anyone else sent…though he requests a few moments and we see him begin to pen a note to Lois. The ship takes off unexpectedly to everyone’s surprise…including Superman’s, as Ferro opts to sacrifice himself, figuring he has the best chance of survival outside of Superman, and that the world needs Superman more than it needs Ferro. Parallax shows up with an offer to help, that’s grudgingly accepted–Batman not trusting him after Zero Hour. Moving into space, the plan fails…and as all seems lost, Parallax has paused time to contemplate the ways he could resolve this. He’d given his word that he would “only” fix things as they were without trying to remake reality, the world, or so on…and as he expends his energy to defeat the suneater, reciting the Green Lantern Oath one final time. Earth is saved, the final price is the life of Hal Jordan.

The emphasis on the Green Lantern oath in this issue makes it stand out to me…and unless I’m completely missing something, it strikes me as rather odd here, worded as “In brightest day, in darkest night” but I’ve thought it was “In brightest day, in blackest night.” Given historical context, at the point this issue was published, it’d been over 2–almost 3–years since the demise of the Green Lantern Corps, the passing of the Ring to Kyle, and so on…and I don’t believe Kyle particularly used the “classic” oath at charging his ring, so it strikes me as a bit of potential oversight that the wording so familiar now may have been mis-phrased back then. (Given the “events” Blackest Night and Brightest Day a few years back prior to the New 52).

And unfortunately, as with many things, this ending doesn’t live up to expectation, and seems to me rather anti-climatic. Of course, I’m certain part of that is that this conclusion is some 19 years old at this point and barely warrants a footnote in the current world of comics (let alone DC itself). This event came roughly 2 1/2 years after Zero Hour, and maybe 3 years before Day of Judgment (the latter now going on 17 years old itself) so a lot of the impact is lost on me, knowing what’s happened since, in broad strokes, and that there’s really nothing I’m aware of currently from DC Comics that can be traced back to this story.

Parallax showing up is basically out of nowhere as far as the core story goes–the earliest hint I noticed was the very end of the previous issue, and then I read this (not having the Parallax issue on-hand) so we go from the heroes’ various plans to suddenly having Parallax present to fix things…a bit of a deus ex machina and apparent attempt to “redeem” Hal Jordan in the process.

I’m certainly affected by the difference in twenty years, and being inundated with constant event-streams from Marvel and/or DC these days. I’m “used to” an event series being at least 6 (of not 7-9) issues, spanning half a year. This event mini was but FOUR issues: only 2/3 the length of a contemporary “standard” series. Additionally, while I’ve enjoyed this mini as its own contained thing…it’s not exactly the be-all/end-all to truly convey an event. This was a weekly series of 4 issues; with the issues presumably serving to “launch” plot points to be expanded on by various tie-in titles’ issues, and then for everything to come back to wrap up in this concluding issue.

But to have something so globally-catastrophic just “end” in this issue with no “to be continued in…” nor any noticeable “checklist” or other “house ad” to say where to follow up certain plot points, this is tangibly “the end.” Except that I do recall that while not a focus of this mini (it was explored in his own books) Superman’s lost powers didn’t come back, and when powers did reappear they were electric in nature; and this was the official “death” of Hal Jordan, lasting not quite 8 years, though the character was still used in various ways thanks to time-travel and supernatural elements.

For my $1, The Final Night proved a good read, and whether I’d read it before and forgotten or this was truly my first time all the way through…that’s one more DC Event Mini-series off my “bucket list” of yet-to-be-read stories.

The ’90s Revisited: The Final Night #1

final_night0001Dusk / Week One: Armageddon

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Stuart Immonen
Inker: Jose Marzan Jr.
Colorist: Lee Loughridge
Letterer: Gaspar
Asst. Editor: Ali Morales
Editor: Dan Thorsland
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1996
Cover Price: $1.95

I’m quite sure I’ve read this before…but I’ll be darned if I can remember it. This actually felt like I was reading it for the first time. Knowing I’ve bought the entire series at least once before in bargain bins or as a cheap set, I can’t imagine I didn’t read it…though that’s entirely possible. I know I’d read the Superman tie-ins, as events from this led to the electric-Superman saga.

This issue sees an alien arrive on early, bearing grave news: an entity that consumes all heat/energy is approaching Earth’s solar system and will destroy the sun, and in turn rendering Earth a lifeless iceball. The heroes–around Superman–gather, and launch a two-pronged plan to repel or distract the sun-eater…but this wouldn’t be the start of an event if things worked out right away, would it? The heroes’ plan fails, and Earth is left in darkness…a final night from which nothing will survive more than a few days.

I can’t say I’m overly enthused at the art. I should like it–I usually enjoy Immonen‘s work–but there’s something a bit "off" about it here. Perhaps it’s reading this out of context, or expecting something different, or just seeing a number of no-longer-currently-familiar characters that doesn’t quite do it for me. The art is hardly bad…it’s just not what I "expected" or thought I remembered. Still, we have numerous characters and multiple super-teams represented in this issue, and things move pretty quickly from introduction to action to result in what I would (by contemporary standards) consider an "ultra-compressed" story.

The writing is good, solid stuff, and certainly makes sense for what’s going on. We have the introduction of a massive threat, a gathering of heroes and plan to confront it, the execution of the plan, and the result. Given this event is one month long, and its core is this 4-issue mini-series while more generalized action plays out in other titles, I am ok with the lack of detail to stuff here in favor of moving "core events" along. It also has me very interested in reading the various tie-in titles to see far more detail to the unfolding crisis.

While it certainly benefits by way of 1990s comics being so cheap these days, this is also the sort of "event" I would love to have today in 2016: instead of having to invest in 3, 4, maybe 6 issues of every single tie-in title as well as an event mini-series or few, the event plays out in a single mini-series as well as just one issue of any given title tying in. I almost wish I’d held off on reading this issue, solely for the fact that I’m ready to dive into the rest of the mini, yet have no idea when I’d actually get around to hunting down all the tie-ins to the event.

I snagged 3 of the 4 issues from one set of quarter bins, and the missing issue from another at a different shop a day later–so I have the benefit of scoring the entire mini for $1 total without putting any particular effort into getting it. As such, this issue is very much worthwhile to me FOR my twenty-five cents, as I can move straight into the rest of the series without waiting. However, I do suspect that taken as a singular issue completely apart from issues 2-4, this wouldn’t be all that great an issue in and of itself.

I enjoyed the reading, and look forward to the unfolding story, and continue to dig in on this run through fun back issues and nostalgia.

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