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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: 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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Superman: The Man of Steel #18 [Back-Issue Review]

Doomsday! 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
Triangle #: 1992/45

After the previous month’s worth of issues having a single page at their end showing a gloved fist beating on a metal wall (and eventually poking THROUGH the wall), This issue opens with the bearer of that fist fully breaking free from what imprisoned it, and clawing into new life on the surface of the Earth. While the creature gets loose, we see a young boy buying glow-in-the-dark paint for purposes of his own. Meanwhile, Lois finds a message for Clark requesting Superman’s presence–she rushes off to check the likely story, but leaving a message for Clark to meet her there. The creature admires the world it’s about to destroy, beginning with a curious bird that lands on its outstretched hand. When the city’s power fails, Superman sets out to see what can be done, while Lois finds herself captured by “underworlders” and the young boy realizes that these monsters don’t have his mom, and races back to the surface to try to contact Superman. Superman attends to the underworlders’ attempted invasion of Metropolis, while somewhere in Ohio the creature causes enough destruction to gain the attention of the Justice League.

It’s been roughly sixteen years since I first read this–and I haven’t a clue how many times I’ve re-read it since that first read. The comic shop my dad preordered this story for me at allowed us to wait until the final chapter was out before picking it up–so wait we did. The first time I read this issue was with a stack of the next six chapters in a pile underneath–so this has rarely (if ever) stood entirely alone.

That said, this issue’s story is probably my least favorite of the Death of Superman / Doomsday story. I never liked the underworlders subplots. Upon this latest re-read of the issue, I still don’t. I found them to be rather boring and uninteresting, if not outright generic. The story here, though, seems to serve more to transition into the over-arching story than to really start the main event, and seems to tie up some threads from earlier plot points (specifically regarding the underworlders).

There’s not much to say about the art, except that is certainly fits the story–this was the first in-story appearance of Doomsday as more than a fist, so gets the distinction of visually defining it in this initial stage. Details seem consistent panel to panel of the various characters–I’m never left wondering what’s going on by any confusing images. Perhaps for being the point at which I more or less entered the world of Superman all those years ago for the long haul, this art is simply classic, and tends to be the standard by which I’ve judged other artists who’ve dealt with Superman–and supporting cast–on a regular basis.

On the whole, this was a good example of what a Superman book was, in 1992. The books were essentially a weekly series with rotating creative teams (one per core title), and this issue reflects that–dealing with ongoing subplots, focusing on a more specific plot-point, and keeping a number of characters in the appearance-rotation. Good in that sense; but as said, not all that wonderful as far as the first chapter of such a huge story.

Story: 6/10
Art: 8/10
Whole: 7/10

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