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The ’80s Revisited: Superman #31

80s_revisited

superman0031Mr. Mxyzptlk! in "As Good as His Word!"

Scripter/Co-Plotter: Roger Stern
Co-Plotter: Tom Peyer
Guest Penciller: Paris Cullins
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: May, 1989
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Published by: DC Comics

I think this issue went over a little better with me as a kid than Adventures of Superman #453. I had no idea who this "Mxyzptlk" was, but it was cartooney, magical, random shenanigans and I just took it at surface value.

The cover is one of the more distinctive to me; albeit like the Adventures issue, perhaps more to me as it’s one of MY first-ever comics. Still, a giant Superman stomping kaiju-style through Metropolis is not something you see all the time; nor the "meta"-ness of the cover with Mxy folding back the corner and talking to the reader, saying "This scene PROBABLY doesn’t appear in this issue…but with me around it COULD!" We also have the typical trade dress stuff I mentioned with the Adventures issue; standard enough stuff at the time but rather foreign in 2022 comics!

The story opens with a giant Mxy already in Metropolis, greeting the city and proclaiming his return. There’s a note from Editorial that Superman is unavailable for this issue, and the credits are worded a bit creatively with a "meta" tone to them as well. Essentially, Mxy’s back, causes a bunch of destructive, painful mischief trying to draw Superman out to "play," but when he doesn’t show, the imp goes for the next-most-powerful-guy-around, Lex Luthor. There’re a lot of "sight gags" and cartooney (if a bit more realistic/violent) stuff; and Luthor devises a plan to get rid of the imp by lying to him. While this plan technically proves successful, it leaves open the question of what happens if Mxy ever comes back…and lies?

The art is solid here; it definitely has a rose-colored-glasses appearance for me as one of my very first-ever "new" Superman comics. I’m sure I saw the editorial note that opened the issue, and took it at face value. I know I had no real clue who Mr. Mxyzptlk was, but contextually figured out he had these shape shifting/transformative powers like a cartoon character but in the "real world." Luthor worked something out and the guy went away, so all was well that ended well. 41-year-old-me in 2022 recalls that this wound up impacting Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite; as it was here that Mxy learned how to lie, and that came back to bite Luthor in the backside during that story.

Yet another comparison to Adventures 453…at the time, it didn’t even phase me that the "main" story was so short; I probably felt at the time like it was a truly "bonus" story; albeit I didn’t much care for the 2nd one.

Hostile Takeover Part III: Poison Pill!

Artists: Dan Jurgens & Dennis Janke
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Pharmacist: Jerry Ordway

This issue’s Hostile Takeover chapter actually seems to flow out of the main story, beginning with Luthor visiting the hospitalized men of his Team Luthor squad that were inside the power suits "transformed" by Mxyzpltlk’s visit. While Luthor visits a lab where "Brainiac" is being held, we learn that his aim for wanting Star Labs is a specific facility that will allow him to mine the alien intelligence’s mind for alien tech! A montage of "people on the street" reactions to the potential buyout shows that certain themes don’t seem to change…feeling as natural for 2022 as they must’ve been in 1989! Meanwhile, the Star Labs board determines a way to fend off the takeover by issuing new stocks and divesting themselves of the facility Luthor is after, which apparently plays right into Luthor’s plans.

The art is again quite solid, with Luthor in particular being recognizable. That the story flows from the main story adds to the general "continuity" and that it’s another part of the same issue rather than being 100% separate stories. As a kid when I first read this, I certainly did not understand this story nor care for it; though it’s got a lot more interest for me as an adult that sees/understands more what’s going on; as well as the nostalgia of re-reading as a 41-year-old what I first read as an 8-year-old.

* * * * *

Though this issue falls amidst the Exile story arc, it’s not itself a part of it; it’s more of a "filler" story with a purpose that gets referenced a couple years later. It continues the Hostile Takeover story, so places this "in order" after Adventures 453. As I’m almost certain that this issue is not at all in the Exile TPB and not sure if it’s in the omnibus; it’d make sense being so far removed to be excluded. It should be present for "completion" of this era of the Superman comics, but narratively doesn’t touch the actual story of Superman’s quest in space…despite obviously showing us what’s going on on Earth while he’s in space.

This one works better as a one-off for the Mxy story in that that part is a one-off itself. Heck, at 14 pages, add a couple and that story could have been a 2-part backup with the Hostile Takeover doubled in size and being the main story somewhere.

I’m actually interested enough now in the Hostile Takeover story that I’m tempted to dig out the next chapter just to see if my guess of where it’s going was right; and it re-interests me a lot more in this "era" of the Superman comics.

While this issue’s significance is primarily personal for me, it’s definitely worth snagging from a bargain bin, especially if that bargain bin is 25-cents! Since I’m pretty sure Hostile Takeover has never been specifically reprinted, if you’re able to get the four chapters for 25 cents each, that $1 alone would be definitely worthwhile, I think, for being a solid Luthor story!

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The ’80s Revisited: Adventures of Superman #453

80s_revisited

adventures_of_superman_0453Words and Pictures: Jerry Ordway
Lettering: Albert De Guzman
Coloring: Glenn Whitmore
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: April, 1989
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Published by: DC Comics

This cover is one of the MOST iconic in all the comics that I own. Yet to many, I imagine this is just another cover. But for me, it sticks out in a big way because it was one of my very first comics I ever owned; one of the first four comics Mom ever bought for me. It was my first issue of Adventures of Superman; and thus has that very special distinction FOR ME.

The cover has a lot going on. The trade dress is at the top; the DC "bullet" in the upper left, and a generic image of Superman immediately below it. It’s no "corner box" like Marvel used to have, or that DC would eventually use; but it showed that it’s a DC book, and Superman, just from that corner. The title logo is across the top/center of the cover; a standard location so if you only see the very top of the issue, you know what the title is. The number is in a small white box along with the cover date, the price, and the old Comics Code stamp. There’s a cover blurb "Phantoms of the Past!" to add a bit more to stuff. The main image is 3 people emerging from the ground and reaching for a startled Superman, with a moon-like thing behind him on an otherwise black background. Then there’s a box at the bottom for the barcode for the issue, as well as a companion box showing a headshot of a bald guy (Lex Luthor) with a banner stretched between stating "Plus: Part Two of Lex Luthor’s ‘Hostile Takeover!’" and some creator names.

We start the issue on some sort of planetoid or moon or such; a barren wasteland, with a silhouette of Superman, and narration from someone (Superman) reflecting on the place. Suddenly, three figures emerge from the ground, raining dirt and debris and accuse Superman of burying them alive; though he didn’t kill them, he intended to, and so his guilt remains. The scene then cuts elsewhere to a conversation between a "Jonathan" and a "Martha" via narration boxes, while we see what looks like an old woman in anguish in a bedroom. As the conversation continues and then "Martha" enters this room, now the person looks like Clark Kent, which causes "Martha" to faint in shock. Meanwhile, two of the figures from the ground shift appearances but all three taunt Superman, crushing an air mask before disappearing as Superman lies on the ground. The scene shifts to some older man tinkering with an armored suit while on the phone, discussing something about Luthor and STAR Labs. There’s a guy in the suit and the helmet malfunctions…he gets it off and shields the older guy as it explodes. Back to Superman and the figures now shift to look like a Superman himself, Clark Kent in a suit, and some other guy with the chest of his suit ripped to show a Superman costume underneath. These continue to taunt Superman before he absorbs them and leaps into the air, now whole once again…and then drifts in space, where he’s picked up by some ship and the aliens discuss selling him for games or a body bank.

Fourteen pages, but wow…that’s a lotta stuff going on! I was at most 8 1/2 years old when I first read this, and I had NO IDEA what was going on. Didn’t know how Superman came to be where he is, or who these people were that were confronting him. Something about him having killed them…but I thought Superman DIDN’T KILL? But it must be ok since they’re here and alive; but where’d they go, then? And whatever that conversation was, something about someone having been killed in an apartment…I guess these could be Superman’s parents, but who knows? And the person that looked like an old lady–"Matrix"–becoming Clark Kent? Hokay? And no clue who the guy working on the superhero suit was, nor the guy in it, nor who was on the phone; only vaguely recognized Lex Luthor. I remember "getting" that Superman/Clark Kent/the other guy were apparently parts of Superman and his "absorbing" them back into himself; and something of him being in space and apparently needing air (given his mask was crushed and affected him).

Of course, 33 years later and I know Ma and Pa Kent; Matrix; Luthor; Emil Hamilton and Jose Delgado (Gangbuster). I know General Zod, and the pocket universe, and the Supergirl Saga and whatnot. That in the aftermath, Superman went into space feeling he was too dangerous to remain on Earth and so had exiled himself. As that kid, though, all I knew was that it said Adventures of SUPERMAN on the cover, had Superman on the cover, and whatever had happened to Superman, here he was in space and all that. I’m sure I noticed the high number and "connected" that with all of Grandpa’s comics having numbers on them; but he hadn’t had any with this particular logo or title, so this must’ve been different.

I had absolutely no concept of a Crisis on Infinite Earths or "Pre-Crisis" or "Post-Crisis," nor what a "Reboot" was, hadn’t heard of anyone named "John Byrne," did not know of any comics with the words "Man of Steel" as part of the title; etc. But I read the words on the pages; I reread the issue at least a few times given how few comics I owned at the time; and just took stuff in at face-value. This was "a comic." Obviously I didn’t have the previous issue, nor the next one yet. It wasn’t what I recognized Superman as, but hey, this was a NEW comic at the time (33 years ago!) so it probably wasn’t going to be like "older comics."

Looking at this as my 41-year-old self; this is a good story and moves stuff along. We see Superman being very low on air and thus hallucinating, as he fights through his guilt; mulling over questions such as why he would feel justified to execute the Kryptonian villains, but NOT villains like Lex Luthor or Brainiac; as well as recognizing that even AS "Superman," he was also Clark Kent AND Gangbuster. And that fortunately, as he runs out of air, he’s picked up by some alien spaceship and thus doesn’t actually suffocate to death. We see stuff from Superman’s point of view–his hallucinations; and we get some context of recent events (presumably) going on like someone was killed in Clark’s apartment; and we see Matrix/Mae take on the guise of Clark, shocking his parents (who are still alive in this continuity).

The art is good. I especially noticed the contrast in Superman’s darker blue compared to the brighter blue for the hallucinated version. This is an older issue; the copy I read this time through is especially old-seeming with its newsprint; so some color work has presumably been lost by nature of the printing process and the paper, as well as the amount of detail in so many panels just kinda blending to a darker overall appearance that’s soaked into the paper a bit over the last 3 1/2 decades.

This is by no means an "ideal" jumping on point or first issue…but it was MINE. And it did NOT put me off so much that I never got any more. I just had to gradually catch up and figure out what was going on contextually, piecing stuff together and accepting what the present was.

Even knowing I’ve read this a number of times before, and at least once in/after college as an adult with much more context of what Exile is/was, parts of this felt new to me; especially with Hamilton and Gangbuster.


Hostile Takeover Part II: Insider Rumors!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Dan Jurgens & Dennis Janke
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Insider: Jerry Ordway

I’m not a huge fan of "backups" in comics; especially not when they cross titles. This issue had "Part Two," and Superman #31 had "Part Three." But at the time, I accepted it; because it didn’t seem that out of place when older comics were often these shorter/multiple stories in one issue; so I just simply had what I had. Though with Superman not even IN this "Hostile Takeover," and as an 8-year-old I had no clue what a "hostile takeover" even WAS, and it just seemed to be a bunch of adults talking, I am pretty confident that I largely ignored the segment when I read this as a kid.

NOW in 2022, though, it’s actually fairly interesting to me.

We start with various people discussing rumors of Luthor buying out Star Labs; and we see reactions from "common people" as well as Luthor himself.  Star Labs workers confront a boss who knows nothing of a buyout; there’s some sort of groundbreaking ceremony for a new facility in Tokyo for Star Labs that Luthor shows up to. Other people react to Luthor’s being on the news; and then as they’re anxious to sell shares of Star Labs, Luthor offers to buy them for $50/share and they seem all too eager.

This is an 8-page backup story; it moves stuff along. Sort of introduces the situation with rumors; we see that Luthor has a plan; and after rumors raise the price of the stock and then people are ready to panic-sell, he magnanimously steps in to take shares off their hands.

The art is good; Luthor is at his overweight, bald, businessman best here. I recognize the likes of Emil Hamilton and Perry White; and of course Luthor himself. I don’t recall what had happened in Hostile Takeover Part I; and I’m not sure even now if this backup has ever actually been collected/reprinted! I’m pretty sure even the Exile Omnibus excluded these segments; and that they were not in the Exile TPB, either.

I’m not sure the behind the scenes context or reasoning for this as a backup feature rather than being a subplot; I can guess, though, that in PART it was that it’s a major plot point with a specific sequence, so it was clustered together and its parts numbered for continuity, where other parts of Exile may not have been as "hard-coded" order-wise requiring a specific order. It may have been to allow other creatives to be involved as well; maybe something was running late; I don’t really know, and I don’t really care.

* * * * *

This is a dense issue; a bit physically murky and aged; and having the place it does in my memory and "comics life," I’m not exactly impartial to it. I can’t say that I necessarily ENJOYED this time through the issue…but it definitely brought back some familiar memories, and certain panels and such jumped out at me that I DEFINITELY remembered being striking to me as a kid. While this holds a lot of nostalgic value for ME personally, I don’t know that it otherwise stands alone overly well except in that this era of the Superman comics were generally quite high quality, so if you get it from a bargain bin, it shouldn’t be bad…but you’ll likely appreciate it all the more if you have several of the Exile issues as a cluster; and I definitely recommend the Exile arc as a whole, if not the single issues!

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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: 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: Superman #50

90s_revisited

superman(1987)0050Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Four: The Human Factor

Story by: Jerry Ordway
Art by: Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Kerry Gammill, Dennis Janke, Curt Swan, John Byrne, and Jerry Ordway
Colors by: Glenn Whitmore
Letters by: John Costanza
Editing by: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Jerry Ordway
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1990
Cover Price: $1.50

This is an extra-sized issue, for a whopping DOUBLE-usual-cover-price…at a whole $1.50. That’s still HALF what contemporary DC Rebirth comics cost, and less than half of what a current Marvel comic costs. Granted, we’re talking a little over 26 years’ difference, but still…

Speaking of covers and cover prices…this may not be THE best or THE most iconic cover ever for a Superman comic (at least, not to me, and not one of my personal top ten) but its "spirit" is pretty iconic–Superman bursting through a wall. In this case, fairly appropriate, after several issues of his being powerless…basically a normal human. Having the strength to simply, cheerfully burst through a solid brick wall is a small indicator of his power level being much increased. Superman #50 is one of the first comics I ever got as a "back issue," and before I really knew the concept of "multiple printings" or "variant covers" or the like. The copy of the issue that I first owned, the first time that I read this, gave away a fairly major spoiler for the issue (at the time).

superman50spoilercover

Historic Engagement Issue. Ok, so the engagement was looming, and it happened here. I had no idea at the time that it was a second print, hence spoiling the ending by calling out what happens in the issue and how it’d go down in history (beyond concluding a several-part story and seeing Superman get his powers back).

This issue gives us a glimpse of Clark in action, going about life powerless–but getting beyond the simplistic "mild-mannered reporter" and letting us see that it really is he himself–Clark–that makes the man, not the Super. Even without powers, he’s not gonna stand by or put his own safety first…he helps people, and tries to step in as able. He checks in on things with Lois, who has just gotten her father’s approval in dating Clark. Jimmy’s mother is doing better…even as we see that Perry and Alice are having their own issues, still reeling from the death of Jerry. And of course, Luthor being Luthor. When Lex contacts Lois, Clark steps in, demanding an interview…which he’s granted. Luthor’s convinced to tell how he’s deprived Superman of his powers…and since he’s telling some reporter, he’s not breaking Mxyzptlk’s One Rule to Not Tell Superman. Of course, Luthor has long since discarded the notion of Clark and Superman being one and the same…but that doesn’t change that Clark is Superman, and Mxy’s powers are magic based and thus bind the rule even without Mxy’s conscious direction, so Luthor telling Clark means he’s broken the rule…and Superman is re-powered. The imp shows up, gives Superman a freebie of sorts (providing a Rule to the game and how Superman can send him away, and then getting Superman to fulfill it) and actually leaving. Luthor’s great victory is wiped away, and the man is dying. Meanwhile, Lois has thought about Clark’s earlier proposal…and says yes. She WILL marry him.

While I did not read this in my initial time into comics, it was still one I read relatively early-on, prior to The Death of Superman. It was cool to see the actual engagement, as well as to have another chapter of the story with the red-border covers, which helped "place" this time-wise/continuity-wise for me at the time. Now, re-reading this, it’s actually sort of hard to believe, and seems such a long time ago, in Clark and Lois ONLY here just getting ENGAGED. Though the engagement aspect went on for a number of years–over 60 issues–they’ve been married so long that I find it natural and preferable, and this was the kick-off, if you will, of that long-lasting aspect of the characters.

Story-wise, this is definitely "classic" Superman for me, for my favorite version of the character, during my favorite period of the continuity. This came at the beginning, served as part of my "foundation" in Superman stuff, as a Superman fan, witnessing the actual development and forward-movement of the character and supporting cast. I think part of that also came from (and I’m using modern thoughts to "project" on my past self) feeling like there was room for surprise and growth beyond done-in-one issues and self-contained every-story-must-stand-alone-and-be-a-graphic-novel-in-serialized-form comics. Clark is the character, Superman is what he does, how he presents to the world when he’s in action. We see his relationship here with Lois–not one of hero worship on her part, or some single-minded buffoon or mere story-trope–but as real humans. She is interested in Clark–the person–and not chasing after some guy in a cape. She wants to marry Clark, and has no idea that he IS Superman. He’s just a man she’s friends with, has come to know and love, and it’s genuine.

This being an expanded, extra-sized issue is definitely a good thing, allowing nearly double the usual length, and thus a lot more story in a single issue…and though the engagement happens here, it’s organic, a rather small part of the overall issue, and is far from actually being the FOCUS of the issue, story-wise. It’s just a darned good Superman comic, at least to me and in recognizing the nostalgia for me.

Visually, it’s an interesting issue, with numerous artist contributing. On one hand, I’d figure that’s partly to allow an extra-sized issue to be produced in the same amount of time as a regular-sized issue while holding to schedules and avoiding fill-ins. It also allows more artists to be part of a key issue in Superman’s history. That said, while I vaguely noticed some unevenness in the art, I was much more engaged (no pun intended) with the story itself, and it wasn’t until sitting down to type up this post that I consciously noted (re-realized) that there were so many artists involved. The art all worked together and was not jarring to me in style or otherwise (perhaps thanks to the single colorist). For an anniversary issue without drastically different variant covers or such, I absolutely welcome the "jam" nature, with a lot of artists "being part of it," and will gladly overlook the uneven nature of that. All the better when the art works with the story and doesn’t distract me.

All in all, this is definitely one of the more "iconic" ISSUES for me, and a key issue in the history of the character. Despite that, I’ve found it in a number of bargain bins over the years; the copy I actually read for this revisiting is from a 25-cent bin…in which there were multiple copies, both of this first print and the later print, and I even convinced a friend to get one to read. Definitely an issue worth reading and having, even out of context and without the entire Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite story. As a conclusion, it’s fitting, and makes for a good end to that while moving the overall Superman mythos forward and opening stuff to coming stories.

Highly recommended!

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman #49

90s_revisited

superman(1987)0049Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part One

Art & Script: Jerry Ordway
Inking: Dennis Janke
Coloring: Glenn Whitmore
Lettering: John Costanza
Associating: Jon Peterson
Editing: Mike Carlin
Cover: Jerry Ordway, Dennis Janke, Glenn Whitmore
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $0.75

This issue grabbed me rather recently, going through bargain bins. The cover got me, with its distinctive red border/trade dress for this story. It both sets this issue apart from earlier issues, but the trade dress unites the entire Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite story as a whole in a way that still calls it out for me nearly three decades later, one of its chapters being amongst my earliest-ever comics in my collection.

The issue opens on Perry and Alice white at the grave of their son Jerry, who has recently died. We also get a bit of context, that Lex Luthor is the biological father. Luthor, too, laments the loss…and while he stands over the grave, he’s assaulted by an odd red rock…seems Mr. Mxyzptlk is due again, but is having too much fun where he is. As such, and not wanting to let down his good buddy Superman, he figures he’ll kill two birds with one stone, letting his quarterly mischief manifest via the red rock–Red Kryptonite–to mess with Superman. Meanwhile, Lois and Clark are out and about when they bump into an old friend of Clark’s–Pete Ross from Smallville. The two friends catch up briefly, and Pete obtains Clark’s "blessing" to pursue Lana. Not long after, Luthor figures out how to get things moving with Mxy’s magic rock, as Superman saves the day from a villain named Barrage. As the magic goes into effect, instead of granting Luthor power to be equal to Superman…Superman’s powers are taken away…making Luthor equal to him. Magically summoned to Luthor’s presence, and still in shock at the loss of his powers, Luthor gives Superman quite a beating before having him thrown out. Back at home, despite not being up to the visit, Clark finds himself in position to be a rock himself, as Lois is going through a rough time.

Though it was a number of years after I’d first read any part of this story that I got to read the rest of it (including this opening chapter), this brings back a lot of memory, of this era of the Super-titles. This issue has the very familiar visuals of Jerry Ordway that I’ll likely always associate with my earliest days reading Superman comics. The characters are all familiar and distinct and look quite good.

The story itself is strong, as well–painting a picture of what’s going on in general at this point in the Super-titles without being overly-obvious about doing so. (I’m reading this story "out of context" but there’s enough to remind me of where things were continuity-wise at the point this story takes place). We’re introduced to the setting and characters, given some clues as to recent events even while we see current stuff unfold, and the driving conflict of the story–Superman losing his powers to a chunk of red rock–is set in motion. Rather than leave us on some cliffhanger proclaiming that his powers would be gone or such, we actually get that in this very issue, as well as immediate after-effects. In that regard, this issue probably has two or three issues’ content by modern standards, neglecting to be highly-decompressed or drag stuff out.

The issue’s by no means some absolute stand-alone thing, but there’s enough, I think, that one could enjoy it on its own without having read much of this era previously, and the reader can figure out in general the current situation. That said…this works pretty well for me "jumping in" and not having to page through a bunch of issues to re-familiarize myself with the story. This was quite enjoyable in and of itself, even as I look forward to issues to come–including the sole chapter I read during my initial period being into comics.

I’m definitely enjoying diving back into this era, however briefly…and while this issue by itself isn’t necessarily anything all that special, the story as a whole is, and if you can score it for around $1 an issue or less, I definitely recommend it, as of re-reading this issue alone.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman the Man of Steel #44

superman_the_man_of_steel_0044To Know… Know… Know Him!

Story: Louise Simonson
Layout Art: Jon Bogdanove
Ink Art: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Asst. Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1995
Cover Price: $1.50

This is one of the more "iconic" Superman covers for me from the ’90s: it was the issue immediately preceding the 100th issue of Superman and the start of the whole Death of Clark Kent storyline. I distinctly remember this cover from first getting it–we were visiting my grandparents, and my aunt took me to a comic shop in the area, where I got this. It also helps the cover to be memorable given that it’s essentially (but not quite! It’s still its own thing!) a reproduction of a panel within the issue.

Clark’s on the phone with his book editor when he hears a ticking in the background from the other end; so he rushes in as Superman, managing to save the man from being blown to bits. Meanwhile, Keith (a young boy being adopted by Perry White and his wife) is hanging out with some older kids after school. When the store manager accuses them of shoplifting, the other boys race off, leaving Keith to take the fall. After being extricated from the situation by Perry (who assures Keith that he and his wife are still adopting him), Clark once again learns of a bomb by hearing it over a phone, and saves Perry and Keith (and everyone on the bridge they’re stuck on) but Perry’s car is destroyed. Later, Keith takes courage from the incident and stands up to his so-called friends, and winds up making some new ones…while Jimmy decides to stick with Clark like glue until they figure out who’s been threatening him and trying to bomb his editors. Clark distracts him briefly as they get off an elevator, only to find a Superman dummy pinned to his apartment door by a giant knife…and he realizes then who’s behind stuff.

This is an issue from back in the heart of the "Triangle Numbering" era of the Superman titles…though each creative team had their own through-threads they focused on, their own stories to tell, ultimately the titles were one ongoing weekly series, with each week’s issue moving the overall Superman story forward. As such, with weekly doses of THE Superman story, there was plenty of room for the cultivation and development of a large supporting cast and plenty of "subplots" to be dug into and unfold over the course of things, such that a single issue could often seem all over the place, when taken out of context. This one manages to avoid the worst of that, though a single paragraph summary doesn’t do the thing justice. There’s the overall story, but the details of the various characters’ interactions makes it more complex…much like an episode of a large ensemble cast tv show where certain characters really get around, while others are checked in on but don’t necessarily have much screen time.

This issue ought to–by 2017 standards–be billed as a "prologue" to the upcoming major story; or heck, in contemporary terms there’d be a whole pre-Event event (particularly if this was Marvel). Here, it’s just the next chapter of the continuing saga, that just happens to be right before the larger titled story kicks off.

I definitely dig the story, though I find reading this over 20 years after the fact, I’m less enamored with Keith’s story, being so much further away in age now than I was then (as well as feeling like there’s a bit of "preachiness" going on here that would have much different connotation were it published in 2017).

Visually, it’s not hard to follow what’s going on, to recognize Superman or Clark, Lois, Keith, Perry, or others. However, it’s hardly my favorite art, ESPECIALLY stacked up against the likes of Dan Jurgens, who IS one of my absolute favorite artists (particularly when it comes to Superman!). Bogdanove‘s style grew on me, and holds a definite place in my memory and liking of the Superman books…but might not be the most appealing to someone unfamiliar with it or this era of Superman.

As a whole, though–story and art–this is certainly a strong issue, giving the reader action, plot development, and moving everyone around the final bit to head into The Death of Clark Kent. I appreciated it as an isolated one-off that I picked up specifically for remembering the cover so clearly.

That said…you’d likely be better served tracking down the collected edition of The Death of Clark Kent if possible, or picking this up as part of a larger group of the issues than to get this one issue by itself.

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Zero Hour Revisited – Superman: The Man of Steel #37

90srevisited_zerohour

superman_the_man_of_steel_0037Countdown to Zero

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Asst. Editor: Chris Duffy
Assoc. Editor: Frank Pittarese
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: September 1994
Cover Price: $1.50

This is probably one of THE most iconic Superman covers to me, definitely one of my favorites, period. I even pointed that out some 3 years ago!

As the issue opens, Clark and Lois are talking to Jeb Friedman–who is coordinating a concert to be held as a benefit to the citizens of Metropolis (which just recently was destroyed). When reflected light grabs their attention, Superman investigates…finding Batman trying to contact him. This Batman is not the one just recovered from a broken back, and references Time anomalies. Another Batman soon arrives…as does a third. Meanwhile, the heroes learn of plans to ruin the concert, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the city at the moment, and it’s up to them to once more save the day. Superman enlists the scientific aid of Emil Hamilton as they confirm the Time anomalies…even as the Batmen shift, split, and disappear. Finally, Superman prepares to seek out "his" Batman, showing the way "great minds think alike"–Batman had just arrived to contact HIM! While the two begin to "catch up," Metron arrives, warning of a Crisis.

This is another issue that nicely (and actually!) clearly ties into the events of Zero Hour…it’s also another issue that I read that summer when it was released. Though I feel like some of the "music" stuff is a bit dated and cliché, on the whole, the issue holds up. Having read all the Superman books solidly for so many years, it doesn’t take long to shift my mind back to what was going on in the books at the time–such as Alice and Perry White taking care of Keith, and Keith constantly getting into trouble "seeing" his mom everywhere and running after her.

I’ve had mixed feelings over the years on Bogdanove‘s art–there’s something to it that’s a bit off-putting to me, especially when held up against Jurgens‘ work. Absolutely, completely isolated, it’s not a style I’d necessarily choose high on a priority list…but the art more than gets across what it needs to, and beyond that usual feeling, REALLY shines here, conveying numerous visual styles of Batman that clearly evoke prior incarnations in a way that shows me the general look of Superman is a choice in style and not a reflection of ability! It’s also a visual style firmly entrenched in my memory OF the various Super-titles from the ’90s, and is not something I’d wish to lose…too much nostalgia for this title!

I really like the story itself in this issue…we move elements of the core Superman story forward–touching on subplots like Jeb Friedman, the Whites and Keith, Jimmy & Ron, as well as getting Clark and Lois along with getting Superman in action…we even have Emil Hamilton accounted for. That we also have Batman, and as a Time anomaly at that makes this both a great singular issue that can be read AS a single one-shot issue, but also plays well within the ongoing Superman titles while being a very clear and useful participant in the larger Zero Hour story. We also get setup for the next of the four Superman books…all within just this one issue, at standard size and price.

While I’ve got to admit to a bit of bias, both on this being a Superman title at all, and having read it originally such that this is more nostalgia than reading something new from the time, this is a great issue that I’d recommend as plain, simple FUN even if you’ve never immersed yourself in the ’90s Super-books…you don’t even truly need Zero Hour to enjoy it…the Event is just a convenient "excuse" to allow for–without lengthy explanation/setup–the presence of multiple iterations of Batman. So far, I’d put this at the top of the list with Batman #511 as the best of the initial wave of Zero Hour Tie-ins, with Superboy #8 as a runner-up.

Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis (TPB) [Review]

supermandarkknightovermetropolistpbWriters: John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway
Artists: Art Adams, Dick Giordano, Dan Jurgens, “Sludd” Giordano, Brett Breeding, Bob McLeod, Jerry Ordway, Dennis Janke, Kerry Gammill, John Kalisz
Reprints: Action Comics Annual #1, Adventures of Superman #466-467, Action Comics #653-654, Superman #44
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: $14.99

The Action Comics annual, while not bad, isn’t at all my favorite Superman/Batman story. It’s certainly an apt inclusion, being one of the earliest team-ups of the characters…I just don’t care for the vampires thing, and given the volume’s title and the “main” story of the volume, I was eager to get to that rather so quickly waded through the Annual.

Adventures of Superman #466 was the first appearance of Hank Henshaw, and a definite “nod” to Marvel‘s Fantastic Four, albeit with a much more tragic outcome. Three men and a woman are exposed to “cosmic radiation” and crash back to Earth, finding themselves changed–one into energy, one into a monstrous construct of shrapnel, rocks, and branches; one fading out of our plane of existence, one being eaten away by radiation that baffles even his intellect. This is a nice “one-shot” sort of issue, introducing the characters and seeing their apparent end all in one go…though Hank Henshaw would eventually return in Reign of the Supermen/The Return of Superman and go on to be a fairly recurring character throughout the 1990s’ Superman books. Though I can’t be certain of its accuracy, I seem to have a fond memory of having read this issue while it was still new, long before ever being referred back to it during Reign of the Supermen.

I can’t really put my finger on why this issue was included here except that it came out about the same time as the others and so perhaps “adds context,” but as a Superman/Batman-themed volume focusing on the characters’ early interactions, I really would have preferred to see Man of Steel #3 (One Night in Gotham City) included here (the issue/story is even referenced by the Action Comics annual!).

Action Comics #653 serves as a nice prologue to the “main event” of the volume, giving us the key point of the Kryptonite ring having been removed from Luthor’s possession, and how it winds up able to make its way to Gotham City.

Finally, we get to the three issues that are the actual Dark Knight over Metropolis story. Here, Batman comes across a radioactive ring that he traces back to Metropolis. Of course, Metropolis “belonging” to Superman, the two cross paths, and have to work together to uncover the source of the ring and deal with a threat from Intergang. At the story’s end, we see that although their methods differ, Superman realizes that he and Batman are truly on the same side with the same ultimate goals, and we get the key scene that would have ramifications for a decade or more in the DC Universe as Superman gives Batman the means to stop him should the need ever arise.

Overall–on all the issues–the story and art work well together. I can definitely tell these are from the late 1980s/early-1990s, though, visually…both stylistically (square, neat panels, virtually no full-splash-pages, no double-page spreads, etc) as well as the coloring…while the paper itself for this volume are not newsprint, some pages I could practically feel the newsprint, and some of the coloration “dots” are visible in panels from the original printing process.

The look and feel of this volume brings back fond memories for me, as–while different artists had different ways of depicting the characters–the whole seems consistent with nothing outlandish or particularly “off,” and I really had no complaints.

The stories as well are a nice blast from the past…and as I read this, I realized I may not actually have read all of these before this iteration, so it’s nice to know absolutely for certain that I’ve now read this story for myself as opposed to simply knowing it by references TO the story.

This is probably one of the most “bare-bones” volumes I’ve noticed as such in awhile…I was surprised to get to the end, and there aren’t even any ad pages or lists of OTHER Superman or Batman volumes that I usually ‘expect’ to see. Additionally, there’s no table of contents, introduction or anything…not terribly surprising since the “specialness” of collected volumes has gone away, though for such a specific story I’d almost expect some “extra” stuff to be included (since this isn’t “just” “the next” volume to contain several issues in a series).

All told, though…it’s quite gratifying that this volume now exists, and it’s well worthwhile for anyone interested in a quality glimpse into “early” Superman/Batman interaction from the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths DC Universe. This is a standard-size TPB, with the “standard” $14.99 cover price that one would expect for a 6-7 issue volume. In an age of collected volumes increasingly reflecting a greater-than-$3.99-per-issue price, this is a more than fair price point. I already own all of the single issues, and would really consider them to be quarter-bin/50-cent-bin issues, yet I still bought this, and consider it a very worthwhile purchase!

The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #50

supermanmanofsteel050The Trial of Superman! / Part 1: Split Personality

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Duffy & McAvennie
Editors: Carlin & Carlson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: 2.95
Cover Date: November, 1995

This was another issue I pulled from the quarter-bins not too long ago: it caught my attention because of having revisited the issue’s cover when complaining about the newest DC Superman title, Superman Unchained and lack of explanation to the “unchained” part. But seeing the issue handy for only 25-cents, I re-bought it in order to easily re-read it…far easier to pay 25-cents than have to shift a number of heavy longboxes around and root through at least 2 boxes to find my original copy.

This issue begins the Trial of Superman arc…one of the larger arcs of this era of the titles, crossing through about 3 months’ worth of all the Superman titles at the time. Yet, as typical of the era, the story as a whole is an ongoing narrative, so this picks up with an ongoing plot, and sort of merges into what becomes the main plot for The Trial of Superman.

We pick up with a grossly weakened/decayed Superman, virtually powerless, barely skin-and-bones from an ongoing fight with a new incarnation of the Parasite. While some of the details played out on-panel in a previous issue, here we get context and figure out along with the characters what the present status quo is of the Parasite, which makes him all the more dangerous. Things don’t end with putting down the threat posed by the Parasite, as Superman is captured and faces an alien tribunal seeking to hold him accountable for the destruction of the planet Krypton…and things are not pretty.

While I like the cover quite a bit, I’m not all that thrilled with the interior art. I don’t remember having much of an issue with it “at the time,” but taking this alone and pretty much out of context–and being much more used to the last several years’ worth of interpretations of Superman–it’s not to my liking. And while explained in-story by the Parasite draining him, Superman just appears rather “off,” and impossibly skin-and-bones to even have survived any of what he’s put through in the issue.

Story-wise, I’ve never–that I can recall–been any fan of the Parasite character. I’ll be one of the first to want to see villains who are a physical danger to Superman (as opposed to businessman Lex Luthor, or the likes of the Toyman or Prankster) but I’ve just never been interested by Parasite, and have a particular dislike for the round-mouthed “parasitic-worm” look the character was given in the mid-’90s.

This issue boasts plenty of cliche in the villains…but works decently enough overall. I got a definite sense of how overwhelmed Superman was here–dealing with the Parasite and mid-battle being kidnapped into space, and the shock of this alien tribunal wanting to make him accountable for the destruction of a planet gone before he was technically even born.

I enjoyed re-reading this…and it certainly has me contemplating re-reading the entire arc…which I believe I have a collected volume, which would make said undertaking far simpler than trying to dig single issues out or tracking down new copies.

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