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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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