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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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