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

90s_revisited

supermanthemanofsteel_annual0001The Gathering Darkness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The ’90s Revisited – Eclipso: The Darkness Within #1

90s_revisited

eclipso_the_darkness_within_0001All Men Make Faults
Co-Plotters: Keith Giffin, Robert Loren Fleming
Breakdown Artist: Keith Giffen
Scripter: Robert Loren Fleming
Penciller: Bart Sears
Inkers: Randy Elliott, Mark Pennington
Letterer: Gaspar
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Michael Eury
Cover Date: July 1992
Cover Price: $2.50
Published by: DC Comics

Now this cover is iconic…at least for me. Full-cover close-up of Eclipso’s face, a sinister sneer as he declares "Let the revels begin…" while holding a black diamond to his eye, its purple/dark energy shining forth. The tagline at the top–"The Many Faces of Evil!" adding to the actual title Eclipso: The Darkness Within. We have the full DC bullet; the "corner box" that was typical of the time, and that this issue is a "Special" (as opposed to the Annuals that make up the bulk of the event). There IS a variant for this cover…or rather, an "enhanced edition" or "collector’s edition"…with an actual purple/black diamond-shaped hunk of plastic glued over the 2-D illustrated one. Otherwise, same paper, same cover image, same interior…same price. No action-figure cardstock trading-card Young connecting cover variants and such. The cover IS the cover, a single image that in and of itself essentially declares that it IS this very particular issue.

We open in a flashback to the 1800s as a couple of archeologists manage to find the fabled "Heart of Darkness." However, they turn on each other, the survivor eventually commissioning a jeweler to cut the large diamond into 1000 identical pieces. 100 years later–the present-day–we find Lar Gand coming across a citadel in the deepest crater on the dark side of the moon. As he explores the structure–swearing it wasn’t there before, he finds himself in a state of rising anger, and discovers the occupant of the structure: Eclipso! Eclipso manages to take control of the hero, and in doing realizes he must acquire MORE heroes and finally make his move on the Earth.

Shifting scenes TO Earth, we find Dr. Bruce Gordon frustrated in attempts to unlock secrets of a black diamond he has, while he reminisces on what brought him to the present, the diamond, and his past involvement with/as Eclipso. Finally he notices the diamond reacting as it would if Eclipso was nearby, and thus Gordon sets out to investigate…and comes across a grisly murder scene with the murderer still present…an "eclipsed" human Gordon immediately recognizes as Eclipso…manifested separately from himself. After a brief struggle he discovers the woman in possession of ANOTHER black diamond. Later he shares with research partner/girlfriend Mona and realizes Eclipso’s played him for a fool for years. Meanwhile, the Phantom Stranger manifests a psychic projection to tell Eclipso that he has pressing matters elsewhere, but that he knows the villain’s up to something and to behave. Eclipso’s having none of it and confidently obliterates the projection.

A week later we find an eclipsed survivalist shooting up a mall before The Creeper intervenes and has a lengthy fight scene with the villain’s puppet. Eclipso ultimately gets control of Creeper and disposes of the Survivalist while reveling in his ability to acquire heroes. Elsewhere, Gordon, Mona, and her father argue about how to proceed, deciding going to the authorities would be a waste of time…they must deal with Eclipso themselves. Gordon and Mona soon find their next black diamond in posession of a boy at a mall…where rather than the villain taking over the boy, an energy being–"an Eclipso"–is manifested, taking a form from the boy’s mind and sets out in focus on the boy’s anger. The scene brings Superman, though it’s ultimately Gordon’s solar beam device that takes out the creature. At his citadel, Eclipso realizes that he must take Superman next, or kill the hero.

As single issues go, this may be one of the longest that I’ve covered for this blog…usually sticking to standard-sized single-issues. This one was at least double-sized, closer to triple-sized! But it was interesting, engaging, and after looking forward so much to getting to it (and after my disappointment that the Starman story was NOT a direct lead-in), I definitely enjoyed the thing!

I’d forgotten about the Bart Sears art…which was definitely a treat, at least for this issue. It worked very well for the most part, though I’m not overly keen on the artist’s take on Superman. For everything else it was great and conveyed a realistic yet comic-booky gritty tone without being terribly dark…despite the nature of the story and the villain’s focus on "darkness." I also liked the random "doodles" on some of the pages that weren’t parts of the narrative but added something to the pages…maybe setting a bit of tone.

Story-wise I really liked how Eclipso comes across here. He’s definitely far more menacing than in the Star Shadows story in Starman 42-45. What’s especially disappointing is that that story was dating January through April 1992…this issue has a July 1992 date, meaning there was only a 3-4 month separation of the stories. Yet nothing in this references that. We come to Bruce Gordon cold with no reference to his having JUST dealt with Eclipso so very recently. Where my experience with the Starman story was influenced by partial memories of the segments of Eclipso: The Darkness Within that I’d read years ago, I realize that I’d mixed up Valor/Lar Gand and Starman as Eclipso’s first major conquest. I also realized that this issue likely was my original introduction to The Creeper.

As noted for the cover, the sole difference between "variants" is whether your copy is a flat squarebound comic…or if it’s a flat squarebound comic with a hunk of plastic glued onto it. I do like the squarebound format for thicker comics. It sets them apart somehow from "regular" comics, and even back in 1992 I noticed this. While those were the days before most TPBs and "graphic novels," it seemed to indicate something a bit more special than "just" a regular standard-sized/monthly chapter of an ongoing series, being more book-like.

This issue is part of a "bookend" mini-series like 1991 (the previous year)’s Armageddon 2001…that is, this first issue begins the event, which then takes place across a number of other titles’ 1992 Annuals…before returning to the 2nd issue as the other bookend to close out the event. Alternatively, one could read this issue, then read the 2nd issue, and presumably just "trust" that a lot went down between; but they are not directly connected sequential chapters despite the numbers on the covers. I really liked this issue…definitely a solid start to the event!

I also had a fair bit of nostalgia going through the issue and defffffinitely wish modern events were like this: infrequent/annual, contained to Annuals. That lets them touch a bunch of titles and characters, withOUT interfering with ongoing stories! They were also thus "contained" rather than fully infesting the publisher’s entire line of books for more months than not. 1991’s Armageddon 2001, 1992’s Eclipso, and 1993’s Bloodlines–none of these had "spine" mini-series with tie-in arcs AND tie-in mini-series and such. 1994’s Zero Hour had a "spine" weekly mini-series and maybe one issue of any given ongoing series tying in (a second issue in the case of the #0 Zero Month that immediately followed). (This format was repeated for the likes of The Final Night and Genesis.) You had the stand-alone-from-the-ongoing-series Annuals…or a single issue of a regular title, and that was that.

I do vaguely recall NOT being so impressed with all of the "Eclipso Annuals" that I’d read back in the day…but fondly recall the Superman: The Man of Steel Annual and the Adventures of Superman ones, as well as a Batman or Detective Annual with the Joker. We’ll see how my 2022-reading affects or holds up to memories, and what other gems or stinkers I find as I–30 years after the event–read the event in its entirety for the first time ever.

For sheer length of story and setup, I’d definitely recommend this issue if you find it in a bargain bin–particularly a 25-cent bargain-bin. As it was originally $2.50, even cover price would not be bad…and for time to read, this would still be quite the bargain at $3.99-$4.99 as a modern comic of this size and density would easily be a $7.99-$9.99+ affair.

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The ’90s Revisited: Eclipso #1

90s_revisited

eclipso_0001The Count

Plotter/Breakdown Artist: Keith Giffen
Penciller: Bart Sears
Scripter: Robert Loren Fleming
Inkers: Ray Kryssing, Mark Pennington
Letters: Gaspar
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Assistant Editor: Eddie Berganza
Editors: Michael Eury, KC Carlson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November, 1992
Cover Price: $1.25

Though I was aware of The Joker and probably Catwoman and the Penguin, as well as Lex Luthor, Bizarro, and Mr. Mxyzptlk to name a few comic book villains…MY first wide-spread, "universe"-threatening villain was Eclipso.

Yeah.

See, I was introduced to comics in 1988, began "collecting" comics myself in 1989, and was just starting to "get back into" comics in the summer of 1992. While hanging out one day, a friend shared with me a couple new comics he’d gotten–including "a" Superman #1. With Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #1, I was introduced to Eclipso, and the Eclipso: The Darkness Within story that was taking place in the various annuals that summer.

Get to the end of that crossover, and I remember an ad for Eclipso and Valor–two series "spinning out" from the "event."

Nearly twenty-five years later, I’ve finally READ Eclipso’s first issue!

I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly–perhaps some extension of The Darkness Within, but with newer or lesser-known characters, given the "big event" was over with. Perhaps I expected some loose-knit "team" to have been assembled, perhaps Bruce Gordon gathering folks together to go after Eclipso. What I GOT, though, was a story of Eclipso possessing an outcast and slaughtering a village, essentially reminding himself that he was capable of this, particularly when not hampered by super-heroes. Later while checking out the slaughter, a black diamond is found and taken–with the hopes that its value will make up for the loss of the village and prevent some Count from shooting the messenger. Of course, this being Eclipso and that a black diamond…well, Eclipso feeds on the Count’s anger and possesses him…and slaughters the Count’s household. When the police arrive to investigate this…Eclipso is ready. The black diamond is flipped to a sergeant who is goaded to anger…and thus Eclipso has another minion with whom to continue to kill. And for him…it’s a good day to be a villain.

While we have a narrative story here, the issue is particularly interesting to me as the issue is "hosted" by Eclipso himself, essentially venting to the reader about stuff and showing off to the reader–as he’s got no one else to do it with. He shows us where he came from, what he’s capable of, and lets us in on a bit of his thinking and reasoning and plans for the future…namely, he’s learned from recently-transpired events and is trying a different means of getting whatever he wants.

Story-wise, I really dug this issue. As said, it took me nearly 25 years to get around to reading this, and where I’d expect it to be a letdown for so many years of NOT being disappointed by it to actually read the thing…I really enjoyed this quite a bit, in what it is. Not for the slaughter and casual taking of lives, but as a first issue about a villain that sets him up for his own series. This isn’t making the villain into an anti-hero…it’s the villain BEING a villain. He doesn’t even need a super-hero to fight to do nasty stuff, to be vile and dark and all that. He’s just that regardless of a bright foil. And having the character talking to the reader, aware of us following him through these pages…it’s like a dark take on the usually-lighter way I think many think of for Deadpool, She-Hulk, or Harley Quinn. Plus there’s the nostalgia of the notion of the "hosts" of the House of Secrets books, and here’s Eclipso "hosting" his own book. I later realized that it makes sense, too…the character first appeared IN House of Secrets!

Visually, I really liked this issue. This is Eclipso as I think of the character by default…perhaps because this issue has Bart Sears as the artist, and I believe he was the artist on the bookend Eclipso: The Darkness Within #s 1-2, which adds a great consistency from that mini-series/event into this ongoing series.

Story and writing, I think I really enjoyed that there were no heroes here. It gives room for the Eclipso character to be shown–if not at his WORST–then at his default. And bad as that is, it at least hints at how bad he can be if he’s actually worked up or challenged.

For years, I’ve thought that an Eclipso: The Darkness Within omnibus would be fantastic. Now I’m even more convinced of that…but adding to it the wish for an Eclipso omnibus for this series, and perhaps other appearances through the years. It’s also interesting to note that this was a first issue of a brand-new series, spinning out of an EVENT, with high-end talent creatively…yet it is a standard-sized, standard-priced single-cover first issue. No variants, no fancy gimmicks, no extra-pages to lure someone in or jack up the price…it’s just a comic, that happens to be a #1, that gives a good start to a new series coming off an event.

I won’t say this is by any means a "happy" issue…but it stands alone quite well, and is worth snagging if you can get it for $1 or less, just to read this issue, regardless of anything else read of the character…provided you’re interested in Eclipso. As for me…this has me psyched to read the rest of the series, as well as increased interest in finally going through my Showcase Presents volume and perhaps hunting down some other Eclipso issues.

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