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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: Action Comics #686

90s_revisited

action_comics_0686Who’s Buried in Superman’s Tomb?

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: February 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

While literally a bit "dark" in coloring, this is another "recognizable" cover for me…specifically because it is part of this Funeral for a Friend story, with the black border, Supergirl starring in Action Comics, showing her on the cover, with the question "Who’s buried in Superman’s tomb?" The image is presumably the point of view of the empty tomb looking out, and is a memorable cover…even though prior to this re-read, I really could not have specified from memory what actually went down in this issue.

We open on the Guardian dealing with the hijackers of a van, before he’s summoned back to Cadmus by Dubbilex. Meanwhile, Luthor and Happerson discuss Superman’s missing body and Luthor wonders if all of this is some ruse by Superman to catch him unawares–we get slight flashbacks to the "truth" behind our young Luthor here. Luthor meets Supergirl, Turpin, and Maggie Sawyer to investigate the tunnels under the tomb, while Guardian arrives at Cadmus and discovers what Westfield’s been up to. Though appalling, with the argument that they might be able to–for Superman, for Metropolis–at least create some facsimile of the Man of Steel, Guardian hesitantly stands down. Back in the tunnels, Supergirl just manages to save her "crew" when an undetonated charge detonates, flooding the tunnel. Seeing the Superman cultists outside the tomb, they agree to keep the missing body hush-hush for now. And amidst these events, we see Lana and the Kents preparing to leave, and Lana and Lois get a connecting moment.

While–as said–I could not have recounted to you from memory what went down in this issue…having now re-read it, there’s a fair bit that stands out. I do remember that at the time–first time or so I read this–I pretty much totally "missed" the Luthor stuff. I mean, I read it…but I had no context at that point. I missed the entire "Death of Luthor" stuff by a few months and this Lex Luthor II was already present when I came back during the Eclipso stuff, end of Panic in the Sky, etc. in 1992. I also knew next to nothing about Guardian’s background, particularly the present-day status quo…just that he was a character that was "there." Having come to realize–particularly from the Death and Life of Superman novel–stuff seems natural and obvious to me here such that I "know" more than what’s let on.

While the Cadmus stuff is fairly important to the story, I would’ve preferred a lot more "tell, don’t show" on that with much more page space given to Lois, Lana, and the Kents and their relationship.

Visually, this is another great issue…though it did seem to have more double-page splashes than I remembered being in most issues. At least even those have dialogue, though, rather than being multi-page filler that we often seem to get in contemporary comics.

I’m really feeling like Funeral for a Friend is essentially two 4-parters joined as one 8-parter. The first four chapters with the immediate aftermath, moving to the funeral itself and into the heroes gathering to help on Christmas Eve. And then this Cadmus-steals-Superman’s-body stuff. That leaves this as another issue I’m not gushing over, and that I felt a lot more disconnect from, compared to the opening chapters.

As with Adventures of Superman #499…I’d definitely recommend this as part of the "set" of the story, but I definitely would not specifically, singly recommend this as a stand-alone in-a-vacuum issue.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #685

90s_revisited

action_comics_0685Re: Actions

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice, Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Special Thanks: Tom Grummett & Doug Hazlewood
Cover Date: January 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

This issue opens with contextualizing…with the front page of the Daily Planet indeed using that ‘photo’ from the cover of Adventures of Superman #498 stating Superman–Dead. Tv news informs the world of the events of the day up to Doomsday’s rampage, and recaps some of Adventures 498 and the eventual official pronunciation of Superman’s death. Meanwhile, Westfield and his Cadmus people try to get the alien bodies–Doomsday AND Superman–but are met with resistance from Maggie Sawyer, Dan Turpin and even the Guardian himself…and eventually, some Team Luthor agents and Luthor himself…and the Mayor, with faxes from the President that Superman was an American and is to be honored as such. We then get a montage of scenes as we jump to a number of people and their reactions to this news and consideration of what it means–from Lois, to Perry and Jimmy, to the Kents and Lana, to others worldwide. We then get a scene with Luthor at the morgue where he loses it, smashing a chair over Doomsday’s body. Another scene shows us the uptick in crime with authorities busy and Superman dead, though Supergirl tries to fill some part of the gap. And we close on Bibbo making it back to the Ace o’ Clubs and closing the bar, and praying for the world Superman’s left behind…lamenting that Superman is gone, but he–Bibbo–goes on living.

This is another issue that had several scenes in it that have stuck with me. The image of the Daily Planet front page definitely is one; as is the Cadmus confrontation having happened, though I didn’t remember all the details. That they were presented with an order from the POTUS that Superman was not to be considered an alien is there; and a lot of the scenes of Lois, the Planet staff, and the Kents have blurred for me over the years, clarified in re-reading this issue in the moment.

Bibbo and his prayer, though, is probably the most memorable part of the issue for me; what I feel like I "know" Action Comics #685 FOR. Because that scene has long stuck out to me and been very moving…and I recall in the past it’s even moved me to tears. Now, it gives me an ‘avatar’ of sorts…replace "Superman" with "Dad" and I could BE Bibbo. I’m pretty sure this scene was also one of the key scenes to really make me appreciate the character, far more than the drunken buffoon that tagged along with Lobo in some issue I’d read a couple years earlier.

Having JUST READ Adventures of Superman 498 and still having THAT issue’s art clearly in recent memory, I’m not AS thrilled with the art on this issue. Which is absolutely not to say that any of this issue’s art is bad…just that it’s not QUITE to the level of Jurgens or Grummett for me, apparently. As with AoS 498, the characters are all totally recognizable and do not feel like some artist’s interpretation of things…just the natural fact of the matter that different artists’ work will look different.

Story-wise I’m certainly "too close" to things to be impartial. Along with the actual Doomsday story, this one I feel like I’m extremely familiar with from multiple re-reads over the years (plus the Death and Life of Superman novel by this issue’s writer Roger Stern!). While many cite The Death of Superman as the main story, my understanding over the years has come to be that THIS is the story–Funeral for a Friend–that the writers wanted to tell, and you needed The Death of to get here so that this COULD be told.

The issue’s cover is iconic in and of itself as this 2nd chapter of Funeral for a Friend…but ALSO because it’s an obvious homage to the cover of Action Comics #1 but with Supergirl instead of Superman. And it’s even quite relevant to the issue itself with a scene playing out in the issue of Supergirl picking up a car and shaking the goons out of it/smashing the car. Something modern comics are sorely lacking in–covers actually relevant to their interior contents.

BECAUSE I’m personally so familiar with the Death/Funeral stories of Superman, and this "era" of the titles and such….this "stands alone" perfectly well for me; all the more being only a day removed from the previous chapter. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with this era of the character(s) you’ll be sure to have some questions or "huh?" moments…but I do think the issue still makes a decent read as a one-off, slice-of-life thing in the immediate aftermath of Superman’s death.

This would definitely be worth getting from a bargain bin, up to cover price or a couple dollars at most…by far not something to pay anything significant for–it has at least 3 printings, has been reprinted in multiple collected editions, and is available digitally as well. But definitely worth getting, and reading.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman the Man of Tomorrow #3 – Underworld Unleashed!

90s_revisited

superman_man_of_tomorrow_0003Fighting Back

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Tom Grummett and Brett Breeding
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Separations: Digital Chameleon
Assistants: McAvennie & Duffy
Editors: Carlson & Carlin
Cover Date: Winter 1995
Cover Price: $1.95

This month, a number of blogs and podcasts have joined together to present #BestEventEver 2018, covering the 1995 event Underworld Unleashed! Beyond my own posts, please check out these other blogs and podcasts for in-depth coverage of the various issues that were part of the event…and join in on further peeks at and discussions of the event on Twitter by joining at hashtags #BestEventEver and #UnderworldReUnleashed!

ITG  |  Resurrections: An Adam Warlock/Thanos Podcast  |  Relatively Geeky Podcast Network  |  The Retroist  |  Chris is on Infinite Earths  |  Cosmic Treadmill  |  The Pop Culture Palace  |  Rolled Spine’s Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Podcast  |  The Idol-Head of Diabolu  |  Justice’s First Dawn  |  Justice Trek: The Podcast


Now this is more like it! This is the sort of thing I expected of Underworld Unleashed tie-ins! Then again, looking back across the 20+ years…the Superman tie-ins very likely were the only ones that I actually would have read, as I was in a downswing toward a 13-14 month period of getting very few comics!

This issue is "triangle-numbered" 1995/50…that is, it’s the 50th issue of any of the main Superman titles with a 1995 cover date. This is from that time where the titles functioned as a weekly thing, with each leading into the next with very tight continuity! In fact, this title itself was created (as I’m recalling it) to cover "fifth weeks," so that there WOULD be a new SUPERMAN comic every single week of the year!

We begin the issue on Earth, with Lois Lane meeting with Contessa (at this time the current head of Lexcorp) and discussing recent events; basically exposition for those of us just joining in. Superman’s been kidnapped into space, the Alpha Centurion gathered the rest of "Team Superman" (Supergirl, Superboy, Steel) to go after him, something about the Eradicator, and hints at other subplotty stuff with people romantically linking the Centurion to Lois herself. The scene then moves to Sorcerer’s World, where we find Superman fighting an invisible and mostly-intangible entity. It seems he’s been "shot down" onto the world, along with a new friend–"Mope" or "The Mope"–they were arriving peacefully, seeking to clear Mope’s name so he would be free of "The Tribunal."

[The Tribunal being a cosmic group that tries and punishes folks; I don’t remember all the context as it’s been quite awhile since I read the story, whether I’ve even read it since publication or if it’s BEEN 23 years! They had Superman brought in to be tried for the destruction of Krypton, for example. I’ll probably re-cover this issue if/when I’d cover The Trial of Superman and be able to do so with more context!]

While Superman defeats the entity and claims its cape, we find Mope prisoner of a sorcerer who is determined to find out why Mope is here!

Meanwhile…in the Underworld, Neron sits on his throne and enjoys gloating over a snowglobe with two figures held prisoner within–The Joker! And Lex Luthor! Luthor reflects on the events that have brought him here, the "flashback" showing us his deal with Neron and how he’s gone from being a mind trapped in a frail, shriveled clone to being a fit man at his prime–and some details contextually from Underworld Unleashed itself–the main mini-series. That he is stuck with The Joker offers him his own personal hell. Then the whole place bursts apart! Meanwhile (again), Superman rescues Mope and they convince the sorcerer of their non-invasive intentions, and get sent to where they can find the person they’re after.

As this is going on, Luthor and Joker find themselves in some surreal void and ultimately separated, and Luthor "lands" on Earth. He reflects further on the situation–is he truly free of Neron, and how he lucked out keeping this healthy body…and he seems to settle his questions of having or not having a soul with the idea that if he DID have a soul, he’d surely lost it prior to Neron anyway. Hitchiking a ride, he heads into the nearest city to get back to humanity. Closing out the issue, the Tribunal has a new agent who is glad to hunt down Superman for them–The Cyborg! And Superman and Mope find themselves trapped on the other end of the portal they were sent through, facing a new situation that’ll pick up in another issue of another title.

As much as I complain about modern 2018 comics and the constant cycle of events…I’d nearly forgotten the overlap of events in the ’90s. Or if not events as I think of them in 2018, then titled storylines/crossovers where an issue is part of two different larger stories. This very issue is the immediate example, as it is both a chapter of the larger The Trial of Superman! and also part of Underworld Unleashed! at the same time. I’m also thinking of the 1994 story The Fall of Metropolis where at least one issue was part of that and simultaneously part of the Worlds Collide event/crossover between the DC Universe and the Milestone universe. I don’t remember particularly minding this back then, and now in 2018 I’m good with this issue being part of two stories because The Trial of Superman! is basically a crossover, or given the "weekly" nature of the combined Superman titles, "just" a titled story wholly contained with no special issues, one-shots or external tie-in issues. And with the issue’s participation in Underworld Unleashed, it represents there not being a separate special, one-shot, or tie-in mini-series on top of the already weekly Superman saga. Underworld Unleashed was an event affecting the DC Universe, and here we see it affecting the DC Universe!

I really enjoyed this issue, overall…a large part of that is the art from Grummett and Breeding; I’m re-realizing lately just how much I truly enjoy Grummett‘s work! Superman himself looks a bit "off" without his cape, but I’m pretty sure I he lost it in a different chapter of this story, so that speaks to the quality editing and continuity; and this was from a period where the cape was not a singular, permanent piece of a singular costume, but something that could and would be damaged and occasionally lost. I far prefer the character with the cape, but as part of an ongoing story where he doesn’t have time or inclination TO replace it, the visual speaks volumes that don’t even have to be referenced in text or dialogue. The alien characters look suitably odd to me, and I really like the way Luthor looks here, and even the Joker has a certain ’90s look and feel where he’s dangerous but one can easily drop their guard on that with the act he puts on. Seeing him frolic around the snowglobe actually made me chuckle, and I could just feel Luthor’s boiling anger at him when hit with a snowball of all things!

Story-wise, this issue progresses two things: 1. the ongoing Trial of Superman story following Superman himself and his ordeal involving escape from the Tribunal and helping his new friend clear his own name and 2. Underworld Unleashed by way of seeing Luthor’s deal and the result, even getting some context of the event series itself along with notes-from-the-editor on issues to check out for full details that refer us both to the event series and another Superman issue. But we get plenty right here in this issue such that we don’t NEED to read Underworld Unleashed itself…we’d just get a lot more context and fuller appreciation for doing so! While I’ve already covered Green Lantern #68 and Batman #525 that both tied in to the event…this is the first issue I’ve gotten to that actually has an actual, obvious direct connection to the event itself and truly reference it.

While it’s obvious that this issue is impacted by the main mini-series of the event, even if a reader doesn’t get to that at all, one is able to share all the more in Luthor’s perspective of knowing something happened but not being "in the know" as to what, exactly. That allows this to stand alone as well as it does. That it references the mini and draws from it very much justifies the "logoed branding" of this issue as part of the event, in a way that other issues have not.

I think my main complaint for the issue is rather surfacey–the cover is highly misleading, showing Luthor gloating over Superman being electrocuted; something that doesn’t at all happen here. Yet, as a figurative thing, it does allow for the caption "Luthor–Back in CHARGE!" Further with that, given Luthor’s history in the post-Crisis DC Universe, this issue is quite significant for the character!

Taken by itself as a single, isolated issue, this is not bad, and does definitively show us how Luthor so quickly got back on his feet, healthy and whole and all that, after the events of The Fall of Metropolis. While this is an issue #3, is a "middle" chapter of The Trial of Superman!, is a part of Underworld Unleashed, I feel that one can appreciate it well enough for the Luthor stuff on its own…making the issue something quite justifiable for an isolated, single-issue bargain-bin purchase!


Again, please check out these other sites for additional, more in-depth coverage of the various other issues–including the main event mini itself–for Underworld Unleashed!

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #677

90s_revisited

action_comics_0677“…In Love and War!”

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Cover: Art Thibert, Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Dan Thorsland
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: May 1992
Cover Price: $1.00

This issue details the background and a then-new status quo with Supergirl, and Lex Luthor II, the son of the late Lex Luthor, arch-enemy of Superman. We see this young couple as they’re new to each other, Luthor curious about this Supergirl’s background, and she’s totally fallen for him, as he’s a visual doppelganger at least to the man who created her and gave her life in a pocket/alternate universe. That background–that readers saw over the course of The Supergirl Saga and subplot elements following, and things that came out in the Panic in the Sky story–is recounted here, as Supergirl tells Luthor. This also serves as further introduction for newer readers as to this Supergirl, her background, and her abilities. Meanwhile, we get touchpoints in other subplots–Jimmy Olsen had been fired but now recently re-hired to the Daily Planet. Perry had been gone, but now is back, and we see him meeting a Ron Troupe. We also see development in stuff with Cat Grant and her career, as well as Sam Foswell, who had temporarily held Perry’s job. We also see Clark and Lois spending time together as a newly-engaged couple and whatnot, as well as reporters. And then the “core” of the issue, as Luthor announces Supergirl has joined Lexcorp, and Clark is quite concerned about what she may have let slip to Luthor–about him, his parents, and so on. The Superman/Supergirl discussion gets heated, she instinctively lashes out, and this physical altercation is caught on camera by one of Luthor’s cameramen–accompanying him as he pursued the Super-duo, trying to keep tabs on his girl. Though Luthor demands the tape from his man and promises it will never see air while he’s around, he neglects to destroy it, which keeps Superman at a certain point of unease, as we see that this bright, charming son of Luthor has a certain questionable, dark streak to him…that as the issue fades out, indicates could be quite threatening indeed.

In retrospect, this is quite a “key” issue, primarily on the Supergirl and Team Luthor front. In fact, much of this issue was pretty directly adapted in the Dirk Maggs audio drama Superman Lives!, which adapted the novelization Superman: Doomsday and Beyond based on this and other comics in the Death and Return of Superman saga.

I quite enjoy Stern‘s writing, and the Guice/Rodier visuals. Everyone looks as I remember them from this time frame…which would be expected, given the pretty consistent nature of the creative teams on the books in 1992, into the Death of Superman stuff and beyond. I even recognized Foswell, as much by name as appearance, given a story this issue is a few months from at this point.

Story-wise, this packs a LOT into a single, regular-sized issue’s page-allotment. Of course, this was in the midst of the best of the “Triangle Numbering” period, where the Superman titles all had their own focused subplots, but collectively served as a nearly-weekly ongoing singular title (with ongoing elements, but Action Comics really taking the reins on dealing with Luthor II’s background, for example, or Superman: The Man of Steel taking the reins on the underworlders, etc).

I remember being aware of this issue for awhile before acquiring a copy for myself back in 1993 or ’94–whenever it was that I actually did. I was even more aware of what the content of the issue was, thanks to the Stern novelization The Death and Life of Superman, which included loads of continuity detail from the Man of Steel mini-series by Byrne through key issues up to and including the actual Doomsday!, Funeral for a Friend, and Reign of the Supermen run. Finding that this one issue alone had so much key stuff that factored into the larger story–the comics AND Stern‘s novel–is quite cool on this read-through. It seems so odd in 2018, snagging this for 25 cents to recall that it was not an issue simply or readily available to me as a kid–and I think I may have paid $3-5 for it as a “priced back issue,” at the time.

While many of the “random” single issues from this time period might be relatively inconsequential, this one, and I believe the next, are a couple of rather “crucial” issues, and are much more worthwhile to pick up as single issues than most. That said, a lot of my enjoyment here is from being quite familiar with the history and context of these characters, including knowledge of information that had not quite yet been revealed when this saw publication and would have been originally read…and knowing where things go, and hence how important this is. It’ll be much more enjoyable to one familiar with this period of the Superman comics, or going through everything from the time, than as a one-off if you’ve no familiarity with the time or the Death/Return/etc.

I paid a whopping 25 cents for this particular copy…and that was well worth it to me to revisit this without digging through longboxes looking for a copy, or even having to deal with lugging a box off a storage rack just to get at it.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #684

90s_revisited

action_comics_0684…Domsday is Near!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Assistant Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: Art Thibert and Denis Rodier
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1992
Cover Price: $1.25
Triangle #: 1992/48

I like when an issue’s title is worked into its title page…all the more after recently re-noticing the way Marvel "cheats" by having a non-story page for credits/story titles that can simply be omitted from a collected volume to ignore the fact the story was serialized first.

Here, we open on a couple screens of news reports recapping recent goings-on and leaving off that authorities are trying to determine if "…Doomsday is Near!" We then pick back up with Superman, Guardian, and Maxima, and Guardian is no longer worried about lecturing Superman, and Superman has him get Maxima to a hospital while he–Superman–resumes taking on the Doomsday creature. Superman catches up to Doomsday after it takes out an overpass and hurls a car–Superman saves the car and driver. Then Doomsday wrecks a Lex-Mart (think Walmart)…but is able to take in a loud commercial from a tv about a wrestling match in METROPOLIS…and the creature is taught a word, a destination. Lois and Jimmy are on-site in a helicopter reporting on things, Lex Luthor II and Supergirl watch tv reports, and Luthor convinces Supergirl to stay put, to not leave Metropolis unprotected. Trying to get Doomsday away from populated areas, Superman hurls him into the distance, forgetting about Cadmus’ "Habitat" facility (fortunately deserted). Guardian catches up while the combatants are both stunned, and then Doomsday breaks free of the wreckage (knocking out the two heroes) and bounds onward, now intentionally bound for Metropolis.

This issue’s art is not bad at all…but the visual style is something different from both Jurgens and Grummett in a way I just don’t like the same way. Nothing’s particularly "off" in anyone’s anatomy; everyone is recognizable as who they are; I have no trouble following the flow of physical events and the story itself. I just prefer the former to Guice and Rodier here. That said, there are some stand-out moments to me–I do like how Supergirl looks (though she doesn’t get to "do" much here), and same for Lois. The wrestler in the commercial Doomsday sees reminds me very much of Hulk Hogan, which may have been the intention at the time (remember, this was 25 years ago that this saw print!).

Story-wise, this flows pretty well from the previous chapter, picking up much like an opening of a tv show where it’s not exactly frame-for-frame picking up, but picking up within the same scene within moments of where we left off. Though most of the issue is more battle, we get the "moments" between characters–Superman and Guardian; Lois and Jimmy; Supergirl and Luthor, etc. There’s no context given on Supergirl and Luthor…their status quo and presence were very much a part of "continuity" of the time…so they were just there, to be understood by longer-time readers or simply glossed over if one wasn’t familiar with stuff.

I hadn’t given it much thought, but as this issue continues the "countdown" (three panels per page, down from four), there’s more visual/unspoken action, and in a way, that leaves less room for story, and a quicker pace. We jump scene to scene essentially, but it works, as the whole battle is drawing out…we’re down to basically just Superman, as Maxima’s out and by the looks of things (and memory), Guardian’s basically out, and we already saw the rest of the Justice League taken out.

This is definitely another issue that doesn’t have much going for it in terms of being stand-alone; it is definitely very much a middle chapter of a tight, full story spread across multiple titles by multiple creative teams. Of course, it’s not a bad one if you come across it in a bargain bin to snag, but much more enjoyable in context of the full story. I do feel like–next to Justice League America #69–this is the issue of the story I’ve seen least in bargain bins, though come to think of it, Superman #74 may be similar.

This is the fourth of the Superman titles carrying the Doomsday! story–with the next two chapters being second issues of their titles with the story, before the Funeral for a Friend picks up.

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The ’90s Revisited: Action Comics #659

90s_revisited
action_comics_0659Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Three: Breakout!

Writer: Roger Stern
Artists: Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor: Jon Peterson
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Bob McLeod & Brett Breeding
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $0.75

I was a little bit correct and a little bit off in my assessment of Starman #28‘s place in this story…as reading this would definitely feel like something HAD been missed if that wasn’t read first. Yet, there’s context and footnote to explain the high-level "essential" stuff so you get what you "need" from this. Roger Stern was the writer on that, and is on this, so there’s some definite organic tie-in stuff, with the necessary retread for this era in which comics were not designed and destined for a "graphic novel" or collected edition.

We get a bit of that essential retread to start this issue, "Superman" confronting Luthor and getting the Red Kryptonite from him. We then move to Superman himself and Hamilton as they test out a suit of armor and things don’t go as well as either of them would like. Starman tries to be helpful, but is unable to cheer Superman at all. Meanwhile, Killgrave (a mad scientist/mad genius) launches his plan to bait Superman, take out the hero, and escape. Starman does super feats while Clark goes about life. When Killgrave springs his trap, Starman takes him on as Superman, to shocking effect before the real Superman shows up in his armor. Facing Killgrave, our hero gets lucky with a failsafe in the armor allowing him to bluff the villain. Killgrave attempts to escape, and the powerless Superman leaps back into action to attempt to stop him…but fails, and Starman has to save Superman rather than pursue the fleeing villain…which bums Superman out all the more. Mixed in there, Mxyzptlk uses Red-K dust in Luthor’s office to reveal that the Superman flying around is an imposter, which cheers Luthor a fair bit.

I enjoyed reading this issue…it originally came out toward the end of my first "run" with comics, when I was still getting to know this version of Superman and was really too young to "get" a lot of it, where I appreciate stuff a lot more now as an adult.

This definitely reads as a middle chapter, but does so in a good way…fleshing out the notion of a Superman without powers trying to find a way to "stay in the game" while conveying the danger and frustration he faces. It also touches on subplot stuff to remind us of the larger tapestry of the Superman saga and keeps things grounded and interesting. As a middle chapter, though, there’s only so much this can do, though it’s interesting to have Superman try the armor and lose it in the same issue. With contemporary standards getting, having, and using the armor would be a several issue thing in itself, with loads of variant covers and hype over the "new costume" for him and numerous artists’ interpretations of it and so on.

The art is quite good and very much to my liking. Though the story is good, I do think the quality art lent itself significantly to my simple enjoyment of this issue.

All in all, another good chapter of this arc, and another issue I’d recommend if you find it in a bargain bin.

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The ’90s Revisited: Starman #28

90s_revisited

starman_0028Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Two/A: The End of a Legend?

Writer: Roger Stern
Penciler: Dave Hoover
Inker: Scott Hanna
Letterer: Bob Pinaha
Colorist: Tom McCraw
Editor: Katie Main
Cover: Dave Hoover
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $1.00

I honestly miss THIS kind of crossover/tie-in. Granted, we’re talking over 26 years separating this from being new, but having a random one-issue tie-in to a multi-issue thing in another family of books with a shared creator seems a long-lost thing in many ways. Granted, there’s a slight bit of return to that more recently, especially in the case of DC, but even stuff like Superman: Reborn doesn’t quite have the same feel that this sort of issue did and does.

Starman arrives in Metropolis, and after "wow"ing some citizens who happened to be looking up in the sky, finds his way to Professor Hamilton’s place, where he’s greeted by the professor. Superman soon arrives–much to Starman’s surprise–as he arrives via freight elevator rather than flying in using his own powers. Superman relates to him what’s been going on, and enlists his help. It seems Starman was able to re-charge Superman and his powers once before, so it stands to reason perhaps he’d be able to do so again. Along with some special equipment Hamilton rigs up, the heroes get down to business…though unfortunately, they’re met with failure. A couple other ideas come out, including Starman standing in briefly for Superman, able to pull off appearances to convince the populace–and specifically Luthor himself–that Superman has NOT actually lost his powers. However, Superman is determined to get back into action one way or another, as he can’t just count on Starman as some full-time/permanent stand-in. Meanwhile, Starman subplots are present, but don’t detract from the reading experience, coming into this on the Superman story.

I don’t know the non-Starman/non-Superman-related characters in this book, but that doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of this issue. I read this specifically because of being a tie-in to Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite, crossing the Superman family of titles. I associate Roger Stern with his Superman work, and "assume" it was his also working on this book that brought it into the story, as he could easily work things together. And, at this point in the early-’90s, there seemed to be a lot more room for random character crossovers without it being some huge deal. I don’t need (nor for the moment particularly WANT) much focusing on Starman’s supporting cast…I want (and got) an issue of him dealing with the Superman-centric stuff…and yet, with the snippets dealing with the rest of his supporting cast, one can tell that Starman is, himself, not a Superman supporting cast member, and that he’s got his own separate existence apart from meeting up with Superman here.

It’s also a shame to consider a character like this is now so far removed time-wise as to functionally not even need to have existed as far as contemporary characters/stories go.

While this feels like an extension of the story (and rightfully so!) it also feels like its own thing. The story seems like an organic stretch, with the two heroes aware of each other, having interacted in the past and all that, so of course Superman would reach out to another ally, even if it’s not someone he interacts with as regularly as say, Lois or Jimmy. This does not feel like a "forced" or "token" crossover, but one that is driven by story rather than agenda or sales (though I doubt there’d have been much concern with probably boosting Starman with a key Superman tie-in).

Visually, this isn’t bad. I like the art overall, though at times Superman at least felt a little "off," with some nuances separating this from the previous couple of chapters of the story…further marking this as its own thing.

I like the cover…the red and orange makes it both distinctive and yet fits well with the rest of the arc. It’s also very attention-grabbing in the imagery, playing off classic silver/bronze age stuff. Hamilton runs toward a Starman standing over a struggling Superman exclaiming that he needs to stop–he’s killing Superman. Of course, as we find actually reading the issue, the scene is contextualized with Starman using his power to try to recharge Superman, with Superman trying to tough it out until Hamilton calls things to an end.

I’m pretty sure this is not ESSENTIAL to the Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite story, but it sure fits, and for the cover alone came off as something I very definitely wanted to have, to read as part of the story. The chapter numbering–Two/A–puts me in mind a bit of the Supergirl and Aquaman tie-ins to the 1998 Millennium Giants story that ended the Electric Superman year.

If you can get this issue along with the Superman ones, I definitely recommend it. And despite not having read this story as a whole (or mostly whole) in quite a number of years, I continue to enjoy it, and have actually had to hold myself back slightly from just flying through the reading, as I take time to write up each chapter after it’s read, before going on to the next.

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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!

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