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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #21

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0021Ghosts

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Ed: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: March 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

It’s odd, somehow, in a way…this issue’s cover–Martha running through the field screaming "JON!" and seeing him laying face-down in it…even though I remember reading all these issues basically as they came out, as a kid…THIS one I feel deja vu or SOMEthing, I remember actually being AT Capp’s Comics, picking a copy of this issue up off the table there, the week this came out.

The issue opens with Lois standing on some sort of catwalk or platform with a huge whirlpool in the background, and Superman drowning in it. She "reports" on the situation, but seems oblivious to Superman’s need. It turns out to be a dream…obviously her guilt over only "reporting on" his battle with Doomsday and not doing anything substantive to SAVE him from Doomsday. The whirlpool is mirrored in real life as Metropolis is flooding! Meanwhile, the Kents arrive back at the farm in Kansas and reminisce; Jonathan especially confronts "ghosts" in the form of certain memories sparked by stuff around him. A poignant moment with young Clark and the calf Bessie…even as Jonathan had praised Clark’s care of her, Clark said it was Pa…Jonathan taught HIM how TO care!

Also meanwhile, in Cadmus, the Newsboy Legion finds Guardian and Dubbilex conflicted over keeping Superman’s body; while Lois talks with a cab driver as she heads to the park. Jonathan remembers young Clark and his raisin-oatmeal "airplanes" and a toy plane he gave the boy. The Underworlders continue to deal with the flood; the Newsboys lead Guardian to where the flood is getting into Cadmus…and we cut away to see Batman with Alfred, reflecting on the Kryptonite ring Clark gave him in case he ever had to be stopped. Lois joins the Underworlders and ultimately finds Superman’s body at Cadmus. They’re unable to actually take the body back before the alarm is sounded, but Lois is able to get back and expose the fact THAT the body’s been stolen/held. And though she’d spoken to them about it and promised she’ll see the body returned…the news being out there is too much for Jonathan and he collapses by the crater where baby Kal-El first arrived, leaving Martha holding him in despair.

I think I’d mentioned with Man of Steel #20 that Bogdanove‘s art is my least-favorite of the four Superman titles in this period. While that may be…I was rather surprised toward the end of this issue when I "realized" that I WAS reading an issue of Man of Steel…because somehow, that did not stand out to me here. It even took a little bit for it to "dawn on me" that this MUST be Man of Steel, given the heavy amount of page space given to the Underworlders. While the visuals are obviously Bogdanove…they fit this issue quite well and conveyed the story, and especially worked for the Kents’ scenes.

Just as with Adventures of Superman #499 where I did not remember the details of Turpin vs. Underworlders…I did not remember the extend of the Underworlders’ plight with the flooding for this issue. What I DID remember was Jonathan’s flashbacks/hallucinations/memories of Clark. Those are sort of "surfacey" in a way, only getting about a page each…but they’re deep when CONSIDERING them more deeply. I can by far appreciate more now than ever before seeing stuff and pausing, remembering. Seeing someone so clearly in "the mind’s eye," remembering just these tidbits or "moments" or a handful of words exchanged with a lost loved one. I’ve lost my Dad, so it’s not the same as a father having lost his son and remembering…but the tone, the feeling, the authenticity of it…hits hard.

I still don’t like the Underworlders stuff. While they "fit" in a world where aliens can be raised as humans, have superpowers and all that…they just don’t "work" for me HERE, in this sort of story where I’m more interested in character interactions than "action," and 29 years removed, don’t have the full, ongoing context that the Underworlders subplots had in 1992/1993. What I recall of the novelization excised them, and having read that several times as well as the comics over the years…they just don’t "hold up" for me nor have quite as important a part in what memories I’ve maintained OF the story in general.

This is definitely a solid issue…we get development and forward movement with the on-panel discovery of Superman’s body; that Lois knows; that she gets the word out. The plight of the Underworlders does show how their world has been upended by all this, not mention the allegory or whatever of people slipping through the cracks, which perhaps puts me in a bad light given my reaction to the characters and their presence in this story.

Much of this issue though is stuff I don’t care much for…but the scenes with Jonathan and Martha…and the (surprise/I’d totally forgotten about it) one with Batman and Alfred definitely make the issue worth reading.

I’ve got a couple scenes bubbling up that I apparently remember from the next/final chapter of Funeral for a Friend…and one may well be one of the harder ones for me of this entire story.

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #20

90s_revisited

superman_the_man_of_steel_0020Funeral Day

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Bill Oakley
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Ass’t Editor: Jennifer Frank
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: February 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

This issue opens a bit like a tv show with a “soft open” or “prologue” before getting to the main thrust of the issue and its credits. We see last-second construction and prep-work/planning being done for Superman’s funeral, checking in with construction workers and Luthor/Supergirl. We see the Kents dealing with the pending event from afar…while Jimmy is discouraged at “praise” being heaped on him by a coworker for his “death photo” of Superman. Lois torments herself for not yet having CALLED the Kents, and turns down Perry’s offer to take his spot at the funeral (as primarily superheroes and world leaders will be officially the attendees, Luthor having extended an exception to Perry). Lois leaves to go up to the roof–or rather, the giant globe atop the building where she so often met Superman/Clark, then as she’s made her way back down and out of the building she trips over a memorial plaque placed on the ground where Superman fell. Jimmy finds her and escorts her into the crowd lining the street where the funeral procession passes by. Lois insists on going with the crowd to the end.

We then jump around with several scenes–a random scene with Lobo hearing Superman’s dead and flipping out. Keith (an orphan) comforts another kid letting him hold his cat, while Batman stops a would-be-bomber from turning the funeral explosive. Professor Hamilton and Mildred watch the procession pass, while the Underworlders do as well. Bibbo finds someone selling commemorative copies of “the death issue” of the Planet and rather than beat the guy up, buys every copy and offers the guy a job…after all, it’s the sort of thing Superman would do. Arriving at the park, the crowd begins to get out of hand and Lois and Jimmy are separated. As Robin and Wonder Woman are shown stepping in, Jimmy is menaced by a sleazeball trying to buy the “rights” to his “death photo.” As the funeral itself gets underway, Lois leaves to call Clark’s parents, but they don’t answer as–in Kansas–they’re out in the field where they’d originally found their baby–they’re burying a box of his things, all they have OF him TO bury, themselves. Back in Metropolis, the funeral concludes, the crypt’s cover is moved into place entombing the coffin…while elsewhere, Lois finally gets an answer, connecting with her almost-parents-in-law as the three realize they need each other.

I’m really re-amazed this time through at just how MUCH is crammed into these seemingly “simple” regular-sized single-issues! This is a far cry from many modern comics that seem so shallow by comparison, where a ’90s issue would be “decompressed” into at least 3-6 issues.

There’s so much going on here…I’m sure I took it all for granted being as familiar with this period of Superman comics as I am. I don’t need any introduction to the main characters–I recognize them, know the context, have read the issues alluded to, and so on. This is moving stuff to me even with the brief scenes and frequent scene-cuts.

This period of Bogdanove‘s art is certainly nostalgic for me for its time…but of the four Superman titles, it’s probably my least-favorite. Still, it’s strong art and “works” and “fits,” if only because it is what it is…WAS.

The double-page spread of the funeral procession is the image I see in my head when I listen to the opening of the audio drama adapting the Death/Funeral/Return saga…even though in the drama it’s actually a flashback to Luthor’s funeral.

The images of the crowds don’t really totally mesh with the descriptions we get. My own frame of reference for this is the crowds I saw on tv when Cleveland won the basketball championship back in 2015 or 2016, whenever that was.

Lois initially thinking she couldn’t bear to be at the funeral itself changing to having to be there at the end, following the procession…rings absolutely authentic to me, with the crazy way grief works, and one can swing from thinking one thing to realizing another. There’s also Supergirl early in the issue insisting on bringing in the memorial statue when conventional logistics fail, as “the last thing she’ll get to do for Superman.” In the moment, so many emotions, feelings, and expectations leave one all over the place and eager to do their part, to do MORE, to do SOMEthing for the person lost…it just rings really true to me. Also the Kents’ burying the box of Clark’s things. Bibbo’s scene isn’t as poignant/moving as his scene in Action Comics 685 was…but it still gives the guy some spotlight and adds to his characterization and what I came to love about the character.

Back to the art–while Bogdanove may not be my FAVORITE Superman artist, his work is distinctive without making the characters unrecognizable. And he draws a beautiful Wonder Woman. I can’t quite put my finger on WHY, but one panel of his Jimmy Olsen actually put me in mind of Rob Liefeld somehow…giving me the momentary half-thought as to whether Jimmy’s personality was in any way based on Liefeld in the early ’90s or if it’s just one of those dumb, random thoughts I can have.

All in all, another strong issue with a depth that comes partly from nostalgia, partly rose-colored glasses of memory, and partly the sheer tight ship of continuity the Superman books had at the time, telling a singular ongoing story while each creative team got to “focus” on their own subplots and such for individuality (Man of Steel here had the Underworlders, for example).

This is “the Funeral issue” the way Superman #75 was “the Death issue,” so is worthwhile in that regard. It also lets it stand alone a bit…you get all these allusions and subplotty stuff and the overall story of the characters being nudged forward a bit, but the issue is readable by itself as slice of life, especially if you know the characters…and there’s context one can pick up on otherwise, albeit not perfectly.

Certainly worth a purchase from a bargain bin or such, but as with previous issues, not something to pay more than a couple dollars for individually with the collected editions and digital available out there. While I’ve seen multiple printings for myself of much of the Doomsday arc and the first couple chapters of Funeral for a Friend, I’m not sure if this issue actually saw multiple printings offhand or not. The copy I read this time through I definitely got from a quarter-bin myself…the whole Funeral for a Friend set I’m reading through I picked up for $2.25 including the Justice League issue.

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Favorite Superman Covers: Superman: The Man of Steel #37

I’m not much of an art person when it comes to comics–I tend to prefer story over art…but that’s not to say that art doesn’t play a huge factor! And through the years, there have been a number of Superman comics whose covers have particularly stood out to me, for one reason or another. In this series, I’m presenting 10 of my favorites and why they are favorites.

A Superman cover dominated by Batman…Batmen, rather. There’s something to that contrast that in and of itself makes this stand out for me. Also that this was–as I recall–one of the earlier tie-ins to the Zero Hour crossover…which I’m thinking was my first real “comics-universe-wide” such experience.

There’d been Eclipso: The Darkness Within and Bloodlines, of course…but this was a story that was taking place in the actual, regular (“real”) issues of the actual comics and not something constrained to special Annual issues.

supermanthemanofsteel037

But there’s also just something about Superman facing all these Batmen that’s…fun. This also would have been a time where I’d become aware of the lengthy history of the characters, and through Grandpa’s old comics, and library reading, I’d’ve even been aware of many of the versions of Batman on this cover.

I’m aware of a poster–double-sided, I believe–that promoted this issue…with a flip-side showing Batman surrounded by Supermen. Said poster can’t be easy to find…but would be a welcome one to have.

Favorite Superman Covers: The Man of Steel #1

I’m not much of an art person when it comes to comics–I tend to prefer story over art…but that’s not to say that art doesn’t play a huge factor! And through the years, there have been a number of Superman comics whose covers have particularly stood out to me, for one reason or another. In this series, I’m presenting 10 of my favorites and why they are favorites.

This is another issue where I’ll take the variant over the standard, but only just barely. While I’d typically prefer the standard cover for “fitting in” with the trade dress/visual style of the rest of the series, this one’s just got a bit of an edge with the iconic shirt-rip, and the shiny-ish silver for the title.

manofsteel(1986)001a

The image is also quite fitting with the caption–The Legend Begins!–as Clark switches to the Superman guise to do his thing. First appearance of this version of Superman, to best of my knowledge…so this could be the first time he DOES the shirt-rip, if you want to think of it that way.

I also can’t fault this being a variant, as–if ANY issues warrant them–the beginning of a whole new continuity for Superman, a new introduction to the character…and as far as I know it was only for this first issue, and not multiples on every single issue…it works.

Favorite Superman Covers: Superman: The Man of Steel #1

I’m not much of an art person when it comes to comics–I tend to prefer story over art…but that’s not to say that art doesn’t play a huge factor! And through the years, there have been a number of Superman comics whose covers have particularly stood out to me, for one reason or another. In this series, I’m presenting 10 of my favorites and why they are favorites.

I believe this was my first-ever actual Superman #1 issue–before I’d found a reprint of Action Comics #1, even before I acquired Superman (1987) #1. I believe I got this issue from American Entertainment (an old mail-order service). It came with a poster that I still have to this day.

supermanthemanofsteel001

This is another rather iconic image, “simple” though it is…It’s just Superman flying, a cityscape in the background…but the specific image has stuck with me since those early days as a fan of Superman–and comics.

The Man in the [Man of Steel] Mask: Clark Kent vs. Superman as "Real"

supermanbookshelf

While going through some old stuff I recently uncovered, I found this old essay I wrote for a class in my undergrad days…probably 2002 or so. Figured I’d share it on this blog, as it’s at least some “new” content, and I’ve obviously not been posting much lately.

A lot has changed in the intervening years since this was written–including the fact that the Superman in the comics today is NOT the same Superman referenced throughout this essay (as of 2006 and the end of Infinite Crisis).

As I formatted this to post, I spotted a bunch of glaring errors and issues…but left ’em in here, to maintain the integrity of the original document. And…this could become a monster of a project if I were to play editor to my 8-9-years-younger self. 


In Superman comics since 1986, Superman’s identity has been changed—most notably in the portrayal of the Clark Kent portion as “true” while Superman is portrayed as a “mask.” Despite nearly sixteen years since the change, this portrayal of the character has had little impact on the way he is seen. Many people—fans, scholars, and the general public—see Superman as the “real” character while Clark is the fiction. “Superman differs from his predecessors in science fiction by being able to exist within society by disguising himself as the self-deprecating and mild-mannered Clark Kent. It is the Kent alter ego that is supposedly a fiction, while the Superman personality is taken as real.” (Thomas Andrae “From Menace to Messiah” 1987.) Using the Superman comics themselves, I will show Clark Kent as the primary character while Superman is the mask.

In the essay “The Good, the Bad, and the Oedipal” (1987), Lester Roebuck suggests that “The Man of Steel’s heroic stature depends on his ability to keep the Clark Kent portion of his psyche carefully segregated.” I believe that it is actually the maintaining of his Clark Kent psyche that allows for the heroic stature of Superman. Raised as Clark Kent from birth by adoptive parents Jonathan and Martha Kent, and instilled with a sense of American values inherited from them, Superman as a hero is merely Clark Kent in a costume. In The Death of Superman (1993), this is explicitly stated: “The raised him to be a hero…to know the value of sacrifice. To know the value of life.” In World Without a Superman (1993), the reader is shown a flashback to Jonathan talking with a young Clark, and Clark explains “You’re the one who taught me how to care!” Additionally, in 1986’s Man of Steel, after revealing to Clark the rocket that brought him to earth, Jonathan tells him “Whatever this thing really is, wherever you came from, you’re our son now. You’re an American citizen–and that means you’ve got responsibilities.” When Clark prepares to leave Smallville, he shows acceptance of parental guidance when he tells Martha “After all the times you and he have talked to me over the years . . . You told me all those times that I should never use my special abilities to make myself better than other people–to make other people feel useless . . . It’s time for me to face my responsibilities.” With that, Clark began several years of secretly helping others, before he was discovered. He worked in secret, seeking no glory or fame for himself, simply wanting to help his fellow man, as his parents had taught him to do.

After the world’s discovery of this super-man, Clark returned to his parents for advice. Explaining his concern:

“They were all over me! Like wild animals. Like maggots. Clawing. Pulling. Screaming at me. And it was all demands! Everybody had something they wanted me to do, to say, to sell! It was as if my first public appearance had unleashed the worst, the greediest, the most covetous part of everyone . . . They’d taken everything you’ve ever taught me and ripped it apart . . . I know I still have to use my powers to help people who really need me…but now they’re going to be looking for me. Expecting me. And I just don’t know how to deal with it!” (Man of Steel)

Working with his parents, the costume and identity of Superman is created. Years later, Jonathan reflects to Martha “I had the idea . . . The costume. The secret identity.” (World Without a Superman). After the costume is created, Clark proclaims “The whole thing works just fine! It’s got exactly the symbolic look I wanted. So, from now on, whenever there are people who need my very special kind of help, it won’t be a job for plain, ordinary Clark Kent…It’ll be a job for Superman!” (Man of Steel). This illustrates that Superman is intended as a “mask” to be worn in public. As Clark tells Lois in The Death of Clark Kent (1997): “I’m Clark Kent first and Superman second! Superman is the mask I’ve worn all along to have a private life!”

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