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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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The ’90s Revisited: Adventures of Superman #472

90s_revisited

adventures_of_superman_0472Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Two: Clark Kent–Man of Steel!

Story: Dan Jurgens
Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finishes: Art Thibert
Letters: Albert De Guzman
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor: Jon Peterson
Editor: Mike Carlin
Published by: DC Comics
Cover: Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $0.75

This is another very nostalgic issue for me…from the cover on in!

We open on Superman hanging upside-down, tangled in a rope, while a hulking behemoth–Mammoth–postures about being the one to take him out. Flashback to the day’s start–a visit with Emil Hamilton as well as (separately) Lois and her family, where Clark learned that they’re indebted to Lex Luthor for Mrs. Lane’s survival. In the present, Superman bluffs his way out of being squished by Mammoth, and barely survives the SCU’s attempt to take the villain down…which leaves Superman to play a harrowing game of "chicken" with the rampaging brute–essentially staring him down without powers. After making his way home and reflecting on the day, Clark realizes his days as a hero may be done, unless he can get some help…and places a phone call.

While I’d read a handful of issues prior–and this issue itself is some 20 issues after my first of the title–this is still one of my "earliest" Superman comics that I owned, in my "initial run" with comics. And though I didn’t know it at the time, this is largely by one of my all-time favorite creators–Dan Jurgens! It’s reasonable for me to assume that this early issue was quite influential–as well as other issues he was on–in both setting him as one of my favorites, and "imprinting" his take on the character as a sort of "default" or such in my mind.

That said, nostalgia certainly swings my opinion of the visuals very much into the positive…though I’d say they’re quite good anyway. It’s not hard to follow the story, everyone looks recognizable…and something TO the art, I felt like I could SEE Superman’s physical vulnerability here. Sure, he’s in-costume, but I "bought" that he’s powerless.

The story is very solid as well, advancing the overall story of this arc while functioning nicely as its own issue…complete with a fairly obvious (to me) formulaic structures (starting on action, flashing back to earlier, catching up to present and resolving that initial high point, then giving us a bit of drama to end on). We get to see Clark as himself and as Superman; we have a villain; we have interaction and story advancement of supporting characters/subplots. Superman literally in a bind against a villain, surviving, and ready for whatever the next step of his adventure is.

All those years ago, this was the sole issue of the story that I had and read: I came in on Chapter 2, never having read the first chapter, nor getting to read the latter chapters until some time after the fact; in their initial run, I didn’t even know about the "event" within the "event" that ended this arc until some time much later. And I was not put off by getting an isolated chapter of a larger story.

As such…this is a good issue as a random one-off: there’s plenty of "continuity" that it draws from and sets up, and the ending hints at stuff to come, and we have no resolution to Superman’s powers, but we still get a story in this issue. It’s a "middle chapter" without feeling like it’s wholly incomplete, unlike many contemporary comics.

The only "complaint" I’d have is that the cover is a BIT misleading–it pertains to the story within in that we see Superman in trouble with his rope-and-grapple gear, but not falling helplessly toward a street. Still, as covers go, it’s a great piece–eye-catching and conveys the "heart" of the situation–without being context-lessly generic, "iconic," or vague. Best of all, this IS the cover. It is THE cover. No variants, no collector’s editions, no enhanced editions. To my knowledge, it’s this issue, or the collected edition.

I’d definitely recommend this as a simple, fun-ish read if you can snag it for under $1, and certainly worthwhile if you can snag the whole story!

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman #49

90s_revisited

superman(1987)0049Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part One

Art & Script: Jerry Ordway
Inking: Dennis Janke
Coloring: Glenn Whitmore
Lettering: John Costanza
Associating: Jon Peterson
Editing: Mike Carlin
Cover: Jerry Ordway, Dennis Janke, Glenn Whitmore
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: November 1990
Cover Price: $0.75

This issue grabbed me rather recently, going through bargain bins. The cover got me, with its distinctive red border/trade dress for this story. It both sets this issue apart from earlier issues, but the trade dress unites the entire Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite story as a whole in a way that still calls it out for me nearly three decades later, one of its chapters being amongst my earliest-ever comics in my collection.

The issue opens on Perry and Alice white at the grave of their son Jerry, who has recently died. We also get a bit of context, that Lex Luthor is the biological father. Luthor, too, laments the loss…and while he stands over the grave, he’s assaulted by an odd red rock…seems Mr. Mxyzptlk is due again, but is having too much fun where he is. As such, and not wanting to let down his good buddy Superman, he figures he’ll kill two birds with one stone, letting his quarterly mischief manifest via the red rock–Red Kryptonite–to mess with Superman. Meanwhile, Lois and Clark are out and about when they bump into an old friend of Clark’s–Pete Ross from Smallville. The two friends catch up briefly, and Pete obtains Clark’s "blessing" to pursue Lana. Not long after, Luthor figures out how to get things moving with Mxy’s magic rock, as Superman saves the day from a villain named Barrage. As the magic goes into effect, instead of granting Luthor power to be equal to Superman…Superman’s powers are taken away…making Luthor equal to him. Magically summoned to Luthor’s presence, and still in shock at the loss of his powers, Luthor gives Superman quite a beating before having him thrown out. Back at home, despite not being up to the visit, Clark finds himself in position to be a rock himself, as Lois is going through a rough time.

Though it was a number of years after I’d first read any part of this story that I got to read the rest of it (including this opening chapter), this brings back a lot of memory, of this era of the Super-titles. This issue has the very familiar visuals of Jerry Ordway that I’ll likely always associate with my earliest days reading Superman comics. The characters are all familiar and distinct and look quite good.

The story itself is strong, as well–painting a picture of what’s going on in general at this point in the Super-titles without being overly-obvious about doing so. (I’m reading this story "out of context" but there’s enough to remind me of where things were continuity-wise at the point this story takes place). We’re introduced to the setting and characters, given some clues as to recent events even while we see current stuff unfold, and the driving conflict of the story–Superman losing his powers to a chunk of red rock–is set in motion. Rather than leave us on some cliffhanger proclaiming that his powers would be gone or such, we actually get that in this very issue, as well as immediate after-effects. In that regard, this issue probably has two or three issues’ content by modern standards, neglecting to be highly-decompressed or drag stuff out.

The issue’s by no means some absolute stand-alone thing, but there’s enough, I think, that one could enjoy it on its own without having read much of this era previously, and the reader can figure out in general the current situation. That said…this works pretty well for me "jumping in" and not having to page through a bunch of issues to re-familiarize myself with the story. This was quite enjoyable in and of itself, even as I look forward to issues to come–including the sole chapter I read during my initial period being into comics.

I’m definitely enjoying diving back into this era, however briefly…and while this issue by itself isn’t necessarily anything all that special, the story as a whole is, and if you can score it for around $1 an issue or less, I definitely recommend it, as of re-reading this issue alone.

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Superman Mug, Because…Clark Kent

For me, Clark Kent is the core character when it comes to Superman. Particularly as depicted in the late 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s, the character could be summed up as “Clark Kent is who he IS, Superman is something he DOES.”

With recent developments–as I understand as an outside party no longer finding the comics worth following at the moment–DC has decided to pretty much do away with Clark Kent officially, at least for now..

While I recall stories such as The Death of Clark Kent where it was a short-term status quo shift and story-driven, the bits I’ve picked up on the current stuff suggest it will be a much longer thing and far less story-driven, at least in any way that I would enjoy offhand.

And it’s to the point that as much as it drives me nuts to consider Clark Kent “merely” some disguise or mask…I saw this mug.

superman_mug_front

And even this “classic” depiction of Superman with the bumbling mask/disguise version of Clark Kent was something I opted to buy, in a moment’s notion of “support” for something involving CLARK KENT.

superman_mug_back

Plus, it’s a nifty coffee mug, Superman-themed.

Not only pre-52, but pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths. Sure, it’s not my favorite, but it’s still preferable to the contemporary version.

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!”

Continue reading

All-Star Superman #4 [Review]

Quick Rating: Very Good
Title: The Superman/Olsen War!

On this particular day in the life of Jimmy Olsen, the kid’s got his hands full with an evil Superman and a plan to save the world…question is, what will it cost him?

allstarsuperman004Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored by: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
Publisher: DC Comics

I hardly even remember the previous issue, offhand. Thankfully, due to the nature of this series, one doesn’t really have to remember that issue to "get" and enjoy THIS one.

Jimmy Olsen here is working on a series of "For a Day" columns, in which he takes on certain jobs for a day, following them with a column about his experiences. The focal role he takes on in this issue is as Director of "P.R.O.J.E.C.T."

Of course, Jimmy being Jimmy, trouble ensues, resulting in the summoning of Superman to the scene, to bail everyone outta said trouble…though this, predictably, only leads to more trouble–and ultimately, a certain ‘friction’ between Superman and Jimmy.

The conflict becomes physical, and as the issue’s story-title suggests, we get to see Superman and Jimmy really go at it–while providing a semi-unique interpretation of yet another character, working it into the "All-Star" version of things in such a way that doesn’t interrupt status quo, and is left open to return later.

This issue is yet another example of how both Morrison and Quitely present a Superman comic that greatly differs from the current/ongoing main titles…and yet "gets" a certain essential aspect of the characters, telling stories that are possibly more fun and entertaining than those main titles. This may not be THE Superman that everyone seeks…but this version of Superman should be recognizable by anyone.

The art is clear and distinct–conveying exactly what needs to be conveyed. The visuals may not be "photorealistic," but they don’t need to be–they have a style all their own, that works very well for this issue–and the series as a whole.

While I am personally a fan of "continuity," this issue is argument in itself showing what can be done outside the bounds of "continuity."

Long-time Superman fan or newer reader, this issue–and the earlier issues of the series, as well–are very much worth picking up. If you don’t care for the main Superman books, this series is far enough removed that you needn’t worry about some infinite crossover or anything. Being approximately bi-monthly, the series puts less strain on the wallet, and each issue having a self-contained story, while carrying certain threads from one to another makes for a rewarding, satisfying reading experience.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5

All-Star Superman #3 [Review]

Quick Rating: Great
Title: Sweet Dreams, Superwoman…

Having been given Superman’s powers for a day, Lois makes the most of it–inserting herself firmly into a lifestyle she’s been stuck watching from the outside for far too long…

allstarsuperman003Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencils: Frank Quitely
Digitally Inked & Colored by: Jamie Grant
Letters: Phil Balsman
Asst. Editor: Brandon Montclare
Editor: Bob Schreck
Cover Art: Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant
Publisher: DC Comics

Several days ago, I watched the first new episode of House in three weeks. It’s a show that I enjoy, and so waiting several times the usual time between installments wasn’t my choice, but watching the episode made me realize that sure, had a couple weeks without the show–but that just made it that much better when the new episode came out. And that’s what this title feels like. It’s that show that you enjoy, but there’s quite awhile between issues…but when you get each issue it’s well worth the time in-between…and you can look back and be a bit surprised at how fast that time’s passed. This is already issue 3, and it feels like the series just started a couple months ago.

You don’t really need to know much coming into this issue. Morrison gives you what you need contextually as you go along. Having read the first couple issues, one will pick up a few subtle bits that enhance the story.

The story here–Superman giving Lois a serum that will grant her all of his super-powers for a day (a gift for her birthday, no less)–is at once silly and farfetched. But darned if it doesn’t actually work. This reminds me quite a bit of the type of story found in some of the old silver age Superman books, and yet it’s got a lot more depth and well…story to it.

We’re introduced to Samson and Atlas here–a couple of "rivals" to Superman–and get the feeling that this is by no means the first time they’ve crossed paths. This is only the third issue of this series, of this "take" on the character…and yet this sense of history adds to a feeling this version of Superman very certainly differs from the regular DCU character but has just as rich a background and all that.

Quitely‘s art is impressive, to be sure–there’s just a "feeling" he conveys throughout the issue. The imagery is on the surface a bit simplistic–certainly nothing hyper-detailed. And yet there’s enough detail to see the annoyance in Superman’s face or the excitement or playfulness in Lois’. The style lends itself to the story very well, having a sort of simplicity of older stories in appearance, but an attitude rooted in the present.

Putting the story and art together, we have yet another very strong issue of this new title.

You don’t need to have read #s 1 or 2 to "get" and enjoy this issue. Though elements are beginning to build a bit, you get an entire story here in this one issue. You get a timeless episode in the life of a Superman that isn’t silver age, isn’t modern-day mainstream DCU, but that takes the best of both and shows him in this title.

If you’ve never cared for the character or didn’t "get" the character, or just felt put off by the continuity and other such…this is the title for you. Superman doesn’t get much better than this.

Ratings:

Story: 4.5/5
Art: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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