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The ’90s Revisited: Superman #50

90s_revisited

superman(1987)0050Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite Part Four: The Human Factor

Story by: Jerry Ordway
Art by: Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Kerry Gammill, Dennis Janke, Curt Swan, John Byrne, and Jerry Ordway
Colors by: Glenn Whitmore
Letters by: John Costanza
Editing by: Mike Carlin
Cover by: Jerry Ordway
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: December 1990
Cover Price: $1.50

This is an extra-sized issue, for a whopping DOUBLE-usual-cover-price…at a whole $1.50. That’s still HALF what contemporary DC Rebirth comics cost, and less than half of what a current Marvel comic costs. Granted, we’re talking a little over 26 years’ difference, but still…

Speaking of covers and cover prices…this may not be THE best or THE most iconic cover ever for a Superman comic (at least, not to me, and not one of my personal top ten) but its "spirit" is pretty iconic–Superman bursting through a wall. In this case, fairly appropriate, after several issues of his being powerless…basically a normal human. Having the strength to simply, cheerfully burst through a solid brick wall is a small indicator of his power level being much increased. Superman #50 is one of the first comics I ever got as a "back issue," and before I really knew the concept of "multiple printings" or "variant covers" or the like. The copy of the issue that I first owned, the first time that I read this, gave away a fairly major spoiler for the issue (at the time).

superman50spoilercover

Historic Engagement Issue. Ok, so the engagement was looming, and it happened here. I had no idea at the time that it was a second print, hence spoiling the ending by calling out what happens in the issue and how it’d go down in history (beyond concluding a several-part story and seeing Superman get his powers back).

This issue gives us a glimpse of Clark in action, going about life powerless–but getting beyond the simplistic "mild-mannered reporter" and letting us see that it really is he himself–Clark–that makes the man, not the Super. Even without powers, he’s not gonna stand by or put his own safety first…he helps people, and tries to step in as able. He checks in on things with Lois, who has just gotten her father’s approval in dating Clark. Jimmy’s mother is doing better…even as we see that Perry and Alice are having their own issues, still reeling from the death of Jerry. And of course, Luthor being Luthor. When Lex contacts Lois, Clark steps in, demanding an interview…which he’s granted. Luthor’s convinced to tell how he’s deprived Superman of his powers…and since he’s telling some reporter, he’s not breaking Mxyzptlk’s One Rule to Not Tell Superman. Of course, Luthor has long since discarded the notion of Clark and Superman being one and the same…but that doesn’t change that Clark is Superman, and Mxy’s powers are magic based and thus bind the rule even without Mxy’s conscious direction, so Luthor telling Clark means he’s broken the rule…and Superman is re-powered. The imp shows up, gives Superman a freebie of sorts (providing a Rule to the game and how Superman can send him away, and then getting Superman to fulfill it) and actually leaving. Luthor’s great victory is wiped away, and the man is dying. Meanwhile, Lois has thought about Clark’s earlier proposal…and says yes. She WILL marry him.

While I did not read this in my initial time into comics, it was still one I read relatively early-on, prior to The Death of Superman. It was cool to see the actual engagement, as well as to have another chapter of the story with the red-border covers, which helped "place" this time-wise/continuity-wise for me at the time. Now, re-reading this, it’s actually sort of hard to believe, and seems such a long time ago, in Clark and Lois ONLY here just getting ENGAGED. Though the engagement aspect went on for a number of years–over 60 issues–they’ve been married so long that I find it natural and preferable, and this was the kick-off, if you will, of that long-lasting aspect of the characters.

Story-wise, this is definitely "classic" Superman for me, for my favorite version of the character, during my favorite period of the continuity. This came at the beginning, served as part of my "foundation" in Superman stuff, as a Superman fan, witnessing the actual development and forward-movement of the character and supporting cast. I think part of that also came from (and I’m using modern thoughts to "project" on my past self) feeling like there was room for surprise and growth beyond done-in-one issues and self-contained every-story-must-stand-alone-and-be-a-graphic-novel-in-serialized-form comics. Clark is the character, Superman is what he does, how he presents to the world when he’s in action. We see his relationship here with Lois–not one of hero worship on her part, or some single-minded buffoon or mere story-trope–but as real humans. She is interested in Clark–the person–and not chasing after some guy in a cape. She wants to marry Clark, and has no idea that he IS Superman. He’s just a man she’s friends with, has come to know and love, and it’s genuine.

This being an expanded, extra-sized issue is definitely a good thing, allowing nearly double the usual length, and thus a lot more story in a single issue…and though the engagement happens here, it’s organic, a rather small part of the overall issue, and is far from actually being the FOCUS of the issue, story-wise. It’s just a darned good Superman comic, at least to me and in recognizing the nostalgia for me.

Visually, it’s an interesting issue, with numerous artist contributing. On one hand, I’d figure that’s partly to allow an extra-sized issue to be produced in the same amount of time as a regular-sized issue while holding to schedules and avoiding fill-ins. It also allows more artists to be part of a key issue in Superman’s history. That said, while I vaguely noticed some unevenness in the art, I was much more engaged (no pun intended) with the story itself, and it wasn’t until sitting down to type up this post that I consciously noted (re-realized) that there were so many artists involved. The art all worked together and was not jarring to me in style or otherwise (perhaps thanks to the single colorist). For an anniversary issue without drastically different variant covers or such, I absolutely welcome the "jam" nature, with a lot of artists "being part of it," and will gladly overlook the uneven nature of that. All the better when the art works with the story and doesn’t distract me.

All in all, this is definitely one of the more "iconic" ISSUES for me, and a key issue in the history of the character. Despite that, I’ve found it in a number of bargain bins over the years; the copy I actually read for this revisiting is from a 25-cent bin…in which there were multiple copies, both of this first print and the later print, and I even convinced a friend to get one to read. Definitely an issue worth reading and having, even out of context and without the entire Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite story. As a conclusion, it’s fitting, and makes for a good end to that while moving the overall Superman mythos forward and opening stuff to coming stories.

Highly recommended!

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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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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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