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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!

superman_man_of_tomorrow_0003_blogtrailer

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The ’90s Revisited: Superman: The Man of Steel #50

supermanmanofsteel050The Trial of Superman! / Part 1: Split Personality

Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Ken Lopez
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Duffy & McAvennie
Editors: Carlin & Carlson
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Price: 2.95
Cover Date: November, 1995

This was another issue I pulled from the quarter-bins not too long ago: it caught my attention because of having revisited the issue’s cover when complaining about the newest DC Superman title, Superman Unchained and lack of explanation to the “unchained” part. But seeing the issue handy for only 25-cents, I re-bought it in order to easily re-read it…far easier to pay 25-cents than have to shift a number of heavy longboxes around and root through at least 2 boxes to find my original copy.

This issue begins the Trial of Superman arc…one of the larger arcs of this era of the titles, crossing through about 3 months’ worth of all the Superman titles at the time. Yet, as typical of the era, the story as a whole is an ongoing narrative, so this picks up with an ongoing plot, and sort of merges into what becomes the main plot for The Trial of Superman.

We pick up with a grossly weakened/decayed Superman, virtually powerless, barely skin-and-bones from an ongoing fight with a new incarnation of the Parasite. While some of the details played out on-panel in a previous issue, here we get context and figure out along with the characters what the present status quo is of the Parasite, which makes him all the more dangerous. Things don’t end with putting down the threat posed by the Parasite, as Superman is captured and faces an alien tribunal seeking to hold him accountable for the destruction of the planet Krypton…and things are not pretty.

While I like the cover quite a bit, I’m not all that thrilled with the interior art. I don’t remember having much of an issue with it “at the time,” but taking this alone and pretty much out of context–and being much more used to the last several years’ worth of interpretations of Superman–it’s not to my liking. And while explained in-story by the Parasite draining him, Superman just appears rather “off,” and impossibly skin-and-bones to even have survived any of what he’s put through in the issue.

Story-wise, I’ve never–that I can recall–been any fan of the Parasite character. I’ll be one of the first to want to see villains who are a physical danger to Superman (as opposed to businessman Lex Luthor, or the likes of the Toyman or Prankster) but I’ve just never been interested by Parasite, and have a particular dislike for the round-mouthed “parasitic-worm” look the character was given in the mid-’90s.

This issue boasts plenty of cliche in the villains…but works decently enough overall. I got a definite sense of how overwhelmed Superman was here–dealing with the Parasite and mid-battle being kidnapped into space, and the shock of this alien tribunal wanting to make him accountable for the destruction of a planet gone before he was technically even born.

I enjoyed re-reading this…and it certainly has me contemplating re-reading the entire arc…which I believe I have a collected volume, which would make said undertaking far simpler than trying to dig single issues out or tracking down new copies.

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