Near Mint Memories: Super-Reading & A Super-Rumour

2004 – A Hot Super-Rumour

The hottest rumour on the internet right now focuses on Big Blue and the outcome of the post-Superman #200 world.

Silver Bullet’s “All The Rage” reports that that the 2004’s new Superman creative teams will chroncicle the tales of three different Supermen!

… the Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee Superman will operate in a world without Lois Lane. She’ll be dead, allowing for more violent and dark yarns. In the Chuck Austen and Ivan Reis Action Comics it will pretty much be the status quo. Lois is alive and she’s married to Superman/Clark Kent. In Adventures of Superman written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Matthew Clark, Lois and Clark aren’t married and she doesn’t know about his secret identity. This book will apparently revive the love triangle concept.

All three Supermen will live in Metropolis simultaneously, but will have no knowledge of the alternate timelines. I hear this split will set up a big crossover at the end of 2004 pitting the three Supermen against each other.

To be fair, column writer Markisan Naso has given his source’s comments a 5 out of 10 for reliability, so do with this information what you will.

Adding fuel to the controversy of the triple-threat Supermen rumour, a poster on the DC Message Boards “reports” (or perhaps speculates) under the banner of “More news about the ‘Supermen of three worlds'” that:

Azzarello will use Waid’s origin. As in Birthright, Superman is more serious, more edgy. Anyone who read it will instantly see it, it’s logic that that Superman will be affected by Lois death in a deeper way than the others, becoming more violent and less human, turning himself to the Kryptonian origin that Birthright seens so focused in.

Rucka will use Byrne’s Man of Steel origin in his version. Since the characther will look more like how he was in 80’s and in the Lois & Clark show, having him dating Lois hiding his secret from her, it’s a return to that time. Clark’s reporter side will be focused as well.

Austen himself has declared in a number of interviews his love for the Golden Age Superman, his Superman will have the original origin, by Siegel and Shuster. Having him married with Lois is not a continuation of the statuos quo, but an aproximaton of his Earth Prime version that married Lois and vanished during the Crisis in Infinite Earths.

Those three origins are represented in Superman 200.

As it seens the hero we read nowadays ain’t returning to it’s reality at the end of Godfull, instead he will remain lost untill the conclusion of the plot to be published in the end of 2004 and that some fans are already refering to as ‘Super Crisis’. And only then we will have our definitive, one and only Superman.

Superman won’t be the only one affected, since DC plans to redifine it’s entire universe in a so called ‘Crisis 2′ in 2005. The Man of Steel is just a starting point, some sort of popularity test to measure how well the changes are received by the fans.’

My Take on the “Rumour”

We just don’t know how it will pan out, but in reading the most recent edition of Wizard that previewed the year in comics for 2004, I was struck by some inconsistencies in the stories hyped for Superman in the year. One book was to have Clark Kent (Superman’s alter ego) as a crime beat report stationed out of the local precinct, while another was going to have Kent be a local community politics reporter. This got me thinking about whether this was yet another example of sloppy editting or something more. The rumour from “All the Rage” may give credence to a “something more” scenario, but we’ll know soon enough.

If DC does want to troll the past, I suggest that they look back to the last great pre-Crisis Superman run. It was marked by solid writing and solid, stunning, mostly Curt Swan art. That’s how you bring folks back to Superman.

No gimmicks.

No events.

Just solid stories by solid creators.

DC has the new creative teams to do it, but may be missing the mark. If one Superman didn’t sell well, because readers didn’t care for him, are three Supermen the answer? No, but let’s see if this rumour comes to fruition. I actually give this rumour more of a 7 out of 10. There are more things, sadly, that give it credence than not.

In any event, to help DC in getting back to its quality Superman storytelling roots, let me take you back through my personal fave highlights of the last great pre-Crisis Superman run. And, DC, pay attention!

Two Super Years

As we all likely do, I have my personal favorite “runs” in my comic book collection. While my favorites include John Ostrander’s Suicide Squad run, and Jerry Ordway’s run on Infinity Inc., its 1984’s Superman #400 to 1986’s Superman #423 that really stand head and shoulders above the rest in my collection.

With the exception of a handful of issues, legendary artist Curt Swan pencilled this last great pre-Crisis run.

In addition to the non-Swan Super-Batman tale and the Swan-pencilled Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow I have three other particular Swan-pencilled favorites in this run that I’d like to share with you.

The Day the Earth Died

1985’s Superman #408 opened with Clark Kent leaving his familiar 344 Clinton Street address and purchasing that day’s edition of the Daily Planet with a bold headline… Nuke Talks Collapse, Soviets Walk out as Tensions Mount. You should remember that at the height of cold war tensions, this was a newspaper headline that many in North America and the world feared that they would be reading for real… and soon.

So, what greets readers on the next page? A barrage of nuclear warheads that decimate Metropolis and leave Superman cowering in self-pity. As he pulls himself together, he is confronted by the unimaginable – a little girl seemingly the only other survivor of the attack!

She walks up to Superman in silence. Stops in front of him. Looks up and slowly points a finger of blame at him…. as her skin begins to melt… to the bone! This was one of the most jarring Swan pencils I had ever seen!

Readers and Superman are relieved when the next page reveals this as a nightmare… a nightmare Superman has been having for a week.

The rest of the story has Superman grappling with whether he should just rid the world of its nuclear weapons. After being distracted by saving some careless children from being crushed by a derelict car in an automotive scarp yard, the story ends with Superman realizing that:

“Maybe people are still like children… but children learn their lessons after they’re burned often enough!

The nuclear age has had its lessons… Hiroshima… Nagasaki…

Maybe they don’t need another. Hopefully, they know that… but I can’t take the decision away from them! They need every chance to work it out themselves — without a Superman to play mother hen!

And if today is any indication… I think they just might make it.”

The issue’s opening story ends with those words and with a close up of a newspaper, whose headline reads: Arms Talks Resume, U.S. and Soviets expected to reach Accord. Its a nice touch considering the story opened with a dream sequence newspaper headline.

The Last Earth-Prime Story

Superman #411 was an issue that DC prepared as a seventieth birthday gift for long-time DC editor Julius Schwartz.

As I’ve indicated:

“Julie”, as he is fondly referred to, is the man who, with clarity of purpose and vision, was the driving force behind the birth of the Silver Age of comics. He led the charge by reimagining contemporary versions of DC’s Golden Age heroes starting with 1956’s Showcase #4. This issue debuted DC’s new Flash, police scientist Barry Allen. Previously, the Flash mantle had belonged solely to Golden Age DC stalwart Jay Garrick.

1985’s Superman #411 was a story about the life and times of this legendary editor wrapped in a “multi-verse” story about the hard life lived by his double in the Superman universe (Earth 1), as a homeless, but savvy vagrant, in contrast to his real-life as an affluent and savvy DC editor (on Earth Prime). After an encounter with a super-villain, and the actions of well-meaning Superman’s, vagrant Julie slowly begins to die. To fulfill a dying wish, Superman takes his derelict Julie to meet the real-life DC editor in his alternate Earth for a touching meeting…. and an ending.

This was a moving story and classy thing for DC to do, a truly unique seventieth birthday gift, and completely done behind Julie’s back, the editor of the Superman title at the time.

This act touched Julie. “Certainly it must rank as one of the major highlights of my fifty-plus-year career in comics” – Julius Schwartz, from Man of Two Worlds: My Life in Science Fiction and Comics by Julius Schwartz with Brian M. Thomsen.

The Einstein Connection

Superman #416 opened with a Lex Luthor centric story. Luthor, like clockwork, would escape from prison and was committing the oddest acts annually on March 14th.

Year 1: He takes a boat ride to the New Jersey coast… and is subdued by Superman and returned to prison.

Year 2: Luthor escapes and takes job in a patent office somewhere in Europe… and is captured by the Man of Steel again.

Year 3 (?): LL escapes yet again, and this time holes himself up in Princeton… and is found, in short order, by Big Blue, but not before Luthor saves a young boy from drowning.

These all seemed like odd acts for a brilliant super-villain. What nefarious scheme was Luthor up to? Why on March the 14th of every year? And, why on Earth would a criminal save someone from drowning?

As it turned out, even villains have “heroes”. Who was Luthor’s? None other than Albert Einstein.

Luthor’s prison breaks were planned and timed so that he could walk in Einstein’s shoes to commerate his hero’s birthday every year on March 14. Luthor saved the boy from drowning because he didn’t want to be responsible for a death on Einstein’s birthday. Odd, I know, but touching nonetheless.

Superman finally realizes why Luthor has been making his odd annual sojourns and takes Luthor to Einstein’s statue at the Smithsonian Insititute before carting him off (again) to prison.

Luthor’s reenactment of key events in Einstein’s life proved infomative for readers. Through Superman, readers learned the significance of Luthor’s acts:

“When I finally realized what day it was, a lot of Luthor’s behaviour over the years became clear… his reenactment years ago of Einstein’s secret 1933 entry into the United States by motorboat to the New Jersey Coast…

His taking a job at the European patent office where young Albert Einstein worked for several years…

And today’s discruption in Princeton at the institute where Einstein spent twenty years wandering the woods and thinking his amazing thoughts…”

Classy, fun, and informative were the hallmarks of the last two years of the original Superman series which would end with Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

The Ironman

During his almost half-century year relationship with the Superman family, Curt Swan’s realistic art style would grace the pages of Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Superboy, Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, World’s Finest and Superman.

“As an example of his longevity drawing The Man of Steel, Swan worked on five centennial issues of Action Comics, #’s 300, 400, 500, 600, and 700 (May, 1963 to June, 1994). Curt’s first published Superman art likely appears in 1948. His last appeared posthumously in 1996” (likely in Superman: The Wedding Album) – Eddy Zeno, from Curt Swan: A Life in Comics.

Thanks for the fond memories Curt. You are missed, but your work lives on. Hopefully it can inspire a new generation of creators to bring Big Blue back to greatness again!

The Reading Rack

Eddy Zeno’s Curt Swan: A Life in Comics, and Julius Schwartz’s Man of Two Worlds (with Brian M. Thomsen).

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is available in trade paperback form.

There are multiple Superman stories that have been bound in hard cover or trade paperback form. Go to your nearest comic book shoppe and reacquaint yourself with The Man of Steel. If you do not know where your nearest comic book store is, click here for help.