Demythify: Scott Lobdell & Kenneth Rocafort Usher In Silver Ageish Fantasy & Fun For DC New 52 Superman? Plus… Mr. and Mrs. Superman, Bruce Superman Wayne, Superman 2020 &… Vartox?

Thanks for popping by and checking out my weekly Monday Demythify column.

The Superman comic book franchise has seen better days. While DC Comics is named after “Detective Comics”, a series most associated with their most successful franchise in Batman, it and the comics industry’s first “super-hero” is Superman. The character’s popularity has had its ups and downs over the years to be sure.

In my reading lifetime his popularity reached its peak in the 1980s with John Byrne’s Man of Steel Reboot, the classic Death of Superman arc by Dan Jurgens and many other collaborators, as well as the wedding of Clark Kent (Superman) and Lois Lane to coincide with the same nuptials in the popular TV series at the time: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Since then, despite some solid creators, memorable arcs, and a decade spanning TV series called Smallville featuring the coming of age story of Clark Kent sans costume, the comic book franchise has sputtered. That’s a good 15 years, but likely longer, since the comic book has been relevant.

The reboot of the DC Universe dubbed the “New 52” in 2011 saw Superman become younger and un-married among other changes that also included a new costume. However, despite a solid effort by comics legend George Perez and later Dan Jurgens, the Superman-proper New 52 series didn’t ascend to its rightfully place as a lynchpin book for the DC Comics Relaunch.

Enter writer Scott Lobdell and artist Kenneth Rocafort. Their work on Red Hood and the Outlaws series – featuring Jason Todd (former Batman sidekick Robin as the adult Red Hood), Roy Harper (former sidekick to Green Arrow and now the rebel called Arsenal), and the galactic princess Starfire – was a recipe for what the Superman book needs. Unexpected locales, surprise team-ups and adversaries, snappy dialogue and strong yet controversial characterization, and genre-evolving, dynamic art. Red Hood had its fans and detractors, but it was a book followed. It is on my must-read list every month.

Superman needs the fantasy and fun that the team of Lobdell and Rocafort have developed a reputation for on Red Hood and the Outlaws. Their’s is a collaboration on Superman that has the potential to carry on a tradition of fanciful stories and high concept sci-fi begun in the Silver Age of Comics.

To that end – allow me a slight segue as it will make sense in the end – I had the pleasure of attending the Baltimore Comic Con this past September. It remains one of the best Comic Book conventions in North America. It may not be the biggest, but it focuses rightfully on comics, and around that nucleus brings in other pop culture draws, actors, etc. They have the right balance and I appreciate that they have not shunted comic books to the side like many other conventions in North America.

This year at this con, I was able to pick up a lot of back issues to plug holes in collection. That includes some fun Superman issues – see I told you my segue would make sense – from the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics. These are stories whose tone, if not substance, should inspire the Lobdell and Rocafort era of Superman in the DC Comics New 52. Yes, let’s be more serious in 2012, let’s consider continuity, but let’s also remember Superman isn’t Batman and that is ok. Batman can keep grim, gritty and sleuthing. Let Superman be sci-fi, fantasy, fun and full of surprises. Play up the multiverse. Introduce new sci-fi concepts. Redefine the super-hero genre. THAT is what I expect from a Superman comic in 2012.

To move forward, let’s look back on some of my recent finds at the Baltimore Comic Con and on eBay, from when a Superman comic was supposed to be “fun” first. πŸ™‚


Mr. and Mrs. Superman

1978’s Action Comics #484 saw Superman and Lois Lane wed in a classic story that took place on Earth 2 as part of the series’ 40th anniversary. The cover is quite iconic.

Many folks remember the Earth 2 Superman and his wife from the mid-1980’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, where we saw a greying Superman deal with the collapse of the multiverse and fly off into the sunset with his Lois, Superboy-Prime (from Earth Prime) and Alexander Luthor (from Earth 3).

However, despite my long reading history, I only discovered this year that following the 1978 marriage, a young Mr. and Mrs. Superman had further adventures before I encountered their older selves in COIE.

The married couple returned shortly after their 1978 marriage that same year in Superman #327 and #329 and had further adventures that continued into the Superman Family series (renamed from Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen series with 1974’s issue #164). Mr. and Mrs. Superman were a fixture in that series from 1980’s #201 through to its end in 1982’s #222.

Interestingly, one of my fave issues from the young couple’s adventures was their attendance at the wedding of Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Selina Kyle (Catwoman) in 1981’s Superman Family #211. I was a bit surprised about this issue even existing since 1983’s The Brave and The Bold #197 had been regarded as the definitive Earth 2 wedding of the two.

These adventures were a nice surprise to discover. Fun, fanciful stories. Some days, while I like the ongoing narrative and de-compressed storylines, I do miss done-in-one stories. I think we need a better mix of these kinds of stories in 2012.


Superman 2020

In my efforts to find Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories, I discovered another back-up feature in the old Superman series. This one featuring “Superman 2020” who later became “Superman 2021” a.k.a. Superman III. This aged and multi-layered family tree debuted in a back-up to Superman 1980’s issue #354. I can not do appropriate justice to Superman’s grandson’s origin, so I will let the in-story panels do it for me below. The narrator is the villain of the opening story; the leader of a xenophobic paramilitary cult called the Purists.

When we first see Kalel Kent – Superman 2020 – he has no Superman shield. He has to earn it. His adventures took place in Superman #354, #355, #357, #361, #364 and #368. He becomes Superman 2021, since at the end of #368 we enter that new year, in his last adventure in Superman #372.

So, it looks like DC Comics did the whole earn-your-stripes/shield-thing well before Geoff Johns did it with the Green Lantern Corps in his reboot of all things Green Lantern that started in Green Lantern: Rebirth.


Bruce (Superman) Wayne

When I was sifting through the back bins looking for my Superman 2020 issues of the first Superman series, I noticed on the cover of Superman #353 the back-up story about “Bruce (Superman) Wayne”. That concept just grabbed me. I soon learned that in this alternate Earth story, James Gordon finds Superman’s rocket ship and hands the boy over to Thomas and Martha Wayne. They didn’t have a son of their own and adopted Kal-el and named him Bruce.

As a grown-up, Bruce marries Barbara Gordon. Then tragedy befalls our leads. James Gordon, Bruce’s father-in-law, dies and in a bid to turn back time to rewrite the tragedy, Bruce (Superman) Wayne fails and disappears. That leaves Barbara to take business into her own hands as the new Batwoman to avenge her losses. The devil is in the details and it plays out over Superman #353, #358, and #363. The issues are well worth seeking out.


Vartox

While Vartox isn’t on an alternate Earth, but a neighboring galaxy, it is an example of some fantasy and fun that should be a hallmark of the Superman franchise today. πŸ˜‰

In the pre-Crisis DC Comics Universe, 1974’s Superman #281 features Vartox’s first encounter with Superman; he is attempting to avenge his wife’s death. It is a bit convoluted, but very much sci-fi inspired, as apparently on Vartox’s planet of Valeron his wife dies due to a physic and biologic link to a twin of sorts on Earth who is actually the one murdered. They are/were unknowingly metaphysically tethered, so they share the same tragic fate. Vartox comes to Earth to seek out the killer that unknowingly killed two women across two planets and Superman gets in his way. Hero-on-hero battle ensues, the villain pays a penalty – but still lives – and Superman befriends his “hyper-powered” rival Vartox.

Vartox would go on to pop up in several pre-Crisis stories:

– Action Comics #475, #476, #498, #499 and #583.

– Superman #281, #356, #357, #373, #374, #375, #389, #390, #391 and #392.

He ends up falling for Lana Lang which drives many of his remaining appearances prior to COIE.

The character also popped into the post Crisis DC Universe in Superman #148 and #150, but his most prominent portrayal was in the more recent issues of the Power Girl ongoing series in its #7, #8 and #12 books.

So, what is the appeal of the character? Well, his utterly RIDICULOUS costume, receding hairline, along with his Superman rivaling powers. He is corny, but somewhat entertaining and plain old fun.

What do you think? Any other fun back-up Superman features from the Bronze and Silver Ages worth seeking out?

Lobdell, Rocafort, please take note. Superman NEEDS to be chock full of fantasy, fun, relevance and raise the bar for the comics industry. I have faith that there are good times ahead for the Man of Steel!

Thanks for reading. As always, all feedback welcome. πŸ™‚


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