Thursday, 22 April 2010

Superman Annual #7

Year One: Strange Visitor

Writer: Roger Stern
Penciller: Chris Gossett
Inkers: James Dean Pascoe & Stan Woch
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor Supreme: Mike Carlin
Cover: Walt Simonson
Cover Date: Annual 1995

As the planet Krypton enters its death throes, it is observed by a group called the The Seven. They see the birthing matrix escape, and deduce that it will reach Earth, although they are forced to stop monitoring when the matrix enters hyperspace and passes from their view.

Forty years later, and the sight of Superman in Metropolis is still an unexpected event. Superman apprehends several members of a drug ring, overheating their guns and causing a blowout with his heat vision. As he flies away, he is unaware of Doctor Occult attempting to get his attention. Superman returns to the Daily Planet and changes to Clark Kent. Inside the newsroom, Lois is still giving him the cold shoulder, having not forgiven him for his scooping her story, even though it was over four months ago. As Clark ponders their relationship, he hears an event in the distance, and races off. As he heads into the stairwell to change, he passes Doctor Occult, coming out of the elevator. Again, he is unaware of the man trying to track him down.

 Just love this panel, completely sums up Clark and Lois' relationship for the next few years!

Superman sees a penthouse on fire. He enters, to find a scantily clad lady needing rescue. As he gather her in his arms, he moves in for a kiss. Suddenly, Doctor Occult appears, commanding him to stop. Superman is confused, especially when the flames melt away to nothingness. Doctor Occult brandishes the Symbol of Seven, forcing the lady to revert to her true form as a tentacled demon. The demon attempts to devour Superman, constructing a barrier to prevent Doctor Occult from assisting. Despite getting a major beating from the demon's magical attacks, Superman is able to blast it with his heat vision, melting the demon. He collapses in Doctor Occult's arms.

Superman comes round in Doctor Occult's office, and the Doctor explains who he is, and that he is aware of Superman's identity. Doctor Occult is a long-lived magical defender. Back in WWII, his partner, Rose Psychic, was kidnapped by the Cult of Thahn. Using her powers, Rose directed Occult to her location, and the two attempted to disrupt the summoning of Thahn. Although the demon never fully materialised on Earth, it was able to fatally wound Rose. Despite assistance from The Seven, Occult knew that he would never hold his partner again. Doctor Occult needs Superman's help against Thahn; The Seven believe that Superman is the key to his defeat, and that his arrival on Earth has forced Thahn to speed up his plans.

Suddenly, Occult's office comes under attack from a rock demon, a pawn of Thahn. Occult telepathically directs Superman as to the demon's weakness, and Superman shatters it with one blow. With the office destroyed, Superman and Occult are cast adrift in a mystic dimension with no up or down. They come under attack from more demons, but Occult is able to create a doorway back to Metropolis, and Superman escapes through it.

In Metropolis, Superman is greeted by Rose Psychic, who leads him to the site of Thahn's last summonning. Again, they come under attack, but Superman quickly realises that these demons are actually corrupted humans, missing homeless people from the area. Superman is overpowered, and is taken to be the sacrifice that will summon Thahn. Rose is captured, but suddenly is replaced by Doctor Occult, confusing the demons. Occult dispatches the demons, and encourages Superman to fight against Thahn's magic. Superman is able to break free, and, by forcing Thahn's magic against the demon, is able to banish Thahn for good. The demons return to human form.
Superman doesn't break. Wow.

Superman demands answers to his questions, including what happened to Rose, and how Occult knew his name. Occult instead fades away, leaving Superman none the wiser. Superman instead helps the ex-demons until the paramedics arrive. Reporting to The Seven, Doctor Occult tells them that Superman is still young, but that he has learned a valubale lesson, that there are forces far beyond his control and comprehension in the world.

So, it's time to lay my cards on the table. I am not a fan of magic in the Superman comics. I understand its function as a force that Superman has no resistance to. I enjoy certain magic wielders, such as the Phantom Stranger, and especially Zatanna. But if you gave me a choice of villains, one magic-based and one non-magic based, then the magic gets shown the door every time.

A big part of it is that Superman's weakness to magic is so complete and total that he ceases to be anything special when confronted by magic. He is brought down to a very human level, and often has to rely on someone else's powers of expertise to save the day. The exception to this is when Mr Mxyptlk appears, as this normally leads to a story where Superman has outhink, outwit, or play by a different set of logic to win the day. Mxy might be one of the most prolific magic-spammers Superman has ever faced, but Mxy plays by his own set of rules, and it's up to Superman to defeat him within those rules.

So, we come to this annual. And unfortunately, this annual is the type of magic story that just doesn't do it for me in the DCU. It features a magic user who at best could be described as D-list, Doctor Occult. The magic user has a loosely defined set of powers, and not one, but two silly gimmicks - the Symbol of Seven, a 'magic multi-faceted disc' that looks like one of those hypno-discs you would see advertised in the 1960s, a circle of cardboard with swhirls all over it, and the weird body-swap thing with Rose Psychic. Having said that, it is appropriate that Superman's first encounter with magic should be in the company of Doctor Occult, who was created by Siegel and Shuster three years before they would create Superman. As Superman is the first DC super-hero, Occult is the first DC magic hero, and is also the oldest (in terms of character creation) character used by DC in their current continuity.
The 'offending' Symbol of Seven.

As for Superman, he doesn't know what hell is going on, how to fight it, and has to have everything explained to him. Oh, and despite his well-known vulnerability to magic, he can somehow resist huge demonic mystical forces with only a little encouragement from a guy he doesn't really like to break free from Thahn.


There are some nice Year One touches in here. As is commented on at the end, Superman is very young, only four months into his career, and certainly impetuous. There's a moment at the start of the issue where he chides himself for showing off and missing a bullet that could have killed a bystander. Superman's reaction to several occasions where Doctor Occult either tells him to do something or refuses to explain something is one of anger, fuelled by his lack of comprehension of events. You get the feeling that once he gets back to his apartment after ensuring the homeless people are OK, he is going to sit down with a large hot drink and think things over a lot.

There's nothing special about this annual. It looks good, reads well, but ultimately it doesn't provide very much insight into the early days of Superman. After the great interweaving of The Man of Steel #2 and more current Superman elements in the Adventures annual, this feels like a let-down.

Next of World of Superman: Superman in space for the very first time.


  1. I don't agree with your view myself, these Year 1 Annuals were purely designed to fill in blanks in Supermans early day and they all hhad a specific subject to tackle - Action Comics tackled the subject of his first venture into deep space, Man Of Steel saw his first meeting with other Heroes and here in the Superman Annual Roger Stern gets to tacle his earliest exposure to the mystical world, better yet this story was actually nicely hinted at in one of Sterns Action Comics issues (#692) where Doctor Occult plays an important role in reviewing the method behind Supermans ressurection!

    The Story if fine for me, I liked it as it was fairly simple and it's always interesting to see Superman out of his comfort zone and at risk. In those days the approach to Superman was to make him a lot more fallible and unsure of himself as opposed to todays supremely capable powerhouse so contrasting it makes for interesting consideration in comparison.

    I don't know if you'll be looking at the other Year 1 Annuals but I think this particular one is actually the strongest myself, a thumbs up as it accomplishes what it sets out to do and fits nicely into continuity by ceding Doctor Occults appearance in #692.

  2. Hi Dave, thanks for stopping by.

    My biggest obstacle to this issue is my 'prejudice' towards magical stories, especially ones featuring Superman, and magical heroes in general (I've listed a couple of exceptions above). They just aren't an area of Superman that I generally enjoy reading.

    I am quite fond of the Year One annuals in general, as one of the goals of the Man of Steel miniseries is to take Superman from his first appearance to a point in time where he is mroe comfortable with his powers, and the world is more accustomed to him. Filling in the blanks is a worthwhile exercise for Superman, and I appreciate the various attempts to do this. For me, the strongest ones are Adventures and Man of Steel, because of the stylistic choice to use the Man of Steel issues as a grounding point for the stories.

    Thanks for the Action #692 tip-off. I first read the Return of Superman in trade, which omitted the Occult element (amongst others), so the issue doesn't burn brightly in my mind.

    Once again, thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll stick with me, as we've got some interesting times ahead, and hopefully, one or two surprises!