Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A brief rest and the MCM Expo

Yes, I know the more long-term readers of this blog are rolling their eyes at this. 'Oh look,' they're thinking, 'the World of Superman is taking a break from regular posting again'. Sadly, I am. But this isn't because I've run out of steam, or I've found a new shiny thing to attract my attention. I'm actually written up for two weeks solid of posting, and planned further ahead than I have been for a very long time.

So, why the break?

I work in retail, and you don't need to work in retail to know that this time of year is a killer. On top of the Christmas run-up, the store I'm working in is going through a refurbishment, with the completion date set for next Thursday. This refurb is an absolute back-breaker. For two weeks now I've been working 6 day weeks, leaving the house at 6.30am and getting home around the 10pm mark. I just don't have the time to sit down, set up the hyperlinks, choose the images for the post, and generally spend the hour or so I need to turn a block of text into a blog post. So I'm not going to do so until the start of November, when I get a week off work and I can get some Superman posts up.

But there will still be activity over here. This weekend sees me once again at the EXCEL centre in London, attending the MCM Expo. And not only am I attending, but I will be participating. At some point on Sunday afternoon, in the Memorabilia side of the convention, I will be competing in the MCM/Blogomatic 3000 Battle of The Bloggers competition, fighting for the glory of this blog.

I've been issues with a press pass for the day, my first one ever. It says 'World of Superman' on it, and everything! I'm so happy! And so, to justify this, I'll be providing some stronger coverage of the event than I have done so before. Expect to see posts and pictures of the event over the week or so following the Expo, as well as an account of battling other bloggers for a superbly geeky title. Just not very many manga questions please...

If you're going to be around at the Expo, do stop by the Battle and cheer me on. If you want to say 'hi', drop me a mention on twitter - @quizlacey - and we can try and find each other across the halls. It's a fairly good bet that I'll be camping the Comics Village anyway!

So, basically, Superman's taking a brief break from the blog, but convention coverage should fill in the gaps.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Goodbye, Hello: Part 3

Welcome back to the list of things I will and won’t miss about Superman in the New 52. After last week’s looks at two sides of Superman’s family, this week, I’ll be focusing on the most important personal relationship Superman has – his marriage with Lois.

The Third Thing I’m Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52:

The Marriage

If I had to name the one thing above all others that defined the post-Crisis Superman, I think I would end up choosing the relationship and marriage of Lois and Clark. I don’t have a lot of time for the pre-Crisis relationship between the two, with constant deceit on Superman’s part to protect his identity, and Lois’s repeated attempts to uncover Superman’s secret. I do like how this was played with in the aftermath of the Crisis, with soap-opera love triangles involving Cat Grant and Jose Delgado, as both Lois and Clark were written as proper characters, rather than ciphers jumping through the hoops of the highly-formatted Silver Age issues. But it was the two getting together that really gave an emotional grounding to the series.
And it wasn’t just the fact that they got together that made it. Clark made only the tiniest effort to continue living a double-life once the two got engaged, culminating in his coming out of the closet to Lois at the end of Superman #50. I feel that this is one of the most important moments in this period of comics. By sharing his secret with Lois, Clark allowed their relationship to move to a level barely seen before in any version of Superman. Finally, he had someone to come home to, someone to unwind with, someone who could help him bear the burden of being Superman.

The Death of Superman would not have been as strong a story if the reader hadn’t had the emotional hook of feeling Lois’s pain and isolation after watching her fiancé die, but being unable to share that with anyone. The shooting of Lois in Greg Rucka’s Adventures run would similarly have had less impact if we hadn’t have had such a strong emotional tie to her relationship with Clark. And we wouldn’t have had one of my personal favourite Superman/Lois moments in comics, when Superman finds Lois in the Phantom Zone towards the end of For Tomorrow and they reunite. (Yes, I’m a sap. I dislike a lot of that story, but I love that moment.)

It’s painful to see Lois and Clark not together in the New 52. Frankly, seeing her new boyfriend in the doorway at the end of Superman #1 was as much of a kick to the gut for me as it was for Clark. The last 20 years of reading Lois and Clark as a couple have convinced me, more than anything else, that the two of them are destined to be together. I don’t want them married again within the year, but I’d like to think that the long-term Superman masterplan  has the two of them moving closer together again.

The Third Thing I’m Not Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52

Joe Quesada’s feelings towards the marriage of Mary-Jane and Peter Parker are a mere passing whim when compared to the vendetta shown by the past decade’s worth of creative teams towards the marriage of Lois and Clark. In no particular order, we’ve had:
  • ·         The Parasite impersonate Lois to poison Superman and drive her and Clark apart
  • ·         Lois fail to deal with the death of her father in Our Worlds At War, heading off around the world and blaming Superman for not saving him
  • ·         Chuck Austen
  • ·         Well, OK, Chuck Austen writing Lana as a marriage-wrecking bitch, destroying her own marriage to Pete Ross and coming on to Clark in his parents house whilst Lois recovers from a gunshot wound
  • ·         Major creative teams (Azzarello/Lee, Johns/Frank, JMS/Whoever) avoiding the issue entirely by underwriting Lois/finding reasons to not include her in the story that they want to tell
  • ·         Superman leave Earth to spend a year on New Krypton with little-to-no reflection on how this will affect his marriage

For over ten years, the marriage of Lois and Clark weathered blow after editorially-sanctioned blow, yet somehow weathered the storm. And now it’s gone, and whilst it will be missed, it can only be hoped that if and when a relationship between these two is returned to the books, it will be allowed to grow and strengthen rather than suffer repeated attempts to undermine and dissolve it.


I’m Steve, and I’m a Lois and Clark shipper.

Next on World of Superman: This weekend (ish) sees us hit up another issue of Superman, featuring the much-heralded Superman/Mummy confrontation. And join me midweek-ish for a look at number 4 on both lists.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Adventures of Superman #428

Have you seen that new button at the top of the sidebar? That marks me as an official competitor in the MCM/Blogomatic 3000 Battle of the Bloggers that will be taking place at the end of the month at the MCM Expo. I have no idea what to expect, but with such an event taking place on my doorstep, how could I not take part? Click the button for further information, and expect a write-up of the event a few days after it has happened. If you're coming to the Expo, then swing by the event and cheer me on!

Personal Best

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editors: Andy Helfer and Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Jerry Ordway
Cover Date: May 1987
Release Date: 19/02/1987

Three days after his ‘meeting’ with President Marlo, Superman launches a further assault on Qurac’s military forces, decimating its air force and assaulting its navy with one of its own submarines. Superman holds a televised meeting with Marlo, again warning him over harbouring terrorists. Clark and Cat Grant watch television coverage of Superman’s recent attacks, flirting throughout. Their fun is interrupted by Perry White’s appearance on television to publically condemn reputed mobster and city councilman Jay Falk, as he had been instrumental in investigating and exposing him.

Elsewhere in Metropolis, Jerry White, Perry White’s son, tells Jose XXXX that he is ready to quit his street gang. As he reflects on his volatile relationship with his father, his former gang attacks him for planning to quit. As the beat him up, mobsters arrive, breaking up the fight and kidnapping the unconscious Jerry. The crooks contact Perry and demand that he kills his expose on Falk. Perry clears his office, before storming out of the Planet building.

Later that night, Falk throws a party. Superman arrives to confront Falk, demanding to know where Jerry is. Getting nowhere, Superman drags one of Falk’s ‘bodyguards’ to the roof of the Daily Planet, threatening to leave him stranded atop the globe if he doesn’t get the location of Jerry from him. The terrified goon agrees to talk.

Later on, in the Ace of Clubs bar, Superman asks for the location of mobster Louie Lyppe. Taking offence at his style, Bibbo Bibowski thumps him in the stomach, injuring his hand. The rest of the barflies clam up, but as Superman makes to leave, Bibbo offers to buy him a beer.

At home, Perry White is unable to write his expose on Falk, wracked with worry for Jerry. Alice tries to calm him. The two briefly argue about whether Perry should abandon his journalistic principles to save his son.

Returning home, Louie Lyppe is surprised in his apartment by Bibbo. Bibbo intimidates Louie into giving up the location of Jerry. Bibbo then reveals himself as a disguised Superman, threatening to tell Lyppe’s boss about Louie’s betrayal if anything should happen to Bibbo in retribution for his subterfuge. As Perry settles down to retract his story, Superman breaks into the warehouse where Jerry is being held. A mobster holds a gun to the restrained Jerry’s head. Superman uses his heat vision to set the mobster’s pants on fire, before using his super-breath to extinguish the flames and incapacitate the mobster.

Superman returns Jerry to his family. Jerry and Perry argue about Perry taking so long to take action to save his son. As Superman looks on, the two row, before Jerry storms out.

The last issue of Adventures of Superman eschewed the action scenes (after a few pages) for some mind-bending explorations of what Superman means to different elements of his life. This issue brings back the action, opening with one of most dynamic and ferocious scenes of Superman’s might. Superman’s previous assault on Qurac is merely a warm-up for this sustained assault, decimating its armed forces in the space of three pages. This is real balls-to-the-wall action, the standout being the moment when Superman sinks a battleship by bursting through its hull with a submarine. I was debating the merits of Superman Returns a few nights ago, and one of the points I made was that the plane-crash was a sequence that could only occur in a Superman film, Iron man, the X-Men, Captain America and Batman just don’t have the sheer force and combination of powers required to save that plane. The same can be said of Superman’s actions here. Only Superman (or heroes blatantly modelled on him) could use a submarine to sink a ship. I also love that this scene is only a third of the double-spread. I can’t help but think that if this scene was published today, that one panel would take up an entire double-spread (although it would look absolutely glorious).

Later on in the issue, Superman has to play detective to track down Jerry White. One could ask why he doesn’t just do what he’ll do in an upcoming issue of Superman and use his x-ray vision to scan Metropolis, but if he had done so then we wouldn’t have had Superman doing his best-ever Batman impersonation. Superman’s investigations are superb. He forces – and blunders – his way throughout Metropolis from the heights to the dregs of society. I particularly like his not-so-subtle confrontation with Falk, casually destroying a work of art before denouncing it as a fake, making the councilman sweat with every artefact he touches. Straight after, Superman’s Batman impressions comes to the fore as he drags a henchman to the top of the Daily Planet globe, toying with his fear to get the response he needs.

Wolfman’s writing in this scene – and this issue in general – is excellent, and there’s a moment in this scene where Superman flies away from the henchman, making him think that he’s been abandoned in the skyline. The art shows Superman making a loop back around, and when he returns, he says: “Hi, miss me? I had to rescue a cat from a fire”. In this one line, Superman establishes exactly where the hoodlum sits in the pecking order, and that Superman’s attention regarding him is short and fickle, so he’d better start talking immediately. Of course, the thug is too stupid to ‘fess up. Superman’s next lines – click the image to enlarge – are hilarious.

This issue sees the first appearances of three characters that would form part of the Superman family for the next few years: Jerry White, Jose Delgado and Bibbo Bibbowski. When you consider that this title has also introduced Emil Hamilton and Cat Grant, it seems clear that if Action Comics is the team-up book, and Superman is the flagship title, then Adventures of Superman seems to be primarily concerned with world-building. With the exception of last week’s issue (and, of course, the Apokolips-set Legends crossover), each issue has provided depth and development for Metropolis and Superman’s supporting cast. Here, Perry White takes a feature role for the first time, and we take our first trip into Suicide Slum. This Metropolis has depth and diversity, a more textured and real city than that which we’ve seen in the Superman comics for the past few years.

Overall, this is a fantastically strong and enjoyable issue. Whilst the story of the Circle outstays its welcome by the end, Wolfman’s slice-of-life story in Metropolis is incredibly strong, and his use of Superman throughout the issue, adopting different strategies to track down Jerry, is highly notable. Ordway’s art is also superb. He informs the anguish of Perry’s struggles with his journalistic morality with skill, his action sequences are fantastically well-drawn, and his depiction of Superman-as-Bibbo is delightfully ambiguous, making great use of shadow to convey the deception.

The Geeky Bits: This issue was reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Steel vol. 3 and is covered on episode 7 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: Work allowing, midweek will see the posting of the next instalment of my looks back at what I will and won’t be missing in the relaunched DC Universe, whilst next weekend will finally see Superman confronting the mummy!

Friday, 14 October 2011

Goodbye, Hello: Part 2

Welcome back to the list of things I will and won’t miss about Superman in the New 52. After last week’s looks at the various origins for Superman, this week, I’ll be focusing on two important parts of Superman’s extended family.

The Second Thing I’m Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52:

Ma and Pa Kent

I’ve never really understood why Superman needs to have lost one or both of his parents. My first introduction to Superman’s parents was through the series Lois and Clark (or The New Adventures of Superman, as it was titled in the UK). Whilst there was a large element of comic relief to their role in the series, they were a valuable part of Superman’s support network. They provided Clark with a refuge from Metropolis and being Superman.

When I first discovered that the Kents were not traditionally a huge part of Superman’s adult life, I couldn’t understand it. Having a place to go home to seemed so important, and having the Ma and Pa still alive gave Superman a reason to go home to Smallville regularly, allowing for greater variety in Superman’s life and his adventures.

They also added another emotional string to the books. In Superman #75, the page that tugs most on the heartstrings is the one showing Ma and Pa watching Superman in the final throes of his fight with Doomsday, unable to be with their son. It was a very small and human moment amongst the bombast and destruction.

In the back of the recent Action Comics #2, a reference was made to Superman being free from his parents as a reason for his hard-edged campaigns in Metropolis early on in his career. Whilst I’m sure this will lead to some interesting stories, I can only think of how this goes against everything we’ve read in the last 25 years, about a Superman whose loving parents helped him to learn to control his powers and to respect life above all else.

The Second Thing I’m Not Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52


(The Kara Zor-El incarnation.)

Supergirl was a mess. Introduced in a best-selling arc in Superman/Batman, the character’s solo title launched a few months before Infinite Crisis, and boy, it was not good. With Superman fans already upset at the cancellation of the Peter David-written Supergirl series to make way for a confusing and character-less plot device that bore almost no resemblance to anything that could have taken the name ‘Supergirl’ (Yes, Cir-El, I’m looking at you), DC then spectacularly dropped the ball by being unable to provide a purpose or direction for her across well over three years of books.

Was she an assassin sent from Krypton to kill Superman? A misguided super-powered teenager trying to cope with an entirely new society? What about being a hero-within-a-hero, protecting the bottle city of Kandor? No? OK, we can try Supergirl as a legend of the 21st century marooned in the 31st? (Actually, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes was pretty damn good, one of the best uses of the One Year Later device. It was so good that it was barely mentioned again in Supergirl’s core title). What exactly was Superman’s relationship with her? Protecting uncle, concerned elder, or just plain embarrassed by this inconsistent, rebellious teen that burst out from a ship contained in a lump of kryptonite? Constantly rotating creative teams, barely hanging around for an entire story arc didn’t help either.

It wasn’t until Sterling Gates arrived on the book that Supergirl actually had something approaching a status quo, a supporting cast and a character. Taking underused elements of Superman’s supporting cast and using them to create a cast for Supergirl was a great move (yes, even Cat Grant, as the explanation for her behaviour, when it came, worked well). Supergirl also had a consistent relationship with Superman and, even better, a relationship-of-sorts with Lois. Best of all, Gates laid to one side the ‘dark Supergirl’ plots and worked hard to bring Supergirl into direct continuity with the core Superman books, continuing in this vein after New Krypton had ended.

Of course, as soon as he was gone, this was all undone. We were back to the rotating creative teams, and in Justice League of America, the dark Supergirl was back.

Supergirl #1 was too much of a setup issue to see which way the new creative team will take the character. I know I never want to see Supergirl in a black costume again, and I don’t want to see a character who is as painfully naïve as she was when she decided she was going to cure cancer. I want to see a strong but flawed character who not only justifies her own existence beyond ‘hey, we need to have Supergirl around’ but also who affects Superman. If the relaunched title can deliver this, then I see no reason why Kara Zor-El can’t become as strong a character as Matrix/Linda was in her own title.

Next on World of Superman: A change to our next issue, thanks to an editorial snafu (read: I counted wrong). Instead of seeing Superman fight a giant mummy, we’ll be meeting Jerry White, Jose Garcia and Bibbo Bibbowski for the first time! Hurrah! And next week, we’ll be back for the third instalment in this series of articles. See you then!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Action Comics #587

It's a Sunday, which means that it's a Superman day here at World of Superman! For those of you keeping up with my podcast, 20 Minute Longbox, look for that episode to be released late tomorrow as I'm slightly behind with the editing there. Last week's episode is still up, a look at Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #2.

(Covers only today as I'm short on time.)

Enough plugging, enough rambling. We've got us some John Byrne-drawn Etrigan action today. Or have we?


Written and Pencilled by John Byrne
Embellished by Dick Giordano
Colored by Tom Ziuko
Lettered by John Costanza
Edited by Andrew Helfer and Michael Carlin
Cover Art by John Byrne
Cover Date: April 1987

Jason Blood visits a curiosity shop in Gotham. His friend Glenda picks up a trinket shaped like a futuristic city and accidentally activates a hidden switch. The trinket shoots a spike into her arm, causing crystalline spires to erupt upwards from her body. She transforms into a large spire, then sends out spikes into the other people in the shop, causing them to transform as well. Jason avoids a spike, transforming into Etrigan and causing another spike to shatter against him. The spires continue to grow, bursting through the ceiling and transforming the couple above.

Returning from space, Superman soars over Gotham, musing that it is the first time he has returned to the city since meeting Batman. He sees the spires, growing ever larger in the centre of the city. Taking action, he shatters one of them, but he is tackled by Etrigan. The two fight, with the Demon desperate to keep Superman from harming the spires. As they fight, several more spires are damaged. Etrigan is able to halt the combat by showing Superman that the shattered spires have blood oozing from them. Realising what has happened, Superman agrees to help. Etrigan quickly conjures a spell to send Superman back in time.

Armed only with a message from Etrigan to seek out Jason Blood, Superman finds himself in 12th century England. He quickly locates Blood, who has been expecting Superman. Jason takes Superman underground to a Pool of Knowing to track the source of the trinket. He discovers the location, and Superman flies him there. Above a humble shack containing an old man and his granddaughter, Blood transforms to Etrigan and wrestles free of Superman’s grasp, falling through the sky and bursting in.

Etrigan attacks the granddaughter, revealing her to be Morgaine le Fey. Fey traps Superman in a cage of stone, before preparing to weave her master spell that will result in the trinket, which will create a citadel in the future for her to travel to. She possesses the grandfather to use a human hand to craft the spell. Realising that interrupting the spell will avert the future crisis, Superman breaks free from the cage. Despite Etrigan’s warnings that his actions will cause is death, Superman attack Fey, disrupting and cancelling the spell.
Suddenly, Jason Blood is back in the curiosity shop. Glenda activates the trinket again, but it harmlessly pops open. Another customer looks through the window and sees Superman passing overhead.

Before we get going into this one, let’s just be very clear about one point. Superman’s action in the past, interrupting Morgaine le Fey’s  spell, nullifies the future where the trinket grows into an entire city. Because this future never existed, Superman never travelled into the past. Therefore, with the exception of the last two pages, this issue never happened. It’s also an interesting statement on how time-travel works in the DC Universe. The only reason le Fey doesn’t have her citadel overrule Gotham is because Superman travels back in time to stop this. But without the emergence of the citadel, Superman never participated in the events that caused le Fey’s plan to fail, meaning that logically, her citadel should once again appear until Superman prevents it. Of course, logic rarely applies to time-travel, and for simplicity’s sake, once Superman has definitively prevented the citadel’s emergence, the timeline where le Fey’s plan succeeded simply withered and died, cauterised from causality. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, think of it like this: Superman’s interruption of the spell creates a fixed point in time which determines how time flows from it.


I’m not that hot on this issue. I can’t help but feel that the Demon is a wasted guest star. Etrigan is always more interesting when following his own agenda that puts him in conflict with a hero. Here, surprising as it is to see him working with honourable intentions – saving the innocents trapped within le Fey’s citadel – there was little to no personal gain for Etrigan, no hints or suggestions that he’s being anything other than totally altruistic. It’s very contrary to what I expect as a reader, and to me, it feels like the Demon was used because Byrne needed a character who could exist in the past and the present, rather than because there was a story that needed this character to tell.

I also have to wonder why Superman prolongs the climactic battle with le Fey. It’s established towards the end of the battle that Superman is able to break free of the stone prison because whislt magic is used to construct the prison, the prison itself is not magical. If that’s true, why does Superman spend a page and a half loitering in it watching the grandfather get put through unimaginable pain? Again, things are happening because the story demands that it does, rather than for a logical reason.

At this point in the super-books, Action Comics is definitely the weakest of the three titles, but still a good read. This, however, is the first issue that just feels average rather than of a good quality in itself.

The Geeky Bits: The Fourth World aside, The Demon is probably Jack Kirby’s most notable contribution to the DC Universe. Etrigan is summoned by Merlin and bonded to Jason Blood, a knight of the Round Table. This bonding grants Blood immortality, allowing him to participate in events of the current day. Jason can summon the Demon by reciting a short verse, but will always do so as a last resort. His demonic nature has seen him appear in titles as diverse as JLA and Sandman, as well as multiple attempts at supporting his own series across the years. The most recent ongoing Demon series was Blood of the Demon, written and pencilled by John Byrne, running from 2005-2006. In the new 52, Etrigan can be found as a member of Paul Cornell’s Demon Knights.

Action Comics #587 was collected in The Man Of Steel vol. 3, and coverage of this issue can be found in episode 6 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: Midweek sees us take a look at the next things I will and won't miss in the New 52, whilst next weekend has us back at our post-Crisis reviews when we take a look at Superman vs The Mummy, with no sign of Rachel Weisz!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Goodbye, Hello: Part One

Let's be clear here: This is not a fill-in post because I haven't yet written anything for the next issue. Against all expectations (including mine!) I'm three issues ahead, eager to build a backlog of material before my awful retail-career eats up my life at some point in the next three months!

So, I don't know if you've heard, but DC have been having some changes lately. And by some changes, I mean throwing everything out of the window (unless you're Batman or a Green Lantern) and starting again from scratch. Being fans of Superman, we're pretty accustomed to this, having had, on average, a new origin or retelling every two years for the past decade. However, unlike those, this one is total and absolute, wiping out everything that has come before (including record breaking numbering) and starting fresh and anew.

So, as the second month of the relaunch kicks into gear (I've just finished reading Action Comics #2, and don't get me started on the story finishing just over halfway through the issue), I think that it's an appropriate moment to mourn the passing of five things that have made the last 25 years worth of Superman such a great read. Oh, and because it was never all great, we'll also wave goodbye to five turds that are finally being flushed into the sewers of hypertime.

So, without further ado, let's start at the very beginning,


The First Thing I’m Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52

The Man Of Steel

I think, considering the raison d’etre for this blog, you could probably have guessed this one. For nearly 20 years, these six issues were the seed from which Superman and his comics grew. So much of what is now accepted as the standard Superman status quo was established here, from the Last Son of Krypton (no exceptions) to Superman’s shaky relationships with other heroes. But most of all, coming from an idea by Marv Wolfman, John Byrne gave us the ruthless businessman Lex Luthor, as seen in Smallville, Lois and Clark, and Superman: The Animated Series.

The structure of the series took us from before Kal-El’s birth to six years into his career when he discovered his origins. The statement at the very end of the series, where Superman reconciles his Kryptonian birth with his human upbringings is the most succinct and accurate summation of who Superman is. For years afterwards, writers would intertwine their stories involving Superman’s youth with these six issues. And whilst the name may have come from a Batman story, some of the most successful 1995 Year One annuals were carefully structured to occur in an around the events of this series.

As we’ll see below, the strength of the writing and the iconic nature of what was presented within was such that it took three attempts over nearly 10 years to establish a new origin for Superman, and not long after that series was completed, DC hit the big red button and started everything all over again. Officially, the Superman in Action Comics #904 and Superman #714 came from Secret Origin, but for most of us, he was the same person who landed the space-plane, who fought Bizarro and unexpectedly restored Lucy Lane’s sight, and who brought public embarrassment upon Lex Luthor when he frogmarched him to a police cell. He was our Superman, and we’ll miss him.

The First Thing I’m Not Going To Miss About Superman In The New 52

Birthright's Canonicity

Let’s be clear on one thing before we get going, as it’ll be many years before this appears in the blog. Birthright was not a bad series at all. In fact, faked-Kryptonian attack aside, it was pretty good. Mark Waid eschewed much of what is considered to be normal for a Superman origin story – Krypton’s destruction, growing up in Smallville, etc. – opting instead to start with Clark trying to make his way in the world, and bringing these elements in as the story progressed. Leinil Yu’s artwork was also noteworthy, strengthening as the series progressed and his style asserted itself.

No, what I have an issue with is DC’s reluctance to take a stand on wether or not we were reading the official new origin for Superman, even for years after the series had wrapped up.

If you were reading Superman comics at the time, then you’ll remember that it wasn’t until after the series had begun that DC first began talking about Birthright as a replacement origin for The Man of Steel. But they decided to be uncertain about this, stopping short of definitively stating this fact, despite elements of Birthright starting to appear in the comics. As Superman vol. 2 rolled towards #200, noise was made about the anniversary issue making a firm statement as to Birthright’s canonicity. At the end of that issue, following a fight with Braniac, Superman found himself journeying back to reality, but got distracted along the way when he saw Krypton. This was the moment that things changed, but the issue stopped short of saying that he was now attached to a new origin. Only the meagre back-matter, highlighting some of Leinil Yu’s Birthright designs, mentioned the series by name.

As a result, readers were left to wonder as to which origin would stand. The next two story arcs, Strange New Visitor and Godfall, wouldn’t involve the origin at all, and the next set of creative teams on the titles would again craft stories that took Superman forward, not looking back. Even when the multiverse returned and New Earth was formed, hints were given as to a new origin, but it took nearly four years for that origin to be presented to the readers.

There are plenty of things to argue about with Superman, but arguing which origin applies to him from 2003 onwards is an argument we shouldn’t have had to have. I’m very happy to finally not have this be an issue, and whatever changes come to Superman’s origin in the new 52, my only wish is that there is consistency.

Next on World of Superman: Come back Sunday for the continuing coverage of the post-Crisis Superman's life, and at some point in the middle of next week, we'll be taking a look at number two on both lists.

And don't forget to check out the latest episode of the 20 Minute Longbox, taking a look at Superman/Shazam: First Thunder #2!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Adventures of Superman #427

Hello there. Whew, it’s dark in here. Where’s the light switch? Ah, got it. Close your eyes, I’m turning the lights on… now.

Hello, it’s been a while!

I’m not going to insult you with long tales of woe describing many reasons why I’ve not been active over here. There’s a very simple reason for the lack of activity on this blog. For two months, I’ve not felt like writing about Superman. I’ve been having a great time working on my podcast, 20 Minute Longbox (itself suffering from a lack of time to put an episode together), and for a while, I toyed with the idea of shutting the door on this blog and letting the dust gather.

So, why did I change my mind? Put simply, I’ve been missing Superman. With new blood and, indeed, a new Superman hitting the stands as part of the New 52, I’ve been feeling strongly about the Man of Steel again. More than ever, a project like this seems like something worth doing, celebrating the comics that made many of us Superman fans at a time when, hopefully, many people are finding similar things to celebrate in the new Superman. Oh, and I miss arguing with myself over which order to do the comics in!

I’d like to think that this is a return to regular posting, but if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that this isn’t a promise that I can keep. The best way to keep up to date with happenings over here is to subscribe, either through Google Friend Connect or Networked Blogs, both of which are over on the sidebar. That way, if I have another absence (hint: I work in retail and Christmas is a-coming), you’ll know when I pick up this project again.

Enough procrastination. If you’ll join me, I’d like to take you on a journey to Qurac.

Mind Games

Brought to you by Marv Wolfman and Jerry Ordway
Lettered by John Costanza
Colored by Tom Ziuko
Edited by Andy Helfer and Mike Carlin
Cover Art: Jerry Ordway
Cover Date: April 1987
Release Date: 15/01/1987

Superman invade Quraci airspace, attacking Quraci defences. He fights his way to the palace of President Marlo, bursting in and confronting the dictator. He accuses Marlo of orchestrating the recent attacks on Metropolis, but the dictator denies this, suggesting that rogue elements in his country are responsible. Superman demands information, but suddenly collapses as a result of a psychic attack from Prana, a feline-looking member of a mysterious group called The Circle. Prana falls to his knees, his mind connected with Superman’s.

Superman sees a vision of his parents on Krypton, instructing him to conquer and rule the Earth. Superman attempts rejects this, causing psychic feedback to Prana, who carries on with the illusion. The two battle further with their minds, before Prana retreats. A drained Superman leaves the palace, confused by the vision of his parents and their oppressive instructions. He returns to the hotel he’s using as Clark Kent and falls asleep, allowing Prana to re-establish contact with him.

Superman awakes in costume, confronted by Bizarro, Metallo, Synapse and Lex Luthor. The villains attack him, demanding to know his true motives, whilst Luthor works to undermine Superman’s confidence. Superman fights back, denying Lex’s words and dispelling the illusions again. Prana is once again weakened and pained by the contact, but he has become determined to mentally defeat Superman. As Clark takes a shower to recover, Prana once again makes contact.

Superman finds himself in Japan, where a Godzilla-esque monster is attacking a city. Refusing to be bowed, Superman quickly defeats the monster, shrugging off Prana’s attack. Prana, weakened by the final assault, dies in the sewers beneath Qurac. His wife, Zahara, steals his powers and combines them with her own, launching one final assault. Superman is confronted by Lana, Lois and Cat, all of whom accuse him of being fickle with his love and lying to them about his origins. Superman is able to withstand this assault, and drifts into a restless sleep. In the sewers, other members of the Circle find Prana’s corpse and Zahara’s unconscious body.

This is a different and interesting issue of Adventures of Superman. Initially continuing the story of the assault on Metropolis, the issues turns into something else, taking some interesting turns and leading us in a far more character-driven direction than the awesomely action-filled cover would suggest.

Prana and Zahara assault Superman’s psyche from four different and relevant angles – his heritage, his villains, force of nature, and his women. I find it amazing that so early on in the life of the post-Crisis Superman, Marv Wolfman lays out the four origins of almost every Superman story. Whilst the vision of Lara and Jor-El and Lex’s gang of villains contain accusations that are easily rejected, the accusations of Lois, Lana and Cat strike much closer to home. Superman does lie to those he loves. At this stage in his life, with Lana not-quite behind him and with Lois and Cat as potential partners, he is fickle with his affections. Frankly, this is a far more realistic and chilling potential outcome of Clark’s alien nature than we saw in Action Comics #794.

Superman taking overt action against a foreign state is a big moment. We saw in The Dark Knight Returns a potential future where Superman is a weapon for the United States Government, covertly assaulting America’s enemies, the fear of his intrusion being as great as the his presence. In his run on Adventures of Superman, Greg Rucka would use the concept of what Superman’s presence in a war-zone would do to the conflict as the driving force behind his story. It’s great to see the sheer power of Superman unleashed against an army, something we’ve not really seen before, and the callous nature of his entrance into the palace, smashing down the doors with a casual flick of his finger, hints at a darker side to his rage that is manipulated by Prana. Thankfully, Qurac would remain in the comics through this run and beyond, and the consequences of Superman’s actions here would be felt in future issues.

As normal, Jerry Ordway’s art is great. The cover is one of the early favourites, and his renditions of Prana’s attacks are just otherworldly enough whilst remaining grounded. I particularly like how he draws the illusion of Krypton, with Zahara and the sewers breaking through into the illusion. Even the panel borders reflect this, become much rougher and unfinished. Once the assaults start, Superman appears shaken and disturbed, pale and sweating, and thin in the face. Although it’s Prana who ultimately dies, Superman is taking a toll from the battle and it’s showing on his face throughout the night.

The Geeky Bits: Qurac was for many years the fictional middle-eastern state used by DC whenever they needed a stand in for countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, that is, a state that supports or condones terrorism and an anti-West stance. It's no coincidence that President Marlo bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein. The country once named the Joker as an ambassador, although this was a retcon as in the original storyline, it was Iran. Cheshire once decimated the country with a nuclear weapon. Over the years, more fictional middle-eastern territories, including Bialya, Khandaq and Umec would appear to give more texture to this region in the DC universe.

If, like me, you're wondering who the guy in the orange armour in the villains hallucination is, then you'll be pleased to hear that according to comicbookdb.com his name is Synapse, and his only other appearances were in three issues of Extreme Justice in 1995. And now you know!

This issue was reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Steel vol. 3 in 2004.

Coverage of this issue can be found in Episode 6 of From Crisis To Crisis

Next on World of Superman: Superman goes a-time-travelling.