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!