January, 1993. A month that will live in comic book infamy. That month, in Superman #75, an icon fell to the blows of a monstrous creature. The day the issue was released; it made headlines around the world. Superman was dead. But, as we all know, he didn’t stay that way.
Now, in January, 1993; I was only starting to read. I did not know that he died; I learned that from a Superman encyclopedia I got in elementary school. However, the first modern comic I ever looked at, on a stoop sale in Brooklyn Heights, was the issue where Emil Hamilton pronounced the Cyborg Superman to be Superman reborn (however, I seem to recall the colors being different).
For the holidays this year, I received all three volumes comprising this saga. I read them in two days, and loved every minute. I read this for the first time, even knowing how it would end in the return of an icon, however I could view it with fresh eyes and with my modern sensibilities. This article will not be a synopsis, but more my views on what I read and saw.
Speaking of what I saw; that two page spread as Superman lay dying in the arms of Lois Lane – I cried a little. This couple had a future planned, a marriage to have (thank you very much The Adventures of Lois and Clark). Now, it wasn’t meant to be. The image itself was reminiscent of a pieta statue (channeling Superman the Movie‘s Jesus parallel, are we?). As for the combat with Doomsday, you could feel the punches in the pages. Want brutal comic book hero smackdowns? This first part literally wrote the book on how to do it. When one creature literally wipes out the Justice League (though personally I couldn’t call them that. Booster Gold? Blue Beetle? Maxima? Guy Gardner? I wouldn’t trust them with getting a cat out of a tree. Okay, maybe the first two, IF they are separated) and proceeds to MURDER the Man of Steel…one can expect that this is a threat that is horrid.
And then this nearly put on the waterworks:
That whole funeral cortege of mourners. The only thing I could give a parallel for it in my mind is photos of President Kennedy’s funeral (though I don’t know why Hal’s going gray here). And the fact Superman’s friends help out in Metropolis as much as they can for a bit afterwards is touching.
And then, after Superman’s body is taken by Cadmus’ unscrupulous director and returned and then goes missing again…it begins.
THE REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN.
Yes, the caps were needed.
Here are my views on them from my least favorite to my most favorite.
Eradicator: Oy vey, is this guy a piece of work. This sentient energy from an ancient Kryptonian device literally takes on the image of Kal-El, but none of his morality. Taking on weird 90s goggles to protect his overly sensitive eyes (really, an energy being has this issue), he proceeds to energy blast his way through the bad guys in a cold and dispassionate manner. To add to the chaos, a freaking cult praises him as the return of Superman (more Jesus imagery?). To me, he is the least likable of the four (yes, even more than Cyborg Superman) because he is the most unlike Superman. Even the Cyborg Superman could put on a facade; this guy basically perverted everything Superman meant.
Cyborg Superman: Our villain, and most likely candidate to be Superman (you know, until the real one came back wearing a black suit and a mullet). Faking amnesia and hiding his true identity and motives, this astronaut turned tech-being turned ersatz Superman courtesy of Superman’s birthing matrix (yes, you should sit down) has an over complicated origin and a fiendishly clever plan to get revenge with a little help from Mongul. Not only do we get some cool imagery from him as he goes from technology to technology, but he chews up scenery with gusto to make Christopher Walken pale in comparison. A good comic book, in my opinion, is like a good film: your villain better be GOOD.
Steel: John Henry Irons…a man with a “seriously, they went there?” name, but has the heart and soul of Superman. A former weapons designer who quit in protest and became a steel worker; Irons was influenced by Superman, who saved his life when he fell off a beam, and out of rage after seeing a kid he was helping out get gunned down by his own guns. He is the most likable of the four, and the one who is truest to everything that Superman stands for. It’s a shame that he has less presence in the book than the others; but he’s the one who really helps save the day in the end. Let’s hear it for an inventive brain in the most mortal of the four.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, my favorite of the four! The one, the only….
Sorry, Metropolis Kid, but I will. Not only is Superboy the most developed out of the four Supermen (having gained some maturity by the end of the arc), but he’s the most fun! He’s what many teens would do if they had Superpowers. He has the 90s attitude as well; not to mention he’s entertaining in almost every single panel he shows up in. Plus his appearances sow the seeds for his future comic adventures, either by himself or with Young Justice. He hits all the right notes somehow while being the most snot-nosed superpowered punk around. No wonder he and Tim Drake get along so well.
However, his appearance is…shall I say…comical. I can understand the leather jacket…but there are other things that seem off. The earring, for example; did someone take a page out of Schumacher’s book and think all cool kids have earrings? And don’t get me started on the hair. Only time it looked halfway decent is in Young Justice. Not to mention he’s built like they put steroids into his gestation chamber (to be honest, they did that for all the teenage superhero boys for a while during this time period).
On that note; Superman’s appearance when he arrives in Metropolis harbor suffers from the same issue. The mullet was long out of style when that appeared. The black suit actually looks decent…until he gathers enough ammo and guns to make Rambo go “that’s too much”.
However, unlike many of those who objected to the return of Superman when it first appeared, I think it makes sense and fits the character, though the explanation is still a weird one. The movie version, I believe, made more sense when it stated that Superman’s heart and brain waves were just a hair above death. Plus, in a way, it continues the Jesus imagery that had been sprinkled amongst the entire arc. Not to mention, the whole arc ends up having multiple consequences across multiple titles.
Now, I have to admit, many of my favorite moments came from Lex Luthor, at this point claiming to be his Australian son “Lex Luthor II”. The hair especially; all that freaking hair and looking like a princeling and a nice guy. Deep down though, he’s the same dirty Lex. One of the best bits of writing in the story is how he will talk with an Aussie accent to those around him (especially Supergirl), but in private and in his head he is the same old Lex. The concept is clever, and in my own head I would switch the voices around. As for Supergirl…I am not a fan of this version. To me, Supergirl will always be Superman’s cousin Kara, not this Matrix thing. And while the concept is interesting, I still think having the Supergirl I know and love in her place would have worked too (though it would have made the last chapters very different).
Over all, it is an exciting epic that could be considered the best Superman story. Now, I realize many felt cheated due to Superman’s return, but given this wasn’t too long before the Comic Book Bust it was mainly out of greed. While it is funny to see 1990s tech and styles again, it is a story that will work for any generation.
Not Superboy’s haircut though. Sorry, Kid.