Superman Retrospective ’86 – ’99 pt. 1
I’m more of a comics guy than a cartoon guy, but it turns out that a lot of comic book characters also have cartoon shows, so it kind of fits. This is going to be a thorough chronological examination of the best/worst period in Batman’s history, but I saw that Toonbarn already has way too much real estate devoted to the bats and it turns out that I had a more extensive library of Superman’s comic books from ’86 – ’99. Thus begins my in-depth examination of every single Superman continuity comic between 1986 and 1999 (even the ones that really suck).
The Man of Steel #1 (October 1986)
The Man of Steel #1 is pretty much your run-of-the-mill origin issue, with all the important characters being introduced, namely Superman, Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, and Lois Lane. There’s also some robot servant named Kelex, who used to be Jor-El’s but was recreated on Earth so that it can serve Superman as well.
This issue is pretty low on Superman action, as expected of an origin issue, but it does have a nifty little flashback to the last days of Krypton, where Jor-El, whose warning about the impending doom of their planet has been ignored by Kryptonians, decided to put his baby into a rocket ship and shoot it into space so that it may survive even as their civilization is destroyed. Krypton blew up afterwards, but not before Jor-El is seen confessing his love to his wife (and probably apologizing for not making the rocket big enough for the three of them.)
Of course, we all know that the space baby is going to eventually land on Earth and get adopted by Martha and Johnathan Kent, and will grow up to become Metropolis’ own superhero – everybody knows the origin by now so there’s no sense retelling it in its entirety, but there are a few notable things about this issue:
1. The Kryptonian Plague – the real reason why Jor-El and his wife didn’t leave the planet (while shouting “I told you so!” and mooning the other Kryptonians) is because of a plague that is turning the whole planet into kryptonite. A few years later, this plague will be explained in the comics as having caused by The Eradicator, which is a character that will start out as a mere plotline until it gained sentience and went around pretending to be Superman during his death, and until his rebirth in Reign of the Supermen.
2. Luthor’s Kryptonite – the first chunk of kryptonite is revealed in this issue to have arrived lodged in Superman’s baby rocket ship, and was stolen and used to create the villain Metallo before ending up in Luthor’s hands. Kryptonite is supposed to be very deadly to Kryptonians and – based on this issue – is very rare. We don’t know how but over time it looks like they’re just sending out free chunks of the damn thing to every villain who wants one.
3. Underpants on the Outside – it was Superman’s adoptive mother, Ma Kent, who suggested that he wear his briefs on top of his pants. Of course! Now it all makes sense!
The Man of Steel #2 (October 1986)
This issue features the story in which Lois Lane, like an idiot, drives her car into the bottom of a river in order to get her first interview with Superman. The man of steel, also like an idiot, saves Lois instead of using it as an opportunity to show people what happens to dumb reporters who try to use him for career advancement.
People who saw the first Superman movie will see this issue as derivative of the scene in which Margot Kidder tries to drown herself just to get Superman to save her, and will probably hear the voices of Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve while reading the dialogues. Or maybe that’s just me. Sometimes, Margot’s voice tells me to take off my clothes and go to the farmer’s market.
Anyway, by the time Lois has typed up her interview with the Crimson-Underpanted Crusader, some jerk called Clark Kent has already beat her to the exclusive. And that’s how Clark got hired at the Daily Planet: by being a liar and a jerk. It probably helped that during the interview Superman kept going on and on about the fantastic journalistic integrity of this handsome glasses-wearing reporter dude who totally isn’t him.
The key part in this issue is the one after Superman has rescued Lois from the river. Lois asked, “You know where I live?” and Superman replied with “I know where everyone lives.” I used to wonder what’s creepier: if he’s telling the truth or if he’s not. Superman Returns eventually showed that he’s telling the truth.
The Man of Steel #3 (November 1986)
I’ve mentioned earlier that Toonbarn already has way too many text devoted to Batman, and it turns out to be true even when I’m reviewing Superman’s comic book history: The Man of Steel #3 features Superman going to Gotham City in order to arrest Batman, because he thinks he’s the only one with the right to punch crime in the face. As expected of any comic book crossover, the two heroes eventually end up joining forces against a criminal. Superman then lets Batman go even though they each still think the other is kind of a jerk.
Even with all the henchmen getting dynamited in the mouth and the villain having a nervous breakdown at the end, this is still the lightest issue in the Man of Steel miniseries. The one thing that caught my attention is that the first page has a silent nine-panel grid starting at the top of a building and zooming down to the street — a Watchmen homage? So soon?
This issue started the whole Superman/Batman dichotomy that has both heroes disagreeing with each other’s methods and outlook. It lasted for a long time, at least until 1990’s Dark Knight Over Metropolis storyline, where the couple finally took their relationship to the next level when Superman gave Batman a ring. We’ll get to that later.
This issue featured a display of Batman’s super intelligence, in the sense that hearing about Superman’s exploits convinced him to invent an invisible force field around himself that, if breached by Superman, would make a bomb in his utility belt explode. This means that if Superman had just swooped down and caught him, Bats would have died. Comics!
The Man of Steel #4 (November 1986)
This is the issue where Lex Luthor makes a grand appearance. The premise goes: Lois Lane and Clark Kent are invited to a party in Lex Luthor’s yatch, which is then taken hostage by South American revolutionaries. Superman intervenes, but it turns out the whole thing was part of Luthor’s plan to test Superman’s powers and offer him a job (the exact position isn’t specified, but I’m guessing “chauffeur”). Superman declines and throws Luthor in jail, who then vows to destroy him. The beginning of a beautiful friendship.
So, this issue shows the origin of the Superman/Luthor rivalry, but there’s an even more important revelation here: we finally find out how Superman shaves. Turns out he does it by shooting eyes lasers into his face. Of course! Now it all makes sense!
That would be it for now. Stay tuned for the 2nd part next week. I literally have a truckload of these comics so we can keep this going for a LONG time. In the meantime, you can add me on Twitter: @mrmxy or read the stuff I wrote for Cracked at http://www.cracked.com/members/Mxy