Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The guest posts

Are still coming, by the way guys. I've received a few submissions, and I'm putting up all that i've got, i'm just working out a schedule for them.

Also, I still want more, so if you want to contribute to the site, just let me know at

Superman through the ages

Superman has, as a result of his nature as DC's flagship, had relatively little happen to him in terms of creative team turnover. When you examine DC's other major properties, editorial direction, creative teams and general tone are much more varied in them than the Super-titles.

Both approaches I think are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, consistency can give you a solid framework on which to build new tales and cultivate reader loyalty, on the other hand, it can be limiting as well.

For the sake of my being lazy and this post, we're going to call that consistency a blessing, because it makes it easier for me to write this look back at the character's evolution. I know this sort of article has been done to death, and I'm far from the historian Mark Waid or Les Daniels are, but I've never done it. A brief (well, not really, but brief as compared to the many books on the subject) look at what I perceive to be the nine major eras of Superman comics in his 70 years.

1 Siegel and Shuster's social crusader

Whitney Ellsworth was editing and Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were the creators of the day. Well, obviously. Lots has been said about this Superman. Fewer powers, evolving costumes, and the American way that he fought for weren't exactly what we know Superman for today. This Superman wasn't afraid to demolish a ghetto to force the city to build more adequate housing for the poor, or trap the idle rich owner in his own mine to teach him a lesson about safe working conditions. He fought for worker's rights and took on crooked arms dealers who sought to artificially escalate conflicts for his own gain. He was a good guy, but far from mild mannered. (As a note, the lesser powers didn't last. Influenced by the radio show and Fliescher cartoons, Superman was flying after just a year of two of leaps, and his vision powers were introduced less than a year after his debut.)

As America went to war, Superman was less critical of politicians and the government's flaws and more about the spirit of the nation as it pulled together during WWII. You can call it a watering down of the character, but at the time, the nation needed its heroes' support, and Superman was one of them.

This Superman was the power fantasy that let us get back at the bullies, be admired by the girl and just plain fight for what was right. The pulp hero boy scout.

2 The early fifties and The Adventures of Superman

The Mort Weisinger era, phase one. By this time Superman's powers had evolved closer to levels we know today. Wayne Boring was the signature artist, creating the larger than life, barrel chested icon for the era. His adventures, though, were a bit dry. The early fifties were HEAVILY influenced by the George Reeves Adventures of Superman series. That series, sadly, was heavily influenced by its lack of budget. So this Superman tackled a great many gangsters and scientists with plots that weren't so magnificent, mostly in reflection of what was happening on the show. (Man you would not believe how much that amazing cast carried that show.) There were some gems in this time, including Siegel's classic Return to Krypton, but for the most part, this was a pretty dry era for Supes.

It's also of note that this is when the Superman family of titles to expanded to include Jimmy, Lois and Superboy into their own titles.

3 Mort Weisinger and the creation of a mythology

Mort Weisinger, the creative tyrant. As the 50s and the Adventures of Superman ended, the most colorful era of the man of steel began. Weisinger, when freed from the restraint of the popularity of the tv series, demanded his creators go crazy. He wanted to learn more about Krypton. He wanted bigger and bolder threats. He wanted an increasingly powerful Superman facing crazier threats in increasingly crazy plots.

Writers Siegel, Otto Binder and noted sci fi author Edmond Hamilton would spend the late 50s and 60s constantly spinning the wild, often gimmicky plots and tales that would serve to create the amazing mythology of Superman. Tales of Krypton, the Phantom Zone, Kandor, the Super-pets, Brainiac, Parasite, Metallo, The Legions of Super Heroes, 31 flavors of Kryptonite, Bizarro World and countless other elements. This was the crazy sci-fi era for the character, with the definitive and graceful art of Curt Swan.

I love this Superman, goofiness, gimmicky plots and all.

While Swan was THE artist of the day, I would be remiss to not mention Kurt Schaffenberger who drew a great many stories across the many titles and was the definitive Lois Lane artist (Sadly, most Lois stories where I Love Lucy-esque plots where she'd play some trick on Supes only to be taught a lesson in the end. Fun occasionally, but they got a bit samey pretty quickly.)

4 Julie, Elliot and Neal. Plus a jerk named Steve Lombard

When Weisinger retired, Julie Schwartz stepped in the carry Superman through the 70s and early 80s. His era, with the brilliant Denny O'Neil, Elliot S! Maggin and Carey Bates as chief architects, saw more character driven stories than we ever had before. Eschewing the more fantastic elements, or using them in a more straightforward manner, the was a more layered Superman played in the most serious way we'd seen him yet. This era also saw Superman's powers reduced in an effort to make him more relate-able, and made many of his conflicts internal and more personal.

We'd also see him modernized. Lois would become stronger and more independent, Jimmy would be a more rebellious youth, and Clark Kent would move from that venerable old newspaper to being a news anchor on television with childhood sweetheart Lana Lang. Also working at that television station WGBS? Jerkass supreme Steve Lombard; sports guru and bully for the increasingly mild mannered Clark Kent.

Artistically this era would see Swan doing the best work of his career and Neal Adams providing some GORGEOUS covers and occasional interiors. This era would end with Superman stories that were kind of all over the place, with DC trying to find out who the Superman of the 80s truly should be. Some hit or miss there.

As a personal aside, the Superman of the late 70s is the Superman I grew up on, despite having grown up in the 80s. So this era is special to me. As objectively as I can be about it, I'll add it's just done so well. There are some amazing comics in this time.

5 The Byrne Era

The most radical change yet. Superman before this revamp was hardly just one take on the character through out his history, but this is the first time we saw a complete and total re-invention done all at once. Mike Carlin took over as head of the Superman titles, bringing in John Byrne and Marv Wolfman to rebuild the Superman myth from the ground up.

This Superman came from an emotionless Krypton and was truly its only survivor. He wasn't as powerful as he was before, and he's not as smart as he used to be. Lois is often antagonistic and bullheaded, and Luthor, the criminal and mad scientist, is now an evil businessman. His adoptive parents survive well into Superman's adulthood, and he's forsaken much of his Kryptonian heritage. It was a concentrated effort to make him more man than Superman. Lots loved it, lots hated it. His rogues gallery was simplified and complicated at the same time, much of the mythology created during the 60s and refined during the 70s was jettisoned entirely.

Byrne was the captain of this ship for the first couple of years defining both the stories and look of the books, and his Marvel roots were showing. The characters were all flawed and the soap opera elements were cranked up. The less powerful Superman made for less fantastic, more grounded tales. After his departure, Roger Stern, Wolfman, and Jerry Ordway would continue telling tales of much the same Superman Byrne had created.

6 Gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks

The Jurgens Era. As the 80s closed up, Dan Jurgens would come to prominence on the titles as writer and artist when the Death of Superman captured the world's attention on a slow news day. The Superman of the 90s was very much built on the foundation laid by Byrne. Superman became TOO flawed, at one point in this era even becoming suicidal during the "Death of Clark Kent" arc. There were some quality tales in this time, but due to the success of the Death Of Superman, it was truly defined by the constant need for gimmicks and events in an attempt to one up itself and keep things going. The Death and Return, The Death Of Clark Kent, the electric Superman, The Wedding of Lois and Clark and several others.

And as this was the 90s, comics were getting darker. Superman's villains were turned into things pretty far removed from the original versions in some instances.

During this time you pretty much had to buy every Superman comic to read any Superman comic. There were four monthly titles, and the end of each one lead directly into the next title, which meant you had to buy the Superman comics weekly to keep up. Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Jackson Guice, Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummet were the other major contributors of this era, but it was Jurgens' show.

One of the most lasting legacies of this era is the expansion of the Superman family to include Steel, Kon El, and Professor Hamilton, and some very solid additions to his rogues gallery in Cyborg and Doomsday.

7 Putting the 90s behind us

Eddie Berganza was taking over editorial at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 00s, and it was decided Supes needed a new direction. Enter Jeph Loeb, Joe Kelly and later Joe Casey as the main writers and a whole new look for Superman with Ed McGuinness and Mike Weiringo's cartoony styles becoming the default look for the titles. Doug Mahnke was also working on the book at this time, his darker but still excellent style making a stark contrast to the other two guys.

This Superman was more powerful than the Byrne/Jurgens eras, and effort was made to make them much more accessible than the continuity driven mire of the previous 15 years or so. Things were also getting brighter. Superman's stories were more action packed and not afraid to be fun while never going as camp as the 60s were. The soap opera elements were toned down, and we even got Krypto and Silly Bizarro back. Superman became less self-involved and simply much more likable, as did most of the cast.

The titles were more independent of one another, and when they did all get together things like Return to Krypton and Emperor Joker were well received. This era would be short lived; coming to a close not long after the less than popular "Our Worlds At War" crossover.

I've a real fondness for this era, as it worked within the rules and continuity of the previous two eras, but wasn't afraid to take some chances and go in new directions. And most of it looked great. I've a particular love for Joe Kelly's time on Action Comics.

8 Start throwing names at the wall and hope something sticks

The goodwill and increase in sales ushered in by the Loeb/Kelly revamp didn't last long, and sadly what followed was odd time for Superman. This is the most inconsistent time for Superman ever as Berganza would bring in Chuck Austen, Gail Simone, Jim Lee, Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka, Michael Turner, John Byrne, and a host of others in just a few years trying to find what would 'fix' Superman. This was all in the midst of several major DC crossovers, further muddying the waters. No one knew what was in continuity, no one knew who would be working the titles months from now; it was a mess.

Superman had no one voice, so it's really hard to say who he was these few years.

9 Johns, Morrison and Busiek save the day

Then came time to wipe the slate clean. Bring in several top tier creators who genuinely love the characters, and let them start over. Don't ignore everything that came before or be slave to it. Let them pick what works best, and tell new stories with them. And it was good. Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, and sadly only for short time Darwyn Cooke, would usher in a whole new era of for Superman. In addition to those brilliant writers, super star artisits Carlos Pacheco, Time Sale, Frank Quietly and Gary Frank would make sure the books looked amazing.

The titles now are seeing the best reviews pretty much ever, and are truly an amalgam of all that's come before from the comics, movies, tv series, novels, and every other thing Superman's been a part of. It's a sort of mini-golden age for Superman, and it makes me happy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

No good can come of this.

Zhinxy of Every. Issue. Ever. is back, with a theme. She's going to review Knightfall. All of it. 100+ issues of NINETIES BATMAN TO THE EXTREME.

God have mercy on her soul.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

A million Beppos at a million typewriters

Because I've done nothing informative in a while, a guide to the man of steel in prose with occasional snarky comments/reviews from me.

Straight up novels about the Man O' Steel
The Adventures of Superman by George Lowther

The first ever novel featuring a character created for comic books. And it's not bad. It's out of print and kind of a pain in the ass to find, but get it if you can. It's fun, the stuff in Smallville is the best part, and the prints and sketches are gorgeous.

Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S! Maggin
Miracle Monday by Elliot S! Maggin

I've not read these, which is a damned shame because Maggin is my favorite Superman writer who isn't named Siegel or Morrison. You should get them.

The Further Adventures of Superman by various authors

A short story anthology. It's not great. Even the Mark Waid story falls flat, which is surprising, but he's great at Superman normally. You can skip this one.

It's Superman! By Tom De Haven

This is a good one. A superman novel that takes place in the the 30s, which many feel is the best era for the character. It is decidedly not the Golden Age Superman, though. A friend who doesn't even like Superman under most circumstances gave this one to me after enjoying it so much. Check it out.

The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J Anderson

It's offensive to all that is good in the universe.

DCU series
Justice League of America series: JLA Exterminators by Christopher Golden
Justice League of America series: Superman, The Never Ending Battle by Roger Stern
DC Universe: Trail of Time by Jeff Mariotte
DC Universe: Last Sons by Alan Grant

I've only read one of these, Last Sons, which is more a Lobo novel featuring Superman and Martian Manhunter than anything else. It's basically that episode of Superman TAS that guest starred Lobo with mild cussing. The others I would assume are average super hero novels. Nothing terrible, but not great. Take or leave 'em.

Novelizations of comic books
Kingdom Come by Elliot S! Maggin
Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern
Superman: Doomsday and Beyond by Louise Simonson
Crisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman
Infinite Crisis by Greg Cox
52 by Greg Cox

Kingdom Come is actually better than the comic it's based on. I can't recommend it enough.

The others, meh. If you've read the comics you don't really need the novels. (Death and Life and Doomsday and Beyond are both the same story; Death of Superman through Reign of the Superman. Doomsday and Beyond is the junior reader version.)

Movie/TV tie ins (original material)
Lois and Clark: A Superman Novel by CJ Cherryh
Lois and Clark: Heat Wave by MJ Friedman
Lois and Clark: Exile by MJ Friedman
Lois and Clark: Deadly Games by MJ Friedman

The first was a stand alone, and released in paperback in paperback and hardcover. I've owned it but never read it, despite having read some good reviews out there. The others I just assume are awful because the tv show was.

Smallville: Strange Visitors by Roger Stern
Smallville: Dragon by Alan Grant
Smallville: Hauntings by Nancy Holder
Smallville: Whodunit by Dean Wesley Smith
Smallville: Shadows by Diana G. Gallagher
Smallville: Silence by Nancy Holder
Smallville: Curse by Alan Grant
Smallville: City by Devin Grayson

These are all aimed at teenagers to adults and are awful.

Smallville: See No Evil by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld
Smallville: Flight by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld
Smallville: Animal Rage by David Cody Weiss and Bobbi JG Weiss
Smallville: Speed by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld
Smallville: Buried Secrets by Suzan Colon
Smallville: Runaway by Suzan Colon
Smallville: Greed by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld
Smallville: Temptation by Suzan Colon
Smallville: Sparks by Cherie Bennett and Jeff Gottesfeld

This batch is aimed at a adolescent crowd and are also awful. Though in the interest of full disclosure, I've only read bits and pieces of books from both Smallville series because they were just too bad to plow through.

Superman Returns: Strange Visitor by Louise Simonson

A young reader prequel to Superman Returns. Meh.

Movie/TV tie ins (novelizations)
Superman III by William Kotzwinkle
Superman IV by B. B. Hiller

Ignore them

Smallville: Arrival Michael Teitelbaum

Adapts the pilot of the series. Ignore it.

Superman Returns by Marv Wolfman
Notable because it kills the tie between Superman and Lois' son. Not worth reading though.

And that's it. Every Superman novel I've ever heard of.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009

Yeah, I don't know...

But here it is.

I think with a photo of an actual monkey dressed as Superman, SIB has achieved all it can achieve.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Big gigantic Final Crisis spoilers

I don't usually talk too much about recent comics because I don't want to spoil any one, but I have to mention this. So if you haven't read FC yet, don't read below the image.

Superman building a machine that allows him to wish the universe has a happy ending to defeat a universe eating vampire and the god of evil is quite possibly my favorite thing in the history of everything ever.