Wednesday, December 24, 2014

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500 - June 1993


Life and Death
Credits:  Jerry Ordway (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Jonathan Kent has a near-death experience in the hospital.  He sees Superman walking towards the light and tries to talk him back.  Jonathan pursues Superman and in the process, relives traumatic events from his own life.  The entity Kismet sets Jonathan on the proper course, and he soon finds Superman in a Kryptonian funeral procession.  When Jonathan tries to awaken Superman, the Krypotonians are revealed as demons.  Jonathan and Superman escape into a tunnel.  When Jonathan wakes in the hospital, he’s convinced his son is alive.  On Lois’ plane ride home from Smallville, she sees a flying caped figure.  Various news reports later claim Superman has returned.  She visits Superman’s tomb with Henderson of the Metropolis police.  They discover his casket is empty.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Subplots this issue include Vincent Edge sexually harassing Cat Grant (who doesn't seem terribly offended since she later accepts his dinner invitation), Jimmy Olsen avoiding the filming of his “Turtle Boy” TV show, the Prankster annoying his cellmate, and the Metropolis police attempting to arrest Gangbuster after he blows an undercover sting operation.  A homeless man helps him get to safety.  Also, Gangbuster has a warrant for his arrest because a group of drug dealers he previously busted filed charges against him.  A footnote points to the Legacy of Superman one-shot.

I Love the ‘90s:  Cat Grant tells Vincent Edge that “this is the nineties” and she doesn’t have to accept his sexual harassment.  Even though she does.  Later, the Prankster’s cellmate tells him that “Turtle Boy” is so bad it’s good.  “It’s, y’know, very nineties.”

Production Notes:  This issue was published after a two month gap in which the Superman titles suspended publication.  The World without a Superman trade only reprints the main story in Adventures #500.  The next trade in the series, Return of Superman, reprints the final stories, which are all vignettes introducing the four new Supermen.

Gimmicks:  Three versions of this issue exist.  A standard newsstand edition, and two collector’s editions, one in a white polybag and one in a black polybag.  The collector’s editions have a holographic cover. According to comics.org, the newsstand version didn’t have eight story pages that were in the collector’s editions.  The Fortress of Baileytude blog has a collection of the "deleted scenes."

Review:  Adventures #500 was the first big issue following the death of Superman, although apparently the sales didn’t live up to the hype.  How do you follow up on the death of your most famous character?  DC was stuck in an impossible position; this stunt was only supposed to be a temporary replacement storyline to delay Superman’s wedding, but now a large portion of the general public actually believed Superman was dead.  DC rode the wave of controversy, embraced the publicity, and went out of its way to sell the death as being genuine, but how exactly could the creators get out of this hole?  Feeding the hype only made Superman’s inevitable return a larger problem for the creators to handle.  Adventures #500 is a logical choice to feature Superman’s return, since it is the next anniversary issue, but how exactly should Superman be revived?  Bringing Superman back to the living and just returning to normal so soon after his death would be perceived as a cheap move.  Maybe DC could’ve gotten away with that if only comics fans had been paying attention, but when you’ve made the New York Times and the CBS Evening News?  Can you backtrack so quickly with the world watching?  DC’s solution ultimately turns out to be this: hint that Superman’s alive, introduce a gimmicky storyline with four replacement Supermen, kill time, and finally, bring back Superman.

It’s hard to imagine any scenario where Adventures #500 doesn’t disappoint some portion of the readership.  Anyone who actually thought Superman was dead wouldn’t want to see him revived so quickly, and the readers who wanted him to return probably didn’t appreciate being teased in such a fashion.  Luckily, hindsight makes it easier to simply judge the issue on its own merits.  And it’s actually a strong anniversary issue.  Jonathan Kent is the real star of the issue, with Ordway taking the reader on a tour of his life, reliving traumatic moments from his childhood on to his stint in Korea.  I’m not familiar enough with Superman continuity to have a feel for how Jonathan Kent was normally portrayed in this era, but Ordway does a great job of making Jonathan fit the mold of what you’d expect Superman’s dad to be while also giving him a bit of a specific personality.  He’s not just a generically nice old man, he’s a veteran who’s lived a hard life filled with loss.  When Jonathan is pitted against Superman’s birth father in this ethereal recreation of Krypton, you’re genuinely rooting for Jonathan to win.  There’s also a great idea about Superman accepting his “death” and entering the afterlife simply because he was taught by the Kents to believe in an afterlife.  As a yellow sun charged Kryptonian, who’s to say his mortality is analogous to a human’s?  Superman's been conditioned to believe he has to go into the white light, but how can be entirely certain that he's dead yet?

As always, Tom Grummett’s contributions can’t be overlooked.  Everyone’s on-model while being slightly stylized, the panel layouts are creative, and the action scenes look just as good as the conversation scenes.  Doug Hazelwood also does an incredible job on the added tones during the afterlife scenes.  I’m not sure if he’s using the same technique John Byrne used on Namor, but it’s a very similar look.  I love the unique texture zip-a-tone provides, and it’s a shame that look has died out over the years.  I have no idea if Photoshop can recreate it, but I wish someone would try.

First Sighting…
Credits:  Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, & Dan Jurgens (writers), Jon Bogdanove & Tom Grummett (pencilers), Jackson Guice & Dan Jurgens (breakdowns), Dennis Janke & Doug Hazelwood (inkers), Denis Rodier & Bret Breeding (finishers), Bill Oakley, Albert de Guzman, & John Costanza (letterers), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Steel emerges from the debris of Metropolis during a gang fight between the Sharks and Dragons.  The Eradicator kills a carjacker.  Superboy escapes Project: Cadmus with the help of the Newsboy Legion.  Cyborg Superman flies into Metropolis and destroys a Superman memorial plaque in front of a family of tourists.

Irrelevant Continuity:  The back-ups in Adventures #500 introduce the four replacement Supermen.  Since DC was unwilling to admit in the beginning that none of these characters actually is Superman, it takes a while for some of them to develop code names.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ll be referring to them by the names they’re now associated with.

Review:  Overlooking the debate over whether or not transferring the titles to four fake Supermen was a good idea, I do think it was a pretty smart decision on DC’s part to give a teaser for each new character in Adventures #500.  It makes the anniversary issue feel like an even bigger event, and of course, serves as a commercial for any curious fan about what’s happening in the rest of the line.  In retrospect, it’s impressive that DC has continued the “event” sensation for so long after the start of the Doomsday storyline.  Obviously there’s no way this issue was going to sell the same numbers as Superman #75, but I remember that a lot of enthusiasm remained for the books at this point.  People who would never look at the Superman comics were openly debating over which Superman was the “real” one; a great hook for the next chapter of the story, even if the resolution is ultimately a copout.

There isn’t a lot of story in the backups, just enough to give readers a sense of what to expect in each character’s respective title.  Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove are going urban in Man of Steel, Roger Stern and Jackson Guice play off the ‘90s vigilante clich√© in Action, Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett are exploring a lighter tone with Superman’s teenage clone in Adventures, and Dan Jurgens provides an ominous introduction for the Cyborg Superman that’s taking over Superman.  It seems rather obvious that two of these characters are explicitly not Superman, regardless of what the pre-release hype might’ve lead us to believe.  The two most likely candidates as the real Superman are given the most mysterious introductions, indicating that DC wants at least a few more months to string us along.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re not turned off by excessive hype and just willing to accept the “Reign of the Supermen” era as simply the next chapter of the story.

1 comment:

Scott Church said...

Ahh Superman of this era, I'm glad your reviewing it. I always found Batman so much easier to get into for a new reader, when getting into Superman with this whole story arch, I wasn't really a fan and never have been of Superman but picked it up because of the hype and hoping for the potential of making money off of them. I still have 3 bagged issues of 75 and 3 of 500. I never read Superman before and stopped soon as he returned with that stupid mullet.

500 was a disappointment, I didn't care about Jonathan, I wanted something I got with my Marvel books . . . . action and superheroes, this was just . . . boring.

I instantly liked Robotic and Kid Superman, didn't care for Eradicator and Steel was terrible in my eyes. It was obvious he wasn't Superman so don't feed me that crap, I'm not stupid and the art, oh the art, so terrible.

Dan J. really was DC's best artist consistently working on a main book at the time, every other DC book just looked terrible and bland when compared to Marvel at the time. Trying to look at a DC book when you were used to looking at an X book was just so off putting. While I enjoy DC books of that era now as an adult and can appreciate it a lot more, as a teen, I found it terrible and one of the top reasons I read Marvel and stayed away from DC.

I actually like Batman, Flash and Green Lantern more than just about any Marvel character but never felt they had the art of feel I wanted. Batman actually worked okay for me but Flash and GL just felt like the art and characters were so cardboard. I know Flash of that era is now loved and it's on my eventually to read list, but at that time, Blah.