Kirby could pull it off; Byrne can't.
Kirby could pull it off; Byrne can't.
Last edited by shaxper; 01-07-2013 at 03:02 PM.
Adventures of Superman #427
writer: Marv Wolfman
pencils: Jerry Ordway
letters: John Costanza
colors: Tom Ziuko
editors: Andy Helfer & Mike Carlin
Say what you will about the quality of a given issue of the early Post-Crisis Superman. I at least respect how much Byrne and Wolfman are trying to accomplish, never resting on the laurels of successfully rebooting a character and then drumming up a run of the mill conflict for the next issue. It's clear that extensive planning has occurred and that Byrne and Wolfman are tripping over themselves to get to all of it.
Thus, while this wasn't an exceptional issue by any extent, I like how much it tried to accomplish.
1. We have a focus on Superman's character. Much of the focus of this issue seems to be on the idea that it isn't superhuman abilities that make the rebooted Superman exceptional, but rather the mind controlling those powers that chooses to use them altruistically. It's a great read on the character, a great counterbalance to a drastically de-powered hero who gets his butt handed to him each issue, and a necessary exploration of Clark's internal character, which Byrne has largely ignored up to this point.
2. There's a great little nod to that early story in (the original) Superman #1 where Superman decides to intervene to stop war-mongering foreign dictators. Truly, Superman's involvement in international politics is an issue that's largely been ignored since the publication of that original story. As Supes even says in this issue:
"...if I were around in World War Two, I would have had to confront Hitler, or I'd be shirking my responsibilities."
I'd been bringing up the question of why Superman didn't consider getting involved in such altercations as early as Man of Steel #6, when he referred to witnessing the revolution in Zimbabwe. It's great to see Wolfman finally addressing it here, though it doesn't really get resolved. Superman's visit to Qurac gets side-tracked, and he never comes to a firm decision about the extent to which he should get involved in foreign affairs.
3. This is the first time an antagonist working against Superman is not somehow connected to Lex Luthor. It's becoming increasingly obvious that Wolfman is not permitted to do much with Lex Luthor (outrageous, since the concept for the character was his!) and so, while Luthor played a very minor role in Wolfman's first two stories, he's now introducing a new super secret antagonist working in the shadows to defeat Superman, much as Luthor does. It almost seems as if this was a last minute decision, and he introduced an organization where, he could go to his upcoming scripts and story ideas, white out "Lex Luthor," and replace the name with "The Circle." Of course, since I've never heard of the Circle until now, I'm assuming the concept doesn't last very long.
- Suggested in this issue that Jor-El and Lara broke tradition and had physical relations, culminating in Kal-El's birth, rather than by growing him in a birthing matrix. It's possible this is not accurate since it's part of a memory that ultimately proves to be corrupted by the influence of "Prana." Certainly. this idea seems incongruous with what we saw in MoS #1, in which Lara is prudish and seemingly surprised by Jor-El's decision to physically embrace her in their final moment.
- 1st mention of "The Circle," depicted in cameo.
- Why do the soldiers and president of Qurac speak perfect English? I was ready to assume that Clark was worldly and spoke a number of languages until, later, in reaction to Prada's telepathic projections, Superman reflects:
"Still hear voices...insider me? Not in English...In no language I understand."
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I take that line to mean that Supes primarily speaks English. Otherwise, had he just spent the whole issue speaking Quraci, one would expect him to say "Not in English or Quraci..." Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that anyone trying to communicate with him in Qurac speaks that language? Apparently, the native language of this clearly Middle Eastern Islamic country is English.
- Also surprising to see a Middle Eastern Islamic country in which some women are dressed in traditional hijabs to have a female soldier guarding the president. I suppose anything's possible, and they clearly refer to him as "President" as opposed to "Cleric" or any other such theocratic term. Perhaps Wolfman is trying hard to avoid making this country resemble any specific Middle Eastern nation too closely (though that president sure looks like Hussain to me).
- Who the heck is Synapse? Towards the end of the issue, Superman faces a delusion in which he is confronted by every major antagonist we've seen him confront yet. This is a rag-tag assortment (especially since we KNOW he's been fighting lots of other supervillains we just didn't see over the course of three years as Superman -- and where's Darkseid???) including Metallo, the first Bizarro (you know it's slim pickings with those one-hit wonders), Luthor, and Synapse. Okay, I checked everywhere online, and it seems like the only appearances this character ever made were in pre-Crisis Omega Men issues. What the heck is he doing in Superman's subconscious???
Plot synopsis in one ridiculously long sentence:
Superman goes to Qurac to make the president answer for the terrorist attacks in Metropolis, the president explains that he doesn't have control over the diverse terrorist groups in the country, confusing Superman as the answer doesn't prove as simple as he'd hoped, he is mentally attacked by "Prana," a cat-like being connecting to Superman's mind via his wife's abilities on behalf of "The Circle," a shadowy group of exceptional aliens or mutants (possibly both) who need to know if Superman is one of them and feel that knowing why he chooses to help people instead of rule over them is critical to answering that question, they throw a variety of illusions at Superman, pulling from his memories to test his true character and motivations, Prana dies from the effort, his wife swears revenge and fails too, and The Circle swears to continue seeking the truth about Superman and planning what to do with him if he isn't one of them.
Not a great story by any stretch of the imagination, but praise-worthy for its ambitions.
Life looks better in black and white.
I suspect the rationale may have been that, in a comic striving for more realism, Luthor was a logical explanation for where super powered or super armed antagonists could come from three times a month. Granted, the over-usage has already grown a bit obnoxious, but I can understand the thinking behind it.
Action Comics #587
writer/pencils: John Byrne
inks: Dick Giordano
colors: Tom Ziuko
letters: John Costanza
editors: Andrew Helfer & Michael Carlin
I can't take much more of Byrne's characterization of Superman. The character is slow on the uptake, quick to judge, and jumps to violence as a first resort once again in this issue. I find it hard to believe that, upon seeing rapidly expanding towers over the Gotham skyline, Superman's first inclination is to start punching them and, when Etrigan warns him to stop, Superman's first assumption is that Etrigan has turned evil again. Furthermore, much like the last two team-ups, Superman always seems like an utter chump, led around like an idiot by his team-up partner and asking stupid questions to prompt explanations that Byrne wants to convey in order to move the story forward. And seriously, how has a super-smart, college educated WRITER that even speaks Latin never heard of Morgan Le Fey??
I think this is more concerted effort on Byrne's part to de-power Superman and make him more real/human, but I don't ever want to see a Superman who is dumber than I am and lacks my level of wisdom. Clark isn't a simple farm boy imbued with super powers who needs to punch anything that doesn't fit into some overly simplified grasp of good and evil. He's frickin' Superman, and as Wolfman pointed out in the last issue of Adventures, Superman's greatest strength is his character.
Anyway, there isn't much else to this story -- just an attempt to promote the post-Crisis Demon (which I don't think this issue did all that well, though I did like the cameos of Randu and Harry -- delivered to the reader TWICE) and to give Byrne some fun things to draw (he certainly enjoyed Etrigan's transformation while plummeting on page 16). So that leaves the details to attend to...
- I've been surprised by the annual Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation reports at the back of this issue and the previous issue of Adventures. Apparently, Action's circ numbers for the past year averaged 189,000 and Adventures of Superman/Superman averaged 240,000. Now, bearing in mind that the most recent three issues for both would have significantly raised the average with hyped post-crisis sales, I have to imagine this means the pre-Crisis titles were selling significantly lower than those numbers (and, by the way, since there was a three month hiatus for both titles while Man of Steel was being published, that means the post-crisis numbers are having an even bigger impact upon the average). I'd always assumed that, before comics moved over exclusively to the direct market, they were selling in much larger numbers. When Action and Superman are in spinner racks in grocery, pharmacy, and stationary stores across the country, I have to assume the circ numbers will be astronomically larger than when just being sold in the direct market. Yet, assuming the pre-crisis circ numbers were more in the range of 150,000 each month, that's really only 3x more than the average Superman title sells now, yet readership has dropped tremendously. So were the Superman circ numbers in significant trouble when compared to other sales of the time period, or were sales numbers like this common in the late 1980s (before the speculator bubble took hold)?
- As the city first begins growing, both Jason Blood and Etrigan take time to comment that the city is almost too big for the shop and about to bust out of it, yet Byrne takes the lazy approach of depicting panels with empty space backgrounds (thus no shop depicted) and a perspective that seems far too large for the shop we'd just seen in those first panels.
- The expanding city that sucks human life by stabbing people in the chest is actually pretty cool. Wish Byrne had found a way to make this a concept that could come back -- an alien plague or something.
- So, if Jason Blood and his friends hadn't been the ones to trigger that mechanism on the antique sculpture that started this whole mess, and the shop keep had done it himself while exploring this new acquisition, there would have been no one to help Superman stop it, and the world would have been destroyed, with Superman stammering and soaked in human blood after trying to punch out all the towers? Yeah, I'd rather see that story.
- Wait. Etrigan and other magic users of similar ability can just go back in time and rewrite history whenever they feel like it? Why, then, is there ever a challenge for them? Why doesn't Etrigan go back further and have someone kill Morgan Le Fey as a baby?
- Sorry, John Byrne. Random denizens of the 12th Century carting off dead bodies do not speak courtly Elizabethan English. Actually, no one in the 12th Century does. They'd be speaking French or an early blending of Anglo and Saxon languages that certainly wouldn't have been courtly and proper, nor would it have come even close to what's depicted here. I love how Byrne and his stupid Superman think that using a bunch of "thou"s will suddenly make people understand him -- and it does!
- Does Jason Blood turn into Etrigan when he completes the rhyme or only two thirds into the rhyme? Make up your mind, Byrne.
- I can't stand illogical time travel stories. Superman solving the problem in the past does not magically whisk the same character back to an altered version of the present. He is still in the past with a different version of him in the revised present that will never need to go back in time, unless Etrigan somehow has a spell to counter this. Also, why is the revised Superman flying over Gotham in the revised present? His only reason for doing so in the first place was because he saw the towers that now do not exist (and never did exist) in the revised present.
Plot synopsis in one ridiculously long sentence:
Jason Blood and friends are in an antique shop (perhaps devoted specifically to magic artifacts??), Glenda is looking at an artifact that just came in and inadvertently triggers a mechanism that causes her to be turned into a rapidly expanding series of towers, the towers continue to attack other people and convert them into additional tower mass, Jason turns into Etrigan to try to stop it, Superman is flying over Earth after visiting the Russian space station and sees the towers, he decides to attack them, Etrigan gets in his way and shows him that, by doing so, Superman has mortally wounded people that were turned into parts of the tower, Etrigan casts a spell to send Superman back in time to stop the creation of the towers, he seeks out Jason Blood/Etrigan in the 12th Century, they take on Morgan Le Fey, Superman beats her with brute strength and absolutely no tact nor intellect, and this automatically fixes the future and sends Superman back to that point in time with no real explanation as to how.
Last edited by shaxper; 01-09-2013 at 08:44 AM.
150k copies per month was about average for a mid-level book in the 80's. It may not seem like all that much more than today's sales, but it means that just about every decent comic on the marketplace, dozens of them, were selling more than even the number one comic most months today.
At the time, Uncanny X-Men was far and away the best selling book, averaging around 400k copies a month. Other top books were in the 200-250k range.
I know that, in the 1940s, top selling books exceeded the 1 mil mark on occasion. So was it a gradual decline, or are there specific points in which circ numbers dipped across the board for comic sales? I'd expect the early '90s speculator bubble would be a disruption in such a trend, but that sales dropped even lower once that bubble burst.
And did the move to sell exclusively through the direct market hamper sales the way I've always expected it did, or were sales already so low at that point that it really didn't matter?
The decline has more or less been gradual, but not linear. They say that comic sales go in cycles, so there's a lot of ups and downs, it's just that the ups are smaller each time and the downs are lower. The drops are often tied to specific events, the move to exclusive direct sales being one of them. That co-incided with the end of the speculator bubble, though, so it was kind of a double whammy. The big blow was Marvel buying the Heroes World distributor in 1994 to run distribution themselves. Without Marvel's business, other distributors couldn't compete, creating a de facto monopoly which in turn led to many smaller publishers and indie books going under, which again in turn led to the homogenization of comics. So instead of being able to pick up comics from a bunch of different companies -- and picking up comics at lots of different places -- readers now had a much more limited (i.e. mainstream superhero) selection, which they could basically only buy in comic book stores.
The thing about the speculator boom is that while most of those ridiculous sales numbers were wildly inflated by people buying multiple copies, there were actually a lot more people buying and reading comics at the time. It was a legitimate upswing being boosted by speculation. The events of 94-96, with Marvel crashing the industry and then going bankrupt and Heroes Reborn and everything pretty much drove everyone away though leading to the long downswing we're still in the middle of.
One other thing I meant to mention is that, while I could be wrong, anecdotal reports make me think that sales on Action and Superman may have been much lower pre-reboot than you think. I don't have the sales statements to look at, but I have heard that Superman wasn't selling all that much better than Wonder Woman and by the end, Wonder Woman was down to like 45k. It wouldn't surprise me if Superman was under 100k rather than around 150k. If I can find the figures I'll post real numbers.
Oh, it wouldn't surprise me if the numbers were that low, either. I was just being generous in my approximations. Again, the 189,000 and 240,000 circ numbers were made up 33% of the initial post-Crisis relaunch of both titles. Only 66% of those numbers came from Pre-Crisis numbers, and even those included "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"
As for your larger point about the speculator boom, I think you give it more credit than it deserves. Sure, there were some true new readers drawn to the market because of the craze, but most of those readers were craving Liefield, McFarlane, and any character holding a giant gun. I recall hearing some investors at the time advising that it made better fiscal sense to invest in comics than in real estate (in the long term, I suppose, both ideas were terrible). Surely, when X-Men #1 broke the sales record for all time, it had little to do with actual fans who wanted to read the story.
And those speculation-induced sales inspired editors to give more control to second rate artists over established writers and push more hyped events, expanding output without much care for quality control. I clearly recall most of my favorite titles turning to absolute sh*t by 1994, sporting stupid "things will never be the same" events, bad Liefield-inspired art, and disingenuous writing/characterization, all while cover prices shot up and there were suddenly so many more title to read each month to keep up with your favorite characters. I quit around that time and didn't come back for eleven years.
I'm sure there were excellent indy titles I was too immature to appreciate, and that some new readers were discovering them as a byproduct of this mess, but I have to believe the bubble did more to damage long term readership than good.
Last edited by shaxper; 01-09-2013 at 09:21 AM.
Oh, no question it did more harm than good. My point was just that there were a lot of new readers being drawn in at the time, so even if you discount the multiple copies aspect of speculation, sales would have been up during that period. But those new readers were pretty much all turned away by terrible art, terrible stories and worse, terribly cynical cash grab gimmicks specifically targeting them. And since that also turned off many long time readers, the result was fewer readers when it ended than when it started.
It's really amazing some times just how completely incompetent most comic publishers seem to be at running their business.
Once again, this is a finger of blame that I point at Denny O'Neil.
It seems to me that, prior to his editorial reign at the Bat Office, the assumption in comics was pretty much "Tell a good story, and the sales will come." Granted, Secret Wars and the Crisis encouraged the idea of hyped events to get in more sales, but Denny was (to both his credit and our detriment) a marketing wizard. He created the hyped story arc, the concept of killing a character for sales, the concept of adding an additional monthly title (followed by Superman: Man of Steel, Spider-man, X-Men, etc), and even did some pretty precise marketing with placing Batman in a variety of other products (high markup graphic novels, low markup graphic novels, premium limited series, regular limited series, etc) and a third premium title to test just how much fans were willing to spend and how best to part them with their money.
I really doubt the bubble could have gotten so far out of hand without his marketing of Batman as an exemplar to build upon.
My point in all this being, I don't think it had ever occurred to them that there was a danger in doing this. There was no previous template to look back upon. O'Neil had struck gold in California, and none of the prospectors rushing to duplicate and expand upon his success ever considered that there was any harm in doing so. Once the gold would run out (if at all), things would just go back to normal.
Meanwhile, O'Neil was being praised as a genius, nearly on the level of Stan Lee, awareness of comic books was becoming a cultural phenomenon like it had never been before, creators were receiving more control and royalties than ever before (unless, of course, you were a writer), and everything seemed to be coming up roses. As in any speculator bubble throughout history, no one knew they were in a bubble at the time. Things were just finally working out for the comic industry.
"The Mummy Strikes!"
writer/pencils: John Byrne
inks: Karl Kesel
colors: Tom Ziuko
letters: John Costanza
editor: Andrew Helfer & Michael Carlin
Superman's fist run-in with DOOMSDAY!
...well, not really. But you've got to admit the similarities are striking. I'm willing to bet this was an influence, intended or otherwise, for that character.
Beyond that, the only truly noteworthy aspect of this issue is it's Byrne's first real attempt to emphasize an attraction between Superman and Wonder Woman, delivered through a Superman sex fantasy -- pretty disturbing. Yeah, on the surface, it makes sense for there to be an allure between two similarly super-powered beings, but I think the real heart of it is that Byrne enjoys watching Superman sleep around with, and fantasize about sleeping around with, a ton of women. Take Amazing Grace, Cat Grant, and whatever the Hell is going to go down in Action #593 as clear examples of this. True, it makes total sense for Superman to have attraction for, and intrigue about, Wonder Woman, but I don't like emphasizing this. As said before, Clark and Lois are destined for each other. There is no more classic couple in comics.
And, beyond that, it again makes Superman too human and fallible. I want my Superman to be someone I look up to, not a horny guy with confused wet dreams. Abraham Lincoln had those feelings too, but we don't feel the need to explore them in his films and biographies. We depict him as the hero we want to see him as. Why can't Byrne do the same for Superman? De-power him to make things more complicated sure, give him doubts about certain things to create internal conflict as well, but don't de-hero him. He can't be an average Joe Schmoe, only with fantastic powers. That isn't Superman.
At any rate, I've read Action Comics #600 before (the culmination of this whole Superman/Wonder Woman thing) and already know the storyline doesn't pay off very well.
- Once again reinforced is the idea that the general public does not suspect Superman has a secret identity since he does not wear a mask.
- Why in the world are Clark and Perry so concerned that Lois is having trouble transmitting a video feed? Happens all the time in real journalism. Furthermore, why would Perry feel its appropriate to send his other top reporter to solve the problem, especially when Lois outright states she's aware there's a problem and doesn't seem concerned about it? Doesn't the Daily Planet have people who can assist with this?
- Why was it so imperative to have Superman running around with 5 O'Clock shadow in this issue? Another attempt for Byrne to make him a regular kind of guy?
- I appreciate Byrne having Superman move into space and then re-enter as the Earth rotates beneath him as a means of getting to his destination faster. Smart usage of science.
- Clark really doesn't think. He shows up in another country, moments after having been sent there, with no excuse for how he did it, leaving Lois to deduct that Superman flew him there. How in the world is he going to keep a secret identity by being this stupid?
- Okay, so the professor and Lois had the cylindrical key from the ancient civilization all this time and were just sitting around, NOT using it, until Clark showed up so that they could demonstrate it for him??
- Though we didn't need it, Byrne provides a more scientific explanation for Superman's X-Ray vision than the penetrating beams shooting from his eyes we saw a lot in the Pre-Crisis (and even in Man of Steel #1). Byrne describes it in terms of Clark's eyes being able to receive X-ray spectrum reflected off of objects in much the same way normal eyes receive visual spectrum light. Not positive that explains how he sees through things, though. To be fair, I have no idea how an X-Ray machine works either. Do X-Rays travel through atoms and molecules in a way that the visual spectrum does not?
- Clark lost his glasses in the battle with the "mummy." Isn't Lois going to recognize him??
- At one point, the "mummy" is right on top of Clark as he refrains from dealing damage to it because he's unsure of whether it is a robot or a living being. I have news for you, Clark. Even without my X-Ray vision working, I can tell if something laying on top of me is alive. It's called checking to see if it's breathing and, considering that the two of you are fighting right now, it shouldn't be too hard to tell.
-Are we supposed to recognize this as being a previously established villain from DC's pre-Crisis, or is it a new nemesis? Once the bandages come off, it looks a bit like Validus (of Legion fame) crossed with a Manhunter.
Plot synopsis in one ridiculously long sentence:
Superman has a dream/fantasy about Wonder Woman, gets to work late and learns that Lois is in an unnamed South American nation with a big archaological find, but that there is electromagnetic disruption which ultimately breaks up her message, Perry sends Clark to investigate for some reason that escapes me, Clark flies over and sees that remnants of a cilvilization older than mankind and more advanced than modern day science has been unearthed, the professor who made the discovery inserts a cylindrical key into a hole, and a giant mummy monster comes out, Clark fights it without changing into Superman and gets his butt kicked. To be continued next issue.
Last edited by shaxper; 01-09-2013 at 10:42 AM.
I'm too busy at the moment to comment at length but I wanted to say I'm enjoying the hell out of these reviews, shax. I am not a big fan of Byrne's Superman reboot. He always seems desperate to show us that this was his Superman.
Keep 'em comin'!
It's hardly a secret that something is badly wrong with me. - Dan B. in the Underworld
I am ... a condescending prick sometimes. But I usually mean to be. - Paradox
I'm not infallible. I just act like it. - Me