Pull List; seems to be too long to fit in my sig...
I've been watching the timeline pretty carefully and organizing it here, in case you missed it. According to all that I've pieced together, Superman had already been active for nearly 3 years at the time Superman #1 launched. Or, to put it in real-time, he became Superman in 1984, and the current day is 1987.
Really, the only piece of info offered anywhere in any of these issues that has conflicted with any aspect of this timeline is in MoS #5, when Lois makes the comment that she's been waiting 5 years to be kissed by Superman. The idea that Superman had already been active for 5 years by this point is contradicted several times, most notably by the timeline jointly offered by MoS #1 and #6.
And remember, Clark was using his powers anonymously before becoming Superman for 7 years prior to being outed by Lois while saving that space ship. His time in costume has been relatively brief, even though he's now 28 years old and has been away from Smallville since he was 18.
Last edited by shaxper; 02-05-2013 at 08:42 PM.
And I do think it's implied that worse was done and shown to Gordon (though not to us) via the pictures. Certainly, it's clear that there are fully nude pictures of her we're not seeing. It isn't much of a leap to assume what happened beyond that.
Action Comics #593
(The one you've ALL been waiting for...)
writer/pencils: John Byrne
inks: John Byrne & Keith Williams
letters: John Costanza
colors: Tom Ziuko
editor: Michael Carlin
Superman created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
Mister Miracle created by Jack Kirby
I'd like to pretend I was surprised by this one, flip out in response, and post an angry reply in all caps that would make you die of laughter, but really, there wasn't all that much surprising about Byrne descending to this depth. It's just sad is all.
My mind goes back to the story we keep hearing about how it was Byrne's childhood dream to write Superman. When you think of all that's wrong with this comic, the non-sensical real-world explanations of how his powers work, the obsession with Superman only being able to mate with super powered women ("any co-star's gonna wind up looking like my DESK!" -- Grossman, commenting on the problem in this issue), the simplistic emotional conflicts, the need to point out that Superman can use his X-Ray vision to see people naked (Superman #10), and now this issue, in which Superman and Barda are brainwashed into starring in home-made pornos, it ALL feels like a 10 year old conceived of it.
I don't say this to mock Byrne, mind you. Every now and then, even in my mid 30s, I find a belief I've held since childhood challenged and suddenly realize how irrational and immature it was. For some reason, we hold onto certain attitudes and ideas from our childhood, believing in them the way that we did when we were 8, until they are confronted by reality and we are therefore forced to challenge them. I suspect Byrne's ideas for Superman work in much the same way. I think he considered how he would handle Superman extensively as a child and, now, as an adult, he either hasn't bothered to re-examine these concepts, or he suspects everyone else out there is thinking the same things he did as a 10 year old.
Either way, it's pretty much the worst thing ever.
What truly does confuse me, though, isn't why Byrne would write this story, but rather how in the world it got published. I suppose I can accept the idea that Carlin has no actual power over a "superstar" like Byrne (and perhaps this is even why Andy Helfer left the Superman office at this time), but where the heck was the Comics Code on this one, and how did Byrne manage to stay on the book afterwards? His run was being watched by many, and I have to believe there was a blowback reaction from readers and parents, so Jennette Kahn and Warner Brothers were perfectly okay with this? Warner's going to have a coronary a year from now when O'Neil authorizes the death of Jason Todd; is America's most cherished symbol of goodness after Jesus Christ enacting a homemade porno on a bed in a sleazy backroom that much more tolerable for the brand? KIDS were grabbing these comics off the stands!!!
Something is very wrong for the comic industry to have let this one through. I am generally not a fan of the Comics Code, but here's a time where it was actually needed to protect young, impressionable readers from pure smut for the sake of pure smut, and they missed the boat. It seems that as long as Byrne could avoid depicting racy visuals (we never see the video that Scott and Oberon view, and Barda's clothing on page 8 isn't much worse than a bikini) and expletives, things got rubber stamped.
Anyway, beyond the horror of watching Superman and Barda enact a homemade porno in a sleazy backroom while under the influence of Sleeze, there are a multitude of minor problems with this story (far more than usual):
1. Darkseid is not some classy mobster who is sitting in your favorite armchair, sipping wine, when you come home from work. He is the frickin' demigod lord of Apokilyps. I'm sure it made Byrne giddy to draw this panel, but it's inauthentic to the character.
2. If these Action Comics guest appearances are supposed to function as advertisements for other DC properties, Byrne couldn't have failed worse here. He spends way too much time giving us an unnecessarily in-depth retelling of Mister Miracle's origin only to completely avoid giving readers ANY sense of what to expect in his comic book. So Scott came to Earth and "it's been one adventure after another ever since," but in what way? Does he fight crime, is he trying to thwart Darkseid's efforts to do...something, is Darkseid just showing up in his living room each month with a new way to torment him? We have no idea. In fact, we don't even understand why he's returning to his normal looking suburban home in full costume. And, as for characterization, we receive absolutely none for either him or Barda. Byrne truly gives us nothing to latch onto with either character beyond their origin story.
3. So what was in the video Darkseid showed to Scott? I'm assuming it wasn't a nude or sex scene, or his reaction would have been stronger. Assuming this is one of Grossman's homemade pornos, wouldn't it have been obvious at any given moment what the nature of the video was? And yet, Scott doesn't seem to suspect this much until far later in the story.
4. In the video, Scott recognizes that Barda appears to be in a sewer, but she's not. We learn later in this issue that the scenes are filmed in a backroom of Grossman's "studio." Perhaps this was an earlier first video that Sleaze recorded while still keeping Barda in that sewer area, but that could probably be better explained.
5. WHY is Sleaze filming a porno of Superman and Barda and selling it to Grossman, anyway? Does he actually require money that he can't acquire with his hypnotic powers? Is it because he's supposed to be an embodiment of our society's worst perversions, which would inevitably include such a business? Again, I can fill in the gaps myself, but I shouldn't have to. Still, what was his end-goal? Did he really expect to keep doing this without being stopped and without retribution?
6. Damnit. Did the creep Sleaze is working through have to have a Jewish last name and be drawn in such a stereotypical New York Jew manner, with the beard, thick glasses, and balding head? It's just as bad as the stereotypical black pimp Byrne featured so prominently in the beginning of the previous issue.
7. Okay, so Sleaze explains that his powers work like hypnosis, and thus he can't make someone do something they really don't want to. How the hell do you explain Superman allowing Sleaze to use him in any manner, then, including intimidating Grossman?
8. I'm sure Byrne thinks this was amusing, but I find it utterly absurd that Sleaze's minions' method of disposing of Mister Miracle so thoroughly resembles an escape act. Wouldn't it make more sense to just shoot and stab the dude once you have him in the sack? And the explanation for his escape that he offers comes so quickly and without any images to accompany it. It feels like a wasted punchline to a joke with an excessively lengthy setup.
9. So, if Sleaze cannot make Superman and Barda do anything against their will, even struggling to get them to kiss, then why is Byrne implying at the end that they slept together?
10. I'm assuming, since it's implied that several videos have already been made with Barda prior to Superman entering the picture, since the hypnosis cannot make Barda do something she doesn't want to do, since Sleaze is only worried that Superman is resisting him (no concern for Barda), and since we know this was already occurring in the previous issue, that all the previous videos involved Barda being raped. Of course, sitting on a bed and waiting for it to happen after being raped excessively would certainly also qualify as doing something you don't want to do.
11. So if Sleaze is a reflection of the depravity all around him, how was he like this back on Apokilypse, surrounded by downtrodden slaves and mindless minions? Was he supposed to be a reflection of Darkseid's depravity? I just don't see it.
12. Where the heck did that Ash Crawler come from on page 17? No joke; I actually laughed out loud when this thing came flying out from nowhere.
13. So explosive sewer gas has the same effect on Superman as the nuclear explosion he experienced while at ground zero in Superman #9? He looks equally damaged both times. And I guess his aura of invulnerability does not protect his hair?
14. Why can't Superman explain his motives for preventing Barda from killing Sleaze? And why wasn't his primary motive "I don't condone murder?"
15. I'm sorry -- what was that ending all about? So Sleaze wasn't causing those old people to keep living? Are we supposed to therefore understand what was, or is this some cliffhanger mystery that will be resolved later on? Is this some saccharine message about how the human spirit prevails in spite of the presence of depravity? Are we supposed to infer that Sleaze is actually still alive and hanging around? I absolutely don't get it.
- Superman has super smell.
Do you really want this?
Mister Miracle returns to his home and finds Darkseid there, Darkseid shows him some sort of video with Barda being held captive in a sewer, Sleaze has been bringing Barda to a small-time homemade porno producer named Grossman, he brings Superman this time and wants the two filmed together, Superman (and presumably Barda) are resisting his telepathic influence, we get an excessive recap of Mister Miracle's origin, he is abducted by Sleaze's minions in an excessively elaborate style and escapes, he breaks into Grossman's studio and breaks Sleaze's influence, Sleaze presumably kills himself by igniting sewer gas while Superman pursues him, it's implied that Superman and Barda were intimate, but their memories are foggy and Barda makes it clear that it should remain forgotten, and Superman discovers the elderly patients from last issue are still alive even after Sleaze appeared to die.
Last edited by shaxper; 02-06-2013 at 07:41 AM.
Okay, I just skipped ahead to the letter column of Action #597 to see what the letters had to say about this issue. Every frickin' letter printed is glowing with praise, giving attention to art, characterization (where? I didn't see any!), and Sleaze as a new character. NOTHING is said about the plot of the issue. I can't believe this is anywhere near a representative sampling of the letters Carlin received that month.
Last edited by shaxper; 02-06-2013 at 08:05 AM.
Action Comics Annual #1
(No clear title. Cover says "Cry Vampire!" "Skeeter!" is exclaimed loudly on the title page and may be intended as such.)
writer: John Byrne
pencils: Art Adams
inks: Dick Giordano
letters: Albert DeGuzman
colors: Petra Scotese
editor: Michael Carlin
I think the first two pages of this issue do an excellent job of capturing the weird balance of impressive and awful that pervades this issue, including a non-sensical narration trying to sound dramatic ("Some say the night is just like the day." Uhhh, who?) and the weirdly mixed work of Art Adams in this issue, which is sometimes quite impressive (as it is on the first half of the splash title page) and sometimes quite awkward (as it is on the second half, with a girl whose face looks like its out of Elfquest wearing a Mr. Peanut t-shirt in the midst of an incredibly dark scene).
In short, this is a weirdly imbalanced story, and it really doesn't accomplish its purpose, which was to finally bring the fan-demanded reunion team-up of Superman and Batman. Well, they don't ever work together in this issue, share a few sparse lines of dialogue with one another, and Batman's rationale for calling Superman in on this case doesn't even make any sense. Is Batman's first reaction to call Superman every time there's a mass murderer on the loose and citizens patrolling in the streets? What was it about this story other than meeting obligatory fan demand that made it a job for Superman?
Then there's the problem with "Skeeter," the cutesy girl the village is chasing who, it should be obvious only a few pages in, is a vampire. We're invited to feel sympathy for her in the beginning, as she's still young and impressionable and (presumably) feeding of necessity. But, when Batman and Superman show up, they just view her as a monster, and we're just supposed to take the sympathy we previously felt for her as misdirection, even finally culminating in Batman (with his no kill policy and his attitude that guns are cowardly) staking her from behind! She's just a monster to be killed in the end. Superman even calls into question the idea that she's any kind of girl because she's a vampire ("Generally I make it a point to avoid punching out the ladies..but then...you're no lady, are you?") and Batman refutes Gordon's idea that she was a child by pulling her birth records. So I guess we're just supposed to ignore her earlier characterization? Certainly a century old vampire can't still have the innocence and naivety of the child it was when it was first turned.
Finally, I just don't know what to make of Adams' art. As said earlier, it's sometimes dead on, and sometimes far too cartoony. Superman, for example looks utterly ridiculous to me in this issue, yet I love the Miller inspired visual approach he takes to Batman. There's also the problem that Bruce Wayne, at the beginning of the issue, looks too much like Clark Kent. If Adams was trying to intentionally confuse us, I don't understand why.
Overall, this wasn't an unenjoyable story in many respects, but it certainly had more than its share of problems, and the little misdirection Byrne and Adams offers as to who the victim is feels like the generic kind of horror story reversals Archie Goodwin threw at us repeatedly in his days at Warren, and I suspect even he was simply borrowing from the playbooks of earlier conventional horror writers (though I haven't read much from EC, Atlas, and the like). Worse yet, I'm still troubled by Batman and Superman's reaction to "Skeeter" and by the pointlessness of their team-up in this issue. Anyone could have snuck up behind Skeeter and staked her. Did Batman really bring anything to this story other than sales (and maybe gross mischaracterization)?
- Why is Clark working late at night at the Daily Planet? Does Superman not require sleep in the same way that he doesn't require food??
- Superman's ability to create a wall of hard air and build a wall around the pseudo-vampires at super speeds seems in conflict with Byrne's earlier implications of just how fast Superman could move. To circle a group of people so fast that you can build a wall around them in mere second would require flying much faster than we've seen him move before.
- Superman's aura of invulnerability is electro-chemical in nature. I suppose that makes more sense than magic, especially since magic is one of his aura's primary weaknesses.
- Bruce's disguise at the beginning of the issue looks absurd. He's supposed to be a far better master of disguise than that. And seriously, calling himself "Mr. Smith"??
- I like Skeeter's accent. It feels more authentic than most writers' attempts to portray back-water rural dialects.
- Why in the world would the citizens of the small town in which this story is set be terrified that all visitors are vampires if they KNOW Skeeter and her parents were the vampires and that they'd been natives of this area for over a hundred years? Heck, haven't these killings been happening all along? Why wouldn't they have called someone in about it by now? I can rationalize that everyone's afraid to go to sleep because Skeeter might be on the warpath since her parents were killed, but even that requires too much filling in the gaps for myself.
- Batman notes that Gordon is acting strangely in this issue. That's an incredibly subtle Millenium-related hint that I doubt anyone reading this comic was going to catch.
- Considering how carefully Batman prepared for a confrontation with Superman in MoS #3, I'm a bit surprised he hasn't done enough further homework to realize that Clark Kent is Superman yet. Instead of calling Clark out on the phone and putting him on the defensive, he feels the need to furnish proof that he's the real Batman.
- I love how Superman is suddenly well-read in vampire lore and just automatically assumes that everything he's read about vampires is 100& accurate (and, sure enough, for the purposes of this issue, it is!).
- Giordano tries to steal what Montano seems to have pioneered in the Adventure Comics Annual, inking Superman all in black aside from the symbol and cape. I suppose it's possible Byrne is the one doing the stealing here (we've certainly seen evidence of his stealing from other Superman books coming out just previous to his issues before).
- So there's an entire hospital wing of people who have been bitten by Skeeter and haven't yet died, yet there doesn't appear to be a single dead/resurrected full vampire running around in town? Did the town stake all their deceased? It makes sense but, again, this probably should have been explained clearly.
- Vampires = magic? Magic is the arcane ability to manipulate reality or, in its original incarnation, to manipulate the gods. Supernatural is not the same as magic.
- Come on! A vampire Superman would have been awesome to see. Just let him parade around for one more issue, and then stake the head vampire.
- Okay, so we've now firmly established that Skeeter and her parents were turned a century earlier. Doesn't that raise the question for anyone whether the vampire who did this to them is still around?? What's the status of vampires in the Post-Crisis DCU, anyway? Are there any out there? Doesn't Batman fight Dracula in Moench's Red Rain storyline in a few more years? Do those rules of vampirism jibe with these?
Plot synopsis in one long sentence:
The story opens with a young girl named Skeeter being chased into the swamps by a mob with torches and pitchforks, we learn that they killed her parents while she went to the city to get an education (she apparently wasn't gone long), Ms. Carson and Mr. Smith arrive jointly in a small town, Mr. Smith proves to be Batman in disguise, Ms. Caron gets killed by a vampire right away, Batman reflects on the mysterious murder in Gotham that led him here (presumably, Gotham is where Skeeter went to briefly seek her education), Batman calls in Superman for help, Batman and Superman both note how the town has militarized itself, Superman finally learns that they're seeking a vampire, Skeeter finds Batman and seeks his aid, when Skeeter realizes that Batman isn't an actual Bat-Man, she tries to kill him and decides to stop her pursuers herself, she starts to control all the people in the town she has wounded who have not yet died, Superman stops them all but is wounded by Skeeter since he is vulnerable to magic, Batman stakes Skeeter from behind, and Batman provides some back information about Skeeter and her parents.
Claremont and Byrne teamed up to do an even worse vampire story in JLA a few years back. I don't think the concept works well with Superman at all. Now Batman is a whole other story.
And yes the Byrne Barda rape tale is one of the more foul mainstream comics that was produced in the 80s. What was he thinking?????
Life looks better in black and white.
Last edited by shaxper; 02-06-2013 at 10:08 AM.
I generally like Byrne's Superman, but I agree that the Sleeze issue was a bad idea. The only thing I can think of as far as reasoning goes is that Byrne was trying to be "adult" in some misinformed and awkward way because of the mood and tone set by DKR's and Watchmen during this period. After all, The Killing Joke was just as bad, if not worse in this regard, and it was approved. Obviously the editors were being very permissive as far as "adult themes" went during this period.
"I was handed a chocolate bar and an M-1 rifle and told to go kill Hitler."--Jack "King" Kirby
Another aspect of this story is the fact that Big Barda is based in part on Jack Kirby's wife, Roz. Needless to say, Kirby was not amused.
Byrne is such a giant asshole.
For reviews, essays and interviews with comic creators, check out my website at The Vault.
MarkAndrew at Comics Should Be Good
All my life, my Great Dream has been to grow a triangular head - Roy Thomas
"The Name Game"
writer/pencils: John Byrne
inks: Karl Kesel
colors: Tom Ziuko
letters: John Costanza
editor: Michael Carlin
I still don't get it. If Byrne was so committed to the idea of making Superman more real and of removing all the more outlandish aspects of the Superman mythos in order to support this concept (even going so far as to retcon Superboy into an artificially constructed "Pocket Universe" and then kill him off while de-powering Krypto into a normal dog), then what the hell is this issue all about? If the post-Crisis return of Titano back in Superman Annual #1 wasn't enough for us, we've got a post-Crisis Mr. Mxyzptlk making his first appearance here, and even the cover is a clear homage to those shockingly misleading covers of the Silver Age (and, incidentally, while the post-Crisis Superman covers have generally been awful, this is probably the first truly good one we've seen).
Maybe the idea of making Superman more realistic was really Andy Helfer's brain-child, and thus his leaving the Superman office corresponds with a new emergence of sillier, more fanciful aspects of the Superman mythos. In fact, there's a bit of evidence to support this correlation, as Superman Annual #1 (The Titano story) was the first story not to credit Helfer as co-editor, and this happened at the exact same time as the Legion crossover that brought back and then obliterated both Superboy and Krypto. Seems likely to me that there was a difference of opinion between Byrne and Helfer as to whether or not these outlandish elements had a place in the post-Crisis Superman mythos, leading to Helfer's hasty and unannounced departure.
So now Byrne is free of Helfer and just plain having fun. If you can let go of the idea that this comic franchise was only recently adamantly against having such fun, then this isn't a thoroughly bad issue, though, in typical Byrne style, it's far from well done.
For one thing, it really bugs me that Byrne completely ignores the progression Wolfman has shown in Clark's relationship with Cat Grant. It's clear in that series that the two are informally dating and that Lois is out of the picture (having missed her chance for the moment), but this issue tries to play on the old love triangle as if none of this had already occurred.
For another, Superman's method of defeating Mxyzptlk was every bit as arbitrary as the solutions to many of the Silver Age "silly" stories Byrne is making homage to here. I suppose I should find that endearing, but Byrne is still writing this like a more complex and realistic post-Crisis book, so I assumed he'd go for a more logical solution and found the end to be a bit of a cop-out as a result.
And am I the only one who thinks "Ben DeRoy" (which, I believe, translates to "King of Kings") looks and acts a little too much like the Beyonder from Secret Wars II (published 1.5 years earlier)?
(forgive me on these, but I'm woefully unfamiliar with the pre-Crisis Mxyzptlik and have no idea how much of this info is new for the character)
- 1st post-Crisis appearance of Mr. Mxyzptlk
- Mxyzptlk does not know that Clark Kent is Superman
- From the Fifth Dimension
- Real name is untranslatable (though what foreigner ever "translates" their name into the local language? Does he mean that it wouldn't translate to the sounds of the Third Dimension or something??)
- Mxyzptlk is just the first thing he wrote on a magic typewriter to serve as a name.
- Mxyzptlk set the criteria that saying the name backward sends him back to the Fifth Dimension.
- Has a "superior 5-D brain"
- Seeks games of chance with Superman
- Should not be able to reappear for another 90 days (when the alignment between the 3rd and 5th dimensions is again optimal), according to theoretical physicians that Superman talks to, though it's unclear if this will be a consistent rule, or if it's just the case this time around (and how do you even ascertain such a thing? Theoretical physicists are aware of a Fifth Dimension, have an understanding that the Third somehow moves independently of the Fifth, and can track their movements in relation to one another? I know this is supposed to be a more futuristic modern day thanks to the contributions of Lex Luthor, but this seems a bit ridiculous).
- Clark's being in the shower while Cat is over may be intended to imply that they are now sleeping together. Unsure if Byrne intended that since he'd set Clark and Cat's relationship back so far at the beginning of the issue.
- So Jimmy Olsen utilizes the secret signal watch to summon Superman just because some lady he's never met before told him all the sheets at her store started moving around like ghosts?
- Were all of Superman's transformations on page 14 intended to reference the Silver Age transformations of Jimmy Olsen? Two of them are clearly referencing "The Super Brain of Jimmy Olsen," and "The Fat Boy of Metropolis," a third might just be a reference to Alfred E. Newman, and I have no idea if the withered Superman with gray hair and a beard is a reference to anything. (EDIT: JKCarrier has since pointed out that these are all references to Silver Age Superman transformations. More evidence that Byrne is intentionally invoking the "silly" past that this franchise was once sworn against.)
Plot synopsis in one long sentence:
Lois Lane is approached by "Ben DelRoy," a mysterious and attractive stranger who invites her to cancel her plans with Clark in order to go to lunch with him, it becomes clear that DelRoy has fantastic powers and a mischievous sense of fun, he gets Lois to agree to marry her and then has her swap existences with a mannequin in order to marry the mannequin instead, Jimmy Olsen signals Superman for an incredibly stupid and arbitrary reason, Superman ends up running into DelRoy, who (it turns out) was just trying to draw Superman out, DelRoy turns out to be Mxyzptlk, who introduces himself and sets a wager for Superman (say his name backwards or Mxyzptlk will pretty much continue messing with everything), Superman outsmarts him in a completely absurd fashion by rewiring the keys on a typewriter at super fast speeds (but wait -- he can't move faster than light, so how come Mxyzptlk didn't see him do this??) sending Mxyzptlk back after causing immense damage, and Lois goes to Clark's apartment to try to make up for ditching him only to find Cat there for lunch and Clark in the shower.
Last edited by shaxper; 02-10-2013 at 07:29 PM.