DC Retro-Active Superman 1980's came out last week and was an interesting read for me.
The book was written by Marv Wolfman, a writer whose work on The New Teen Titans I loved in the 1980's. Of course, he has also killed off the Silver Age Supergirl in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And while her arc in Crisis is really classic and heroic, his subsequent handling of Supergirl has been pretty lackluster. So I approached this book with some trepidation.
In the end, I thought this was a very good book. For one thing, I think it captured the right feeling for Superman, a tireless hero who will always do what's right, will always fight for justice. That isn't just a 1980's sentiment for the Man of Steel.
But more than that, Wolfman uses the story as a way of commenting on the comics world in general. This is a pre-Crisis story, a sunnier world filled with hope. And the Superman of that world is forced to face all the horror that has happened in the DCU since that story. Yes, the world is a different place now and comic readers are different too. But Wolfman shows that hope has been in short supply.
Sergio Cariello provides the art here, standard enough fare with nothing flashy. But he does have the honor of showing a brief history of the post-Crisis DCU showcasing the biggest events in the universe.
The story starts with Destiny coming to Superman and telling him that a crucial branch point in history is coming, a decision Superman will need to make. But the choices are bleak - death or despair.
Immediately, Superman is transported to fight a huge villain laying waste to the world, a villain called The Dread. The Dread feeds on a world's lives - heroes' lives - and replicates until all has been consumed.
I think the Dread is the current comic market. The dark story lines do consume the heroes' lives. And currently, we are seeing more and more darker comics and plots in comics. Soon all of comics will be consumed until every book is a variation on a theme, a hero on the brink, walking a fine line. Soon all will be Dread.
But Superman is tougher to absorb than other heroes have been. Maybe that is Wolfman's commentary on how Superman is the last bastion of pure heroics in comics. He doesn't kill. He isn't dark. All others have been absorbed into the dread.
It impresses The Dread enough to pause and offer Superman a choice.
If Superman acts as a warrior for the Dread ... if he kills for the Dread, he will spare the world. But he will make the people of Earth mindless slaves. Killing ... it is the last hurdle, the last inch of integrity for Superman ... it is small and fragile and the only thing worth having.
At this point Destiny freezes time. This is the choice ... a difficult choice no doubt - death or servitude. Destiny does give Superman some more information. Should he fight The Dread, should he pick death, the world he knows will change.
And then we see all the dark corners of the recent DCU replayed. For Wonder Woman, we see Amazons Attack and her killing Maxwell Lord. For Batman we see Bane breaking his back and the horror of No Man's Land. For Green Lantern, we see his time as Parallax, slaughtering other Lanterns. We see the Flash dying. We see the events of Identity Crisis.
And, of course, Superman is also touched by this dread. Doomsday will kill him.
But Superman isn't shaken. Superman will always do good as long as he can. He knows that even if he falls, other heroes will rise to the challenge and take his place.
And then Destiny shows him the fate of the one Superman 'cares about more than almost any other'. He is shown that Supergirl will die in the Crisis.
It moves Superman to tears. Yes, it is revisiting Supergirl's death but at least Wolfman acknowledges her place in Superman's life.
But there is more. He is shown the destruction of New Krypton, the death of tens of thousands of Kryptonians.
Can I say that I am glad that the psychological repercussions of the destruction of New Krypton have been dealt with. Both Superman and Supergirl have gone through their periods of grief and post-traumatic stress, their depression and survivor's guilt. Even here, in one panel, I was reminded about how this would weigh greatly on the super-family's hearts.
Despite being shown all that horror, Superman's resolve can't be shaken. There is no choice here. He picks the third choice ... continuing to fight for what is right and win.
And that is why I love Superman. Why he will never be old fashioned or out of style or a fool. Because I need my heroes to be heroes.
Superman also knows that Destiny would not ask him to decide the destiny of others. This can't be Destiny. And with that, Superman wakes up in the bed he was in when Destiny first arrived.
Destiny was in fact Harbinger. She was testing Superman's will to make sure that he was the right warrior to lead the battle against the Anti-Monitor, that Earth-1 is the right universe to focus on saving in the Crisis.
What I love is that seeing the death of Supergirl strengthened Superman's resolve. He would fight harder knowing Supergirl's sacrifice.
Awake and rattled by the fleeting dream, Superman calls Kara.
I love scenes like this, Kara in bunny pajamas, hanging out with Streaky. But the Crisis is coming, the shadows on Superman's face almost blotting him out.
Not a bad story. Wolfman really does a good job showcasing the darker arcs of the DCU (of course ignoring the bright endings for most of those stories), showing how Superman is the last bastion, the last line of defense against Dread. Will Superman remain that way in the DCnU? I can only hope.
And it was nice to see this Supergirl again, even briefly.
Now I do feel that is important to note that I am not against bleaker characters or arcs. I have enjoyed the multiple breakdowns of Daredevil, his wading into dark waters. I have liked the finer line Tim Drake has been walking on in Red Robin. I am not looking for the saccharin and fluffy stories of the 50s. But I want variety in comics. I don't want all comics to have heroes who are shades of gray, killing or maiming without second thought. There should be room in the comic market for purer heroes.
Overall grade: B/B+
The backstory highlighting the 1980s also has Superman and Destiny discussing crucial decisions. Written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Curt Swan, this issue again seems to ask the question 'Must there be a Superman?'.
Destiny asks Superman to stop helping people. And when Superman still tries to help, Destiny uses his abilities to stop Superman from doing so.
In the end, the events that Superman was trying to intercede in end up being handled by 'every day' heroes. A priest trying to clean up a rough part of town is able to stop some unscrupulous real estate developers. The Fire Department stops a fire. People should try to be like Superman ... but they shouldn't rely on him.