Monday, August 1, 2011

Review DC Retroactive: 1970s Superman

I am not part of the demographic that DC Comics is aiming for in their new relaunch. I'm an old timer, someone collecting and reading for more than three decades. DC wants to lure in newer fresher audiences.

And yet, DC must also realize that part of its greatness is the history of these characters, the legacy of the great ones. That has to be the impetus behind the DC Retro-Active books, looks in the rear view mirror at past periods in character's lives.

With that background, I bought DC Retro-Active 1970's Superman #1, a really fun comic for me. This book really seems to capture the feel of the mid to late 70s Superman, which I will admit was a crucial part of my Superman reading life. It was around this time I must have decided to read a lot of Superman because I recall owning a lot of the issues from 1978 and 1979. And the villains showcased in this issue ... the Master Jailer, the Atomic Skull ... I remember reading their big stories in that time. Poor Moosy Draper, he could never get Lana's attention. So I have to come clean and say that there was a nice whipped topping of nostalgia for this book which made it a very sweet read.

But beyond the nostalgia, I thought this was a good example of the stories happening in that time, from the Lois/Superman romance, to Lana's chasing Superman for his affection, to Supergirl being a big part of Superman's life. Writer Marty Pasko does a great job hitting all the highlights (lowlights?) of the time in putting together this story, a done in one (as most stories were back then) tale of Superman overcoming some negative feelings to remember what is important. And artist Eduardo Barreto is no stranger to the super-family so it was nice to see his work here.

Sure there is some clunkiness to the trappings here given the passage of time (Lana risking her life for Superman's attention?) but I thought this worked.

The issue starts with a tired Superman contacting old friend Van-Zee in Kandor to discuss an upcoming ceremony. Superman's call is early mostly because he has had precious time to spare recently. Van-Zee has to stop his Torquasm Vo meditation to discuss what's happening.

Van is worried about Kal as Superman snips and yawns his way through the conversation. Over the last week the Kandorians have seen Superman fight Bizarro, the Atomic Skull and Metallo, as well as hunt for the Master Jailer. Superman needs a rest. But Van can't convince Superman to take a break. Instead, Superman flies off to another disaster.

This was a nice opening scene showcasing a lot of the high points of the 1970s. Sure we see a couple of villains created in that time period but the inclusion of Kandor, the Kryptonian name-drops, Clark on camera as a WGBS TV anchor are all a big part of that time.

Supergirl has been hiding in the background here, listening to everything. She had noticed Superman's brusque manner recently and told the Kandorians about her worries. While it is a story from the 80s, we have seen the effect of a lack of REM sleep on Kryptonians here so Van-Zee and Supergirl are right to be worried.

And how nice it was to see Supergirl in her shorts and puffy sleeves from the 1970s.  And to see her having such an active and familial relationship with her cousin. She noticed he was 'cranky' and told other about her concerns.

Flying back to Metropolis, Superman runs fights the Master Jailer. The Jailer is after Lana Lang (his obsession from Smallville) but is stopped by Superman. Lana, recently returned from Europe (and saying 'entre nous' and other French phrases) is back in town and trying to romantically win Superman back. It was an interesting story back then, Draper obsessed with Lana ... Lana obsessed with Superman. Here Lana is saucy and busty and pretty aggressive, much to Superman's surprise.

And also much to Lois' surprise. Lois has arrived as a reporter and wonders what Lana's intentions were here. Did she bait the Jailer so Superman would rescue her? And Lois also wonders if Superman rescued Lana with a bit more gusto. Does he have feelings for Lang? The lip print on his face might say so!

At first I worried Lois might come off badly here. But I think she actually is pretty strong, asking Superman to simply face the facts that Lana is trying to get him romantically and that he is being a dunce if he doesn't recognize it.

Irritated at the exchange (he didn't ask for any of Lana's affections), Superman heads home only to encounter the Atomic Skull and his minions attacking the Superman museum.

But it is an off fight. Superman's xray vision confirms that the real Skull is still imprisoned. This Atomic Skull seems to be able to read minds. The Skull's voice is wrong. His troops seem to be able to replicate themselves. The angrier Superman gets, the more troops appear. 

And like most villains of this time, they seem to stream to the WGBS building to attack Lois. Superman overhears Lois talking to producer Josh Coyle (he of the ever-angry ulcer) about visiting Lana in the hospital, trying to mend things between them. Proud of Lois mature attitude, loving her even more, Superman smiles. And with that the Skull troops dissipate.

So much fun to see villains with simple agendas ... the beautiful girl, trashing the Superman museum, capturing Lois. Again, the 70s were a simpler time.

The mastermind of all this craziness? Mr. Mxyzptlk. Vacationing in Bppkss (bupkis?), 'the Las Vegas of the other dimensions',  and has got himself into a hole. He owes the wagerer Grbnsqz (grab and squeeze?) a lot of money and has decided to try to settle things with a 'double or nothing' prayer bet. Mxy bets he can get Superman to destroy all that the Kryptonian loves.

Its a desperate bet. But he thinks he knows how to do it. He imbues Superman with a new power. Superman's negative thoughts will manifest physically as threats. The more thoughts like that he has, the more threats. Eventually Superman will wear down psychologically and lash out. It explains why things are blipping in and out of existence, how the Skull attacks and is still in jail.

And it gets trickier for Superman. When the threats dissipate, so does all the damage they have done and memories of what they did. The Superman museum is fine. No one remembers the Skull attack. Superman wonders if he is losing his mind.

Nice plan except Grbnsqz thinks that means Superman needs to kill everything. It was good to see Mxy admit he's no killer. He wants to annoy Superman not make him a murderer. But Mxy is stuck.

Sent away so Steve Lombard can do the news (another irksome turn of events), Superman heads for the fortress. Luckily Supergirl has been keeping an eye on her cousin and has captured the Skull fight (and Mxy taking it all in) on film. Superman isn;t losing it. But why would Mxyzptlk take off like that.

In this time, Supergirl and Superman worked together a lot, as a super-team. I really thought this was a nice moment as the worried cousin kept tabs on her relative.

Of course, knowing Mxyzptlk is involved makes Superman angry. And that anger becomes a very solid Metallo. Superman ends up succumbing to the Green K energy here. But look at Supergirl slap Metallo into a sleeper hold! Wonderful!

Once unconscious, the negative thoughts end, Metallo disappears, and Supergirl awakens confused. She doesn't remember the fight.

The two cousins talk about the mystery a bit and go their separate ways.

Superman heads to visit Lana but remains angry at the nonsense around him. Those thoughts manifest as Bizarro. And to make matters worse, Lois storms off wondering why Superman seems to be spending time with Lana again.

Finally, Superman figures out the connection. And with that realizes that calm thoughts (like when he thought of Lois before) will literally make his problems disappear. Meditiating using Torquasm Vo, Bizarro disappears.

And the most calm he feels is with Lois. He flies to her and tells her how much he loves her. The two reconcile. And with that kiss, all the Mxyzptlk madness vanishes.

How great to see the strength of the Lois/Superman relationship here.I still wish they would remain married in the DCnU and hope that Lois is treated well there. But this was fun.

Mxyzptlk has lost, removes the new power he gave Superman, and gets dragged away to wash dishes for Grbnsqz. The threat is over.

But this was not done by himself. It was only with the help of Supergirl, Van-Zee, and mostly Lois that he was able to overcome what was happening.

The book ends with Superman realizing he needs some R&R. And what better place to vacation with Lois than in Kandor. And he'll be there only to relax. Supergirl will handle to ceremonial duties within.

The reprinted story is from Action Comics #484 in which the Earth 2 Superman marries that Lois (an interesting choice given the dissolution of the DCnU marriage).

So now that I have soaked in some wonderful nostalgia, I have the hard time of trying to grade this book. I think it is impossible. I can't evaluate this book without understanding that it brings me back to spinner racks and comics folded in my back pocket. It works for me, which I think is the purpose of these books. Will someone weaned on comics since 2000 enjoy this book? I really can't tell.

But in a short period of time, Marty Pasko really stuffed in as much of the 1970s Superman mythos as he could. And that is the most impressive thing to me. We really got a glimpse at all the big parts of the Superman universe here. Seeing how close he and Supergirl were at that time, both as a relative and as heroes, was fantastic. And we got to see the hot pants costume again. For me,  I especially liked revisiting the Lana/Lois part of the books at that time.

Overall grade: A (for an old timer like me)


Anonymous said...

I think a good move for DC would be to provide older readers, who like the simpler, black and white, lighthearted stories, comics like these while keeping the main titles with a focus on the teen-thirties readers whom DC has been losing left and right while constantly appeasing conservative, older fans. Let's face it, older readers are not a sustainable audience or a growing one.

I can't wait for the new dcu. After not appealing to me for 4 years, I'm finally excited about Supergirl and Action Comics again.

Anj said...

I can't wait for the new dcu. After not appealing to me for 4 years, I'm finally excited about Supergirl and Action Comics again.

I am amazed that you are consistently the first person to leave a comment on almost every one of my posts. And yet, despite different topics ... all your comments are basically the same.

I know you don't like bike shorts, don't like Sterling Gates, don't like DC for the last several years, and include me a 'loud blogger' who demanded that Kara be weakened (the last one being an insult to me).

But it is clear you have passion. Enough to post a comment almost daily. As I have said to you before, maybe it is time you channel that passion into your own site. Why not restart your 'disgruntled Supergirl fan' page. Or hit the DC Boards again.

Because your repetitious posts here simply don't add much to the conversation.

Dr. Thinker said...

Nice review, Anj-- worth heading to comic book for.

Now If I'm a betting man, I'm going to said that COI related issue is to focus on Supergirl.

Logging off,
Dr. Thinker

P.S. I hope the DCNu is a epic failure for DC Comics.

Unknown said...

I’ll have to pick this one up. Too bad the art couldn’t have been handled by the late, great Curt Swan.

And I agree with your comments re. Anonymous. One more reason why I stopped blogging about current comics so long ago …

Keep up the great work!

Aaron said...

I don't know if I'm quite an old timer yet as a reader but I prefer Supergirl's puffy sleeved costume and the small emblem and all that. The midriff thing seems like a different character. I love the original Master Jailer story, it's one of my favourite all time Superman stories.

Anonymous said...

Thats my Supergirl!!! Younger than Kal El and still willful enough to call him out to his face when the situation demands it. This reads like a classic Supergirl guest appearance from the late 1970's where she is depicted much more strongly than in her core feature.
Yeah count me in as a mark for ye olde red running shorts and the over-her-heart s-icon.

John Feer

Gene said...

I am glad that Supergirl was included in this 70's retroactive. I wasn't the biggest fan of her outfit back then, but looking at it now, it looks good on her.


Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

The relationship between Kal and Kara in this era was wonderful. The 'secret weapon' 'less than sidekick' mentality really was gone and the two acted more like colleagues. So I was happy to see that dynamic again.

And yes, it was great to see that costume again.

Now what will Marv Wolfman do in the 80s retroactive? Anyone else worried?

Anonymous said...

Marv Wolfman will do as he did on the DCU Legends book, if Supergirl is mentioned or featured she will be degraded, humiliated and dismissed.
Count on it end of story.

John Feer