Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: DC Retro-Active Superman 1990's

The last of the Superman retrospectives, DC Retro-Active Superman 1990's,  came out last week. This trip in the WayBack machine reunited the superlative Superman Man of Steel creative team of Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove.

And, much like the first two Retro-Actives, this issue really captured the spirit of the decade. While the 1970s and 1980s read like true 'one and done' issues of those time periods, this 1990's issue is very continuity heavy. For someone like me who lived through this period and read this run, this issue was like a comfortable pair of slippers. I was able to slip back into the Superman storylines of those years and enjoy what I was reading. As a result, I wonder if this book was as accessible to readers who just picked this up and hadn't read those arcs. Simonson does a good job of adding exposition through dialogue to fill in the information. But for me, it all just came flooding back. This took place in the aftermath of Doomsday and Reign of the Supermen, a time I feel where there was a tremendous creative explosion in the Superman books.

And it was good to see Jon Bogdanove on Superman again. His art was the most warped and outrageous on the Superman books on that time but felt fresh in comparison to the other books. I am glad there wasn't a 'art style' on all four Superman books as it may have felt stale after a while.

Simonson does a great job of putting us into the right time frame, hitting the key pieces of continuity within the first few pages. The Daily Planet is in financial trouble. Lex Luthor's cloned body (when he was posing as his 'son' from Australia) is also in trouble as the 'clone plague' runs through Metropolis - effecting the Underworlders and Cadmus clones.

But one thing doesn't seem to change, Luthor's hatred of Superman.

If Luthor is going down, he is going to take Superman and Metropolis with him. And his weapon will be a genetically engineered Cruiser II, a earth munching monster under the Luthor's control.

Look at that thing! We need Muad'dib to ride that thing!

This is a Metropolis still digging out from the Doomsday catastrophe. In this quick scene in the Planet, we see the happily married couple doing their jobs.

I like that Lois is on the Mayor's case trying to figure out just where the city's economic hardship is going to hit the hardest.

And Clark's ponytail makes another appearance! The Superman mullet was something I was not sad to see go.

The Cruiser begins worming its way under the city, weakening the foundation of city buildings, causing earthquake like phenomena and leveling some city blocks. Luthor wants more than simple destruction. He hopes to destroy these lower income level housing in order to build luxury hotels.

It gives Simonson the opportunity to show Superman in some classic poses, saving people from danger. Is it me, or is there something Fleisher-studio like in this pic.

And even more than just good real estate business, Luthor knows that the Cruiser's wake of destruction will be blamed on the Underworlders!

I love the cruel calculating Luthor, covering all bases.

The Cruiser is growing faster and faster as he munches his way through Metropolis' bedrock, collapsing subways and toppling more buildings.

Finally, Luthor sends it to attack Cadmus (another way of shining some guilt onto the Underworlders). Luckily Superman is there. Incredibly, the slime Cruiser secretes to ease his swimming in the mud is so corrosive it hurts Superman.

I mean ... it effects him. Look at the burned and bald Man of Steel.

Superman's current condition allows us to take an interesting look into the warped mind of Luthor.

Throughout this issue we have seen Luthor setting up his enemies to attack each other. He callously looks the other way at death and destruction. He seems to be coldly efficient. And yet he gets some glee out of seeing a bald monstrous Superman. There is some pettiness inside that malevolence.

Finally, Cruiser outgrows the controlling modules Luthor embedded in it and goes wild, even damaging the LexCorp headquarters.

It is too massive to fling into space. If up is not an option then down is Superman's only option. He pushes the Cruiser into the Earth's core.

Does that kill Cruiser? Who knows.

There is actually some concern that Superman may have died again when he doesn't immediately return. Luthor has one brief moment of joy thinking he has finished off his enemy.

That is ... until Superman returns, leading to a deliciously classic image of a villain screaming 'no'! I thought Luthor was the most compelling character in this issue.

But my favorite moment of the book was the ending one, Lois lovingly rubbing Clark's bald head and telling him to break out the fedora. There is such happiness and joy on her face. And he has such a sheepish look on his face. These are the moments that I will miss with the dissolution of the Lois/Clark marriage. What could 'ground' Superman more to humanity than having a loving wife at home?

As I said above, this Retro-Active really felt like a look back as it was solidly enmeshed with the continuity and major plot lines of the time period. I, for one, really enjoyed this look back and that is knowing that I was bored to tears with the 'clone plague' arc when it was coming out. Maybe that is nostalgia talking. But Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove did a great job sending me back in time.

Overall grade: B/B+


Dave Mullen said...

I agree with you, it was a terrific read and like Bill Loebs 'The Flash-the 80s' one-shot makes the last few years of these characters look desperately shallow.

Oddly the Simonson/Bogdanove Man of Steel was a book I was frequently a little ambivalent about, it was so different in execution to the other Superman books at the time, but time has been a great boon to it as it has a strong identity and style looking back on it. Bogdanove's art today is more refined but not to the point it is unable to be recognised. What this book, and others in the Retroactive series, showed me is just how poor a lot of the creative craft in modern comics is. There's either a lack of confidence or it's a case of heavy handed editorial who try to take too much control rather than giving writers and artists time and space to gel together and take flight with the characters.

Give me Bill Loebs on the Flash again, or Roger Stern on Superman!

Anonymous said...

Love this one-shot! I'm going to miss Clois! -ealperin

Dr. Thinker said...

I hope the DCnU is a epic failure!

Martin Gray said...

Lovely review, Anj. This was indeed a fun call-back to an interesting period for the Superman books. That cover fooled me, I was expecting Luthor to wind up in a Superman suit.

The art in the complementary back-up was worse than I remembered, but I do like the quirkiness.

Gene said...

I found it funny back then that everyone did not put two and two together when Superman started wearing a mullet the same time Clark Kent was wearing a pony tail.


Kandou Erik said...

I was initially put off by this book because of the strikingly different depiction of Lex Luthor. (I always forget he came back cloned with more hair than anyone could ask for.)

But my comic shop was running a "buy 3 DC books, get the 4th free". There where only two DC titles I planned to buy, OMAC and Action Comics. I had been eyeing the JLI issue as well, so I decided to get that issue along with this Superman issue. (I got one of the $5 books completely free!) The Superman issue was just great. I didn't read Superman during that era, but the story was pretty easy to understand. And I simply loved the epic scenes of Superman fighting a giant worm burrowing through the streets of Metropolis! Great stuff!