Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Back Issue Box: Superman #666

Last week in the Action Comics Presents Doomsday Special #1, Supergirl descended into Hell and fought Doomsday in an effort to keep the monster in the underworld. I loved it.

With that journey into the underworld fresh in my mind, I revisited Superman #666, another time a member of the super-family went to Hades and shook things up. The creative team is legendary. Kurt Busiek is the writer. Walt Simonson is on art duties. Suffice it to say, this 'done in one' issue is glorious. Just drink it in. 

Busiek brings up the concept of a Kryptonian Hell and what would happen to that realm when the planet was destroyed. What if one of the demons lived? And what if that demon corrupted Superman? This issue very succinctly shows what the world would be like if Superman was evil. It is scary, way scarier than what I have recently read of the Injustice Superman or even old stories of Ultraman. Luckily, Busiek knows enough to show us that Superman is above all that ... hopefully. 

I don't think I need state that Walt Simonson is a superior artist. The scope of this issue is insane with Superman traveling from Earth to Hades and bashing his way through any number of friends and enemies. There are splash pages that are glorious to behold. The action sequences are incredible. This was an issue that I flipped through a couple of times to just look at the art. Jaw-dropping in its stupendousness. 

This is definitely worth finding and buying. Pure entertainment. On to the book.

The book opens with various heroes around the world seemingly possessed, chanting the name 'K'helu Iu' and saying that whoever that is they are coming for Superman.

At the Daily Planet, the Phantom Stranger shows up to warn Clark of an impending threat. Of course, The Stranger clouds the minds of those around them so this won't be suspicious. 

I didn't know I needed Walt Simonson drawing The Phantom Stranger until I saw this. Obviously, we are headed into a supernatural story if he is here. 

Later, we see that Superman's dreams have been haunting and repetitive. He remembers being rocketed away from Krypton but he now hears some sort of snarl or cry in the background. 

Then there is this vision of a giant despot Superman sitting on his throne, garbed in a tunic like an Emperor, hearing the cries of the people, as he sits and ruminates.

This looks like Darkseid sitting on a throne on Apokolips. Perhaps that is why this sings under Simonson's pen. It is scary.

The people better fall in line. They better be branded with the S-shield. If not, the demonic versions of 'heroes', now Superman's elite guard, will kill you. 

Here is the one shot of Supergirl, all teeth and fangs. That Wonder Woman is terrifying. 

This is Superman ruling like with an iron fist and a cold heart.

But he wakes from the dream. Lois asks him to go get 'ice cream and pickles', a 50s television code meaning she is pregnant. Was Busiek planning something?

It seems that perhaps the dream isn't over. Maybe we are in a dream within a dream. Because this Superman is angry. It starts small with him being annoyed that he has been sent out for pickles, smashing the jar and destroying the store.

But it gets worse. 

His villains all arrive and he decides to end them. We start out with a wonderfully delicious bit. He super-spits right through Luthor's brain. It would be that simple for Superman to kill if he decided. That's just the beginning though. He kills all his villains ... all of them ... in beautiful pages of gore.

And then he kills his friends. Superman complains about how irritating Jimmy's signal watch is. Superman whistles at such a frequency that Jimmy's head explodes! He crushes Perry. He immolates Lois.

This is what an unbridled and immoral Superman would be like. It is scary to read. The Jimmy death is horrific. But the ease of this Luthor kill just cements how scary Superman could be.

And Simonson crushes it. 

In another great moment, he grabs the throne from the Lincoln Memorial and sits on it above in judgment.

He hears all the countries getting ready to surrender but under his terms. 

Superman sitting in space, looking down on us and ready to crush any opposition. There is something powerful about him sitting on the Memorial throne, dissonant. 

This isn't a dream. It's a nightmare.

Superman actually thinks this is a dream and he is blowing off some mental steam. He decides to descend into Hell. He beats up Etrigan on his way to the throne room and then demands that the devil sitting in it vacate. 

That is 'his throne'. 

Superman wants to be the King of Hell.

So far this has been a visual feast of super-powers out of control. We have seen our hero do things I would never imagine he would do. And now he wants to rule a realm of evil.

But then we get a nice wrinkle.

The demon is Rakkar, a minor devil in Krypton's hell who somehow survived the destruction of that realm. I mean, can an underworld be destroyed if the physical world is? 

Without any Kryptonian sin to feed him, Rakkar wasted away in our Hell. That is until Superman killed. And that seed allowed him to fester within Superman.

Is he talking about Superman killing the pocket universe Kryptonians from waaaayyyy back in Superman #22

It is interesting that Superman denies ever killing anyone. Was that Byrne story out of continuity at this time? Did Superman submerge those memories so deep he denies them? Or is there something else going on? We may never know.

I'll just add that I like how Simonson subtly changed Superman's costume to look more like what an Emperor would wear. He looks like Caesar. 

Regardless, these killings have given Rakkar the foothold he needs to possess Superman entirely, turning him into a beast akin to the beast of Revelations with seven heads and ten horns. 

This is another great kernel of a story for me to ruminate on. The seven headed ten horned beast is in our bible. Why would Rakkar know of it? Unless it is a ubiquitous demon in all Hells? 

It is a gruesome transformation and seems to be a victory for Rakkar who will use Superman as the Beast of Hell to bring back the true satan of Krypton, the Iu chanted at the beginning of the story. 

It is, of course, a feint.

I don't know if I quite understand this explanation. But somehow the Phantom Stranger set aside the true soul of Superman so he would be without sin when he finally confronted Rakkar, the enemy. 

Our Superman would never kill or be the cold-hearted bastard we have read here.

And here is another interesting seed that Busiek sows.

Superman wonders if he should try to take Hell apart since he is within it. He could disrupt the workings of Hell if he wanted.

Imagine Superman dismantling Hell itself! Now that made me pause. Could he?

The real devils of the realm say the retaliation would be brutal. But to make sure Superman isn't tempted, they crush Rakkar.

Just like that Clark wakes up in his bed. The whole thing was a dream ... maybe. Even the 'pickles and ice cream' request was a dream. 

Back in the real world, he asks Lois if he has ever killed anyone and Lois says no.

So was the Supergirl Saga with the pocket universe in continuity? Out of continuity? Maybe in continuity??

I asked Busiek over on BlueSky and he said this. 

Very interesting!

Such a scary, throught-provoking, and entertaining issue. One which I am sure is languishing in cheap bins all over America! Look for it. 

But let's recap.
So Superman threatened to take over Hell.
Supergirl just helped The First of the Fallen maintain the status quo of Hell. 

Overall grade: A+

1 comment:

Martin Gray said...

I’d pretty much forgotten this one but just reread it at DC Infinite - it was indeed fun. I also scratched my head at the ‘never killed anyone’ bit, I can’t remember it being stated after any big post-Crisis continuity reset such as Zero Hour that the Kryptonian villain executions had gone… so much that arose from that storyline was still around, such as Matrix Supergirl.