Friday, November 10, 2023

Review: Return Of Superman 30th Anniversary Special

Last week, the Return of Superman 30th Anniversary Special came out, a square bound, ten dollar tome looking back at the Reign of the Superman story. DC did a good job getting the band back together. Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel are back writing. Ordway, Jurgens, Jon Bogdanove, and Tom Grummett are on art chores for the flashbacks with Travis Moore doing the framework story. Only Roger Stern and Jackson Guice are missing.

I suppose this book was written for people like me who lived through the 'Reign of' and the 'Return of' Superman. This book looks back at the time when the real Superman was dead, there were 4 Supermen running around, and readers were wondering if any of them were the Superman.

Jurgens handles the framework story of Lois reading from Perry White's journal from that time period and his reactions to the different Supermen. It was quite fun to look back at then the Cyborg Superman, Steel, Superboy, and the Eradicator were relatively unknown. Seeing Perry fall for the Cyborg's pretending to be Superman brought back memories of buddies who thought so too. (I had my money on the Eradicator ... as usual I was wrong.)

But it is the flashback stories where we see those characters in the early stages of their careers that was the most fun. I loved all the Superman books then. I loved the Kesel/Grummett Superboy. So the nostalgia engine was cranked up reading these books.

When it all is said and done, there is a nice sentiment to the story, a reminder that the real Superman is the standard other try to live up to. 

This was pretty pricey but I gobbled it up. 

On to some details.

The Cyborg Superman is on the attack in Metropolis. 

I like the contrast of art here with Travis Moore bring a very polished, sleek-lined look to the current day story. This looks like today's comics so it feels right.

We cut to the Planet where Lois is reading from Perry's journal.

Now when Superman died, I think we all knew he wasn't going to stay dead. But the comics treated it seriously. 'Funeral For a Friend' showed the world's response to Superman's death. 

So seeing Perry's words hoping that maybe Superman would the one person to come back felt true for the time. 

And that hope probably led to the citizens of that world into believing that one of the Supermen was actually *the* Superman. 

Cut to flashbacks.

Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove are back on Steel!

It is an early story so it focuses on John Henry Irons trying to stop his Toastmaker heavy guns from getting onto the streets. Ron Troupe is right there to witness Steel stop the destruction of a neighborhood. 

And Troupe sees how Steel embodies what Superman was about. That last line just sings. 'He wasn't Superman ... but maybe he was the next best thing.'

I love Bogdanove's big, bold art. I love that he put page numbers on the page! And I love how this was a young Steel with Simonson showing he wasn't a polished fighter.

We then cut to an Eradicator story. I wish we got Stern and Guice, but a Jerry Ordway written and drawn story is an excellent replacement. 

Here we see Perry interacting with the Eradicator and being shocked by the ultra-violent and aloof nature of the 'Kryptonian'. It is up to Perry to try and break through and teach this Superman about using trust not fear. But it is fleeting. 

I know this will come as no surprise. But Ordway's art is just pitch perfect. 

I really like The Eradicator, one of the few I think who do. I think he is a nice contrast to Superman, showing how the Kents were different mentors. So seeing this Eradicator trying to be Superman but as the Krypton Man was fun. 

Then we get what was for me the best story.

Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett were back on Superboy.

Poor Conner been through the wringer these last few years, disappearing then coming back, and then trying to find out who he is within an expanded super family. Certainly the recent Man of Tomorrow felt more like the character than the recent Mags Visaggio disaster.

But this was pure, unadulterated, young Conner. He's brash. He's pubescent with an over-active obsession with pretty girls and he thinks he is Superman. 

I mean what screams the Metropolis Kid more than this splash page! Smiling, hoisting a pretty girl on his shoulder, wearing shades! Heck, make this a poster DC. I might buy it.

And then a great little wrinkle.

This was super early on in Superboy's career. He still thinks he is the cloned Superman. He doesn't understand his tactile TK yet. 

But if he is a Kryptonian clone, how does he survive a hail of Kryptonite bullets from Bloodsport? Perhaps the idea that he isn't a Kryptonian should've been germinating even back then. Perry really breaks down the clues.

Perry also knows that Conner is full of potential.

Again, this look at Perry's thoughts on these Supermen is a great hook for the story.

So how great is it to read Perry's thoughts on the Cyborg turning out to be evil.

Perry thought he was Superman. Perry put a headline up declaring 'Superman is back' with the Cyborg. 

This page of Perry kicking himself for backing the wrong player, for being fooled by the Cyborg, by not following the rules of journalism ... and all because he needed that hope, he needed Superman to come back ... is just powerful. 

In many ways this is a Perry story. 

Great art by Jurgens bringing us back to 1993.

I love this page. For some reason, it just struck me as similar to the Busiek Superman:Secret Identity covers.

We do get a retelling of the return of Superman and his defeating the Cyborg.

I had to include this page, a 'blink and you'll miss her' sighting of the Matrix Supergirl. 

Was the current Supergirl around when Doomsday killed Superman? Has continuity been re-written?

After all that, Perry reflects on Superman. 

Superman is the best of us, so he makes us try to be our best.

You want to read a primer on what Superman should be? Read this page. 

With the four flashback stories done, we cut to the present.

The Cyborg has been skirmishing with Steel, Superboy, and the Eradicator. Turns out Henshaw wants to get the DNA of this colleagues from STAR in hopes of resurrecting his family. It is a little sympathetic. It is an interesting flip of the resurrection story which is percolating in these flashbacks.

Too bad the ending comes quickly with the Phantom Zone Projector.

I swear I need to put a 'it has been this many days since DC got out of a story jam with the Phantom Zone Projector' sign on my door.

With the Cyborg gone, the real Superman shows up. He knew his friends had things in hand.

Looking back at Perry's journal, Lois sees how he ended up processing the death and return of Superman.

He sees Superman as an inspiration, spawning legacy.

This was comic comfort food for me, going back to a period in comics that feels still new but also classic. 30 years ago! How time flies!

I can only hope the price tag didn't keep people away.

Overall grade: B+


Anonymous said...

Supergirl appears in 4 panels in the Jurgens "Betrayal" story - one closeup and three in full costume.

The belt and boots are Matrix's (boots with stitching near the top, and without the yellow trim that many other versions of Supergirl have had), and in two of the three full illustrations, the skirt has the characteristic pointed diamond shape that only Matrix wore.

(In the third full illustration, the skirt doesn't appear to have been drawn that way, but that could be due to the perspective.)

So, I cannot be convinced that is NOT Matrix. Anyway, that's what I want it to be!

She remained silent throughout, though, maybe not accidentally. It's as if she was left floating around in the background like a ghost of ambiguous continuity.


Anj said...

So hard to figure out.

Matrix I think is completely out of continuity. A shame really.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that Superboy splash page WAS a poster; I think all four replacements had one, either inserted into their debut issues or used as promotional art for shops. Either way, even though that image of Superboy carrying a shower-garbed girl to safety was from all the way back in 1993, I do think it's been redrawn for this new anniversary special.

Martin Gray said...

Spot on Anon, the basis for that page was the poster in Adventures of Superman #501.

Thanks for the review, Anj, I loved this issue too, for the reasons you mention. It was so good to see Superboy with his peak personality, with no angst in sight.

And I loved the Krypton Man too, such a great costume design.

What a treat to have a Perry issue, and this has to be the most we’ve seen of Ron in years.

I loved Louise Simonson’s line when the kids on Ron’s street are wondering if the Metropolis Kid could really be Superman: ‘Get real Rosa, he doesn’t even have a cape.’ It’s like someone’s been looking at the new costumes.

Bayu Setiawan said...