Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Back Issue Box: Superman #137

With the recent talk of homage panels and references on this blog, I thought it would be interesting to dig through the back issue box and find a homage-laden comic. As an old-timer and amateur comic historian, I find homages and obscure references an enjoyable part of comics, a sort of wink to the seasoned comic fan. Of course, they have to be done right, feel natural for the story, and not be so crucial as to confuse someone who doesn't get it.

Superman #137, from 1998, is an issue that does it the right way and is chock full of references from the Silver Age. Writer Dan Jurgens sort of spear-headed the Superman comics through the late 90's (and is coming back in the early 2010's) and journeyman artist Paul Ryan weave some fun stuff into this story of a potential future Superman.

This story comes in the immediate aftermath of the electric Superman Blue/Superman Red long form arc. At this point, the 4 Superman titles (4 titles!) each had arcs going on based on prior periods in Superman's history, making it prime real estate to honor prior creators. Superman:The Man of Steel had a Golden Age feel. Action Comics had a 1970's look. And here, Superman, had a story about Superman's descendant in 2999. These time thrown stories ended up congealing into a long story where Superman battled a time based villain named Dominus.

The first homage comes right from the cover as Superman plays chess with the villain Muto, his colleagues the pieces on the board.

It is a pretty good recreation of Murphy Anderson's classic Justice League of America #1. Even the other heroes are in similar seats. And Supergirl is there!

As for the story within the issue, this is a future world where Klar Ken 5477, a direct descendant of Superman, has tried to live a quiet life as a civilian. Unfortunately, events that have happened on Earth have forced him into donning the familiar and familial red and blue tights to defend the planet.

The world is being invaded by robots. Earth-based droids have turned on their masters. And Superman has waded into battle to save as many lives as he can.

Despite his great efforts, Superman still needs some help. The 'new' JLA arrive to welcome into the superhero community. Remember, this Superman has just gone active here. There are some decent costume designs here although Batman looks a bit heavily armored.

I like that the other heroes immediately recognize him and welcome him rather than brawl.

And in return, Superman takes the team to his Fortress of Solitude, a floating cloaked satellite.

There they meet Superman's sister (a new twist), Supergirl. Remember, this was 1998. There was no Supergirl in the DCU who was named Kara and was Kryptonian. In fact there hadn't been one in 12 years. This was the post-Crisis, Matrix world of the DCU. So does having a Kara count as an homage?

Regardless, Ryan does a great job of capturing the joy that is an essential part of the character. Here she welcomes her brother and the League.

And her mod costume?

Well, that is a clear homage to a costume she sported during her time headlining Adventure Comics in the early 70s, right down to the micro-mini skirt, high boots, and hipster belt.

That is a nice little tip of the hat for Supergirl fans.

Jurgens even evokes the older stories where Superman tries to keep Supergirl in the background and 'away from harm'. But this Supergirl, like the classic version, remains eager and wants to help. She even adds information telling Superman that a villain named Muto is behind this invasion and has already conquered part of the galaxy.

Muto turns out to be tougher than I expected. He teleports into the Fortress and paralyzes the heroes.

And as he is a sporting villain, Muto opts to challenge Superman to a game of chess for the life of his friends rather than simply killing them and over-running Earth. I don't know ... if you are an arch-villain with grand dreams, aren't there other ways to get your sporting jollies?

At least we get some backstory on Muto. An earlier Superman accidentally sent Muto and his family into a robot dimension where he was experimented on and wallowed in his hate, waiting for his revenge.

But as tough as Muto seemed to be when he defeated the whole League with a glance, he turns out to be just as easy to defeat. Lena Luthor simply shoots him. She shot him. Seemed a bit easy given the set up.

Although, at the time, I think there wasn't a Lena in the DCU. So this was another homage. Although this Lena seems a bit tougher than the Lena of the Silver Age. She seems much more Luthor than Thorul.

Green Lantern, now free, then covers Muto in emerald energy, blocking his mental powers.

Lena was a secret weapon in the Fortress, planted by Supergirl. Glad that the Kara/Lena friendship was hinted at here.

Without Muto, the robot army swarming Earth is rudderless and easily defeated.

Even in this potential future Earth, it seems Klar has to ask the oft-asked question 'Must there be a Superman?' His Lois states the obvious. Yes.

And Supergirl reveals herself to the public. Jimmy seems immediately smitten. Jimmy even utters the dreaded 'nice S ... I mean nice chest' comment, stammered by others before and after him including Superboy and Supergirl herself (as she vamped for Boomer in the cringe worthy earliest issues of the last volume of Supergirl).

So this was a harmless and fun 'imaginary story' which looked back and referenced some nice elements of  DC's and Supergirl's history. But in the end, it is pretty forgettable. The overall Dominus storyline plodded along, culminating with Superman becoming deranged, building a Superman robot army of his own designed to protect Earth, and drawing the ire of everyone.

For Supergirl collections, I would say it is of low overall importance but well worth the 50 cents it would cost you at a convention, if only to see a Kara Supergirl wearing go-go boots one more time.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Oh, ta so much, I think I missed that one ... or maybe I've forgotten it, as I was following the Dominus serial. I loved seeing all the homages to Supermen past and future). It's great to see that Kara costume again, it looks so much better when not drawn by the late Mike Sekowsky.

So that makes at least twice Dan Jurgens has homaged that JLA cover. Great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Yeah the old "Mod" costume seems to fit Kara very snufly and in ways unintended by Mike Sekowsky.