Comic Fodder

Action Comics Annual #10: Revenge of Silver Age Superman

Full disclosure: I'm a pretty big Superman nut. Read at your own risk.

Pre-Crisis Superman. For decades the phrase held an amazing amount of power over the young women and men who were watching their comics grow up right alongside them. The notion that comics weren't for kids meant that superheroes couldn't be for kids. To not be a child, it was easy enough to reason, meant that our superheroes had to put away childish things.

Conveniently, the Crisis on Infinite Earths maxi-series gave editors across the board license to discard the trappings of the juvenile that permeated their books. Of all the characters to feel the effects of Crisis on Infinite Earths, no doubt Superman was the most visible.

The Superman mythos were re-launched with John Byrne's Man of Steel limited series, and in six issues, fifty years of Superman comics were wiped from existence. The work of innumerable artists and writers, the stories loved by kids for decades were swept into the dustbin of kitsch and camp, an embarassment to a DC trying to write "graphic novels". Gone was the Superboy, who had sold some unknown number of comics. The Legion of Superpets, each created on a whim by Mort Weisinger and his staff to appeal to kid's wishes, and who were always a fun story or distraction, would disappear. In it's place, we were to have a Superman who was someone an adult could get behind, who wouldn't be weighed down with ridiculous props like a a fortress in the arctic with a gigantic golden key. This was a serious Superman, who was basically, at the end of the day, was a Superhero, not too much different from anyone else.

Perhaps the operatic construction of Superman's origins in Superman: The Movie had touched a particular chord with Byrne and DC as they made their changes. The movie could be taken seriously with a Rockwellian Kansas, the lofty, crystalline spires of the Fortress of Solitude and an alien Krypton, devoid of the chaos and emotions of humanity.

But a funny thing happened. No sooner were those trappings wiped clean in the Byrne/Wolfman reboot than the fans kinda-sorta realized they'd missed those things. And so elements began to pop up, albeit in a new form. The Bottle City of Kandor became a city of miniaturized beings from across the galaxy, no longer merely the lost Kryptonian city. The Fortress underwent multiple versions, even going so far as to be placed in a Mayan pyramid, deep in the jungles of Central America. Berganza even let his Silver-Age loving creative team return Superman to a Silver-Age version of Krypton (a story unto itself), only to emerge with a new version of Krypto, the SuperDog. Red Kryptonite appeared. And then, in Loeb's first arc on Superman/Batman, the world became littered with all the shades of Kryptonite and their various effects once again. And, of course, the endless permutations of Supergirl.

Begin actual review:

Action Comics Annual #10 does many things, but mostly it gives readers the answers they've been looking for. How much of the Silver Age can we expect? And how will it be handled?

If you're looking for clues, you might want to note the Silver-Age DC checker pattern across the top of the page and the traditional Superman "giant" cover layouts that died out with Kara Zor-El's headband.

Nostalgia? Or a Silver-Age Assault so totally awesome it just blew your mind...?

The Many Deaths of Superman: The first portion, a smart four page inner monologue of Lex Luthor, brilliantly illustrated by Art Adams, reminds readers that bullets may bounce off Superman's chest, but that he is far from invulnerable when a little imagination is applied. And a little motivation. Superman's rogues gallery makes a stream of appearances, and readers are reminded of some of Superman's more significant foes, some of whom originated during the Weisinger-era, some from the Schwartz-era, some of whom are decidedly more modern.

There's a hint here as to what editor Matt Idleson and his writers are trying to do as the Superman comics enter their latest overhaul. It's a grab bag of eras in the Superman comics, with decades of options to choose from to create the best Superman possible.

Who is Clark Kent's Big Brother: If nothing else, this story answers the questions Superman readers have been trying to resolve since Infinite Crisis. Is there a Superboy? In this story (ably illustrated by Eric Wright) we quickly learn that while Clark Kent had not donned the costume of Superman, he is the mysterious "Super-Boy", a mysterious and anonymous figure who is a bit like a crop circle or UFO sighting in rural Kansas. Perhaps the best of both worlds. The powers of Superboy are in place, but the creators treat the idea with a greater deal of pragmatism than the notion of a Superboy in a cape acting as the deputized protector of Smallville. That said, the tunnel from the Kent's house is back, as well as the helpful adopted parents, trying to the best they can by their amazing child.

I'll admit, I never really read up enough on Mon-El, other than knowing he was supposed to be a Daxamite as Mon-El hasn't been front and center in Superman comics while I've been reading. This bitter-sweet story went a long way to providing Mon-El with an origin and a young Clark Kent with a sense that he is no longer utterly alone in the cosmos.

Mystery Under the Blue Sun: Joe Kubert. Wow. Only two pages, but there's no mistaking Kubert's work. The sense of motion, the stressed-out Thanagarian pilots (did I mention I'm reading the Enemy Ace Archive Editions right now?).

...and a cubed world full of Bizarros. Me am not positive this is runaway from Silver Age sensibilities.

Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude: A two-page spread of a largely symbolic map of the Fortress of Solitude? With a trophy room full of life-sized scultpure's of Superman's pals? And the Interplanetary Zoo? You've got to be kidding me. Silver-Age goodness abounds in form and content.

...but what's up with the statues of the Legion? Could it mean...? Nah.

The Criminals of Krypton: This should have been included in every copy of the Superman II DVD's released in November. With Richard Donner onboard as a writing partner, Geoff Johns finally tells the story of Zod's incursion on Krypton. Dialogue from Superman: The Movie and Superman II are sprinkled in as the events prior to Krypton's destruction unfold.

At last we see why Zod might have had it in for Jor-El and his heirs in particular. We see Jor-El confronting the Council. And we see a bit of why poor Non has precious little to say over the length of Superman II.

Post-Crisis DC had always embraced portions of the depictions of Krypton as a cold and sterile planet. Johns and DC are now savvy enough to know that the depictions of Krypton in the film have reached a far, far greater audience than the comics ever would. And, in fact, the comic fans themselves embraced those depictions long ago. There's very little convincing that needs to happen.

From a narrative standpoint, it's amazing how much occurs in this story in just a few pages. Well done.

Superman's Top 10 Most Wanted: a two-page spread of a small portion of Superman's rogue's gallery. Probably intended to clue the reader into which villains we can expect to pop up in 2007, and what version of those villains we might expect to see.

The real question: Will Brainiac have pants? Or continue to wear trunks? He must be proud of his legs. I know his design is a classic, but every time I see classic Brainiac, I wish that as an interstellar despot he'd know the firrst step to gaining the respect of others is not being seen in your BVD's.

The Deadliest Forms of Kryptonite: Luthor has become a connoisseur of methods of bumping off the Man of Steel. This story is an interesting reminder of the various colors of Kryptonite (although it does nothing to examine each color's effect). What IS interesting on page 2 of the 2-page feature is that John Corben (AKA: Metallo, the Man with a Kryptonite Heart) now features a pin wheel with five spearate Kryptonite rocks to mess with Superman's day.

Sure, Metallo no longer looks like Superman with a pimp-tacular mustache as he did in Action Comics 252, but he's still some easily updatable Superman goodness. Just don't let him become the green robot from the late Schwartz-era again.

Superman is finally undergoing the major reconstruction that the character has needed since the end of the Byrne run. Stripping Superman of his familiar trappings and touchstones may have worked briefly, but surrounded by the fantastical, Superman doesn't appear less super. Instead, the Silver Age props and characters add more layers to the mythos of the Superman comics.

Recently, DC has done a favor to Superman fans and launched the Showcase Presents line of reprints, featuring the Silver-Age tales in a massive, collected format.

Some readers may reject these items out of hand, and that's too bad. Superman comics were once considered to be a fun read thanks to the wild ideas and fantastic situations. That's not to say that the ideas were ever truly bad or outdated. The execution fo the stories surrounding those ideas may have needed some polishing up. If you're enjoying All-Star Superman at all, I hate to tell you this, but you're really enjoying a particularly well executed Silver-Age Superman story. If this is where the two main Superman titles are headed, that can't be all bad.

Action Comics Annual #10 comic may still be on the shelf. Do yourself a favor and give it a chance.

I'm a self-confessed Superman Fan. I may have missed something in my Silver-Age glee. Questions? Comments? Criticism? Come on, I can take it.