Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Cover date: September 2008
Writer: Geoff Johns
Penciller: Jerry Ordway
Inker: Bob Wiacek
JSA Pin-Up Artists: Dale Eaglesham and Wade Von Grawbadger
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
Reviewed by: Barry Freiman
Helena's boyfriend District Attorney Harry Sims is hospitalized, covered in facial bandages, after an attack by the Joker. Huntress hunts for Joker when cosmic energy explodes around her. When she looks up, she calls the Justice Society on her communicator to tell them Power Girl has come home.
At Justice Society headquarters, Power Girl is unconscious but aware of what's going on around her, sensing the familiarity of her pre-Crisis past. She's being examined by Dr. Midnight (Beth Chapel) with assistance from Jade (Jenny Hayden).
Huntress waits outside the examining room when Robin runs up asking about Power Girl and if Superman and Lois returned with her. Helena and Dick talk about the Joker's attack on Harry Sims - Joker's intent was to recreate Two-Face following Harvey Kent's death (not a typo - on Earth-2, Two-Face's last name was Kent). Dick says he heard Helena and Harry got engaged that night. Helena pushes Dick away and tells him to return to his life abroad.
Power Girl wakes up and recalls the last thing she remembers - that Gog told her she was lost. Power Girl stumbles into the Justice Society meeting room facing the full, renamed Justice Society Infinity (JSI). Power Girl accepts that she is back on Earth-2. She tells the JSI about the end of the Crisis and how everyone thought Earth-2 was folded into New Earth. Dr. Midnight posits that the New Earth was a "byproduct of the Crisis" rather than a combining of pre-Crisis worlds. Power Girl tells the JSI that Superman and Lois are dead and that Superman died saving the universe (in "Infinite Crisis").
That night, Power Girl can't sleep. At her window a cat hisses ominously at her. The Spectre (Jim Corrigan) and Dr. Fate (Kent Nelson) hover around the hole in the street where Power Girl crash-landed on Earth-2. They sense the "blood of the Multiverse" and imminent danger to Earth-2.
Power Girl meets up with the Huntress who's hunting for the Joker. Power Girl tells Helena she doesn't feel like she belongs on Earth-2, that she misses the friends she left behind on New Earth. Helena tells her that they can go see Jay Garrick (The Earth-2 Flash, now retired) tomorrow to see if he can help them find a way to contact New Earth.
Power Girl joins Huntress in a raid on the Joker's headquarters. The Joker is old and decrepit, in a wheelchair, and wearing an oxygen mask. Joker tells them it hurts to laugh. Helena is about to kill Joker and Power Girl stops her. It appears Joker rigged up a contraption that would have killed Helena and him at the same time. Due to Power Girl's intervention, the trap only takes out the Joker (unclear if he's dead).
Later, Power Girl and Huntress talk. Helena says she would have killed Joker. Helena admits to Power Girl that, while Harry asked her to marry him the night of the Joker's attack, Helena was getting ready to turn him down when the Joker attacked. Helena tells Power Girl she's always been in love with someone else. Power Girl guesses it's Dick Grayson. Helena feels like she can't ever leave Harry because what happened to him is her fault. The heroines hug it out.
Out of nowhere, a voice calls down asking "Who the hell are you?" It's another Power Girl - this one in her original Earth-2 costume. The two Power Girls fight. The Power Girl who just showed up remembers the last thing she said to Huntress before leaving Earth-2 to find Superman. The New Earth Power Girl doesn't have any memory of their last meeting. Huntress believes the newly-arrived classic version. The New Earth Kara makes a tactical retreat.
The entire active Justice Society goes hunting for Power Girl as Power Girl asks herself where exactly Gog sent her.
To be continued in "Justice Society of America"...
Story - 4: Before I begin, though technically I've already more than begun, I want to thank Neal Bailey for giving up his claim on this review since he does review the regular monthly "Justice Society of America" title. When I told Neal how much I love Earth-2, he agreed to let me take on this review. Thanks pal for that and the Batcycle.
To a lot of you, I'm sure this Annual goes onto the list of things that make you go hmmm, or, at least, huh? To me, this story is something I never thought I would see again after 1986: a new adventure of the pre-Crisis Justice Society. Twenty-two years ago, DC told me and other long-time readers that we had to forget everything that happened before the "Crisis on Infinite Earths". When John Byrne's "Man of Steel" came out, everything I knew about the Earth-1 Superman just didn't matter anymore - and worse yet, it was treated as if none of it ever happened.
If you're a newer reader who grew up on the post-Byrne Superman, you probably felt the same when DC released "Superman: Birthright" and when Geoff Johns and Richard Donner made Clark Kent the "fake guy" again. That's why I never really got my panties in a bunch over the move away from the Byrne era as much as I really did love it. But I've been in this place before. Change is inevitable in life, even in serialized fictional life.
I believe it's no coincidence that, following the demise of the Multiverse in the first "Crisis", it became commonplace for heroes to marry (e.g., Lois and Clark, Wally West and Linda Park, Green Arrow & Black Canary), have children (e.g., Green Arrow, Aquaman, Batman), and die (e.g., Superman, Wonder Woman, Ice, Martian Manhunter, Barry Allen, Bart Allen, Connor Kent, Green Arrow, Hal Jordan, Elongated Man, Sue Dibny, and Hawkman, to name a few). Readers grow up so heroes grow up. But there was more to it than that.
Even if it's still not in real time, it's important to have a place where heroes experience an evolving, aging, and ultimately ending life. Earth-2 filled that void before the "Crisis". Perhaps one lesson of living without a Multiverse for 22 years is that there needs to be a playground in which it's OK to see heroes do those regular things that one generally does during their sequential finite lifetime. On Earth-2, death happened and it was permanent. The Earth-2 Batman died in "Adventure Comics #462" in 1979 and he's never been resurrected - not even now with the return of Earth-2.
There needs to be a place where the effects of exigency, urgency, and - well -- crisis are permanent and scarring but also continuing, so that life and death can regain some meaning in comics. Right now, death in the DCU is synonymous with defeat. Perhaps the return of Earth-2 can help make the current state of DCU death - which even contemplates resurrection before the body's cold as seen in "Final Crisis" with the Martian Manhunter's funeral -- obsolete.
Nostalgia aside, this issue is a straight-forward, mostly very well told story - in other words, what we've come to expect from writer Geoff Johns. I don't think it's necessary to know the intricate details of who each of the Earth-2 characters are in order to understand the story. Anyone with a passing knowledge of science fiction should be familiar with the concept of parallel worlds: an Earth like the Earth we know but with subtle or sometimes not so subtle differences.
The differences between New Earth and Earth-2 are most obvious when Power Girl bursts into the JSI meeting room. On New Earth, the Earth-2 Huntress never existed; Robin grew up and became Nightwing; Nuklon changed his name to Atom Smasher and got rid of the Mohawk; Obsidian came out of the closet; Northwind became more bird than man; and Silver Scarab, Fury, Wildcat, Star Spangled Kid, Dr. Midnight, and Jade are all dead. How interesting that Earth-2, before the Crisis, was the world where things could change and, after the Crisis, Earth-2 returns virtually unchanged and it is New Earth that's evolved.
I have a few quibbles with the story, which is why it gets a 4 instead of a 5. The first is the clear kissing-up-to-the-boss-man that's going on here. On the splash page, though all of the heroes appearing in this issue were created by SOMEONE, the only hero whose creator gets a credit is Helena Wayne/Huntress, who just happens to have been co-created by DC's Publisher Paul Levitz. Not only that, but the only Earth-2 supporting character who factors into the story in any important way is Helena's boyfriend Harry Sims, 'natch a Paul Levitz creation. By the by, you can see Helena meet and fall for Sims in the trade paperback "The Huntress: Darknight Daughter".
The second problem is the "ick" factor - Helena has the hots for Dick Grayson? ICK! Yes they're not technically related, but they were raised by the same father and Helena even calls Grayson "Big Brother" in several of the stories reprinted in "The Huntress: Darknight Daughter". Then there's their age difference. According to the Huntress origin story - also reprinted in the aforementioned trade - on Earth-2, the Batman/Catwoman feud began in 1940. It ended when Catwoman turned herself in. She served jail time for her crimes. On her release, Bruce Wayne was waiting for her.
According to the Huntress's origin story, Bruce and Selina married in 1955. Helena was born two years later, in 1957. However, if Dick Grayson began as an eight-year old Robin the Boy Wonder in "Detective Comics #38", in 1940, that would make him 25 years old at the time of Helena's birth.
On the one hand, that would make them less sibling-ey since they never grew up in the same house together. On the other hand, they are still kind of related and Dick is old enough to be her father. Then again, by real-time rules, in 2008, the Dick Grayson of Earth-2 should be 76. One of the old rules of Earth-2 was that it revolved slower than Earth-1, which explained why it was a bit more old-fashioned and why heroes seemed to age slower. That could account for the age discrepancy. Or it could just be one of those things as comic book readers we're forced to accept - that no one in comic books ages as fast as we do.
I do hope that, by the time this story is finished being told, we see the Jay Garrick and Alan Scott of New Earth meet the Jay Garrick and Alan Scott of Earth-2. And speaking of the story being finished, since this review so far has been all "In my day, we walked 100 miles to school in the snow", let me say that, in my day, an Annual was a self-contained story that wasn't an essential part of the regular numbered monthly title's continuity. Here, there's an eleventh hour conflict - the entrance of Power Girl #2 - that will take the story right back to the regular title. So why is this story in an Annual instead of the regular monthly?
Ah, who cares? Earth-2's back.
Art - 5: I love Jerry Ordway's art. His style is so individualized that it's difficult not to look at his art and get a sense of familiarity, comfort, even déjà vu. A few weeks ago in "Trinity", Ordway drew Jose Delgado, the Gangbuster, a character he drew often in "Adventures of Superman" and I felt that same feeling. Here, I'm immediately taken to one of my all-time favorite titles, "All-Star Squadron", on which Ordway was the regular penciller, and to "Infinity, Inc." and those glorious pre-Crisis Earth-2 adventures. Ordway is part of a small gang of pencillers - artists like Joe Staton and Don Newton -- whose artwork will forever scream "Earth-2" to me.
There is a sloppy coloring mistake that should be noted - Hawkgirl's top changes color from red to yellow from the penultimate page to the last page of the story. Between artistic mistakes like this and typographical errors, both of which are happening with increased frequency lately all over the DCU, the Superman Homepage ought to start grading each book's Editor.
Pin-Up Art - 5: It seems like the only reason this pin-up is included is to justify calling this a "Justice Society of America" Annual when the only JS to appear inside is the JSI. Nonetheless, it's a great looking pin-up so no complaints from me. It's clever how the artist who's painting the picture of the JSA is in the pin-up, and how he's drawing the JSA in heroic dignified poses, which is most definitely not how the team appears on the larger version.
Cover Art - 5: Much of Ross's recent work is the same thing over and over - posers. Too often, Ross draws heroes as if they're grand statues posing regally for the reader. While there's certainly still some posing going on, it feels more like an action cover centered around the returning Power Girl. This is one of Ross's better covers.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2008.