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
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Last updated: January 14, 2002
From Legends, it became clear that the new post-Crisis Earth could not be the Earth visited by the Legion of Super-Heroes and home of their inspiration, Superboy. This led to the discovery of the Earth of the Pocket Universe, the death of Superboy, the creation of Supergirl and Superman's execution of the Phantom Zone criminals - all of which will be the subject of following articles.
Legends was created as the follow-up to the Crisis On Infinite Earths maxiseries. Where Crisis destroyed the multiverse and numerous characters, Legends was to serve as an introduction to the new DC Universe and a springboard to the many new series emerging in the wake of the Crisis. Legends was plotted by John Ostrander, with script by Len Wein, pencils by John Byrne, and inks by Karl Kesel.
Legends introduced the new versions of Superman, Wonder Woman, and The Flash (Wally West), the new Suicide Squad, and the Keith Giffen Justice League, and also spun off mini-series for Cosmic Boy (more about this later) and Captain Marvel.
The first issue of Legends opens on Apokolips, with Darkseid plotting revenge against Earth and its heroes. Darkseid gets right to the heart of the tale by conveniently musing that, "to some these puny creatures are legends, the stories of their greatness inspiring others to their greatness as well! Perhaps the time has come to strike at the very core of the problem -- to destroy the very concept of such legends. Then perhaps, humanity will become more ... compliant."
To begin his attack, Darkseid sends three agents to Earth. The first attack is a physical one, as a fiery creature called Brimstone emerges from a nuclear generator to easily defeat Firestorm.
The second is a more subtle attack on the beliefs and hopes of the population. Darkseid's agent, Glorious Godfrey (calling himself G. Gordon Godfrey -- anyone else having Watergate flashbacks?) uses his powers of persuasion to convince America about the "threat" that super-heroes pose. Godfrey denounces them as vigilantes -- using violence to solve problems and providing negative role models for children.
The third attack is both a physical and spiritual assault against Billy Batson and his alter ego, Captain Marvel. Dr. Bedlam, inhabiting a construct known as Macro Man, draws Captain Marvel to battle. Macro Man's apparent death by Cap's magic lightning bolt horrifies Billy, who vows to never become Captain Marvel again.
Other characters are introduced in this first issue -- including the new Flash (Wally West), Changeling, and Cosmic Boy. We also see the genesis of the Suicide Squad as Colonel Rick Flag meets the formidable Amanda Waller. The issue ends with Cosmic Boy being saved from Brimstone's attack by the so-called "Detroit League" JLA (named after the location of its headquarters and led by the Martian Manhunter, this version of the League featured "second stringers" such as Vibe, Vixen, Steel (not John Henry Irons), and Gypsy, along with the Elongated Man and Firestorm).
Attacking The Heroic Ideal
The second issue of Legends has Brimstone quickly defeating the "Detroit League" JLA while spotlighting characters that would eventually form the new JLA -- including Batman, Guy Gardner (Green Lantern), and Blue Beetle. This issue shows Godfrey's manipulations begin to take effect as a mob attacks and seriously injures Batman's partner, Robin (Jason Todd), while other heroes face similar mobs. Superman enters the story as he meets with President Reagan, who decides to ban all costumed superheroes until the crisis of confidence has passed. The Phantom Stranger also enters the tale, appearing on Apokolips as an observer and counterpoint to Darkseid.
Matters are desperate by issue three as we see the public turning against the superheroes in public and in private. Most of the issue deals with the Suicide Squad -- a group of villains pressed into service by the government -- and their attack and defeat of Brimstone. The heroes themselves are having no success. Flash and Changeling are besieged in Titan's Tower by ordinary citizens, Superman reluctantly agrees to obey the President's edict, and Billy Batson faces the angry father of a young friend who says, "It's about time somebody did something about those super-powered menaces!"
Issue four has several villains trying to take advantage of the situation, while individual heroes, in breach of the President's ban, stop them. In one memorable scene, two policemen wrestle when one tries to capture Black Canary, resulting in one cop accidentally killing his partner. The survivor's horror at his action quickly turns to anger and hatred - blaming the death on "that so-called superhero!"
Although matters seem desperate for our heroes, we finally see evidence that the tide has begun to turn. The heroes refuse to let evil win, and a new player enters the game as Kent Nelson dons the helmet of Dr. Fate. The issue ends with the Phantom Stranger goading Darkseid, saying he will never win as long as noble beings such as Superman still live. Darkseid decides to take a direct hand in the matter, sending his Omega beams to bring Superman to Apokolips -- and leading to the three Superman crossover issues.
Superman In Apokolips
Superman #3 has Clark Kent vainly trying to outrun Darkseid's beams. As the Omega beams make contact, he is transported to Apokolips and lands at Darkseid's feet. Darkseid appears not to recognize "this cringing mortal" (boy, those glasses sure are effective!) and tosses Clark out of the window and into the slums far below.
Clark is besieged by the lowlies who inhabit the Armaghetto. They steal his clothes until Superman. standing revealed, shrugs them off. Disguising himself with rags, he sets off to try and discover Darkseid's involvement in the events on Earth. However, Superman is forced to reveal himself and intervene when he comes across a woman about to be killed by shock-troopers. One of the Apokolips demons captures Superman and flies him straight into one of Darkseid's dreaded fire-pits. As the issue ends, we see Darkseid watching from overhead and laughing as Superman disappears.
Adventures of Superman #426 opens with a near-dead Superman being fished out of the fire-pits by a scavenger. When an angry mob surrounds Superman, he is saved by a woman known as Amazing Grace. Grace proclaims Superman as the Savior they have been waiting for to lead them to victory against Darkseid.
Superman, suffering from amnesia and lacking his super-powers, still shows himself to be a hero by defeating the parademons sent to attack the crowd. The mob embraces their Savior, as does Grace -- later and more intimately. Then, in some wonderfully drawn pages by Jerry Ordway, Savior and the lowlies rise up to battle Darkseid's army.
In apparent victory, Savior and Grace address the gathered lowlies. Savior reminds them that they have defied the will of Darkseid because of their hopes for freedom and for a savior. He ends by saying, "and now it is time for the great change. Let that last great hope ... be ended!"
With those words, parademons swoop down -- decimating the assembled crowd. Superman, as Savior, enjoys the massacre saying, "The revolution is over, Grace. We have won." He turns to accept praise from "my true master", as Darkseid steps forward from the shadows to say, "You have indeed served me well, my son..."
Action Comics #586 opens with Orion and Lightray of the New Gods hurrying to Apokolips on orders from Highfather to save Superman. Meanwhile Savior struggles under the training of Granny Goodness. Darkseid, aware of the approaching New Gods, revives Savior's superpowers and sends send him to battle. Darkseid reveals that what he has done is dangerous -- as Superman's powers require his full, active brain to drive them. He has created an illusion that Savior's powers come from his father, Darkseid, to prevent Superman from regaining his memory.
Savior clashes with Orion and they engage in a furious battle until Orion hears Savior/Superman call himself "the son of Darkseid". While Lightray fends off and blinds Grace, Orion stuns Savior long enough to convince him that Orion is the true son of Darkseid. Orion then uses a Mother Box to reweave the broken fabric of Superman's mind. Superman, bellowing Darkseid's name, rushes toward the lord of Apokolips.
Darkseid, hearing the yell, sends out his deadly Omega beams to annihilate his enemy. This time though, Superman is prepared and outraces the beams, flying straight toward Darkseid. Quickly turning at the last minute, Superman evades the beams and lets them impact their master. Darkseid is injured, but not defeated, and he and Superman continue to battle until Darkseid acknowledges defeat and creates a boom tube to transport Superman back to Earth.
With Superman's rescue, Orion and Lightray leave Apokolips. Orion reveals to his friend that when the Mother Box restored Superman's memory, it did not let him remember his actions on Apokolips so that he will not be tormented by his guilt over the slaughter and betrayal in which he played a part. Even though his memory was cleansed in this story, the issue of a similar guilt would be dealt with in a later story -- after Superman's execution of the Phantom Zone criminals.
From The Mouths Of Children
Meanwhile, in Legends #5, Billy Batson's young friend Lisa finally convinces him that someone needs to reason with the mobs and that the world needs its superheroes. Billy finally accepts his responsibilities and utters his magic word, transforming himself once again into Captain Marvel. It is only then, with the wisdom of Solomon, that he realizes that he had been duped and that he was not responsible for the death of Macro Man.
As the miniseries draws to its climax, Dr. Fate begins gathering the heroes. One by one we see various heroes disappearing as Dr. Fate tells them, "You are needed!" Meanwhile, Godfrey has captured Captain Boomerang, one of the members of the Suicide Squad, prompting Amanda Waller to gather the rest of the squad.
As Godfrey exhorts the crowd gathered in Washington D.C., Dr Fate appears with his assembled heroes. Darkseid, watching from Apokolips, gloats to the Phantom Stranger that "to preserve their ideals, your heroes will either have to battle the very people they profess to protect or else allow themselves to be destroyed by them. Either way, Stranger, Darkseid wins!"
The issue ends with a hint as to how the dilemma might be resolved when Jason Todd drags himself from his hospital bed and dons his Robin costume -- heading off to help "even if it kills me!"
Legends #6 begins with Darkseid gloating and recapping the plot for the reader. The Stranger replies that Darkseid has, in his pride and arrogance, ignored one crucial factor that will lead to his downfall. That factor isn't immediately apparent as the heroes battle the public, Apokolipsian War Hounds, and Parademons. As the heroes disperse to the various threats, Godfrey strikes and steals the helmet of Dr. Fate, forcing Kent Nelson to flee the mob.
New players join the fray including the Suicide Squad, the Martian Manhunter (who saves the President's life), and Wonder Woman. In the post-Crisis universe, this is the first appearance of the Amazon warrior. And as luck will have it, the first hero to witness her debut is Guy Gardner who, coming up from behind her, can only say, "eep". Unfortunately, he then recovers what wits he has and starts his usual yapping.
Finally, the heroes again assemble in the middle of a mob. Incited by Godfrey, the mob moves closer. Watching from Apokolips, the Phantom Stranger reminds Darkseid of the forgotten crucial factor. Suddenly, from between the legs of the mob, children begin to emerge -- including young Robin. The children form a wall between their parents and the heroes. The deadlock is broken when Godfrey grabs young Lisa and slaps her. His action shocks the crowd, making him lose his influence over them.
In desperation, Godfrey puts on the helmet of Dr. Fate, hoping to control its power, but the helmet destroys Godfrey's mind. The crowd reels, finally released from Godfrey's power and begs forgiveness of the heroes. Dr. Fate uses the opportunity to press the heroes to form a new Justice League. Many of the heroes accept the offer, although Superman declines but says that he will be there when they need him.
And that's it. Legends is a nice, self-contained story (as is the three issue Superman crossover) and well worth reading. Pick up either the six issues or the trade paperback and enjoy the tale. Although none of the crossover issues are required, you may want to pick up ones that are of interest to you (all the crossovers are listed at the end of the trade paperback and in ads in the regular issues).
Only one of the threads in Legends would return to have a significant impact on the Superman legend -- the Cosmic Boy miniseries. Although Cosmic Boy was only in the first two issues of Legends, his tale continued as he launched into an epic battle with the Time Trapper.
Next, I'll review the Cosmic Boy miniseries and issues of the Legion of Super-Heroes and Superman comics -- as we remember the death of Superboy, "The Greatest Hero Of Them All!".