Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Many thanks to reviewer Wallace Harrington (wwh27539@mindspring.com).


Superman #423 and Action Comics #583

Cover date: September 1986

Writer: Alan Moore
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: George Perez (Superman #423) / Kurt Schaffenberger (Action Comics #583)
Cover: Curt Swan / Murphy Anderson (SwAnderson)

"Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?"

This is an imaginary story (which may never happen, but then again may) about a perfect man who came from the sky and did only good. It tells of his twilight, when the great battles were over and the great miracles long since performed; of how his enemies conspired against him and of that final war in the snow-blind wastes beneath the Northern Lights; of the two women he loved and of the choice he made between them; of how he broke his most sacred oath; and how finally all the things he had were taken from him save one. It ends with a wink. It begins in a quiet midwestern town, one summer afternoon in the quiet midwestern future. Away in the big city, people still sometimes glance up hopefully from the sidewalks, glimpsing a distant speck in the sky... but no: it's only a bird, only a plane. Superman died ten years ago. This is an imaginary story... Aren't they all?

Superman #423 Superman #423

Summer has come to the midwest, and the only thing that breaks the warm peacefulness of this little village this afternoon is the ring of a doorbell. The door opens framing a beautiful woman. "Ms Lane?" a young man asks. "It's Mrs. Lois Elliot, now," corrects the woman, opening the door for him to enter. "You must be Tim Crane, from the Planet," she says, and the young reporter the Daily Planet had sent to interview Lois for the Superman Memorial Edition makes himself at home on the couch.

To break the ice, Tim Crane tests his tape recorder then begins by asking about the two year period leading up to Superman's disappearance. "Were those happy times?" he asks. "Happy?" puzzles Lois. "I don't know... at least they were quiet," she begins. As if in a trance, Lois starts to tell her story. "Luthor had been quiet," she began, and "Brainiac had been pounded into scrap metal, save for the head that had never been recovered." Mostly, Superman worked in space doing research for the government, until one day he returned and found complete city blocks horribly destroyed. Jimmy rushed up to tell him that Bizarro had gone berserk, smashing buildings and injuring innocent people.

Walking into the shell that had once been a department store, Superman saw the destruction Bizarro has caused, and called to his imperfect replicate. "This am part of genius Bizarro self-improvement plan," laughed the grotesque creature, telling Superman that he had already destroyed Bizarro world, as Krypton had been destroyed. Then, realizing that to be the perfect imperfect double he must do everything opposite of Superman. If Superman cannot kill, Bizarro must kill millions, and if Superman is alive, then Bizarro must die. Holding a large piece of blue Kryptonite before himself, Bizarro collapsed to the floor, smiling. "Everything...him go dark," whispered Bizarro. "Hello, Superman. Hello." It didn't make sense even by Bizarro standards; genocide, homicide then suicide.

Several days later, at the WGBS television studios, two packages arrived just before Clark Kent made his daily newscast. Opening the smaller box, Lana Lang saw a group of Superman action figures and told Clark that they worked when the legs were squeezed together. Lifting one from the box, Lana demonstrated on one, and suddenly heat rays shot from its eyes. Suddenly, all of the figures became animated, and flew out of the box focussing their beams on Clark. "They're slicing him up," screamed Lana racing toward Clark, but Jimmy grabbed her. "It's too late. We can't save him," he yelled. But as the smoke cleared, Clark stands before them, his suit torn and burned revealing the familiar blue and red costume of Superman. Lana stared at him in amazement. "Clark, it was you. All of these years...it was you all of the time."

Their amazement is challenged when the voice of the Toyman and the Prankster crackled over small speakers in the figures. "He just combed his hair and stuck on a pair of glasses!" they laugh. "What a great gag!" "How did you know that I was Clark Kent?" screamed Superman. "Why don't you look in the big box," they replied, laughing wildly. The box was lead lined, but when Superman ripped it open the body of Pete Ross, who had known Superman's true identity since they were boys in Smallville, fell into view. The Prankster and Toyman continued to laugh hysterically at their apparent victory. "Do you know what radio waves look like..." Superman yelled, taking off faster than the eye can follow. Seconds later he smashed through the walls of their hideout. "...Because I do!" The next day, the world is shocked to read the headlines of the Planet that no one would have ever thought true: "Clark Kent Exposed as Superman." Later, at Pete Ross' funeral, Superman mused, "They were all just nuisances. What turned them into killers? If the nuisances from my past are coming back as killers, what will happen when the killers come back?" And they would come back.

Using a sophisticated detector, Lex Luthor searched the arctic circle, and finally located Brainiac's head. At first Luthor is ecstatic, but then he noticed the mask amazingly disassemble, then moved rapidly up Luthor's body to his head. With a disgusting "slidge", probes attached themselves to Luthor's skull, and took control of his motor and vocal pathways. The new Brainiac-Luthor team had been born. Turning slowly, Luthor began walking, stiffly, inexorably toward civilization one step, and another, and another, and another, and another, and another...

Several days passed before another event, almost as an omen, took place. In front of the Daily Planet building, an army of Metallos, hundreds of them, began climbing up the sides of the building, crashing through the glass breaking into the newsroom. Each of the Metallos attacked a member of the staff, a friend of Superman. But one sought Lois Lane, grabbed her, and threw her out of the broken window. "You alien loving tramp," he screamed at her. The reds and blues flowed together as Superman sped down and saved Lois as he has done countless times before, then turned upward to the roof. Using super-speed, he magnetized the giant planet on the top of the building and used it to gather up all of the Metallos.

But the danger was obvious. Superman decided that he must take all of his closest friends to the Fortress for safety. One by one, Superman transported Perry and Alice White, Lois and Lana, then Jimmy Olson. Almost on cue, Krypto returned from space, and stared at a life-size photo of Supergirl, almost tearing that she was killed in Crisis. The tension was so thick that focused heat vision could not cut through. Perry and Alice, at ropes end in their marriage, headed off to separate rooms. Lois and Lana, for so long rivals, consoled one another and themselves in their own fears.

Suddenly, the air crackled and the time bubble of the Legion of Super-Heroes appeared. Stepping from the bubble were all of the Legionnaires, including a young Kara... Supergirl. Brainiac V moved forward. "We thought you might appreciate the sight of a few friendly faces," he said. Then Kara greeted her cousin with a hug. "Is it cheating if you tell me if I grow up to be pretty," she asks. "You... grew up beautiful, Kara," choked back Superman. As the Legionnaires looked around the Fortress, Brainiac V took Superman aside and presented him with a gold statue of him holding a Phantom Zone projector. "We came here to meet with you again, and salute you," said Brainiac V solemnly. Superman looked at him sadly. "And pay your last respects, is that it?" Supergirl interrupted the tense moment. "I just thought of something," said Kara. "I thought I couldn't materialize in an era where you already existed?" "You're right," says Superman. "Right now, Supergirl is in the past."

Tearfully, the Legionnaires boarded their time bubble and slowly disappeared in an electric crackle. Left alone, Superman and Krypto sat quietly among their many trophies, the tributes to their heroic deeds... and their thoughts. "He never told me exactly what had happened the night before the siege began," says Lois. "But as soon as I saw him the next morning I knew something had upset him. He looked funny. He looked as if he had been crying."


Action Comics #583 Action #583

Lois and Tin Crane take a break to have a cup of coffee. The wonderful aroma attracts Jordan Elliot, Lois' husband into the room. Sitting at the table, Crane looks at Elliot and asks whether he minds that his wife is being interviewed about her life with Superman. "Nah, I can live with it," dismissed Elliott. "He weren't nothin' special. Us workin' slobs, we're the real heroes." Turning, he left them to resume to their interview and Lois continued. "We stood on the balcony and watched as he destroyed the golden key. I think that's when we first realized that he was preparing for a siege... Superman's last stand."

Inside, the people were tense. Perry and Alice bickered. Lois and Lana waited. Outside, the villains gathered. Brainiac-Luthor and the Kryptonite Man emerged from Brainiac's rebuilt ship and to their amazement, Saturn Woman, Cosmic King and Lightning Lord, members of the Legion of Super Villains, arrived from the future hoping to share in the victory. "Why should I share," asks Brainiac-Luthor. "Because, in the future, we know things," said Saturn Woman. "According to legend...Superman met his greatest foe in battle and was no more," said Lightning Lord. "It is said that during Superman's last days, all of earth's champions flocked to help him," added Cosmic King. Brainiac-Luthor returned to his ship. "I shall erect an impenetrable force-screen immediately," the voice drones and a huge bubble, two miles across appeared enclosing the fortress.

Around noon, they began firing on the fortress with weapons from Brainiac's ship. Superman was able to destroy most of the weapons with his heat vision, but the force generator was too well protected, and a frontal assault by him and Krypto was turned back by Kryptonite Man. Soon, other heroes arrived. Friends, rivals, lovers; none of them could get through the barrier. And when night finally fell, everyone assumed that they had until morning.

As quiet came, Superman sought out Perry white. The two men spoke of fear, and dying in hushed voices. "I think I'm going to die," said Superman sadly, "and I have so much to get straight, like me and Lois, and me and Lana. They've wasted their love on me while I couldn't love either of them the way they deserved. I wish I had explained. I wish I hadn't been such a coward." His voice tailed off. The noble are always the ones most troubled by conscience.

Suddenly, a flickering flashlight captured a figure moving in the darkness. "Lana, what are you doing here?" asked Jimmy. They looked at each other realizing that each had come to help. Locating the serum that had once transformed him into Elastic Lad, Jimmy lifted the flask with a wry smile then drank. Before them is a pool of water that had once given Lana temporary super-powers. Telling Jimmy to turn his back, Lana immersed herself in the water, and one-by-one her senses expanded: x-ray vision, microscopic vision, and super-hearing... then overhearing a voice... of Superman. "When I was Superboy, Lana was the only girl I loved, but since I've grown to become a man, there's only ever been one woman for me. Lois. I love her Perry, but I can't tell her without hurting Lana. I'd never hurt Lana, so I'll just walk around with this secret, the weight in my heart. I'll carry it in my heart, and neither of them will ever know."

Standing, Lana lifted herself from the pool and dressed in the costume hung in the trophy case behind her. "Are you ready yet," asked Jimmy. "We'll show 'em," Lana says. "Nobody loved him better than us. Nobody!" and they sped from the fortress.

Brainiac had assumed that Kryptonite Man would keep Superman and Krypto at bay, so what happened took them totally by surprise. First Lana pummeled Kryptonite Man while Jimmy ran to disable the force projector. Then Lana turned on Brainiac-Luthor. The Brainiac portion spoke in bravado, but the part that was still Luthor pleaded with Lana. "Kill meee... Lana... Please... Kill me... Do it now," said Luthor, his voice feeble and weak. Lana landed a thundering blow which snapped Luthor's neck, collapsing him into the snow.

But then the Legion of Super Villains took command. Cosmic King used his elemental transmutation powers to turn the radioactive particles of the pool into normal body salts stealing Lana's powers from her. Lightning Lord approached Lana, offering a hand, but electrocuted her. Elastic Lad had watched this, and leapt at the villains from the future. "You murdering scum," he screamed. "The force screens wrecked and you're finished," but no sooner have the words left his lips when a blast from a ray pistol struck a fatal blow, and Jimmy lay dead in the snow.

The Villains wondered where the blast had come from, and then saw Brainiac stand clumsily, stiffly. "I.. am Brainiac...reducer of Kandor...and his greatest foe. My victory...is preordained. Do you think... that I would let... the death of this body... stand in my way?" The villains look at the scene in amazement. Kryptonite Man then noticed that even though Jimmy had destroyed the force generator the screen had not collapsed. "Some other force must be maintaining the screen," wheezed Brainiac who then ordered that they prepare for their final strike and launched a nuclear missile.

The nuclear blast had little effect on the fortress other than to open a gaping hole in one side. Inside, Perry rushed from his room and saw a wall begin to crumble on Alice. Quickly, he knocked her aside, saving her life. Safe for the moment, the two look at each other and realize that, even now, they still had love one another. The thing they did not have was time.

The first villain to approach the fortress was Kryptonite Man. Passing through the hole in the fortress wall, he called out defiantly, "Where are you Kryptonian?" The response came from a different Kryptonian than he expected, when Krypto blasted through the wall. Kryptonite Man radiated the dog, but Krypto kept coming, biting a slashing at the villain. "I'm killing you, you stupid animal. Don't you understand?" Krypto did understand and was unrelenting. In a pool of green blood, Kryptonite Man died, and with his final breaths, Krypto emitted a mournful howl then joined the green man in death.

With Lois in his arms, Superman flew through the fortress witnessing the destruction. Using his x-ray vision he located Perry and Alice, but told Lois that Jimmy and Lana were nowhere to be seen. "Perhaps they're dead," laughed Lightning Lord. "Want to buy yourself some time, Kryptonian? Why not throw me the woman to fry the way I fried your other girlfriend." "You hurt Lana?" Superman screamed. His eyes glow red, with the heat of many suns, and slash out slicing Lightning Lord's shoulder. Saturn Woman is completely taken aback. "He's prepared to kill," she says and the trio, knowing that Superman is to be defeated this day, rushes hurriedly to their Time Bubble and escape to the future.

Together, Superman and Lois fly off to face Brainiac. As they approach, Superman can see that rigor mortis has developed and Brainiac can no longer control muscular function. Luthor's body betrayed Brainiac in death, collapsing in the snow. Disengaging himself from Luthor's skull, Brainiac walks, crablike toward Superman. "I am coming for you Kryptonian. My victory in inevitable.' But Brainiac could only move a few inches, powered only by pure malice. In a blink, it, too, expired.

It's over. But no! There are too many loose ends. The force field is still intact. No one can enter or leave. As they return to the fortress, the truth suddenly dawned on Superman. "Mxyxptlk!" he screamed, and the 5th Dimensional imp appeared, changed somehow, darker. "What do you do when you're immortal," he asks, "other than fill time." Part of the time he was good, part of the time funny now he is evil. "Did you honestly believe that a 5th Dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat? This is how I really look," he screams and again changes into a distorted, grotesque apparition with height, length, breadth and a couple of other things.

Suddenly, Brainiac V's meaning dawned on Superman. The statue he was given... facing his greatest foe... he was holding a Phantom Zone projector. Racing through the fortress, Superman sped to the chamber where the projector was hidden, with Mxyxptlk right behind him. "Time to die!" screamed Mxyxptlk. "That's right, Mxyxptlk," says Superman. "Time to die."

It takes a moment for Mxyxptlk to recognize what Superman had in his hands, and in that moment, he realized that there is no escape for him, save one. As the Phantom Zone projector beam hits Mxyxptlk, he yelled out his name backwards. A numbing scream rends the air. As he attempted to return to the 5th Dimension, he was also sent to the Phantom Zone; torn in half between dimension.

And now it is over. But was it. In the fortress Superman appeared distraught. "I broke my oath," he sighed. "I killed him. Nobody has the right to kill. Not Mxyxptlk... not you... not Superman. Especially not Superman." "Superman turned and walked down a hallway," continues Lois to Tim Crane. "I ran after him, calling his name. He didn't reply. Opening a chamber labeled "Gold Kryptonite" he entered and walked into the gold light. He turned and looked over his shoulder. He smiled at me... I never saw Superman again."

The force field crackled and disappeared and the heroes of earth approached the fortress. "Carnage and destruction was everywhere," adds Lois sadly. "Bodies of his enemies, and his most loyal friends were strewn on the ground. They found me outside of the Gold Kryptonite chamber, but Superman was gone. They found a passageway leading out of the fortress and it is believed that he walked out, powerless. They never found his body. As far as I am concerned, Superman died in the arctic. I was there."

As Tim Crane gathers his notes and prepares to leave, Jordan Elliot walked into the living room with his son, Jonathan. Once alone, the couple settled in for the evening. "I guess the media won't be bothering us for at least another 10 years now," says Lois. "Let's hope so," added Jordan. Sitting Jonathan down beside the fireplace, the couple hugged lovingly. "Work was great," began Jordan. A friend brought in a photo of his grandchildren and they had worked on a '48 Buick. "You really love it, don't you? Going to work everyday, taking out the garbage, changing Jonathan's diapers... all the normal stuff," says Lois knowingly. "Yep. Can't beat it," laughed Jordan who casually glanced at his son, now black from coal soot.

"You were pretty hard on Superman earlier," admonished Lois. "Superman was over-rated," laughed Jordan. "Too wrapped up in himself. 'Thought the world couldn't get along without him." At his feet, young Jonathan playfully squeezed the coal in his hand. Opening it he stared gleefully at a large, glimmering diamond.

"What's for dinner," asked Jordan. "Pizza, then bed, a bottle of wine," winked Lois, "then we can live happily ever after. Sound good to you? Grinning widely, Jordan walked to the door, and stared out at us. He nodded, then winked, then closed the door.

5Story - 5: This was a time of great creativity and change at DC. Frank Miller had given Batman a decidedly darker visage in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were completing THE WATCHMEN, a series identified by many as the most important series of comics since the golden age. The CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS had basically "rewritten" the entire DC Universe. As the creative flame burned across DC, one shortcoming became obvious: Superman. Over the fifty years since his creation, he had become almost a charicature of himself. What more could you do with a character that had become essentially immortal? DC approached John Byrne to revive the character, but Byrne said that he would take the job only if he could start over. To most every serious Superman fan's amazement, DC agreed.

As such, this story served as the last Superman story that existed in the mainstream DC continuity. This story was meant to serve as the end of an era, tying up all of the loose ends of the "Earth-1" Superman. In this way, the story prepared the way for the all-new Superman that came about as a result of the Crisis, which basically consolidated the many alternate Earths into a single continuity.
Then-editor Julie Schwartz was given the task of winding down the character and composing the grand finale for Superman and Action Comics. Schwartz recalled that as the time came to prepare these two books, he decided to approach it as if "my last issues of Superman and Action Comics were actually going to be the last issues." Initially, Schwartz had hoped to have Jerry Siegel write the last story, but scheduling problems wouldn't permit that to happen. Instead, Alan Moore, fresh off of his success with Watchmen, begged, no demanded, that he be allowed the privilege. The story included virtually every major and supporting character and villain in the Superman repertoire. And, notice, that Lois' husband, the odd Jordan Elliot is really Jor-El. This story even included Supergirl, breaking an ironclad editorial rule that after Crisis her existence never ever be acknowledged in a DC comic ever again.
To my mind, these stories are, without a doubt, two of the best Superman stories ever written. If you were to read no other Superman stories from the 15 years prior to Byrne's "re-creation" of Superman, these would be the stories. While it is fitting that Superman end on such a marvelously high note, these stories also show what comics can be, if the editors and the companies put their minds to it, letting creative artists be creative. I also find it sad that it could not have continued.

5Art - 5: Anyone that has read any of my previous reviews is sure to be aware that I consider Curt Swan to be the penultimate Superman artist. Not the first, but the best. From 1952 until 1986, Swan contributed much to the Superman legend, and it was his look that Warner Brothers strove to emulate when they made the first Superman movie. It has always bothered me how DC so unceremoniously relieved Swan of his artistic responsibilities on Superman once John Byrne committed to the series. Swan had given over 36 years to DC, while Byrne left Superman after a little more than 20 issues.

While Swan did return to do several issues of Superman after the Byrne re-launch, this served as his masterpiece and final say on the character. The work was brilliant; crisp and fresh from start to finish. In typical fashion, each face was different, each pose novel, his flying scenes spectacular and the inking of Perez and Schaffenberger made the art shine like the gem it truly was.

5Cover Art - 5: These covers were simply amazing. Julie Schwartz described the cover to Action 583: "The cover... shows Superman flying off from the roof of the Daily Planet and everyone waving good-bye. The three people standing in front, in the middle is Jenette Kahn, on the left is Curt Swan, and on the right, the guy with the glasses, is me. And in the background are all the super-heroes. The tears in Superman's eyes are really Curt's tears." The person to Curt's left was Murphy Anderson. Nothing more needs to be said.


Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews

1938-1949

1950-1959

  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1986

Compilation Volumes

Miscellaneous

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