While Superman’s powers had gone through a variety of changes over the years since 1938, the fundamental nature of the Man of Steel had always remained the same. That was no longer the case (officially) starting from “Superman #123,” which hit comic store shelves in March 1997. Everything you knew about Superman’s powers, abilities, and appearance became comic book history as DC brought us the new Superman – The Man Beyond Tomorrow! But was the story any good?
In the latest instalment of our “Great Debate” feature, we ask the question…
Was the Superman Blue (Electric Powers) Comic Book Story Good?
Much has been said about the Superman Red/Superman Blue era. The general consensus is that it was a blunder on DC’s part, and best to be left forgotten amongst the onslaught of 90s mass produced foil covers that flood the dollar bins. The backlash was and is so strong that it was a miracle DC released a collected edition focused on that era. Of course, I doubt they’ll continue to collect those issues, but the fact it was done at all is incredible. I was just a few years old when the Superman Blue saga was unfolding, and admittedly, I haven’t read every issue from that period. But with the benefit of being removed from the immediate backlash, I really don’t think the concept was all that bad. In fact, I think it was a cool idea. From what I have read, the change in physical form and abilities freshened up Superman stories. I remember reading one issue early into the storyline where Clark has to learn and adjust to his new abilities. He couldn’t do things the way he used to, and that made things a bit interesting. Not only were his abilities different, the ways in which he would need to solve problems needed to change as well. Of course I love traditional Superman, but it’s nice to see The Man of Steel get thrown a curveball and watch him try to figure out what to do. Further, it’s good to switch things up every now and again. How many times can Superman really fight Lex Luthor? With a character that’s been around as long as Superman has, things need to be changed up every now and then, with the expectation that at some point, things will roughly be returned to the status quo. Few changes in comics are permanent. Superman was killed and then resurrected. Supergirl wasn’t a Kryptonian for about 20 years and then they brought back Kara Zor-El. Superman became an electrical being and then was returned to his normal self. That doesn’t mean I think every change is a good one, but there are far worse changes than Superman Blue. On a more superficial level, I really like the design of Superman Red/Superman Blue. I think the redesigned “S” shield is sleek and captures the electric motif nicely. The costume is striking, and the style of the inks and pencils behind those books really grab your attention. I’ll never truly know what it was like to be a reader when the Superman Blue era was in full swing. I can’t even say for sure that I’d be receptive to the change. To be honest, I’d probably dislike it just like I disliked when they nerfed New 52 Superman’s powers and gave him a buzzcut and a motorcycle. However, the benefit of hindsight and a couple decades worth of separation have made that point in Superman’s history a little less reviled. It’s likely not ever going to be widely appreciated, but I think people are slowly starting to come around on it. Now if only we could get some Superman Red/Superman Blue McFarlane figures…
I remember the outrage that went through the Superman community (again) when it was announced that they were changing Superman’s suit and, worst of all, his powers. Here we go again. Fans ready to leave the fold over a story. A story. That’s all it was but it didn’t matter the “I’m never gonna read Superman again” people made up their minds and they left. Well some of them did. But you know what? That’s okay. You don’t have to agree with every storyline. And if you want to take a break then take a break. If you’re angry about it it’s your right to get angry. But sometimes things can get out of hand. Who’d of thought comic fans could get so angry? Anyway the deal was done and Superman was getting electrical powers and a suit that covered him from head to toe and made him blue. Yes Superman was now blue. Interesting.
While I had put my trust in the creative teams and editorial during the 90s sometimes things just don’t generate a lot of enthusiasm and for me this was the time to roll my eyes and question this decision. In the past decade this was really the first time Superman’s powers were totally changing. Not losing his powers. Not becoming over powered. Literally and figuratively changing. Here was my favorite guy standing there with electricity crackling over his whole body. Blue faced and wearing a kind of containment suit. Huh. Not a good idea guys. While he could shift back and forth from Clark to Superman it was too much. This was a different character. Not only could I feel it but the other characters felt it too. While the creative teams seemed to be on board with this there was just that feeling that everyone involved had kind of jumped the shark.
The Death of Superman was way behind us. And while there had been some good storylines (Dead Again, The Fall of Metropolis) the Superbooks were in a holding pattern. And this was the story that was going to change that? Give us a great story to sink our teeth into? No. Not for me. Don’t even get me started on Superman Red and Superman Blue. Well okay I will get started. After dealing with these new powers and suit suddenly he’s got another power! He can’t split into two different heroes with different personalities! And along with the new personality came a new color. Red! Really? I mean it had nothing to do with the great Imaginary story Superman Red/Superman Blue from the sixties. They just co opted the title. No! I’m sorry this just became too much. Yes I continued reading the books and some of the stories, especially with the supporting cast, were entertaining. But when the main story featuring our hero seemed to get out of control you just can’t take it seriously.
After a decade of trusting the teams, putting myself in their hands, I was finally starting to question why I was sticking with this. When something makes you roll your eyes in frustration and even get a bit angry, maybe it’s time to part. But I didn’t. I kept at it. And I’m glad I did because behind every cloud there’s a silver lining. While I was not happy with this story, it ended and a new story emerged and there were new stories to come that I enjoyed very much. The books would be very topsy turvey over the next decade but I learned as a fan that you shouldn’t abandon your heroes. And while there have been times since I have strayed, I eventually came back. Superman will always endure. And I will always be a Superman fan! But really electric blue and red? Please never again. Promise me. Thank you.
Many thanks to our Great Debaters – Mario Bennese and Marc Lax.
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