I had so much fun writing about Superman for last week’s article that I thought I’d come back for another round. In the first article, I covered stories that fell between “Crisis on Infinite Earths” and “Countdown to Infinite Crisis.” This time, I’m covering Superman comics from the past 5 years when I’ve been a much more regular reader.
Action Comics #827-835 (July ’05-May ’06): If you’re looking for a short, but excellent, run of Superman comics to collect, let me recommend this brief sojourn by Gail Simone and John Byrne. The third issue is part of the larger Sacrifice story, crossing over with the other Superman titles as well as Wonder Woman, but the rest of the run is predominantly self-contained. Even the tie-ins with Villains United and Day of Vengeance work well on their own. Plus, it’s great to see Superman fight Black Adam or become befuddled by the Spectre. The end of the run is even better than the beginning, when Simone brings two modern villains to the Superman titles: The Queen of Fables from Mark Waid’s JLA and Livewire from the Superman animated series.
Superman #650-653, Action Comics #837-840 (May-August 2006): Kurt Busiek, Geoff Johns and Pete Woods bring us a simply stupendous Superman story. Clark Kent slowly regains his powers. Lex Luthor gets ahold of a Kryptonian crystal. Toyman and Prankster cause trouble. And Supergirl co-stars. It’s just a great romp in which Superman starts out as the underdog before emerging as the world’s greatest hero once again by the end. And it’s chock full of rogues from Superman’s gallery of villains, from Lex Luthor to Silver Banshee to Livewire.
Action Comics #841-842 (Sept.-Nov. ’06): I like the many guest stars, from the Jason Rusch Firestorm to Busiek’s own Power Company creation Skyrocket, but this is otherwise a fairly standard kidnapped-by-an-alien superhero great escape story and the Auctioneer is basically an updated Collector.
Superman #654-658, 662-664, 667 and Annual 13 (September ‘06-January ’08): This is Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco’s Superman magnum opus. Though shipping delays led to fan dissatisfaction, the story stands out as one of the best I’ve ever read and re-read. “Camelot Falls” asks questions about heroism by casting Arion, Lord of Atlantis, as a villain. It raises issues of loyalty, as when Subjekt 17 challenges Superman’s fidelity to his adopted planet against aliens who have been mistreated. It shows the price of failure, by spending time in a possible future where survivors fight on long after Superman has been defeated. And it makes sure that victory won’t be easy, by setting Superman up against a magical foe he can’t defeat directly. Plus, Busiek introduces a wealth of new characters like Subjekt 17, Sirocco and Squad K, while mixing in a few fun guest stars like the Young Gods from New Genesis. And, of course, the Carlos Pacheco art is magnificently beautiful throughout.
Action Comics #844-846, 851 and Annual 11 (December ’06-June ’08): This is the other Superman magnum opus of 2006, I mean ’07, I mean ’08. This time, former Superman director Richard Donner, Geoff Johns and Adam Kubert provide the incredible story, as well as the infuriating delays. And, once again, taken on its own, the story stands as a classic. General Zod leads a break-out from the Phantom Zone. Superman must fight Zod, Urza, and Non as well as dozens more of Krypton’s most nefarious villains. There is also a Bizarro appearance and the problem of what to do with a kid who seems to have all of Superman’s powers. The child is the son of Urza and Zod, though Clark and Lois take him as a foster son, Christopher Kent. Besides the wonderful characters both old and new, there are also some delightful twists and extras. At one point, Superman is banished to the Phantom Zone himself, which Adam Kubert and DC render in 3-D giving it an otherworldly dimension with or without the special glasses.
Superman #660 and Action Comics #847 (March and April 2007): The incessant delays on “Camelot Falls” and the Phantom Zone story necessitated a large number of fill-in stories. Most of them aren’t worth talking about, even when worked on by luminaries like Walt Simonson or Fabian Nicieza. But two stand out in excellence and are worth discussing, even if they are very different from one another. The first, in Superman 660, is fun story by Kurt Busiek and Mike Manley told from the Prankster’s point of view. It’s a riot to see his self-justification and self-delusion, as well as the convoluted pranks he attempts to perform. The other, in Action 847, is a real tear jerker. Dwayne McDuffie and Renato Guedes bring us a story told by Jonathan Kent. With the Phantom Zone criminals rampaging, Martha fears for the life of her son. Jonathan calmly tells her the story of an inter-galactic fishing trip as a way of reminding her how super their son really is.
Superman #674-675 (May-June 2008): After two lackluster and overly continuity-conscious trilogies (“The Third Kryptonian” and “The Insect Queen”), Busiek ended his Superman run on a high note. He does a great job of weaving several different strands into a single beautiful tapestry. He depicts Superman’s married bliss with Lois and foster son, Christopher- a relationship which was a strength throughout Busiek’s tenure. He deals with Mon-El’s plight as a captive in the Phantom Zone. He has Superman square off against pseudo-hero Paragon who claims that Superman is an impostor. He even brings in a trio of Daxamites and a Galactic Golem. Plus, the entire story is exquisitely drawn by Renato Guedes, who is just starting to establish himself as a Superman superstar.
Action Comics #865 (July 2008): Kurt Busiek told his villain story for the Prankster back in Superman 660 and now Geoff Johns takes his turn with a special Toyman tale. It’s another great job updating an older villain so that he works for the present. Plus, Jesus Merino’s picture of the wall of previous toymen was a delight to behold.
Action Comics #858-863 (December ’07-May ’08) and Action Comics #866-870 (August-December ’08): The latter half of Geoff Johns’ tenure features two grand epics: “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” and “Brainiac.” Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns had already begun the re-integration of the classic Legion into current continuity with their JLA/JSA crossover “The Lightning Saga.” In Action Comics, Johns continues the trend, this time with an actual story. Superman is launched forward into time. He meets the Legion, but he also discovers two unnerving dilemmas. His body isn’t attuned to the sun of the future with the result that his powers are weakening. Worse, Earth-Man is citing Superman’s legacy as the reason for xenophobic mandate that would banish all aliens- including the bulk of the Legion- from Earth. We know that Superman is supposed to be the strongest, most powerful hero ever. So it’s always fun to see what happens when he isn’t, and to give him a foe that he can’t beat with a punch. In this case, bigotry. Meanwhile, Johns and new artist Gary Frank do a great job of taking the classic Giffen/Levitz Legion and updating them for today’s fashion. Then, after a brief interlude (see the above entry), Geoff and Gary give us a Brainiac epic. The story is set in both the past- when Brainiac first abducts the Kryptonian city of Kandor- and the present- as Superman fights Brainiac in the sky over Earth. Once again, Johns manages to tell a story that is both classic and modern.
Superman #677-680 (August-November ’08): James Robinson takes over for Kurt Busiek (who moved to Trinity). Unfortunately, his initial story is sub-standard. It’s great that a classic Bronze Age villain like Atlas is brought into the modern day and that Krypto finally re-joins the Superman family as well. However, Robinson rotates through several point-of-view characters, none of whom are Superman. The result is that Superman feels like a guest-star in his own book. That kind of an approach can work (as with the aforementioned Prankster and Toyman stories, as well as the current “World Without a Superman” titles) but I wasn’t happy with it here. On the positive side, Renato Guedes takes over as the regular Superman artist and his work is breath-taking.
There you go. That’s my overview of the past 5 years of Superman comics, beginning with “Countdown to Infinite Crisis,” running past “One Year Later” and finishing up at the “New Krypton” crossover. I may have more to say about the “World Without a Superman” stories later, but for now, it’s time to move on to something else. Up, up and away!