Installment One: Introduction
1997. Bill Clinton begins his second term as President of the United States. Madeline Albright is confirmed as the first female Secretary of State. Pokemon premieres on TV Tokyo. Tony Blair becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after the Labor Party returns to power. NASA’s Pathfinder space probe lands on the surface of Mars. Timothy McVeigh is convicted of 15 counts of murder and conspiracy in the Oklahoma City Bombings.
And Superman receives a new set of powers as well as a new costume.
In an era where Superman’s look has changed three times in the space of six years it might seem weird that Superman getting a new costume and new powers made the national news but times were different in 1997. Superman’s look had been relatively stable for the majority of his almost sixty year existence. The S symbol might evolve. The length of his cape would change. He had long hair for three years. Other than that his outfit was pretty much the same. Blue shirt and pants. Red trunks. Red boots. Yellow belt. Flowing red cape with a yellow S on the back. Red and yellow S on the front. Likewise his powers evolved into a pretty standard set of abilities. Strength. Speed. Flight. X-ray and heat vision. So when DC announced that they were changing all of that there was the usual mix of excitement, apprehension and outrage from the fan base.
At the time I was excited. I had been reading the Man of Steel’s titles for nearly ten straight years when Superman #123 hit the stands and in that time I had seen a fair bit of change. Superman had left Earth, returned, lost and regained his powers, got engaged, bounced around time, fought off an alien invasion led by Brainiac, died, came back, watched as Metropolis was destroyed by Lex Luthor, helped rebuild Metropolis, thought he was going insane when a body was found in his tomb, nearly lost his Clark Kent identity, was put on trial, broke up with Lois, lost his powers again, patched things up with Lois, married her, got his powers back and dealt with a Revenge Squad hell bent on killing him.
The one constant in all of that was that the creative teams kept pushing Superman, his friends and his foes forward. Lois went from being a rival to a friend to a fiancé to a wife. Jimmy went from being a photographer at the Daily Planet to an anchorman on WGBS. Perry White lost his son, adopted another and fought lung cancer. Lex Luthor switched his brain from his dying body into a younger one, nearly died in that body and then bargained with a demon to get his youth and vitality back. While there was a status quo, things changed and it was easy to fall into the trap to think they would always change. On that level, giving Superman a new suit and a new set of abilities makes perfect sense.
Not that I thought in those terms at the time. In early 1997 I was just along for the ride and, as noted earlier, generally excited. That changed as the year wore on and in the interest of full disclosure I was pretty much done with the new powers and the splitting into two and all of that noise by the time the story reached its conclusion. I wanted the classic Superman back with the blue suit and the red cape and all that jazz.
All of which brings us to this series of posts and why I am writing them. It has been twenty years since, for lack of a better term, the Electric Blue Era began and I thought two decades was enough distance to reappraise these comics. Like the first ten years of my relationship with the Superman books, a lot has happened to the Man of Steel in that time and not all of it was good. I used to hold the Electric Blue Era as the benchmark of how low the character can go. Then 2003 happened. And 2007. And 2010. And most of The New 52. Suddenly Superman Red/Superman Blue was looking positively awesome and I wanted to see if that feeling was nostalgia or bitterness? Was I looking at these comics through rose tinted glasses or were these objectively good stories? Finding out should prove interesting.
So here’s the plan; after next week’s all-purpose catch up post that explains what was going on in the Superman titles right before this era began I’ll be doing an issue by issue review of the Superman books published in 1997 on the 20th anniversary of the day they came out. This is why I positioned this series on a Sunday. Twenty years ago that was a Wednesday, which by 1997 had become the agreed upon release date for comics or at least comics coming from Diamond. The reviews will vary in length depending on the issue itself. Some stories might yield a bumper crop of opinions. Other stories may require less examination. I mainly want to see if the stories started out strong and then fizzled out or was the new costume and powers an interesting idea that simply ran its course.
In addition to the main Superman books I’ll be looking at the annuals from that year and briefly examining how his powers were dealt with in the Grant Morrison fueled JLA title that started shortly before Clark’s new look. The commonly accepted wisdom about Electric Blue Superman was that the main books were bad and Morrison was the only one that knew what to do with the new powers. I want to see if the hive mind is right or is it another example of something becoming a “fact” simply because everyone says so.
To be fair I am not holding out any hope for The Millennium Giants being good but other than that I’m optimistic about proving the Morrison thing wrong.
So travel with me now, dear readers, as we break the bonds of our temporal placement and journey back twenty years to read about a married Superman with a new status quo. They might be great comics or, at the very least, they might wish to be. They only lack a reviewer to show the way. For this reason, their capacity to entertain, I present them to you, my loyal audience.
I mean a blog needs content, right?
Next Time: Final Nights, Marriage and Revenge.