DO THE CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN INSTALLMENT 1

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.

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4 Responses to DO THE CLOTHES MAKE THE MAN INSTALLMENT 1

  1. Nathan says:

    I only have a handful of electric blue supes stories and while i prefer the classic powerset i still enjoy the stories. It still feels like superman to me, he was still clark kent, still committed to helping people he just had to learn to do it differently. Compare this to the truth storyline from a year or 2 ago and you can see a huge difference. That story had a lot of potential, something that had genuinely never been done before (at least in the mainstream stories) and a real challenge. Strip everything away from the man of steel that makes him who he is, most of his power, his secret identity and the trust of the people, is he still Superman. This story could have been a great exploration of who supes is, struggling to be the ultimate hero without his usual advantages. But they didn’t do that, they had a muddled story and had him become corrupted by some outside force. The electric blue supes may have been different but he was still the same hero, he didn’t compromise on his morality. Truth superman became more violent and angry and not at all how superman should be. Like i said i only have a few electric blue stories and i cant say it was overall well crafted but individual issues still had the same charm and inspiration that superman represents.

  2. Doug says:

    Just so you know I read a great retrospective on the Electric Blue era by Chris Sims at Comics Alliance last year. He broke it down by month in reviewing the comics. As someone who only started getting into Superman comics last year (I was a Batman only guy before) it was very engaging, entertaining and enlightening. I am sure your retrospective will be great as well, but check out his pieces whenever you get a chance. Just so you know I have read a lot of Superman this past year and post Crisis is my favorite. I got all 9 volumes of John Byrne’s run and loved it and I look forward to the new collections that will pick up where volume 9 leaves off in April.

  3. Thanks for the heads up. I will check that out when I have finished my series so I don’t accidentally repeat something I read there. But I appreciate you letting me know.

    Always nice to hear from another Post Crisis fan!

  4. Doug says:

    I listened to some of your podcasts already for Post Crisis Superman which were very good though I admit I prefer reading reviews more then listening to them which is why I am excited for your electric blue retrospective. As I said I am just discovering this era and I am pretty much reading it as it gets collected in trades. I am hoping they pick up the pace for the post Bryne era with their hard back collections so I can get to Death of Superman which I am putting off until I have read everything that leads up to it. I have not read anything Superman from the new 52 onward except what was in the Superman and Lex Luthor 75 year collections. I’ve heard it’s a mess but I might be interested in jumping into more current Superman at some point like I already do with Batman and his allies.

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