Installment 2: Final Nights, Marriage and Revenge
When I first conceived this series of posts I knew that one of the first installments had to be a breakdown of what was going on in the Superman books right before the Electric Blue Era began. I figured this would be relatively simple. I’d re-read the comics, pick out the key moments and relate them in a hopefully entertaining fashion. The only problem I had was choosing a place to begin. By 1996 the Superman titles were essentially a weekly comic book and the continuity was dense. It was enjoyable and great for those following the books, but dense just the same. In the interest of keeping this installment from becoming a two-parter I decided that the best place to start was the first appearance of the Post-Crisis version of the Bottle City of Kandor.
Because that’s where the seeds of the news powers and costume were planted.
The Bottle City of Kandor first appeared in Action Comics #242 (July 1958). That was also the first appearance of Brainiac and it turns out the villain had a nasty habit of shrinking cities, putting them in bottles and leaving with them. Kandor became a fixture of the Fortress of Solitude during the Silver and part of the Bronze Age with Superman traveling there and having all sorts of adventures. Superman’s oath to find a way to enlarge the city was one of those soap opera elements that was frequently discussed but never resolved until the historic Let My People Grow from Superman #338 (August 1979). In that story, Superman managed to enlarge the occupants of Kandor but due to a problem with the process the ray the Man of Steel used only worked permanently on living matter. All of the Kryptonians were restored to their original heights but the buildings they lived in crumbled to dust. Van-Zee, one of Kandor’s leading citizens and a dead ringer for Kal-El, chose to be a glass half full kind of guy when dealing with this setback. He announced that after years of depending on Superman to care for them they can finally be the captains of their own destiny and rebuild their city through their own efforts.
There’s a lot more to Kandor’s Pre-Crisis history but we have a lot of ground to cover and I didn’t want to get lost in the weeds. Like most of Superman’s Pre-Crisis history Kandor was swept under the rug after the revamp in 1986. Krypton went from being this amazing, science fiction wonderland to a cold, dead world that practically deserved to be blown up. In the Post Crisis era Superman was the sole survivor of Krypton, emphasis on the sole, so a bottled city full of other Kryptonians was definitely off the table. So how do you have a Bottle City of Kandor when Superman is the last Kryptonian?
The answer was simple. The new Bottle City would not be Kryptonian at all. It would be…something else.
The three-part storyline titled The Bottle City began in Action Comics #725. Through the course of that issue Superman faced off against a number of different aliens that all shared the same personality. At the end of the issue the alien takes on the form of a pink energy creature and produces a bottle with a city in it. The alien informs Superman that they had run into each other during The Trial of Superman storyline from 1995 where Superman did the creature wrong. The penalty for this slight is to join the others in the shrunken city and have his body and powers used when the Wizard, named Tolos, chooses.
The story continued in Superman: The Man of Steel #60 where we are introduced to the inhabitants of Tolos’ shrunken city. One of them is a Daxamite named Cil Gand, who tries to keep the peace when the citizens/prisoners try to revolt. Suddenly Cil is taken from the city by Tolos, who occupies Cil’s body and uses it to pound on Superman. Eventually the body starts to weaken because Daxamites have a serious allergy to lead and Earth’s atmosphere is lousy with the stuff but that’s something we, the audience, are aware of but the characters in the story are not. Gand is sent back to the shrunken city but returns later to fight with Superman some more.
Everything comes to a head in Superman #116. After dealing with some Clark Kent business (Perry White had taken a leave of absence from the Daily Planet while he battled lung cancer and Clark was named temporary Editor-In-Chief) Superman goes to Professor Emil Hamilton for help. Hamilton develops a device that draws Tolos out of Cil Gand’s body during their next confrontation. The device works but not as well as Superman had hoped. Tolos grabs another body and tries to drag Superman into the shrunken city. Despite dying from lead poisoning, Cil Gand grabs Hamilton’s device and uses it to save Superman from being captured with the added bonus of banishing Tolos, seemingly forever. Cil Gand dies and Superman vows to find a way to help the people of Kandor. Despite almost being sucked into the shrunken city Superman seems to have suffered no ill effects.
Or did he?
The rest of that cover month featured stories that set up characters so they could be used down the road. In Adventures of Superman #539 Superman fights a new villain named Anomaly. Anomaly was the clone of a convicted killer named Floyd Barstow who worked for the Cadmus Project. During an encounter with Misa, a rogue Hairie (a group associated with the Cadmus Project that are essentially highly advanced hippies), Floyd is scratched and those injuries allow him to become a cross between the Incredible Hulk and the Absorbing Man. Barrage, an armored villain who had a serious mad on for Maggie Sawyer of the Special Crimes Unit, returned in Action Comics #726. In Superman: The Man of Steel #61 Superman faces off against a new villain named Riot, who replicates every time Superman hits him. Anomaly, Misa, Barrage and Riot would return a few months later as part of the Superman Revenge Squad
Superman: The Man of Steel #61 also features Superman and Professor Hamilton heading to the Fortress of Solitude to investigate the Bottle City of Kandor. The Fortress had been destroyed during the Reign of the Supermen but Superman finds that it has been mysteriously rebuilt and the issue ends with the robots of the Fortress attacking the Man of Steel. To add insult to injury a cosmic being would choose this moment to show up and start some trouble because it was time for the latest yearly crossover that DC was fond of doing at the time.
This particular event went by the name of Final Night and told the tale of an alien entity known as the Sun Eater engulfing the…well, it engulfed the sun. The thing is called the Sun Eater. It’s right there in the name. The Sun Eater is another one of those Pre-Crisis concepts that was brought back by the creators of the time and revamped for the purposes of their story. In the original story the threat of the Sun Eater was so vast that the Legion of Super-Heroes had to recruit some of the galaxy’s worst criminals to help destroy it. In the end the only way to stop the threat was to detonate a bomb called the Absorbatron in the Sun Eater’s core. Superboy wanted the job but he had been weakened during the fight and a Legionnaire named Ferro Lad sacrificed his life to save the galaxy.
In the new version, the Sun Eater lives up to its name, blots out the sun and the heroes of the world team-up to save their world from destruction. Superman was at the forefront of the fight but had to deal with the fact that his powers were disappearing thanks to the Sun Eater blocking the solar radiation that gave him his abilities. His crossover issues did what good crossover issues should do; play into the larger story but focus on the impact the crisis has on the character and his world. To be fair the first of the crossovers, Superman #117, dealt more with the resolution from the end of Superman: The Man of Steel #61 but the story did lay out some more of the groundwork for the Electric Blue era. Superman has to fight the Fortress, which, for some mysterious reason, doesn’t recognize him as a Kryptonian. Why? Because of foreshadowing, that’s why. It was one of the moments that confuses the reader at the time but makes perfect sense later.
Adventures of Superman #540 introduces the Post-Crisis Ferro Lad and was a low-key story focusing on the people of Metropolis and how they are handling the crisis at hand. Ferro Lad is set up as a heroic character with a tragic past and because of how things went down during the Pre-Crisis days you think that Kesel is setting us up for another heroic sacrifice. Action Comics #727 focuses on Superman trying to keep the peace even though his powers are pretty much gone. We also get to see more of the people of Metropolis going through their own personal struggles, which made for an emotional read. Superman: The Man of Steel #62 frames the supposed last days of Earth with the last days of Krypton, which is a bit on the nose but totally works. Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove also give us some nice shout-outs to Superman: The Movie during this issue.
The main Final Night series featured the public return of Lex Luthor. Lex had been in hiding since returning to full health the previous year thanks to a deal with the demon Neron. He positions himself at the forefront of the battle and Kesel plays him as extremely arrogant, especially towards the time displaced members of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but Lex’s true colors shine towards the end of the story and even though he is ultimately one of the people who saves the day he loses some face with the heroes he was working with. Once the heroes construct the solution to the Sun Eater problem, Superman volunteers to pilot the ship carrying the device. He is hoping that the solar surge of the sun being restored will also restore his powers. Ferro Lad has other ideas and goes in his place but ultimately Hal Jordan, known as Parallax at the time, sacrifices his life to save the world and make up for the crimes he had committed after Coast City was destroyed.
I realize that there is a lot I am leaving out about Lex Luthor, how a contingent of the Legion of Super-Heroes became trapped in the past, all of the crimes Hal Jordan committed and Ferro Lad’s backstory but, as I wrote earlier, I have a lot of ground to cover and I didn’t want this to become bogged down in the minutia. Final Night is an underrated crossover event and it was a pleasure to re-read it for this post. I cannot recommend it enough and if you are focusing on Superman be sure to pick up Power of Shazam #20 because it features a great Superman/Captain Marvel team-up.
So, the sun is shining again and the day is saved. Everything’s back to normal, right?
Not even close.
Superman faces two big problems after Final Night, the first being his powers have not returned. This makes no sense as the sun’s rays are hitting him full on. He should running and jumping and flying like all the other little Kryptonians. The second problem is that his relationship with Lois is still on the rocks. Earlier in the year Lois called off their engagement because she felt that while she loved Clark his role as Superman was a drag on their relationship. Things got so bad that she eventually took a foreign correspondent position and left Metropolis. In Superman #118 she has a serious change of heart after encountering a man that Clark helped years before. She decides to head back to Metropolis and try to work things out with the love of her life. This leads directly into Superman: The Wedding Album, where Lois and Clark finally tie the knot.
To be honest the abruptness of Lois and Clark getting back together was more than a little jarring back in 1996. I was not a fan of the two having relationship problems but the creators decided that Lois and Clark needed to split and they were exploring the ramifications of that break up. Now they were being thrown back together and the real reason for the sudden reconciliation was a call back to why they decided to kill Superman in 1992. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was heading into its fourth season in the fall of 1996 and after a two-part episode wrapping up the previous season’s cliffhanger Lois and Clark were finally going to tie the knot in an episode with one of the most self-aware titles ever, Swear To God, This Time We’re Not Kidding. This is a reference to a storyline from the previous season where Lois and Clark were married but it turned out that the Lois that walked down the aisle with Clark was a clone that ate frogs and the less said about that mess the better.
So once again the tail was wagging the dog and since synergy was a big thing in the ‘90s the powers that be decided that Lois and Clark would get hitched in the comics and the television series on the same week. Superman: The Wedding Album was a jam special where the various creative teams each dealt with the various aspects of a wedding. Getting the tuxes. Picking out the dress. The bachelor and bachelorette parties. Clark even got a haircut by the time he walked down the aisle with Lois. The creators working on Superman at the time were all drawn into the crowd and the man performing the ceremony was drawn to look like Jerry Siegel.
Despite the circumstances surrounding it I really like The Wedding Album.
After a honeymoon, which stretched over Adventures of Superman #541 (guest starring Superboy), Action Comics #728 (featuring a flashback story with Superman at full power) and Superman: The Man of Steel #63 (where Lois has to save a kidnapped Clark Kent) the main thrust of the never-ending battle was getting Superman his powers back. The Legion of Super-Heroes tried their best to help him in Superman #119 while Cadmus did their best in Adventures of Superman #542. Superman donned the black resurrection suit in Action Comics #729 in the hopes that the Fortress of Solitude had something that would give him his powers back but it was the New Gods that eventually held the key and Superman was back to full power in Superman: The Man of Steel #64.
The next two months’ worth of stories were standard Superman fare. It’s not that they were bad. They weren’t and after several months of world ending events and massive life changes and trying to get his powers and abilities back it was nice to see Superman dealing with more straight ahead problems. Superman #120 was a character driven piece where Superman’s friends, allies and enemies talked about what they would do if they had the Man of Steel’s powers. During this issue one of Professor Hamilton’s machines overloads in Superman’s presence, which was another bit of foreshadowing the big change that was about to happen.
Then the Post-Crisis Superman Revenge Squad (comprised of Maxima, Anomaly, Riot, Barrage and Misa) was formed by a shadowy benefactor to destroy the Man of Steel. The story stretched over Adventures of Superman #543, Action Comics #730 and Superman: The Man of Steel #65 and was interesting but if you read the names of the members of the new Squad and only recognized them because I just discussed them earlier in this piece I think the longevity of these villains speaks for itself.
To be fair Barrage was on a second season episode of the Supergirl series, so he had that going for him.
Also to be fair the Pre-Crisis version of the Superman Revenge Squad wasn’t comprised of any of his heavy hitting rogues. They were from the planet Wexar II and had a mad on for Superboy because he stopped their plans for galactic conquest. Their methods could be interesting and in some cases downright brilliant but it’s not like Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro and Mongul were members. I’m not saying that the original Revenge Squad was lame as I am sure it has a die-hard fan base. I’m just saying that both Squads have their weaknesses
The final month before the Electric Blue Era begins featured some solid stand-alone stories. Superman deals with inner-city violence in Superman #121 and while it was a bit heavy handed the story was a great example of Superman dealing with a real-world problem that are still there at the end of the issue. It also featured some rare (for the time) Dan Jurgens art. Adventures of Superman #544 featured the return of Intergang in a new and interesting way. Karl Kesel brings back a Golden Age Newsboy Legion villain and rebrands Intergang as mobsters meet monsters. Superman contends with a new version of a villain named Cauldron in Action Comics #731 and Superman: The Man of Steel #65 is something of a Superman appreciation story where characters (including President Bill Clinton) are worried about an emergency until they hear that Superman is on the case.
And that’s where we are at the beginning of the Electric Blue Era. Clark is married to Lois, filling in for Perry while he’s on leave and has his powers back. There are new threats on the horizon and old foes waiting in the wings. Clark has been through a lot in the past few months but the biggest surprises are just around the corner.
Next Time: It begins here! A new life for Superman!