Back in late 1993 I remember being somewhat shocked at what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman in Superman (Vol. 2) #84. It was a complete departure from what had come before. Sure the Toyman had been a killer. John Byrne set that up in the character’s first Post-Crisis appearance in Superman (Vol. 2) #13. To Byrne’s mind Winslow Schott was a brilliant toy maker from England but whose ideas on what children want were declared outmoded and after getting fired from the John Bull Toy Company he went a little crazy and went on a killing spree that started with Walter Dunhill (the man that had fired him) and continued on with other stockholders in the company. The British super-hero Godiva got involved but proved to be no match for Schott’s deadly toys.
Superman became involved when British Intelligence warned the Man of Steel that Schott might be in Metropolis to kill Lex Luthor because LexCorp owned John Bull Toys and Luthor had initiated the changes that resulted in him getting the boot. Toyman and Superman never actually met in this story. After dealing with an army of deadly action figures Superman tracked down Schott’s hideout and found that the Toyman was gone and signs of a struggle. On the last page of that issue Schott wakes up and in confronted by a man in shadows who declares that Schott now works for him. There was something glowing on the man’s hand, which made the audience think that it might be Lex Luthor in the shadows and that the Kryptonite ring he wore at the time was the glowing thing, but it turned out to be Morgan Edge and Schott went to work for Intergang.
Superman and Toyman faced off a few more times after that. Schott hatched a plot to kidnap the children of LexCorp executives but ultimately let them go. He also had a hand in building the Happyland Amusement Park but after discovering that the creature from Apokolips called Sleez had intended to harm the children from the park he teamed up with Superman to put an end to the monster’s plan. Toyman even tried to blow Sleez up real good.
So the Toyman was a killer and he was a bit off when it came to kids but wasn’t bat @#$% crazy.
Until Superman (Vol. 2) #84, when he went completely insane, started hearing voices and killed Adam Grant, son of Cat Grant.
It was a real turning point. Some have suggested that it was just a reflection of the dark times comics were going through at the time and there might be some truth to that, but Dan Jurgens was pretty upfront about the fact that he just wanted to give Superman something else to deal with besides bruisers and men in suits. I didn’t have a huge problem with the transition. It was very dramatic and put something into the Superman books that hadn’t been there before and in the overall soap opera it provided some solid character moments for Cat Grant.
The character popped up a few times after that and at one point in 1999 Jurgens even tried to redeem that character in Superman (Vol. 2) #164 but mostly Toyman was relegated to the background. He was brought back during the Up, Up and Awayarc that kicked off One Year Later for Superman and at first I was under the impression that Johns and/or Busiek had just revamped the character in the wake up Infinite Crisis. He looked a bit like the Toyman from Superman: The Animated Series, which was fine. I wasn’t too put off by it because I liked that version of the character but the full story behind the Post-Infinite Crisis Toyman had not been told.
Action Comics #865 was an incredibly well-written issue. Geoff Johns has been knocking this title out of the park recently and the only stories he has written for the title that I have had issues with were the Bizarro story (just didn’t care for it) and the ending to Last Son, which was very dramatic but brought up too many questions regarding continuity, which is a minor quibble but one that is important to me. Still, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes was great and the previous issue was very enjoyable. I have written and said this before, but it is nice to be in a position where I’m looking forward to the next issue of Action Comics.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of Johns’ run on the Flash was his ability to take the Flash’s rogues gallery and really get into their heads. Geoff would have these spotlight issues where he would re-tell the character’s origin from a new perspective. When I read the Previews Solicit that he was going to be writing this Toyman themed issue of Action I was hoping that this was a sign that he would be doing the same for Superman’s villains and, hope against hope, that he would amp up Superman’s rogues to the level he did the Flash’s.
Well, all signs point to the fact that Superman’s enemies are going to receive some long overdue attention and as for living up to my expectations (shouldn’t everyone, he joked) Geoff gave me one of the most enjoyable single issue Superman stories in years.
I haven’t been this happy with a writer and Superman since Greg Rucka was on Adventures of Superman.
From cover to cover this was a joy to read. It had a good amount of characterization and managed to use the supporting cast to good effect. The opening scene between Toyman and Jimmy was handled well and the exact opposite of the recent Toyman story in the now-defunct Superman Confidential. Geoff is good at sneaking in the fan’s perspective into his writing, such as having Superboy Superman Prime act like a petulant fanboy. In this issue he brought up the whole, “What are you; a Superman fan or a Batman fan?” debate. This brought up an interesting quirk to Toyman’s personality and something that could be carried over to other Superman villains. As evil as most of these guys are there are probably some of them that like Superman on one level or another because that’s the feeling the character inspires. Lex Luthor aside there are people who just plain like the Man of Steel and I can see some of his bad guys being in that camp.
The fact that Batman took him into custody at the end was a nice wrap-up to that theme.
Toyman’s origin was also handled well. Given the state of Superman continuity, which is nebulous at best, it was amazing to see the John Byrne origin for Toyman get referenced, but there it was with the Geoff Johns tweak of bringing the wife into it. The fact that John Bull Toys was a front for a weapons manufacturer plays into Byrne’s origin even more considering that LexCorp owned the company, so I can see Lex Luthor being behind getting Schott to come on board. I also dug the hints that it was Walter Dunhill that was repsonsible for the death of Schott’s “wife”. It made the man more evil in my opinion.
All of that aside the major revelation towards the end had me all kinds of happy. Not only did it redeem the character by having the Psycho Toyman turn out to be a sophisticated robot but the fact Johns threw in every interpretation was awesome. Sure there’s questions of how sophisticated were the robots and could they have fooled Superman but sometimes, just sometimes, you can overlook that if the story is good enough. I didn’t even mind that the Hiro version of Toyman was a robot considering that not much was ever really done with him.
Now normally I am not big on retcons of this nature, but Geoff Johns has continually gotten a pass from me on this because he does such a good job of handling them. If a writer can come along and present a good enough case for the change and not completely undo the past I will buy into the new status-quo. There was never a feeling here that it was changed because Johns didn’t like what Dan Jurgens did with the Toyman. It is entirely possible he hated it, but I never saw that in the work and believe me there are times that writers can make their feelings known in their stories. This story doesn’t negate the power that the death of Adam Grant had. It also says that while there were some changes and the Byrne origin is no longer the “official” one there are bits and pieces that are still there and I like that.
So yeah. This was a great issue. The future is looking pretty good too with the Brainiac story coming up, James Robinson on Superman and the fact that the books are going to be linked soon for the big, huge, Sinestro Corps War type story that’s coming up.
All in all things are definitely turning around for the Superman books.