File This Under “Because Jack P. Starro Asked.” Which sounds snarky but it’s not.
Back in 2011 this article was posted to Bleeding Cool.
Given that I co-host a show about the Post Crisis Superman this sort of thing is in my wheelhouse. I feel protective of that era because it was when I got into Superman and I have spent several hundred hours talking about it into a microphone. I’m not alone in this. Jeffrey Taylor is my co-pilot but still. I have spent a lot of my free time studying the background of that version of Superman. It’s a personal thing at this point. So when articles like this pop up I read them and most of the time I enjoy whatever the writer is putting forward.
This article didn’t fall into that category. Instead DB HUghes puts forth a conspiracy theory that in 1988 an annual was supposed to come out where a Sand Superman is created and that Sand Superman replaced the real Superman and that at some point this was all going to be revealed. His argument kicks off with this paragraph.
The origin of the story dates back to an Adventures of Superman Annual I’m told was meant to be published in 1988. Unfortunately, the story was shelved due to the editorial decision to shy away from annuals (which is why there is a gap in annuals between 1987 and 1990). By the time annuals came back, they were parts of crossover events (Armageddon 2001), so the 1988 story remained shelved.
Right away I have problems with this theory starting with the annuals thing. In 1987 DC published at least fourteen annuals. In 1988 there were at least seventeen. In 1989? At least thirteen. To be fair 1990 only saw about nine annuals come out, but they never went away so they never had to “come back”.
Then there’s this issue of Adventures of Superman.
This is an interesting issue of Adventures. For one thing it is the first Superman story written by Jerry Ordway. For another the story is 30 pages instead of the usual 22. The reason for that is that this was originally supposed to be the Adventures of Superman Annual for 1988 but it never happened. Maybe it was an executive decision to cut down on the number of specific character annuals. I’m not sure but given the number of annuals published between 1988 and 1991 I think it is safe to say that there was no edict to back down on annuals as a concept.
In any case this supposed Adventures annual that Hughes is talking about wasn’t meant to come out in 1988. It was originally meant to come out in 1990 along with, if DC’s house ads are any indication, two other annuals. As it stands only one Superman annual was published that summer. Adventures of Superman Annual #2.
As the little box in the corner suggest this annual concluded in L.E.G.I.O.N. ’90 Annual #1 and was a pretty decent story. It was one of those rare moments during the Post Crisis era where Superman mixed it up with anything related to the Legion. Plus that cover is sixteen kinds of awesome.
What about the other two annuals? Well one was Action Comics Annual #3, which was going to be written by Chris Claremont and Michael Golden. This would have been Claremont’s first work for DC and any book by Michael Golden is always worth it. The other annual which never came out was Superman Annual #3.
When I stumbled on to this ad several years ago it was a real shock. I was not buying any of the New Format books in 1990 so it was neat to see this bit of “what could have been” involving Superman. The reason this annual didn’t come out in 1990 was that the book took too long to complete. Usually if DC advertises a comic it intends to publish it. The story that was supposed to be Superman Annual #3 was eventually released in 1992 as the Superman Special.
Superman Special #1 was a fun one shot that retold a classic Superman story from the Bronze Age. It was released right before the Doomsday story hit the stands (hence the image in the box on the cover) and I am more than a little ashamed to admit that I didn’t know this existed until 1995 and wouldn’t find my own copy until a few years later. Like Brody in Mallrats I wanted to know how I could have missed this.
In any case the writer of the Bleeding Cool piece puts forth the theory that the events of this story were supposed to have a more profound impact on the Superman titles in years to come.
If you go back and look at stories between 1988 and 1992, you find several story situations that kept pointing at the Sand Superman door.
There’s a story where Superman is battling the demon Blaze; she brags about her magic axe being Superman’s doom due to his weakness to magic. Blaze strikes Superman with the magic axe only to watch it inexplicably break on Superman’s chest. The only explanation we get is Superman saying, “Guess it wasn’t as magic as you thought.”
There’s the “Time and Time Again” storyline in which a massive explosion causes Superman to absorb temporal energy; and explosions allow him to access the energy and time travel (just like an explosion was part of the catalyst for the power drain that created sand creature). Superman’s costume also gets darker due to the effect of absorbing the temporal energy just as the sand creature’s colors became darker as it absorbed more power.
Another story features Superman infected with some ancient virus that’s killing him. As Superman gets near death, he takes on a sand like appearance; and he is cured by exposure to kryptonite that doctors brought in to weaken Superman’s skin for surgery. The doctors are baffled at why the kryptonite saved Superman, and it is never explained. In fact, it is only the stories after the sand creature’s place in continuity where we see that kryptonite no longer seems to rob Superman of any power at all; it simply causes him pain (likely because he psychologically believes it should cause him pain).
These arguments are all coming from the same place and that place is called, “finding something that fits my theory no matter how tenuous it might be” or by it’s more common name which is “reaching”. Just because something is magic and theoretically can hurt Superman doesn’t mean that it definitely will. The explosions bouncing Superman around time were a plot device that fit into DC’s then set of rules governing time travel in their books. Also some medicines are essentially poisons that kill whatever is making the person sick so the Kryptonite being used to aid the doctors isn’t a stretch. Doctors had previously used Kryptonite to help Superman during a medical crisis, specifically in Superman #4 where the Man of Steel was shot with Kryptonite bullets.
Hughes continued his argument by bringing up events from the Death and Return of Superman.
Then there is the Death of Superman story itself. I watched a QVC special at the time where Walt and Louise Simonson were helping sell autographed sets of the series. During the special, Walt opened the issue of Man of Steel that introduced John Henry Irons; Walt pointed out the page that seemed to show kind of transfer between Superman and John Henry Irons; Walt emphatically noted that this was important. Did I mention that Superman had been in a massive explosion just before grabbing John Henry? Later in the same issue, we see Irons rip the roof off of a moving car with his bare hands (no armor).
As the Reign of the Supermen came to a close, we see the return of the Superman who fought Doomsday; but he’s powerless. The sun isn’t giving Superman back his strength, and that only makes real sense if the sun isn’t the source of his strength. Superman teams up with the other heroes and confronts the Cyborg Superman; the Cyborg rips open a hose spewing pure kryptonite radiation, but the Eradicator steps in to block the flow before it hits Superman. Power is transferred between the Eradicator and Superman; Superman suddenly gets his powers back. Green Lantern notes just a few pages later that there are massive levels of kryptonite radiation in the room; Superman is seen flying around in the green clouds with a smile on his face.
In the issues that followed, a robot at the Fortress of Solitude keeps trying to tell Superman that recent destruction at the fortress has uncovered something important he needs to see. Superman is too busy to pay it much mind. The storyline leads to November of 1994 with “Dead Again”; Superman finds a dead Superman body.
This leads into Hughes writing about how he believes that DC was going to reveal that the Superman that had been running around since the Superman Special was the Sand Superman and that they pulled back on this at the last minute because of the problems readers were having with other big time story lines going on at the time, like the Clone Saga in the Spider-Man titles. Once again the examples reprinted above do nothing to really advance his argument.
Superman wasn’t in a massive explosion before saving John Henry Irons. The events of their first meeting were part of a flashback and there was no mention of what Superman was doing before he saved Irons’ life.
Superman is not seen flying around green clouds with a smile on his face after the Eradicator helped get his powers back.
The Dead Again story ended with the revelation that the other dead body was just a mental whammy whipped up by Brainiac and having just re-read Dead Again I can safely say that the story wasn’t changed in mid-stride because the hints that Brainiac was the villain were peppered in throughout the arc.
So why am I making such a big deal about this? Well, for one thing someone asked me to and it seemed like a fun thing to do. As I got deeper into this thing I realized that it annoyed me that someone was misrepresenting facts to support their own faulty theory. I’ve talked to many of the creators that were working on Superman during this time period and none of them ever mentioned anything like what Hughes is putting out there. Also it doesn’t fit in with the character they were working on. One of the hallmarks of the Post Crisis era, especially in the books published between 1988-1995, was forward progression. Clark learned from his mistakes and grew as a character. He began dating and eventually proposed to Lois. He revealed his identity to her. He joined the Justice League. He died and came back. He tried and somewhat failed to save his city from Lex Luthor. These were events that were built from what had come before and the idea that a sand creature that appeared in an annual that was supposed to be a call back to a Bronze Age story and was ultimately published as a special was part of this grand conspiracy just doesn’t scan.
More than anything I hate when this era of Superman is misrepresented. While there are still fans of the Post Crisis Superman those stories have been largely swept under the rug and someone that didn’t read them as they came out or binge read them later will see an article like this and accept it as fact. So part of me feels like when a writer does propose a bogus theory with poor examples that it is my responsibility to step up and set the record straight.
So I hope you liked this, Jack. It was a lot of fun. Sorry it took so long.