I’ve begun a series of essays that, for lack of a better term, I’m going to categorize as “FIAWOL.” Fandom is and has been a way of life for me, like it or not, for a long time. Consequently, I’ve derived a lot of life lessons from fandom, and from the things that bind us together. So I’ve decided to start sharing them. These will not be “reviews” in the true sense. They’ll be observations which ties to things I’ve read, watched, heard or experienced in fandom. Like all my writing, they’ll be personal to me. I plan to share them, of course, on the holiest day of the week: Wednesday, when the new comics come out. Hope you find them at least thought-provoking.
Action Comics is, if I’m not mistaken, the first comic book ever to reach 1,000 issues. It is not the oldest comic book. It’s not even the oldest comic book from its publisher, DC Comics. That honor goes to Adventure Comics,which, sadly, was canceled just after its 500thissue back in the 1980s. Action’s millennium celebration is, like its first issue back in 1938, an anthology of stories. Like its first issue, it is headlined by Superman. Unlike its first issue, it features only Superman stories.
One of these stories, much-lauded by DC, is by Brian Michael Bendis, who is taking over the reins of Superman for the foreseeable future. Bendis doesn’t tell comic stories like anyone else, and this is our first taste of what is to come.
But it’s not a story.
We begin with Linda Danvers crying over a sad movie with her parents. The power goes out, and she swiftly changes to Supergirl and rushes to repair a broken, underground cable. What the union for the local power company thinks of the resultant lost overtime is not mentioned, but people are thrilled that Supergirl can handle high voltage lines without being harmed. For her part, Linda is thinking only about how sad it is that the hero in the movie lost the love of his life by waiting too long to propose.
She decides that her cousin Superman is in danger of being along forever, because he won’t propose to either Lois Lane or Lana Lang. Despite her parents’ objections, Linda decides to play Cupid. She first attempts to set Superman up with Helen of Troy, oblivious to the fact that, if Helen is real, then she was a big part of history, and marrying Superman would change that history. And, indeed, though Superman doesn’t take the bait, Supergirl herself nearly takes Helen’s place in history.
As promised at the end of “The Army of Living Kryptonite Men”, an adult Lex Luthor, imprisoned, makes good on his promise to track down the Legion of Super-Villains, which must exist, he reasons, if there is a Legion of Super-Heroes. His method of tracking them down is pretty hilarious—he offers to repair all of his fellow inmates’ broken radios, and, while doing so, steals one part from each of them in order to build a future transmitter. Did the radios with missing parts actually work when he was done? We’re never told. I guess it doesn’t matter, since, after building the future transmitter, he quickly secures the means to escape.
“Calling the future!” he says into his transmitter. (I love it!) These were the days, if you don’t remember them, when a lot of Americans still didn’t dial phones. They picked them up and told an operator who they wanted to talk to. So Lex wasn’t behaving that out of character for someone of his time, but still… The whole future, Lex? All of it?
Here it begins. The first-ever appearance of the Legion of Super-Heroes, from back in 1958. I wasn’t even born then, but this team became one of my favorites in comics. As far as my allowance would stretch as a kid, I would collect their Silver Age appearances. When the Archive Editions were released, beginning in the 1990s, I sought them out and read every story, both alone and out loud with my then-elementary school-aged son, Ethan. (He’s 25 now, and you can find the fruits of my labors to make him a full-blown geek on his own blog, The Figure in Question.)
Having had so much fun in recent days, recounting the first Legion stories I ever read as part of my Back in the Day-themed posts, I decided that I would start re-reading from the beginning, and share my thoughts here.
Short Version: Superboy is surprised to be recognized as Clark Kent, and Clark Kent is surprised to be recognized as Superboy, by two new boys and a new girl in town. The trio reveal themselves as members of a super-hero club from the 30th Century, and ask him if he’d like to join. They take him to the future and put him through three tests… all of which he fails. In the end, though, he learns that the circumstances of his “failure” prove that he’s the greatest hero of them all, and Superboy becomes a Legionnaire.
Early in my comics-buying career, I was aware of a title called World’s Finest. I’m not sure how I was aware, but I was. I guess I’d seen it on the spinner rack, and maybe I’d seen ads for its 1960s issues in the pages of my brother’s war comics. Was it called World’s Finest Comics on the cover when I bought my first issue? Or just World’s Finest? If you look closely, it was called “WORLD’S FINEST!” but with a little whisper of ‘comics’ under it.
Either way, I knew it was a book co-starring Superman and Batman. It had been since its first publication in 1941, although, in the early days, co-starring meant there was a Superman story and a Batman story in each issue, not that the two teamed up. Their first team-up story came in 1954, 71 issues into the title.
“The Oz Effect” is a five-part story which reveals the origins (kinda) of the mysterious Mr. Oz who has been appearing in DC Comics for quite a while now, in different titles. He’s a dangerous guy, and, like any powerful, godlike being, his followers might be even more dangerous. In the course of this story, in Oz’s name, one of his followers detonates a bomb (and himself) in an attempt to kill the staff of The Daily Planet. His motivation seems to be little more than because Mr. Oz told him to, and because he wants everyone to know how horrible life on Earth is.
A child is disappearing every night in Metropolis. Fourteen are now gone without a trace. Superman, sworn to protect his city and terrified for his son, Jon, vows to find them, and winds up finding two of Green Lantern’s deadliest foes along the way. The cover makes no secret of the fact that this will be a Sinestro story. Guest-writer (I assume) Keith Champagne doesn’t have Peter Tomasi’s flair for writing the family-oriented Superman tales I’ve been enjoying. Lois and Jon are absent from this issue. But he does instill a lot of heart and nobility into Clark, which is what I read Superman to experience. Looking forward to the next part of the story.
From October, 1965, another three-story issue, this one featuring:
“The Insect Queen of Smallville” – Superboy’s girlfriend, Lana Lang, becomes a super-hero! Now, it’s important to understand that, if you’re Kal-El / Clark Kent and it’s not yet 1970, “girlfriend” is another word for “arch-nemesis.” Like Lois Lane in his adult life, Lana exists at this point only to try and prove that mild-mannered Clark Kent is actually the last son of Krypton. Also like Lois, she’s really bad at the job, and similarly obsessed with it.
This time out, Lana happens upon a spaceman in the woods, as teenage girls in small towns in the Midwest were wont to do back in the day. Said spaceman (now we would say “extraterrestrial,” but this was literally a little, green man.) She frees him from beneath a fallen tree. In gratitude, he gives her a ring which allows her to assume the powers of any insect.
As was typical of the times (1962), this issue contains three stories. The cover actually references the third and shortest of them, “When the World Forgot Superman.” These were the days when the editor (Mort Weisinger, if memory serves) would have the artist draw a sensational cover, depicting an incident likely to make a reader ask, “How could that ever happen?!” And then the writer would be told to make that happen in a story. In this case, Superman returns from a mission in space to find that no one in Metropolis knows who he is, although, appropriately, they still know Clark Kent. How could this happen? Well, the answer is pretty obvious, if you know your Superman lore.
The first issue of the much-heralded story, “The Oz Effect.” Who is Mr. Oz? Well, he’s a character who first appeared a couple years back in a middle-numbered issue of the last run of Superman. That was before DC launched “Rebirth,” this… um… lessee… Crisis, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis, Final Crisis (do we count Final Crisis?)… New 52… Sixth? Fifth and a half reboot—well, now, I guess the introduction of the Silver Age Flash and all his JLA kin was also a reboot, so let’s go with six and a half reboots—six or seventh reboot of the DC Universe. Anyway, Mr. Oz is more than one reboot old, which is pretty damn ancient in DC terms, and he’s shown up a few dozen times these past few months, including in the eponymous DC Rebirth one-shot that started all the current shooting.
In this opening tale, the mysterious Mr. Oz declares that the human race does not deserve Superman or his family. Humans are just too selfish and petty, too easily swung toward the wrong choice, too prone to bring chaos. So Mr. Oz decided to give them a little push towards just that, in hopes of showing Kal-El that humanity is just not worth his time.
Right at the end, we learn the true identity of Mr. Oz. No spoilers, and I’m pretty sure it won’t stick; but it guarantees that this is a story I’ll want to read. Of course, so does Dan Jurgens name in the credits, but still…
A well-crafted story that touches on an old (but never-answered) question about being Superman: What the hell does he do when a lot of things go wrong at once? Here a lot of things do go wrong, and it’s enough to drive even the eldest of the super heroes to despair. Kudos to Jurgens for political even-handedness, by the way. There is, predictably, a white supremacist attack on helpless immigrants depicted. It’s the first crime Superman prevents. It’s followed up quickly by a thug spouting Occupy rhetoric as he tries to burn down someone’s house. It’s refreshing to see a piece of mass entertainment remind us that there are extremists on both ends of the spectrum, and they’re all dangerous.