Sunday, November 28, 2010

Reign of the Supermen #39: Electric Superman

Source: Superman vol.2 #123 (1997) to #135 (1998)
Type: The real dealWelcome to Electric Superman Week!
In the late 90s, the Super-books needed a stunt to boost their sales and since Superman had died in relatively recent memory, well, they decided to change his look and powers for a while. It's something readers were eager to forget about judging by how much play it has on the Internet today (as in, very little), but we're gonna stick with it for a whole week!

Wait! Come back!

Now, I wish I could tell you definitely how Superman became an out-of-phase energy being overnight, but it was never really explained. My guess is that his powers got wonky after Final Night in which he plunged into the sun. Some theories say it's because he traveled to an out-of-phase Kandor City. Others lay it at the feet of the New Gods. Whatever truly happened (and the road back wasn't any clearer), we now had a Superman with energy powers, and who had to wear a special containment suit built by Professors Emil Hamilton and "Rampage" Faulkner to live normally. He could change into Clark Kent, but Kent had no powers. Well, Superman seemed to enjoy the change, at any rate.

This lasted, in one form or another (more through the week!), for X months, across all the Superman titles and JLA for about a year, which was at the time my only exposure to it. Though Grant Morrison was more than equal to the task of giving this Superman cool shticks, it seemed a shame that the new "all-classic characters" JLA was stuck with a non-classic Superman.

Not that they'd ever change Superman's paradigm for a whole year these days. Cough.

Where were YOU when Superman went electric? (Yeah, I know it's not exactly Man's first walk on the moon.)


Jayunderscorezero said...

Yeah, I only really saw a lot of this Superman because of JLA too.

Still, reading through those issues, it's interesting to see just how 'of the time' a lot of those characters were. I mean, Kyle is no longer Green Lantern (kind of), Wally West is no longer the Flash (again, kind of), Aquaman is now completely different, as is Batman, Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman...

I feel that Morrison was able to imbue electro-Superman with a kind of credibility, aided by Superman's own trustworthy persona. So while, in a sense, changing up the character doesn't work because he's so iconic, in another sense, Morrison's electro-Supes kind of showed that you could still be definitively Superman, even with blue skin et al. He still had that Kansas farm boy/benevolent demi-god attitude underneath it all.

MOCK! said...

Siskoid asks: "Where were YOU when Superman went electric?

I was out of comics. When I came back, I heard of this change but haven't made any effort to seek out any of the books.

Any JLA or Superman books I have picked up don't include either the Blue or the Red versions....

De said...

The Electric Days were my jumping-off point from the Superman books, which I had bought every month for years. That's right, I stuck with Superman grows into a giant, the Death of Clark Kent, the idiocy of the new Bizarro, and Toyman killing Adam Grant before I couldn't take anymore.

Never read any of Morrison's JLA until a few years ago. As I recall, the electric powers were never explained in the space of JLA. One issue he was normal, the next he wasn't.

I've picked up just about everything I've missed since then but haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

Matthew Turnage said...

Jayunderscorezero, I think the Superteam's whole point with the exercise was that Superman was Superman, no matter what powers he had (or didn't have). I think they did a good job with that, and Morrison was following what was the thrust of the Superman plotline in his portrayal.

I was a junior in college - in fact, I recall that Superman #123 came out over spring break that year. I was a bit iffy on the storyline at the time but I ended up enjoying it. Confession: I like the electric blue costume design.

Teebore said...

Yeah, if Electric Superman worked at all, it was because Morrison was able to do some cool stuff with him in JLA.

LiamKav said...

The main criticism at the time seemed to be "how dare they change Superman". But clearly, they were never going to change him permenantly. You could change the Flash, you can change Wonder Woman's costume (although that probably won't stick) but you can't change the Benchmark superhero.

As Matthew says though, I'm sure the whole point was an exercise in saying "can we change Superman's powers and still have him be Superman"? As a year long experiment, there's nothing wrong with that. If the execution was lacking then that's one complaint, but the idea was perfectly fine.