Reign of the Supermen #90: Superman-X

Source: Superman vol.1 #418 (1986)
Type: ReplacementYou know, sometimes I think the reason Superman so desperately needed to be rebooted in the mid-80s is because he never really got out of the Silver Age mold. Other series' narrative had been allowed to evolve (like Batman's), while new series were a touch Marvelized in their approach to the characters (New Teen Titans, Firestorm). Superman's writers frequently struggled with their "too-powerful" star, stranding him in a limbo of super-power malfunctions and imaginary stories. Nowhere is this more evident than in the year preceding the reboot, featuring the so-called "lameduck Superman" who "died" by Alan Moore's hand in the almost too famous "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" After all, if it's all going to be wiped from continuity, who cares what we do, right? And yet, nothing much of note happened except in the final story. Superman was still stuck in the Silver Age. Case in point, "The Replacement" by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Dave Hunt. What makes me say this? Oh, let me count the ways.

1. Curt Swan art. Sorry Mr. Swan, but you'll always be a Silver Age artist to me, even if you went on to do work for decades after it supposedly ended. It always seemed to me like his style never really evolved in all that time though, and remains "retro" to my eyes. His designs too, judging by the artificial creature called Superman-X, who doesn't look quite as slick as on the cover.
2. Generic aliens. The Silver Age was full of one-off alien races who came to Earth either to invade or befriend it. The guys in this issue request aid from Superman because a Sun-Eater is gnawing at their star. He agrees and they leave Superman-X behind so that Metropolis isn't left in a lurch.
3. Superman is as big a hero in outer space as he is on Earth. That guy really needs to reconnect with the common people by, I dunno, taking a walk across America or something.
4. An obsession with secret identity stories. Though no one even notices that Clark Kent is gone for a length of time, Supes IS initially worried his trousers will be recognized. I guess Bruce Banner has the same problem with his purple pants.
5. Science that makes no damn sense. Superman-X is quite the superhero. More powerful than Superman, not only can he "flatten" trucks and guns, as well as repair all his parts in the wink of an eye, but he also promptly (a) makes all weapons in Metropolis turn to dust, (b) turns all kryptonite in town into ordinary rock, (c) cure every disease and condition suffered from in the city, including making limbs grow back, (d) maintains energy cushions that appear every time an auto accident is about to occur, (e) gives senior citizens super-strength so they can defend themselves against thugs, and (f) installs a system that makes all the criminals in Metropolis turn themselves in.
And yet these aliens needed Superman to deal with their threat of the week. Supposedly because their science can only affect silicon-based matter (see S-X's faith healing for why I think this is stupid).
6. Lois, Lana and Jimmy - super-meddlers. Because they're afraid Superman-X is going too far, they try to convince him that he's disrupting a delicate balance (as expressed by the sudden influx of wannabe residents). He's about to be convinced, when they pull out their clincher: A doctored news report in which a kid is killed by a stampeding mob trying to get into the hospital where S-X did his miracles. Superman-X leaves the planet in anguish and never finds out it was all a (wholly unnecessary) hoax.
7. Reset button. Earth is without a defender for all of two seconds as Superman returns from deep space at that very moment. Superman-X's contributions were never mentioned again. Until this very moment.

For some, the Silver Age only ended in 1986.

14 comments:

Matthew E said...

For a second I thought that you meant Superman-X from season 2 of the Legion cartoon (aka Kell-El).

Siskoid said...

He'll get his shot too ;-)

Matthew Turnage said...

I think there was a very strong attempt to move Superman out of the Silver Age when Mort Weisinger retired and Julie Schwartz took over around 1970-71. Clark Kent started wearing different colored suits, became a newsanchor for WGBS, and had his powers (temporarily) reduced (not to mention all Kryptonite on Earth turned to iron - at least until some more fell to Earth).


Throughout the Bronze Age, there were other things done in an attempt to modernize Superman, such as Clark Kent dating Lois Lane for a while around 1976 during Martin Pasko's run (IIRC), Superman and Lois breaking up and Superman and Lana dating in the early-mid '80's, and ratcheting up the Superman/Luthor feud a few notches with the destruction of Lexor in 1983.

Certainly, there was a level of Silver Age-ness Superman couldn't quite shake, but I think they were trying until Marv Wolfman left Action Comics in 1984, and Julie announced his new approach to Superman would be "What would Mort Weisinger have done?"

Which lead to some pretty weak Superman stories until Byrne arrived, sadly.

Siskoid said...

The Silver Age was only in remission.

Anonymous said...

Cary Bates. He's also the guy who ruined Barry Allen with his 12- or 13-year writing stint on "The Flash". Bates never had an idea to which he said, "Nahh, that's just stupid", which is why he gave us Superman X and Ross Malverk.

Kal said...

Oy that is terrible. I don't know how you find the crapiest of the crap but you do. I am so glad I missed that issue. It might have put me off Superman for good.

Siskoid said...

My Superman buys in the early 80s were understandably intermittent. A lot of intriguing covers with disappointing interiors is what I mostly remember.

Jeff R. said...

Well, the ultimate Lame Duck Superman story (apart from the ones where he becomes a second banana to Ambush Bug, that is) would be the last issue of DC Comics Present, which is basically what Whatever Happened... would have been without Moore. All kinds of stuff happened there, confident that the reboot was coming.

By the way, speaking of power loss stories, are the two halves of superman from when Lord Satanis and Selene split him apart (in the first longer-than-three-part story ever to run in Action to my knowledge) going to count as one entry or two?

Siskoid said...

Probably one, à la Superman Red Superman Blue, but I'll have to see.

Matthew Turnage said...

Jeff, there are two Action stories that ran for more than three issues prior to the Satanis storyline that spring immediately to my mind: the Karb-Brak story in Action 460-463 and the classic Virus X story in Action 362-366. (I still need to get the first part of that one - good stuff!)

Speaking of which - the Leper Superman might be a good subject for this series at some point.

Agreed about the final issue of DC Comics Presents. It rips off part of Superfolks, IIRC, and much less subtly than Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? did.

Jeff R. said...

Matt: Okay, but at 8 issues it was still far longer than anything before...

Possibly longer than anything DC had done before? Of course, that record didn't last long at all since almost immediately after it finished, Barry Allen got into his little bit of legal trouble...

Siskoid said...

Of course, part of the reason some of those stories were so long is because each chapter only filled half an issue, with Supergirl, for example, taking up the other half.

Matthew Turnage said...

Siskoid: True, but the Satanis issues also had backups (Atom, Aquaman and Air Wave were rotating through at the time).

Jeff: It would have been one of the longest, I would think, but not the longest. The Sand Superman story ran nine issues (Superman 233-242, skipping the Giant 239 reprint issue), and the trials Wonder Woman underwent to rejoin the Justice League spanned 12 (bi-monthly!) issues starting in Wonder Woman #212. I can't think of any longer ones off the top of my head.

Siskoid said...

Oh I was throwing the Satanis stuff in that comment as well.

 

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