"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Film, Comic Books
Summer is officially over, so this is a little late, but I’ve been meaning to talk about a certain arc from the summer of 1993. It was the height of the speculator bubble, when everything came with cover enhancements, trading cards, unfortunate hairstyles and/or superfluous pouches.
For many DC Comics readers, 20 years ago was also the summer of “Reign of the Supermen!” That’s not necessarily enthusiasm — the exclamation point was part of the title, which in turn was inspired by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s early proto-supervillain story, “The Reign of the Superman.” The third (and by far the longest) chapter of the “Death of Superman” saga began with teasers at the back of Adventures of Superman #500, published around April 15,* and ended with Superman Vol. 2 #82, published around Aug. 26.** Those four and a half months may not seem like much, but they saw 20 issues of the four regular Superman books (including Action Comics and Superman: The Man of Steel) spread over 20 weeks. In fact, “Reign” was front-loaded, with all four titles marking the official start of the arc on April 29 or so, two weeks after Adventures #500. That meant there were some weeks without a new installment, and those were sometimes hard to take.
“Reign of the Supermen!” is not the greatest Superman story ever memorialized in print. On one level it is very much a product of its era. However, for the Superman books, that era was energized not just by the efforts of their creative teams, but by the overarching framework the books had developed. While “Reign” wasn’t the only big DC event of the summer — for one thing, the debut of DC’s imprint Milestone Media has much more historical significance — it’s a reminder of the ebbs and flows of serial superhero storytelling, and it remains instructive today.
Warning: This is a very long post, because I think there’s a lot of background to be explored.
There are about to be nine regular Batman titles — Detective Comics, Batman, Batman & Robin, Streets Of Gotham, Gotham City Sirens, Batgirl, and Red Robin, plus the November-debuting Batman Inc. and The Dark Knight. There are three regular Superman books (Action Comics, Superman, and Supergirl) and three regular Green Lantern books (GL, GL Corps, and Emerald Warriors). At the risk of oversimplifying, each of these titles exists on its own for a reason. Each supposedly tells its own stories, and each is independent (to whatever degree) from the others in its family.
And I feel a little hypocritical suggesting this, because I am all for the independence of any given series, but … what if these series worked together better?
DC tried to do just that on a macro scale a few years ago, when the weekly Countdown tied into practically every major superhero series. Described as the superhero line’s “spine,” and advertised as a bridge to the big-event Final Crisis, Countdown turned out to be an odd little gerrymander of a story, uneven and often confusing. Currently, several of DC’s books bear the banner of DC’s biweekly Brightest Day, but for the most part they only share characters with the year-long miniseries.
Although I wrote quite a lot over the past year about DC’s weekly series Trinity, I kept coming up with questions that went outside the scope of my weekly notes. Fortunately, writer Kurt Busiek was nice enough to participate in the following e-mail interview, conducted after Trinity concluded (and after he returned from a well- deserved vacation).
We discussed the nuts and bolts of producing Trinity, its connections to a couple of Busiek’s other DC projects, a few nitpicky items, and what the year-long series leaves behind.
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This Wednesday marks the return of Peter Krause to monthly comics as the artist on BOOM! Studios’ Irredeemable. The series is described by BOOM! as daring to “ask the question: what if the world’s greatest hero decided to become the world’s greatest villain? A ‘twilight of the superheroes’-style story that examines super-villains from the writer of KINGDOM COME and EMPIRE!” Many people, including myself, fondly remember Krause’s great run on the 1990s DC series, The Power of Shazam. My thanks to Krause for this email interview regarding his return to monthly fun, as well as BOOM!’s Chip Mosher for facilitating the interview.
Tim O’Shea: This marks the first ongoing title you’ve done since Power of Shazam–but you’ve been a busy and happily employed artist outside of comics all these years. How has your non-comics work served to help improve your artistic skills overall and are there certain chances you’re now willing to take–or visual experiments you want to try now that you never would have considered earlier in your career?
Peter Krause: Wow…what a great opening question. I suppose there are some chances I’d be willing to take, but I’m not sure if I can point to the non-comics work specifically as the reason. After a time, I think you get a bit more comfortable in your own skin, and you’re not chasing the artistic flavor of the month. You can be a bit more confident in the decisions you make.