In 1997, Superman was electrifying!
No, he was actually a little blue.
And then red.
But not really read, which is probably why they tried this ridiculous stunt.
As we entered 1997, Superman was married and powerless. That last part wasn’t going to last for long, of course, and after a few guest appearances by the Legion of Superheroes (or at least a version of them), he eventually got his powers back. What we didn’t know at the time was that his power outage was a harbinger of things to come, bright, sparkly things to come.
Slowly but surely, Superman’s powers begin to change. Eventually, he becomes a creature made up of energy, and he has to wear a suit initially created by Lex Luthor to contain himself. His new abilities are all energy based, like a whole slew of other characters; there wasn’t much unique about him. While Superman had been the basis for so many copycat characters for decades, now he was copying off of others. His new look was tagged as being “for a new millenium,” which made it even worse, because we all knew it wouldn’t really last. This is Superman we’re talking about. All this change did was force Grant Morrison to use a non-iconic Superman in his excellent JLA run.
One nice twist was that Clark could “power off” and became completely human. This was a nice angle to add to his marriage to Lois. Honestly, Superman seems to lose his powers an awful lot, you’d think he would have had a kid by now.
Superman’s powers weren’t the only thing changing. Roger Stern leaves Action Comics with #737. The art team of Action, Tom Grummet and Dennis Rodier, move over to Adventure Comics to work with writer Karl Kesel. The art team from Adventure moves over to Action, at which point Stuart Immonen becomes both penciler and writer. I believe this marked his first writing gig in comics, something we haven’t seen much of from him even now. DC had to realize that Immonen was the highlight of the Superman books (although I do love Grummet’s work), and they made sure he stuck around by letting him try his hand at writing. To be honest, he was perfectly fine at it. There was no real drop in quality when he took over.
Red and Blue Superman
In a nod to the great “imaginary” Pre-Crisis story in Superman #162, Superman splits in two. A second, red Superman appears to join the blue one we’ve been reading about for almost a year now.
The red Superman is supposedly more of a firebrand, if you will, because, you know, he’s red, but there’s ultimately not a huge difference between the two of them. Each of them conveniently wears a tie of either blue or red to let us know which is which when in Clark Kent mode. This is obviously a problem for Lois Lane, but it does allow Superman to reinforce his secret identity as he can now be in two places at once.
The arrival of red Superman was a clear indication that we were going to be getting the original version back. The only reason to introduce the red one was to combine him with the blue one to give us the real deal again. It took a while — and the “Millennium Giants” crossover — but the “Superman Forever” one shot brought us the return of the Superman we all knew and loved.
That one shot also has the distinction of starting one of my favorite Superman epics ever.
But there was another creative change first. Ron Frenz leaves with Superman #135, replaced initially by Paul Ryan who would pencil the book for the remainder of 1998, sans a fill-in month when every Superman book was written by Ron Marz and drawn by Tom Grindberg.
After “Superman Forever” each of the Superman books shifted so that they took place at a different period of his career — not the career in the comics, but his career as a character. Man of Steel imitated the Golden Age, Adventure Comics took place in the Silver Age, Action Comics went to the Bronze Age, and Superman jumped into the future. For a guy like me who loves Superman because of his long and ridiculous history, this arc was wonderful. Jon Bogdanove does an amazing job on Man of Steel, but Adventure Comics had to be my favorite if only because I love Silver Age Superman. Steve Yeowell drawing the first issue of that arc was also great.
But there was obviously something else going on here. Each issue featured a little girl telling anyone who will listen that something is wrong, the world shouldn’t be like this. That little girl is Kismet, a cosmic entity who is hiding from the big bad of this arc, a new character named Dominus.
Dominus is a big time cosmic villain whose powers seem almost limitless. While the story treads water a bit by having Dominus impersonate what seems like everyone, his final battle with Superman is great. Why is it great? Well, if you’re going to have Superman go up against a character like Dominus, who would you want to draw it? If you said Jim Starlin, then you are a wonderful person. Jim Starlin drawing Superman facing a crazy, larger than life bad guy is as awesome as you would expect.
Dominus shows up again a few issues after this arc, which is unfortunate, as it takes away from the uniqueness of his initial appearance. He would eventually play a big role in next year’s main story that would run through all the Superman titles.
While 1997 wasn’t a banner year, 1998 was a good one for the Superman titles, even with the addition of the red vs blue story. While the Triangle Years would continue for two years and four months, the coming year would signify what would be a thematic conclusion to the run.