Friday, June 25, 2010

Comics! Superman #700!

Well, I could hardly let this one go, could I?

This week in comics, Superman turns a whopping 700, numbered with pretty much nebulous continuity since the title premiered around A.D. 645, and DC Comics gave the occasion an oddly appealing low-key commemoration.

It’s odd: Batman turned 700 last week with an issue that couldn’t have been more generic and scatterbrained if it wanted to – an incredible milestone (what American comics ever reach 700, for the love of Mike?) treated almost entirely negligently. In Batman’s case, the cause was easy enough to see: missed deadlines and work delays (read: pampered, spoiled writers and artists) made it impossible for Bruce Wayne to show up for his own mega-anniversary: he’s still trapped back in time, struggling to endure his way back to the cape and cowl in the 21st century. The perfect culmination of that story line would have been for it to move right into issue 700, starting things fresh for the post-700 future. But instead, Bruce Wayne won’t return to his own comic until probably issue 704 or 705 – an odd anticlimax, that.

The same thing very nearly happens in Superman 700 – the whole thing feels like a string of epilogues, because that’s exactly what it is. In the recent big Superman story line, the lost Kryptonian city of Kandor was found and restored to health and well-being – along with its thousands and thousands of Kryptonian inhabitants, who all instantly gained Superman-level powers. Kandor and all its Supermen-in-waiting was one of the dumbest ideas legendary Superman editor Mort Weisinger ever had; it pretty much totally undercuts the point, drama, and interest of Superman himself. When the Superman mythos underwent its drastic pruning back in the 1980s, I was glad to see the whole idea get quietly dropped (the loss of Superboy, a dreamy Midwestern team flying around in skintight lycra? Not so much. The loss of Krypto, the Super-Dog? Let’s not even talk about it)(fortunately, as you can see on this issue’s cover, Krypto is back)(and as you can tell from this recent cover of Adventure Comics, Superboy is back in the continuity of Superman’s past … and, shall we say, dramatically improved). I don’t know what possessed the current DC editorial board to resurrect it.

But they did, and suddenly the DC universe was flooded with superpowered Kryptonians, not all of whom were as altruistic as Superman. Tensions arose, naturally, since Earth would be pretty much defenseless against even a small fraction of such a population turned bad (and the current DC lineup of super-heroes features exactly six characters who can go toe-to-toe with even one such rogue Kryptonian, let alone hundreds of them). A new planet was found on which the Kandorians could settle, and Superman decided to go with them and help them do that – with the result that Superman himself has been missing from his regular comic titles. Superman 700 marks his big return.

So I guess I was expecting more high drama. Instead, Superman saves Lois Lane from the Parasite and the Prankster (although note to this issue’s many writers: Superman punching the Parasite, even in a triumphant 700th issue, should only make the villain stronger … the whole ‘absorbs superpowers’ thing, remember? Hence the guy’s name?), takes her home and pretty much immediately beds her, then complains for the rest of the issue about how hard the conflicts were that he had with his fellow Kryptonians. The issue featured a very pretty full-page panel of Superman hovering over Metropolis with Lois Lane in his arms, a very nice Ulysses-home-at-last feel to it. But there was no sense of introduction, no attempt to plant the character squarely center stage, and certainly no feeling of optimism for the next 700 issues. Don’t let the issue’s cover fool you: Superman spends most of the issue moping (and what’s with that cover, anyway? Why does artist Gary Frank have the two of them doing the Mashed Potato? Or is it the Shurg?).

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the upcoming third mega-milestone in DC’s summer, Wonder Woman 600. Hope she doesn’t cry in her Amazon beer the whole issue.

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