With Unshelved, I pull comics from my collection and give them another read, sometimes for the first time in 30 years! These days I’m going through all of the Superman and Superman-related books from the end of Return of Superman through 1999!
When last we left our hero, the Man of Steel was re-establishing himself after being dead and gone for several months. Meanwhile, a variety of ongoing stories got kicked off or picked up and we’re rolling ahead towards a 1994 that will see the four main Superman titles joined by several spinoffs, a variety of guest appearances and two major crossovers! Before we get to all that, though, we’ve got to finish up 1993 with Triangle Numbers 37-40, which includes the saddest comic I’ve ever read.
But before that, Louise Simonson and fill-in artist Chuck Wojtkiewicz gave us Man Of Steel #28 featuring a cover by regular series artist Jon Bogdanove I remember my folks saying made Superman look like a bad guy. They’re not wrong. I would only find out years later that it’s actually a nod to Superman #32 from the mid 40s that inspired a coffee mug I have! Anyway, this issue covers a lot of ground from Superman having a nice meeting with John Henry Irons before he eventually moves to Washington, DC and his own series, Steel, to the introduction of the oh-so-90s villain group The Professionals who, I don’t believe show up ever again. We also get more info about a bunch of missing kids that will play out in the next installment and a few more appearances by Bloodthirst who started showing up in house ads for an upcoming Super story called “Spilled Blood!”
Overall, I’ve been very excited to revisit these foundational stories from my childhood, but I’ll be honest, I dreaded re-reading Superman #84 by Dan Jurgens. When talking about Superman #83 I mentioned the reintroduction of Cat Grant and her son Adam. I didn’t realize it the first time around, but that issue features someone dangling outside their window who we find out in this issue is the Toyman, also the person who has been snatching kids. What we come to discover in this issue is that he has been grabbing children out of homes he sees as unhealthy. Of course, he’s a grown man who sleeps in an enormous crib and gives kids murderous playthings, so he’s not the best judge. Even worse, when Adam tries to free his fellow captives, Toyman loses it and kills him with a knife. This, of course, destroys Cat Grant and also causes Superman to feel incredible guilt because he had decided to fly Lois to Paris for a date, thus missing the abduction altogether. I’ve read more violent and emotionally complicated stories since then, but this one did leave a mark on me from when I first read it at 10 years old.
By comparison, Adventures Of Superman #507 by Karl Kesel and new series artist Barry Kitson, is definitely lighter which is crazy considering it features a racist villain called Bloodsport. I should note that this is the first part of the aforementioned “Spilled Blood” story. See, Bloodthirst has been modifying villains making them more powerful. This new Bloodsport can now teleport any weapon to his hand. He gives Superman a run for his money, mostly by threatening civilians, but he also sets the stage for our hero to use his words to show why he’s the absolute best (see below). All this will play out more fully in the next two installments. Meanwhile, we see Cat Grant struggling with what to do in the wake of Adam’s death even moreso because Toyman is still on the loose. Moreover, I think this is one of the first times that Clark notices his powers are getting a bit wonky which will become a major story in several months.
“Spilled Blood” continues in Action Comics #694 by Roger Stern and Jackson Guice. Now, in addition to the violent racist with infinite weapons, Superman has to contend with a woman who can manipulate machines and integrate them into her being if she touches them. Hi-Tech is yet another Bloodthirst creation who winds up wanting to go after Jimmy Olsen because she absorbed a missile that Bloodshot aimed at the photographer. From there, we get plenty of action, but also a nice spotlight on Ron Troupe, the Daily Planet reporter who was brought in to replace Clark when he was presumed dead. The issue also includes a line that made me jaw drop. See, Cat Grant works for a scumbag TV exec named Vinnie Edge. I’m posting the panel below because even I can’t believe this is real, but he’s so gross that he hits on her and then makes a joke about her dead son. It’s just bananas. At the same time, this also allows for Cat to address such an insanely insensitive statement and go on to become one of the books more compelling characters.
This seems like a good time to talk about the depiction of awful people in fiction. Some think that if a writer makes a despicable character they themselves must be bad as well. While that’s certainly possible, I don’t subscribe to that theory myself. Sure, I was shocked to see the bile Bloodsport and Vinnie Edge threw out so casually — which I wouldn’t want my kids to see that — but I do think that these scenarios offer an example of how to handle those kinds of people in the real world that you don’t get if those awful characters are excised altogether. But I’m also aware that I have a specific POV given my privileges and all that, so I’m open to hearing other sides of the story.
I will say that I’m unwilling to budge on another idea: Jackson Guice rules! In my first Unshelved post, I said that I wasn’t overly familiar with his work beyond Superman, but I’m becoming a huge fan. He has the big deal superheroics absolutely nailed, but he’s also one of the most unique facial artists I’ve seen. In that regard, I put him up with Steve Dillon or Kevin Maguire. They all have very different styles, but they put so much into their characters’ faces that I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring. In Guice’s case, there’s just so much soul and emotion in there that it makes me want to check out his other stuff like Resurrection Man and maybe even Ruse.
Alright, before turning the calendar over to 1994, I’ve got a few guest appearances and spinoffs to get to. It’s funny to think that Superboy and Steel had to wait five months before their solo books launched, which would never happen today. It’s even funnier that Eradicator would be the first one to show up outside of the main Super books in Outsiders #2. There’s also the matter of Big Blue’s first event after coming back from the dead.