Unshelved: Superman Jan. ’94

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!

After getting Superman back in action after his unfortunate period of being dead, my favorite hero spent the rest of 1993 re-establishing himself and setting up his pals Steel, Superboy and Supergirl for their own books. He also fought a shockingly racist villain named Bloodsport and went on a dinner date with Lois while Cat Grant’s son Adam got murdered by the now-horrible Toyman. This post will cover the Superman books and tie-ins that came out with a January 1994 cover date including Triangle Numbers 1-4.

Up first, Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove close out the three-part Spilled Blood story in Man of Steel #29. This team had been laying the most groundwork by showing glimpses of Bloodthirst since Supes returned, but in this issue our hero figures out how to deal with BT’s experiments the new Bloodshot and Hi-Tech. The mastermind eventually revealed that he was an ancient agent of chaos. This could have been an interesting character to pit against Superman over the years, but this issue marks his last appearance. While this issue mostly tied a bow on the Bloodthirst story, I actually preferred the one page breakout that found John Kent worrying about change and then being bowled over by his wife’s new haircut. THAT’s why I love these books, even still today.

Shifting over to Superman #85 by Dan Jurgens, we return to the tragic story of Cat Grant. After Superman finally tracked down Toyman…in his giant crib, Cat used her smarts to smuggle a gun into the holding area and threatened to murder him with an interesting ending that continues to elevate her character, making her one of the most complex characters in the Superman mythos…though I can’t remember what they wind up doing with all that. By the way, I think it’s very interesting that, while Superman knows that Toyman is dangerous and unbalanced, he does not make fun of him, but does explain that he needs help. Even when faced with someone clearly dealing with inner demons, Kal-El approaches the situation with compassion first. That’s an interesting element that I wouldn’t have noticed when I read this issues at 10, but it may have left an imprint.

Adventures #508 by Karl Kesel and Barry Kitson once more plays off of an old Jack Kirby book, this time Challengers Of The Unknown, about a quartet of purple-clad adventurers similar to the Fantastic Four, but without superpowers. This issue actually takes place between the first two panels of the last page of Challengers Of The Unknown #4 from 1958 which is on the DC app if you want to check it out. Anyway, they’re chasing a villain named Darius Tiko, “the evil wizard of time” who uses Mandarin-type rings that wind up in equally wrong hands. This is mostly a fun one-off that also features Adam Grant’s funeral. I keep being stunned by all of the emotional ground these books covered and this one is no different.

For whatever reason, Kesel jumps in to relieve Roger Stern on Action Comics #695 drawn by Jackson Guice. I don’t remember specifically, but I bet this issue ticked me off at the time because it features a shiny embossed cover for the legendary character…Cauldron? At this point in my life I had a very limited allowance ($5 a week) and this book would have taken HALF of that with its $2.50 cover price. Past Me surely booed this choice, but Present Me thinks it looks pretty rad! Unfortunately, this armored super soldier only makes one more appearance and not until 1997’s Action Comics #731 which I’ll get to…eventually? More importantly, we get even moments of Superman realizing that his powers are going a bit out of control.

Moving on to the tie-ins, I’ll briefly cover Superman: Under A Yellow Sun by John Francis Moore, Kerry Gammill and Eduardo Barreto which seems to have come out around this time (larger books like this don’t have the same kind of cover date as monthlies). This prestige format one-shot/graphic novel features Clark Kent trying to work on his next novel while dealing with Lex Luthor’s usual villainy. It’s cool to see the Gammill-drawn Superman stuff along with the Barreto-rendered novel sequences, but two things bugged me about this one-off. First, the very idea that Superman of all people would have writer’s block was just too much to handle. That dude could pick any random Tuesday of his real life and make an entire series out of it! Beyond that, this story features a short-haired Superman/Clark and the bald version of Lex Luthor, so it doesn’t really fit in with the overall post-Return Superman, though I’m sure it’s a fun read on its own, which is what it was probably intended to be. I do give the designers bonus points for including Clark Kent’s signature on the title page and other elements that make this comic look book-like.

Alright, Superman’s gotten enough of the spotlight, I know what you’re all thinking, “What about Eradicator?” Well, you’re in luck because he had TWO appearances this month! Technically, he shows up as a shadowy silhouette in the very last panel of Hawkman #5 by John Ostrander and Steve Lieber, I’ll explain what’s going on next time, though I did chuckle because, even though this issue is on the DC app, I have it in my collection because Lieber came to sign at my beloved JC’s Comic Shop around that time. Erad had a more substantial showing in Outsiders #3 by James W. Barr and Paul Pelletier. In this one, he appears about halfway through and starts fighting the team he will eventually join. Along the way, he rips Faust’s arm off, but then decides that they are innocent because…they tell him so. With that, he agrees to join them.

In the last Unshelved, I mentioned a Superman spinoff limited series that launched at the end of 1993 that carried through until April 1994, but it can be summed up pretty well. I had never heard of S.T.A.R. Corps by Dan Vado and Norman Felchle before I started researching this project and part of the reason for that is that the characters debuting in this six-issue series essentially never appeared again. The idea is that one division of S.T.A.R. Labs decided to run its entire computer system through an AI developed for a video game that turned out to be an alien consciousness. Its wild experiments resulted in a number of different super beings.

This series — which is not on DC Universe Infinite, so I had to buy it on eBay — is actually pretty cool and weird in the same way that 90s Computer Movies are. The problem — beyond knowing that these characters go nowhere — is that Vado spends most of the run introducing each character which means you don’t get a larger sense of the group or even the threat until the last minute. Superman shows up in the first episode and Kitty “Rampage” Faulkner is a major part of the series, so there are Super connections, but the whole time I was asking myself why this book didn’t star our guy Eradicator! Basically, it’s got some cool sci-fi ideas, but they just don’t go anywhere, which is a bummer.

While January may have been a bit tame, February 1994 keeps the main Superman titles going while also introducing the first issues of the Supergirl mini as well as the Superboy and Steel ongoings, plus another Outsiders appearance for Eradicator and a trio of guest appearances from the Super family!

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