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 spending a month off-planet, Superman finally returns home in Man Of Steel #31 by Louise Simonson and guest artist M.D. Bright. More importantly, the clones living beneath Metropolis known as the Underworlders are dying from a mysterious disease they assume was released by their creators at Cadmus. I gotta admit, this story element was presented as if it had been brewing for a while (and maybe I missed some clues), but it came out of nowhere for me. In what I’m seeing as something of a pattern for this title specifically, there’s a nice mix of everyday adventures for Superman mixed in with tons of set-up for overarching stories, including a lot of attention paid to the Underworlders and Guardian’s response to them, but you also start to find out that Lex Luthor II’s hair is thinning. More importantly, Lex finds out about the mysterious clone plague and wonders if it might have something to do with his recent follicle follies.
Given his own status as a cloned body with his original brain, Lex Luthor II decides to put the full force of his companies behind figuring out ways to save himself. As such, Superman #87 by Dan Jurgens and newcomer Stuart Immonen (who very nicely signed my copy of this issue back in the day) kicks off the Bizarro’s World story. In this post-Crisis world, Bizarro was a clone of Superman that went wrong. The first version appeared back in Man Of Steel #5. Good old mad scientist and Lex devotee Dr. Happerson decides to give it another go and seems to create the perfect Superman clone, for about a second before it turns all gray and flies off. After toying with the BIZARRE nature of this creature for a while, he’s eventually dubbed Bizarro, but it’s a long row to hoe as Clark might say. He wants to do good deeds, but he doesn’t know his own strength and gets his wires crossed so he causes more damage than anything. Of course, people think that it’s Superman which is kinda nuts. If that guy doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, no one can. Oh and he also kidnaps Lois, thinking he’s saving her.
The story carries over into Adventures Of Superman #510 by Karl Kesel and Barry Kitson and it’s my favorite of the bunch because Bizarro brings Lois to a warehouse in which he’s built his own version of Metropolis where he plays at being both Clark and Superman. This winds up being yet another showcase of how quick-thinking, brave and awesome Lois is as she figures out how to escape on her own. Meanwhile, clones (including Luthor) are still getting sick, Cat Grant calls out her awful boss Vinnie Edge for sexual harassment during a newscast and Superman continues to deal with his powers going more and more out of control.
With Action Comics #697, Roger Stern and Jackson Guice finally pit Superman against Bizarro, but only after Supes bursts into Luthor’s office, demanding and getting some answers (though not the full story, of course). During their eventual scuffle, Superman knocks Bizarro further than expected and the confused clone makes his way to Smallville where he encounters Lana Lang and we learn that she wants to marry fellow Smallviller Pete Ross. To my knowledge this comes out of nowher, but will play into the landmark Action Comics #700 (for reasons I don’t quite understand, but we’ll get there).
Before moving into the tie-ins, I’ll note that Superman also briefly appeared in Justice League America #86 by Dan Vado and Marc Campos. Representatives of the team — Wonder Woman, Maxima, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner and Max Lord — visit Metropolis to see if the Man of Steel will join their, let’s be honest, weak squad. He declines their membership offer, noting that he just got back from space and still has a lot to deal with in Metropolis, but also thanks them for assisting him in the fight against Doomsday. It’s crazy to me that Superman did not officially join the post-Crisis Justice League until Grant Morrison launched JLA a few years later. Isn’t that nuts?! Also, I’m a huge fan of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire take on the Justice League, but it still surprises me that the rest of the world began seeing the Justice League — Earth’s mightiest heroes — as a joke. Even Superman makes fun of them on one of the three pages he appears on in this book!
Carrying on the clone conversation, we shift over into Supergirl #2 by Roger Stern and June Brigman. After transferring to Singapore for more tests — really a ploy for Luthor to get her away from him while he’s dealing with the clone plague — she meets Lex Luthor I’s ex wife Elizabeth Perske who puts the bug in her ear that Luthors might not be the most trustworthy people around. Eventually she starts using her invisibility to find out why she was really sent halfway around the world and begins to (FINALLY) doubt Lex Luthor II. I just gotta take a sec here and say how gross the Lex Luthor II/Supergirl relationship is. She’s the awesome, good-hearted hero being totally manipulated by an absolute heel. It actually makes me like the character a little less because of the bad relationship choices, but that’s probably not fair.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite clone continues to star in Superboy #2 by Kesel and Tom Grummett. At the very end of this one, our hero begins to show some symptoms of the clone sickness, but before that he fully meets future series mainstay Knockout as well as Scavenger, a villain that captured my imagination back then. He’s this old guy with tons of artifacts who seems like he’s been in the background for decades.
I’ve said before that I was working with limited allowance back when these books came out, but I did buy the first three issues of Steel and Superboy at the time, but wasn’t able to keep up as I began expanding my reading habits to encompass books like Green Lantern and Guy Gardner: Warrior not to mention the main Bat books…and Robin…and the rest. These two titles didn’t make the cut, which is one of the reasons I’m so glad to go back and read them now.
Which brings us to Steel #2 by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Chis Batista, an issue with no clones in it whatsoever (as far as I can tell). Instead, Steel finds out that his nephew Jemhal is mixed up with the local gang, the Skulls and he later fiights the clearly Cable-inspired Amalgam. I just gotta say that this is a very odd book to read these days. I think everyone involved had good intentions trying to shine a light on gang violence through the lens of super hero comics, but in the modern day, it feels a little strange to have those stories told by not a single black person. We will also see John Henry Irons — the man who becomes the brains of the JLA in a few years — make some very silly decisions along with the people around him, but I guess you can chalk that up to him being relatively new to this hero game. It gets worse before it (hopefully?) gets better. As it is, this book comes off a little After School Special-y and I’m having trouble getting into it, though some of that might have to do with the fact that the main Super Books are dealing with BIG HUGE things and the other two are moving along at fun clips, while the real world nature of this one makes it a lot tougher to read, especially with all of the damage and death done to children in it, a carry over from Irons’ appearances in Man of Steel.
By the way, if you’re missing that Eradicator fix…well, deal with it. Our favorite, poorly developed — both internally and externally — bad boy will not show up again for several months until he returns in Outsiders #9. Meanwhile, if you’re feeling so inclined, feel free to follow these Amazon Associates links to some books mentioned in this post including Superman: Bizarro’s World and Superman: Man Of Steel (as either a trade or in a gloriously large hardcover). Also, Steel: The Forging Of A Hero and Superboy: Trouble In Paradise feature the issues discussed in this post.