30 March 2009

Faster than a DC Bullet, Issue #8: World Without a Superman

Comic trade paperback, ~240 pages
Published 1993 (contents: 1993)

Borrowed from a friend
Read January 2009
World Without a Superman

Writers: Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern
Pencillers: John Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Walter Simonson
Inkers: Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier, Trevor Scott, Walter Simonson
Letterers: John Costanza, Albert DeGuzman, Bill Oakley, John Workman
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore

DC Universe Timeline: Four Years Ago
Real World Timeline: December 1992

(In here, we learn it's the Christmas season when Superman dies. But for some reason no one thought to mention this in the previous collection? In fact, the newspaper article reporting his death is dated to the 25th (though the month is blurry), but that makes no sense, given his funeral falls on Christmas Eve.)

Once Superman died, all of his comics somehow continued to chug along. I guess they were on life-support or something. World Without a Superman collects all the issues that ran during this time, originally under the title Funeral For A Friend. I always thought that was a bit of a dumb name, so I'm glad it's not the title of the trade. A lot of these are fairly standalone-- we don't really get one big plot for this book-- so I'll be tackling each issue in an individual mini-review.

"Death of a Legend"
This issue picks up right where The Death of Superman left off, with Lois holding Superman's body in her arms. Most of it centers on making sure Superman is really, truly, actually dead. The Guardian gives him CPR (oh, now he shows up and does something), Dan Turpin yells a lot, Dubbilex reads his mind, Paul Westfield tries to steal the body, and Bloodwynd doesn't actually help at all. Which is pretty par for the course. Most of the issue is spent cutting between the efforts of Professor Emil Hamilton to use a super-defibrillator to rescuitate Superman and the reactions of various people to the news of his death. Among those in this group are some guy apparently called Gangbuster, Lex Luthor, Supergirl, the Daily Planet staff, and most importantly the Kents. The issue's role is pretty perfunctory-- establishing that Superman is really, truly, actually dead-- but it does it well enough, and the reactions from the Kents and Dan Turpin are especially well done. Reading this I learned how out of touch I was with Superman's recurring cast in the post-Crisis era: who the heck is Bibbo Bibbowski?

"Re: Actions"
This picks up pretty close to the end of "Death of a Legend", except that Maggie Sawyer has taken off her shirt for some reason. And grown larger breasts. And changed her hair. The main plot of this one concerns Director Westfield and Project Cadmus trying to lay hands on Superman's body, while the Metropolis police, the Guardian, Lex Luthor, and Supergirl all try to stop him. Squabbling over his corpse is a great way to honor his memory. Meanwhile, Supergirl beats up some people driving a car. (She goes under car and holds it over her head for no reason other than a contrived recreation of the cover of Action Comics #1.) None of this is very interesting. The decent part of the issue is people dealing with hearing about Superman's death, primarily Lana Lang and various criminals. I especially liked the Toyman's reaction. For some reason, though, Lana and the Kents barely get a page while Bibbo Bibbowski-- who we saw react to it last issue-- gets over two! The artwork in this issue is pretty stiff, too; a lot of times the characters look really posed.

Untitled Story About that Annoying Guy From Armageddon 2001
If this story has a title, it's not established in here, but it's about Waverider, the man from the future with Kirby dots for hair. Apparently he's joined a squad of characters that I didn't recognize and that no one bothers to mention the names of who do something with time that's never clearly explained. This Time Crew shows Waverider the death of Superman, and he gets all in a flurry and decides they have to go back in time to save him. They talk him out of it. That's about it. The story's even more pointless in light of the fact that Superman comes back to life later of course, but all the characters act like this really was his final end. God, I bet Waverider felt dumb when they got back to the Time Base and found out that if he'd read the next sentence of his Superman biography, he'd have been spared a trip. Trevor Scott's poor inks don't help endear me to this terrible story, either.

"Funeral Day"
Guess what? This issue's about the funeral. It's fine. Mostly it's a series of further reactions from various characters. (Even Bill Clinton, bizarrely enough.) Unfortunately, Bibbo Bibbowski shows up for the third time in this collection. Were the writers in love with this guy or something? If ever have to read him saying "I liked Sooperman; he was my favrit" one more time, I'm going to punch someone in the face. What the heck is up with that goofy "phonetic" spelling that only serves to make him sound retarded. I liked the bit where Batman clobbered a guy. Oh, and I always enjoy an appearance from Lobo.

The best part of this issue is the tragedy of the fact that while Superman's loved ones can mourn him, Clark Kent's can't. The Kents can't even go to the funeral; Lois Lane only gets in because Jimmy Olsen saves her a spot. (Though how Jimmy Olsen got a spot while Lois didn't to begin with baffles me.) Ma and Pa Kent hold a private ceremony for Clark, which is one of the most effective pieces of this entire book: "We tried it your way, Jonathan, and--" "and it's not enough! It feels empty as hell-- unngh!" "I feel like nothing can plug the hole in my heart." "Like... nobody needs us now. Almost like... there's no reason to go on living." But they're the Kents-- some of the most kind-hearted, optimistic people the world has ever known. And so they don't wallow in grief; they head to Metropolis to help Lois Lane, not even thinking about themselves anymore.

"Metropolis Mailbag II"
In this issue, the Justice League bands together to answer the mail Superman always gets around Christmastime. Then the annoying bubblegum-blowing punk from The Death of Superman shows up, still wearing his baseball cap backwards. He's feeling bad because he blames himself for Superman's death, so Jimmy Olsen takes him to the one person in Metropolis who can comfort him... Bibbo Bibbowski! Again? Are you freaking kidding me? And there he goes: "That's Sooperman fer ya! No wonder he's my favrit!" Shut up. You may recall that the punk's father walked out on him, his mother, and his sister before the events of Death. But it's okay, because all that's needed to repair marital problems in the DC universe is a stern talking-to from Wonder Woman. This issue contains only a few panels about Lois, Lana, and the Kents, but that thread continues to be the best thing about the book.

"Grave Obsession"
Someone steals Superman's body from the tomb. Supergirl and Dan Turpin investigate, but end up fighting those annoying sewer-dwellers from Death for no real reason. Meanwhile, Gangbuster is up to something, but no one cares. The only thing that saves this issue is that I've thought "Terrible" Turpin was hella awesome ever since the 1990s Superman cartoon, and he still is here, fairing just as well as Supergirl in the fight against the sewer monsters.

"Who's Buried in Superman's Tomb?"
How dumb of an issue title can you have? We know the answer is "no one" because we saw inside the tomb last issue. Most of this issue is about Supergirl, Lex, and the cops wandering around another cave. Supergirl causes a flash flood, the genius. Oh, and we learn the Lex Luthor, Jr. is really a clone of the original Lex Luthor with Lex's consciousness in his body. I'm not sure if this issue was the first-ever revelation of that fact or not, but it's the first time it's made in the current storyline, at least. It's surprisingly undramatic. Meanwhile, the Guardian rides his motorcycle. And wows us with his amazing recordable laser discs. I can hardly stand the excitement.

"The Guardians of Metropolis!"
Despite the fact that in the last issue, 1) Project Cadmus said getting a DNA sample from Superman was impossible and 2) Guardian acquiesced to the idea of a Superman clone, in this issue 1) Project Cadmus suddenly gets a DNA sample and 2) Guardian is suddently dead-set against a Superman clone. His suggestion is to clone himself instead. One wonders why he didn't make this suggestion years ago, given that he himself is a clone. Fortunately (with the help of the Newsboy Legion, always fun to see) the disc containing Superman's DNA sequence is destroyed, stopping Project Cadmus from making a clone, as having sampled Superman's DNA once, there's of course no way they could do it again.

The Newsboy Legion is astounded to learn that Project Cadmus has Superman's body, demonstrating that none of the writers of this book were actually paying attention to what happened in the issue before theirs. Meanwhile, the sewer dwellers find the bomb that Cadmus used to blow a hole in Superman's tomb. How they did this when the bomb would have had to blow up is not clear. Nor is the reason that Cadmus, a top-secret organization, stencils its logo onto the side of its explosives. They must take lessons from Torchwood. Lois Lane dresses up in scuba gear and teams up with the sewer people and the Newsboy Legion to prove to the world that Cadmus has Superman's body, planning to run a column the next day. Meanwhile, Metropolis continues to flood, but no one seems to do anything about it. It's everything bit as thrilling as it sounds.

But at the end: Pa Kent suffers a heart attack!

"The End"
As Pa Kent is rushed to the hospital, and his condition deteriorates rapidly, Lois goes to Lex and Supergirl to get their help in recovering the body of Superman, since she has no intention of running a story on it and making the news public. Um... Lois comes to help Supergirl, but all she does is ride a dirt bike. It takes Supergirl about six seconds to get the body back, which makes you wonder why we've spent all these issues to get to this point. Lex actually gets some good material in this issue, as his facade is slipping, and he's starting to act more like the ruthless, callous businessman we all know and love. Of course, the high point of this issue is the memories of Clark that flash through Pa's mind as he gets worse and worse... until... he dies.

"Life After Death"
This issue has the best art in the entire book, as Pa wakes up in Korea, knowing nothing except that he has to find and rescue a downed airman. (Of course, this alternates with another tedious story of Gangbuster. It wouldn't be an issue of Funeral For A Friend without a member of Superman's supporting cast that no one cares about showing up. At least we're spared Bibbo Bibbowski for once.) Pa travels into a surreal landscape, showing the drive and determination he passed on to his son-- he doesn't even know who the downed airman is (though it's Clark, of course), he just knows that it's the right thing to do and that he's going to do it the right way.

Pa finds Clark in a Kryptonian funeral procession, being marched into the light. This is the highlight of the issue-- Pa tells him that just for once, he should think of Krypton, not Earth. A Earthman is mortal, a Kryptonian isn't. (The symbolism is a little muddled here, though, given that Pa is simultaneously telling Clark to reject the trappings of Krypton as represented by the funeral procession.) In the end, Pa smashes an image of Jor-El, denouncing him as a phony, and Superman and his real father travel into the darkness together. Pa suddenly revives in the hospital bed, and as for Superman...? This is good stuff, and it looks great, but it didn't quite carry the emotional punch that a journey into death to save the soul of your son should have. I was oddly unaffected by the whole thing.

Overall, this collection does not live up to its potential. There's some good material with Lois and the Kents dealing with the death of Clark, but there's far more tedious battling over Superman's corpse, and interminable appearances by the most boring/bizarre members of the Superman supporting cast. (Which seems really strange. Surely this set of storylines attracted a bunch of new readers, or reeled in more casual ones. How put off they must have been by things like the Newsboy Legion and Cat Grant's boyfriend! While people like Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen don't need introduction, of course, the rest of the cast certainly does, and these comics make no effort to provide it.) Please, someone tell me that The Return of Superman will be good at least.

Note that this originally appeared on my old LiveJournal and included pictures back then. Sadly, the pictures are lost in the mists of the Internet.