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Sunday Slugfest: Superman #700

Posted: Sunday, June 27, 2010
By: Thom Young

Various
Various
DC Comics
This “Giant-Sized Anniversary Issue” contains three tales that DC is marketing as a celebration of “the Man of Steel's past, present and future!”

“The Comeback”--James Robinson, script; Bernard Chang, illustrations (with colors by Blond).

“Geometry”--Dan Jurgens, script and layout pencils; Norm Rapmund, finished illustrations (with colors by Pete Pantazis)

“Grounded; Prologue: The Slap Heard ‘Round the World”--J. Michael Straczynski, script; Eddy Barrows, pencils; J.P. Mayer, inks (with colors by Rod Reis)

Maxwell Yezpitelok:
Travis Walecka:
Chris Kiser:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:




Maxwell Yezpitelok:

When I looked at this comic, the very first thing I thought was: “Wow, has it really been 700 issues since John Byrne’s Superman #1? Time sure does fly.” It took me a couple of seconds to realize how lost I was. If the Byrne series was still going, it would have reached its 700th issue somewhere around April, 2045.

I completely forgot that at some point they went back to the old pre-Byrne numbering, which shows what little attention I’ve been paying to Superman comics for the past 10 years, despite being a hardcore fan in the 90s (I even made it through the Electric Superman, man).

Anyways, the three stories included in this anniversary issue are supposed to represent the character’s past, present, and future--or, rather, his present, past, and future since that’s the order the stories are in. I guess they decided the “present” story was the most appropriate to open the issue, since it’s sort of an epilogue to the big storyline that ran through the Superman comics for the past couple of years--with all the fighting Kryptonians (all dead now), shady government agencies (dead, too) and replacement heroes (dead, or in the Phantom Zone).

If you don’t know what that was all about, don’t worry. All of that stuff is in the process of being swept under the rug like a particularly embarrassing dust bunny. In this segment, both Lois Lane and Superman mention that they can’t even think about all the things that have happened recently, which I’m betting is James Robinson’s way of justifying the fact that no one will ever mention any of it ever again.

The second story is by Dan Jurgens, a.k.a. GOD to every kid reading Superman comics in the 90s; it’s titled “The Day Superman Did Robin’s Geometry Homework.”

It’s not really called that, but it should be. I have a thing for descriptive titles. At DC’s blog, Jurgens called it “a nice little story”--which I guess is another fairly accurate way of describing it.

Here, we learn of the first meeting between Superman and the first Robin--which is probably like the fourth time someone has told a completely different “first meeting” between these two characters, but I do not give much of a shit about that sort of thing. I only care that it was a reasonably well-told story with some cool art. It’s always great seeing Jurgens collaborating with Norm Rapmund, by far his best inker and a pretty good artist in his own right.

The story is kinda silly (okay, it is EXTREMELY SILLY--like 70s team-up book silly), but it’s also the best part of the issue. Then again, I grew up in the 90s, so what do I know?

The last story is a prologue to J.M. Straczynski’s upcoming year-long storyline in which Superman goes all Forrest Gump and decides to take a long walk across the United States. I like the idea--actually, I really, really like the idea--but as with almost every other comic I’ve read by JMS, I’m not very impressed by the execution.

As a prologue, this installment feels forced and lazy--like the writer’s doing a half-arsed job because he can’t wait to get to the interesting part of the story. It’s like he had the idea one day, but only sat down to write it five months later when all the little details had faded away.

As I said, I like the idea of Superman going for a long walk across the country--but it’s the reason he decides to take a walk that seems forced. It’s because some woman blames him for not curing her husband’s brain tumor while he was away on New Krypton. Yes, there is some angst over the whole “Kryptonians going to war with Earth” thing, and Superman’s involvement with New Krypton. However, I get the feeling that if the previous run had ended with . . . I don’t know . . . say, Toyman molesting Krypto, JMS would have just incorporated that story into his instead and his “prologue” would be the same.

So, based on this anniversary issue, the present is decadent, the future isn’t too promising, and the past looks shinier every day. I’ll still keep an eye on this series, though, in case it improves once it gets to the part that JMS is really interested in.



Travis Walecka:

The fact that fanboys are up-in-shams about a recently-widowed and overtly hysterical woman putting the blame on Superman for her late husband’s death proves JMS’s run is on its way to success. He’s getting us to talk about Supes once again.

The last two years of Superman stories have been up-and-down--to be kind. I followed as much of a “World without Superman,” “World against Superman,” and “World of New Krypton” for as long as I could take them. Let’s face it, once Geoff Johns left Superman, the franchise slipped miserably.

Sure, there were a few high moments, but there were also many that you have forgotten. When the idea was launched of taking Superman off Earth and placing him as General Zod’s top soldier--military garb and all--many of us found the change to be cool. In the long run, it didn’t work--though it was salvaged by a surprisingly good “War of Supermen.” However, you couldn’t blame DC’s powers-that-be for aiming high. The failure came down to the execution of the concept.

One of DC’s most proven commodities over the years is now perhaps its most controversial. Lately, James Robinson’s work has been nothing to write home about (or at least nothing positive to write about). His recent work on JLA and Superman has been forgettable at best.

It’s hard to figure out what happened to this once-esteemed comic book writer. Check out the undoubted classic Starman Omnibus volumes and you’ll wonder what happened as well. Robinson’s Starman run could very well go down as one of the best of all time.

So why all this information on Robinson? Because we don’t have to read his Superman anymore. It makes celebrating the 700th anniversary of Superman all the more enjoyable.

Robinson--along with artist Pete Woods, who will be penciling future issues of Paul Cornell’s Action Comics, puts the finishing touches on his “New Krypton” saga with Lois & Clark tangoing above the skyscrapers. Although the ode to Richard Donner’s film is a nice touch, this epilogue was as flighty as some poor 80s film acting.

At least it’s over.

And don’t forget, this is an anniversary issue. There’s going to be at least one “untold” Brave and the Bold-inspired story of Superman’s past. Despite coming off mainly as a Robin vignette, having Dan Jurgens (author of Death of Superman) throw in his own piece is a nice touch. Of course, this one story out of continuity ends up being the most enjoyable.

Saving the most important story for the finish is JMS’s prologue to an already controversial story arc. Superman feels grounded. Coming off the events that were “War of the Superman,” Clark seeks out his JLA buddies on the way to seeking himself. This type of story is what JMS does best. He took Peter Parker to places no one dared to go; and if I see Clark roving space one more time in the next year or two, I’m going to cringe. Really.

While “The Slap Heard ‘Round the World” (what is this, Vince McMahon?) is all too brief, it does have some pretty nice art from Ed Barrows. The detail of emotion and facial expression is beyond the pale horse stance that Woods and the gang covered in recent months. Even if Clark sobs himself to death throughout JMS’s run, Superman comics are sure to look pretty at least.




Chris Kiser:

Unlike Batman #700, which shipped earlier this month, the septicentennial edition of Superman is not the product of a singular creative mind. Instead, it is a hodgepodge of short stories meant to serve as a transition from the “New Krypton” era to J. Michael Straczynski’s upcoming run, with a random flashback tale thrown in for good measure.

As the tendrils of “New Krypton” have been wrapped around the Super-books for more than a year, the wisdom of including one final return to that storyline is questionable. Nevertheless, here we are with James Robinson’s epilogue serving as an opener to this anniversary issue.

With a read-time that clocks in at no more than five minutes (by generous estimates), Robinson’s 16-page decompressed contribution is barely enough to constitute a story. After a brief showdown with the Parasite, the reunited Superman and Lois Lane spend the remaining pages making googly eyes at each other.

The quality of Robinson’s chapter will be immaterial for most readers, however, who likely picked up this book for a peek at JMS’s much ballyhooed tenure with the character. If the prologue that concludes this issue is any indication, we’re in for a long, frustrating year when it comes to the Man of Steel.

After being chastised by an angry young woman about his absence from Earth while her husband died of cancer, Superman descends into full-on-sulk mode over his inability to fix every problem in the world. That’s right, JMS’s run is going to be one of those stories.

Straczynski looks poised to give us the same whiny Superman that made Brian Azzarello’s stint on the series nearly unreadable. Superman-as-whiner has been an inexplicably popular take on the franchise in recent years--the polar opposite of the inspirational and resilient hero who graced the pages of Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman (the most successful incarnation of the series in the past decade).

Thankfully, not every page of this oversized special is a disappointment. The middle chapter is a surprising Superman-Robin team-up by Dan Jurgens that captures the lighthearted feel of a classic, but grounded, World’s Finest tale.

Out of all three segments, Jurgens’s story is the only one that appropriately honors the history of the character whose solo series has reached 700 issues. His definitive 90s Superman, along with the appearance of Dick Grayson’s original Robin costume, evokes the sense of tradition that one should feel when reading a milestone issue such as this.

Jurgens’s enjoyable effort aside, Superman #700 is a poor tribute to the father of all superheroes. Worse yet, it sets a new tone for the book’s foreseeable future--one that, if it had been allowed to dominate the series from day one, would have likely spelled the cancellation of Superman long before the 700 mark.




Dave Wallace:

Unlike the recent Batman #700, I come to this milestone issue of Superman as a casual reader who has little familiarity with current events in the Superman titles, but who is simply looking for an enjoyable book worthy of the title’s anniversary. As such, I was hoping that we’d see an accessible issue of standalone stories about the character. Unfortunately, one of the three stories seems intent on tidying up loose plot threads from a recent “event” storyline, another is primarily concerned with teasing the new direction of the book under writer J. Michael Straczynski (whose run begins in earnest next issue), and the other is barely a Superman story at all.

James Robinson’s opening tale, “The Comeback,” sees Superman reunite with Lois Lane after apparently spending a lot of time off-planet in the recent “War of the Supermen” storyline. In order to provide some visual interest, the reunion takes place against the backdrop of a fight with the Parasite, which is illustrated in an unfussy, straightforward style by artist Bernard Chang.

There’s nothing particularly heinous about the writing or the artwork, but there’s nothing particularly special either. Ultimately, both strands of the story end up feeling overwhelmingly bland. The punch-up between the hero and the villain is something we’ve seen thousands of times before in superhero comics, and the reunion between Superman and his love culminates in a series of clichés and platitudes that work to undermine what should be a more emotionally charged scenario.

What’s more, the frequent vague references to recent events in “War of the Supermen” were lost on me--which may not be a problem for other readers who are keener followers of the Superman titles, but it didn’t add to my enjoyment of the tale. More than anything, the opening story feels like a tidying-up exercise that exists to clear the decks of the book in preparation for a new storyline.

Talking of which, the final story in the issue gives us a taste of what we can expect from J. Michael Straczynski’s “Grounded” arc when he takes over the reigns of the book next issue. It’s the best of the issue’s three stories, setting up a fairly interesting premise that feels a little reminiscent of the socially aware antics of Green Arrow and Green Lantern in their classic 1970s joint adventures by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams. However, it’s a little too brief to really allow JMS to set out his vision for the character of Superman--ending just as it feels like things are getting started.

Sandwiched between these two short stories is “Geometry,” by writer-artist Dan Jurgens and artist Norm Rapmund. Billed as a “tale from Superman’s early years” (a byline that instantly aroused suspicions that this was an inventory story that had been included only to bulk out the issue’s page count), the story actually ends up being more about Batman and Robin than it is about Superman--although the Man of Steel does play a supporting role.

Whilst the story has perfectly serviceable writing and art, and plays with a fairly fun premise that sees Superman help Dick Grayson’s Robin out on a solo mission on a night when he should be staying in to do his homework (Robin, that is--not Superman), I couldn’t help but wonder why it was being included here other than to fill space. There’s just nothing special about the story that makes it feel as though it warrants inclusion in a high-profile anniversary issue--particularly when it focuses as much of its attention on DC’s other flagship superhero franchise.

Perhaps my expectations for Superman #700 were set too high--especially after enjoying Batman #700 so much. However, I couldn’t help but feel let down by this issue. All three of these stories (which boil down to an epilogue to a recently concluded storyline, a trailer for a forthcoming arc, and a tale that feels like it’s been pulled from the Batman inventory by mistake) would feel like filler in any other Superman anthology, so to have a comic that consists solely of three such stories is a disappointment.

For that comic to be a special anniversary issue compounds that disappointment, and for DC to be charging five dollars a pop for the pleasure of reading it only adds insult to injury. Whilst I’m still keen to pick up the next issue to see how Straczynski’s run on the book shapes up, I haven’t exactly got off to a good start with the title here.




Thom Young:

I understand my colleagues’ frustrations. However, as an anthology collection of short Superman tales, this “Giant-Sized Anniversary Issue” isn’t all that bad. It’s not all that great, either, but there is some obvious quality to all three of these short tales.

One problem I do have with the issue, though, is DC’s promotion of it. It’s billed on the company’s Web site as a “a 56-page extravaganza full of tales celebrating the Man of Steel's past, present and future!”

Surely DC is guilty here of false advertising. The first story is set in the present and is 16 pages long; the second story is set in the past and is also 16 pages long; the final story is set in the present and is 10 pages long. I hate to be the one to break it to DC, but their math and perception of time are both off.

What we have in this “slightly larger than regular-sized anniversary issue” is a "42-page ordinariness that acknowledges the Man of Steel’s present, past, and present (again)!" It just doesn’t have quite the same marketing buzz, does it?

Regarding the page count, the 14-page discrepancy between DC’s promotional copy and the actual number of editorial pages is due to DC counting the advertisements and other promotional materials as part of their “56-page extravaganza.” Nine of those 14 pages are promotional pieces telling us why we should buy the Superman Family of titles in the coming year--including the same five-page “sneak preview” of Action Comics #890 that is running in all of DC’s releases this week.

I hardly think ads and promotional pieces should be included in the page count in the marketing copy. It’s like saying that a regular monthly issue of Cosmopolitan magazine is a 500-page gift to the women who read it even though 350 of those 500 pages are advertisements.

(I kid you not; the English 101 classes I teach have been analyzing various American magazines this past school year. Cosmopolitan is 70% ads and 30% editorial content. At least DC’s Superman #700 is only 25% ads and 75% editorial content--though an issue of Cosmo has a cover price of $4.35 for 150 pages of editorial content while Superman #700 has a cover price of $4.99 for 42 pages of editorial content. I wonder what the price would be if DC gave us a 140-page extravaganza that contained 98 pages of ads?)

As for DC’s lack of understanding the temporal concepts of past, present, and future . . . I blame Grant Morrison’s work on Batman #700 that came out a few weeks ago. That anniversary issue was also billed as a 56-page issue, even though it had only 45 pages of editorial content (and 15 of those pages consisted of a two table-of-contents pages, a nine-page pin-up gallery, and a four-page diagram of the Batcave).

However, in the actual 30 story pages, Morrison delivered a tale from the past with Bruce Wayne as Batman, a tale from the present with Dick Grayson in the role, a tale from the future with Damian Wayne as Batman, a four-page look at various future Batmen, and the symbolism of Commissioner Gordon shining the Bat-Signal.

When it came time to figure out what to do with Superman #700, DC’s editorial department probably decided to copy what Morrison was planning for Batman #700--or copy it as best they could since they obviously wanted to have James Robinson wrap up his run while having J.M. Straczynski tease his upcoming run.

Because Robinson’s run is coming to an end, it constitutes “the present." Similarly, since Straczysnski’s is just starting up, it constitutes “the future.” Thus, all the issue needed was a Superman tale from “the past” and it would be imitating what Morrison was doing for the Batman anniversary issue--sort of.

Of the three tales in this issue, Dan Jurgens's look at a past adventure is the best--and I have never been a fan of Jurgens’s work. While he may be viewed as the definitive Superman creator of the 1990s (which just underscores how bleak the mainstream superhero comic book landscape was in the 1990s), Jurgens's tale here is more evocative of the 1970s.

I honestly felt as if I was reading a story that might have appeared in World’s Finest Comics between issues #198 and #214--the two-year span when World’s Finest was a Superman team-up series rather than a Superman-Batman series (issue #200 actually was a Superman and Robin team-up story). Jurgens’s segment could have just as easily fit into an issue of DC Comics Presents that ran from 1978 to 1986--and in which Robin teamed up with Superman in issues #31 and #58.

All the story needed in order to fit into one of those earlier Superman team-up series from 30 or 40 years ago was one to seven more pages (yes, there was a time, in the late 70s and early 80s, when a regular-sized monthly comic book had only one story that was 17 pages long). In other words, "Geometry" could have been an unpublished story that was originally intended for a 1979 issue of DC Comics Presents in which the opening splash page was not included. (It isn't, but it could have been--Jurgens would have been 20 years old at the time).

Robinson’s wrap up of his run on Superman wasn’t bad, though I mostly liked it for Bernard Chang’s work as the illustrator. Change has a style that reminds me of the work of Chris Sprouse in some places, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him take over something like the Legion of Super-Heroes feature in Adventure Comics.

Robinson doesn’t seem to be able to achieve the heights of storytelling that he achieved with his Starman series, which really is a classic. Two years ago, I read Robinson’s Superman #677 (which I was really looking forward to at the time), but I hated the dialog in it. Thus, I hadn’t bothered to read an issue of either Superman or Action Comics since then--until this current anniversary issue came out.

Thus, I have not had much exposure to what Robinson’s “New Krypton” story was about other than I knew through information on the Internet that Superman had left Earth to be with his fellow Kryptonians on a planet deemed “New Krypton.” Despite my lack of knowledge, Robinson’s tale was easy to understand:
  • Superman returns from a long absence just in time to save his wife, Lois Lane, from the Parasite.

  • Superman and Lois then go home, where they make love for the first time in . . . however long it’s been. Their clothes are strewn across the living room, and they are sitting on their sofa dressed only in bathrobes--at least they had the decency to put on bathrobes before we stopped by for our voyeuristic visit.

  • Then they fly around Metropolis together and tell each other how much they love one another.
It’s a decent enough lightweight tale that reinforces the idea that Superman and Lois are “soul mates.” My only real problem with it is the dialog.

It’s not as bad as the dialog was in Superman #677 two years ago, but I cringed each of the two times that Lois used “baby” as a term of endearment when speaking to her husband. On the roof of the Daily Planet building, Lois says, “I don’t want to talk about it, baby” and later on the couch after their love-making reunion she asks, “Baby?” as her only inquiry regarding what’s on her husband’s mind.

Had Lois used this term of endearment in an issue of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane from 1971 or 1972, I could accept it. After all, DC was trying to insert hip lingo (including hip terms of endearment) in their comics back then. They wanted to prove they were just as “with it” as Marvel. However, “baby” just sounds odd coming from Lois in 2010. I’d much rather she refer to her husband as “Smallville” (“I don’t want to talk about it, Smallville” and just a simple “Smallville?”). Of course, that term of endearment will probably sound wrong in a Superman comic in 2050.

Speaking of 2050, it would have been great if DC had actually given us a Superman tale set 40 years in the future--one in which Superman is still relatively youthful due to his Kryptonian powers on Earth while Lois is either looking every year of 70 or is showing us the wonders of futuristic anti-aging medicine.

When I was a kid, Superman #300 was a regular-sized anniversary issue that featured a story set 25 years in the future (sort of). The story, by Elliot S. Maggin and Cary Bates, was an “imaginary tale” in which the infant Kal-El arrived on Earth in 1976 (the year of the story’s publication) and was raised by the US military. We were then shown Kal-El's life in 1990 and 2001--years in which we would have futuristic buildings (including the “New Empire State Building”) and far-out fashions. Something like that story would have been a fun feature for this issue. Instead, we are given the prologue to Straczynski’s upcoming series.

I have not enjoyed Straczynski’s work on The Brave and the Bold. The dialog and denouements are overly sentimental--though the plots have been interesting. I have always found Straczynski to be great at coming up with interesting concepts (such as Babylon 5), but I’ve rarely cared for the way he executes his own stories with schmaltzy dialog and sappy denouements.

His story in this issue isn’t terrible, but I can see how he’s going to take Superman down the path of corny story executions during his run on the title. What’s more, the concept here isn’t all that original in DC Comics history. As Dave mentioned, the idea of Superman walking about to discover himself and America is reminiscent of the work that Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams did on Green Lantern in the early 1970s. Additionally, not only is the idea of a woman being upset about Superman not curing her husband of cancer a bit over the top (though entirely plausible), it is also somewhat reminiscent of something that appeared in a “Superman” story in the early 1970s.

In Forever People #1 (February/March 1971), Clark Kent is interviewing the heavyweight boxing champion (a white guy named “Rocky”), who laments to Kent that his boxing title means nothing in a world that has Superman, who could defeat the champ with a flick of his finger. The situation in the Jack Kirby story from 40 years ago is the other side of the same coin that Straczynski is flipping in this latest issue--the feeling of helplessness and inadequacy that ordinary people feel in the face of a super-man living in their midst.

Some will feel frustrated that their accomplishments will never surpass Superman’s (as in Kirby’s boxing champion or the current take on why Lex Luthor hates the Man of Steel). Others will feel fury that a man whom they view as godlike (even Christ like) is not there to save all of them from their day-to-day disasters. I don’t mind Straczynski re-visiting this notion of the human anguish that Superman’s existence brings about. However, I just wish he wouldn’t get so schmaltzy when he writes it.



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