SUPERFANS IN THE FORTRESS: Maxwell Yezpitolek talks SUPERMAN ’86 to ’99

Welcome to the first part in a series of interviews with creative artists, bloggers and podcasters from the Superman and Superfamily fandom community called Superfans in the Fortress.

In this first interview, I talked to Maxwell Yezpitelok who runs a blog on Tumblr called Superman ’86 to ’99 where he reviews and comments on every single Superman comic starting from John Byrne’s Man of Steel until 1999. But why 1999? Well, it’s because during this time period the creative teams on the Superman books remained unchanged with the books constantly intersecting with one another. There were 4 books being published a month – that’s one Superman book a week!

The Man of Steel #1 (October 1986)Thus begins my in-depth examination of every fucking Superman continuity comic between 1986 and 1999 (even the ones that really suck).This is a pretty straightforward origin issue. Not a whole lot of Supermanning going on here; in fact, Superman only puts his costume on the last couple of pages (he spends the rest of the issue naked). I do like the sequence in Krypton, which is like a neat little story in itself. At the end of it, Jor-El, member of the cold, emotionless Kryptonian race, confesses his love for Lara, saying he learned about this strange new feeling by watching the Earthlings — I think it’s pretty obvious what type of human movies he was watching. The implication is clear: immediately after launching their baby son Superman-El into space, Jor and Lara started getting hot and heavy and the panel of the planet’s explosion coincides with the moment they reached climax.Character-Watch:This issue introduces the basic cast: Superman’s parents (both sets), Superman himself, Lana Lang and Lois Lane. Oh, and Kelex, Jor-El’s robot servant, who would later be recreated on Earth and fetch drinks for Superman too.Plotline-Watch:On the surface everything seems pretty neat and simple, but this issue begins a couple of long-running plotlines:The Kryptonian Plague: Jor-El says Kryptonians can’t leave Krypton because of a plague; it’s implied that the whole planet is turning into kryptonite and killing them. However, a few years later the cause of the “plague” would be revealed to be the Eradicator, which of course would remain a plotline until the thing gained sentience and went around pretending it was Superman during Reign of the Supermen.Luthor’s Kryptonite: A chunk of kryptonite gets lodged into Superman’s spaceship as it launches into space. Later, we see a guy in a trenchcoat lurking as Pa Kent and young Clark look at the ship in their farm. In later issues that guy would steal the rock and create Metallo, and soon the kryptonite ends up in Lex Luthor’s hands. Or hand, rather. That would lead to the single longest plotline in Superman comics ever, but more on that later.WTF-Watch:Ma Kent comments on Superman’s muscles as he’s changing into the costume… in front of his parents? The fact that she came up with the “underpants on the outside” look for her son probably has some deep psychological implication, but I don’t want to think about it.

The Man of Steel #1 (October 1986). The issue that started it all.

This was the time of Maggie Sawyer, Professor Hamilton, Lois Lane and Clark Kent’s marriage and most famously, The Death and Return of Superman. This was also the time period that gave us Cyborg Superman, Steel, Superboy and it was the era that changed Lex Luthor from a mad scientist to a billionaire criminal mastermind.

I was always a fan of this era in Superman history, but after reading Maxwell’s blog, I’ve gained a serious appreciation for these comics and just how well-constructed all the plot lines and characters are. And I’m sure fans of Superman: The Animated Series will no doubt enjoy this era of comics and Maxwell’s blog.

Action Comics Weekly #601-641 (May 1988-March 1989)Superman comes across a cult of people in California who worship him like a god. That would be weird enough, but they also gain superpowers from adoring his red trunks (actually, any part of his person, but I am choosing to focus on his trunks). Meanwhile, there’s also a group of loony businessmen who think Superman is the Anti-Christ, and they’re trying to kill the cultists with futuristic weapons. The S-lovers and the S-haters fight each other for a while with Superman awkwardly stuck in between, until it’s revealed that both sides are unknowingly powered by Darkseid, as part of a plan to instigate a holy war. Having more or less accomplished that (the “holy war” is basically some hair-pulling in an empty field in California), Darkseid reveals himself and takes the loony businessmen to languish for eternity in Apokolips. Superman tells the cultists to think for themselves and they’re like “whoa, we should do that.”While Superman was in California, some Quraci terrorists blew up a few American people, creating tension in the “Little Qurac” section of Metropolis. Then Superman manages to resolve the situation pretty quickly, because the comic got cancelled.Plotline-Watch:After hitting issue 600, Action Comics turned into a weekly anthology series featuring different stories and characters, with a two-page Superman serial in every issue. It would be a pain in the ass to cover the issues individually since they’re so short and nothing happens in them, so I just lumped them all together here.We never heard about the Superman cult again after Action Comics Weekly reverted back to Action Comics, but I wonder if the villain Saviour, a Superman-obsessed serial killer with reality bending powers, was originally one of these guys. That would explain where he got those powers: Darkseid gave them to him and forgot to take them back! It would also account for his facial hair if he was from California.Creator-Watch:The whole series is written by future Superman writer Roger Stern and past Superman artist Curt Swan. Stern will take over writing duties when John Byrne suddenly fucks off and Swan will be back a bunch more times, including on another story set in Little Qurac.

Action Comics Weekly #601-641

You started the blog in July 2013. How did you come up with the idea for it?

When I was unemployed I used to write reviews for Comics Bulletin in order to feel like a productive member of society, but I realized pretty soon I kinda suck at reviewing things. So, just to do something else at the site, I proposed a column called “The Full Run” where I’d read or re-read an entire comic book series and briefly comment on each issue. I stopped writing for CB when I got a paying job, but the idea of starting a Tumblr where I’d do the same thing sorta stuck in my head until I just had to do it.

Action Comics #643 (July 1989)Superman is back on Earth! In fact, he’s so happy to be back home after his long exile in space, that the he could hug Jimmy Olsen. So that’s exactly the first thing he does:The second thing he does is try to kill Jimmy, apparently. That panel of Superman hugging Jimmy will have far-reaching consequences. I’m not even kidding.Anyway, Superman only has time for a quick shower in Clark Kent’s apartment before he has to go save Lois Lane again — as seen in Adventures #456, Lois was attacked by big robot called Turmoil sent by Intergang. Gangbuster tried to save her, only to end up trapped under some rubble. By now Turmoil has sort of forgotten about his “murder Lois” directive and is just causing random property damage all over Metropolis. Superman shows up to punch Turmoil until it explodes and then goes after Intergang’s leader, Morgan Edge, who is having quite a stressful day. Edge surrenders right away and is about to tell Superman that Intergang is actually funded by Darkseid, who played Edge for a chump by sending him that needlessly destructive robot, but poor Morgan has a heart attack before he can finish the sentence.Cut to planet Apokolips: We find out that the guy Morgan Edge has been talking to since his first appearance (in Superman #16), the guy who organized Intergang and sent them all those fancy spaceman weapons, isn’t actually Darkseid but Darkseid’s lackey Desaad, posing as his boss behind his back, just for shits and giggles. In other words, poor Morgan was played for a double-chump.Plotline-Watch:Matrix/Supergirl is still 1) posing as Clark Kent and 2) being a total dimwit. At the Planet offices they’ve have enough of “Clark” bumbling around and tell him/her to go home. Matrix does that, and upon entering Kent’s apartment, she finds the Eradicator (the Kryptonian artifact Superman found in space) sitting on a shelf, where Superman left it earlier. When she touches it there’s a huge explosion, and just at that moment the real Clark/Superman comes home to find a duplicate of himself laying unconscious on the floor. CLIFFHANGER!Lex Luthor actually admits that he’s happy Superman is back, because life is so boring without him. Awww.Cat Grant is having a pretty good moment: she gained Perry White’s trust after her role in the Intergang expose and he assigns her a front page, non-gossip story. Also, she somehow still has a job as an anchor on Morgan Edge’s GBS station, despite having just seduced and betrayed the owner, causing his subsequent heart attack and arrest. But, at the other end of life’s spectrum…The Misadventures of Jose Delgado: Let me get this straight. Jose Delgado becomes Gangbuster out of a selfless desire to help people, and on his second mission he gets crippled. He spends months in a wheelchair until he finds a miracle procedure to cure him. He becomes Gangbuster again… and on his first new mission, some rubble falls on him and he immediately ends up back in the hospital. For some reason I thought his spine would be shattered again but they say he’ll be fine, so maybe I was thinking of another time he gets crippled for life.Creator-Watch:Action Comics returns to the Superman titles roster after Action Comics Weekly failed to last even a year (I wrote about Superman’s ACW stories here). This means there’s a big shuffle in the Superman creative teams:Action Comics is co-written by Roger Stern and George Perez and co-drawn by George Perez and Brett Breeding.Superman is written and drawn by Jerry Ordway… except for the next few issues, because Ordway was busy drawing the adaption of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, so Kerry Gammill will be the guest artist.And Adventures of Superman is written by George Perez and drawn by Dan Jurgens, but this won’t last too long: apparently they were spreading Perez too thin (I get the impression they wanted him to be John Byrne, minus the weird sexual stuff), so he’ll leave this title sooner than the others and, left with no writer, DC apparently said to Jurgens “Eh, guess you can write it too.” And, of course, this accidentally gave the Superman titles their most iconic writer/artist of the ’90s.

Action Comics #643 (July 1989)

Why did you choose 1986-1999 specifically? What is it about this period in Superman history that made you want to write about it?

Two reasons: the first is that I love the way the Superman writers and editors of this era managed to connect all their stories over such a long period of time. Some subplots took years and literally hundreds of comics to develop, but they always paid off in the end, which was very satisfying. At the same time, every issue or most issues had a clear point to them (as opposed to, say, those X-Men issues where you just get an arbitrary chunk of story with a cliffhanger thrown in at the end). So, you had great individual stories that advanced a great overall narrative. That’s harder to find in comics than it should be.

The other reason is that I bought a whole bunch of Superman comics a few years ago to complete my 86-to-99 run (I had some pretty big gaps in my collection), and doing this is a good excuse to re-read the entire thing and justify the purchase.

Action Comics #644 (August 1989)Superman vs. Supergirl, who is looking quite… different now. That’s her up there on the cover, with the grey costume, red eyes and distinct lack of boobs. And you can’t see it due to the poor lighting, but she even has a beard.A little recap: Waaaay back in Action #591, Superman traveled to a “Pocket Universe” where the only superhero of Earth was a younger version of himself, Superboy. Superboy died, some evil Kryptonians took over the planet, and then Pocket Universe Lex Luthor (who is good) created a Supergirl out of a pink goo called protoplasm. Superman stopped the evil Kryptonians (permanently), but in the process Supergirl was reduced back to pink goo and her entire planet died (in Superman #22). Superman then asked Ma and Pa Kent to take care of Supergirl, who slowly regrew herself into human shape and started calling herself “Matrix.” Eventually Matrix began impersonating Clark Kent because she thought that’s what Ma and Pa wanted, and it was kinda funny for a while, but then Matrix/Clark touched a Kryptonian relic called the Eradicator that Superman brought from space, and it exploded in her face.Next thing you know, Matrix really thinks she’s Clark and starts terrorizing people in Smallville thinking she’s fighting bad guys as Superman. And that’s where this issue starts.Matrix thinks the real Superman is a double who is threatening her family, so she takes Ma, Pa and Lana Lang to an old abandoned quarry. To make matters even more confusing, Matrix now has some sort of psychic link with Superman thanks to the Eradicator, so it’s kinda hard to sneak up on her. Matrix and Superman fight for a while, until Matrix accidentally hurts Lana and then tries to kill Superman.This makes Matrix realize she may not be completely right in the head after all, and in a moment of clarity, she borrows a move from Superman and decides to exile herself to outer space, where she can’t put more innocents at risk. (Or not human innocents, at least.) Meanwhile, Superman is like “Wait, no, don’t go… oh, shoot, she’s already all the way over there. Well, what are you gonna do.”Character-Watch:And that’s the last we’ll see of Supergirl/Matrix for a good while: her space exile lasted a lot more than Superman’s (like three years), but by the time she’s back her head will be a lot clearer and she’ll settle in her Supergirl form for good, and no one will ever mention that time she was a dude with a beard and hairy pecs.Plotline-Watch:The abandoned place where Matrix takes the Kents is the Simonson Limestone Quarry, the place where Superman fought the Legion of Super-Heroes in Superman #8, at the beginning of the Superboy/Pocket Universe story. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but it’s fitting that this whole mess should end in the same place where it started.There’s a page where Kitty “Rampage” Faulkner of S.T.A.R. Labs is trying to contact Superman on behalf of Starman (in his ’80s mulleted incarnation), who needs his help for something. That’s a teaser for a Superman guest appearance in Starman #14, which… I have not read, actually. I never had any interest in that series, even though it was written by Roger Stern and Kitty was apparently a regular. Should I check out that issue, Tumblr?

Action Comics #644 (August 1989) Superman vs. Supergirl

It seems like that is the case. For example, Hank Henshaw apparently appeared pretty early in 1987-1988 and then he later became Cyborg Superman in 1994 or something. How do you think the development played out in this era? What did the writers lead up to? Can you give me any examples of major stuff?

Honestly, sometimes they were just pulling stuff out of their asses. Take the Hank Henshaw/Cyborg thing: that came about because in 1987, John Byrne wrote an issue where Superman’s Kryptonian rocket was left suspended in space. He literally left it hanging there and forgot about it. Readers kept asking what the hell happened with that, so in 1989/1990 Dan Jurgens came up with the Hank Henshaw plot, just as a way to work the rocket back into the story. Then in 1993 they needed a villain for Reign of the Supermen so they used Hank (which led to Emerald Twilight, which led to Zero Hour, etc.). When you read Hank’s story you’re tempted to think they planned the whole thing from 1987, but it was all completely accidental.

Superman #17 (May 1988)Superman versus Silver Banshee, round two. Round one, I’ll remind you, ended when she kinda killed him and then Martian Manhunter pretended to be Superman’s ghost.This time, Superman bumps into Silver Banshee (again raiding an occult bookstore) while he’s dressed as Clark Kent, and he can’t change into his red shorts because Jimmy Olsen is hanging around. Banshee tries to kill Clark with her death-wail, but since she needs to know the real identity of the person she attacks it doesn’t work. And so, as part of a ruse to defeat her, Superman flies away and comes back dressed like Batman and pretends to be him. You know, because Batman just happened to be passing through Metropolis and saw this she-demon and figured he’d fight her with his bat-gadgets and, uh, super-strength and stuff.Banshee eventually realizes the deceit, but then a tall irish (or Scottish, one of those) guy appears and he’s like “Dammit, Siobhan, I’m taking you home.” He’s Silver Banshee’s brother Bevan, who makes some references to an ancient family curse, before Banshee diseappears again. What the hell was that all about? We won’t find out for another six issues.Character-Watch:Maggie Sawyer and Terrible Turpin are on the Banshee case again and get a few cool scenes. Clark also meets Jimmy’s old hobo friend Pete Shoemaker (first seen last issue), who tells Clark he reads his column.Then we finally see the face of Jimmy’s mysterious white-haired mom, Sarah Olsen, and she’s… pretty hot. Byrne even gives Superman a bit of a “Yowza!” face when he sees her. She had Jimmy when she was 18, she explains. Despite the clear attraction between her and Superman (which delights Jimmy), she’s quick to point out that she won’t date another man until she knows whether her disappeared husband is alive or not.Plotline-Watch:There’s a page where Lois Lane is seen dressing up as a prostitute to the shock of her sister Lucy, for some story that Perry hasn’t approved. I honestly can’t remember what the hell this is about. Perhaps I’ve blocked it from my memory.Superman Loves Wonder Woman: At the end of the issue Clark gets a phone call from Wonder Woman’s publicist (the same woman he tried to call in Superman #7). The conversation is seen in Wonder Woman #16: Wondy wants to meet Supes, so they end up setting a date. We’ll see the resulting hot action in Action #600.WTF-Watch:Where did Superman get that Batman costume and grappling hook so fast? Did he have them ready in his apartment for this type of situation? I prefer to think Batman was fighting the Penguin in Gotham when a red blur flew past and he suddenly found himself butt naked.

Superman #17 (May 1988)

On the other hand, other plots were prepared with an almost frightening amount of detail: in 1988 they decided they needed to reboot Brainiac to make him more badass, so they slowly planted the seeds for the storyline that gave him a new body a year later. That worked out pretty well, so they planned an even more ambitious storyline to do the same thing for Luthor, which played out all the way through to 1994. That’s like a five year storyline. I think that combination of careful planning and improvisation is a big reason why this era rocks so much.

Adventures of Superman #467 (June 1990)"Dark Knight Over Metropolis," Part 2: Finally! Superman and Batman! And Gangbuster!OK, just Superman and Batman.Batman is visiting Metropolis to investigate the Mystery of the Dead Hobo with the Radioactive Green Ring (as seen in Part 1). Batman finds out that a dead woman in Metropolis had some of the same radiation in her body, and Superman (who doesn’t trust Bats, but agrees to work with him for this case) recognizes her as the lady who threatened to divulge his secret identity a few weeks ago. Superman also says that the radioactive ring is made of kryptonite, so he’s understandably worried about its current whereabouts, since that stuff can kill him. Batman intentionally neglects to mention that HE has the ring right now, because it might “come in handy” later… and that’s why Superman doesn’t trust you, dude.Anyway, since the kryptonite ring was formerly owned by Lex Luthor, Superman and Batman look into LexCorp’s records (by breaking into the building) and find out that the dead woman was a former employee named Amanda McCoy. They also find out her address and decide they should check it out… some other time, because right now, they have to put on their tuxedos and PARTY.Bruce Wayne is a guest at Lex Luthor’s Baldy Awards for journalism, where Clark Kent is nominated for his expose of Intergang, an opportunity that Bruce uses to hit on Clark’s girlfriend. Meanwhile, Intergang also uses the opportunity to try to kill Clark by crashing the party with a flying ship full of armed goons. Of course, all the goons are quickly taken down by Superman and Batman, who happened to be in the neighborhood — hey, where did Clark and Bruce suddenly go? They’re probably snorting coke in the bathroom.So, Intergang is defeated, but it turns out that they didn’t really care about Clark: they just attacked the awards to distract Superman while they kidnapped Daily Planet columnist Cat Grant… and it worked. TO BE CONCLUDED!Character-Watch:Who’s up for some extremely minor character trivia? Everyone? OK, here we go!This is technically the first appearance of WGBS reporter Steve Lombard (he’s a guest at the awards and later covers the Intergang attack), though we already saw him on a TV screen exactly 30 issues ago. In the old comics, Lombard was Clark Kent’s rival during that weird period in the ’70s when Clark grew sideburns and became a TV news anchor. In this issue he’s a pudgy guy in a bowtie, but in more recent comics he suddenly buffed up and became a big, athletic guy. The only consistent part of Steve’s character is that he’s always been an asshole.Plotline-Watch:So how exactly did Cat Grant get kidnapped? That happens in another entry of The Misadventures of Jose Delgado: Jose/Gangbuster was keeping an eye on Cat, as he was hired to do, when he briefly ran into Superman and Batman (hence the panels at the top). Superman tells Jose he’s doing a good job, but as soon the big shots leave, the old Delgado luck strikes again — Intergang operatives Chiller and Shockwave attack Jose, drop and entire building on his ass, and on top of everything steal his face (in order to fool Cat):There’s a callback to Adventures #447, when Intergang tried to kill Lex Luthor during a press conference and Clark saved him. This time, it’s Luthor who “saves” Clark by sprinting to action and getting him out of the way of a blast, but only so he could say they are even now.Luthor’s armored Lex-Men prove very useful in this issue: they’re too slow to catch Superman and Batman when they break into LexCorp, and then they don’t even show up when the party is attacked. But hey, at least their cool armors are officially silver now!Corrections-Watch:On my recap for Part 1, I said Lois and Clark were seen heading to the Baldy Awards, but that was just a date. This issue (and the awards) take place in the next day. Also, for some reason I said Superman and Batman were teaming up for the first time, when they already fought a jewel thief and a vampire together. I’ve atoned for these sins by lashing my back 5 million times (which is why I haven’t posted in the last week).

Adventures of Superman #467 (June 1990) “Dark Knight Over Metropolis”

What does Superman mean to you? What makes him so unique and worthwhile that you would undertake this (admittedly daunting) task in his name?

I’m a pretty big fan, as evidenced by all the Supermen in my room: I have a mini statue of the 1940’s Superman standing proud, a way bigger one of the 1960’s Superman looking invincible, and a battle-worn Superman action figure from the ’90s (mullet included). I think those three things perfectly represent three different aspects of the character: the proud social crusader, the larger than life cosmic adventurer, and the more vulnerable and humanized Superman of the era we’re covering. (I also have a poseable Superman bust that came on top of a soft drink, but I’m not sure what that represents. The pop culture icon?) It’s pretty impressive that one character can withstand so many readings and interpretations, and yet they’re all valid and positive. I also like that he can shoot lasers from his eyes and punch things hard.

One thing that makes the Superman franchise really fun and great is the supporting cast. So what is special about the supporting cast in this time period and how different and similar is it from contemporary Superman comics?

The supporting cast is actually one of the things that sets this era apart from the others, since they took the time to populate the books with interesting and varied characters like Maggie Sawyer, Jose Delgado, Professor Hamilton and Bibbo. One of the great things about having four monthly Superman books is that they could really take the time to develop these characters into well-rounded people: we’ve already seen Cat Grant evolve from a flirty drunk to a more responsible person. Say what you will about ’90s comics, but no other era did supporting casts better. From what I’ve heard, the Superman supporting cast right now is just “Lois”, which is a shame.

Action Comics #653 (May 1990)Superman gets drunk and falls asleep on a cemetery with his shirt open. Or at least that’s what someone would say if they hadn’t read this issue and were going just by the cover. Fortunately (or unfortunately, since that does sound like a cool premise), I have read this issue and I’m here to tell you about it.Remember way back in Superman #2 when a LexCorp scientist, Amanda McCoy, figured out Superman was Clark Kent and told Lex Luthor about it, but the big dummy didn’t believe it and fired her? Well, it only took that lady three years to work up the courage to confront Clark, and it doesn’t go well for either of them. McCoy lures Kent to the cemetery claiming she’s in danger, then whips out a little surprise: Lex Luthor’s old kryptonite ring! (Which she somehow stole.)McCoy gets Clark to admit he’s Superman, but she freaks out when he goes unconscious from the pain, then freaks out again when she realizes she’s been walking all this time with Luthor’s ring on her finger — the same ring that gave Luthor hand cancer. She drops the ring in the street, and that’s when she’s assaulted by a thug from the future and Billy Dee Williams.Aaaaand… that’s the last time we see Ms. McCoy alive. TO BE CONTINUED! (But not for her, obviously.)Character-Watch:This issue reminds us for the hundredth time that Intergang wants to kill Cat Grant (which is set-up for the upcoming Batman crossover), but at least it also fleshes out Intergang’s power structure a little more: “Ugly” Mannheim is the head honcho, his second in command is a dude named Gillespie (mentioned a year ago in Superman #28), and his “executive assistant” is some bimbo named Leilani.Heh, “abreast.” I’ve had this comic for like 16 years and I just got that.Anyway, the Mannheim-Gillespie duo will be recurring villains from now on, especially after Luthor becomes… indisposed. And I don’t remember what happens to Leilani, but since she has two L’s in her name I’m assuming Superman hooks up with her.Plotline-Watch:Apparently the entire Daily Planet staff knows about the Clark Kent/Lois Lane affair that just started in Adventures #466, because as soon as they walk into the office, everyone starts applauding. Also, Clark romances Lois with a rose and a poem. Naturally, Jose Delgado (still bodyguarding Cat) arrives just in time to watch them make out, again.Speaking of unrequited love, Whit’s Clark Kent obsession continues. He even dyed his mustache again and still can’t get Clark to notice him:The Clark Kent novel mentioned above? It’s called Under a Yellow Sun and we’ll actually get to read it in a few years.Creator-Watch:This is the first issue with Bob McLeod as regular Action Comics artist (previously, he guest-inked Superman #39 for Dennis Janke). McLeod is mostly remembered as “the guy who went between George Perez and Jackson Guice,” but he’s actually pretty good when he’s trying. I like some of his shots of Mannheim:He draws Mannheim as if saying “What if Darkseid was a person?”, which is how everyone should draw Mannheim.

Action Comics #653 (May 1990)

I’m a huge fan of Maggie Sawyer and Professor Hamilton. How important was the supporting cast to these stories? Did they have their own stories or were they just living in the world of Superman?

They weren’t absolutely essential to the stories, but the stories wouldn’t be the same without them. Like, the entire Eradicator storyline could have been told with nameless S.T.A.R. Labs scientists explaining stuff to Superman instead of using Professor Hamilton in all the issues, but I just love how exasperated Hamilton gets with Superman for being so irresponsible with the junk he brings from outer space, or that he felt compelled to clean Superman’s mess and just made it worse. Or on Maggie Sawyer’s case, in most of her appearances they could have used a random cop fighting the villain before Superman arrives, but since we know her well, we actually give a crap whether she gets hurt or not. Stuff like that was important to the tone of the stories.

Also, it’s cool that all the supporting characters, no matter how small, got their chance to shine. One of my favorite moments is a scene from the Death/Return of Superman saga with Bibbo praying. Most of the time he was just a funny tough guy, but little moments like that made you feel like the characters were real people.

Adventures of Superman #463 (February 1990)Mr. Mxyzptlk forces Superman and Flash to race around the world to find out who’s faster. WHO COULD IT BE?! (Flash, obviously, because that’s all the guy has going for him and Superman has like 16 other powers.)The issue starts with Wally “Flash” West eating at Big Belly Burger with his pal Mason when they hear about “terrorists at Mt. Rushmore.” Mason convinces Wally to go check it out, but the “terrorists” turn out to be Mr. Mxyzptlk, who has vandalized the presidents’ monument to include his sexy face.Upon finding out that Flash’s power is being super-fast, Mxyzptlk wonders who’s faster, him or Superman, and then remembers he can use his unlimited powers to find out — he announces to the media that there will be a big Superman vs. Flash race across the globe, and if Superman wins, Mxy will go back to his dimension. At this point Superman should have discreetly asked Flash to throw the race to get rid of the magical imp, but instead he decides that being a dick to Wally sounds like a better course of action:The race begins and we get cameos from various DC superheroes watching the competition (but not Batman, like the cover promises). Superman continues being kind of an asshole to Flash as they run across deserts, oceans and mountains, so it’s actually a relief when Mxy tricks him into running into a wall with a tunnel painted on it, Wile E. Coyote-style, and Superman ends up buried in rubble. Flash actually stops running to help Superman there, and they get along better from then on.In the end Flash wins, shocking no one except Mxyzptlk, who lied about his deal with Superman and planned to stay only if he won. Since Superman lost, Mxy leaves and Supes and Flash go for some shakes and burgers (the scene isn’t shown but I know it happened, in my heart).Character-Watch:Mxyzptlk learned to lie during his last visit to our dimension, in Superman #31, when Lex Luthor introduced him to the concept. Speaking of Lex, Mxy runs into him when the race reaches the Soviet Union, since Luthor and his team are apparently looking for kryptonite rocks all over Europe now (we saw another team in Ireland in Superman #40). Since there’s nothing there, Mxy creates a chunk of kryptonite and offers it to Luthor, but he turns it down because it’s the wrong color (red).What Lex doesn’t know is that red-K does have a powerful effect on Superman that will lead to a huge storyline (the unfortunately named “Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite”), but that won’t happen for like 10 months.Plotline-Watch:According to an ad in a previous issue, the race was supposed to “continue all across the DC Universe,” but in the end Superman and Flash only made guest appearances in New Gods #13 and Hawk & Dove #9 (if you count “a red/blue woosh of air” as a guest appearance). Either the editors couldn’t get organized, or Superman and Flash are running so fast in all those other comics that they’re invisible.Superman’s assholeness in this issue isn’t exclusively directed at Flash: as Clark Kent, he’s also shown being an ogre to his employees at Newstime Magazine because they’re slacking off (then he leaves work to run across the world with a pal). Incidentally, Clark took that job at Newstime during his last sudden bout of jerkitude in Superman #39. All will be explained soon.Speaking of Newstime, the owner Colin Thornton is among the people shown watching the race, along with Jose Delgado, Professor Hamilton, the Kents, Lana Lang and the Planet staff. The word “devil” in this panel is some super-advanced foreshadowing:Also watching the race is Lois Lane’s sister Lucy, but Lois just can’t concentrate because she misses Clark too damn much since he quit the Planet. She actually feels sorry for being mean to him in all those John Byrne comics. Progress!I’m a big fan of the Flash comics from this era (I did short issue-per-issue commentaries for the whole thing at Comics Bulletin), so it’s nice to see Wally’s supporting cast make cameos: besides Mason Trollbridge, Wally’s sort-of girlfriend Connie is cheering him, as is the wife of the original Flash, good old Joan Garrick (who, at this point in the continuity, believed her husband dead and was having a sexual adventure with Mason).Creator-Watch:The Justice League International appears in this issue, since Flash was a member at this point. This is significant because I’m pretty sure this is the first time Dan Jurgens writes and draws the JLI, and he’ll end up taking over their comic in a couple of years when Superman joins the team, right before Doomsday kills him and mangles all the others.The Justice Leaguers in this issue include Martian “I posed as Superman’s ghost" Manhunter, Mister "Superman did a porno with my wife" Miracle and Jurgens’ creation Booster Gold, who bet $1,000 on Flash. He can use his winnings to repair that billboard of him that Superman destroyed.

Adventures of Superman #463 (February 1990)

I really enjoy your snark and commentary. The snarkiness seems to come naturally to you. Do you think that Superman and crew can be comedic in nature?

Oh, yeah. Especially when written by Jerry Ordway or Karl Kesel. Another great thing about this period is that they had dozens of in-jokes and recurring gags through the years, so humor was a big part of the Superman titles. In fact, as soon as they stopped having funny moments, the serious ones didn’t seem to matter as much anymore.

One of my goals for this Tumblr is to keep track of all the recurring jokes and how they evolved, since to my knowledge this is a task no one has done before. However, I’ve actually left out all the comical little shout outs to each other that the creators slipped into the comic, because I’d never finish otherwise (my favorite was “The Great Carlini’s House of Couches”, in honor of Mike Carlin).

Superman #1 (January 1987)Superman tracks down the dude who stole the rocket in which he arrived on Earth as a fetus, and he turns out to be 1) inside a laboratory full of pictures and data about Superman and 2) dead. The dead scientist, it turns out, thought Superman was an evil alien invader (in all the years he observed Supes, he never noticed the guy spends all day saving people), so he used the kryptonite inside the rocket to build his own alien-killing Terminator, Metallo. Metallo’s first order of business was terminating his creator. The second is beating the ever-lovin’ crap out of Superman.This is a dang good first issue. I was a little underwhelmed when I re-read the Man of Steel miniseries, but this one has it all: visceral action (there’s an almost Doomsday-level fight — Metallo and Superman tear down a whole bank in their fight, and then Metallo emerges from the rubble holding Superman’s cape); some interesting narrative choices; and just kick-ass storytelling. Also, it’s cool that they establish right on the first issue that this Superman is very much capable of getting his ass handed to him.Character-Watch:In case you didn’t notice by now, this issue introduces Metallo. He’s some guy whose body got trashed in a car accident, and then a possibly-schizophrenic scientist moved his brain into a kryptonite-powered robot body. It’s one of the coolest and most threatening Superman villains ever… and they only used him again like four times.Plotline-Watch:Luthor’s Kryptonite: The fight suddenly ends when Metallo is mysteriously abducted. The kidnapper turns out to be Luthor, who has grander plans for the kryptonite in his chest.The Misadventures of Hank Henshaw: Superman literally rips the chunk of land under the dead scientist’s lab, and leaves the entire building (along with the Kryptonian fetus rocket inside) suspended between the Earth and the moon so that no one will find it. Years later someone did find it, and that led to the creation of Cyborg Superman, the destruction of Coast City and Zero Hour.WTF-Watch:Re-read that last paragraph, please. What? Instead of just wiping the data about him in the lab, Superman throws the entire building into space and forgets about it for years. I’m actually glad that this decision came back to bite him in the ass big time.

Superman #1 (January 1987)

I noticed you keeping track of those running jokes. Can you elaborate more on the comedy aspects of the books?

One thing I like is the atmosphere at the Daily Planet, where these completely random characters are showing ribbing on Lois or Clark like they’ve been the best of friends forever. It’s like “Oh that Albert! Such a joker!” Who’s Albert? No idea. He never appeared again. But I love those scenes because they make Clark Kent look like he’s really part of the gang, so you buy that this invincible alien would actually want to work there.

I kinda think the atmosphere at the Superman office during that time must have been similar. You could tell they were having fun doing the books. I mean, they didn’t do Bibbo storylines because the market demanded it or because the president of WB called them to say “Gotta have more Bibbo!” but simply because they liked adding fun stuff and cracking each other up. And, again, once it stopped feeling like they were having fun the comics stopped being good.

Action Comics #649 (January 1990)The Brainiac Trilogy, Last Part! Brainiac debuts a sexy new body, and a sexy new spaceship shaped like his head.As seen in Adventures #462, Lex Luthor is being held hostage inside his own secret Rocky Mountains lab by Brainiac, who now controls the entire facility with his mind. While Brainiac’s body is being genetically/mechanically remade inside a big glass tube, his mind is keeping itself entertained by mentally torturing poor Luthor. Meanwhile, Superman has been looking for Brainiac and Luthor for like six comics with no results, so he decides to let Clark Kent have a crack at it: thanks to his new job as editor of Newstime Magazine, Clark gets access to one of those “computer” things and is able to look up LexCorp’s recent finances, thus finding out about the secret lab in the Rockies.Apparently, this three/seven part storyline would have lasted five minutes if only people had Google back in 1990 (only magazine editors did). Anyway, Superman figures Luthor must be holed up in the lab and arrives there just in time to watch Brainiac step out of his refreshing genetic bath as a changed man… or Coluan, since he’s now green.After a brief mental match, Brainiac manages to knock Superman out by borrowing the brain energy of every scientist in the lab and escapes in his newly-constructed skull ship. Superman tries to follow Brainiac into space, but Brainy distracts him by revealing that he had his henchman Metallo secretly hide several nuclear devices all over Metropolis last issue. Superman has to hurry back to Metropolis to collect the devices, which explode in his face as he’s taking them out to the ocean. So, Brainiac escapes into the cosmos, but he does manage to send Superman one last mocking message before losing reception:Character-Watch:Aaaaand that’s gonna be Brainiac’s body from now on. See, this is why I like this Superman period: things take a while, but it all comes together in the end. They were planning Brainiac’s transformation from at least as far back as the “Hostile Takeover!” storyline when Luthor acquired that secret lab, and possibly longer (the mentions that Brainiac’s human body was deteriorating go back to Adventures #445). Remember this: Roger Stern plays the long game.Plotline-Watch:In addition to showing him his Mad Men-esque new office, Clark’s boss Colin Thornton also introduces him to his new personal assistant, Mara Talbot, who has the hots for Clark. Who wouldn’t?Brainiac says he got the “basic design” for his skull spaceship from a dream. Actually, the ship he dreamed about during his trippy vision in Superman #35 had Luthor’s face on it instead of a skulll, but that’s close enough I guess.This storyline was loosely adapted as the “Ghost in the Machine" episode of Superman: The Animated Series, specifically the part about Brainiac taking over a LexCorp facility and dicking around with Lex.WTF-Watch:lol, Brainiac’s nekkid.

Action Comics #649 (January 1990) The Brainiac Trilogy

Is Superman 86-99 your only project or do you have any others?

Lots, but the one I’d like to pimp right now is the webcomic I write, ACK. Check it out!

What character and time period would you tackle next?

So many options. I have a full, ten year run of Peter David’s Hulk sitting on a shelf, mostly unread, that I’d love to tackle after I’m done with Superman. Another possibility would be Mike Grell’s definitive Green Arrow run, since that character is all the rage on Tumblr right now. Or maybe Karl Kesel’s Superboy, though it might make more sense to read that at the same time as the Super-titles. Basically, I’m just gonna use Tumblr to motivate myself to open all the comics I’ve bought and haven’t gotten around to reading. There’s still plenty of Superman left before we get there, though.

Superman #9 (September 1987)It’s the Joker. The Joker is in Metropolis, words on the cover. He’s right behind you. This issue starts with the Joker stealing a diamond with a Superman robot that launches poisonous laugh gas and has a nuclear bomb inside. That thing must have cost a fortune, which confirms my theory that the Joker is actually billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne in disguise.Superman takes the nuclear super-laughbot to space before it blows up, then lands in the Mojave desert. By the time he gets back to Metropolis, the Joker has kidnapped Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane and Perry White and is making his getaway. However, Superman quickly catches him due to the Joker’s poor understanding of how his X-Ray vision works. As the Joker is being handed to the authorities, Superman asks him why he came to Metropolis and did all this, and the Joker replies: “Ooh, Superman… Why not?”There’s a second short story in this issue starring Lex Luthor, who offers a random waitress a million dollars in exchange for spending a month as his sex toy. Luthor gives the conflicted waitress ten minutes to decide, but then leaves before the ten minutes are up, messing with her head (which was the idea of his little game all along). It might be the best thing John Byrne has written.Character-Watch:Captain Maggie Sawyer appears again in this issue and interacts briefly with a reporter covering the Joker crimes, Toby Raines, who will later become Maggie’s long-time girlfriend. After breaking up with Toby years later, Maggie will move to Gotham City. I mention this because good ol’ Mags has been making headlines lately due to her non-marriage to Batwoman.Speaking of botched marriages, the Joker will take another vacation to Metropolis nine years later and ruin Superman’s engagement. Seriously.Plotline-Watch:Superman Hates Batman: Maggie asks Superman why he doesn’t call Batman to help him catch the Joker, and Superman goes “Ugh, no, hate that guy.” However, in this issue Clark Kent finally opens the unmarked package he got four issues ago and it’s… Ma Kent’s scrapbook of Superman stories (stolen from the Kent farm by Luthor’s goons in Superman #2). Who sent it? Superman will just have to bite his tongue and ask Batman to figure that one out.Manhunters in Smallville: There’s a page of Lana Lang painting her house in Smallville when a little flying robot comes in, shoots a laser into her eye and then the house is empty. This is a little prelude for the Millennium series, DC’s crossover event of 1988.WTF-Watch:

Superman #9 (September 1987)

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