There’s an all-new Superman in town and ladies and gents he’s blue like a smurf.
Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of the “Field Guide To The Comic Book Bargain Bin” and today we are looking at Superman (vol.2) #123. As you might have guessed this issue marks the first appearance of the Modern Superman-blue. This comic holds a special place in my heart as it is the very first comic book I’ve ever read. So I am going to go ahead and state that there is a slight chance for the nostalgia lenses to be on.
Disclaimer- Nostalgia will show up in this review and as such your personal mileage may very well vary.
Like always I am going to offer some backstory on the idea behind Superman blue. Superman blue is a part of the larger Superman Red/Superman Blue storyline in which the Man of Steel acquires new electrical based powers and loses his classic traditional powers. Later when Superman Blue is split into Superman Red, due to Cyborg Superman’s doing, they split the Clark’s personality traits. Blue becomes more thought driven and Red becomes brasher along with other traits. This storyline is a call back to the classic Superman story- Superman (vol.1) #162 in which Superman divides himself into two beings (one being red, the other being blue) and they proceed to solve all the world’s problems. Now that story was an imaginary tale and was one of the Silver-age’s finest.
As for this rendition of Superman-Blue it’s cannon. Heck Blue was on the JLA for a short period of time. See this comic came out in the late 90’s and it does show in one way. This is an obvious stunt to get readers to buy comics. The comic bust happened and the companies are suffering. DC during the 90’s decides to have all their major Superheroes undergo drastic changes- Batman was replaced by Azbat, Green Lantern Corps was no more and there was only one: Kyle Rayner, Wonder Woman was now Artemis, Green Arrow was Connor Hawke, and Superman underweant several major changes in the 90’s. He started the decade getting killed off, only to return. He was later married to Lois Lane (Fun fact they wanted to do this originally, but with Lois and Clark on tv, they wanted to hold the marriage off for another year. So in its place they kill off Superman.). Then to cap it off he was turned into pure energy and as such was rewarded a brand new costume.
Speaking of the costume let’s talk about the Superman-Blue costume which makes its first appearance in this issue. The costume is a sleek jump suit costume with a stylized shield. He is missing his trademark cape and the famous “underwear on the outside” look that he has carried for decades. His skin and hair is turned electric blue and his eyes are colorless. Overall I enjoy this design and it’s one of a very few new costumes that Superman has wore. Of them (The Red, Black, and the post-Our Worlds At War costume) this is my favorite. It gives the impression of being slick and fast. The white lightning bolt accents remind us he’s electrically based and it breaks up the blue. One thing I don’t understand is that the sole purpose of this costume is to contain Superman and prevent him from disappearing into the atmosphere. Yet, Superman’s hair and face is exposed? I guess it’s to remind everyone he’s Superman.
Now with all of this out of the way, here is a quick synopsis of the plot. A massive monster named by the media as Scorn is attacking the city and Superman undergoes a massive change while fighting the beast. Unable to control himself he goes to STAR labs where they contain him until they can find a way to contain him for a longer time.
Luthor suspects something is up with Superman and has his wife go to STAR and offer them a new polymer that promises to insulate Superman. Lois and Dr. Hamilton reluctantly accept Luthor’s gift and with kryptonian technology Dr. Hamilton builds a suit for Superman that can properly contain him. Once with a suit Superman begins to look for the monster but can’t find him. After that he decides to go to Ma and Pa and ask Ma for a costuming tip. She tells him to make an “S” and after that Superman flies off into the skies with new costume and a new outlook towards the future.
Scorn, the monster, doesn’t really do much in this issue. He is quickly blasted out metropolis by Superman but other than that he isn’t important to the issue. Other than that there isn’t anything bad about the plot. The plot is fairly simple and light. It’s essentially a means to show off Superman’s new powers and build up the new costume’s practical purposes.
Now for the three most important questions:
What was Superman #123 trying to do?
This comic main purpose was to be a jumping on point for new readers. This is evidence by the first two pages of the comic being a recap of events leading up to Superman’s new powers. Also the comic tries to set up and detail all of Clark’s new powers for the readers, and show the origin of his new costume.
Did it succeed?
Yes I have to say it did on all counts. The recap page told the reader all of the past they have to know, from the first of Clark’s new power appearing to the monster’s attack, in order to understand what is happening in the comic. It also does it in a way that isn’t a bland recap page with nothing but text. I don’t know about you but I enjoy whenever the recap is done with picture and not a wall of text. It’s a comic book after all.
The way the comic shows the superpowers is condensed but works. In a matter of three pages they show he can fly faster than ever, fire energy bolts, and can revert back to a normal vulnerable form. This is something I love. Actually this is one of my favorite parts about Bin diving. I find comics from an era where Stories are condensed into one issues and not dragged out over several issues. While yes this arc isn’t condensed (It lasted for a while honestly.), they managed to hit every single point they needed and wanted to hit without having to drag it out over several issues.
The biggest proof that this issue worked is me. I was just seven years old when I received this comic from a family friend. I knew very little about Superman except what I learned from the Superman TAS. Yet I remember enjoying this comic fondly. Not once did I go, “why did Superman go blue?” as it made sense in the comic. I even remembering asking why Superman would take something from Lex Luthor as you could tell it was going to come back to bite him in the butt (Not sure if it did. Need to find the rest of the Superman-Red/Blue arc). This comic worked on every level to me then and today as a more critical person. This brings me to the final question.
Was it worth it?
Yes. It was worth it. This comic succeeds by having tight writing and a strong art direction. Now the art style is something that some wouldn’t like. It has a cartoony look to it. It isn’t Bruce Timm type cartoon style but it’s a comic book style. The characters are grounded in realism with realistic proportions and motion but it has a loose fluid look. This is interesting considering the book has two artists on it. At no point can I tell there was a difference between the two which is very common in comics with multi-person team on the pencils. Maybe a more skilled eye can note the difference but I can’t.
Now for a random blurb-
The layouts in this comic are pretty darn good. Comic book layouts are an interesting thing. If they are done right you rarely notice but if they are done poorly you can spot them a mile away. This is the rare case where the layouts are so good you can’t help but notice. Here is my favorite page in the whole comic:
We have Luthor standing in front a massive wall of tv with a dark shadow cast on him. That’s awesome but it’s the panels on the bottom that’s awesome. Not once do we get a clear look at Luthor’s full face just the halves. They are broken up by the panel with Luthor talking to his wife, which is also a great panel with the couple’s silhouettes. The two bottom corner panels also manage to show luthors expression change. I just loved this page.
This brings me to my lesson to you all:
Lesson # 4: Nostalgia induced comics aren’t all bad. I know I said that with Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers but in reality this comic was as much a part of my childhood as Power Rangers. Looking back on it after not reading it for nearly 12 years I have to say this comic holds up. The writing was solid (Jurgens is easily one of the finest Superman writers of the last 20 year) and the art was loose and expressive.
While the nostalgia lenses might be obstructing my view of the comic, but I still strongly recommend this comic. It is the perfect example of how to do a condensed story and yet have it be over-arching to make you want to read more.