"Justice League": Exploring How Superman Returns (Again)
Comic Books, Film
In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993’s polybagged and peel-away cover of Adventures of Superman #500
Adventures of Superman #500 (published June 1993) – script by Jerry Ordway, art by Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood
Following the “Death of Superman” story and the subsequent “Funeral for a Friend,” arc, all of DC’s Superman titles went on hiatus for about three-to-four months until Adventures of Superman #500 was released with the teaser “back from the dead?!” So anyone in 1992-93 who had six months in the “how long before DC caves and resurrects Superman” pool, you probably made more money on that bet than you did on those 30 polybagged copies of Superman #75 you tried reselling to speculators.
Mirroring the “Death of Superman” comic, Adventures #500 was packaged in a white polybag with the iconic red “S” on the front. But wait … there’s more. The polybagged comic came with what retailers described as a “translucent removable cover” (I don’t know if I already removed it as a kid, but my current copy doesn’t have anything translucent on the front). The unbagged version of the comic had a standard cover. But wait … there’s more! DC also marketed a “Platinum Edition” of the polybagged comic, which actually came in a black bag with off-white lettering (as opposed to the blood red lettering on Superman #75’s polybag).
But what about inside the comic?
I would have to imagine that this comic presented an incredible challenge for Ordway when he wrote it 1992/93. After DC sent shockwaves throughout the comic book industry with the “Death of Superman,” the publisher had to admit six months later with this resurrection arc that Superman’s “tragic end” was basically a big publicity stunt. Granted, the comic book community figured that out fairly quickly well before Superman’s “rebirth,” but the Man of Steel’s death and return still marked a turning point for the industry where future big events were met with a justifiably healthy dose of cynicism and distrust – a sentiment that’s still pervasive today.
So with that in mind, I actually think Ordway crafts a solid script here, and the four four-page teasers that end the comic introducing all of the “new” Supermen (credited to Louise Simoson, Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke; Roger Stern, Jackson Guice and Denis Rodier; Karl Kesel, Grummett and Hazlewood; Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding) are effective lead-ins to the “Reign of Superman” arc that would dominate the DC universe for the next few months. Ordway is tasked with resurrecting the world’s most famous superhero in a way that’s not gimmicky or clichéd. I don’t know if he totally pulled it off flawlessly, but the execution was certainly good enough that I can legitimately say I enjoyed this comic upon re-reading it 20 years later.
I found it very interesting that of all of the DC universe’s super powered individuals, the one person with the capability of bringing Superman away from the light is his adoptive, ordinary Earth-father Jonathan Kent. Kent is near-death in the hospital himself when he has a vision of his son who tells him what remains of Clark is only clothes and glasses he now must complete his journey as “Kal-El, last son of Krypton.” From here, the story could have devolved into the standard “father/son reunite in the afterlife” storyline, but Ordway puts a twist on this story where Pa Kent is insistent that there’s something not quite right away going on in this afterlife and perhaps it’s not actually Clark’s time to formally cross over.
Kent’s instincts prove to be right when he witnesses his son being carried by a group of clerics in a religious looking funeral processing. Remembering that Kryptonians value science over religious spirituality,
Ordway – through Kent – questions Superman’s willingness to accept the finality of his fate. Perhaps it’s Clark’s human upbringing and instincts that makes him accept his mortality, but Kent tells him “You’re Kryptonian – the last of your kind! You can’t walk into death’s doorway willingly, boy.”
Ordway’s script then introduces a pretty compelling concept – to return to the living, Superman has to be both human and alien. He has to trust his mortal father about ignoring the empirical evidence around him that indicates how he currently exists in the afterlife. Kent asks his son to have both blind faith – a very human concept – and to embrace his superior powers as a science-valuing Kryptonian.
It’s a fascinating to find such a dichotomy in a story like this. It adds a certain complexity and nuance to the comic, while also successfully wetting readers appetites for the upcoming “Reign of Superman” arc. In Adventures #500, it’s only implied that Superman has been successfully resurrected. DC presents four different Supermen who all seem to have elements of the original’s make-up (but not an exact replica) claiming to be the real deal. The story initiatives a legitimate mystery, as any one of these four could potentially be Superman. Or perhaps the whole thing was just a near-death hallucination by Kent. Either way, Ordway and the rest of the creative team don’t beat readers over the head with the plot like what we got in the “Death of Superman” story. While the issue was marketed with a similar amount of bombast as Superman #75, Adventures #500 carries a completely different tone that makes it a considerably better read.
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