CHRONICLES OF COMICS – SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #66 – ‘POWER PLAY!’

The Man Wit No Voice and The Pure Mood dig out and review a comic from their expansive back issue collection. It could be a pivotal story, a forgotten classic, or even a giant mistake not worth the staples binding it together. From the ’40′s to the ’00′s, come by every week as we take an in-depth look at comics history in CHRONICLES OF COMICS!

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It doesn’t have the relaxed confidence or genuine emotional impact of ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #12 or the thematic gravity of Alan Moore’s SUPREME, but the final issue of SUPERMAN ADVENTURES, the tie-in comic to the 1996 animated series, has enough heart, loving homage and commentary on the cyclical nature of superheroes that, at a glance, it could be mistaken for those seminal stories. Best of all, like every issue of the surprisingly fantastic SUPERMAN ADVENTURES, it’s a whole lot of fun – rich in DC mythology but never an alienating celebration of obscure continuity, the final issue brings three mismatched characters of the DCAU to to the Fourth World – and, as all his best stories do, uses these unique personalities to highlight the strengths of who and what Superman is.

Kanto, the number one assassin of Apokolips, was meant to kidnap the villainous Livewire for his master, Darkseid – unfortunately, Superman and Lex Luthor ended up joining him home via Boom Tube. We’re off to a good start from the first page – Granny Goodness sneering ‘QUIET, you sassy talking animal!’ to Livewire is absolutely delightful. There’s also  Aluir Amancio having the time of his life drawing the Female Furies giving the beat down to Superman – if that’s something I ever don’t want to see, I’ll officially be leading a joyless life.

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Man, what kinda secrets was Jack keeping from Roz that he could have come up with something like Lashina? Of course, the Furies are just a warm-up for the obligatory main-event against Kalibak, a battle I actually am pretty sick of seeing at this point in my life. However, I wouldn’t be a Superman/Kalibak throw down was as consistently fresh and inventive as the one Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer bring us. There’s always that argument with Superman that, seeing as how he’s nigh invulnerable, to make the reader believe the fight means something there has to be some sort of moral or personal battle at stake. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, and that’s what makes this brief fight scene so memorable – it’s a legitimate and exciting physical brawl, but also the kind of humanistic battle that we love to see Superman engage in.

“To die is NOTHING…he is but a TOOL to be used and discarded.” says Kalibak of a member of the High-born of Apokolips whom he has no trouble sacrificing as prey for Superman. “A means to an end.” This is what’s compelling about all of Superman’s great villains – from Braniac to Lex Luthor to Mxyzptlk to Darkseid – they’re all primarily defined by their lack of respect (and often complete disregard) towards the value of human life. Superman really is what everyone wants Batman to be – the humanist superhero, a symbol of morality and willpower. What seems to muck up that message for most people (beyond the hard sell of a humanist alien) is the perception that Superman preaches that we’re all born good, which, well, he really doesn’t.

We’re supposed to see a dark and brooding figure like Batman as mature and wise when he sees humans as evil, selfish creatures, but that’s the most adolescent line of thinking there is. I don’t think Superman thinks the evil have ‘strayed from a righteous path’ – I think he’s just passionate about potential. I think he’s well-rounded and realistic enough to understand that, if they put their minds to it, people are capable of pretty much anything – including completely changing their behaviour. I don’t think Superman doesn’t believe in evil, he just believes evil villains have the ability to change. So, yes, Superman going to save the citizen of Apokolips gives Kalibak the advantage – but his ultimate victory is in reminding people of his message, of the potential of human life – that none should be wasted and that it’s all worth something, even if Superman isn’t going to define exactly what it’s all about.

There’s a lot of loving homage in this issue, appropriate for any ‘final’ Superman story. From a nod to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons…

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to the King himself (who is, of course, the creator of almost all the characters and concepts in this issue)…

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More than any other superhero, you can’t really talk about Superman without using the word mythology – and that’s why it always seems so appropriate to lean on the (utterly abused in superhero comics) tool of homage in telling his stories. But there’s a difference between a ‘Hope you survive the experience!’ and the kind of homage you see in a Superman comic when done well. Dorkin and Dyer are weaving elements of an incredibly wide and varied tapestry, of a character that has seen and done more than any other superhero in comics – the homage is elevated from a cheap in-joke for long time fans into seeing all stories of a fictional characters history as valid, as a means to get to the truth of what that character is here for, anyway.

Ultimately, that is what makes this issue such a special one. What is Superman here for? Why did we create him, and why do we keep reading about him? It’s not quite ALL-STAR’s Lex Luthor / Leo Quintum ultimate achievement, but Livewire’s transformation from villain to hero is spectacularly moving. In a beautiful six page epilogue-of-sorts, she is rescued from Apokolips (after, fittingly enough, Luthor teams with Superman to stop Darkseid), loses her powers, begins a civilian life, regains her powers and starts life anew as a hero. That may sound like a last minute wrap up, but there’s a real beauty to the swiftness of Livewire’s redemption.

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All 66 issues of SUPERMAN ADVENTURES are a wonderful sort of imaginary tale for Kal-el – over in his ‘main-books’, Superman had died, come back to life and split into separate red and blue versions of himself while the all-ages title was being published. Yet everything in this animated tie-in series speaks to the heart of the character more than any other Superman book of it’s era, and really, of many era’s. A run well worth tracking down, and one of many ‘final’ Superman stories that does the big guy proud.

One response to “CHRONICLES OF COMICS – SUPERMAN ADVENTURES #66 – ‘POWER PLAY!’

  1. Excellent! Have to track this down. I think maybe that’s the missing key to Superman (and perhaps Batman, and Wonder Woman, as well): you can’t really put him in modern issue-to-issue arc-to-arc soap-opera continuity. One-offs, or smaller arcs. Post Crisis, the Superman books ended up having such a ridiculously sprawling supporting cast that Supes often got lost in his own tales.

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