Saturday, February 1, 2014

Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 2

Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 2 moves into the early '60s, collecting Superman #134 (Jan 1960) through #145 (May 1961) and the Superman stories from Action Comics #258 (Nov 1959) through #275 (Apr 1961). Many of the covers for the Action Comics issues in this volume feature Supergirl, but only the stories focusing on Superman are included here.

For the most part, this feels like more of the same from vol. 1. The stories are still really goofy, with basically the same rotating writers--Jerry Siegel, Jerry Coleman, Otto Binder, Robert Bernstein, and Bill Finger--and artists--Wayne Boring, Al Plastino, Kurt Schaffenberger, and Curt Swan--telling stories involving time travel or Superman trying to keep his secret identity a secret. There are a few new trends in this volume though.

For one thing, although most of the stories are still isolated and have nothing to do with each other, there is more of a sense of continuity here overall, with more stories that carry over into subsequent issues, and with characters that were introduced in the previous volume being followed up on with surprising regularity.

Bizarro shows up every few issues, usually with a recap of his previous appearances each time. Bizarro world, populated by Bizarro Supermen and Bizarro Loises is created here, and we get the first Bizarro offspring, as well as a Bizarro Supergirl and the revelation that the Bizarros are susceptible to blue Kryptonite.

Lori Lemaris, Superman's mermaid love interest from Atlantis pops up a lot too, and she gets a new love interest of her own in Ronal, a merman from another planet.

Titano, Luthor, and Mr. Mxyzptlk also make more frequent appearances in this volume. Red Kryptonite, which has unpredictable effects on Kryptonians, seems to pop up in every other story.

Speaking of stories reusing elements over and over, a somewhat strange recurring story idea is that of other characters that look like Superman. They inevitably end up being suspected as Superman's secret identity, or posing as him. I could accept it happening once, and the idea of Lois suspecting someone other than Clark of being Superman is interesting, but it just ends up being another go-to plot device.

Another recurring plot is that of other characters trying to make Superman fall in love with Lois. We get Lois's sister Lucy Lane, Supergirl, and even Krypto giving it a shot, but my favorite is the one with Lori Lemaris, which gives us these great moments:

Then there were a ton of stories here that involved dream sequences, or where the entire story turned out to be a dream. That happened a couple of times in vol. 1, but it happens all the time here. Ironically, the stories that don't turn out to really happen are often more interesting than the 'real' ones, at least until you find out they didn't happen.

In particular, there is a story near the beginning of the volume called "The Revenge of Luthor!" It starts with Superman encountering a red Kryptonite meteor. The red Kryptonite causes Superboy (Superman's younger self) to appear in the present. In the process of proving to each other that they are who they claim to be, Superboy makes some "dumb boners," while Superman is uncharacteristically short-tempered.

Eventually, Luthor finds out, and captures Lois, Lana Lang, and Superboy.

I have no words.

He sets up a trap where Superman has to choose one of two lead doors to open. Behind one door is a Kryptonite meteor, which will kill him. If he opens the other door, Luthor will let him go, but kill Superboy with the meteor.

Yes, super-ventriloquism is really one of his powers in these stories.

So what does he do?

I cannot accurately convey how angry I was when I read those last two panels without killing lots of things. The story had been surprisingly engaging up to that point--in fact I remember thinking as I was reading that it was by far the most engaging Superman story I'd read so far. Then at the end it dissolves into a big middle finger pointed right at the reader.

It's so frustrating. So many of the stories already back Superman into a seemingly inescapable corner, only to have him pull a ridiculously far fetched solution out of his ass at the last second--why couldn't this one have done that?

The dream stories tend to go one of two ways. The first involves a concept so ridiculous that it would never actually get explored in the comics of the time, like what it would be like for Lois to be married to Superman, or to have Superman elected President, both stories from vol. 1. The other type of dream stories explore ideas that are sometimes actually interesting, but would be too 'extreme' to have them actually take place, like the one where Superman accidentally goes to the future and finds that he has been forgotten now that Supergirl has grown into Superwoman, or the one where he accidentally blows up the Earth (!), both from this volume.

One of my favorite stories here kind of straddles the line of did-it-or-didn't-it-really-happen? It's called "When Superman Lost His Powers!" and begins with Clark, Lois, Jimmy, and even Perry White exploring an ancient Aztec Tomb for an article. Clark finds an inscription saying "Whoever enters the king's tomb is doomed to spend two days in a world so dangerous that no one has ever returned from it." Of course, what happens is:

I swear, if Superman would just let Lois die instead of saving her all the time, he'd only have half as many problems to worry about.

They all wake up in a strange world filled with strange creatures. First, they get attacked by a giant bee:

Superman basically loses his shit upon finding out he has no powers in this world:

They then encounter a giant spider:

Lois is referring to the spider being excited by the color purple for some reason.

Then a dragon:

Sigh…where do I even start? How can Superman hear the ultrasonic signal if you are not on Earth, Jimmy? And if you thought it would work, why haven't you activated it already? If I were Perry, I'd've fired your ass right then and there. Meanwhile, Clark struggles to contain his panic.

The next thing they encounter is Lois being a stone bitch:

Jimmy tries to summon Superman with his watch but "Superman must be on some mission in outer space, where the signal doesn't reach." I hope you never escape this world, Jimmy.

When they leave (where are they going anyway?), Clark changes to Superman, then goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths to make the others think he still has powers. 

That leads to:

Later, we get:

Then, when Superman fights a giant eel:

Dig those crazy fish indeed. Because the mere fact that I was in another dimension wouldn't be enough to convince me not to eat anything there. Not so Jimmy.

Finally, when the 48 hours are up: 

The whole time they were in that other world, Lois never stopped being a snoopy bitch:

When they get out:

Check out the creepy expression on Superman's face.

I really hope one of these volumes has a story where Lois is kidnapped by someone who thinks she knows who Superman is, and is tortured to death. Even if it's just an imaginary story. That would be really nice.

There is another story worth mentioning here, where Lois does suffer a lot of emotional harm. Not as good as flat out death, but I'll take what I can get. It's called "Mighty Maid":

At least Perry realizes Lois's feelings aren't worth caring about.

One of the first panels has Clark thinking, "Knowing Lois as I do, I'll bet she's in the thick of trouble, right now!" He's not wrong, of course, but before he can get to her, a super-powered chick calling herself Mighty Maid shows up to save her. She then immediately starts hitting on Superman, hardcore:

They go around together for a while:

"His eyes are beautiful!" What is this, a romance comic?

Somehow, this happens:

No, I didn't skip a panel there.

Things progress to the point that they start making out for passing helicopters:

Above Milwaukee…?

Eventually, they announce that they are permanently leaving for the fourth-dimensional world that Mighty Maid comes from to get married. What are surely some of the greatest Lois Lane panels of all time follow:

But then, after they supposedly leave for the fourth dimensional world:

Why is Supergirl wearing her costume under her other costume? And that last line has to be one of the greatest Superman lines in history. This story is on a roll!

Superman explains that the whole thing was a ruse to make angry aliens think he had left so they wouldn't attack Earth. I don't believe that for a second, but Supergirl seems to buy it.

Then the story ends with:

Look at Superman's expression in the second panel...

I like how Lois's attempted suicide is passed off as "accidentally" falling off a building. Then again, it is Lois we're talking about, maybe that's really what happened. Also, look at how pleased with himself Superman looks in that last panel.

So Superman's plan to avert an alien attack just conveniently happened to involve making out with his underage cousin, huh? Even though it didn't have to, at all.

He explained that the aliens couldn't sense him when he was underwater. All he'd have had to do was say "I'm leaving forever for another dimension" and stay underwater until they left. Which I guess is what he did. But all the falling in love with his cousin stuff and all the intense emotional pain caused to Lois were completely extraneous. I'm not even going to bother trying to find an explanation for the "His eyes are beautiful!" line.

There is one final story that really stuck out to me in this volume, but I won't get into it too much. It's called "Superman's Return to Krypton!" and it's a "3-Part Novel," meaning it took up an entire Superman issue. It involves Superman accidentally traveling into the past and becoming stranded on Krypton, without Earth's yellow sun around to give him his powers. While there, he befriends his parents, gets a job as an actor, and falls in love with his costar, Lyla Lerrol (the fact that Superman's love interests always seem to have the initials 'L.L.' comes up a lot, but is never explained, at least not here). Of course, Superman ends up leaving the planet before it explodes:

That silent panel alone would set this story apart, but the entire thing is unusually well-plotted and genuinely moving, making this probably the best Superman story in either of the first two volumes.

As I said, this volume is basically more of the same as the first, but the minor differences make a big difference by the time you finish. There were very few stories in the previous volume that would pull you in at all, but, believe it or not, there were quite a few moments in this one that made me pause and think.

That said, there are obviously still tons of goofy moments. I could honestly go through every story, but I'll sign off with some of my favorites:

No comments:

Post a Comment