Electric Bluegaloo, Act 5: Olsen Vs. Intergang
Of all the strange transformations Superman has undergone in his 78-year history, none has been quite so derided as the year where his familiar costume and powers were replaced with a blue and white "containment suit" and a tenuous relationship with electricity. But that raises the question, was it really all that bad? Two decades later, we want to find out, so ComicsAlliance is taking a look back at the Electric Blue Era of Superman to find out not just what worked, but if anything worked. This is... Electric Bluegaloo.
This week, Jimmy Olsen is marked for death by Intergang and Lex Luthor finally goes on trial for his crimes!
- Superman #127, by Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz and Joe Rubenstein
- The Adventures of Superman #550, by Karl Kesel, Stuart Immonen and Jose Marzan Jr.
- Action Comics #737, by Mark Waid, Tom Grummett, and Denis Rodier
- Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #9, by Roger Stern, Paul Ryan and Brett Breeding
Over the past few weeks, I've written a lot about the weekly episodic schedule of the Superman books in the '90s, but there's one thing we haven't really talked about: Fifth weeks!
It seems a little weird looking back on it from today, but there was a time in the '90s when Fifth Weeks, those magical times where there are five Wednesdays in a single month, were kind of a big deal, especially for DC. Rather than just bumping everything up by a week, they had a habit of putting out special "Fifth Week Events" like The Silver Age and Sins of Youth that would run weekly, presumably to offset the hole left in the four-week monthly cycle. But for franchise like Superman and Batman, which were meant to deliver a new installment to fans every single week, there had to be something else.
Which brings us to the quarterly books.
Superman: The Man of Tomorrow, along with The Batman Chronicles and, if memory serves, Spider-Man Unlimited and X-Men Unlimited over at Marvel, were meant to fill in those gaps, and since there are usually only four months a year with that extra Wednesday, they were published on a quarterly basis.
In this case, we've got Man of Tomorrow #9 rounding out September's offerings, and it's a bit of a weird one. It doesn't quite fit into the ongoing narrative, which is why I'm bringing it up first. That makes sense --- as much as they were meant to be that week's "episode" of Superman, the quarterly titles were generally meant to stand on their own for the benefit of readers who only subscribed to the core titles --- but instead of just doing a self-contained adventure, Roger Stern and Paul Ryan decided to take things in a bit of a different direction and just recap the past ten years of Superman comics.
Seriously, every major post-Crisis storyline is explained by Ma and Pa Kent in this comic, so if you were looking for an issue where a couple of farmers in their 70s sat around talking about how weird comics were in the '90s, which admittedly sounds awesome, this is the book for you. Otherwise, it's pretty skippable, although it does buy me another week before I have to sit down and try to figure out Genesis.
As for the core titles, those are getting a little more exciting. As you may recall from last week, we left off with Superman battling against an all-new Revenge Squad that was put together by Morgan Edge in an effort to frame Lex Luthor so that he could move in on Metropolis's criminal organizations. It seems like a pretty titanic fight, but honestly, it comes to a quick end once Superman remembers that he has new powers.
What's far more interesting is what's going on around Superman. Lois, for instance, is finding herself in the unenviable position of having to teach a grown-ass man about the dueling concepts of heat and oven mitts.
Bibbo, on the other hand, is dealing with the fallout from giving up his World Heavyweight Championship. In one of the best examples of Kirby stuff creeping in around the edges of Weird '90s Superman --- but not the last one we'll be talking about this week by a long shot --- he ends up getting into a fistfight with one of the Hairies, the super-bikers from the Cadmus Project's "Wild Area," who claims that Bibbo has dishonored the warrior code by giving up his title.
The real action, though, comes from Jimmy Olsen. After presumably discovering Superman's identity the previous month, he's set to reveal the story of the century on a live television special --- a special that has one of the best openings of the entire Electric Blue Era:
I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again before we're through the year, but man does Stuart Immonen make that Electric Blue costume look great.
The thing is, while Jimmy's reveal of Superman's secret is motivated entirely by his desire for fame (and to boost his career as the "Mr. Action" of TV news, which is currently tanking straight into the toilet), he's still Superman's pal. After he invites Lois, Clark, and the other two most likely suspects --- former football player Johnny Dakota and Newstime Magazine publisher Collin Thornton --- to his studio, Jimmy ends up having a last-minute change of heart, owing mostly to the fact that Lois chews him out and storms off in a huff when he announces he's about to blow the lid off the secret identity.
So rather than giving them a name, Jimmy provides the public with "confirmation" of what they already suspected, telling them that when he's not the Man of Steel --- er, Energy, Superman is secretly...
This, incidentally, is one of my favorite bits of Superman lore from the era: The idea that one of the things that keeps his secret identity safe is that most people don't even think he has a secret identity. I mean, why would you? He doesn't wear a mask, and he certainly spends enough time doing Superman stuff that it's pretty difficult to imagine him doing anything else.
But while the bait-and-switch of revealing Superman's secret identity leaves Jimmy's television career in shambles, there's a bigger problem. Intergang --- the criminal organization secretly funded by Apokolips and currently headed up by Morgan Edge --- is now under the impression that Superman's Pal has inside information they can use for their own sinister ends. So even though he doesn't actually know anything, he's being target by a gang of super-powered mobsters working for Intergang, who send him fleeing via some very non-traditional escape routes.
For the record, that's Torcher (who has fire powers), Gunn (whose hands are guns), Noose (with the long fingers), and Rough-House (who is very strong). They're mobsters who worked in Metropolis back in the '40s, where they crossed paths with the original Guardian, but they've been recently resurrected by Dabney Donovan. You may remember him as the mad geneticist formerly of the Cadmus Project who once made a tiny little planet in his basement called Transilvane, entirely populated by miniature vampires and werewolves, that was so evil that the planet itself had devil horns.
And he's also a key figure in Lex Luthor's defense.
Yes, at long last, Lex has his day in court as he's brought to trial for all of the crimes he's committed. It's been teased for a few months now, but the actual thing is over and done with in the span of a few pages, and that in itself is pretty surprising. Much like they do in the real world, trials in comics tend to drag on for a while --- just ask anybody who was reading Flash in the early '80s. Here, though, Lex and his attorney manage to put up a pretty impenetrable defense in the opening moments.
They just blame it on a clone.
There's an element of truth to the story --- Lex was, in fact, cloned, but he had his own brain stuck in the clone body during the years when he faked an Australian accent --- but it's all twisted around. Everything that Lex has done, up to and including literally trying to blow up the entire city of Metropolis back in Action Comics #700, gets pinned on the clone, and since that's actually a pretty reasonable explanation for things in the DC Universe, the charges are dismissed.
The thing is, while Lex knew it was a fabrication, his lawyer didn't. And Lex being Lex, he just has to twist the knife on the poor honest man that he hired for his defense.
"Would I mourn the loss of a crescent wrench?" is a pretty amazing touch. This Mark Waid kid might be going places.
- Lex Luthor beat the system and was found not guilty of all his crimes by virtue of a spare clone he had laying around, paving the way for the return of Lex as the smug, untouchable businessman --- and a run for the presidency in three years.
- Jimmy Olsen was fired from GBS and had to skip town on a motorcycle to avoid being killed by Intergang.
- Oh, and it turns out that his suspect for Superman's secret identity was actually Collin Thornton, which was telegraphed a few issues ago when the photo of Clark being carried out of his apartment building --- the photo that set the whole thing off --- featured Thornton walking out under his own power, apparently not bothered.
- Speaking of Intergang, they're back, with Dabney Donovan in charge of bolstering their numbers by cloning bad guys from the '40s.
- Bibbo finally got a t-shirt with Superman's new logo on it.