Electric Bluegaloo, Act 10: Red Vs. Blue
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, it's finally time to split things up as we get... a second Electric Superman?!
- Superman: The Man of Steel #76, by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, and Dennis Janke
- Superman Red/Superman Blue, by Dan Jurgens, Stuart Immonen, Karl Kesel, Louise Simonson, Ron Frenz, Tom Grummett, Paul Ryan, Jon Bogdanove, Jose Marzan Jr., Joe Rubenstein, Denis Rodier, Brett Breeding, and Dennis Janke
- Superman #132, by Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz, and Joe Rubenstein
- The Adventures of Superman #555, by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, and Denis Rodier
In all honesty, I think the worst thing about the Electric Blue Era is how fast it settles into a routine. For all the pomp and circumstance and angry letters that came with the big change, and for all the bizarre subplots that are going on under the surface, Superman himself just sort of ends up doing the same old stuff. Even when he has to deal with a familiar problem and conquer it through his new powers, he's still dealing with a familiar problem, and his powers are vague and nebulous enough that it's never really that exciting.
I mean, back when we started this whole thing, there was definitely something in there about how the "new" Superman didn't fly from place to place anymore in the traditional sense, instead zapping from point to point like a bolt of lightning. That barely lasted through that first month, and the other changes --- the intangibility that causes bullets to pass through him instead of bouncing off, the fact that he no longer has super-strength and instead just manipulates energy fields --- is rarely brought up or exploited by the stories. The only one that does get brought up a lot is that Superman no longer has X-Ray Vision, but that's generally just brought up in the context of Superman talking about its new equivalent, Spectra-Vision.
Point being, the last thing a superhero story should be is boring, and while there's good stuff going on in these comics, it's good stuff that tends to stick pretty close to routine. Clearly, the big change needed a big change of its own, and with this month's titles, that's exactly what we got.
But first we need to get through a truly bizarre comic.
Despite having his name on the cover --- and a striking image from the always awesome Jon Bogdanove --- Man of Steel #76 barely has anything to do with Superman himself. Instead, it's something of a tribute to the Kirby era of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, focused on Simyan and Mokkari and their efforts to escape from a strange black-and-white dimension that they've been trapped inside.
If you're not familiar with them, these two weirdies were in charge of the bluntly and appropriately named Evil Factory, Darkseid's answer to Project Cadmus. As for how they got into the black-and-white dimension to begin with, that is never addressed in this issue --- which is surprising, considering that when I went to find out, the only thing I could find was an archived review from "The Kryptonian Cybernet" from the month it came out that mentioned they hadn't been seen in eight years.
It turns out that eight years prior was their appearance in Jerry Ordway's Superman #43, where Jimmy Olsen's mom (really!) zapped them with a "Z-Ray" and sent them to the dimension that they'd been using to dispose of their broken equipment and past experiments.
Fortunately for them, all that broken equipment was enough to let them engineer a whole slew of monsters, trying to perfect one that could travel between dimensions. And when they do, they almost immediately run afoul of Jimmy Olsen and his running crew: Scorn, the horned strongman from Kandor; Ashbury Armstrong, the blind daughter of the Daily Planet's conservative columnist who's in a relationship with Scorn; and Misa, the teenage Hairie with the endless bag of inventions.
Inventions that can cure blindness, as it turns out.
There's a catch, though --- if Ashbury wears the glasses for more than 15 minutes a day, it'll short out her brain. Still, it's a pretty solid Christmas present.
Eventually, Superman arrives to deal with Mokkari and Simyan's dimensional beast...
... but the big development here is that Mokkari and Simyan are now being employed by Morgan Edge, who continues to plot his takeover of the Metropolitan underworld.
One week later, however, the Superman books get a whole new development that has nothing to do with Intergang, thanks to Superman Red/Superman Blue. And folks it is a weird one --- but maybe not for the reasons you'd expect. I mean, yes, the fact that Superman is going to be split into two differently hued, independently operating people by the end of it is certainly worth noting, but once again, I'm mystified by the structure of the thing more than the content.
With a big special like this, one that heralds another big shift in the direction of the books, you'd think that it would be focused. It is not. It's not only the next issue of the episodic Superman run, but --- since it's an oversized special being produced by all of the Superman creative teams --- it's basically the next four issues, with all that entails.
I mean, we even get a callback to the annuals in this thing!
Yes, Black Crucible is returning on the hunt for Jimmy's mystical Medallion of the Damned. And if that wasn't enough of a diversion, we also get to see Scorn kidnapped by a mysterious gentleman called Gustav Milan, who is revealed on the very next page to be a holographic avatar for Lex Luthor.
Even the main story is all over the map. In order to get to our end goal of Two Supermen, it seems that we have to go through two villains, and in this case it's one of the most unlikely team-ups of all time: The Toyman and Cyborg Superman.
On the next page, Cyborg Superman changes the pile of toys back into his regular body, but that's a real shame. I honestly wish he would've kept at least the slinky arm and the Etch-a-Crotch.
Working together, Toyman and the Cyborg lure the real Superman into a trap, putting him into what basically amounts to a gigantic bell jar that'll split his energy up and parcel it out into various receptacles so that he can never reform:
You see where this is going, right?
With Lois in danger from the Toyman and the Cyborg heading off to destroy Metropolis, Superman's only thought as he's torn apart is that he has to stop both villains at the same time. And between the Man of Energy's indomitable will and the Cyborg's machinery, that's exactly what he's able to do --- by becoming two Supermen.
Again: Jon Bogdanove. Why are we not talking about him all the time?
In a pretty nice touch, the two Supermen are immediately distinguished by their personalities. The Blue Superman is colder and more logical with his approach to things --- and the lack of contractions in his speech patterns --- while Red is impulsive and quippy. For Blue, the stoicism isn't much of a leap form Regular Ol' Superman, but with Red, it's like reading Spider-Man with Superman's energy powers, and that's actually pretty fun.
The big catch is that neither one knows the other exists, which starts to cause problems almost immediately --- not because there are two Supermen, but because there are two Clarks Kent:
Once the two Supermen do come face to face, however --- thanks to a mad bomber who decides to try to blow up the restaurant where Lois, Perry, and the Clarks are having a comedy-of-errors lunch meeting --- they immediately assume the worst of each other. It gets so bad that at one point, Blue accuses Red of being the Cyborg Superman, citing his new hue as a dead giveaway. And honestly, I never thought I'd see the day when Superman would judge someone by the color of his skin. Even if it was, you know, bright red and made of electricity.
Eventually, though, the two Supersmen punch each other at the same time...
... and after their energy fields merge, they each realize that the other is the genuine article. Or at least as close to the genuine article as there can be once there's two of them.
Superman's not the only one with a problem, though. Jimmy's being hunted down by the Black Crucible, which leads him to inadvertently setting up a firefight between Crucible soldiers and "Gustav Milan's" private soldiers when he accidentally rescues Scorn. And while having Jimmy Olsen, a Hairie scientist, and an alien from Kandor mad at him might be a pretty big inconvenience, it's not the worst thing that's going to happen to Lex this week.
- Superman's energy form was split into two mostly-identical Supermen: Red and Blue. Each one can turn into a fully vulnerable Clark Kent.
- Jimmy Olsen lost the Medallion of the Damned that he acquired in Bhutran --- but it was picked up by Scorn, who has no idea what it is or how powerful it might be.
- Morgan Edge recruited Mokkari and Simyan, planning to restart the Evil Factory to build himself an endless army of monster soldiers.
- Ashbury Armstrong got a pair of high-tech glasses that give her the ability to see, but only for fifteen minutes per day.
- Mayor Sackett announced plans for the "Hypersector," a futuristic urban redevelopment that was displacing several metropolitans in the name of making the city basically look like Silver Age Krypton.
- Contessa Erica Alexandra del Portenza awoke from the medically induced coma that Lex put her in just after she gave birth to Lena Luthor.
You know, looking at it like that, this month... kind of rules?