Electric Bluegaloo, Act 11: Double Trouble
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, the two Supermen come to a disagreement that literally drives Lois Lane out of the country --- and that's just the beginning of their problems.
I don't think I'm going to blow anybody's mind when I reveal the shocking fact that 1998's "Superman Red/Superman Blue" storyline was loosely based on Leo Dorfman and Curt Swan's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue," from 1963's Superman #162. That said, if you're looking at 1998's version in the context of the original, it seems like an even weirder story than it already is.
It's not that the events of Red/Blue '98 are really all that strange when you compare them to Dorfman and Swan's version --- in fact, I'd say that the original has this one beat in that regard by a whole heck of a lot. I mean, if you've never read it, it is bananas, even by the standards of Silver Age Superman. There's a kryptonite crown, a hypnotic ray that turns evil people good --- including Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev, who make a cameo appearance as though they're Superman villains on par with the Toyman and the Prankster --- and at one point, the two Supermen create a giant waterspout that shoots all of Earth's mermaids into the depths of space. It's nuts.
But the way that those ideas filtered into a more modern story was almost as weird, just with that particular '90s flavor that we've been grappling with over the past three months of this column. Take, for example, the original Red/Blue story's approach to the Clark-Lois-Lana love triangle, which was resolved by simply splitting Superman in two and giving each one a different preference between his two long-suffering girlfriends. March of 1998, however, approached romance in a way that was a whole lot more complicated.
For starters, we have our quarterly visit from Man of Tomorrow, in which Lois has had enough of all this tomfoolery and shenanigans. When Clark comes home to reveal that he's actually two Clarks now, she hits her limit and tells him to get out and not come back until this whole thing is fixed. Naturally, the Clarks decide to head to the one place where they actually stand a pretty good chance of sorting everything out: The Fortress of Solitude.
The only problem is that there's someone already there waiting for them.
This is Dana Dearden, a young woman obsessed with Superman, and while she calls herself Superwoman, she's probably better known by the most on-the-nose codename since Man-Bat: Obsession. Thanks to a set of mystical coins, she has the powers of Hercules, Mercury, Zeus, and Heimdall --- a weirdly mismatched group of gods that don't even require her to yell ZHHM! and be struck by magic lightning --- and labors under the delusion that she and Superman are, if not already married, at least close enough.
And now that there are two Supermen, well, she's as excited by that idea as the Comics Code would allow --- and she's not the only one, either.
You may remember Maxima from her brief tenure in the Dan Jurgens era of Justice League of America, or perhaps from her earlier appearances as the sovereign ruler of the planet Almerac, who wanted to shore up her line of succession by taking Superman as a genetically compatible mate.
You can probably see where this is going.
While the two women are pretty evenly matched in terms of physical strength, Maxima has the advantage of psychic powers, and uses them to brainwash Obsession into thinking that she's going to kill Superman if she sticks around. After Obsession's gone, though, the twin Supermen put an electromagnetic whammy on Maxima and then ship her back to Belle Reve prison.
Sadly, none of this helps to recombine them into a single Superman, but the next two issues take a pretty interesting shot at dealing with the split. They essentially happen simultaneously, incorporating a few of the same scenes, but with Immonen and Marzan following Blue, and Simonson, Ryan and Janke following Red, and it really helps to establish the differences between the two aspects of Superman: Red's way more emotional and based on instinct, and Blue is, of course, the more calm and logical one.
The downside to that is that it doesn't seem like it goes quite far enough. Red's hotheadedness sticks out in his issue, but Blue being calm and reasonable just makes him seem like... well, like Superman.
And it doesn't really help matters that he spends this issue fighting a cybernetic samurai whose ultimate goal is to be nice to cats.
This is Dr. Noah Brazil, another obscure villain who first cropped up in 1994's Metropolis SCU miniseries, alongside an unfortunately forgettable Iron Age version of Terra-Man. Now, he's back as Kirichitan, who has been manipulated into trying to fight Superman by Amy Iwata, a grad student going for her masters in psychology who sees Brazil as a living experiment. Which, shockingly, is actually way more interesting --- and way more understated in the story --- than the guy who tries to kill Superman with a techno-katana.
Eventually, after Dr. Brazil frees all the animals from the Centennial Park petting zoo (really!) and uses them to lure Superman into conflict, Superman defeats him by pointing out that he's a bigger danger to the animals than anyone else. (Really!)
But while that's the central conflict of the issue, there's much more interesting stuff happening in the B-Plot:
It seems that the Contessa has wasted no time since she woke up from her medically induced coma.
Meanwhile, while Blue's dealing with an actual supervillain, albeit one whose major crime was literally petting zoo vandalism, Red spends his day just straight thirsty for Lois Lane.
Unfortunately for him, he's distracted by a bunch of dinosaurs rampaging through downtown Metropolis, followed quickly by an alien in a giant, futuristic mech suit, then cavemen battling it out with Hannibal's war elephants from the Second Punic War (circa 218 BCE).
Clearly, something's going haywire with time, some giant problem that's going to affect the new millennium in the coming issues, hint hint. For now, though, it's a weird annoyance, and after the time warps stop on their own, Red just sort of shrugs and calls it a day.
In the midst of all that, while Lex Luthor is literally punching holes in a portrait of the Contessa and throwing it into a fire, Daily Planet conservative columnist Dirk Amstrong is finally having it out with Scorn. As you might recall from the subplot that's been running for the entire Electric Blue Era, Armstrong has always been overprotective of his daughter, Ashbury, and doesn't approve of her dating a giant horned blue man from a tiny little bottle city. He's been doing his level best to put the kibosh on it, and now, he's finally succeeded by lecturing Scorn about the danger he's putting her in just by continuing their relationship:
Scorn finally relents and, for Ashbury's sake, agrees to take a break and get out of Metropolis for a while. Needless to say, Ashbury herself flips out on her old man for his continued meddling, driving an even deeper wedge into their already strained relationship.
But as far as strained relationships go, nothing beats Lois and Clark(s) this week.
Yes: Lois literally goes to Mexico for an indefinite amount of time rather than dealing with this storyline. And having been here every step of the way, I can't exactly say that I blame her.
- Obsession was driven away from Superman thanks to a hypnotic suggestion from Maxima. She would eventually return (and die) as Mrs. Superman in Adventures of Superman #574 (January, 2000).
- The strange formations known as the Dragon's Teeth grew "larger... crustier" heralding the arrival of the Millennium Giants.
- Contessa Erica Alexandra del Portenza is missing and presumed dead by everyone except Lex Luthor after a fire broke out at the Lazarus Hospital, leaving "her" body burned beyond recognition.
- Jimmy Olsen and Misa continue their journey on the Whiz Wagon, with an impish passenger tagging along bearing the Medallion of the Damned.
- Scorn and Ashbury Armstrong are "on a break."
- Lois Lane left the country rather than dealing with two Supermen.