Electric Bluegaloo, Act 12: Strange Tales
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, Superman embarks on a journey into mystery with a handful of tales to astonish (and of suspense!) as we move ever closer to the dawning of the Millennium Giants!
One of the most interesting things about the Electric Blue Year is that it's an era of Superman that's almost entirely defined by a conflict between its stated intent and what's actually happening in the comics. When the new Superman made his debut back in Superman #123, he was billed as "a hero for the new millennium," with a much more contemporary costume and powers that, while it wasn't acknowledged all that often on the page, let him do some pretty cool stuff with digital information and the Internet.
That's the stated intent.
What actually happens is that we get a string of weirdly retro stories. Part of that's to be expected, of course --- I mean, you want to see Superman use his new powers to deal with more familiar threats, if only because that's the best way to get a baseline of how they work. By the time we get to the Red and Blue split, however, we're into a string of issues that are directly inspired by the past. The obvious one, of course, is the original "Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" from 1962, but in the issues we're looking at this week, there's an entirely different era that they're drawing from.
In April of 1998, the Superman books were basically '60s Marvel comics. And it's actually pretty awesome.
I have to imagine that this move was based more around structure than anything else. After splitting Red and Blue into their own issues last month, April's issues combined them back into a single comic. The thing is, since having two Supermen running around dealing with the same problem isn't actually that exciting, they're still keeping them separated. They're just doing them in two different 11-page stories in each issue, instead of a single 22-pager.
And that, not coincidentally, is the same kind of structure that you got from "split books" like Tales of Suspense or Strange Tales back in the '60s. With that in mind --- and with Red already sort of operating on the premise of "What if Superman had Spider-Man's quippy attitude" --- they just leaned all the way into it. The structure, the title pages, even the enemies in these issues, all of them feel like they're lifted directly from the swingin' '60s of the Marvel Age of Comics, right down to the credits boxes telling us know that these stories were brought to us by "Dashin' Danny Jurgens" and "Torrid Tom Grummett." And since it's also advancing the story of the Millennium Giants, something we've been building to since the "Dragon's Teeth" made their debut months ago, it actually works pretty well.
And in true Spider-Man-in-the-'60s style, we open with a story of job troubles and rocky relationships, as the two Clarks bicker over who gets to go to work, and Lois is still Up To Here with the whole situation.
There's actually a pretty nice payoff to this over the course of the story, too: Red's column (about the building of Metropolis's new "Hypersector," if you're paying attention to that d-story subplot) ends up being way too bitter and snarky. Blue's draft on the other hand, is too cold and analytical, leading Perry White to just shrug it off and rewrite the two columns. If only this story had come out seven years later, Blue could've stuck around in Print Media while Red went to go work online. This Metropolis Businessman Spent A Billion Dollars On A Kryptonite Powered Battlesuit --- You Won't Believe What Happens Next!
Meanwhile, Scorn has gotten a job at Big Belly Burger.
There is no other acknowledgement of this storyline beyond this two-page sequence. But really, how much more do you need?
Maybe it was overshadowed but a slightly more pressing development, which is that the Millennium Guard --- last seen at the tail end of 1997 --- have escaped from their prison at Cadmus. And in the process, they've pretty much destroyed the entire facility:
They're not the only villains that are returning, however. When we pick up in the second half of Superman #133, Jimmy Olsen finds himself menaced by Lord Wolf and the soldiers of the Black Crucible, who made their pulp-flavored debut in the Annuals. They want the Medallion of the Damned back, and when they're asked about its evil power, they tell Jimmy that the medallion isn't evil, per se, it just heralds the end of the world.
But since we all know that this is only going to lead to more of the Millennium Giants, I'm way more interested in the fact that Jimmy Olsen's relationship with Misa is moving towards romance.
And honestly? I am shocked that I didn't know about this. Late '90s Superman is a bit of a blind spot, but Jimmy Olsen dating one of the Hairies?! That's exactly the kind ofthing that I should know about.
With Ancient Medallions heralding the end of the world and the Guardian saying that they don't have time to call the Justice League before everything starts to get real, Superman Red finally takes on the Millennium Giants face-to-face.
It does not go well.
With Red unable to stop them, the Millennium Guard take up geosynchronous positions in space, causing something like 12 noon daylight over London and Mexico City at the same time.
Lex Luthor, meanwhile, is dealing with a crisis of a far more personal nature. As you may recall, last month's issues saw a fire break out at the hospital where Lex's crooked doctors were keeping the Contessa in a medically induced coma, with all bodies accounted for except hers. The question, of course, is whether the charred corpse that was recovered from the ruins of the building was, in fact, Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza herself, but now that's been answered.
The Electric Blue Era is coming to an end soon, and I know for a fact that the Contessa's story does not end with the intensity that we really want it to, but I'm still holding out that we get something good out of this before we're done here.
As we close out the month, Blue is dealing with something a little more small-time: Teaming up with Slam Bradley to track down Inkling, a supervillain who appeared in a seemingly inconsequential side story a few months ago. Well, I say "supervillain," but he's only kind of super --- he can walk through walls, but he can't take anything with him --- and he's not quite a villain, either. It turns out that he was a homeless man experimented on by Dr. Burton Thompson, the current (and evil) director of STAR Labs. Superman and Slam Bradley, one of Siegel and Shuster's lesser known creations, track him down after a string of robberies, but since no jail can cold him, they can't do much but turn him back over to Thompson with the promise that Superman's going to be checking up on him.
Red, continuing with the theme of dealing with street-level crime (which is kind of a weird take on a comic about two Supermans with electric internet powers, but Stuart Immonen rules so whatever), runs into an Intergang War with two pretty unexpected results. The first is that Roughhouse punches a guy named Skin-Man in the head so hard that it kills him, at least temporarily. The second, though, is that Misa finally solves the "Intergang wants to murder Jimmy Olsen" problem:
But it's not like it really matters. I mean, the world's coming to an end next week, right?
- Superman's fission into two beings woke up the Millennium Guard, who are now hovering at the edge of the atmosphere, heralding the arrival of... The Millennium Giants!
- Superman's personalities continued to diverge, with Red growing more impulsive and flippant, and Blue growing colder and more logical.
- The Contessa sent a threatening rose to Lex Luthor, announcing her return (and presumably her desire to recover her child)
- Jimmy has a crush on Misa!
- Scorn got a new job at Big Belly Burger, continuing his attempt to distance himself from Ashbury Armstrong and keep her safe.
- Jimmy realized that he's been followed by a Fuzzlet, a strange, highly marketable blue creature that looks like a stuffed animal, and that has the power to teleport over short distances. Its teleportation effect goes "WHOOF" and not "BAMF," and it is thus legally distinct from any other fuzzy blue teleporters.
- Jimmy was also attacked by Gargox, a giant, Kirby-esque monster that turned out to be the pet of an interdimensional astronaut dog.
- Boss Moxie's faction of Intergang killed Skin Man before being apprehended by Superman.