Electric Bluegaloo, Act 3: Saviour And Scorn
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 faces off against some new challenges, including the comic book equivalent of readers who loudly declared that this electric guy wasn't their Superman at all!
July - August, 1997:
For the first couple of months of the Electric Blue Era, Superman has essentially been dealing with old stuff dressed up with new twists. As fresh as it might be to see a Metallo as a Terminator that can take over any kind of machinery, or a Bottle City of Kandor that serves as a weird little prison/terrarium for a bunch of aliens captured by a Space Wizard, they're still pieces of the Superman mythos that date back forty or fifty years.
In a way, you can look at that as sort of easing readers into the idea of the new Superman, or at least providing a baseline for how his powers are going to work for the duration of the Electric Blue era. If we know what it looks like when the old Superman fights Metallo, for instance, then showing us what happens when he has to fight Metallo with a whole new set of super-powers can help provide that contrast that we need to understand what is, at best, a pretty vaguely defined set of super-powers.
Now, though, as we enter our third month, it finally feels like it's time for Superman to take on some new challenges, and that's exactly what he does. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that he spends this month battling against the enemies that will define him for an entire decade:
Cold omelets and the death of print journalism.
There are also a couple of supervillains in there too, I guess, but before we get to that, we've got to finish dealing with the Civil War in Kandor. As you might recall from last week, things took a turn for the worse when Tolos, the Space Wizard responsible for building the Bottle City in the first place, took over Superman's new body. I read those issues under the impression that he'd been hiding in Superman's body the entire time, but as the story continues this week, it turns out I was wrong: He was actually hiding inside Faern, the young lady with the leather jacket and the pointy ears.
He's definitely in control of Superman now, though.
Not that it does him much good. When he tries to escape from the Bottle City in Superman's body, Emil Hamilton's able to separate them. Superman drags Tolos back in and imprisons him in the dimensional wall that serves as the "glass" of Kandor's bottle, and that's pretty much that. With Tolos taken care of, all that's left is to give the tiny citizens a rousing speech about the nature of freedom.
And really, this might be the worst part of the story. The struggle between people who have come to accept life in a bottle ruled over by an absolute power and the younger generation that wants to be free no matter what the cost? That stuff's really interesting, and Superman promising to find a way to return them to full size is classic. The problem is that Superman tells them that their freedom must come from within themselves --- which is just patently untrue; they are literally trapped inside a tiny bottle --- and that this freedom has to be earned by rebuilding and maintaining their society.
Having Kandor around means that you have to have Kandor around --- by which I mean you have to actually justify keeping a bottle full of tiny aliens around rather than having Superman fix it at the end of the story --- but reintroducing it just so that you can end up with a story where Superman basically shrugs and tells everyone trapped in bottle prison that they should try to make the most of it rings pretty false. Especially when you consider that there's already been one alien who escaped from Kandor and seems to be doing just fine.
Which brings us to Scorn.
With Superman gone on his 24-hour mission to the Bottle City, Scorn --- alias Ceritak --- has taken over the job of defending Metropolis from the kind of crooks who just straight roll up with a tank trying to commit an armed robbery. He's quickly gained the support of the people, but there are a couple of problems.
First, there's his new friend, Ashbury Armstrong, the blind daughter of the Daily Planet's resident conservative columnist. Despite the fact that she's hanging out with him completely of her own volition, rousting jerks who park in handicapped spaces and ordering a whole lot of pizza...
... her father believes that Scorn has actually kidnapped her. Dirk Armstrong is freaking out, but since Ashbury is partially motivated by wanting to get away from her overprotective father, she's not inclined to go back. At least, she wasn't before she heard that he was working himself up into having a heart attack over the whole situation, which is when she decided she should probably head home and leave Scorn to his own devices.
Second, and perhaps more pressing, is this guy:
This is Saviour, and he's the new threat I was talking about earlier --- and while he's not brand new, having appeared in the years after The Death and Return of Superman, he's also a villain that I was completely unfamiliar with before I sat down to read these comics.
He's actually built around a pretty interesting concept: He's just a guy who thinks Superman never actually came back from the dead. There's a little bit more to him than that --- he's also a serial killer who's obsessed with liars and deception, and then there's the whole thing with his super-powers that I'll come back to in a second --- but I do genuinely love the idea of someone who lives in a superhero universe just outright refusing to believe all the tropes and nonsense that we readers tend to take for granted. Like, of course there's a guy who thinks it's ridiculous that Superman didn't actually die and was instead regenerated in a Kryptonian Birthing Matrix until he was then pooped out of a battlesuit with a brand-new mullet. That is ridiculous, by virtually any standard you would like to apply.
Where he runs into trouble is his super-powers, although again, there's at least an entertaining hook to it. It turns out that Saviour can do or create anything he can imagine, whether it's making himself super-huge, or creating a gun out of thin air. The thing is, he's not that bright, and doesn't quite have the imagination to come up with anything without some kind of inspiration being right in front of him.
Quick aside: His absolute fury over the change in Superman, and the idea that he refuses to acknowledge that Superman could ever change, makes him a nice little punching bag for the creators behind the books to take out some frustrations with the readers --- which, judging by the letters we saw in last week's column, was probably something they needed. I mean, he's a dude with no imagination who runs around in his Death of Superman t-shirt. Of course he's a stand-in for the readers.
It's a pretty solid idea, but it suffers from the same kind of vagueness that makes Superman's new powers so difficult to get a handle on --- especially once he gives himself Superman's new powers.
After his first fight against Superman and Scorn ends with him getting his ass kicked on a garbage barge, Saviour decides that he needs a new edge to take down the men he sees as imposters. Fortunately for him, WGBS decides to re-play Jimmy Olsen's interview with Emil Hamilton --- the same in-depth interview that gave Metallo the information he used to almost kill Superman during their fight. And the results this time are the same.
The fight spills out onto the set of the Whitty Banter show --- the DC Universe equivalent of David Letterman --- and it's only by combining their powers that Scorn and Superman are able to shut Saviour down for good. In the process, though, it comes out that Jimmy's been inadvertently supplying the bad guys with the means to murder his pal yet again, which gets him socked in the face by Heavyweight Boxing Champion, lottery winner, and die-hard Superman fan Bibbo Bibbowski.
RIP James Bartholomew Olsen, 1941 - 1997.
Other than that, the one major development for July is that Superman finally confronts Lex Luthor about how Lex supplied the fabric of his new costume:
But since that plot doesn't actually get wrapped up here, we'll have to wait and see if it ever comes up in the future --- or if, for some reason, he has to supply a second suit in about seven months.
- Peace was restored to Kandor, and the citizens no longer think of Superman as the "face of death." Instead, he's just a guy who showed up, told them that they couldn't leave until they fixed everything, and then left himself.
- Lex confirmed that he did not build any tracking devices into Superman's new costume --- but the Contessa said nothing of the sort.
- Jimmy and Superman's friendship became even more strained, owing to Jimmy prioritizing fame at WGBS over protecting his pal.
- Ashbury Armstrong was returned to her father, who begrudgingly admitted that Scorn might not be a bad guy after all.