Electric Bluegaloo, Act 9: Happy Birthday, Lena
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, Lex Luthor and Contessa Erica Alexandra del Portenza welcome their daughter to the world. Well, Lex does. The Contessa is... otherwise occupied.
- Superman: The Man of Steel #75, by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, and Dennis Janke
- Superman #131, by Dan Jurgens, Ron Frenz, and Joe Rubenstein
- The Adventures of Superman #554, by Karl Kesel, Tom Grummett, Denis Rodier, and Scott Koblish
- Superman #741, by Stuart Immonen and Jose Marzan, Jr.
Going by the triangle numbers, this month marks our first step into 1998, which means that by the time we hit summer, the Electric Blue Era will well and truly be a thing of the past. For now, though, it's still very much a thing --- although I think it's fair to say that we're in that strange limbo between its debut as "Superman's New!!! Powers!" and the sharp left turn into red-and-blue territory where it gets its second wind.
But that doesn't mean that the books are slowing down. Instead, they seem to be ramping up, and we kick off the year with a month's worth of what seems like the strangest possible Superman comics. And it all begins with the arrival of Mr. Mxyzptlk, for what I can assure you is by no means the weirdest story we're going to get through before the end of this week's column.
Which isn't to say that it's not weird on its own merits. One of the more interesting bits behind this one --- to me, anyway --- is that with Man of Steel #75, Simonson, Bogdanove, and Janke are riffing on Superman #75 and the climax of "The Death of Superman." It's notable partly because that issue had only come out five years earlier, but was already considered both a modern classic and a cornerstone of what DC Comics was in the '90s, but more because it's a crossover and an era in which those creators were playing a pretty big part. It's literally self-parody.
Which, given the nature of the story, makes a lot of sense, if only because a goofy self-referential romp with a fifth-dimensional imp is way more fitting for the not-quite-round-but-still-notable number that you get with a 75th issue.
The basic idea of this issue --- and here's where things start to get bonkers --- is that Superman and Lois need to teach Mr. Mxyzptlk about the concept of death.
And considering that it's Superman, of all people, who tries to convince Mxyzptlk that dead means dead, it doesn't really go over that well.
To be fair, that's actually a plot point in the issue, although it's one that involves Lois telling him that Superman was only able to come back from the dead due to his "Kryptonian physiology and a unique combination of unlikely circumstances," and that "that kind of thing only happens once in every couple of thousand years." This, I think you'll agree, is patently untrue in the DC Universe, but if you ever wanted to know exactly where to find the comic where Lois Lane insinuates that Jesus Christ might've been Kryptonian, well, here it is.
Mxy decides that he needs to experience death himself, so to continue the tribute motif, he creates a monster named "Badabingbadaboomsday" (oof) who's basically just Doomsday but with more bones, and possibly an erection.
Unfortunately (?), Mxyzptlk's fifth-dimensional immortality means that he can't die, leaving Superman to handle the heavy lifting of fighting a bone monster until Mxyzptlk knocks him out by farting at him, then renounces his powers, is quickly beaten to death, and then comes back to life. Comic books are weird.
The week after, though, things take a very sharp turn for the series with the birth of Lex Luthor and the Contessa's daughter, which, not coincidentally, occurs at the same moment as the assassination of Metropolis's Mayor Berkowitz.
It serves as a pretty interesting character piece that goes into Lex Luthor's childhood and the lengths that he's willing to go to in order to get revenge against those who have wronged him in the past, and it gets dark --- especially when you contrast it with the stories that we've been dealing with so far.
The plot with the baby, for instance, has been boiling under the surface since before Superman got his new powers, and while it's not entirely resolved here, it certainly goes to the next level. See, the Contessa's marriage to Lex Luthor isn't one that's born of any sort of affection, and it actually involved the Contessa --- someone almost as Ruthless as Lex himself --- using her unborn child as a bargaining chip to keep control of Lex's company. The moment the child is born, however, Lex has the Contessa put into a medically induced coma and then literally chained to a bed, where he intends to have her remain for the rest of her (presumably short) life.
Oh, and the guy that he hired to kill Mayor Berkowitz was the foster father who shoved his first love down a flight of stairs and killed her, and who is in turn gunned down in an alley by Lex himself.
Like I said, it's pretty grim, but it does involve the interesting touch of Lex orchestrating a large-scale threat elsewhere to keep Superman occupied while he manipulates the entire city around him. As for the baby, Lex names her Lena after the aforementioned dead first love. Well, that's the textual reason. In reality, she's the Iron Age equivalent of the Silver Age's Lena Thorul, Lex's psychic sister.
And when she meets Superman, it gives us one of the best moments of the year:
I love this. The only thing I love more than Lex Luthor theatrically whipping around to reveal his baby with the same panache that he'd use to unveil a Kryptonite laser is Superman's country-ass upbringing kicking in and forcing him to make polite small talk about how cute his arch-enemy's kid is. I love it.
But while Luthor's murderous machinations are certainly the darkest part of the story, they are by no means the only serious concerns for Metrpolis. As you might recall, there's a monster stalking beneath the streets known as the Ripper, and it's already killed several people --- including children. With Superman unable to end this fearsome and very serious scourge by himself, it falls to the tough-as-nails captain of the Special Crimes Unit, Maggie Sawyer, and self-styled monster hurton Burton Thompson, who... who... whooooohhh my god look at this guy.
I sincerely hope that all of you can experience the pure and unbridled joy that I felt when I turned the page and saw that guy attending a meeting with the Mayor. And no one in the story ever mentions it. No one even asks him to remove the dinosaur skull from his head while he is indoors.
With Sawyer and Thompson in tow, Superman heads down into the sewers to find Ripper, and sure enough, he finds the hulking monster that he ran into last month, the one who's been carving cryptic messages into the walls. There's an attempt to take it alive, but Thompson's overzealous hatred of monsters and Maggie's reliance on high-tech weaponry leave Ripper dead.
The thing is, the problem might not be over. As mentioned last month, "Ripper" isn't a name, or even English letters. It's a series of pictograms that reveal a little more of the true story --- pictograms that the monster was trying to explain to Superman right before he was killed.
And not only that, but it seems that Thompson himself was responsible for the monster's creation.
With that taken care of, Superman turns his attention to the future, and not in the abstract sense. The literal kind, with teenagers with flight rings.
One of the only consequences of note to result from Genesis was that a time-lost squad of teenagers from the Legion of Super-Heroes tried to remedy their situation by hooking up a Mother Box to one of the Metal Men's Responsometers. The result was the Cybercerebral Overlapping Multi-Processor Universal Transceiver Operator, or COMPUTO, a new incarnation of the villain that killed one of Triplicate Girl's bodies back in 1966.
The issue is pretty straightforward, but there are two things to note about this. First, Stuart Immonen breaks up the regular superhero action with an illustrated take on Chanticleer, or The Nun's Priest's Tale from The Canterbury Tales.
Imagine seeing that breaking up superhero action in your monthly Superman comic written and drawn by Stuart Immonen. DC readers in 1998, you were a uniquely lucky bunch.
The second, and slightly more notable moment, comes when Superman discovers that it's not COMPUTO who's creating their current problem, but Lex Luthor, and decides to drop one of the single coldest moments in Superman history on him:
It's one thing to tell someone that you'll always be there to stop your plans. But literally getting people from the future to show up and tell them in no uncertain terms that the legacy they have spent their lives trying to build will be forgotten? That their memory will be lost, and that everything theyhave done is pointless and for nothing? I heard Batman saw that and said it was "a little harsh."
- Lena Luthor was born, and if you don't already know how her story ends up a few years after this, I sincerely doubt you would believe me if I told you.
- The Contessa was put into a medically induced coma and imprisoned by Luthor, who regained control of his company through a phony living will.
- Mayor Berkowitz was assassinated, leading to the emergency election of former City Councilman Sackett.
- "Ripper" was killed.
- Mr. Mxyzptlk died.
- Mr. Mxyzptlk came back to life on the next page.