Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Comics #20: Superman Special

Full Disclosure: I didn't start out reading comic books as a Walt Simonson fan. My first experience with Simsonson--other than through his wife, Louise, who wrote the series Superman: The Man of Steel--was the Auron story in The Legacy of Superman, a comic published when the Superman titles went on hiatus after Superman was killed by Doomsday. But over the years, as I have seen and read more and more of his stuff from Thor to X-Men to things in between, his art has really grown on me. It's bold, dynamic, and simplistic all at once. Simonson is one of the last genuine comic book artists in my opinion. There are many still out there but Simonson is one of the more prolific.

The Superman Special from 1992 is an odd beast. It's a retelling of the Sand Superman story from 1971 that began in Superman (vol. 1) #233. The story was originally scheduled to be published as Superman Annual #3 in 1990, but Simonson took too long to finish the book. The story was eventually released in 1992 just weeks before "The Death of Superman" began so the book was buried and forgotten. In 2011, a theory was posited that the Special was written to be a major plot point saying that it had been the Sand Superman running around Metropolis since 1988 and that was going to be revealed in 1995's storyline "Dead Again" but DC backed down when Marvel's Clone Saga got so many negative reviews. That theory doesn't hold water but you can read on that over at the Fortress of Baileytude.

A product of its time, 1990, the story takes place before Clark and Lois got engaged and Lex Luthor "died" and came back as Lex Luthor II so we get scenes of a fat, bald Luthor and Clark and Lois not exactly getting along which makes this even stranger considering its placement in 1992.

The cover is one of my favorite from this era. It took a while to grow on me but it really comes at you and the color scheme is an interesting choice. I like the look of the sandman morphing into Superman--or is he? Anyway, onto the story. We open on Superman flying to the Fortress of Solitude and breaking and smashing some rocks into the image of General Zod, Zaora, and Quex-Ul, the three Kryptonian criminals that Superman killed back in Superman #22, as a remember to himself that he shall never take another life for as long as he lives.
Superman took extra care carving Zaora's hindquarters.
Back in Metropolis, we get a Lois and Clark scene where Lois exposits to Clark that she is going Cosmography Industries on a lead. They are apparently working on stealth-fighter technology but no one seems to know who owns them. But Lois has an idea because she is smarter than your average bear. As if Cosmography knew Lois and Clark were talking about them, problems arise and something explodes so Clark runs off so he can get to the site as Superman. As Superman dives into the building to rescue some scientists still trapped in the rubble, the building explodes again.

Elsewhere, not far from Metropolis, the Newsboy Legion is picking up seismic activity which they feel is their business so they hop in the Whiz Wagon, stop to pick up Jimmy--with Lois hitching a ride--and head off toward Cosmography Industries where Superman has been thrown into some rocks. Luckily, Supes is already recovering and those scientists even survived the second explosion so Superman has some work to do. As Superman is rescuing employees of Cosmography, Lex Luthor arrives and immediately tells Superman to get off his land. Superman tells Luthor to shove it and that Luthor is clearly up to no-good. "Stealth technology? Ha! You're covering something up!" Luthor then throws out a giant chunk of kyptonite and says that he has been trying to synthesize it, but Superman instead takes the kryptonite from Luthor and, well, just see for yourself.

Luthor's last kryptonite chunk is now just ordinary lead. As Superman flies away, he wavers just a bit--a dizzy spell he waves it off as--but Luthor notices it before ordering everyone off of his property.

As night arrives, the sand around where the explosion threw Superman begins to swirl and move while the narration box yammers about nightfall, jaws of Hell and the witching hour. A skeleton-like sandman that bears kind of a passing resemblance to Superman is born and the first thing it does is scare and kill a security guard at the site.

Back at Clark's apartment, Clark is doing dishes when his super breath disappears, concerned and knowing that it has something to do with what happened at Luthor's facility so he heads out there to investigate where he begins losing his powers but some of his powers transfers to the sandman who hiding out nearby. Luthor and a tracker named Stacky arrive and Luthor is using Stacky to figure out what is going on. The Sandman has followed Superman to his apartment. Flight is one power that the sandman hasn't gotten yet so he falls to the ground, smashing himself back into normal sand.

But only for a minute or so, the Sand Superman returns and begins wreaking havoc in the garment district. Luthor sends Team Luthor to fight and capture the creature. Once captured, Luthor offers the Sand Superman a deal. Superman is off trying to figure what's going on when bank robbers strike but it is all just a ruse from Luthor to get the Sand Superman closer to Superman. Superman and the Sand Superman duke it out a bit before Jimmy and the Newsboy Legion come to the rescue to stop the bank robbers while Superman deals with the Sand Superman. Unable to get the upper hand, Superman steals the Whiz Wagon and flies to the Fortress of Solitude with the Sand Superman close behind.

One by one, each of Superman's power is painfully transferred to the Sand Superman and the Sand Superman is starting to look more and more like Superman, even getting color into his costume. The Sand Superman finds the real Superman unconscious on the ground and tries to shake him awake so that he can see it coming but Superman plants a kiss on the Sand Superman painfully transferring more power and memory to him.

The Sand Superman is then startled by the statues of Zod, Quex-Ul and Zaora, destroying them but remembering the promise that Superman, and ergo, he, made earlier of not killing. The Sand Superman cradles Superman's lifeless body in his arms and then he...explodes. I'll be honest, I'm confused here.

Back in Metropolis, Luthor arrives at work to find Superman sitting in his office. Superman gives Luthor a big speech about where the Sand Superman's pain came from (becoming Superman, not destroying Superman) and that this was a job for Superman and that Luthor made it happen. Luthor is less than thrilled about the outcome of this story.

This is such an odd story and most of the weirdness comes from the ending where the Sand Superman explodes and Superman is revived. I can see how someone would walk away from this story now believing the Sand Superman has just become Superman after the original's death. The story is followed by seven of the most unremarkable pieces of Superman artwork I've ever seen. But that's it for this issue. Let's read some of Simonson's Thor.