Spotlight Sunday 11.25.18

A light week at the comic shop means that at long last it’s here – A Very Special™ Spotlight Sunday!

The New Teen Titans: Plague
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: George Perez
DC/Keebler Company

The 1980s are famously associated with a lot of cultural trends. Parachute pants! Breakdancing! Shoulder pads! Big hair!

Alongside all of those artifacts of that bygone era, the “Very Special Episode” enjoyed something of a heyday, as normally goofy sitcoms would set aside a half hour every so often to “get serious” and tackle one of the problems of the day, whether it was Alex P. Keaton learning that his fun-loving uncle, portrayed by Tom Hanks, had a not-at-all fun drinking problem, Arnold and Dudley hanging out at the world’s worst bike shop, or, in a carry over to the following decade, Jessie Spano being so excited and so…scared, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some message-heavy bit of TV programming.

(There may have even been an episode of Perfect Strangers that warned people not to throw rocks.)

Comics weren’t immune to this phenomenon, of course, particularly given that taking the approach of delivering a very important message was one of the only ways to address certain topics at all back in the days of Comics Code Authority. Sometimes, even that approach was not sufficient to earn the CCA seal of approval.

And, while some people forget, comics are a business, and most businesses look for ways to increase their exposure and market share, often through assorted gimmicks (*cough*), and by latching on to current trends. Sometimes the Big Two did that within the pages of their regular comics, working to push the boundaries of their medium, as with the O’Neal/Adams run on Green Lantern/Green Arrow in which Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy is revealed to be a drug addict – which is, of course, relevant to the comic we’ll eventually talk about – but while there was value in improving their existing products by exploring real-world issues, that didn’t always move the needle when it came to increasing sales and getting more eyes on pages.

So, in addition to the work they did within the pages of their regular books, Marvel and DC often partnered with other businesses and federal agencies to produce special editions that were often distributed to potential new readers via schools, using their recognizable characters to drive home a particular message. 

The earliest such Public Service Announcement comic I remember receiving in school featured Captain America teaming up with the Campbell Kids (as in Campbell Soup) to promote energy conservation. While somewhat informative, it…wasn’t good, nor was it particularly memorable or worthy of nostalgia.

Some time later, however, DC, partnering with Keebler, put out the PSA comic we’re here to discuss, featuring the characters from one of the hottest comics of the era taking up arms in America’s War on Drugs, with a little help from First Lady Nancy Reagan.

What makes this comic stand out from the crowd is that it was produced by the creative team behind the regular New Teen Titans comic, which, to be honest, was often extremely heavy-handed when delivering a “message” at the best of times, so despite some differences – which we’ll get to – it was almost indistinguishable from a comic you might plunk down $.75 for at the newsstand.

Almost.

In fact, not long before this comic made its appearance at schools across the country, there had been an arc in NTT that could have been pretty easily recycled and used as a PSA, although it would have required jettisoning some of the long-running story elements and sub-plots, such as the ongoing journey of Adrian Chase from being a suit-wearing Manhattan DA and family man to being the costumed, gun-toting Vigilante, and Dick Grayson’s struggle to get out from under the shadow of the Bat and find his own identity and destiny as a hero in his own right rather than as a sidekick.

Speaking of the Teen Wonder and leader of the Titans, Robin doesn’t make an appearance in this comic, or in any of the sequels, and is instead replaced by a rather generic new character called The Protector, who would later be added to canon in the regular comics, though I don’t recall ever seeing him anywhere other than in the 1987 update to Who’s Who in the DC Universe.

For one thing, by that time Dick had hung up his pixie boots and was no longer Robin, and had yet to settle on a new costumed identity.

Deleted scene.

For another, the licensing rights to Robin were then held by Nabisco.

(As an aside, some time before the comic was released to schools, I saw an item about it on the news, and when I saw him in the group shot from the back cover, I thought that The Protector might be the debut of Dick’s new costume and identity.)

The inside cover of the comic features a letter from Mrs. Reagan, and on the first page we get the first of several “confessional” pages, featuring a young girl named Debbie, who, despite her tender age, has been using drugs – she provides a long laundry list of the drugs she’s used – for three years. We learn some of the – ideally relatable – reasons that she was tempted to try drugs in the first place, and how her use of drugs has negatively impacted her life.

While it’s kind of a standard feature – especially in the era of “Reality TV” – I do kind of wonder if Tom King was at least somewhat inspired by this comic when crafting his confessionals for Heroes In Crisis, especially since Roy “Speedy” Harper has a confessional scene here, just as he does in HIC.

From there, we move on to the action, as the Titans bust up a drug distribution center, and we learn that Protector – Pro, as his friends call him – was invited along specifically for this mission. (Despite the occasional asides about his backstory, it’s pretty clear that Protector was originally written as Robin, especially given that the team defers to him as the leader, despite him just being a guest. I actually suspect Robin was physically in the comic and then just drawn over, as his combat moves are pretty much identical to Robin’s.)

After beating the snot out of the drug dealers, Raven has a bit of a freakout – Has she gone rogue and decided to try some of the product? – and the team determines the cause: a young, panicked boy hiding in the warehouse has overdosed, and Raven’s empathic abilities caused her to be overcome by his emotional state. The Titans get the boy to the hospital, but it’s too late.

However, it may not be too late for Debbie from the first page, who is also in the hospital after an OD. The boy who died was a friend of Debbie’s, and when her parents come to talk to the doctor about the boy and about Debbie’s chances, they meet up with the Titans.

The Titans then have an encounter with some of Debbie’s other druggie friends – including Anna, the sister of the boy who died – and decide that they really need to step up their game when it comes to tackling the part of the drug epidemic that they can handle. Namely, beating the snot out of drug dealers.

Donna, did you…did you just drive your fist through that man’s chest?

The rest, however, is up to the kids and their families, and while they have suggestions for things that can be done – using love and understanding, mostly – all they can really do is hope.

While the Titans tackle the drug distribution infrastructure, Anna shows up at her brother’s funeral high, but her parents harness the power of love and understanding, and decides to stop being a dope and give up on drugs, as does Debbie, after she comes out of her coma, and the rest of Debbie’s friends, inspired by these examples, and by the Titans, decide to do the same.

The comic is rounded out by various activities that the readers can engage in, such as visualizing the kind of futures they want to have, futures that would be impossible to attain if you give in to the allure of drugs, and others that reinforce a more general sense of responsibility. (These activities are presented by Ernie, the Keebler Elf.)

I didn’t get the two sequel comics when I was in school, and didn’t actually know they existed until relatively recently, but I remember being very excited about getting this one – I snagged multiple copies, as our tiny school got a lot more than we could ever possibly need – because hey, a free comic, that I’m supposed to read at school featuring one of my favorite super-teams, by one of my favorite creative teams. What’s not to be excited about?

The Titans were an ideal fit for tackling this subject, as they were within the same age cohort as the target audience, one of their own was a recovering addict, and the often heavy-handed, message-heavy nature of their regular series was rarely all that different from an earnest PSA comic anyway. (Don’t get me wrong; I loved the Titans – and even going back and rereading the old comics, I still do – but for all of their many strengths, such as fantastic art, compelling and complex storylines, and strong characterization, the comics were set at a level of earnestness that was several degrees beyond painful, and the morality plays at their core were anything but subtle.)

While there is much about this comic that is laughable and the message was in many ways simplistic, and with hindsight – though many of us saw it at the time – we’ve seen how the War on Drugs has been racist in its application and has been an expensive boondoggle that has in many ways weakened our democracy, it’s an interesting artifact of a bygone era, and one that towers above other examples.

For one thing, it presents a sympathetic and understanding view of kids who are drawn to drug use. The message isn’t “Users Are Losers” so much as it’s “Users are People…and people make mistakes and also life is complicated.” For another, while it doesn’t necessarily provide the most accurate view of drug use – or the typical behaviors of users – and reinforces the myth of pot as a “gateway drug,” it doesn’t give in to full-on Reefer Madness-style fearmongering either.

And beyond that, it features art by one of the greatest comic book artists of all time, with inks by the late, great Dick Giordano.

At the time, I also appreciated that it didn’t really dumb things down the way comics-related material designed for a non-reader mass market often was. There were stakes. People died. There were hard-hitting battles. This wasn’t some Saturday morning cartoon goofiness.

That said, some concessions made. The two big things that was most noticeable to a Titans fan, particularly one for whom puberty was well underway, was that Starfire was drawn in a much more modest fashion, in terms of her costume design, which featured a closed, cleavage-free front, and in the size of her assets.

And while never shown to be quite as busty as her buxom BFF, Wonder Girl was scaled down a bit as well.

That reminds me of another change to the lineup. In addition to the lack of Robin and the presence of Speedy – who, at the time, was not a regular member of the team – Terra was not featured in this, though that makes sense, given the nature of the character. She comes to mind mostly because of her tendency to make snarky comments about Starfire’s figure – she often referred to her as “balloon bod” – which would have been out of place (and inaccurate) here.

Similarly, Changeling’s general skeeviness was mostly absent, with the only sop to it being a singular instance of him referring to Wonder Girl as “gorgeous” rather than using her name.

It’s been a long time since I was in school, so I’m not sure if these sorts of PSA comics are still a thing. As mentioned, I never got any of the other Titans comics, and beyond that aforementioned Captain America comic, the only other one I ever got was one with Supergirl talking about the importance of seat belts when I was in high school. Other than that, I’ve only encountered the non-PSA comic-length ads for business, such as the ones from Radio Shack featuring Superman and Wonder Woman teaming up with the TRS-80 Whiz Kids.

However, in this, the Golden Age of Television, “Very Special Episodes” are fairly uncommon, so I imagine it’s likely that its time has long passed. Still, this was an entertaining trip down Nostalgia lane, and one that has inspired this Very Special™ Spotlight Sunday.

What makes it so special? Stuff! That you can win!

Use the form below to enter the first-ever OpenDoor Comics prize giveaway for your chance to win:

Your very own copy of The New Teen Titans: Plague!

A one-of-a-kind print of the “Deleted Scene” image above, defaced signed by the artist! Suitable for framing and/or recycling!

An OpenDoor Comics T-shirt, suitable for wearing, or wiping the sweat from your brow after you angrily toss that print in the recycling bin!

To improve your chances of winning, do what drug users do: utilize peer pressure! You can earn extra entries by referring a friend! 

The OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes runs until Saturday, December 8th, so don’t delay!

The OpenDoor Comics Peer Pressure Prize Sweepstakes

This sweepstakes has ended.

That does it for the Spotlight for this week. Be sure to come back next week to see what it shines upon.

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Spotlight Sunday 7.29.18

There was nothing in this week’s stack of books that really cried out for the Spotlight, but there is something in the Archives that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time that is newly-relevant, so there are 36-year-old spoilers ahead for…

The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans
Writer: Chris Claremont
Artist: Walter Simonson
Cover: Walter Simonson
Marvel/DC

“This used to be a skyscraper – ‘til it got trashed by the X-Men. Media describes them as outlaws. I wonder why the Titans have never tangled with ‘em?”

The other day on Twitter I saw some highly-relatable content about looking for a recipe online and ending up on a food blog with the recipe obscured by paragraph after paragraph of a travelogue filled with purple prose detailing the author’s journey of self-discovery in Tuscany.

I laughed, of course – like I said, “highly-relatable content” – but then it occurred to me that my Spotlight posts aren’t much different. (Except that the food blog posts generally do have useful information in there somewhere.)

After all, as with last week, every post has at least one nostalgic anecdote about the subject of the Spotlight, comics in general, and the instability of my access to comics in my youth.

This…this is going to be one of those. (And there won’t even be a recipe at the end. Also, I’ve never been to Tuscany.)

Most of my purchases of comics that weren’t in digest form, or weren’t cheap bag o’ mystery comics, happened at grocery stores, and, for a variety of reasons, there were only one or two stores we went to with any regularity.

This was troubling for me, as there were several stores that we didn’t go to regularly that had much larger and more diverse selections of new comics to choose from – and, indeed there were even some newsstand-type places that had an even larger selection that we went to even less frequently – and it was always cool when we would go to one and I could get my hands on books that were otherwise inaccessible.

One of those places we didn’t go to often was something of a general store, filled with a strange assortment of random items. We mostly avoided it because, I think, it was somewhat out of the way for us, and because in terms of groceries, it didn’t have much that we needed and what it did have was more expensive than at the other places.

I liked the place because in addition to just having different comics it had different kinds of comics in terms of the actual format. Mass market paperback editions, or special oversized editions, such as the comic we’re (eventually) going to talk about.

I won’t go into too much more detail about the specifics of the trip to that store that landed me a copy of this comic, though I’m guessing that it marked an occasion on which we were a little more flush – maybe my dad had just gotten paid for a big job? I don’t recall – as I recall that it was on the same night that we, as a family, went to see a movie* which was something we did even less-frequently than shopping at those other stores.

(Relevant to another Archives post, the digest in which I first read the story that Spotlight focuses on was purchased from the same odd little store from which I bought this comic.)

The reason I opted to talk about this particular comic is that it holds a particular significance, to me, personally – I loved the hell out of this comic, as evidenced by the fact that I read and re-read it to the point of destruction – and to the history of comics generally.

It wasn’t the first inter-company crossover between Marvel and DC, but it’s arguably one of the biggest, given the immense popularity of the characters it brought together.

The Uncanny X-Men (UXM) and The New Teen Titans (NTT) were two of the most popular comics for their respective publishers, so this was officially a Big Deal, particularly given that NTT was launched by DC as something of a response to the growing popularity of UXM over at Marvel.

The two teams had very much in common, with sporadic publication histories that stretched back to the early 1960s, relatively young main characters, something of a “family” dynamic that wasn’t as present in other team books, they told stories that tackled some of the social issues of the times, they each had, throughout their history, a changing roster of members, and they were filled with angst. So much angst. You would have to vigorously wash your hands after reading an issue of UXM or NTT because they would be covered with the angst that positively oozed off the pages.

At the time, I was probably more familiar with NTT than UXM, the latter of which I had only recently started reading, and I was always more of a DC person than a Marvel.

I do recall being a bit disappointed that the art on this crossover was not handled by NTT artist and co-creator George Perez – who was my favorite artist – but it’s hard to be too disappointed when you get Walter Simonson.

It’s interesting to look at the credits and see that neither Wolfman nor Perez are listed as contributing. Only the late Len Wein is listed in the credits (as Consulting Editor) from the DC side of things.

The other reason I opted to pull this one out of the Archives is that both teams are in the news these days, with a, oh, let’s say “mixed” reaction to the recently-released trailer for the upcoming live-action Titans series, which appears to draw heavily from the early Wolfman/Perez era of NTT, the release of the animated Teen Titans Go! To the Movies** this past Thursday (also with mixed reactions), and the announcement that Marvel is reviving the Uncanny X-Men title, and that Chris Claremont is going to be writing the X-Men Black series. (I’m out of the X-loop, but most of the X-titles these days seem to be color-coded.)

Okay, so, anyway, when I arrived in Tuscany, though I had never before trod upon Italian soil in my life, I was nevertheless struck by an overwhelming sense of having returned home. I –

Oh, right. Comics, not recipes.

Our story opens at the Source Wall, under the stony gaze of the Promethean Giants, those ancient entities who in eons past attempted to breach the Wall, as so many have tried – and failed – to do throughout history and got turned into decorations for their trouble.

Metron of the New Gods means to succeed where they failed, his endless quest to know all there is to know leading him to this final frontier. A shadowy figure, with whom Metron has a less-than convivial relationship, is offering Metron a means of breaching the Wall in exchange for something Metron calls a Psychon-Wave.

Metron, in his Mobius Chair, uses the device given to him by his mysterious interlocutor (Spoiler: It’s Darkseid), heads towards the Wall, and in a flash of light, he’s gone, leaving behind only the Mobius Chair, adrift in space, and the new owner of the Psychon-Wave, who laughs at his incipient triumph, which will give him “dominion over the stars!”

We cut to a training session in the Danger Room back on Earth, with Colossus, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler managing to impress Professor X with their performances. Elsewhere in the mansion/school we see Cyclops and Storm each enjoying some down time, while the youngest of the team (and secret imaginary girlfriend of comic nerds everywhere) Kitty Pryde prepares dinner for the team.

Later, with training complete, and dinner eaten, it’s all “Good night, Danger Room, good night, Cerebro…” and all the X-Men drift off to sleep, sleep that is troubled by dreams of their fallen teammate, Jean Grey, once known as Marvel Girl, then Phoenix, and then, by the time of her demise, Dark Phoenix.

The dreams are more than dreams, however, as a strange figure seems to be causing them – and using some device to draw out the essence of those memories – visiting each sleeping X-Man in turn, until finally reaching Kitty.

Darkseid is.

After responding to Kitty’s scream, the X-Men realize that it wasn’t some imaginary monster, given that each of them had troubling dreams about Jean, and they all know better than to believe in coincidence.

The discussion is tabled by someone at the door, with that someone turning out to be none other than…Jean Grey?

Meanwhile, in Titans Tower, Raven is having a rare night of untroubled sleep, her soul-self drifting in the vast and quiet cosmos. Alas, for the Daughter of Trigon, peace can only be short-lived, and, like Kitty, she soon wakes screaming after a massive bird of fire assaults her soul-self.

Her teammates, Starfire and Changeling (you youngsters know him by his original code name of Beast Boy), comfort her, but Changeling finds himself on the wrong end of an angry Tamaranean princess once he tries to use his powers to replicate the flaming bird that Raven describes.

Starfire, it seems, is familiar with the Phoenix, and the sight of it sent her into a warrior’s rage. Realizing that Raven’s dream might be more than a dream, she summons the other members of the Titans: Wonder Girl, Kid Flash, Cyborg, and Robin, the latter of which doesn’t show up at the Tower.

The Boy Wonder is busy in Gotham, dealing with a break-in at S.T.A.R. Labs by thugs working for a re-formed (but not “reformed”) Intergang. He gets more than he bargained for when he removes the mask of one of the unconscious felons and discovers an inhuman face. A Parademon, he learns, from none other than Deathstroke the Terminator, for whom the Parademons are working. The Terminator (in those days the “Terminator” part of his name was used more often than “Deathstroke”) quickly knocks Robin out, and we learn that he was rendered unconscious before he could receive the alert Koriand’r sent out.

The X-Men, meanwhile, are at the home of Jean Grey’s parents, having been summoned there after Jean’s father received a visit from his late daughter that was nearly identical to the one Cyclops got. Professor X soon reaches out to them with a telepathic summons, alerting them to the fact that he’s detected strange incidents in various locations, each of which has some connection to the late Phoenix. If the pattern holds, it can lead them to the next likely location to confront the perpetrator of the night’s strange events.

We cut to the Titans finding their leader unconscious in an alleyway, and they soon bring him up to speed on what’s happening. Starfire tells the tale of the destruction of the D’Bari system, and the death of billions of beings, caused by an entity known as Dark Phoenix, which was related to her people, in the time before Starfire was enslaved by her sister and later made her escape to Earth, by Lilandra of the Shi’ar Empire. Lilandra informed them that Dark Phoenix had been destroyed, but Raven’s dream leads her to suspect otherwise.

Robin isn’t so sure that there’s anything they can do – “Kory, cosmic menaces are a little out of the Titans’ league. Perhaps we should notify the Justice League or the Avengers…?” – and believes that dealing with the Terminator should be the priority, but ultimately, when Koriand’r insists that she’ll go it alone if she has to, relents, as Titans stick together.

That commitment to unity pays dividends.

We then check in with the villains of the piece, where we learn that – unsurprisingly – the Terminator is connected to the whole Phoenix thing, as he’s working for the big boss behind it all. (Again, it’s Darkseid. The attempts at obscuring that fact are rather silly, in that even his silhouette is recognizable, we already know that the Fourth World – and in particular, Parademons – plays a part in this, and his picture is on the back cover.)

There is some unfriendly rivalry between the human Terminator and the Apokoliptan flunky – Ravok the Ravager – who is also working for the “mysterious” leader, but each is sent off on a different mission. Th Terminator is sent to collect some last, pivotal bit of energy, while Ravok and his troops are sent to capture the X-Men.

Things don’t quite work out that way, as an impetuous Starfire bursts into the X-mansion and assaults Professor X, who manages to knock her out with a psi-bolt. But Charles is soon taken down by the other Titans. Robin isn’t exactly thrilled about how things went down, what with the breaking and entering and possibly attempted murder, but they don’t have time to debate, as they are soon attacked and captured by Ravok and company, who mistake the Titans for the X-Men. In the confusion, Changeling avoided capture, and uses his shapeshifting abilities to take on the form of a Parademon, following the rest of the troops through the Boom Tube in the hopes of rescuing his friends.

In New Mexico, the X-Men tussle with the Terminator, and though they ultimately end up captured as well, they do at least manage to destroy the device that was being used to siphon the residual psychic energy left behind by Phoenix during an adventure with the X-Men.

Back at the Wall, Ravok feels like he’s really gotten an edge over that filthy human, and proudly presents the “X-Men.” The boss isn’t thrilled – Charles is the only useful person in that pile of unconscious bodies, but he needs the rest of the X-Men – and Terminator booms back in, just in time to rub Ravok’s nose in his own success at capturing the X-Men.

Having succeeded where Ravok failed makes up for the loss of the especially potent energy the boss (Darkseid) was hoping to acquire.

Ravok’s troubles only get worse from there as the boss notices that one of the Parademons is unusually green. Terminator realizes it’s Changeling, and quickly takes him out.

That’s the last strike for Ravok, however, and the boss (IT. IS. DARKSEID.) disintegrates him.

The X-Men and the Titans (mostly for the hell of it) wake to find that they are hooked up to some big doohickey, and Kitty, who finds that she can’t phase her way out of it, sees a familiar, horrible face:

“You’re the thing from my nightmare! You’re real!”

“I am indeed! Adults deny me, but children know me for what I am. That makes them dangerous, and worthy to be cherished. For in their innocence lies the universe’s salvation, and in the loss of that innocence, my ultimate victory!”

The device is designed to draw out the remaining residual psychic energy of Dark Phoenix to bring her – or at least a decent facsimile thereof – to life. And it works.

Wait, whaaat? You mean it was DARKSEID the whole time? Mind = Blown

Cyclops tries to reason with Jean, and appeal to her love for him, but, game recognizes game, and so she chooses Darkseid.

Like any villain worth his salt, Darkseid explains his plan in a monologue. He’s going to use Phoenix’s powers to transform the Earth into another Apokolips, and then use it as a base to engage in the conquest of New Genesis and then, ultimately, everything.

Darkseid and Dark Phoenix and their entourage Boom Tube out, leaving the heroes behind with no means of escape from the hunk of rock floating in space.

Once he leaves, with no reason to keep them restrained, the device sets the team free, and we get the first official meeting of the two teams.

Kitty and Changeling hit it off pretty quickly, but the teams have a more pressing issue than how well they get along, in that they need to save the Earth, but first they need to find a way off the asteroid, as its atmosphere is rapidly depleting.

Cyborg, with his assorted devices, and Charles, with his psychic abilities, detect some sort of object floating nearby, and soon, powered by Cyclops’s optic blasts and Starfire’s starbolts, they manage to move the asteroid within reach of the object, which turns out to be Metron’s Mobius Chair.

Of course, to them, it’s just a chair, but soon Kitty and Changeling inadvertently discover that it’s much more than that and is capable of bringing them back to Earth.

The question is how they’ll all fit, but Kitty and Changeling soon solve that problem. Changeling turns into a dragon. Charles will drive the chair, Changeling will ride it, and everyone else will ride on him.

This solution provides a moment of requisite angst, along with a bit of humor.

I remember being bothered by this because I thought, “Oh no: now Kory will know that Colossus called himself a fool! How embarrassing.”

Once on Earth, they soon find their way to the secret base from which Darkseid plans to create Hell on Earth, and though they’re too late to prevent Dark Phoenix from sending a psi-bolt to the Earth’s core to kick off the whole process, there’s lots of fighting – including the requisite bit with each being impressed by the other as Wolverine and Deathstroke face off – which is ultimately resolved by…love, of course.

Working together, Charles and Raven zap Dark Phoenix with the love that her team members felt for her, and remind her of the loving, kind, and good woman she had once been. The psychic toll proves too much for her and her body begins to discorporate.

With Dark Phoenix weakened, Robin comes up with an idea, telling her that she might be able to keep herself together if she takes back the energy she just sent into the core. Darkseid objects, but everyone else lays into him, with Starfire scoring the definitive blow by blasting him directly in the eyes as he’s about to unleash the Omega Effect.

Dark Phoenix pulls back the energy she unleashed, but it’s not enough, because she’s missing the corporeal host she once had, and Darkseid tells her there’s a chance that she can sustain herself if she finds a host.

In death, as in life, she settles for Cyclops, but she’s not strong enough to overcome his love for her, and she realizes that this illusion of life isn’t good enough. She angrily departs Cyclops and heads for the cause of her misery: Darkseid.

She scoops him up and disappears. Though the X-Titans have no idea where they went, they know the danger has passed.

In fact, she’s taking him to the Wall, in the hopes that the Source can restore her, though she knows it’s too late for that.

We end with the teams triumphant and enjoying each other’s company, though there is the lingering question of where those ghostly images of Jean that visited Cyclops and Mr. Grey came from.

In the epilogue, as we see the Mobius Chair return to the Wall, and Metron’s butt return to the Mobius Chair, we learn that he sent those images in order to ensure that Darkseid would be stopped, and that the balance of things could be restored.

We also learn that things didn’t work out so well for Darkseid.

Obviously, this comic holds a special place in my memory, for multiple reasons – on of which is that, as you can see in the footnote, I have reason to associate it with a young Diane Lane…rawr! – but beyond that, it has a more general significance. There had been – and would be more – other Marvel/DC crossovers before this, but this was a big one. There weren’t many (any?) comics more beloved than UXM and NTT at the time, or any two books that were more ideally-suited for a crossover, given their similarities.

Beyond that, for all the angst, and melodrama, and overwrought dialogue, it was a good story, and it was drawn by Walter freakin’ Simonson, so…well, ‘nuff said.

It would be more than two decades before the other two major teams in their respective universes had a crossover, and it was a long, tumultuous path to publication.

While there have been other intercompany crossovers, there have been additional Marvel/DC crossovers since JLA/Avengers, and there likely won’t be, which means we won’t see a sequel to Wonder Woman/Conan now that the rights to Conan are back at Marvel.

The tricky part of crossovers is finding the right balance, and in this case – and I attribute this to Jim Shooter – the balance was a bit off, if, like me, you were a slightly bigger fan of NTT than UXM. The Titans are treated pretty well, but we get much more of a focus on the inner lives of the X-Men than we do the Titans.

It is interesting, though, that so many people involved in the comic – or at least the individual comics that were being brought together for this special event – had done a lot of “crossing over” between the companies themselves.

Shooter started out at DC before landing at Marvel, Wolfman and Perez had both done work for Marvel before launching NTT at DC (which is, in part, why they were tapped to create a book that could compete with UXM), Simonson had worked for both companies, and so had Len Wein.

Thanks to the cartoons, the perception of the Teen Titans by the general public and to comics fans who are younger than I am is very different from what would be found here. I’m not going to say that this other perception of the Titans is wrong (though it is), but it is very different.

Still, given my fondness for the Titans, I’m glad to see that there at least is a perception of them at all within the general public, but I find it unfortunate that the upcoming live-action series that’s drawing inspiration from this period appears to be doing so very poorly. (Based solely, and perhaps unfairly, on the trailer, I would say that Young Justice is a much better spiritual successor to this era of Titans history than the Titans live-action series will be.)

Oh, and the other great thing about this crossover is that it’s the second time that year that Darkseid got his ass beat by a bunch of teenagers.

Recommended Reading:

Crossovers!

That does it for this week’s Spotlight. Next week, no matter what, I’ll pick something new to write about, I swear.

In the meantime, one evening in Tuscany, after a day filled with food and wine and self-discovery, I found myself amongst newfound friends – though I felt like we’d known each other all of our lives – on the patio at a quaint, rustic home nestled in the countryside, enjoying the cool, evening breeze, and the delightful desserts that had been laid out for us on an uneven table crafted from rough-hewn timber that tilted precariously to one side with each tray placed upon it by the lively and passionate septuagenarian woman at whose home I was a guest. “Guest” seems too cold a word for it; in that moment I was familigia. I called her “Nonna Grace,” as did everyone, whether she was their grandmother or not, and though I should have, perhaps, felt a tinge of shame or anger, I couldn’t help but be delighted every time she laughed at my clumsy attempts at speaking in Italian. “Idiota!” she would exclaim, hitting me on the head with a wooden spoon, before unleashing peals of infectious laughter.

And that was when I learned how to bake chocolate chip cookies, though I didn’t so much learn the recipe as I lived it…

*I’m reasonably certain the movie in question was Six Pack, starring Kenny Rogers.

**I haven’t seen it myself, and probably won’t until it’s available for home viewing. After all, given that I have to work at a full-time job *COUGH* *COUGH* I don’t have the freedom to just go to the movies whenever I feel like doing so.

Spotlight Sunday 5.27.18

I considered taking a look at the final issue of Super Sons this week – it was pretty good! – but some thoughts I didn’t fit into last week’s post and a conversation at the comic shop mean taking a dip into the archives, with spoilers, I guess, ahead for…

DC Comics Presents Annual #1
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Rich Buckler
Cover: Rich Buckler and Dick Giordano

“This time, Luthor shall win!”

I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote last week’s entry, as I had some plans for the day, so I didn’t get to to mention everything I had intended to mention.

I did mention that in the days of my long-ago youth there were several team-up books on the stands, with the book that serves as the namesake for last week’s entry being one of them, and DC Comics Presents being another.

Whereas The Brave and The Bold featured Batman teaming up with some other hero, DCP featured Superman as the hero who would partner up with someone new every month.

The various short-lived attempts at reviving team-up books have demonstrated that there is no apparent appetite for the genre among modern readers, and even some of the current revival attempts tweak the format a bit, with Brave and Bold being a mini-series that features an extended story featuring a specific pairing (Batman and Wonder Woman), and, on the Marvel side, the suggestively-titled Marvel Two-In-One currently on the stands similarly restricts itself to pairing two specific heroes – the Thing, who was the star of the old title, and the Human Torch.

In light of that modern approach, one of the thoughts I had on the topic of team-up books is that it might be sensible move to do limited-run revivals of the team-up titles as special events similar to the Batman and Wonder Woman pairing, featuring top-tier talents producing the stories, and digging deep into the catalog of characters DC and Marvel have at their disposal.

Just a thought; my thumb is probably miles away from the pulse of fandom, but I believe that while a monthly team-up book of the Bronze Age type can’t thrive, something like what I suggest could do quite well.

Beyond wanting to mention my humble suggestion, the reason I opted for the comic in the Spotlight this week is a conversation I had in the comic shop about an issue of the original Brave and Bold. Specifically, the last issue, which featured Batman teaming up with…Batman?

(That issue also contained a preview of the comic that was taking the place of B&B: Batman and the Outsiders.)

To say that Batman teamed up with himself isn’t quite correct – in essence, the Earth-One Batman fights a villain that Earth-Two’s Batman had defeated nearly thirty years earlier – but it was thematically similar to a story that ran the prior year in the comic we’re here to talk about today.

For the uninitiated, the reason it was possible – theoretically, in the case of Batman – to team up with themselves is that for years the DC Universe was part of an infinite multiverse, with multiple known Earths that shared many similarities, but had many differences as well.

The primary difference between Earth-One and Earth-Two was timing; on Earth-Two, certain events happened a bit earlier than they did on Earth-One, such as the birth of Bruce Wayne, or the arrival of Kal-L (as the Earth-Two version was known) from Krypton, with the two heroes starting their careers before their namesakes on Earth-One were even born.

(The reason that modern-day, Earth-One Batman couldn’t actually team up with Earth-Two Batman is that by that time Earth-Two’s Batman had died.)

Of course, the concept of the multiverse was introduced in large part to provide an explanation or the new versions of old heroes that started appearing in the stands, starting with the introduction of the Barry Allen version of the Flash in 1955.

This concept – that there was more than one Earth on which DC’s heroes appeared – created a lot of narrative possibilities and provided a lot of opportunities to clear up some of the messes that had occurred in terms of continuity over the years.

Many writers and editors pieced together a semi-coherent explanation of the history of the two worlds – including Roy Thomas who had done a lot of work with retroactive continuity when he worked at Marvel – that at least provided broad strokes explanations for many inconsistencies stemming from sloppy editing or the influence of other media.

For example, when he was first introduced, Superman, in his guise as mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, worked at a newspaper called The Daily Star, where his boss was a man named George Taylor.

In time, in the comics, for various reasons, things changed up a bit, and it wasn’t long until Clark worked at The Daily Planet under the leadership of Perry White. (Perry was introduced on the Superman radio show, and then later brought into the comics.)

But the idea that there was another world on which the early adventures of characters like the Jay Garrick version of the Flash took place created an opportunity to build separate history, drawing from some of those elements that had long-since been forgotten (or never known about by newer readers).

Thus, those initial stories featuring Superman were said to have taken place on Earth-Two, whereas the modern adventures of Superman occurred on Earth-One.

Eventually, after the initial crossover event that started it all when Barry Allen broke through the vibrational barrier separating Earth-One from Earth-Two and met his older counterpart, crossovers between the two Earths started happening more frequently, and the team-up of the Justice League of America with their Earth-Two counterparts the Justice Society of America became an annual event, and they often involved the introduction of yet another Earth, an Earth that was usually in crisis.

Characters from Earth-Two, and some of the other alternate Earths, popped up in various books, such as the Huntress, who was the daughter of the Earth-Two Batman and Catwoman, who appeared for a time in Batman Family, and then later as a back-up feature in Wonder Woman, and even the Earth-Two Superman, who appeared in a featured called Mr. and Mrs. Superman in the pages of Superman Family (though those stories mostly took place in the late forties and early fifties).

That was another advantage to the existence of other Earths – the status quo didn’t have to be maintained. Thus, on Earth-Two, Batman could marry Catwoman, and Superman could marry Lois.

(The introduction of Barry Allen is largely considered to have ushered in what’s known as the Silver Age of comics, with its predecessor being referred to as the Golden Age. Thus, the Superman from Earth-Two is often also referred to as the Golden Age Superman, whereas the Earth-One Superman is called the Silver Age Superman, and so it goes for all the other characters with shared names, such as Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, and Hawkman.)

In a similar vein, and relevant to this comic, there had been an early appearance of Luthor in which he had a full head of red hair, and, since the Golden Age Superman had, in this newly-established history, never been Superboy, didn’t have the same motivations as the Silver Age Luthor, and so the Golden Age Luthor that was created as part of this delineation was presented as being that redheaded mad scientist who had once made an appearance, and was dubbed Alexei Luthor.

And that basically brings us up to speed as we dive into this issue, in a story entitled “Crisis on Three Earths!”

Our story opens with Luthor – Lex Luthor, the bald, Silver Age one – pulling a bank heist with a super-advanced tank. Naturally, Superman (Kal-El), who is returning to Metropolis with Lois after taking her to have lunch in Paris, soon puts an end to Luthor’s rampage and puts the evil scientist back where he belongs: behind bars.

After attending to that, he returns to Lois to apologize for having to cut their date short, but Lois isn’t having it; she thinks that sometimes he looks for trouble as an excuse to get away from her and from his feelings for her. Superman maintains that while he does love her, he can’t shirk his responsibilities.

Meanwhile, on Earth-Two, Alexei Luthor has fired off some missiles at The Daily Star, mostly out of spite. After all, that’s where all of Superman’s (Kal-L) pals work.

The Golden Age Superman isn’t as young – or as powerful – as he used to be, but he’s still able to make quick work of Luthor’s missiles and track down Luthor’s location and put the evil scientist back where he belongs: behind bars.

Lex, however, was prepared for winding up back in prison, and once there tracks down an associate he’d planted in the prison, one equipped with some special circuitry hidden underneath a covering of false skin.

The purpose of said circuitry is, of course, sinister, and is something that young Jon thought was a damned clever idea. The device Lex builds with it allows him to transport himself to Earth-Two, where he appears in Alexei’s cell, and, without offering any explanation, exhorts him to take his hand. With that done, Alexei is transported to Earth-One, while Lex remains on Earth-Two.

Removed from their native worlds, and with their dissimilar appearance, neither man is recognized by the prison guards, and on both worlds the assumption is that their Luthor has engaged in some super-scientific perfidy that allowed them to transpose themselves with some innocent bystanders, and thus each of them is released.

On Earth-One, Alexei is greeted by one of Lex’s employees, and the plan suddenly becomes clear. Each man wants to kill his own Superman, but each one has failed time and time again, but what if they switched things up?

They both make the attempt, and they both come close, but a stroke of luck saves Kal-El from Alexei’s death trap, and a swift kick from Lois Kent, who jumps in as soon as she sees her hubby in trouble, saves Kal-L from Lex’s.

On Earth-One, Kal-El arrives just in time to save Lois Lane from Alexei – who confuses the hell out of her by calling her Lois Kent and claiming that they’ve met before – and, just as Kal-L did, Kal-El figures out at who his mysterious assailant is.

The two Supermen confer via an inter-Earth communication system and decide that they’re both sick of their respective Luthors’ shit and decide, for the time being, to imprison the two baddies in the formless limbo of the emptiness between worlds.

Lex was prepared for that, too – albeit not that specifically – and the two Luthor’s join hands again and are transported to yet another Earth.

Said Earth is Earth-Three, a world that has no super-heroes, only supervillains, with an evil version of the Justice League of America known as the Crime Syndicate of America. The Crime Syndicate, like the two Luthors, is supposed to be imprisoned in limbo, but, in some fashion that isn’t explained, one member of the Syndicate is present on Earth-Three, an evil version of Superman known as Ultraman. Ultraman is something of a meathead, and Lex and Alexei are soon able to convince him to join forces with them in an effort to destroy the two Supermen, whom Ultraman also hates.

Unbeknownst to any of them, a certain familiar-looking someone overhears their plans…

Initially, Lex ignores the comment Alexei makes about wanting to destroy Earths 1 and 2, but soon he finds Alexei – with Ultraman’s assistance – building a device to accomplish just that.

The person who overheard their initial discussion turns out to be the Lois Lane of Earth-Three, who rushes to get help from the smartest man in the world, a scientist by the name of…Luthor!

Specifically, Alexander Luthor, who kind of splits the difference between Alexei and Lex by being bald and having a red beard. Because things are somewhat topsy-turvy on Earth-Three, this Luthor is a good guy, and his instruments show that the three no-goodniks that Lois encountered are up to something, and so he decides he needs to do something about it.

Kal-El, meanwhile, takes up Kal-L’s invitation (it was Lois – Lois Kent – who suggested it) to pop by Earth-Two for a visit, and the two Supermen have a bit of a heart-to-heart in which Kal-L tells the younger Kal-El about how much better his life has been – and not just because she just saved his bacon, for what is far from the first time – since the day he decided to stop setting aside his feelings and marry Lois.

Listen to the man, Kal-El.

Their discussion is interrupted by a message from Alexander Luthor, who transports them to Earth-Three.

With the two Supermen there to help, Alexander – after prodding from Lois – decides that he will become their world’s first super-hero, donning a powersuit that’s even gaudier than Lex’s, and the three of them head out to take on the bad guys, leaving Lois to ponder the significance of the fear she has for the safety of the smart, kind, and handsome Alexander Luthor…

I can pretty much guarantee you that 10-year-old Jon read that as “sobrikwet.”

Lex and Alexei, however, are not quite so unified, as Lex has no interest in destroying any world, particularly not one on which his beloved sister lives, but Alexei has set his plan, and the device that will make it possible – a tractor beam that will cause Earth-One and Earth-Two to materialize in the same space at the same vibrational frequency – and reveals that he wasn’t as unaware of the existence of other Earths as Lex had assumed him to be, and had been planning and preparing for this for quite some time.

While they argue, Ultraman manages to beat the stuffing out of the two Supermen but meets his match in Alexander Luthor, who uses a device to turn Ultraman intangible.

With him out of the way, the two Supermen move in to collar the two Luthors. After receiving an assurance from Alexei that he’ll find a way to save Lex’s sister Lena, the Luthors agree that they need to deal with the more pressing concern of the two Kryptonians.

Kal-El comes up with a plan to save the two Earths, leaving Kal-L to deal with the two Luthors.

Flying to limbo with the device that Alexander used to make Ultraman intangible, Kal-El positions himself between the tractor beam and the Earths and turns them intangible so that they will harmlessly pass through each other, while Kal-L, despite being weaker than his younger counterpart, is able to overcome adversity and defeat the two evil geniuses.

With the problem dealt with, Alexander prepares to return Ultraman to his prison, and to send Superman – and their respective Luthors – back home.

After dropping Alexei off in prison, Kal-L is warmly greeted by his loving wife, while Kal-El, after dropping Lex off in prison, lands in the store room of The Daily Planet and, spotting Lois, thinks that maybe he should take Kal-L’s advice, only to hang his head in sadness after overhearing her accepting an assignment in Europe.

I don’t feel bad for you. This is all on you, Superman.

This story has always been a personal favorite of mine for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it was just kind of cool seeing Superman teaming up with Superman, and Luthor teaming up with Luthor, and Superman and Superman teaming up with Luthor, and Luthor and Luthor kinda-sorta teaming up with Superman (in the form of Ultraman).

In particular, I liked seeing the ways in which they were similar, but different. Kal-L was older, and wiser, Alexei was more vicious and destructive, and Alexander was the hero that his counterparts could have been if they weren’t so consumed by hatred.

Beyond that, I always liked seeing Superman and Lois actually together; the Mr. and Mrs. Superman stories were one of my favorite aspects of Superman Family, and it made me angry that Kal-El was too stupid to take Kal-L’s advice. (Like you can’t be in Europe within seconds, Clark. Come on!)

Underlying it all, in some ways that were less obvious than others, was a sort of testament to the power of love. Love had made Kal-L a happier, better person, and, to a certain extent, it had made Lex a better person than Alexei. Lex, at least, had the love of his sister to at least soften some of his edges, whereas Alexei had nothing, and was much more of a monster than Lex.

And it was clear that love had found its way to Alexander, drawing him out of his isolation, and, rather than causing him to turn his back on his responsibilities to the world, love led Alexander to turn and face them.

That’s the lesson here, kids: love is the power that makes all the infinite worlds go ‘round!

Or maybe not, but the point is, love or the lack of it is a central aspect of the story.

Beyond having a nostalgic appeal, this comic is an essential part of the history of DC. As mentioned, DC had various similar crises on various Earths throughout the years, and a few years after the “Crisis on Three Earths!” DC would launch a twelve-issue maxi-series entitled Crisis on Infinite Earths, which would change everything.

While having an infinite number of Earths to choose from created infinite narrative possibilities, it also led to some laziness in storytelling – if there was ever any kind of screw-up someone could always say, “Uhh…that happened on, let’s say…Earth-Twelve, or something.” – and even with the distinctions created to delineate them, it could get confusing when you talked about Golden Age versions of characters and Silver Age versions.

DC decided to scrap the multiverse, consolidating different elements from some of the known Earths into one, single Earth. Some of the Golden Age heroes stuck around, but the Golden Age versions of characters who weren’t completely different people than their Silver Age versions – most notably Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman – were wiped out of continuity, their very existences retroactively erased.

Beyond being the type of story – and story title – to which Crisis on Infinite Earths was an homage, the events of this issue were key, as in the first issue of CoIE we learn that Alexander Luthor and Lois Lane got married, and they had a son, whom they named Alexander Luthor II. As their world was destroyed, they sent young Alexander out through the vibrational barrier to save his life. He was intercepted along the way, gained strange powers, aged at an accelerated rate, and played a vital role in the resolution of the Crisis.

It’s also worth noting that it was in an issue of DC Comics Presents that tied in to Crisis that Superman met and teamed up – much like Kal-L – with a younger version of himself from another Earth, an Earth known as Earth-Prime.

Earth-Prime was on Earth which, while having plenty of the regular variety, had neither super-heroes nor supervillains, where no one – well, virtually no one – had any super powers to speak of, and science and technology were a bit behind where they were on some of the other Earths.

What it had going for it, though, were people who were attuned, on some unconscious level, to what was happening on the other Earths, and they wrote down and drew some of the stories that they saw in their minds.

That Superboy from Earth-Prime – our Earth – also played an important role in the Crisis, and, twenty years later, as part of an effort to restore the multiverse after realizing that in condensing things down to one Earth they had created an even bigger mess, he and Alexander Luthor II, along with Kal-L and Lois Kent, who had managed to avoid being completely erased from history, popped up once again in Infinite Crisis, which was written by someone my age who obviously had a fondness for this particular comic as well.

The art chores on this issue were capably handled by the late Rich Buckler, who was the sort of artist who would never be considered a “star” – to the extent that anyone in comics can be – but was a solid and constant presence back in the days of my youth.

In any case, this trip into the archives wasn’t entirely a frivolous effort driven by a lack of interest in writing anything about my recently-purchased comics. I do legitimately think that my idea for a limited run of team-up books could be a winner, if positioned as something like what the “All Star” line of comics had been, or the current “Earth One” books are. Get on this, DC!

Beyond that, like I said, this rather unassuming little Dollar Comic had an impact that went beyond young Jon thinking it was cool, so it seemed like something worth talking about.

I’m sure that next week will find us back in the usual routine.

Recommended Reading:

CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS 30TH ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION – In 1985, DC Comics dramatically altered comics’ original universe with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, a 12-issue series that rocked the comics community, tragically dooming some of DC’s most beloved characters and drastically altering others. An unforgettable and defining event in comics history, CRISIS was arguably the first companywide crossover to make good on its promise of lasting change.

SHOWCASE PRESENTS: DC COMICS PRESENTS SUPERMAN TEAM-UPS VOL. 1 – Superman meets DC’s greatest heroes including The Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and many more in this title collecting DC COMICS PRESENTS #1-26.

SUPERMAN: THE GOLDEN AGE VOL. 1 – Faster than a speeding bullet, Superman burst onto the comic book scene in 1938, just as America was on the terrifying precipice of a world war. In a desperate time, legendary creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster brought to life the world’s first modern superhero. The Man of Steel emerged as a champion of the oppressed, taking down any enemy with his super-strength and speed, both foreign and near to home. In his distinctive royal blue, red and yellow costume, complete with cape, the stalwart Kryptonian emanated strength and fearlessness. He swiftly became a symbol of hope for a downtrodden America.

That does it for this week’s Spotlight. Be sure to come back next week for the Showcase when the comics featured will most likely have some bearing on what I write about in the Spotlight.

As always, special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artwork, my Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one).

And remember, if you enjoy reading this stuff at all, and would generally like to see more, y’know, stuff here at OpenDoor Comics, you can support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon.

Spotlight Sunday 4.15.18

It was my birthday on Friday, and as something of a belated gift to myself, and because it’s very much a foregone conclusion as to what will be in the Spotlight next week, I’ve decided to introduce something of a plot twist by invoking my recently-bestowed ability to choose to write about something that was not featured in the Showcase yesterday – even though I did acquire it this week – and so there are, I suppose, spoilers ahead for a comic that was published during the Kennedy administration than I am as we take a look at…

Superman (Vol. 1) #162
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Artist: Curt Swan
Cover: Kurt Schaffenberger
DC

Superman becomes immune to kryptonite! The bottle city of Kandor is restored to its original size! The perished planet, Krypton, becomes reborn! All crime and evil disappear! These are only a few of the surprises in this imaginary novel!

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid my ability to purchase new comics was limited, given the lack of access to a comic shop, or really any place that had a consistent inventory of comics. Picking up back issues was pretty much completely out of the question, apart from buying the mystery packages of damaged comics, or visiting a used bookstore that happened to have old comics. I didn’t have the means to send away to the various retailers and private collectors who advertised in comics either, so my best option came in the form of digest-sized reprints.

One such digest – purchased at an odd little store that had a larger, stranger selection of comics than most grocery stores, that we, alas, didn’t visit so often – contained a collection of “Imaginary Stories,” featuring the Man of Steel.

The digest’s cover image depicted what one might consider the main story of that volume, and the subject of today’s Spotlight, “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!”

(I loved the digest that reprinted this story to death as a kid. For real; the reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of stories contained within led to its demise, and given that I was already on something of a nostalgic kick, buying old issues of Superman – though of a slightly more recent vintage – from my youth, I decided to see if I could find a reasonably-priced copy of this issue in decent condition.)

It’s something of a classic tale that served as an inspiration for a rather contentious storyline in the pages of the Super-titles back in the 1990s, and while it’s not my favorite of the Silver Age “Imaginary Stories” – the one that is my favorite was also included in that digest, and I also own a copy of the comic in which it originally appeared (and may write about it someday) – but it ranks up near the top, both despite and because of its many flaws and general Silver Age silliness.

Our story opens with the staff of The Daily Planet standing around waiting for the publisher to post a notice listing their weekly salary increases. Everyone gets a raise, except for poor Clark Kent.

Perry White offers to take them all out for a celebratory lunch, but Clark feigns illness and excuses himself.

Not knowing that Clark is secretly Superman, Perry assumes that Clark is merely embarrassed for being exposed to the rest of the staff as being a “flop.”

The truth is that Clark received a secret summons from Supergirl requesting his presence at the Fortress of Solitude.

This just isn’t our man’s day; after being shamed in front of his co-workers in his civilian identity, Superman gets a talking to from the citizens of the bottle city of Kandor, calling him to account for his many failures.

The Kandorians have created a list of things that he’s failed to accomplish, such as restoring Kandor to its normal size, finding a means of making Kryptonians immune to the deadly effects of kryptonite, and the small matter of putting an end to all crime and evil.

All of these are daunting tasks even for Superman and are made no less so by the six-month deadline the Kandorians impose on him, at the end of which, should he fail to deliver, he will be forced to retire and switch places with a Kandorian who will take a shot at accomplishing these tasks.

(It’s worth noting that, even though Brainiac reduced them to a tiny size, there’s not really anything preventing the Kandorians from trying to solve these problems on their own.)

Superman agrees to their terms, and to maximize his chances of success, over Supergirl’s objections, he steps into an experimental chamber – powered by a piece of every kind of kryptonite, because why not? – designed to boost his intelligence.

The device works, but with the unintended consequences of splitting him into two separate Supermen, identical in every way except for the colors of their costumes. The dub themselves Superman-Red and Superman-Blue.

Each of the Supermen is one-hundred times smarter than the Superman they used to be, and so they set to work on accomplishing the tasks set before them, quickly working out a way to repair Brainiac’s damaged enlarging ray gun – something plain vanilla Superman could never manage – and haul the bottle city off to the asteroid belt where they move on to the surprise next phase of restoring Kandor.

Using a substance they call “Hyper-Magneton,” the duo creates a small planetoid with “strange magnetic powers.”

Said “strange magnetic powers” reach throughout the cosmos and draw in every single piece of kryptonite in existence. As the deadly bane of the Kryptonians’ existence is drawn in, the magnetic rays change the atomic structure of the pieces of kryptonite, turning them all back into the minerals, chemicals, and gases they had been before Krypton’s destruction, managing to take care of two tasks in one fell swoop, and, as a bonus, rebuilding their once-destroyed home planet in the process.

With the basic framework of Krypton restored, the Supermen restore Kandor and its people back to their original size, in, more or less, their original location.

Using the powers they now have under the yellow sun of our solar system, the Kandorians, with the guidance of Red and Blue, set to work on restoring some of the unique features of Krypton, such as the Jewel Mountains, and plant seeds – which grow super-fast, thanks to our sun – to restore the world’s vegetation, and begin rebuilding some of the other cities to which Krypton had once been home.

The question that remains for the inhabitants of New Krypton, though, is whether they want to stay where they are in this solar system, or return to their own galaxy, orbiting their own star. Despite the fact that it means they will lose their powers, they opt for the latter.

Red and Blue knew they would, however, and had set New Krypton in an orbit that would lead it back to the star old Krypton had orbited prior to its destruction.

Next, the two prepare to tackle the problem of evil, but before they can get started on that, they receive a call from their old college girlfriend, the mermaid Lori Lemaris. The mer-people of Atlantis had observed the way Red and Blue gave the Kandorians a new home and want in on that action, because they’re tired of being freaks on Earth, so they want a water world they can call their own.

Red and Blue know just the place; some time earlier, Superman and Supergirl had built a full-size replica of Krypton as a memorial to their vanished home. Now that the real Krypton has been restored, there’s no point in maintain a memorial. Calling in Krypto for help – he is initially confused by the sight of his two masters, but goes along with it all anyway – they, along with Supergirl, engage in some anthropogenic climate change by training their heat vision on the memorial planet’s polar ice caps and flooding the whole world.

Next, they create a planet-to-planet waterway – held together by magnetism, of course – that allows the mer-people to swim to their new home.

With that out of the way, it’s back to the problem of evil. They invent a ray that eliminates evil thoughts, and place satellites in orbit around Earth projecting the anti-crime ray and causing everyone – even Lex Luthor! – to stop their wicked ways.

Having given in to goodness, Luthor creates a panacea that will cure all diseases. Things are looking good!

Or are they? Returning to the Fortress, Red and Blue are shocked to see Supergirl releasing the evil Kryptonian villains from the Phantom Zone! Has the anti-crime ray somehow had the opposite effect on their cousin?

No; it turns out that the ray has reformed them as well, and now that they’re good they want to go home to New Krypton. However, there is some sad news; realizing that Earth no longer needs her, Supergirl wants to accompany the former villains and settle down on New Krypton, and so she bids her cousins farewell, after the Legion of Super-Heroes pops by from the future with a spaceship that will allow the Kryptonians to make their voyage home.

With all their major tasks out of the way, Red and Blue both agree that it’s time to settle down themselves and get married.

Now that there are two of them, one can marry Lois and one can marry Lana, but which one will marry which? They make a bizarre attempt at a kind of super-coin toss to give one of them the opportunity to pick first, but it doesn’t work out. Fortunately, they didn’t really need it, as it turns out that they aren’t quite identical; Red prefers Lois, whereas Lana would be Blue’s preference.

How could you possibly be 100 times smarter and still pick Lana, Blue?

A double wedding is planned, and because Lois’s sister Lucy is, well, Lucy, she decides that she needs to horn in on her sister’s special day (one that she already has to share with her frenemy) and decides to stop giving Jimmy Olsen the runaround, and so it becomes a triple wedding.

After the honeymoon is over, however, it becomes clear to Lois that Red longs to move to New Krypton. Being a dutiful wife, Lois surprises him with the gift of two spacesuits, build by Blue, with jet packs that will allow them to travel to New Krypton and land once they get there and Red’s powers disappear.

On Earth, Blue decides to retire and devote his life to science, as there is no longer any crime, and his super-robots can handle any natural disasters.

And so, Red and Blue settle into their happy new lives, with both insisting they have no regrets about the decisions they’ve made, though as Lucy and Jimmy visit Blue and Lana, and observe Red and Lois on New Krypton, Lucy isn’t so sure…

I know it’s in the innocent spirit of the Silver Age, but this is just creepy. Don’t spy on your sister/sister-in-law and her husband, you creeps.

What’s your opinion, readers? Suppose this imaginary story really happened! Which couple do you think would be happiest?

Like I said, there’s a lot of Silver Age silliness in this story, but there’s a kind of depth to it, in that it is something of a happy ending – despite Lucy’s misgivings – but it’s also just an ending, with all problems solved and no way to progress further, an example of the stagnation of perfection. The only method for building anything from it would be to tear it all down and destroy the perfection that it achieved.

Even as a kid reading it, I recognized that the “anti-crime ray” was ethically dubious – at best – and was more than a little troubled by the way any such considerations were glossed over.

Ultimately, the problem with the story is that it just wraps things up too perfectly, and beyond the inciting event – the withering evaluation of his performance as Superman by the Kandorians – it lacks any real conflict. Each act ends with the illusion of a conflict – such as the shot of Supergirl releasing the Phantom Zone villains – but that illusion is shattered immediately at the start of the next.

This story is exactly the kind of story that people who say they dislike Superman and don’t read his stories decry; he’s too perfect, and too powerful, so nothing interesting can happen*, suggesting that this kind of story is the only Superman story that is or can be told.

However, that’s part of what does make this story interesting. It’s a one-off, non-canonical story exactly because it does wrap things up too perfectly. It’s a kind of boundary for the telling of Superman tales, warning that this is storytelling territory into which they must not often stray.

And it starts with what seems like a startling proposition: Superman is a failure! He is not perfect, and there are limits to what even the Man of Tomorrow can accomplish. Why, to be as perfect as everyone thinks, he would have to split himself in two and boost his brainpower a hundredfold!

This story has stuck with me throughout the decades, I think, in part because it was the first time I can recall reading a story in which what was ostensibly a happy ending made me sad. Living “happily ever after,” I thought, doesn’t really square with fighting a never-ending battle.

Obviously, my opinion of this story is, er, colored by nostalgia – a nostalgia that was perhaps brought on by the annual reminder of the only direction in which time’s arrow moves – but despite some of the silliness, I think it holds up as a fun little fairy tale, and as an exemplar of the “imaginary stories” of a bygone era, one that brings Superman’s story to a definitive close in a more lighthearted manner than the story – inspired by the imaginary stories of the past – in which Alan Moore closed the book on the Silver Age once and for all.

The art is provided by the legendary Curt Swan, who had been drawing Superman for years by the time this was published, was still drawing Superman back when I first read this story and continued drawing Superman for years beyond that. While there are other artists whose depiction of Superman I prefer, when I close my eyes and picture Superman, it’s Swan’s Superman that I see. (He also provided the art for that final “imaginary story” written by Moore mentioned above.

Whatever you may think about this silly little story, I for one still think it’s better than this:

Recommended Reading:

SUPERMAN BLUE VOL. 1 – When the sun temporarily goes out, the classic Superman as we know him temporarily loses his powers…but when they return, they are not at all what the Man of Steel expects! Clark Kent is suddenly transformed into a being of crackling blue energy, complete with a new set of abilities and a totally different look! But that’s not where the story ends…

DC’S GREATEST IMAGINARY STORIES: 11 TALES YOU NEVER EXPECTED TO SEE! – Presents a collection of graphic novel DC Comics stories featuring tales of Superman, Supergirl, Batman, the Flash, and more.

That does it for this week’s special Spotlight Sunday. Come back for Showcase Saturday just to see what else I bought besides the thing that I’ll be writing about next Sunday…

If you didn’t care for this deviation from the usual pattern, well, just create your own “Imaginary Spotlight Sunday.”

Special thanks go out to Comic Logic Books & Artwork, my Local Comic Shop. Remember to support your LCS (find one here, if you don’t already have one). And support OpenDoor Comics on Patreon!

*I would also argue that in the Silver Age something interesting – if not logical or sensible – could always happen.