Neil on Nick?

So my favorite comics rumor of the week from Rich Johnston is that Neil Gaiman’s next comic project might be Nick Fury. Figure out some way to have Jim Steranko draw it, and you’d have my favorite comics writer and artist together. Excuse me while I slobber at the thought.

Something to Crow About

You may have heard of The Crow. It’s a movie opening on Friday, May 13, notorious at this point because is the last film of star Brandon Lee. If you didn’t know, Lee (son of Bruce) was killed by a prop gun supposedly filled with blanks. This the last of a string of tragedies related to the film, but filming was nearly completed when Lee died and the movie was finished. The film will have an awesome soundtrack featuring Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, The Cure, and Rage Against The Machine.

So what does it have to do with comics? Well, like The Rocketeer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Batman, it was initially created as a comic book. However, The Crow has about as much in common with regular comics as Nine Inch Nails do with elevator music. The Crow is a three-issue black and white comic book, completed over the span of several years. It is the apparent product of a lot of pain. Writer and artist James O’Barr doesn’t talk much about the inspiration for The Crow, but it obviously forms some type of wish-fulfillment for him.

As the story begins, a mugger kills an old lady and slips into an alley. He is confronted by a tall man dressed in black, face garishly painted like a clown, with a thin scar across his nose. He is the Crow. The mugger takes a shot at him, but the Crow has better aim and the mugger goes down. The Crow asks the mugger if he remembers a cold October night and a broken-down car. The mugger blanches with fear and the Crow kills him. The Crow dispatches several other criminals, as flashbacks show him without makeup, becoming engaged to a beautiful blonde.

In the second book, the Crow goes after a junkie who has been allowed to gather his allies. They take shots at him at point-blank range,but aren’t able to stop him and he kills them all. Via an extended flashback we learn that Eric (The Crow) and Shelly (the blonde) were out celebrating their engagement when the car broke down. Unable to fix it, they fell victim to a gang of armed men high on crack. For laughs, they shot Eric twice in the head and raped and murdered Shelly. By a twist of fate, Eric survives and vows revenge.

The two remaining members of the gang meet. The leader refuses to believe the stories, and the other one overdoses on morphine rather than face the Crow again. After the Crow kills more of the leader’s men, the leader gets nervous and hires about fifteen men for protection. The Crow shows up and cannot be stopped. The leader hops into a car and abandons his men as the Crow polishes the rest of them off. The Crow gets into another car and forces the leader off the road at the same spot as the original incident. The leader’s legs are broken in the crash and the Crow has his revenge. The Crow joins his girlfriend as the story ends.

The Crow is simply the most intense comic book I have ever seen. A fantasy come true, it is extremely violent, although there is some black comedy. If the movie is anything like the comic, it will be incredible. If you’re interested in getting The Crow, you can pick up a copy at Big Planet Comics in Vienna.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Modern Art Is Modern Crap

Sometimes, life can surprise you. You learn things that you strongly believed from childhood can be wrong. Other times, these ideas are reinforced more strongly than you would have thought possible. The latter was my situation when I visited the National Gallery of Art last week. When I was younger, I had previously visited art museums and studied the pictures within. I was left with the impression that the 20th century artists were pushing a load of crap.

Once again, my beliefs were reinforced. From the reproductions of Warhol to the blatant rip-offs of Roy Lichtenstein (boy, that’s original. Take two or three panels from a comic book, copy it word for word, line for line onto a canvas, and call it art. Some call it art, I call it at least plagiarism, if not outright thievery). They all sucked. Most looked like finger-painting from my kindergarten class.

There were, of course, one or two exceptions. I was particularly impressed with Gerhard Ricter’s Abstract 780-1. Having admired many computer-generated works of art (it’s amazing at what can be done with over 16 million colors to play with), this guy has blended colors on a canvas that I find absolutely impossible to describe with words. I was also taken with Frank Stella’s Zeltweg. A strange, multi-colored, multi-piece work, it almost seemed like the pieces were jigsaw puzzle pieces. Both of these works can be found on the bottom floor of the East Building.

I left the 20th century artists and went to the West Building (if you want to go between buildings, be sure and take the underground passage; the waterfall is simply astounding), home of the 17th, 18th and 19th century artists. In particular, the galleries with the landscape artists were fantastic. Having tried my hand at some type of art, I was simply at a loss for words (although the anal-retentive guards weren’t. They made everyone stay at least 12 inches away from the paintings, and you were not allowed to bring your fingers anywhere near them). The detail in the paintings was incredible, but the most exquisite thing about them was the use of color. The remarkable depictions of sunrise and sunset on river valleys were breathtaking.

I understand that modern artist think this avenue is played out (although I don’t ever think I’ve seen successful depictions of automobiles or high-rises). However, that doesn’t give any excuse for the crap they claim to be art. I’ve heard their claims that their way is easier to convey emotions, but that’s bullshit. They’re just screaming with their hands, and if I want to be screamed at, I’ll pick a professional, like Kurt Cobain or my mom.

So where is good art being done these days? Well, I’ll tell you: comic books. Yeah, you heard me. Now with comics, as with everything else in life, Sturgeon’s Law applies: 90% of everything is crap. That includes most of your average super-heroes, your Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the like. The 10% that’s good, though, must be seen (and read) to be believed.

So who are the modern masters? Well, my current favorite is Jim Lee, head of Image’s Wildstorm Studios. His book is WildC.A.T.S., a story about an independently operating covert group (unaffiliated to any government) that helps to save the world. His detail and line work is incredible, and it’s his influence that is responsible for the increasing use of cross-hatching in today’s comics.

Another great artist is Barry Windsor-Smith. Barry first came to attention in 1972 with the first graphic adaption of Conan. Barry is a classically trained painter and left comics for a decade to focus on his own studio, issuing portfolios every couple of years to make money. He returned with a vengeance in the 80’s, and his exquisite organic work has been long sought after. He is currently working for Malibu’s Ultraverse on Rune, about an alien vampire who preys on super-heroes. It could be campy, but in his hands it’s an eerie horror story.

Also great is Frank Miller. He came to notice during his run on Daredevil in the early eighties, then achieved his greatest acclaim with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns in 1986. His dark and gritty portrait of an over the hill hero coming out of retirement set the tone for years of hero makeovers. He took a vacation from comics to write screenplays for RoboCop 2 and 3, but came back recently with a new style. The black and white technique Miller uses in Sin City manages to evoke the classic forties mystery story with a nineties flair.

But I digress. The art in comics moves me so much, I have to go back a century to find that same depth in art. It seems like the modern artists aren’t even trying, that they’re turning in McAssignments. If they’re that apathetic, why don’t they just get a different career?

It’s not like I don’t love the cutting edge. I like it in music, film, comics, TV and cars. But at the same time I get the sense that the people who create these, care about what they do. Modern artists give me the impression that they care about how much money they can make if they’re the next Van Gogh. Most forms of expression in this world give me a great feeling; modern art leaves me feeling like I have to hurl.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Buy Comics Cheap: Back Issue Purchasing

Previously, in this column, I’ve discussed some of the best comics around. Now I’ll explain the best method of getting some (comics, that is), some that may be even cheap enough for college students.

There are two kinds of comics that you can buy, new comics and back issues. Back issues are any comics that were published more than a month ago. For new comics there are two ways you can go: subscriptions and buying them directly from comic book stores.

Subscriptions are normally done directly with the comic book companies that produce them. (Marvel, DC, etc.) They are exactly like magazine subscriptions in that you pay a set price for a year’s subscription. This has the advantage of giving you up to 30% off the cover price, but the drawback of trusting the US Postal Service to deliver your issues in undamaged condition, if at all. It also requires an advance commitment to a title you may not like.

The other way to get new comics is to buy them in a comics store. There are a couple of ways that you can do this. You can either buy them directly off the rack, or you can join a pull service. For the latter, you must sign up in advance, at the comics shop, for the individual titles you’ll buy each month. They’ll pull them for you each month and you can buy them without the hassle of finding them on the rack. This has the additional benefit of a discount, usually around 10% off the cover price. There are places that will do this through the mail, usually for a deeper discount, but you must know what you want, and pay for it months before it comes out.

Due to continual price hikes of new comics (most comics now start at $1.50, but some can cost in excess of $5.00) it can actually be cheaper to buy back issues, especially if you are a frugal college student. Often back issues are sold for cover price or less. The easiest place to find back issues is your local comic book store. Many local stores carry a selection of back issues and are willing to look for any they don’t have. The best thing to do is find out when the store is going to have a sale during which they frequently discount the comics from 10% to 20%. There are a lot of good local stores, including Big Planet Comics in Reston, and Burke Used Books in Burke.

Another good way to get back issues is through the mail. There are many companies that will do this, but it is best to stick to the well-known, established ones. The best one I’ve found is Mile High Comics at 2151 West 56th Ave., Denver, Co 80221. They carry nearly every comic published in the last fifty years, and offer some really great specials in their catalog, with several thousand comics for under a dollar each. I will say this: they’re not that fast, although they are accurate and dependable.

The other place to get back issues (and some new issues, for that matter) is at a comics show. These are events held in the main room of a hotel, usually on a weekend. With anywhere between 15 and 40 dealers selling comics and cards, you can usually get a good deal. To make their money back, they are usually willing to lower prices, especially if you have cash. The best bargains are usually found here, as many dealers bring boxes of comics for under a dollar. If you are interested in attending any shows in our area, there will be two on March 6: one in Springfield at the Hilton and one in Tyson’s Corner at the Ramada.

If you have comics to trade or sell, that puts you in another situation. Your best bet is to trade for more, as people are generally inclined to make better deals for trade if they do give out cash at all. The comics shops are not a great place to go; they’ll offer the worst prices. Some good trades can be worked at comics shows, but the best deals I’ve found have been through the mail. You can either place your own ads or respond to ads placed by others.

The best way to learn about mail order houses and comics in general is to pick up a copy of the Comic Buyer’s Guide, the only weekly periodical about comics. CBG contains reviews and letters by and about the comics industry, as well as plenty of ads to buy and sell comics.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

A Top Ten Look at 1993’s Best Comics

It’s not quite the end of the year, but it’s time for the year end wrap up of comics. Here, in a more or less order, is my list of the top 10 comics for 1993.

10. Ninjak (Valiant) A brand new book, but a good one. Ninjak is Valiant’s new mysterious ninja, but the best thing about this book is the people behind it. Valiant has been known for delivering good, solid stories, but since the departure of Barry Windsor-Smith, has lacked any superstar artists for the fans to get excited about. Well, now they’ve got one. Joe Quesada (The Ray, Batman:Sword Of Azrael, X-Factor) has accepted penciling duties on this book, and with the solid storytelling skills of Mark Moretti (Eternal Warrior) this book should go far, if the first issue is any indication of where it’s going.

9. Wild C.A.T.S. (Image) While I have a problem with Image creating a work-for-hire situation when they said they’d be nothing like Marvel, I certainly have no problem with the quality of the books that do come out from most of the creators. Wild C.A.T.S. is a team of superheroes gathered together initially to fight an alien invasion. The team book is a tough concept to pull off, since it’s been done practically to death, but Jim Lee pulls it off. The writing is OK, but the main reason to buy this book is the exciting pencils of Lee. Lee manages to keep the book exciting while keeping the characters realistic in their proportions, a tough feat to pull off at Image.

8. Sachs and Violens (Marvel/Epic) Yes, Peter David (Incredible Hulk, X-Factor, Aquaman) strikes again. It seems this man excels at anything he turns his typewriter to. Joining him once again is George Perez (New Teen Titans, Infinity Gauntlet, Break-Thru). These two were first united in last year’s Hulk: Future Imperfect, and their new work looks even better. Sachs and Violens are a model and a photographer, driven to become detectives by the death of one of Sachs’ model friends. The best part of the first issue, aside from the great art, is the text in the back, where David explains his feeling on sex and violence. And what does David think of sex on TV? “Frankly, I think it’s a pain. For one thing, the cable box winds up wedged into your back and gets real uncomfortable…”

7. Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo (DC/Vertigo) An old, lame Western hero. The last story with this guy attempted to send him into a post-nuclear apocalypse. I thought nobody could make him interesting. Boy, was I wrong. Famed horror (and horror western) novelist Joe R. Lansdale brings horror to the Old West, and it will never be the same. Jonah Hex is your average ornery bounty hunter with a price on his own head, who discovers that corpses that don’t stop moving make it hard to collect bounty on them. Lending a great deal of historical background are artists Timothy Truman (Scout, The Spider, Turok) and Sam Glanzman, both well known for their stories based in this time period.

6. Bone (Cartoon Books) Have you ever heard of Pogo? Remember “we have seen the enemy, and he is us”? No? Well forget it then, and go buy this book. Bone is hard to describe. It’s obviously influenced by Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but has a style all it’s own. The star is one Fone Bone, who along with his cousins Phoney and Smiley is trying to find his way back home. That description doesn’t do the book any justice, though. It’s hilarious and must be seen for itself.

5. Superman (DC) In November of last year Superman died. You wouldn’t think that leaves much room for a story, would ya? Especially with four monthly titles to put out. Well, editor Mike Carlin and his team of writers managed to do it. In April, it was established that Superman had survived somehow, and this news was followed by the appearance of four separate Supermen. The surprise was that none of the four was the real one, and one was a villain that took the combined might of the other three, plus the original, to stop. This story has been fresh and original all year, an amazing effort.

4. Cerebus (Aardvark-Vanaheim) This is hard to describe. What do you say about a book that started out as simple Conan the Barbarian parody, but has evolved into the life story of Cerebus. And when I say life story, I mean it. Dave Sim has committed to producing 300 issues over 26 years. And you know the amazing thing? He’s more than halfway there already. This book is fantastic, though. It covers one person’s life, and like life it has humor and sadness, adventure and tragedy.

3. Spawn (Image) You really have to respect someone who can listen to what the critics say, and than proceed to blow them away. The most frequent criticism leveled at Image is that it is a company made up of artists and that it’s writing, to put it mildly, sucks. Todd McFarlane had been writing Spider-Man before he left Marvel, and has been improving since, but he acknowledges he’s no Shakespeare. So in response to the critics, he hired some of the best writers in comics to write issues of Spawn this year. Alan Moore (Watchmen), Neil Gaiman (Sandman), Dave Sim (Cerebus), and Frank Miller (Batman:The Dark Knight Returns) all wrote for Spawn, producing some incredible issues along the way. Oh yeah, Spawn is short for hellspawn, he gets his powers from the devil, and every time he uses them, he gets closer to returning to the grave. This is the best book from Image, not to mention the longest running one.

2. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear (Marvel) Genius is an overused word, but it certainly applies to Frank Miller. As he makes his second return to the character he gained his fame on, it’s clear that he was born to write the adventures of this blind superhero. Even though his Daredevil has been branded the definitive one, Miller never had before told the full origin of the character the way he had done with Batman. This series answers questions about Daredevil that have remained unanswered for more than ten years, as well as providing a full origin of Elektra, his lover and enemy.

1. Sandman/Death (DC/Vertigo) There’s always one thing that rises above all others. And this year it’s Neil Gaiman’s unparalleled work on Sandman and it’s spinoff, Death: The High Cost Of Living. Gaiman’s amazing ear for dialect, speech, and mannerisms make all of his characters totally unique. Death 1-3 and Sandman 50, in particular, were incredible. The artists, Chris Bachalo and P. Craig Russell provided dazzling interpretations of Gaiman’s scripts, making for the best comics of the year.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

Understanding Comics: Read It!

Before I begin this review, I’d like to quote from a favorite cartoon of mine: “Pictures without words: Art!; Words without pictures: Literature!; Words and pictures together: pieces of worthless crap!” This sums up the mainstream attitude towards comics; at least, until now. The problem with comics is that unlike other media, there has been no critical examination of the form. That is a gap that the new book from Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, fills admirably.

The book is basically comics’ first textbook (and isn’t that what college students want, another textbook?). Unlike most textbooks, it is done entirely in the standard comics style, which is absolutely appropriate. It begins with an attempt to nail down a definition of what exactly comics are. McCloud starts with the definition by comics legend Will Eisner (creator of The Spirit) of comics as sequential art (two or more connected panels of art). McCloud expands this definition to “juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (and if you think that’s complex, check out the dictionary definitions for art or literature).

When did comics begin? A good question. Most books about comics start around 1896 with the first comic strip, but McCloud ventures a bit farther back. He examines an Egyptian tomb painting from 1300 BC and finds that it meets his requirements to be considered comics. On the way back to the present he stops in the 16th century to examine a pre-Columbian manuscript and looks at the first interdependent combination of words and pictures in the mid 19th century.

McCloud next explains the attraction comics have via their depiction of life not being quite realistic. His theory is that a realistic view is the way we see others, but the image we have of ourselves is more cartoony, so we are able to identify more with the characters in comics. The level of reality used can affect how one views the work, and a combination of realistic and cartoony styles can result in a totally different style, such as Japanese comics (referred to as manga), where the humans and animals are done in a cartoony, but the environment they inhabit is extremely realistic.

However, the most abstract a picture, say a face, can get is not “:-|” but rather “FACE”. McCloud believes that “words are the ultimate abstraction” and that most comics have emphasized the difference between words and pictures. Writing and drawing are often seen as completely separate disciplines, even though the best comics are those in which the words and pictures seamlessly flow together. What is needed is the formation of a vocabulary for comics consisting of words and pictures. There’s a problem in the combining of the two, though. Pictures are received information, instantly transmitted and received, while words are perceived information, requiring time and knowledge to understand. In their simplest forms, the most abstract picture and the simplest word, they are close to another, which is desired to build a vocabulary, but which is often at odds with the desire for sophistication. McCloud envisions a classification for comics based on the triangle, which has three points: reality/nature, meaning/ideas, and pictures/art, into which all comics can be placed.

McCloud next introduces a concept that is extremely crucial to comics, closure, where we observe parts but perceive a whole. This has applications to everyday life, when we assume that the GMU Student Senate exists, even though most of us will never see it. Also closure is evident when we look at a photograph in a newspaper (actually just a series of dots) or watch a movie (24 pictures a second, which we interpret as action). In comics, a static medium, closure is used to simulate both time and motion. He introduces several specific types of closure, such as moment-to-moment (eye blinking) and action-to-action (ball approaching, batter hitting it) and looks at some statistics of uses of different types. He discovers that American comics almost exclusively show things happening, while manga often uses closure to set a mood. He believes that these differences are cultural, in that we are more goal oriented and the Japanese have a tradition that emphasizes “being there over getting there”. The power of closure is seen between panels when the reader is asked to see what isn’t there. With two panels of an eye open and closed, the reader will supply the motion of the eye closing, an act unique to comics.

Time is expressed mainly through panels and closure. The panel is comics’ most important symbol. A stretched panel in company with several narrower panels can denote a longer period of time. Motion is often shown with the help of a motion line (like a circle around a batter as he swings). Emotions can be shown in several different ways; with symbols (teardrops for sadness, crosshatching on the face for embarrassment) or with lines (harsh lines for anger, gentle for affection). Sound is conveyed through the word balloon, which can change in shape or typeface of the words to simulate different sounds.

McCloud looks at early cave paintings to show that when we first tried to communicate, it was through words and pictures (or show and tell). We drifted away from that until at one point words and pictures were totally separate. They slowly drifted back together around 1900, when comics as a popular medium first started. McCloud focuses on several types of combinations of words and pictures, ones which depend more on one, ones where they are seemingly unconnected, and the most important, interdependent, where together they “convey an idea that neither could convey alone”. He then provides several interpretations of a short story using these styles.

Next, McCloud answers the question: “Is comics art?”. Of course it is, especially since his definition of art is “any human activity which doesn’t grow out of either of our species’ two basic instincts: survival and reproduction”(I guess this means Expulsion is art; frame it). He covers 6 basic steps to creation of any work of art and explains the different approaches one might take to be a groundbreaker or storyteller. He briefly mentions color, that it has been limited by money and technology, and may assume more importance in the future.

McCloud closes by mentioning that comics are unique as being a communication media where the artistic vision stands the best chance of making it to the reader. This is due both to the limited number of people usually involved and the art form itself. He encourages discussion of his book, and there has been response. In particular, one reader objected to the exclusion of single panel comics strips from the definition and argues that there is closure between the strip and the caption.

The book has already gone into its second printing and is available now in your favorite comics shop. My opinion? I agree with Neil Gaiman, award winning writer, who said of the book, “If you read, write, teach, or draw comics; if you want to; or if you simply want to watch a master explainer at work, you must read this book”.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]

The Death of Superman

Let’s start off this column with a discussion of what was probably the biggest event in comics in 1992 and threatens to continue into ’93: the death of Superman.

Let’s get one thing straight: DC Comics, which has been creating monthly Superman comics since 1938, is a business. It is owned by Time Warner Inc., who are responsible fully to their stockholders. The stockholders only want one thing out of Time Warner, which in turn only wants one thing out of DC Comics: money.

Okay. Now, Superman may be the most well known, as well as one of the oldest comics characters, but in comics old and familiar is boring, which translates into poor sales.

DC has been publishing for a while, so they’ve come up with a number of schemes over the years to try to improve sales. The 50’s and 60’s saw the use of the imaginary story, with stories like “What If Superman married Lois Lane” or “What if Superman lost his powers”. The stories came with disclaimers, but the sales were good. In the 70’s and 80’s, Superman was reinvented several times. His origin was updated (so that instead of him being 40, he was now 27), and new themes were introduced (Clark Kent became a television reporter, villains like Lex Luthor got more powerful). The most thorough reinvention was for Superman’s 50th anniversary in 1988. Many parts of his past 50 years were cut, such as the existence of Superboy, Supergirl, the Phantom Zone, and Krypto the Superdog. Sales were much improved, but after the popular writer/artist who had controlled this left, sales started to slip again.

In 1990, the current writers on the Superman books (three at that time; a fourth was added in 1991 to have a Superman book out every week) decided that they would have Clark Kent pop the question to Lois Lane, in Superman (v.2) 50. This created a surge of media interest and the book sold out. However, this did not translate into increased sales in general in the Superman titles. Take note that there is one way to get out of an engagement without argument.

The Superman writers tried a number of different storylines in 1991, but none proved wildly successful. In early 1992, they were having a meeting when the topic of killing Superman came up. It’s their character; why not? Worked out that day was where and how he should die. They decided to announce it publicly way in advance (they had taken heat over not releasing the engagement plans), and came up with a gigantic alien mental patient to fight Superman (mental patient later changed to escaped prisoner in the interests of PC).

DC was fortunate and released the news about Superman’s death on a slow news day. Every media organization known to man covered the story, and Leno and Letterman talked about it for weeks. The story itself was a long, drawn out “Rocky” movie, a six issue slugfest ending in a typically cliched fashion: Superman’s last punch kills Doomsday, but he then succumbs to his injuries.

The recent storyline has been a huge success. For months, all four books, plus some issues of Justice League America have been selling out. The collector’s edition of Superman 75 (where he dies) has been commanding prices of $25 to $50 around the country. Superman 75 was the third biggest selling comic in history (@4 million), and the fastest selling ever (four printings in a month). The best way to catch the story for yourself is to pick up a copy of the Death of Superman trade paperback, a compilation of the whole storyline, now available at your local comics shop.

Wait a minute, Superman’s dead, right? DC screwed up because they can’t publish a book without its title character, right? Isn’t that the end of the story? Not quite. Most comics readers said “Superman’s dead? So what?” Why? Because death in comics ain’t quite like real life.

If you recall, there was a small media furor in 1987 when DC killed off Robin. However, that wasn’t the original Robin. The original one had a new costume, and the new one had only been around three or four years. Batman has since found another one. In comics, heroes and villains die all the time and come back to life. Readers have become immune to death. What may be original is how Superman comes back.
From Superman’s death until now, the four Superman books have focused on the supporting characters, as well as the attempts to revive Superman and perform an autopsy on his body. Jimmy Olsen has enjoyed success as a result of his exclusive photos of Superman’s death. Lois Lane and Clark’s parents have been shown dealing with his death on a personal level. Jonathan Kent, Clark’s father had a heart attack, slipped into a coma, and apparently died as the Superman titles suspended publication.

Several “one-shots”(one-issue specials) will be published in the next few months will detail how Metropolis handles life without a Superman, especially the large crime wave once criminals realize there’s no one to stop them.

The big news happens on Friday, April 16 when Adventures of Superman 500 ships. But how? Isn’t Superman dead? Yep.

In the double-sized issue, Superman meets his foster father, when both of them are traveling “towards the light”. Their combined force of will enables them to stop themselves passing on to the other side. At the end of the story, Pa Kent awakens from his coma, but Superman is nowhere to be found.

Two weeks later, on Friday, April 30, all four Superman titles ship on the same day, starting a new storyline – “Reign of the Supermen” – That’s right – Supermen. Four different super-powered individuals claim to be the Man of Steel.

Action Comics features a cold, logical (Vulcan?) vigilante who will kill if he thinks it’s necessary. Adventures of Superman features a “superboy” who appears to be a young clone of the original, and apparently has no memories. Superman features a cyborg from space, who claims to be Superman, retooled for the future. Superman: The Man of Steel features a steelworker, John Henry Iron, who was buried alive in the rubble when Superman and Doomsday fought, trashing Metropolis. He creates a high-tech metal suit, becoming a true man of steel.

The kicker is, any or none of these individuals could be Superman. They could be split personalities of the original, or the original is hiding out. In any case, it is unlikely that any of these individuals are Superman, since Clark Kent is nowhere to be found. If sales increase dramatically on one or two titles, that could affect the eventual outcome. If Adventures with the super-boy is successful, watch for him to be expanded into his own title.

Early predictions from fans saw Superman coming back as a grim and gritty vigilante, which is reflected in one of the Supermen.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]