Of all the strange transformations Superman has undergone in his 78-year history, none has been quite so derided as the year where his familiar costume and powers were replaced with a blue and white “containment suit” and a tenuous relationship with electricity. But that raises the question, was it really all that bad? Two decades later, we want to find out, so ComicsAlliance is taking a look back at the Electric Blue Era of Superman to find out not just what worked, but if anything worked. This is… Electric Bluegaloo.
This week, the Electric Blue era officially comes to a close in Superman Forever, but we’re never actually sure why.
- Superman Forever, by Karl Kesel, Dan Jurgens, Stuart Immonen, Jon Bogdanove, Louise Simonson, Tom Grummett, Val Semeiks, John Byrne, Kieron Dwyer, Norm Breyfogle, Anthony Williams, Dick Giordano, Scot Eaton, Steve Yeowell, Paul Ryan, Bret Breeding, Denis Rodier, Klaus Janson, Hilary Barta, Joe Rubenstein, Jose Marzan Jr., and Dennis Janke
Back when I was a kid and I went to go pick up a copy of Superman #123, getting in on the ground floor of what TV news had assured me was a bold new era that would definitely be worth enough to pay for my college education one day, I remember that I heard the guy working behind the counter telling someone, “Well, next year’s the 60th anniversary, so there’s no way they’re not going to have him in his classic costume for that.”
Considering that I was 14 when that thing came out, that might’ve been the first time that I’d ever heard anyone mention that decisions on the direction of a comic book could be determined by something other than the natural, logical course of the story. But even then, I assumed that there had to be something beyond just the anniversary that would get him back into his classic costume, some kind of change to his body — and I still assumed that this week when I went to finally read Superman Forever, the one-shot that closed out the Electric Blue era and returned Superman to his old powers and costume.
There were, after all, months of setup to get to the point of Superman’s powers changing the first time, and the one big strength of these comics has been how intricate and interwoven the storylines were, flowing from one thing to the next even at the expense of focusing on big action. With a full 86 pages in the one-shot and virtually everyone involved with the Superman books showing up to take at least a few of them, I figured that I’d finally find out how it all went back to the same status quo. But that’s not what happened.
What happened is that Superman just lands in a crater outside the Kent farm with his old powers. How this happened is literally never explained.
It’s not like the entire thing is just swept under the rug. There are multiple references to Superman having energy powers, their split into Red and Blue, and the big fight with the Millennium Giants, but Clark just kind of assumes that the sacrifice of his former selves caused some unnamed force (The Keeper of the Flame?! Destiny?! The universe itself?! Who knows!) to restore him to his old form as a reward. And this is only ever brought up in one panel of an eighty-six page comic book.
The closest this thing gets to ever addressing it beyond that is when Kismet — essentially DC’s equivalent of Eternity — shows up in the form of a tree to confirm that’s what happened, and starts talking about some vague threat that’s going to show up in the future. Unfortunately, I don’t think it showed up before late 1999, when the books all got new creative teams.
To be fair, I’d rather that a story erred on the side of under-explaining superheroes rather than over-explaining. As much as I love getting into the details and minutiae, and as much as that stuff’s fun to read in a Who’s Who or a Wikipedia entry, I’d rather not see a story get bogged down with explanations. But at the same time, when you’re pulling the whole end-of-an-era shtick — specifically the end of a Bold New Era that’s also a Return To Greatness — you have to give me something. As it stands, this slides in just under “a wizard did it.” There is literally less explanation than that.
To make matters even more frustrating, at least for the people who were actually kind of into the whole Electric Blue thing (read: me), there are multiple references to how the classic costume and powers are “the real powers” and how this is the way it was always supposed to be.
And like, I’m not saying I disagree, but readers just spent a year with this guy, and now they’re basically just telling us it was trash garbage and a huge waste of time. It’s the kind of burial you expect from an incoming creative team that hated their predecessors — like, for instance, Garth Ennis taking a pot-shot at Angel Punisher in the first issue of “Welcome Back Frank” — but go back up and look at the credits. It’s the same people who have been with us all year that are telling us this. That makes it even worse!
Oh well. At least we’ll never have to worry about that kind of thing happening in the Superman books ever again.
The thing is, even with all that frustration, it’s not a bad comic. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that Superman Forever tells one of the best stories of the entire year, something that’s probably not hurt by the fact that it’s essentially four issues worth of comics that you get all at once rather than parceling it out every week.
So if it’s not about how Superman stopped being made of electricity, what is it about?
Lena Luthor has been kidnapped! And that’s actually a great premise.
Not only does it provide us with a classic mystery setup that sees Superman and Lex Luthor working towards the same ultimate goal of rescuing Baby Lena from whoever it was that kidnapped her, it also allows the creators to tie in all their disparate stories into a single narrative.
Luthor blames the Daily Planet for giving the kidnappers the inspiration to strike by publishing a photo at the behest of managing editor Simone DeNiege, who was attempting to drive up sales. And while we’re at the Planet, Jimmy Olsen — having finally gotten Intergang off his tail thanks to Misa and the hypnotic ray that made them forget who he is — gets his old job back and sets off to investigate for himself.
Also investigating? The Metropolis SCU, who are working with Interim Mayor Sackett, whose plans for Metropolis’s futuristic Hypersector are being delayed by this latest crisis. And of course, a kidnapping like this causes Dirk Armstrong to want to reconnect with his increasingly estranged daughter, who is romantically entangled with Scorn, the super-powered refugee from the Bottle City of Kandor.
That is, more or less, every story arc that’s been going since the Electric Blue Era started, and all of it ties into this one big event. Considering how quickly things move — things like Luthor’s trial, Lena’s birth, even Jimmy fleeing from Intergang, which always seemed like it was just on the verge of a grand adventure that it never really got around to — this feels like the story that’s making it all work into one single comprehensive hole.
And in that respect, it’s what “Millennium Giants” should’ve been.
Obviously, the number one suspect in the kidnapping — at least for the readers — is Lena’s mother, Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza. As you may recall, the Contessa recently faked her own death after being put into a medically induced coma and then being imprisoned at a hospital upstate. She’s been sending Luthor black roses as vague threats, and kidnapping her own child seems like a pretty great way to get revenge on her husband.
The only problem is that the actual kidnapping isn’t really the Contessa’s style. Someone —- or something — busted through the window of Luthor’s high-rise through brute force. The only clue — and it’s actually a great clue, if you’re the kind of person who likes piecing together tiny little bits and pieces from the past 10 years of Superman comics — is that there’s a small amount of white powder, “like talc, but different” found in Lena’s crib.
I’ve solved the mystery, dear reader! Have you?!
If you haven’t, you’re in the same boat as everyone else. While Superman and the SCU try to track down the culprits, Jimmy’s investigation takes a different route, first to burying the hatchet with Bibbo Bibbowski, and then, following the super-strong heavy that is Rough House, to a meeting of Intergang.
It’s a solid tactic, considering that Intergang has their fingers in most of the crimes committed in Metropolis, but they’re as much in the dark as everyone — even after Luthor demands that they put themselves to good use by finding his daughter.
But even with everyone involved, and Luthor getting increasingly furious about his daughter’s abduction…
…the leads keep drying up. Until, that is, a disastrous encounter between Intergang and the SCU over a fake ransom note leads to an offhand mention that Superman was sighted the previous night flying around the Hypersector. The thing is, Superman was nowhere near there while he was investigating.
Put it all together: The white powder, the brute strength, the fact that there’s someone who looks enough like Superman to fool people from a distance, and the fact that once Superman gets to the futuristic Hypersector, he finds a baby in a crude “rocketship” on top of a pile of dynamite…
… and you have your answer. Someone’s trying to re-create Superman’s origin story, but with Lex Luthor’s baby instead of Jor-El’s, sending her away from her evil father to be raised by good people on another planet. It’s a crazy, mixed-up opposite version of Krypton’s explosion and Superman’s journey to Earth.
Mixed-up? Opposite? Why, I guess you could say that the whole situation is…
Yes, it’s Superman’s flawed clone. And while he never quite gets around to blowing up his tons of dynamite, he does end up self-destructing and bringing the entire building down on Superman’s head. Superman’s invulnerable, no-longer-intangible head, which is protecting the very vulnerable Lena Luthor. With Bizarro gone, Superman returns the child to her father, but warns Lex to do right by her, because he’ll be watching.
But that raises the question of just how a Bizarro got involved in all this the first place. This is, after all, before the return of Bizarro World and the “classic” Bizarros. The post-Crisis models — the ones with the chalky skin that turns to dust under sunlight, and which once cured Lana Lang of her temporary blindness — are all made to order. So who’s out there making them, and why?
Well, if your first thought was that the Contessa was behind the kidnapping, it turns out you weren’t quite wrong after all:
The Contessa has teamed up with Dabney Donovan, maddest of the mad scientists, with plans for vexing Luthor at every turn. That’s why the dynamite didn’t explode — because the whole thing was a setup.
Anyway, that’s how the whole thing ends. Well, sort of — it actually ends with a quartet of epilogues that set up the next story arc, in which Superman is split across four different time periods. But as far as the Electric Blue era goes, that is, quite literally, all she wrote.
- Superman was returned to his original Kryptonian physiology and powers, for reasons that are extremely vague.
- Jimmy Olsen got his job back at the Daily Planet.
- The Contessa recruited Dabney Donovan into her plan for revenge against Lex Luthor.
- The Hypersector, Interim Mayor Sackett’s pet project, was mostly destroyed.
- “Machine” Gunn, of Intergang, was arrested by the Special Crimes Unit.
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