Wednesday, April 16, 2014




Personally, I can't even remember what Superman was really doing in 2001. For all I can remember of the last fifteen years of mucking about they've done with the big guy, he was either dead, revived, reincarnated, mulleted, electrified, split in two, evil, emotionless, cloned, too big, too small, stuck in the past, stuck in the future, crazy, mind-controlled, married, divorced, over-powered, de-powered, wearing a funny hat, getting his ass kicked by Batman, learning to snorkel in the Bahamas, eating marzipan cakes in a locked bathroom and weeping, or possibly all of the above at once.

As an aside, if you ask me what has defined Superman in the years since, say, the mid-90s, I honestly would have to reply "I have no idea what's going on with him from day to day." And it's true - back in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, it didn't matter HOW alternate a future or HOW imaginary a story to which we were being treated, Superman was Superman. They had some stories which featured his descendant in the 24th century or something, and it basically looked like Superman with a weak chin and a Hitler haircut. If we went to a parallel world where Superman was a villain, he wore a little black mask along with his regular costume. Really, ever since the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman's changing costumes, powers and appearance at the drop of the hat. I blame the action figure market.

But hey, that's beside the point! We're going back to the Golden (or, actually, Bronze) Age of 1976! More specifically, we're going back to Superman #300, the self-proclaimed "tricentennial" issue of Superman - My, he's come far since 1676 - and an imaginary tale which moved the Superman mythos up a few decades.

"Just imagine," the cover begs of us, "The MAN OF STEEL coming to Earth as a Baby TODAY -- -- and growing up in the world of TOMORROW!" (i.e. several years ago). Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin provide the writing and Curt Swan and Bob Oksner do the drawing on what is actually a terrific story with a lot going on, albeit as an artifact of the waning Cold War sensibilities of the era.

See? See how his skin reflects the laser?
Check it out. You see yet? I'll keep doing it, see?
The story opens with the same, familiar stirrings of the traditional super-origins. Jor-El - Superman's father and evidently Krypton's worst public speaker - responds to Krypton's violent dissolution by packing up baby Kal-El in more fabric than all three of Michael Jackson's kids combined, and shoving him in an atomic dildo headed straight for Earth. And so far, even with my overwhelming shame at the cheap and outdated Michael Jackson joke, nothing much different from the traditional here.


Soviet and American radar pick up the trace of Superbaby's cosmic bunting, and make a mad dash to beat one another to the oceanic crash site. After an I'm-not-kidding and totally-awesome action sequence, the ship is claimed by mustachioed Special Secret Operative Agent or something Lt.Thomas Clark! Hey, waitaminnit, CLARK? You don't suppose...

Awww, I love you too, little French Superbaby!
The ship is taken back to a secret government bunker where scientists attempt to blast baby Kal-El's face right off, there's some super-toddler hijinx, and for ONCE goddamn Superbaby can actually speak proper English and not that insane Bizarro-shit he used to go on about. "Me am shoot in rocket boom space eat cosmic bang-bang happy double cake ice cream cone WAAAAAAH!" Oh no, this time it's speaking every language on Earth fluently and knowing syntax, and where's the fun in that, I ask you?

Also, I think it puts the finger on Ma and Pa Kent for not hooking Superbaby on Phonics the first time around.

Superbaby is code-named "Skyboy" and raised by the U.S.Military, so you know he's going to grow up completely straight in the head, right folks? Eventually, news of his existence leaks out, causing a terrible increase in Cold War tensions. This is capitalized upon by an unnamed third-world country whose flamboyant and middle-aged major-domos have world conquest on the mind. They arrange some computerized tomfoolery which makes the US and USSR believe that the other country is launching a nuclear attack, believing that in the ruined aftermath, they'll be able to pick up the pieces and take over. Enjoy your glowing hunk of scorched soil, gentlemen, you're both assholes.

Oh, and did I mention that this brief US/USSR exchange happens in 1990? We were so young, once.

By 2001, Milton-Bradley's boardgame favorite takes on a scope of horrifying

Anyway, "Skyboy" takes it on himself to stop every nuclear missile and space laser in existence, then following the death of his military mentor - General Kent Garret HOLD IT, KENT? OH. MY. GOD! That's AMAZING! - disappears into an anonymous existence, which takes us into the futuristic world of the twenty-first century.

Now, no offense intended to these guys - many of whom are my artistic heroes - but Seventies' comic book artists had no business drawing the future. Most of these guys barely knew what the present looked like, for crying out loud.

Swan's always been one of DC's exceptions when it came to a modern look, though, and he was damn good at giving his characters contemporary fashion and style. I think the problem came to him - in this story specifically - when he was called on to design a future world of advanced technology, BUT not render it in such a way that it looked exactly like the future of the Legion of Super-Heroes. 

So now he has to achieve a delicate balance of ju-u-u-ust the right moderation and tweaks and finesse and nuance and - oh, I'll shut up, it looks like the Legion of Super-heroes future. Except they didn't call everything "Cosma-Ice Cream" and "Super-Clothing," and that everyone's wearing three-layered pantsuits instead of really ugly Underoos with their home planet printed on the jerkin, or whatever. The Cosma-Jerkin. Fucking future.

Some of you may be too young to recall, but this actually IS what the internet was like back in 2001...

There's no greater comedy dollar than the "What did they think the future would look like wayyy back in the past" comedy dollar. Or "Comedo-Cred" or "Econo-Humor-Unit" or whatever. Cosma-comedy-dollar. In any case, let's take a look at ... THE STARTLING WORLD OF THE FUTURE!

Siegfried and Roy 2001,
evil foreign putzes.
For one thing, we're no longer watching television, but Tri-Vision! Which I think means that the future is offering us a triple dose of Univison, and that Mexican show where all those forty-five year old guys and tanned super-models dress in ridiculous school uniforms and pretend to be in grade school.

A thousand Cosma-points for accurate predictions to Bates and Maggin though. Clark no longer is a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper or even broadcasting giant WGBS, but is an anchorman for a "24-hour news network" made possible by the "around the world ... huge communications linkup."

Another accurate prediction made by the Bates/Maggin team was that there'd be a frothy mocha available on every street corner. Or MOKA, sorry, let me get my notes straight as we get back to the story.

The aforementioned gaudy third-world nation, still helmed by what appears to be an elderly gay couple, strikes upon a brilliant plan, assuming that you're judging brilliance by comic book standards. On New Year's Eve, 2001, they send a four-armed android to perch on the clock above Times Square and declare that he his-own-bad-self was not only responsible for saving the world from total destruction back in 1990, but that he now demands their allegiance. Oh, and that his allies Frappe and Latte would be joining him shortly.

Amazingly, the world BELIEVES HIM, right off the bat. Gullible fools. Is that too harsh, you ask? Hell, I'm just quoting the MAN! Superman reads the dupes of Earth the fucking riot act while he turns MOKA into styrofoam peanuts.

Actually, his outright verbal abuse is meant to inspire folks to not look to 'heroes and false gods' for the answer to their problems, which Metropolis' citizens adhere to by erecting a ginormous Superman statue in the middle of Times Square.

As for the fashion nightmare that WAS whatever retirement home-turned-third world nation it was, they had their plans foiled AGAIN by Superman, and thus ... quit, I guess. I dunno, they didn't follow up on it.

Frankly, they're not the worst villains I've seen in Seventies' comics - In a SHAZAM! I was reading recently, Captain Marvel repulsed a world-conquering effort by a bunch of guys who lived in a city suspended by wires above a mountain chasm. Turns out if you, I dunno, cut a few of the wires supporting their nation, they tend to calm down. At least Future-Siegfried and Cosma-Roy had the good sense to quit while they were ahead, in the world of 2001 ...


neofishboy said...

That laser-to-the-face picture might be my favorite comic book panel of all time. Even better than the Superhero Dictionary entry for "yourself".

Pete James (UWE) said...

That's what I do first time I see a baby; blast it point blank in the face with a frickin' laser beam.

James W. Fry 3.0 said...

This was one of my favorite SUPERMAN stories when I was a teenager. There's a weird little "in-joke" in there that nobody seems to notice: The US President is a dark-haired middle-aged woman---about a minute and a half after Jenette Kahn became publisher of DC. And if our president is a stand-in for the publisher of DC Comics, wouldn't that make her opposite number ---Stan Lee? Well, the Soviet Premier IS a bald guy with a moustache, and Stan's hairpiece has been kind of an open secret for years at that point... Okay, I thought it was funny at the time.

Calamity Jon said...

Ah, James! So glad you're hanging around!

Boy, you told me that anecdote when I first ran this piece and I forgot it! I should have included it in the rewrite, it's a good'un -- I like to believe it's true, even if it isn't.

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