“Put on your stockings baby, cos’ the night’s getting cold,” Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics from “Atlantic City,” a track from his inhumanly dark Nebraska album, haunt me still. But it’s Justin Jordan’s upcoming issue of Green Lantern: New Guardians that puts this lyric into strange and possibly far darker context.
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The prototypical Superman was a bald villain whose second Fanzine appearance was more heroic, but not as colorful as the Man of Steel we know. After his National debut in Action Comics #1 the costumed Superman learned to fly, use heat vision and ultimately became so powerful he had no rival (not even kryptonite was a problem). That is until DC Comics revised the history of Clark Kent and reigned in his powers to a more manageable, if still superhuman level… which, of course, led to his death, replacement and resurrection. Unfortunately the Man of Tomorrow woke up with SUCH a hangover the next day that he actually had no powers at all and actually used a pair of handguns for an issue or two.
So what separated this resurrected Superman from the other four that took his place? Powered or not, there was only one real Kal-El and he did gain his powers back through a strange conflict with two of the imposters to the throne, the deadly program “The Eradicator” and the “Cyborg Superman”. When the Cyborg’s lethal Kryptonite gas passed through the Eradicator it reenergized the de-powered Superman and put an end to both the Eradicator and the Cyborg (albeit temporarily… if Superman could live again, why not these guys, in some form?).
By the time the 1990s reared its grunge-covered head, the newly more realistic Superman was set firmly in the DC Comics Universe. No longer could he snuff out stars with his super breath or munch on Kryptonite and call it a “nice little snack”. Instead he was stuck the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reigned in super-life that included Lois Lane falling for Clark instead of Superman and Lex Luthor as less of a “Mad Scientist” and more of the richest businessman in the world.
As that spike in sales began to plateau, the Super team of writers and artists looked for a new way to boost sales. The answer was obvious… let’s have Lois marry Clark in the gridded pages of Superman’s then four titles and reel in every naysayer out there. The problem was that the TV show Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had the exact same idea, so the comics gang had to wait and align their event with the TV show’s (which was a while away). So in yet another big meeting under Editor Supreme Mike Carlin where everybody had to throw out ideas for what big story arc to do next, a lone voice (reportedly writer/ artist Jerry Ordway, who would later revitalize Captain Marvel in The Power of Shazam) spoke up and said “Let’s kill him.”
By the 1970s, Superman had evolved from a high-jumping, fast running superhero into a bullet-proof, supersonic flying powerhouse who could blow out stars and eat kryptonite as a snack. This empowered the Man of Tomorrow to handle the bigger class of villain he had begun to face, but at this point, it’s hard to imagine he could have much of a rival on this or any other planet. Upon Superman’s triumphant return to the big screen in 1978’s Superman: The Movie many of the current comicbook updates to Superman’s powers were completely ignored by director Richard Donner. However, he and his successor Richard Lester packed in a few new strange power revisions into the Man of Steel’s quiver.
After his two previous fanzine appearances, Superman shot to the top of the pops when Action Comics #1, debuted in the year of 1938. The high-jumping strongman could run fast and hear extremely well, but wasn’t quite as powerful as the character we know today. He wore a triangular (as opposed to the now-iconic pentagonal) S-Shield on his chest couldn’t fly until the early 1940s, nor did he have X-Ray or Heat Vision.
In his initial DC version Superman could leap an eighth of a mile, jump over a twenty story, lift tremendous weights, run faster than an express train and nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his flesh. Impressive and envious traits, all, but by the end of the 1940s, he was outrunning speeding bullets, not just trains, breaking the sound barrier with his speed, flying around the world, able to melt just about anything with his heat vision, see through about anything except lead with his x-ray vision and beyond and even surviving a nuclear blast (and capturing it on film). Thus the ordinary criminals he once punched and fought were no longer much of a threat to this “Man of Tomorrow”... who could stand up to such a powerful hero with no Achilles heel?