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?).
Thus, Superman was back… and so what about Clark Kent? Isn’t it a bit suspicious that they both showed up again at the same time? Well, luckily in 1993’s Adventures of Superman #505 the new Supergirl (actually an inter-dimensional alien named “Matrix”) was a shapeshifter who could pose as a refugee Clark Kent who found himself trapped in a basement after Doomsday’s rampage. As a bonus, the world got to see Superman and Clark Kent on TV together, so everything was coming up roses, right? Superman was alive, his identity secret, his wedding to Lois was back on, he had a cool new long-haired rock-star look and he even had his powers back.
Yeah… except that his power-up worked a little bit TOO well and soon the trademark Superpowers were completely out of control. Superman’s x-ray vision went haywire once causing him to believe that the entirety of Metropolis had vanished, for example. Soon his super-hearing was off the charts to a distracting degree, he had to wear a bent metal shield around his eyes to keep the heat vision from killing everyone from Smallville to Manhattan and his body bulked up to a Hulk-like level. The poor guy absorbed so much solar energy (the source of his powers) that he was something of a monstrosity. If not for the hunger of the peerless Parasite (aka: Rudy Jones) the Wedding would be off. Well, the wedding ended up “off” anyway and Kal-El found himself powerless for the second time in the 1990s due to the sun-killing storyline of The Final Night (yeah, Clarky, blowing out stars isn’t so funny when they’re the source of your powers, is it?).
Luckily, Lois and Clark did get married and due to his re-de-powered nature he was able to get his hair cut without breaking the scissors and stop any super-wedding night fear jokes before they happened. With the Eradicator and Cyborg not playing fair this time, Supes actually had to dive into the heart of the sun (as a regular human being) in order to get his powers back (see 1997’s Superman - The Man of Steel #64). His cape didn’t even burn off, folks.
So NOW everything’s okay, right? Well, no. Starting in The Adventures of Superman #545 (also 1997), Big Blue’s powers started to shift… and I mean COMPLETELY this time. The old question of “what is Superman without his cape” was easily answered when Clark developed electricity based powers and had to squeeze himself into a blue and white containment suit. He could still fly but bullets now passed through him rather than bouncing off of him and he was as likely to ZAP a criminal as to use any sort of vision-based powers on them. The “Electric Blue” Superman wasn’t fully explained as more than a strange new Evolution of Kal-El’s Kryptonian powers and ultimately some issues (like January 1998’s Superman: Secret Files and Origins #1) attempted to imply that this version of Superman was the one we had always had (boy, that Richard Donner was sure confused wasn’t he?).
“Big Blue” wasn’t alone in this electric hell for long, seeing as how a backfiring trap laid by Hank “Cyborg Superman” Henshaw caused our hero to split into two separate beings with the same powers, “Superman Red” and “Superman Blue”. Both were still madly in love with Lois Lane and neither particularly liked the other one. Ultimately we got the real deal Superman when a battle with the Millennium Giants caused “Big Red” and “Big Blue” to slam together, re-merge and reveal the Superman we all recognize, inexplicably back in his original costume. Was he “rewarded” for saving the planet or did his electromagnetic energy simply dissipate. We don’t know… because I’m doubting the writers even knew, especially since we never fully got an explanation for how he got the weird new powers in the first place.
Of course, the easy answer is… money. Such shifts as Superman’s powers and marital status puts DC in the headlines and boosts sales (at least temporarily). Did this one pay off? Not as well as DC wanted it to, or else why the “Never mind, he’s back, okay?”
All that and I didn’t even get into “The Death of Clark Kent” (yes, that, too, happened in the 1990s). To Be Continued… soars back again next week with the last evolutionary bounds (to date) of the Man of Steel. Don’t miss it! Adios Gatitas!
// Notes from the Road
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