It’s hard to have to read Superman 700 and not recall “Swan Song” the Roger Stern-penned classic Action Comics 700 that launched the “Fall of Metropolis” storyarc. The resemblance goes beyond the two books sharing an issue number. “Swansong” was a textbook on how to execute a landmark anniversary issue.
Cover-dated June 1994, “Swan Song” still came laced with ‘90s Superbooks paraphernalia. The upside down triangle containing 1994/24, a code indicating this was the 24th of 52 Superbooks for the year. The giant House of El sigil, the red S against a red-bordered, yellow-fielded diamond that appeared in the top left-hand corner, popped-up right below the DC bullet and of course the magical issue number ‘700’. And of course the emotional core of the Superman story appeared—Kal-El, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.
But the cover did even more to entice first-time readers.
Although you couldn’t recognize it by its characteristic lettering, you knew it immediately. The Daily Planet globe, the single most notable ornament adorning the Metropolis skyline, came crashing through the cover, from the background to the foreground. The runaway decoration, easily 20 feet high, cut a path of destruction through the city. And it was bearing down on a fleeing Lois and Jimmy. But in its way, trying to stem the tide, the Man of Steel. Even the title of the comicbook, the Comic Code Authority stamp of approval and the DC Bullet are thrown into disarray by the rampaging mega-ton Daily Planet Globe.
How do you turn away from that? How do you deny a mere two bucks 95? This is Greil Marcus’ Old Weird America writ-large.
And Stern keeps the pressure throughout the issue. That wild, crazy freneticism over the cover is just the beginning. Lois Lane makes a shocking revelation—the man posing as Luthor’s son is in fact Luthor himself. The Daily Planet computer network has been compromised—LexCorp surveillance technology has achieved absolute penetration of critical systems. Cadmus has been destroyed. In a desperate endgame aimed against the Man of Steel and the city of Metropolis itself, Lex Luthor has launched crippling torpedoes that demolish all of downtown.
And against all of this, Superman rises to the challenge. Against Team Luthor mobile armor strike teams, against a network of IED’s planted by LexCorp subsidiaries, against Luthor’s criminal endgame, Superman, Supergirl and Superboy enter into the fray and succeed where they can.
Less than a year after Doomsday and the “Death of Superman”, “Swan Song” is an impact crater. It requires no previous knowledge, no long time spent lovingly tracing convoluted trails of clues through arcane story superstructures. Action Comics 700 is an event. It is simply a genetic launch-pad for what is to come. It starts in media res, recaps seamlessly for first-time readers and ends with the tears of Daily Planet Editor Perry White, as across the river, he sees Superman having rebuilt the iconic Daily Planet globe.
Sixteen years down the line, Superman 700 just feels wrong.
Slow and plodding, it reads like the worst kind of compromise. Rather than take the route of one creative team bowing out on a high point and simultaneously providing the prologue to the next, editors at DC decided to, it seems, go in a different direction.
Structured as a segmented experience, Superman 700 sees James Robinson return the Man of Steel to Metropolis in “The Comeback”, and incoming writer J. Michael Straczynski provide a prologue to his forthcoming “Grounded” storyarc.
The works are clunky and disconnected. The page count is hardly sufficient to explain the immensity of a Metropolis two years without Superman. Nor is it sufficient to tantalize with the enormity of a Superman who refuses to fly. And rather than a flawless parade of Superman, the writers and their projects seem at odds.
I hope JMS writes the pants off of the eponymous comicbook in the months to come. We’ve all seen his Spider-Man and his Thor. I hope in his hands Superman soars once again. Because Superman 700 is not the Superman we deserve. And I don’t want to have to see the character linger in ignominy. And neither do you.