PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Evolution of the Superman Part 5: From Powerless to Power Shift

J. C. Maçek III

For the past month “To Be Continued...” told you the story 'bout Superman. How he evolved, how he “died”. Gave you a kick, huh? You're kickin' for more. So folks, here's the story of Superman Red.

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!

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.