Saving Superman

DC Comics Classics Library: Kryptonite Nevermore, written by Denny O’Neil, illustrated by Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano and Neal Adams (1971-72; collected 2009): The comic-book Superman seems to accrete mythology at a faster and more expansionary rate than any other long-running superhero, often to the detriment of decent storytelling.

The Last Son of Krypton’s powers grew and grew over the first thirty years of his existence so that by the early 1970’s, he was almost omnipotent. His supporting cast grew as well, with so many other Kryptonians added to the mix that it seemed like the real question was, did anyone other than Superman’s parents die when Krypton exploded? Kryptonite now came in 31 flavours, and was so readily available that pretty much any street punk could lay his hands on a chunk.

Legendary Silver-Age editor Julius Schwartz took over the Superman books in the early 1970’s and decided to shake things up. Clark Kent moved from newspaper to television. Superman gained a certain number of doubts and insecurities about his role on Earth. And, in the first major storyline in the Superman comic book after Schwartz took over, a reactor accident destroyed all Kryptonite on Earth.

This development turned out to be a fairly inspired bit of invention, as what initially seemed to be an attempt to make Superman less vulnerable instead made him less powerful: the accident had spawned a mysterious sand-creature which, over the course of a year, siphoned off a large portion of Superman’s powers prior to their (seemingly) inevitable confrontation.

The art in this volume is the real selling point. Curt Swan had already been illustrating various adventures of Superman for more than a decade when Schwartz took over, but here, paired with inker Murphy Anderson, Swan’s work soared with its unique mix of the grounded and the bombastic. Denny O’Neil’s scripts aren’t quite up to Swanderson’s art — he was much more at home with Batman. His Superman is bull-headed, a bit whiny, and occasionally something of a prick.

Later 1970’s and early 1980’s Superman writers such as Martin Pasko, Eliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates would work more fruitfully under Schwartz’s editorial guidance, giving us what is, in retrospect, the finest sustained run on Superman comics in history. However, Superman’s powers would rapidly ratchet up after O’Neil’s stint as writer; Kryptonite would return; Superman would be, by the mid-1980’s, again viewed as being hamstrung by the immensity of his powers and his mythology, leading to the complete reboot of John Byrne’s Man of Steel miniseries. And now, 25 years after that, Superman is pretty much back in the same jam. Reboot, anybody? Recommended.

2 thoughts on “Saving Superman

  1. Hey which issue is the picture from? He does something similar to Luthor in one of the annuals from the early 90's by Walter Simonson. Didn't know he was paying tribute to this.

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  2. Yeah, the annual in question pays tribute to the entire 'Sand Superman' arc in this volume. Not sure of the specific issue, but there ahould be a site that gives the exact issues collected in this volume.

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