Time and Time Again
Adventures of Superman #476-478, Action Comics #663-664, Superman #54-55; Triangle Numbers 1991 – 8-14
Writers: Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel; Pencilers: Dan Jurgens, Bob McLeod, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel; Inkers: Brett Breeding, Dennis Janke; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterers: Albert De Guzman, Bill Oakley, John Costanza
While it was evident what the office was working towards in the first seven issues of 1991, for the most part those issues were still stand-alone stories, with minimal connective tissue. There were subplots being carried between the books, for sure, but they weren’t quite interacting as the office had planned. That would change, and we would get to see the whole potential of the revitalized line with Adventures of Superman #476 as the line kicked off it’s first major line-wide arc of the era. This wasn’t the first time the Superman office did an arc like this, but it was the first test of it in this era properly. Stories like “Eradication” and “The Brainiac Trilogy” set the stage, but “Time and Time Again” would be the first big flex by the various creative teams.
The first thing this arc does is build on the drama that came from the secret identity reveal in Action Comics #662. Lois has had to reexamine all of her thoughts and feelings towards two men that she thought had been one. She’d been happy to accept Clark’s proposal and look to start building a future together, but suddenly her entire concept of that future had changed. Could Clark die? Would he even age? How would this affect her life and her safety? Things she hadn’t had to consider before were now at the forefront of her mind. Their heartfelt conversation is interrupted by the action of the issue, and Clark leaves with things still unresolved.
The action in question is a Terminator wannabe who will come to be known as the Linear Man. While Terminator 2: Judgement Day was still about eight months away when this got published, and even further away when it was written and drawn, it was fairly clear what the inspiration for the Linear Man was, right down to the effects of his time travel. He’s come as a law enforcement agent of the time-stream to drag Dan Jurgens creation Booster Gold back to his proper time. As Superman makes an effort to stop him, his time machine’s safeties are overridden, and Metropolis gets an unscheduled light show as a hole is ripped in time. Superman and the Linear Man are pulled into the time vortex, leaving Booster to explain to Lois that Superman was now lost in the time stream.
From here, Superman spends the next six issues getting hurled back and forth through the time-stream. His first landing spot is 1,000 years in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes founding members. They are not yet the Legion that he had met way back in Superman #8, but still see him for the hero that he is. He pressures them to answer Lois’s questions about death and aging, before an explosion triggers the residual chronal energy in his body and flings him backwards in time.
Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if he immediately got home, so this time he winds up in the 1940s, and is taken to the circus where his clothes seem to imply he belongs. Interestingly, the most recent jaunt through time has left him with blurry vision, a thing that Bob McLeod plays with brilliantly, making the reader see the same thing Superman currently is. During the two months it takes for his eyes to recover, he tours with the circus as their strongman attraction. While the circus is stopped in Metropolis, he manages to save President Roosevelt’s life before seeking out the Justice Society’s aid. The Spectre wisks him away, to right in front of a Nazi train in Warsaw.
While Superman dealt with the past, we also got to check in with side characters in the present for a mix of main and subplots. Booster finishes telling Lois what had happened and rushes off despite her protests. The board of LexCorp is fretting over not being able to find Luthor’s sole heir. Perry and Alice White deal with some romantic tension stemming from Jerry’s death and the revelation that while he was Perry’s son, he was biologically Lex Luthor’s. And in a bit of comic relief, Jimmy Olsen is interrupted from macking on Lucy Lane when his smoking hot mom gets home, because he still lives with her. This is set up for a very good Jimmy subplot that expands over the coming months, as Jimmy decides he needs a place of his own.
Superman #54 opens right where Action Comics #663 left off, with Superman in the path of an oncoming Nazi train. It turns out that this was the first meeting that Mr. Z had spoken of in Superman #54. The entire portion of this issue that is focused on Superman is about him fighting Nazis, and truly there are few things I’d rather see than that. Especially when it’s a Jerry Ordway drawn Superman punching a Nazi soldier in his glass jaw. He wrecks Mr. Z’s nuclear research, and then thoroughly demolishes the locomotive that was ferrying the Jewish prisoners to their doom. Once more it’s an explosion that triggers Superman’s time travel, this time from the German nuke that Mr. Z had developed.
The next issue of Adventures of Superman opens with the Linear Man tracking Clark as he hurtles through time, this time landing again in the far future with the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s still not the Legion he had met previously, but this time at least Lightning Lad recognizes him. Superman again asks about his death, but Shrinking Violet and the rest of the Legion refuse to answer. This time the explosion that causes his time travel is the result of a bomb that stops a Sun-Eater and saves the Earth of the far future.
This time around Superman falls to Earth some time in the late Cretaceous period, and with no explosives available, he gets stuck there for quite some time. In one of the more enduring sequences of Post-Crisis Superman, he befriends a dromaeosaurus, names it Dromie and sings Was (Not Was)’s Walk the Dinosaur to it. As luck (and comic book plotting would have it) time-travel villain Chronos pops up, causes an explosion that sends Superman to the Ice Age, and probably makes his own way back home somehow. Or gets eaten by a dinosaur, who can say? To continue his attempts to make it home, Superman seeks out the H’V’Ler’Ni aliens that he met waaaaay back in Superman #6. One thing this arc did well was weave it’s way through the already deep continuity that existed for Post-Crisis Superman, referencing things that had happened almost at the very beginning of John Byrne’s run on the character. Once he reaches the alien settlement, Superman uses their advanced technology to trigger another explosion to send himself ahead in time again.
Which is where we get to see a Metropolis Yankee in King Arthur’s court. One thing that becomes clear as the Triangle Era progresses is that each writer has their own favorite parts of the character and the mythology surrounding him. For Jerry Ordway and his eventual successor Karl Kesel, it was the Jack Kirby influences. Be it Fourth World stuff, Cadmus or even corners of Kirby’s DC work that had little intersection to Superman, they loved to delve into it. For Roger Stern it was Lex Luthor and the Matrix Supergirl. Dan Jurgens loved powerful threats from the cosmos. With this being an Ordway penned issue of Superman, in the time of King Arthur, that could only mean one thing: Etrigan. After fighting the forces of Morgaine LeFey, Merlin triggers a magical explosion that ends the reign of Camelot and sends Superman once more into the far future.
How far into the future? Well this was another Jurgerns issue of Adventures of Superman, so we’re back to the 30th Century and the Legion of Super-Heroes. This time though, he was catapulted right into the Legion’s current continuity. Laurel Gand is fighting another Daxamite on the moon, and Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl have to come to her rescue, but they arrive after Superman. Jurgens delivers a silhouetted homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 with Superman holding a wounded Laurel, and Superman discovers that in 2995 the moon has become an extension of Earth. This is finally a Legion that remembers interacting with Superman in Superman #8, and thus a Legion that has already lost Superboy. In taking out evil Daxamite Dev-Em, Superman stops the moon from exploding, only to find out that it’s the exact event the Linear Man needed to trigger to send him home. So with lasting ramifications for the Legion of Super-Heroes, Clark is finally sent back to 1991.
Meanwhile all through these past six issues, the subplots have kept going. It’s clear that little time has passed in each issue during the sequences set in the present, but for Clark in the past and future, months and months have passed. Bibbo and his pals continue to get drunk at the Ace of Spades, a bar Bibbo had just bought with his lottery winnings. Jimmy’s mom has spent several issues showing Lucy his baby photos. The LexCorp board continues to debate what steps to take to save the company. Perry and Alice White decide to take a vacation. And Lois continues to wrestle with her feelings about Clark and his dual identity.
This first mega arc of the Triangle Era ends on a somber note. A Superman forced to wrestle with his greatest weakness. There are few things that Superman is vulnerable to: Kryptonite, Magic, red sun radiation. But none are bigger weaknesses than his own heart. Superman regrets every life he’s unable to save and pains over every death he can’t prevent. Knowing that he can’t save everyone, no matter how hard he tries, is the thing that keeps Superman trying even harder. Ending with Superman heartbroken about losing the moon in the future, “Time and Time Again” sets the tone for the entire era to follow.