The Adventures of Superman #484-485; Action Comics #671; Superman: The Man of Steel #6; Superman #672; Triangle Numbers 1991 – 37-41
Writers: Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Louis Simonson, Dan Jurgens; Pencillers: Tom Grummett, Kieron Dwyer, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Jurgens; Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Brad Vancata, Dennis Janker, Brett Breeding; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterers: Albert De Guzman, Bill Oakley, John Costanza
As “Blackout” begins, Mr. Z finds Professor Hamilton, who he plans on using to get revenge on Superman. Little does Mr. Z know, Hamilton actively worked on Z’s gemstone after the first encounter with Superman. Before the actual plot kicks in, the reader is treated to a cute scene of Clark and Lois at home and another that expands on Thornton’s mayoral bid. Meanwhile, Mr. Z has hypnotized Hamilton into using his new device to wrest control of Superman for revenge. It is thus that he discovers that his gem is still intact and kept safe at the Fortress of Solitude. From there Mr. Z uses his control over Superman to retrieve the gem, while Hamilton and Lois try to wrest control of the Man of Steel away from him. They’re seemingly successful, but at the expense of Metropolis’s entire power-grid. Whoops.
Kieron Dwyer comes on as guest penciller in Action Comics #671, and things just feel a bit askew in terms of how the art lines up with other issues. The colors, however, are at least consistent, which is something that will remain through almost this entire era, as Glenn Whitmore is as consistent of a colorist as has ever been seen. Whitmore is responsible for the colors in nearly every issue of every main Superman comic in the 1990s, including the special one-shot issues. The beauty of this reliability is that no matter the varying art styles between artists on the four books (Jon Bogdanove Superman looks a lot different from Tom Grummett’s say), they always felt like they belonged. That remains the case here with Dwyer’s, but it’s also still not quite what the other books have at this point. The lasting ramification this issue has on continuity, however, has nothing to do with Superman and his battle with amnesia. No, Lex Luthor II makes his grand Metropolis debut, in what is the city’s darkest hour (in both a literal and figurative sense). Pledging to use his wealth to help the city however possible, he immediately positions himself in contrast to his father, assuaging naysayers right off the bat.
Man of Steel #6 opens up right where Action had left off, with the amnesiac Superman and Mr. Z getting attacked by dinosaurs on an island from which they never went extinct. As the story moves back to blacked out Metropolis, we see Jeb Friedman trying to calm down rioting strikers to no avail, as Lois and Professor Hamilton begin their hunt for the missing Superman. It’s there that this arc takes a decidedly unwelcome turn, as Superman and Mr. Z are rescued from under a brachiosaur’s foot by a tribe of natives. The big problem with this turn of events is that the art for these indigenous people throughout the course of the next three issues is extremely racist. As the designs of the tribe are consistent across Man of Steel, Superman, and Adventures of Superman, I’m not going to fault a single artist with the design choice, but I will say that it’s massively disappointing in an era that is usually very tight in it’s portrayals of people of other cultures. The women of the island tribe are all drawn as a modern definition of ideal women, with curves and pretty faces, while the men are all hulking unintelligent brutes with racist ape-like features. It’s confusing and racist to think that the women would advance to what we expect of a modern attractive woman while the men remained unevolved troglodytes. The transition to digital also had a negative effect in these issues, as the colors used by Whitmore for the native tribe worked better on newsprint than they do in digital with more of a flat brownish yellow. This is something we see occasionally on the digitized versions of these colors, most notably on characters meant to be from the Middle-East. The racist caricatures completely pulls me out of what could have been a more enjoyable amnesia plotline, and it’s the first big misstep since the start of the Triangle Era.
This problematic portrayal continues into Superman #62, with the continuation of the marriage ceremony between Lola-La and Superman, before it’s interrupted by Lois, Hamilton and Guardian on their Whiz Wagon. Meanwhile, even the Metropolis storyline is plagued by some problematic things as Agent Liberty shows up in all his Libertarian glory to help settle down rioting mobs with undue violence. This scene goes over like a lead balloon in the wake of modern protests getting the same treatment by armed right-wing vigilantes and active police departments, but even in 1991 it wasn’t as tasteful as you might imagine. While the world was still some months away from the protests and riots sparked by the acquittal of the police officers who brutalized Rodney King, it wasn’t far enough in the future to be an unthinkable reaction. And while that’s not the actions that sparked the Metropolis riots, it’s hard to not draw upon similarities in reactions, especially with a man who is being portrayed as a hero using arm blades to cut down rioters. The rioting does calm down soon enough, as Luthor II does follow through on his promises and is able to restore power to the city. Back on the island, Lois and Lola-La are having a hair-pulling catfight about Superman before the most enjoyable sequence in this saga: to cure his amnesia, Lois lays a big wet kiss on Superman, prompting an amazing response from Professor Hamilton.
The arc closes with a return to Metropolis for Superman, Lois, Hamilton and Guardian; leaving Mr. Z on the island with a spurned Lola-La and still no memory of his own. This will be the last time we see Mr. Z in this or any era. Back in Metropolis, Dubbilex is able to help Superman break through the mental blocks he’d constructed to keep Mr. Z at bay, and Superman gets his memory back. I’m very glad that this arc’s missteps are not indicative of the quality of the era as a whole, as the next two year’s worth of books are some of the strongest stories in comics history.