Holidays in Metropolis
Action Comics #672-673; Superman: The Man of Steel #7-8; Superman #63-64; Adventures of Superman #486-487; Triangle numbers 1991 – 42 – 1992 – 7
Writers: Roger Stern, Louis Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway; Pencillers: Bob McLeod, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Kieron Dwyer, Jackson “Butch” Guice; Inkers: Denis Rodier, Dennis Janke, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Jackson “Butch” Guice; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letters: Bill Oakley, John Costanza, Albert De Guzman
“Blackout” pretty much closed out the first year of the Triangle Era, as only Action Comics #672 remained for books with a 1991 Triangle number. Now because of the way comics were cover dated in the early 1990s, this meant that the first books with 1992 cover dates actually started hitting the store shelves in November, because back then comics were still sold on newsstands, and the cover date was actually the last month in which you could return the book for credit with the publisher. And so even though this first issue of the next sequence of stand-alone stories is technically a 1991 book, it also serves as a good lead-in to the year that would define this era: 1992.
Action Comics #672 introduces Team Luthor as Lex Luthor II’s influence in Metropolis continues to expand. Team Luthor is a private security and public safety force funded and outfitted by Luthor, to assist Superman in his efforts to protect Metropolis. This has the effect of shifting more public support toward Luthor, and Superman’s absence during the blackout has the opposite effect for his own reputation. Luthor also single handedly resolves the Daily Planet strike by promising massive ad buys from LexCorp to pay for benefits the employees were demanding. The only people that Luthor can’t seem to win over are the people that knew his father best: Perry White, Lois Lane, and Clark Kent. They all have their suspicions that the kid is not as altruistic as he appears. While the public face Luthor puts on is convincing, the last pages of this issue inform the reader that there is indeed a malevolence to his actions, one that will become more clear over the coming years.
Meanwhile over in Superman: The Man of Steel #7, the Cerberus plot picks back up with the introductions of Jolt and Blockhouse, two more augmented henchmen of the mysterious terrorist. As they’re tasked with kidnapping Lois to set a trap for Superman, the reader gets to check in the ending of the strike arc, in which Clark and Jeb Friedman butt heads once again. At the same time, Jimmy’s woes continue across town as he’s getting evicted for not paying his rent in three months. Over in Washington, DC, Lana Lang also has housing problems as the roof of her apartment collapses forcing her to move into Pete Ross’s neighboring apartment. Taking the time to focus on all these subplots with no action in the issue is a welcome thing, allowing the various characters their own time to breathe. The side characters are what make this era so special, and taking an issue to just focus on them is a bold choice, but one that works. The issue doesn’t feel like filler, it just feels like a break for everyone after months of relentless action.
A surprising revelation occurs for Clark in Superman #63, as while covering a brewing war between Atlantis and Oumland, he has to rescue Hans Schmidt from a plesiosaur attack. Schmidt had attacked Clark’s college mermaid girlfriend Lori (long story, that you can get all of in Superman #12). In a short team-up with Aquaman, Jurgens reveals that Lori Lemaris is actually still alive as she provides Clark with his alibi to return to the ship as Clark Kent.
As if Jimmy Olsen’s troubles weren’t bad enough already, Adventures of Superman #486 opens with his car (which he’s been sleeping in) having been impounded and surrounded by junkyard dogs. He is however, able to snap some pictures of a mysterious robot that gets sent after former Intergang leader Bruno Manheim at Stryker’s Island. That same robot interrupts Lois and Clark’s Thanksgiving at the Kent farm, causing the couple to rush back to Metropolis.
The robot was an attempt by Manheim to break out, by using the robot sent to kill him, and while Superman prevented most of his plotting, the detached arms of the thing made their way into Manheim’s cell. He repurposed them into a boom tube generator, only to get creamed by Superman again. In the “Jimmy Olsen has a very bad, terrible, no good year” front, Lucy Lane saw the poor sap at the homeless shelter, and was distraught about it. This is how all of Jimmy’s friends find out he’s been struggling, and really this whole saga for Jimmy just reads as a testament to swallowing your pride and asking your friends for help. Jimmy’s pride has really been his downfall here, and it’s heartbreaking. It’s a wonderful example of the harm toxic masculinity can cause, when you would rather suffer than to let others know you’re hurting. Despite being featured on the cover of Action Comics #673, the Hellgrammite is barely more than a footnote in this issue, as he’s only hired by LexCorp exec George Markham to off Luthor II. It’s odd that he was given the cover, when his role in the actual issue is minimal. To close out the second Thanksgiving issue, Pete Ross and Lana Lang spend some time addressing their wedding invitations, apparently deciding on a fast engagement in their whirlwind romance.
After tailing Lois for the last month, Jolt and Blockhouse make their move on her in Superman: The Man of Steel #8. This is another Kieron Dwyer fill-in issue, and it’s even more evident at points during this issue than the previous one that he’s not a great fit for the books at this time. Filling in for Bogdanove is a radical change in quality and in style and tone for the issue. He’s fine with drawing the exaggerated cyborg faces of Jolt and Blockhouse, but fails to remain consistent on the faces of Superman and Lois. Over the past two issues of Man of Steel more has been revealed about Cerberus, including that he keeps the heads of his enemies in jars and a glimpse of his face, that looks like it too is behind glass. Much like the previous agents of Cerberus that the Man of Tomorrow has captured, Blockhouse is shut down remotely before he can reveal anything important about his boss.
The first of two Christmas themed issues for the year is Superman #64. This is the first “Metropolis Mailbag” issue, which establishes that once a year, Superman answers his vast quantities of mail. While one might question why he only does it once a year, the issue is quick to answer that. The short answer is that most of the letters are either from people that want to use Superman to get rich quick, or are from people in the kinds of trouble that Superman can’t solve. However, on the rare occasion that he has a letter that he can act on, he does so without question. He answers three such letters in this issue, the first being a woman who survived the Holocaust writing Superman that she would like to be reunited with her sister whom she recently learned also survived. Superman immediately leaves to make sure the two are reunited for Christmas. The second of those is an example of the kind of request Superman can’t help with, but still tries to do whatever he can. A child wrote to him because he thought Superman could cure his dad’s brain tumor. Even though that’s not something he can do, Superman makes the trip anyway, only to arrive minutes too late. He has to explain to a kid that for all his powers, he’s still just a man. In the end, Superman also helps to convince this family to donate the father’s organs, and uses that to fulfill another request from a letter. The last letter he answers is one from the Daily Planet, requesting his presence at their Holiday Party for disadvantaged kids, to help soften the blow that the Planet could not afford presents that year. A well-placed phone call to Batman later and last minute techno-nonsense by Emil Hamilton, and Superman provides both a memorable experience and gifts for the children. This is an incredibly touching issue, one that will only get more resonant and powerful in the next year of books. It also marks the Superman books debut of Jackson “Butch” Guice, who though only a fill-in for Jurgens drawing this issue of Superman, would soon become the long-term artist on Action Comics.
The other Christmas issue is one that suffers from a bit of tonal whiplash with two vastly different plots vying for attention in the book. The first of the plots is a dark political conspiracy thread with the assassination of a Senator. This is what gets Pete Ross appointed to be the Senator from Kansas, as he receives a call from the Governor on Christmas Day shortly after the bombing. The issue also marks the return of Agent Liberty, investigating the assassination. The other plot of the issue is a comedic one, truly at odds with political assassinations and government conspiracies. It involves Bibbo playing Santa, including his buddies trying to break into a toy warehouse. That said, this issue delivers a turning point of sorts for Jimmy Olsen, as Bibbo has reached out to Jimmy’s mom to tell her that he’s safe, but struggling, and the two are given a warm Christmas reunion.