The Blaze/Satanus War
The Adventures of Superman #493-494; Action Comics #680-681; Superman: The Man of Steel #15; Superman #71; Triangle Numbers 1992 – 31-36
Writers: Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens; Pencilers: Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Kerry Gammill, Keith Giffen, Dan Jurgens; Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Denis Rodier, Trevor Scott, Dennis Janke, Brett Breeding; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterers: Albert De Guzman, Bill Oakley, John Costanza
Right off the bat, the opening spread is intimidating and brutal in its intensity, a sneering blaze holding a sad and defeated Sam Foswell, a shadow falling over him from the bright fire in the background. These last two issues Glenn Whitmore has been absolutely on top of his game, delivering some of the best color work of the era yet. Blaze’s manipulations have landed Foswell back into the realm of the employed, taking Clark Kent’s old job as the Managing Editor of Newstime Magazine. For the second time in the last month, Clark sees his neighbor Andrea sporting new bruises, and his suspicions are starting to get to him. When the news about Foswell’s new job hits the Daily Planet newsroom, Ron Troupe is understandably upset, since Thornton’s reason for letting him go as an editorial assistant was financial cutbacks. As Jimmy Olsen makes an appearance as Turtle Boy (one of the jobs he tried out while he was on the ropes), he gets a warning from Jerry White that Blaze has returned, and indeed, across town things are getting strange at the Newstime building. Foswell sees a demon in a mirror, and then is oblivious as more demons crawl from the glass windows around him. The issue ends with Lois, Jimmy and Superman all fighting off the hordes of Hell within the Newstime building before Lord Satanus introduces himself as an ally to Superman. Foswell believes the demons seek to destroy him for accepting the gift of his “angel,” unwittingly playing into the diabolical plans of Blaze as she laughs maniacally on her throne of skulls in the final panel.
As the battle within Newstime rages on, something occurs that rarely happens in this era: Superman’s costume is shredded. It’s rare because part of his reexplained power set from his reintroduction by John Byrne was that his invulnerability is actually a protective aura that surrounds him. Thus his skintight costume is usually safe, while his cape gets wrecked frequently. This is the signifier that something is a dire threat to the Man of Steel in ways most threats aren’t, and it’s extremely effective. Satanus explains that Foswell has become an unwitting pawn in the war between him and his sister, and that her machinations have sealed Newstime from the rest of the world. As Satanus and Superman continue searching for Foswell, Blaze continues to manipulate him into believing that they are set on killing him. And with unflinching trust now hers, she turns Foswell into a demon himself. Closing out the issue, Satanus directs his power to move the Newstime building to “neutral ground.”
While Kerry Gammill is often a welcome sight on a Superman book, I can’t help but miss Jon Bogdanove in Superman: The Man of Steel #15, because drawing demons is something that Bogdanove absolutely excels at. That said, the Gammill pages in this issue are still wonderful, a reminder of his time as one of the primary artists on the line. The Keith Giffen pages are stylistically a shift, but for the bizarre Ditkoesque hellscape, they do work well. While Satanus has removed Newstime to protect the rest of Metropolis, Blaze plays her own trump card. She knows that Superman’s real greatest weakness is his drive to save everyone, and especially those closest to him. So to lay a trap she lures Perry and Alice White with a vision of their son, and steals them away to the hellscape. The issue ends with Blaze giving Superman an impossible choice, the unwitting soul of Foswell or the lives of his friends.
This arc really helps to sell the rising stakes of the Superman books, as they were careening towards what would be their era defining event, and indeed, many elements of what was to come are already present here in the conclusion of “The Blaze/Satanus War” in Superman #71. Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding deliver a battered Superman that looks both the most driven and the most beaten he has ever appeared in this era. Torn between two demon lords, Superman is not content to let either of them claim him. In the end, Superman is forced to relent and side with Satanus against his wishes, and the threat is defeated. The rest of our characters return to Earth, but not Superman. As the reader is left wondering Superman’s fate, the identity of Lord Satanus is revealed after he reverts Foswell to his human form. Secretly Lord Satanus is Collin Thornton, and thus pieces fall into place.
In the wake of “The Blaze/Satanus War”, Adventures of Superman #494 opens with a flashback to the moment when Clark became Superman bound to save the space plane Constitution, but this flashback twists and Clark does not leap to the rescue. Superman awakes on a floating asteroid adrift in a cosmic void. After the experiences with Blaze and Satanus, and specifically the feeling of being used as a pawn in their war, Superman is having a crisis of conscience. This issue is a morality play, with Kismet allowing Superman to relive moments of his past to see how they could have played out differently. In the end, Superman realizes that no matter the forces at play, the choices he’s made in his life have made him the man he is, and that the best he can do is to continue trying to be the best man he can.
With Superman returned to Earth, Action Comics #681 brings the returns of both Hellgrammite and Rampage. Hellgrammite confronts the man who hired him to kill Luthor demanding further compensation before disappearing again. Speaking of Luthor, now that his origin has been revealed, it is easier to see some of his bad behavior for what it is. In particular the way he acts in his relationship with Supergirl is controlling and manipulative. Hellgrammite invades STAR Labs to try to make use of their equipment, but unfortunately for him, the new Director is one Kitty Faulkner, aka Rampage. After a knockdown, drag-out fight, Hellgrammite is finally captured, and thus that storyline is wrapped up, to Markham’s dismay.