Superman: The Man of Steel #18; Triangle Number 1992 – 45
Writer: Louise Simonson; Penciler: Jon Bogdanove; Inker: Dennis Janke; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterer: Bill Oakley
With any collected edition of this story, the start is always the same. The first four pages are the last pages of the four issues leading into the event proper, but with a minor change. Well in the actual issues the lead in to the page was always “Somewhere else…” in the collected editions only the first page starts with that, and the others are “Unrelentingly…” “Unstoppably…” and “Unbelievably…” to give a sense of dread, and a variety that is needed when putting the four pages back to back. “Somewhere else…” works if the page is at the end of an issue that told another story, but doesn’t work as well in sequence without that context. However, looking at these pages in sequence allows a reader to look at a part of the craft that is often overlooked. A good letterer is often pretty invisible to readers. Their job, after all, is to make things flow and read easily, and it’s pretty easy to just ignore what they bring to the work. This is a trap that most critics, myself included, fall into, because it’s easy to not talk about the lettering. So in a sequence like this, where three different letterers are doing basically the same sequence, it’s a good way to look at the differences in their styles and approaches. Specifically, the first three panels of each page repeat the same sound effect, and you can easily contrast the different styles of Oakley (Man of Steel #17, Adventures of Superman #496), De Guzman (Action Comics #683), and Costanza (Superman #73). Now Oakley traditionally lettered Man of Steel and Action, but I’m pretty confident in saying that he did the one page that ran in that Adventures issue here, because those are the two pages where the styles match up on the “KRRANG!”s. Oakley and De Guzman both have more controlled styles, while Constanza’s is much more energetic and dynamic. The letters in his panels vary in size and shapes and get increasingly condensed as the page goes on. This is just a masterclass four pages in being able to look at lettering as a craft.
The other thing that these first four pages harken back to is Walt Simonson’s legendary run on Thor. The first twelve issues of that run had pages dedicated to the forging of the Twilight Sword and the revelation of Surtur. Each page had repeated ominous DOOM!’s as sound effects, building tension as the book moved to and from these pages to the main story, there was just something dreadful building in the background. While she doesn’t actively take credit for the idea in the original “Death and Return of Superman” omnibus, Louise Simonson does discuss that they talked about using that same beat, right down to the DOOM! sound effect. That changed to KRAANG! In the published versions, but Simonson is still the likeliest suspect to have suggested using a similar beat to the one her husband had used years before.
Moving past those reprinted pages and into the event proper, the cover to Superman: The Man of Steel #18 presents the first full view of the monster who would become known as Doomsday. Bogdanove and Janke deliver an absolute masterpiece of a cover, using the power and motion of Doomsday to immediately establish his brutality. The entire cover is askew, setting a tone for the chaotic nature of the monster. The trade dress is used as direct parts of the art on the cover, making them things for Doomsday to interact with. As a result no element of the cover is where it would normally be, and no element is straight. Everything is tilted in odd directions in a way that guide’s the eye to Doomsday himself and up to his fist. His fist is shattering the logo, a starburst of light popping behind it.
It’s interesting that readers meet Doomsday in a serene space, in bright daylight. His destructive energy is a stark contrast to his surroundings, which look like they could have come straight out of an early Disney movie. Once he’s broken free there is a moment of serenity where he allows a bird to land on his open palm, reinforcing that Disney feeling. That moment is swiftly swerved away from, however, when with a sickening BLORCH (kudos again to Bill Oakley for the sound effects in this issue), Doomsday closes his fist around the bird like it’s a stress ball. This sets the tone for all the cutaways of Doomsday’s rampage through this wilderness and on his way to civilization. In his wake he just leaves a path of unbridled destruction, just a measure of the unstoppable force that he is.
Meanwhile in Metropolis, the underworlders plot is fully underway. Keith is still keeping their secret to protect his mom, but rightfully is also trying to spy on them himself, despite that being an incredibly stupid thing for a child to do. At the same time, Lois gets a tip to send Superman to the power station, and leaves a note for Clark to meet her there on his computer. This plan falls through when the underworlders divert power from Metropolis to their war machines, causing another city-wide blackout. Lois’s capture gives Keith the proof that they don’t actually have his mom, and he takes off to try to summon Superman using the fluorescent paint he bought.
The confrontation between the underworlders and Superman is an incredible sequence that shows just how outmatched they are by him. The use of this separate battle in this first issue of the event is one that is extremely smart and well placed. This is a normal threat to Superman, and he takes care of it handily. There’s even the juxtaposition of how quickly he dispatches Klawster, a giant rock beast with bony protrusions. This is such an effective set-up for what’s about to come, and really shows that Superman is not to be messed with.
Going back to Doomsday’s path of destruction, he’s reached civilization to an extent, as he crosses a busy highway as night has set. He destroys an overpass and then wrecks a semi, laughing as he walks away from the burning wreckage. It is at this point that the Justice League is called, and the story moves closer to actual heroes taking on this monster. This does bring to light one of my few problems with this story, the varying time scale. It shifts from day to night and back to day multiple times throughout this rampage, but also makes it seem like the destruction has only been going on for a few hours. It feels like the shifting time settings are there primarily for dramatic effect, and not to provide continuity touchpoints for the readers at all.