Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Classics - Action Comics #544

Character reboots are pretty common these days, but they've actually been around for a while - just not as obvious as more recent efforts (sit down, New 52).

Here's a good example, from the pre-Crisis days of 1983.

Superman has long been a challenge for DC, perhaps because he's been around for such a long time. To keep him current (and to spark sales), the powers that be would occasionally tweak things to try to breath new life into the Man of Steel's adventures.

So on the occasion of Superman's 45th Anniversary, they made a modest effort to shake things up in the pages of Action Comics.

But instead of changing Superman, they made the changes to his two greatest villains - Luthor and Brainiac.

And they both needed help - Luthor had been doing the same super-science crimes for decades, but never really seemed like a threat to Superman. The story by Cary Bates is one of his better efforts, giving Luthor real menace, a tragic reason to hate Superman even more, and a powerful suit of armor that put him on more even footing.

The art on the first half of the issue was by the team supreme, one of the best to ever work on this title - Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson.

The second story was written by Marv Wolfman, and took a super-science approach to retooling (literally) the alien intelligence known as Brainiac. The art was by the legendary Gil Kane, who turned in a solid run on the Man of Steel's adventures (recently collected) and was perfectly suited to breathing new life into this series.

The neatest thing about the issue, though, is the contribution by Superman's original creators. It includes a short essay by original Superman creator Jerry Siegel about the origin of his most famous character, and there's a drawing of the hero by original artist Joe Shuster (perhaps the last drawing of Superman his failing eyesight allowed).

I think the efforts of the creative teams paid off in the short term, as their work sparked some new interest in Superman - but it would take an even more serious effort to really succeed.

That would finally arrive a few more years down the road in the form of the Crisis on Infinite Earths event - but this was a good step along that path, as it forced the Superman family of titles out of a familiar rut and into more creative and fantastic efforts.

Grade: A-



Billy Hogan said...

I've got this issue in my box of pre-Crisis Superman comic books. It's a GREAT issue! I'd like to see the Luthor story adapted for a future Superman movie!

Anonymous said...

Great choice, Chuck. While these changes may seem mundane to some, they were likely heretical for their day. Here's to change!!


Chuck said...

Billy, I agree - it's a great issue!

B, I'm with you - change is great when it's the right change!