Lois Lane entered my life in 1978. That year, Superman descended upon North American cinemas. It showed eager audiences that a man could fly, but it also gave young boys and girls a heroine right for the times. Margot Kidder played a powerful yet vulnerable Lois Lane—a reporter who lived life as fast as she could type. What Superman the Movie did, for those of us brought up in the late 70s and early 80s, was visually represent women who strong-willed, fiery and sexy all at once. Just remember, this was a time when Princess Leia in Star Warsand Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Arc traversed the silver screen.
Now while Lois Lane’s emergence in Superman’s life goes back to Action Comics #1 in 1938, it was this film version of her that will always cloud my judgement when reading or watching new incarnations of her. And that is why Superman Action Comics two-parter, Lois Lane Back at the Planet, was such a treat to read.
The mini-series covers Superman Action Comics #965-966 and spends much quality time with the Man of Steel’s main squeeze. In DC Comics Rebirth, there are two Lois Lanes. The one in Lois Lane, Back at the Planet is the Lois Lane pre-New 52. She has been living in secret with her pre-New 52 Superman—until the New 52 Superman died and his shoes desperately needed refilling. Pre-New 52 Lois has been having dreams from New 52 Lois and decides to head back to the Daily Planet and uncover what these dreams really mean.
Confusing? Not if you’ve watched soap operas like General Hospital or Days of Our Lives.
Admittedly, I fall into that category.
So what is it about Lois Lane, Back to the Planet that makes it special, and not just a short story-line to plug some plot holes until we get back to the regularly scheduled Superman action?
It has to do with what I wrote about earlier. Lois Lane, Back at the Planet’s writer Dan Jurgens conjures up the spirit of that old Lois, the one from Superman the movie, and connects right to her and that time. I’m not sure if that was even intentional, but as the two-parter comes to an end, Lois does a narration on why she’s heading back to The Daily Planet. It’s the Lois Lane who can only be Lois Lane, even in spite of herself. She has to stand up for the powerless, call out the wrongs, and use her greatest superpower: her intellect.
For Lois Lane, the pen is truly mightier than the sword.
Stephen Segovia’s illustrations for Lois Lane, Back at the Planet are solid. While this isn’t an action packed mini-series with loads of splash pages to drool over, Segovia conveys Lois as someone who is conflicted—should she do what is right for herself or do what she feels obligated to for Clark and her son? Segovia also shows real emotion and passion between Superman and Lois, which is something that also reminded me of my youth with Superman.
While only a short spin in Lois Lane’s heels, Superman Action Comics: Lois Lane, Back at the Planet offers readers a quality peek into her life and what makes this champion journalist tick.
If you’re a fan of comics, then you’ve got to love when an all-star writer/artist pairing comes together. In celebration of good ol’ Superman’s 75
anniversary, DC pulled one of these creator events together with Superman Unchained. Legendary artist Jim Lee and dark hearted superstar writer Scott Snyder decided to join forces for a big ol’ Superman epic. The resulting book was published slowly (as is the Jim Lee way) and featured more than a few fake outs (as is the Scott Snyder way), but eventually congealed into a Superman blockbuster. Consumed as a single story in trade format, this massive action n’ idea packed tale feels like the great dark Superman blockbuster that everyone was hyped up for Man Of Steel to be. It’s clever and wild and eye-popping and head-spinning and above all else deliriously entertaining. Is it the new definitive Superman tale? Nope, that honor still belongs to Grant Morrison’s beautiful All-Star Superman. But, Superman Unchained is still a wild ride that any comic book fan needs to take and probably the current highlight of Supes’ adventures in the New 52. And I say all that as someone who doesn’t even particularly love Superman.
The plot is complex in its misdirects and structure, but Superman is pretty simple character and the book never stretches beyond Supes’ limited parameters. It all starts with satellites plummeting to Earth with only Superman to stop them. Shockingly, he pulls off the feet in a few action packed Jim Lee frames. From there, he learns that a cyber terrorist group named Ascension was responsible and after a fast-talking n’ fact-checking chat with Lois Lane, also learns that while he stopped 8 satellites himself a 9
was stopped by a mysterious source. It turns out that source was a new villain known as Wraith. He looks like a cross between Doomsday and Darkseid (in a good way) and has a personal backstory for Superman. Turns out that Wraith is another alien who fell to earth and developed powers from our yellow sun. The only difference is that Wraith was brought up by the US government to whom he gave technological secrets and who helped him develop more and deeper powers than Superman. The pair form a reluctant alliance with Wraith teaching Superman alien fighting tips and Superman desperately attempting to teach his morality to Wraith. Eventually the whole Ascension thing turns out to be a ruse for an impending attack from Wraith long-lost alien race. An attack only a sacrificial Superman could stop. Plus Lex Luthor is involved in the whole thing with his new Superman-stomping plot. How could he not be?
As pure spectacle, the book is an absolute blast. As he’s proven time and time again in the pages of Batman, Snyder knows how to whip up a big set piece. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that it was a coincidence that Snyder dreamed up this story alongside his loopy Batman epic Zero Year and the ambitious surreal sci-fi/horror yarn The Wake. There was clearly a year when Snyder’s mind was in massive blockbuster mode, cranking out grandiose storylines that could only exist on a comic book page since Hollywood couldn’t dream of bringing them to reality within even a $300 million budget (well, for now anyways). That’s a good headspace to be in when crafting a Superman story and Jim Lee is a pretty ideal eye-candy collaborator. Lee’s idealized forms and fine attention to detail serves Snyder action scenes well. The glossy book is glorious to behold on a purely visceral level, with each issue assigned a massive explosion of Superman’s powers for Lee to fetishize with his beloved penmanship. There may have been delays getting all of these panels ready for publication, but it was all worth it. This is as grandiose as superhero yarns get and it’s impossible not to flip through the gorgeous images in the book without sporting a big goofy grin on your face.
Given that this will likely be Snyder’s only major crack at a Superman story, the writer takes advantage of the opportunity to play with all of his favorite toys in the Metropolis sandbox. Even though it’s not an “End Of Superman” story, Superman Unchained does offer a similar feel to Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow and Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. In all three instances the book is the work of a star writer attempting to cram everything that he loves about the Superman mythos into a single shining epic. Snyder’s run isn’t quite up to the standards of those two tales, but given that they are arguably the greatest two Superman stories ever written that’s just fine. He does fill his pages with amusing takes on popular characters and thematic challenges to the nature of Superman. A Wraith-suggested fantasy about Superman seeing all of his friends age and die while he remains a perfected protector is quite poignant as is the entire mirror image of Supes that Snyder created in Wraith. The villain certainly has some limitations and isn’t nearly as fleshed out as you’d hope, but he works for this particular story. There are times when Snyder’s tendency to over complicate his plots and themes rears its ugly head (especially in the tiresome Ascension plot and the rushed climax). But thankfully whenever Snyder is on a roll in this limited series (like Batman’s extended cameo or pretty much every panel featuring Snyder’s delightfully twisted take on Lex Luthor), the result is a giddy rush of ideas and entertainment. As far as bubble gum blockbuster Superman stories go, this is a pretty darn great one.
The Deluxe Edition release from DC is quite a nice little pick up for fans. The art is well served by the glossy pages and the hardback binding is strong. As an added treat, all of the unique covers used in the series are included in a hefty full page gallery after the main story. Pretty well all of DC’s heavyweight artists contributed alternative covers for the series, with each issue getting an alternate cover for every era of Superman (this was a 75
anniversary celebrating series after all). Everything from Bruce Timm’s take on Golden Age Supes to some hilarious renditions of the alternative Supermen from the infamous 90s Death Of Superman story arc can be found here and the gorgeous art varies in tone from austerely loving homage to outright parody. The cover gallery is a beautiful little love letter to Superman and a welcome addition to this pretty collection (along with a handful of other extras like pencil drafts and script pages). The only unfortunate misstep was failing to include the multi-page fold out poster that Lee designed for the first issue of Superman Unchained, but that was likely skipped to increase the collectable value of issue 1. DC does love to stoke the fires of the collector’s market, so I suppose that was an inevitable omission. Overall, it’s a damn fine collection for a damn fine Superman story from a damn fine artist/writer team. It’s hard to complain about that. In fact, if you’re a Superman fan you may as well just celebrate this sweet trade’s existence and pick it immediately.
Unless you’re over 75 years old, then you have no idea what it’s like to live in a world without Superman. The unstoppable force in flattering spandex created the superhero mythos and made an indelible mark on pop culture that is everlasting. Only Mickey Mouse could possibly be considered more recognizable than the man of steel as a pop culture icon of the 20th century and even then, Supes runs a very close second. Yet, despite the fact that Walt Disney is almost as well known (both in good and bad ways) as his most famous creation, the origin stories of Superman’s creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster remain vaguely mysterious. Hard though it might be to believe, there’s never been a book written about the lives of Siegel and Shuster, but thankfully author Brad Ricca has finally righted that wrong with Super Boys. It’s a painstakingly researched tome of a surprisingly painful story about two kids with a dream treated about as horribly as humanly possible by the business they helped define.
Ricca follows the story of Siegel and Shuster slowly and with great care, peeling back layers of their childhood as the sons of immigrants (Siegel brought up in a family of Lithuanian immigrants in Cleveland and Shuster born in Canada to Russian parents) and their early days cranking out stories for pulp publications. Ideas for their iconic creation began to form in the story “The Reign Of The Super-Man,” but it was the super-speed of gold medal Olympian Jesse Owens who inspired their Superman. The character was gradually nurtured along until the duo (Siegel penning the words, Shuster drawing the images) sold Superman fully formed to Detective Comics, Inc. for a grand total of $130 dollars. It was a bad deal even at the time, but Siegal talked his skeptical partner into accepting, assuming that the inevitable syndication rights for the character would eventually even things out.
From Superman’s car-wielding debut in Action Comics #1, the character hit pop culture hard. Soon their character was selling comics by the boatload and Siegel and Shuster were forced to hire additional writers and artists to help keep pace with their hectic workload. Sadly, that’s pretty much where the positive side of this story stops. There was no mythical syndication deal that got them the money they were due. Despite the fact that Superman not only turned DC into the top comics company on the market, but helped define the entire medium as a superhero delivery system, Siegel and Shuster received a pittance of a salary and no credit as their character took off. It took a lawsuit against DC for them to even be allowed to try out a prequel story and that ended poorly. They tried to create other characters, but nothing worked (their best idea was Funnyman who used humor to defeat his enemies, but unfortunately the creators weren’t exactly skilled comedy writers). Shuster became so disenchanted by his experience that he became a recluse and was reduced to drawing erotic cartoons for strange magazines. Siegel stayed around comics for a while and created a minor character in the Spectre, but to suggest he was a success in the industry would be a lie. Superman meanwhile became a cultural icon appearing on radio, television, and Broadway while his creators struggled to pay their rent.
“Shuster used to proudly stand outside the Broadway Superman show to see audiences enjoy his creation despite never being able to afford a ticket himself”
Then in the 1970s around when the Superman film was being pulled together, legendary comic book artist Neil Adams took a special interest in the struggles of Siegel and Shuster. He didn’t know them, but had spent years fighting for fair wages and rights for his comic book compatriots and decided it was time to do the same for the unfortunate men who created the superhero industry. Heartbroken by the story that Shuster used to proudly stand outside the Broadway Superman show to see audiences enjoy his creation despite never being able to afford a ticket himself, Adams fought for Siegel and Shuster and got them the credit and at least some of the money they deserved. Adams’ battle didn’t make things right or relaunch the creators’ careers, but at least he ensured that Siegel and Shuster would always be known as the men who created Superman and could expect royalty cheques until the day they died.
The story of Siegel, Shuster, and Superman is almost like folklore amongst comic book fans and a cautionary tale so harsh it has to be true. It’s been told before, but never with the detail that Ricca (a university professor and author) was able to unearth. The Superman tale is of course the centerpiece of the book, but Ricca explores almost every other avenue, digging up bizarre artifacts like Shuster’s award-winning poster design for a high school football championship and the tragic murder of Siegel’s father. Ricca tells the tale with high drama, often imagining the inner thoughts of his subjects, but never stretching credibility. He finds parallels to almost every aspect of Superman within the lives of his creators and while that might sometimes push too far, it’s never less than fascinating. There are times when Ricca’s interest in the minutia of Siegel and Shuster’s lives can get tiresome since they were not hugely interesting people beyond their tie to one of the most important pop culture creations of the 20th Century, but thankfully he never strays too far from the man in the cape.
Brad Ricca’s Super Boys probably wouldn’t appeal much to those who aren’t already invested in the history of comics or Superman in particular. However, for those who are invested in this world (like say anyone who reads Comics Gaming Magazine) it’s an undeniably fascinating account of a sad, yet important story. It’s not an accident that the publishers of the book have gone out of their way through the subtitle and cover design to make Super Boys seem similar to Michael Chabon’s Pultizer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay. Clearly Chabon drew a great deal from the lives of Siegel and Shuster when writing his masterpiece (along with the lives of Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, and others). Now, I’m not suggesting that Super Boys is anywhere near the level of Kavalier & Clay as a piece of writing. It’s far too academic for that. However, the book makes for a fascinating companion piece, proving how little twisting is necessary to tell a story of talents pillaged and squashed by the early comic book industry. Brad Ricca’s book is a fitting tribute to the creators of Superman and they have long deserved to have their story told so lovingly and faithfully.
Superman: Lois Lane #1 is coming out on Feb. 26, and focuses on the Daily Planet reporter and her family.
Written by Marguerite Bennett, the story will be about a number of things, including Lois’ father and his rise in the government office, her sister’s involvement with a deadly drug scene, and the return of Brainiac.
This isn’t Bennett’s first one-shot, her previous being Batman: The Joker’s Daughter #1, which was released earlier this month. It’s a bizarre character study that follows Joker’s daughter as she tries to find the Joker, and create a name for herself during her quest to be taken seriously as a villain. Alongside her pet cat Ugly Cat, she takes part in several gory acts of violence, and even manages to track down Batman himself.
Aside from the possibilities of a Joker return hinted at throughout the story, many people didn’t appreciate the excessive violence and the character’s one-dimensional personality, and as a result received a resounding “meh,” from most critics.
Warner Brothers Animation’s DCU productions reached a creative and commercial peak with their epic two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, dripping in fan service and arguably the best Dark Knight epic of 2012.
They may not have realized it at the time, that put considerably higher expectations on the company’s follow up project. However, rather than trying to top themselves with another beloved graphic novel adaptation, WB Animation just went back to doing what they do best: adapting a fan favorite comic book runs into an impressive direct-to-home-market feature. With Superman: Unbound, the company has turned their attention to Geoff Johns’ 2008 arc Superman: Brainiac, which many fans consider to be the definitive take on Supes iconic alien foe. The movie might not have the immense crossover appeal of Dark Knight Returns, but it just might be the finest DCU Supermanmovie yet and is a perfect introduction to the villain for Superman noobies. With that Man Of Steal thing coming out later this summer, that should be a growing market.
The film picks up with Lois Lane (Stana Katic) kidnapped by some generic masked villains in a helicopter. Unfortunately for the baddies, she’s friends with both Superman (Matt Bomer) and Supergirl (Molly C. Quinn) who quickly save her. From there, Lois starts chewing out Clark for keeping their relationship a secret, which he calmly explains is a result of all that intergalactic fighting he does on the side. Speaking of which, a new alien menace arrives with Brainiac (John Noble) in a compilation version of both his alien and robot origins. This Brainiac travels the universe in a flying skull ship run by his consciousness, sucking up the knowledge of entire worlds, miniaturizing a capital city for his private collection, and then destroying the world so that he can be the only creature in the universe with knowledge of the planet. So, he’s a bit of a jerk and with limitless knowledge, a viciously cold logic, a handful of superpowers, as well an army of robots on his side, he’s a formidable threat for our trusty hero. Superman is, of course, disgusted by Brainiac’s way of life and watches with fear as he destroys a planet. He also learns that the Kryptonian capital Kandor is one of Brainiac’s trophies, which depresses and distresses both Superman and Supergirl, who actually has memories of her former home. After learning of Earth’s existence by sucking on Superman’s brain, Brainiac targets the planet and Metropolis for his next annihilation. Do you think Superman and Supergirl will stand for that? I doubt it.
Superman Unbound is the first DCU feature made without the leadership of DC Animation guru Bruce Timm (who has had a hand in literally ever DC cartoon project since the 90s Batman: The Animated Series), but thankfully the remaining team including Timm’s longtime partner Alan Burnett don’t miss a beat. The big budget Timmverse aesthetic of DCU animated features returns with only a few new hyper-stylized anime touches made without Timm’s watchful eye that add rather than detract. It has to be said that that Superman Unbound isn’t nearly as artistically or thematically ambitious as some of the wonderful Batman features the studio has cranked out, so set your expectations accordingly. This is more of a surreal Silver Age adventure with intriguing sci-fi concepts than any sort of character deconstruction and there’s nothing wrong with that. Superman isn’t really a character capable of deconstruction: he’s a noble hero designed for epic adventure, which is exactly what the film offers. This is a blazingly entertaining 75-minute action feast filled with epic battle sequences that establishes Superman’s second greatest villain who has never really gotten the attention he deserves outside of the funny books.
Brainiac is the reason for this film existing and the show delivers on the legacy. In this version, the character is a brilliant, all-powerful alien force whose planet-destroying powers genuinely challenge the Man Of Steel’s skills. Voiced by Fringe/Lord Of The Rings veteran John Noble with chilly precision, Brainiacis a terrifying creation who can never be reasoned with. The film sells the character well and hopefully this vision of Brainiac will have an influence on his inevitable big screen debut. Beyond the robot-bashing good vs. evil action of the Brainiac A-plot, the writers found time for an intriguing examination of an awkward teenage Supergirl coming into her superpowers like a high school gal with raging hormones. Unsure of her own abilities, lacking a home, and with only the relative strangers Supermanand Ma n’ Pa Kent to count as friends, she’s an intriguingly conflicted hero to contrast with Superman’s perfection and adds quite a bit to the film. In Geoff Johns’ original comic run, the dark tale climaxed with the death of Clark Kent for one of the harshest Superman tales of all time. In the one misstep in the entire adaptation, the filmmakers instead decided to instead frame the tale’s intergalactic action around Superman’s relationship woes with a particularly sassy Lois Lane, leading to a sentimental finale. It’s a bit of a shame and doesn’t quite work, which robs the story of a satisfying final note. However, given all that went right in Superman Unbound and the fact that the film would be a darkly miserable tragedy without the change, I suppose it’s forgivable.
Warner Bros’ Blu-ray presentation of the film is as stellar as always. This animation studio has only gotten better as these direct-to-video features have progressed. While some of the early efforts like Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths looked and felt like extended episodes of the animated series, Superman Unbound feels like a polished feature animation filled with gorgeous images perfectly suited to an HD glow. The visual style is still angular with limited detail in the Bruce Timm style, but the scale of the action and settings on display is above and beyond anything DC ever did on television. It would be a stretch to say you could release it theatrically, but it’s certainly above and beyond the usual direct-to-video standards. The disc is also overflowing with fantastic special features. First up is a commentary with producer/director James Tucker, screenwriter Bob Goodman, and DC Entertainment creative director Mark Carlin filled with entertaining production details and insights (including a hilarious comparison between Brainiac and comic book collectors). Then there is a wonderful 25-minute documentary about Brainiac that delves into the entire history of the character exploring all his incarnations over the years, with a particular focus on Geoff Johns’ take. It’s a perfect intro for the unfamiliar and a nice overview for the Supergeeks. A 17-minute featurette on the miniaturized Kandor is also quite interesting, but not as rich as the Brainiac feature. Next up are for episodes from the late 90s Superman: The AnimatedSeries focused on Brainiac and Supergirl. Given how strong these shows were, they’re always welcome extra features on the DCU feature discs. Finally we get an excerpt from the digital Superman: Brainiac comic and a 10-minute sneak peek at the upcoming Flashpoint feature that even in rough animatic stages looks friggin’ spectacular. So, overall, this is one heck of a Blu-ray set well worth a purchase. If you’re a DCU animated feature junkie, you won’t be disappointed. If you’ve never delved into this world before, but are anxious for a little extra Superman this summer, it’s well worth a look. Outside of the comic books, this is now the definitive treatment of Brainiac and hopefully this won’t be the last feature film to use Superman’s #2 villain over the next few years. I’m looking at you Snyder/Goyer!