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Author Topic: Worst Superman Stories?  (Read 24135 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: August 29, 2005, 04:24:36 AM »

It can be painful to admit, because we're all Superman fans that love the character, but what are some of the most jaw-droppingly clueless, conceptually divorced, and all-round WORST Superman stories ever told? It's very revealing to hear which fans believe specific stories do not work, because it reveals their personal tastes and preferences.

Here are mine:


SUPERMAN SPECIAL NO. 1 (1983) "Behold, the Ultimate Man" (Gil Kane)

Reading this from cover to cover, I'm positive there's not an original idea in the entire thing.

The tale is about a scientist that discovers a means to evolve himself upward until he acquires titanic mental powers. Isn't this the premise of something like fifty TWILIGHT ZONE episodes? What his gigantic new hydrocephalic head lacks in the ability to wear hats, it makes up for in the amazing superpower to do whatever Gil Kane needed him to do at any given moment, including creating tidal waves (somehow) and pulling out meteors from space. To quote SUPREME: "Watch out! His powers are so ill defined as to be virtually limitless!" But this begs the question: if the scientist is now so powerful that he can create volcanic eruptions and fire comets to the earth to distract Superman, why doesn't he just turn the blood in Superman's veins to Kryptonite or trap him in a field of stopped time?

The "evolutionary advancement" to gain superpowers is not the most original idea here (the High Evolutionary, Captain Comet, and X-Men after all, were all doing this before it was cool) but even this derivative concept was particularly tired here. The scientist advances himself through the future state of humanity and it's a guy with a giant head. Gee, how innovative. What's especially rich, though, is the fact he's described as "genetically perfect." When I think of perfect, I think of Michaelangelo's David. I don't think of creepily slim giant-headed hipsters with a stare like he just smoked a reefer the size of a highway flare. Later on, he takes another evolutionary advancement, his head increases to twice the size of the rest of his body, requiring a chair to move him around. If you're being derivative of the hypercephalic Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing (MODOK) you've really cribbed off the bottom of the barrel.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that there was a moral there about how "man loses his humanity with too much intelligence?" Nope, never heard that one before.

Superman's solutions to problems are a snore. He escapes from the belly of a space monster by Spinning Really Fast to collect the anti-energy or whatever the hell, I really can't figure it out. And if you've seen Superman stop a volcano, comet, and hurtling asteroid one time, you've pretty much seen them all. None of it is worth mentioning.

Lissen up, son, because I'm only going to say it once: ARTISTS CAN'T WRITE. Well, not exactly true:  there's Jack Kirby, Eisner, and Jim Starlin and...oh yeah...NOBODY ELSE. Steve Englehart and Alan Moore started out as artists (believe it or not) but they were writers and talented professionals foremost. Gil Kane is a classic artist that deserves every bit of his legendary reputation but that doesn't mean he can write. Just because Alan Ginsberg was a great poet does not mean he would be a great cagefighter.

Yeah, there have been some shockingly terrible Superman stories, but this one was bo-o-oring.


Most Superman Elseworlds after 1990 (too many to individually single out, but especially the MAN OF STEEL 1997 annual where he's Mowgli, SPEEDING BULLETS, and that one whose name I forget that has Superman as a Sports Star)

Why is it the older "Imaginary Stories" worked but most recent Elseworlds don't?

The most interesting "What If..." type stories are ones that stem from ONE departure from reality. As in, "What if Superman was sent to Oa instead of Earth?" or "What if Superman married Lori Lemaris for real?" or "What if Superman came to earth with his mother?" The best ones even have a SPECIFIC point of departure from reality: Dr. Kim-Da was unable to reach the button in time, and so Superman stayed tiny and Kandor was re-enlarged on Earth. The interesting thing about playing the Imaginary Story game is to see how differently things went.

Other kinds of "Imaginary Stories" were interesting because they were a possible future that may or may not happen; it had the thrill of prophecy, of seeing the future. It combined the satisfaction and fascination with a kind of enjoyable speculation and conjecture about the shape of things to come; learning how things would eventually develop and affect the characters. This is why Jimmy Shooter's Adult Legion story was such a treat; it told us FOR REAL how things would happen.

Recent "Elseworlds" don't work because either they alter so much that they are totally unrecognizeable; there is no touchstone left that makes them the character it is supposed to be a variant on. The Elseworlds arc in Morrison's JLA failed because while the idea of Wally West getting a magic ring from a New God that covers him in jelly that gives him Superspeed...well, that's interesting, it is totally unrecognizeable as an alternate anything, feeling more like a rejected Morrison proposal for another character that he shoehorned onto Wally West.

In other types of recent Elseworlds, characters are "plugged in" to a formula, and the fact the characters are who they are is unimportant. It reminds me of those SIMPSONS episodes where they do Hamlet, but it's Bart as Hamlet and Lisa as Ophelia and Moe the Bartender as Claudius. The fact that Lisa is Ophelia adds nothing to the story; they're just doing Hamlet with SIMPSONS-style wisecracks, with no deviation. Likewise, when they do Superman becoming Mowgli, it not only is the 19th Century, and Luthor is a wealthy big game hunter. The fact the character is Superman does not change the JUNGLE BOOK plot.

Worst of all, there is a sense of inevitability about the Superman story. In the end, even if Superman had been a celebrity that used his powers to be a sports star, he puts on the glasses and becomes nerdy Clark Kent in the last panel. Superman and Lois always get together at the end. What's the point of an Elseworld if things become the same as we knew them before? It also stretches the plausibility; if Superman crashed in China, he'd probably have as his girlfriend a Chinese girl, NOT Lois Lane (maybe a... Ling Liu?)


DEATH OF SUPERMAN (Jurgens, other weasels)

I wrote a critique at length about what didn't work about this criminal and terminally unintelligent series. The only thing I can possibly add is that my criticism above is that Dan Jurgens is an artist that writes (question...answered).


Originally I wanted to add to this list "The Computers that Saved Metropolis" ACTION COMICS #509 (1980), which was basically a 28-page advertisement for Radio Shack/Texas Instruments computers. Okay, it had Superman talk about the history of computers for three pages in the most dry way imaginable (he gives out details about how many vaccuum tubes and capacitors ENIAC used, for godsakes) and the way the action stops for Superman to whip out his NEW, TRS-80 COMPUTERS!!! But it had the benefit of great Starlin art and Cary Bates script that made the whole thing cool and campy instead of outright manipulative. They got use out of Major Disaster, a great villain, and Superman's problem (requiring the kids to use the computers to help him plot super-stunts) is genuinely novel. As the Supermen of America pointed out, it's fun to watch little tots kick keyster (remember the Frog Brothers from THE LOST BOYS? Man, they should have gotten their own spin-off movie)
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DoctorZero
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2005, 05:45:25 AM »

I'm not familiar with that Superman Special.  I may have read it, but it didn't register with me.  Possibly I never bothered to pick it up at the time it was released.
The Worst Superman story?  Probably the attempt to say Clark's glasses allowed him to hypnotize people into seeing Clark as looking different than Superman.  Even the slightest thought would find flaws in this theory.  They were trying to find a rational explanation for something totally irrational and it failed on all levels.

The Elseworlds stories?  I rarely pick them up.  The original concept was to place characters like Batman in different historical times.  It seemed rather silly to me and I had no interest in them.  Batman in the Civil War?  Really.  The recent ones haven't improved much at all.  They were worse than most of Marvel's What If stories.  The first dozen so What If tales were interesting, but then they got more and more pointless.

As you pointed out, the original Imaginary Stories explored possibilities that the readers wanted to see or know.  Yes, more often than not these had disasterous consequences for the characters, but they were still fun to read.  The latter day Imaginary Stories, those not done by Mort Weisinger, were as week as Marvel's later day What If tales.  It seemed as if Mort understood what made an imaginary story interesting.  The Murray Boltinoff "Superman 10 years from now in a wheel chair can't walk or use his powers because he has a mental block" is a good example of how they can blow an imaginary story.

I'm certain there are dozens of other really bad Superman stories other members here can recall.  Especially if you start to include the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen tales as well.
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Genis Vell
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« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2005, 08:56:48 AM »

SUPERMAN #180.

A trash story. I'm a Loeb fan, but this issue is really bad... Clark, Lois and Jimmy goes to Transylvania. Of course, if you go there, you must meet Count Dracula. There are a couple of interesting moments, i.e. when Superman and Lois, hypnotized by Dracula in different moments complain about recent events (Lois: "You left my father die to save Wonder Woman!"; Superman: "You left me alone after the Imperiex war!"). Last but not least, Ian Churchills art. Sigh.

"Critical conditions".

A four part crossover by Loeb, Kelly and others. A nice story, but it's too long (4 issue to show a travel into Superman's body) and bad, bad arts by Carlo Barberi and Duncan Rouleau. Worst Superman artists ever!

The Seagle/Mc Daniel run.

Except for the first issues... Ideas? What are them?

There are other bad stories in my library, but luckily most of the Superman books I have read are good. Let's face it, you cannot write a bad story with Superman!
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Maximara
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2005, 12:48:02 PM »

Quote from: "DoctorZero"
The Elseworlds stories?  I rarely pick them up.  The original concept was to place characters like Batman in different historical times.  It seemed rather silly to me and I had no interest in them.  Batman in the Civil War?  Really.  The recent ones haven't improved much at all.  They were worse than most of Marvel's What If stories.  The first dozen so What If tales were interesting, but then they got more and more pointless


Actually like Marvel's What If? Elseworlds has been all over the quality map but I agree that to a large degree that the efforts using Superman have been largely lackluster. Compare "Castle of the Bat" which took the Frankenstein story in a totally different direction to the effort with Superman as the monster which basicly rehashed the Novel.

Superman & Batman: Generations was a great redoing of the Silver Age with a darker tone to it but then came Superman & Batman: Generations II with made no sence and ended with the worst copout since Dallas.
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ShinDangaioh
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2005, 12:56:01 PM »

You haven't been reading the new stuff have you?  Smiley

The Vanishing?  Superman subconciously kidnapped over 1 million humans off Earth and put them in the Phantom Zone.

Superman the porn star(with Big Barda)
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JulianPerez
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« Reply #5 on: August 29, 2005, 02:49:18 PM »

Quote from: "DoctorZero"
I'm not familiar with that Superman Special.  I may have read it, but it didn't register with me.  Possibly I never bothered to pick it up at the time it was released.


What's worse is, it came out almost a few weeks before the DC COMICS PRESENTS ANNUAL NO. 2 (1983) that gave us Elliot S! Maggin's Superwoman.

Quote from: "DoctorZero"
The Elseworlds stories?  I rarely pick them up.  The original concept was to place characters like Batman in different historical times.  It seemed rather silly to me and I had no interest in them.  Batman in the Civil War?  Really.  The recent ones haven't improved much at all.  They were worse than most of Marvel's What If stories.  The first dozen so What If tales were interesting, but then they got more and more pointless.


I can't believe I forgot to mention Roy Thomas's SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS, where Superman Forrest Gump-style involves himself into the story. It was terrible. Some things are great on their own - fish sticks, peanut butter, ice cream. Please don't put them together, Roy. Really.

As for the WHAT IFs... while the one involving Thor leaving Avengers after the Hulk did was interest, or the "What If Wonder Man Had Lived?" story were really impressive, as was the Kurt Busiek-written "What if Charles Xavier became the Juggernaut?" For the most part they have been with wildly implausible premises involving forgettable storylines and popular characters, like "What if Wolverine was Lord of the Vampires?" Gag!

Quote from: "DoctorZero"
I'm certain there are dozens of other really bad Superman stories other members here can recall.  Especially if you start to include the Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen tales as well.


Nah. Coming down on the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane comics is a little like kicking your dog because he can't do calculus. Stories should be rated in terms of "what it is they set out to accomplish, and how successful were they in doing what they set out to do?" For this reason, I enjoyed very much THE SCORPION KING movie, whereas more ambitious films like the overlong, plodding, pretentious COLD MOUNTAIN can be judged as resounding failures. One has to adopt a proper mentality when seeing a film or reading a kind of comic book. There is a specific kind of mentality when seeing a Japanese monster movie, too: what makes one like DESTROY ALL MONSTERS! or GODZILLA VS. GIGAN successful is different than one would use to rank, say, ROSEMARY'S BABY.

Can Jurgens' entire career count as a "worst?"  :wink:
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Klar Ken T5477
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« Reply #6 on: August 29, 2005, 03:05:34 PM »

I dont follow the new ie modern series but was browsing when I saw the Transilvania ish Genis mentioned...and then you have Jimmy singing "Going Through the Motions" from the musical episode of Buffy and that horrendous art?Huh?Huh???!!!!!!!!!!-++
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Genis Vell
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« Reply #7 on: August 29, 2005, 03:22:21 PM »

Quote from: "ShinDangaioh"
You haven't been reading the new stuff have you?  :)

The Vanishing?  Superman subconciously kidnapped over 1 million humans off Earth and put them in the Phantom Zone.


The real responsible is the new Zod, who stole the Vanishing machine.

Quote
Superman the porn star(with Big Barda)


One of the few Byrne ideas I didn't like. But, luckily, Superman didn't do any porn movie (Mr. Miracle stopped him)!
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