Saturday, July 01, 2006

Superman #300

Superman #300, June 1976, National Periodical Publication/DC Comics
writers: Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin
artists: Curt Swan & Bob Oksner
editor: Julius Schwartz
co-editor: Bob Rozakis

When I began brainstorming the A Comic A Day challenge, I knew the first comic would have to be special, if only to establish an excitable momentum. With no effort to uncover a specific issue (see last post), I simply hoped to find an obscure Superman comic, both to commemorate the release of Superman Returns and to honor the character's role as the forefather of the modern superhero comic book genre. Why not kick off my annual adventure with the guy that started it all?

Alas, when I chose the Orange Circle, a district of antique shops here in Orange County, for my inaugural comics shopping spree, I figured the odds of finding a notable Superman comic would be slim. In the first shop I perused, I uncovered a few classic Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen comics, but their pricetags surely weren't as lofty as their contents. Discouraged, my second venture was much more fruitful, almost immediately offering the issue in question: Superman #300. Interestingly, despite the DC bullet on the issue's cover, the fine print on the first page credits National Periodical Publications as the publisher of this, "Superman's 300th, and GREATEST, issue," (to cite the cover bannerhead). To further this issue's cosmic role as the first in the ACAD challenge, its publication date, June 1976, is obviously exactly 30 years ago. For not planning which issue to read first, I couldn't have found one more befitting my goal.

The story itself, humorously entitled "Superman 2001," is a decent What If?/Elseworlds yarn, exploring how the legend of the Man of Steel would differ if his Kryptonian craft landed in the Earth of 1976, thus following his growth into the role of Superman to the year 2001. I don't know how the chronological difference would affect the rocket's trajectory, but rather than land in Smallville, Kal-El plummets toward an ocean, where both the United States and their enemies the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics await its splashdown. Fortunately, America beats the Soviets to the craft, and the baby is discovered, raised, and hidden from the world in "the largest secret military installation ever built" in "a canyon cliff in Arizona." Young Kal-El's powers remain intact -- one of the soldiers exclaims, "Great Gosh! The baby is roasting the turkey just by looking at it!" -- and his suit is cleverly created from the invulnerable (even to a growing boy's body, apparently) blankets in his rocket. Still, Superman, or I should say Skyboy, as he is named, remain inactive until his adolescence . . .

. . . when, in 1990, the emergence of an otherwise unidentified "third world power," sparks World War III. Despite his successful efforts in disarming all of the world's nuclear weapons before the war reaches its natural cataclysmic potential, Skyboy blames himself for the global tension and abandons his future as a hero. Years later, the third world power emerges again, this time in the android form of Moka, who demands the world's respect as its savior from the near-nuclear disaster a decade ago. Of course, Superman exposes the android as a fake, and although he still doesn't accept credit for preventing the war, the people praise him as the hero of the new millennium. Interestingly, when a boy asks reporter Clark Kent if they'll ever see Superman again, Clark gushes, " . . . if [the world is] unfortunate enough to need a hero again . . . I'm sure he will return!" Three decades before Superman Returns (hell, two years before the first Chris Reeve flick), the people were already clamoring for their elusive Man of Steel.

So, no Ma and Pa Kent. (Supes' claims his "Clark Kent" ego, seemingly as universal as the Superman alias itself, by combining the names of the soldiers that raised him.) No Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor . . . or any of the characters from the core of Superman's mythos. In the grand scheme, this "What If?" could have been left unasked. Still, the legend remains: an alien from another world is raised on Earth and inevitably saves the planet from itself. The most interesting element of the story is the writer's perceptions of "the future," obviously now our past. According to their predictions, by 1990, the new mile-high Empire State Building should have been the world's tallest skyscraper and the White House should have been protected by an impenetrable dome! The Russians should still be in play on the world stage, and a woman should be President! In 2001, the area from Boston to Washington should have merged into one great city, Metropolis! (I like that idea!) Most notably, the mysterious "third world power," although oddly Caucasian on the comics page, could be the closest the writers came to prophesying a catalyst for war in our hallowed times. That, and the anticipation before Superman returns.

As I'd hoped, Superman teaches a valuable lesson through this story, one the A Comic A Day challenge has already learned: it doesn't matter where (or when) you start. As long as you do.

Ha! One down. 364 to go!


Unknown said...

This was a very interesting issue and this was in some ways kind of prophetical into what Superman would become in the movies. I am always impressed on how writers pictured the future (the 90's the 00's) as over futuristic places, we don't even have found a solution to fosil fuels and they gave us flying cars. I bet they though Generic Viagra was never going to be created

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i liked reading the comic summary. i recently purchased a tshirt from ebay with this cover on the shirt- so i wanted to know the story.

thanks for sharing it