Superman is the archetypal superhero, the one character who laid the foundation for the decades of characters and stories that were to follow. He is a character that fights for truth, justice and the American (sometimes) way.
But more importantly he is a character of hope. Hope for a better tomorrow. Hope for each and every person he encounters. Hope that one day he won’t have to challenge evil and injustice any more. This is a character who possesses so much power that he could crack the planet in two and he still believes in the goodness of each and every person on it. A man who can move the moon stops to make sure that one girl in Metropolis does not make a terrible mistake.
That is Superman.
Superman has had a lot of changes since his introduction way back in 1938 including the introduction (and removal) of a variety of powers; super-ventriloquism, super hypnosis, Great-Wall-of-China repair eye beams, amnesia kisses, shape shifting, super dancing and so on (It’s better not to think about these too much). Some versions of Superman have been mind boggling bizarre and seemed to not actually grasp what makes Superman … Superman. Superman: At Earth’s End, for example, had a future Superman totting one of those hideously idiotic couch guns, while punching people’s intestines out … and Hitler was there for … reasons (best not to think about that one too much either).
One of the biggest changes Superman has gone though was the ‘Superman Blue’ period which started in 1998. This storyline featured Superman mysteriously having his classic powers replaced by energy based abilities; energy bolts, teleportation, magnetic shenanigans, toaster exploding and so on. Recently I picked up the trade edition of Superman Blue and it made me recall just how far this storyline missed the mark of actually being about Superman.
As mentioned, Superman has had and lost a wide variety of powers over the decades. Superman’s extraordinary abilities in no way make him who he is, as demonstrated by the wide selection of story-lines where he is de-powered and still jumps in to oppose evil. It is Superman’s compassion, his morality, his optimism and hope that makes him the quintessential superhero – the one who serves as an example of all our better selves.
Superman Blue had Kal El sport a costume often depicted in darker tones, symbolising what was going on with the titles at the time. Scot Eaton’s pencilling, especially the use of shadow, casts every scene in the grim and gritty atmosphere that pervaded comics in the 1990s. Superman, still adjusting to his powers, teleports and is depicted as if his head is on fire – because Superman needs, for whatever reason, to be shown as being more edgy.
Now, admittedly, Superman is often portrayed as being stoic but Superman Blue had him go from that down to angry, gritty, lost, confused and uncertain. He is a character who goes from being selfless to angry because of the power change. Even the way Metropolis is depicted is different; gone is the sunshine and clear blue skies accompanied by shining skyscrapers. The hopeful City of Tomorrow is replaced with rain, storms, dark skies and a colour palette that often seems more in line with Gotham City. In many issues the skies over Metropolis seem to be a dark royal purple for reasons that are never explained.
That’s not to say that Superman Blue did not have some lovely art in it, because it did. The issues that Tom Grummett (does anyone know what he’s up to these days?) pencilled were as gorgeous as ever and somehow managed to retain the colour palette of pre-energy Superman. Yet the scripts still lacked any real sense of hope, there is nothing in plots that have that core of what Superman should really be about. That light that Superman shines upon the world is somehow absent and it really hurts the story, much like Man of Steel is arguably not a Superman film as the main character appears to miss the qualities that makes Superman who he is.
Superman Blue wrapped up when Superman Blue and Red had to fight the Millennium Giants who were awakened at the turn of the Millennium because reasons and I guess DC wanted to have some sort of Y2K Bug tie-in? It really is not a highlight of the characters history and can be counted as another example of 1990s shock value advertising in order to sell some stock.