Tag Archives: meanwhile

Superman 1.81: Nevermore

So, in the Superman movie — and yes, I am still talking about the movie — Lex Luthor has just deduced that Kryptonite will kill Superman, and he’s heading to Addis Ababa for an off-screen meteorite shopping trip. But the movie was out of date — according to the Superman comics of 1978, Kryptonite didn’t exist anymore.

The folks at DC Comics may have been excited about the upcoming Superman film, but there was a quiet war going on between the comics and the movie, battling to see which version of the story would take hold of the popular imagination. As it turned out, the movie won by a wide margin, and to explain why, all I need to do is show you what they tried to do with Kryptonite in the early ’70s.

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Superman 1.76: The Stupid Answer

So it turns out people aren’t tired of superhero movies after all, judging by the first weekend take for Spider-Man: No Way Home, which earned more money in a four-day frame than any other movie that has ever been made except for Avengers: Endgame. It looks like these films are going to be around for a while as a dominant pop cultural force, and comic book readers know exactly what to expect.

When there’s a new movie that’s coming up based on a Marvel or DC property, that means it’s time to relaunch the comic book, and have a new #1 out on the racks for people to pick up, read for two issues, and then decide that they don’t like it as much as the movie. These days, the relaunch titles last for about 12 to 18 months, and then get replaced by whatever’s coming next in the movie release schedule.

In 2021, we’ve seen relaunches for Shang-Chi (vol 2), Black Widow (vol 8), Eternals (vol 5), Suicide Squad (vol 7) and Venom (vol 5), plus a new Hawkeye: Kate Bishop title to tie in with the Disney+ show. This is what comics are for now, to support the movies and to occasionally come up with a new bit of intellectual property, like a Black Spider-Man, a female Spider-Man, a Black female Iron Man, a Muslim Ms. Marvel, a bisexual Superman and a Black gay Aquaman, all of them ready to be turned into cartoons, live-action TV shows and blockbuster movies, whenever people get around to it.

But back in 1978, DC wasn’t really sure what they were supposed to do about the upcoming Superman movie, except buy tickets, so their response was all over the place.

They started a new Superman team-up title called DC Comics Presents, and they launched a new “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” back-up feature in the Superman book about a newlywed Lois and Clark, in an alternate universe. They also wrote a four-issue story designed to sell diecast Supermobile toys, and they published a special Superman vs Muhammad Ali comic.

On the other hand, in what seem like perverse anti-tie-ins, they didn’t publish any comics that feature Lex Luthor all year, plus they reprinted the story “Kryptonite Nevermore!” from 1971, to make sure that readers were aware that Superman wasn’t vulnerable to Kryptonite anymore. They also published a story called “The Super Sellout of Metropolis!” which I interpret as a way of working through their ambivalent feelings about the movie.

And to cap off the year, just in time for the movie release, they published a story called “The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!” which offered a full and unnecessary explanation for why nobody recognizes Superman, when he’s in the guise and garb.

Continue reading Superman 1.76: The Stupid Answer

Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

I believe that I left you yesterday teetering on a knife’s edge, wondering how Action Comics ever got away with spending four months in 1978 justifying the production of a frankly disappointing die-cast toy. As you’ll recall, Corgi, one of the finest names in the British die-cast novelties market, wanted to make a Superman-themed companion piece to its successful line of Batman toys. The caped crusader had an easily merchandisable Batmobile, Batboat and Batcopter, so Superman was going to get a Supermobile, whether he needed it or not, which he didn’t.

Showing a ready willingness to bend to the needs of die-cast commerce, Action Comics produced a four-issue toy commercial, starting with issue #480 in February 1978. That first installment set up the premise of the storyline: A wave of red-sun radiation that has washed over the Earth, causing several problems.

First, it’s reactivated the deactivated Amazo, an enormous terrifying android who has all the powers of the Justice League and never lets you forget it. Now Amazo is hunting down his mad scientist creator, Professor Ivo, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Second problem: The red-sun radiation has dimmed Superman’s powers, leaving him vulnerable and helpless. Problem number three is that Amazo has tricked all of the other superheroes into gathering on the Justice League satellite, which he’s propelled into another dimensional plane.

As of the middle of the second issue, Amazo has tracked the weakening Superman to his Fortress of Solitude, where the action ace has concealed Professor Ivo, and the only way that Superman can fight the android is to jump into his souped-up Supermobile hot rod, and show the boys and girls at home all of its exciting action features.

Continue reading Superman 1.59: The Alternative, part 2

Superman 1.58: The Alternative

Superman is up in the air at last, and now — at the late date of 70 minutes into a 140-minute experience — we might say that Superman: The Movie has finally begun. He’s rocketed skyward, a danger to sneak thieves and drug smugglers, and a friend in need to cats and kings.

As we discussed yesterday, the film’s special effects crew finally figured out how to produce credible shots of the action ace soaring through the sky, which is great, but it involved a great deal of wear and tear on the harnesses, the front projection equipment and the lead actor. It’s too bad that the Superman crew didn’t realize that there was an alternative, which was proposed in Action Comics in spring 1978, on behalf of a British toy company.

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Superman 1.34: Meanwhile, in the Comics

The year was 1978. With a blockbuster Superman movie on the horizon, DC Comics editor Julie Schwarz said that he didn’t plan on changing anything in the Superman comics to tie in with the movie, because a) the books were already selling well, and b) the movie would bring in new readers.

Neither of those statements turned out to be true.

In reality, the sales of both Action Comics and Superman had been falling precipitously for over a decade. Between 1965 and 1975, Action Comics lost 56% of its sales — 525,000 copies a month to 231,000 — and Superman lost 64%, going from a healthy 824,000 copies a month to an anemic 296,000 in ten years.

In 1979, when Superman: The Movie was by far the #1 box office draw in the country, Action Comics sales actually dropped, from 184,000 in 1978 to 161,000 in 1979, and they kept on going down. Superman sales went up a little bit, from 223,000 to 246,000, but then they dropped all the way to 179,000 in 1980.

It’s now an accepted fact that successful superhero movies encourage people to watch more superhero movies, but they don’t do much for comics sales. Today, we’re going to take a look at a 1978 issue of Action Comics, and see if we can figure out why.

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