Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Walter Simonson
Publisher: DC Comics
Plot: Superman is the anti-Christ? Nahhhhh…welllll could be. Nahhhh.
Commentary: DC has this thing about doing whatever they do to Batman to Superman or vice versa. This year, we got a future vision of Batman as a potential anti-Christ to coincide with his 666th issue and here Superman gets the same treatment. The Superman story is much more forced and contrived and doesn’t play into a potential ongoing storyline for the Man of Steel as Morrison’s take on the Batman of the future did. It’s odd to me that DC would choose to do this considering for awhile now we’ve had glimpses of a future menacing Superman via the protracted "Camelot Falls" storyline. There, a mystical character, Arion visits Superman to warn him of his potential for creating disaster down the road. Here, another spirit world dweller, The Phantom Stranger, along with Zatanna, show up with the same news, albeit the details are different.
So, the two storylines are similar but this stand alone issue has all the feel of a “What If?” throw away story. Basically the plot is, “What if Superman’s feelings of superiority and being fed up with mortal men are fueled by a local Kryptonian devil who hitched a ride with him on his journey to Earth all those years ago?” As you can imagine, it’s destruction and mayhem deluxe. The little devil in the story is quite a contrivance almost to the point of absurdity, but Busiek’s fun script and Simonson classic art save the story to some degree. The story opens with characters who have animalistic connections shouting warnings of the coming Superman beast. These are Hawkman, Animal-Man and Aquaman. Portents ala Alfred Hitchcock, The Exorcist and The Omen. Clark then has nightmares about his future despotic self complete with his S-shield being “The Mark of the Beast” and no one being able to buy or sell without the mark on their coinage or foreheads just like the Bible says. I’m a Christian and trying to make these iconic figures into the anti-Christ to me is just plain stupid, but I realize comics play to things in our social conscience, like the end of the world and the number of the beast, etc., etc.
The next ACT sees a Superman devoid of any moral restraint wiping out his rogues gallery without a blink. What this reinforces for me is how powerful Superman really is and how, if he wanted to, he could easily kill anyone. He even eliminates Jimmy because of his annoying signal watch. Busiek’s script and Simonson’s pictures infuse these scenes with a dark humor. Superman even kills a pregnant future Lois and then proceeds to take over Hell. Whatever. We learn later that it’s all part of Superman’s scheme to take the fight to the enemies' lair and save the day. He encounters Etrigan the Demon in Hell, of course, and the issue winds up with Zatanna, The Phantom Stranger and Superman outwitting the alien devil from Krypton. Finally, there’s a cheesy horror movie cliché ending. Is the monster really dead or not? We get a couple of panels of the crushed critter’s parts and eyes peeking out of the ground of Hell.
I’ve always been a fan of Simonson’s art ever since his day on Thor back in the early 80’s. His one-shot of the Teen Titans and X-Men is legendary in comics' lore. Here everybody looks good except his superhero Gestapo squad composed of an evilly converted Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Batman and Supergirl and the Demon Etrigan later on in Hell. The first four appear on the cover as well. All of these characters are sketchy and ill-defined, and it’s almost as if Simonson penciled them in later. Editorial flim-flam? “These characters HAVE to appear in the book!” Simonson’s always been good at mythical elements, and he serves the story well here. All in all an entertaining if not breathtaking “anniversary” read.
Final Word: Unless you are really into Walter Simonson, you can pass on this book. His art saves the day in an otherwise contrived story.
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