Saturday, April 20, 2013

365 Comics...110: Superman: The Earth Stealers (1988)

The meeting of three of Superman's heavyweight creators was call for special treatment in this prestige format, squarebound one shot, something DC was getting pretty hot at the time.  By the mid-90's it seemed like DC was putting two of them a month, and most of them were mediocre at best.  But John Byrne, Curt Swan and Jerry Ordway on one book seemed noteworthy.  Alas.

Alas, The Earth Stealers as far too old-fashioned a Superman story to fit comfortably into the post-Crisis Superman mythos (a noticeably de-powered Supes from his pre-Crisis incarnation, which makes his end-of-book feat so very preposterous, contextually speaking) and Byrne's script attempting to do so makes this feel less like a special and more like part of the Superman series of books (an Annual perhaps).  There's a sense that Byrne is going for a Superman Versus Muhammad Ali feel where Superman faces an alien threat that could destroy the Earth and ultimately must face an opponent mano y mano as sport, but it's not even close to being as epic a story.

The Earth Stealers isn't terrible but it's far from a classic Superman story.  The idea its intriguing enough, an ancient spacecraft emerges through a rip in space and proceeds to tow earth and the Earth and the Moon out of their orbit of Sol and back through the rift where they will be placed in line to enter a gargantuan, star-sized "cracking station".  The station obliterates planets, stealing all their natural resources in one fell swoop.  With Earth as the line the captain of the transport ship plays nasty with Superman by exploiting his greatest weakness... no not Kryptonite but Lois, Jimmy and Perry. Sigh this book thinks so small and assumes Superman does too.

There's little to no interest in the technology that can rip planets out of orbit (and a 50's-style sci-fi disregard for the science of what would happen to the rest of the solar system if it did) and even less exploration or concern for the greater impact of a technology as well as race or society that its doing such a heinous thing (especially with populated planets).  There's potential for an ecological allegory here but Byrne has Supes so narrowly focussed on saving only Earth (and even more concentrating on Lois, Jimmy and Perry) that anything else doesn't even register as an afterthought.  Doesn't knowing this technology is out their just weigh on Clark's mind? Was there ever any follow-up?

This is the worst of Superman, the thing I so often dislike most about comics' most super hero, that the stories so often stay so insular with the main character and his supporting cast as if they're the only thing that matters.  Lois and company have their place in the lore but when things start getting cosmic (or global even) these supporting characters should fade into the background if not disappear altogether.  (To paraphrase Black Dynamite: Hush up now little earth folk, the grown Super folks is talking.)

The idea of Earth getting stolen is a silly but fun concept. It was used to far better (and funnier) effect on the great Invader Zim episode "Planet Jackers".

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