Each day in November, I will read and review/discuss/whatever one comic taken from a box of some of my childhood comics. Today, it's Superman annual #3.
Superman annual #3 by Dan Jurgens and Dusty Abell is part of the "Armageddon 2001" story where a superhero turned bad in the year 2001 to become the evil Monarch and conquered the world. Originally, the hero was meant to be Captain Atom, but when word leaked about that twist, they changed it to Hawk of Hawk & Dove fame. Because people believe Hawk to be powerful enough to kill all of the other heroes and take over the world... So, I guess that year's annuals focused on showing us the future of DC's heroes. In this one, Waverider finds Superman and touches him so he can access his timeline to check and see what happens in 2001 to determine if Superman becomes the Monarch.
I always love future stories for the same reason I love alternate reality stories: the gloves come off. There's no need to worry about continuity and keeping the character in place for someone else, the creators can just go wild, their only concern creating a good story. Not that this is that strong an issue, but it is interesting (more interesting than most issue of Superman). Between 1991 and 2001, Lois and Clark get married and things seem good until Intergang use a nuclear bomb to hold Metropolis hostage... and it goes off, destroying the city, and killing everyone Clark loved there. In the aftermath, he turns to Lana Lang for comfort and Superman begins dismantling all nuclear weapons, pissing off various world governments. The only one we see is the American one where, after sinking a nuclear sub with seven men still aboard, they finally have just cause to go after Superman. Up until this point, public sympathy has been on his side since he's disarming nations of horribly deadly weapons, but now that he's killed... well, that's another story. They go to Batman to take Superman down, telling him that if he doesn't do it quietly, they'll get the Justice League, which will do it very publically. Batman tells the president to go fuck himself... but will look into it. Superman/Clark's home life is kind of a mess as his father is dead, his mom suffers from Alzheimer's and he's becoming more and more unhinged, referring to Clark and Superman as two different people. After a confrontation from Bruce where Bruce acts... very unBatmanlike, Superman takes off to do more good work only to get ambushed by the Justice League: Martian Manhunter, Booster Gold, and Fire.
Now, this fight is probably the oddest part of the issue since Booster and Fire spend the entire fight mocking Superman and thinking of him as an out of touch old guy... really? I buy that sort of attitude from young heroes created in future stories, but those two have been around for a long time -- even the Martian Manhunter is a bit of prick. It doesn't matter, because Superman beats them up until the Martian Manhunter gets trapped in a fire and suffers a heart attack. Superman's reaction to being called a murderer is priceless: he was invulnerable to fire, so technically Superman didn't kill him, but that's a shame. This latest action causes Superman to move his family from Smallville to the Fortress of Solitude. Meanwhile, Robin (yes, ten years later in this world where Superman and Batman both have greying temples, Tim Drake is a grown man and still Robin) has found proof that seven seamen did die on that sub, so Batman calls Superman out to Gotham. We get a nice visual throwback to The Dark Knight Returns as the two fight with Robin getting involved (who's also a jerk), eventually Batman and Robin killing Superman with the Kryptonite ring. So, Superman isn't Monarch.
It's not a bad read, rather heavy-handed much of the time. Superman letting loose to be the planet's babysitter is always interesting, but where the issue fails is the reaction of the other heroes. Whenever stories like this are written, every other hero has to be written out of character to justify their stopping the hero who's 'gone rogue.' Except Batman doesn't seem like Batman here -- at least, not the post-Dark Knight Returns Batman that he was at the time. The final fight scene has a few moments that leave me wondering about how these characters think... one big one being that Superman is careless for knocking Robin away too hard for fear that he could kill him -- as Batman and Robin are trying to kill him! I'm sorry, but when you've showed up with a deadly radiation ring to kill someone, you can't call them careless or wrong when they get a little pissed off and don't handle you with kid gloves anymore.
Beyond that, the end of the issue is meant to be a reversal of the end of The Dark Knight Returns, except Batman doing the government's dirty work to take down Superman isn't believable the way it was the other way around. Batman operates outside of the law with more abandon than Superman, even expressing that he wished Superman had begun his campaign earlier than he did in their first conversation. What's even stranger: even in a Superman story, Superman can't beat Batman.
Also, despite his somewhat frazzled state, I never buy Superman not giving the personnel from the sub more time to evacuate -- or to consider that the amount of lead in the sub may obscure his x-ray vision. It's a lot of convenient lapses that don't actually fit into what we've seen before. Same with the Justice League just attacking Superman -- especially since, as we see a year later, Superman is a member of the team with those three heroes!
Dusty Abell's art is serviceable. He has the difficult task of drawing these characters ten years older and falls back on lame things like greying temples... really, both Superman and Batman having grey temples at, what, 40?
Again, not a bad issue, just one that tries too hard to get to its endpoint. Tomorrow, the story continues in Batman annual #15 (those being the only two "Armageddon 2001" annuals I have).