While we’re celebrating the 80th birthday of the Man of Steel, it’s also been 20 years since SUPERMAN FOREVER, the special edition comic book that brought Superman back to his classic look!
In early 1997, DC Comics made a drastic change to its first hero. The classic Superman look, which had been evolving ever-so-slightly since it debuted in 1938, was completely repackaged. The powers everyone knew were thrown out the window and replaced with energy-based abilities that Clark Kent now needed to relearn. It was the biggest, most drastic change made to the character since he proposed to Lois Lane and revealed to her that he was Superman.
In storyline, the new powers were a result of the FINAL NIGHT story, where our sun was being destroyed by a sun eater. Without the solar rays coming to Earth, Superman lost his powers and even after the sun was restored, they still wouldn’t return. And then his physiology started to change, turning him to a being of pure energy.
The new look was meant to boost sales on Superman comic books and freshen up the character a bit, but making the change one year before the Man of Steel’s 60th anniversary under cut the publisher’s insistence that this was not a temporary change. Nothing in comic books is permanent, not even killing a character off. Superman already proved that back in 1992.
For a full year, Superman appeared in the blue and white containment suit that helped to focus his powers throughout the DC Comics line. He mastered the energy powers and learned how to use them to take out bad guys. At one point, in an issue of Grant Morrison’s JLA, he even wrestled an angel.
Morrison always just got Superman…
In the lead-up to Superman’s 60th birthday, the character was pitted against the MILLENNIUM GIANTS, a trio of world guardians set to end life on the planet and reset everything anew after they were awoken by an anomaly, which may or may not have been Superman Blue and his split-off other half, Superman Red. I’m not going to bother going into that stupidity. The battle with the Millennium Giants was a 9-issue mega-crossover that involved all four Superman comics, plus offshoots into Aquaman, Challengers of the Unknown, Supergirl, Steel and Teen Titans. At the end, Red and Blue sacrificed themselves to take the giants out and save the world.
The sacrifice led directly to the return of the classic duds and the classic powers in the special SUPERMAN FOREVER. Written by Karl Kesel and Louise Simonson, with art from pretty much everyone, the issue started with Superman, back to normal, falling to Earth at the Kent Farm and soon after getting back to the business of saving Metropolis, this time back in his old costume.
The story never bothers explaining how Superman got his powers back, other than to hint that it was a gift from cosmic entity KISMET, who had been watching over the Man of Steel of late, and would go on to be a part of future stories. Everyone basically shrugs it off and goes on to forget the previous year of stories (likely a couple of months in a condensed comic book timeline) like it was a shared fever dream that never actually happened. The Electro-Superman era is so widely ignored that there was barely any reference to it in the recent ACTION COMICS 1000, which celebrated the character’s 80-year history.
SUPERMAN FOREVER has a pretty special place in my heart. Not only did it bring the Man of Steel back to his classic costume and powers, but the issue features a letter to the editor from yours truly! Yeah, I was sucking up, but it worked! I got my letter printed, AND I was given the Baldie Award – the Superman letters column award given out each issue. I never actually got any kind of physical prize, but whatever, the 25 copies or so of the book that I either bought or were given to me are more than enough proof that it happened…