Friday, June 26, 2009

Episode #80: An Imaginary Summer, 2009, Part I!

As I noted way back in episode #1, DC's "imaginary stories" are among my favorite Superman stories. Begining with this episode I begin a summer series featuring Superman's imaginary stories. I plan on making it an annual feature each summer. In this episode I'll share a brief history of DC's imaginary stories.

This is an imaginary story ... aren't they all?, said Alan Moore in the introduction to part I of his classic Superman story, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?, which began in Superman #423, September 1986. Imaginary stories in comic books are stories that take a character and do things to a character that would not be usually done in normal continuity. In the silver age, especially with Superman, such stories would involve killing him, or marrying him to one of the women in his life. Marvel also did these types of stories in their title What If ... ? Other comic book publishers probably did similar stories but I'm not as familiar with them.

The easiest way to read a good sample of DC's imaginary stories is with the trade paperback DC's Greatest Imaginary Stories, published on September 1, 2005. It contains eleven stories involving a variety of DC characters.

The first story in the collection was not originally a DC character, Captain Marvel. He was published by Fawcett, and DC bought the character after the company won its lawsuit against Fawcett over coyright infringement on Superman. The eleven story Captain Marvel And The Atomic War orginally appeared as the cover story of Captain Marvel Adventures #66, October 1946, published around October 7, 1946. It was presented as a TV show by Billy Batson on station WHIZ. For a lighthearted character such as Captain Marvel, this was a very heavy story simulating his failed attempt to stop a nuclear war. (The web site has information on all of the Fawcett titles, as well as other publishers DC bought out over the years. Just click on the publisher and pick to one you wish to search. Information is also available at and .)

DC did not begin publishing imaginary stories labeled as such. The second story in this collection was one example. The Second Life Of Batman was originally published as the second story of Batman #127, October 1959, which appeared on the newsstands on August 20, 1959. The cover ws pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kay, illustrating the story The Hammer Of Thor. This story was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Charles Paris. It told an alternate origin of Bruce Wayne as Batman, who appropriated the costume from a gang that used it as their disguise.

A similar Superman story was Superman's Other Life, in Superman #132, October 1959, published on August 6, 1959. The story, written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye, told an alternate history where Superman became a hero on his home world of Krypton. While it was not reprinted in the Imaginary Stories trade paperback, it was reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told vol. II and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

The first official DC "imaginary story" was Mr. And Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent, the third story of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #19, August 1960, published on June 28, 1960. Written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, the story told the advantages, and trials, of Lois Kent, as her husband also doubled as Superman. This is the third story of TGISET.

The fourth story in the collection was The Death Of Superman, from Superman #149, November 1961, published around September 14, 1961, which sported a pink cover for such a somber story. The Jerry Siegel story, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Sheldon Moldoff, of course involved Lex Luthor. This story was also reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. III. This is one of my favorite stories I featured way back in episode #1.

Next was an imaginary story featuring Jimmy Olsen, Jimmy Olsen Marries Supergirl, the first story of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #57, December 1961, published around October 5, 1961. It told the story about Jimmy marrying Linda Lee Danvers without knowing she is also Supergirl, who flirts with Jimmy while in costume.

After that was The Origin Of Flash's Masked Identity from The Flash #128, May 1962. The story, written by John Broome, pencilled by Carmine Infantino and inked by Joe Giella, told why wearing a mask was important to protecting the Flash's civilan identity.

The next story in the collection was Batman's New Secret Identity from Batman #151, November 1962. The story was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Bob Kane, inked by Charles Paris and lettered by Ira Schnapp. It told a possible story about how Bruce Wayne could continue being Batman after his secret identity was exposed.

A similar Superman story not included in the collection but about the same subject was Why Superman Needs A Secret Identity from Action Comics #305, October 1963, published around August 29, 1963. The story was written by Leo Dorfman, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. It was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman vol. IV.

Another silver age Superman story was next in The Amazing Story Of Superman-Red And Superman-Blue from Superman #162, July 1963, published on May 2, 1963. Written by Leo Dorfman, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein, it told about an accident that split Superman into twin versions of himself and proved that two heads were better than one. This story was also reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. IV.

Next was The Three Wives Of Superman, from Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #51, August 1964, published around June 25, 1964. This was not a polygamist story, nor a Superman version of Henry VIII. It was a tragic story of Superman marrying the three great loves of his life and their demises.

After that story was one I had heard about and wanted to read, but was not able to until this edition was published. The Fantastic Story Of Superman's Sons first appeared in Superman #166, January 1964, published on November 7, 1963. I believe I have mentioned this story before. What was a clever story point was that Superman's wife was never revealed. She was portrayed in shadow in a way that fit the surroundings she appeared in the panels.

The final story in the trade paperback was also one of my favorites I mentioned back in episode #1, Superman And Batman -- Brothers from World's Finest Comics #172, December 1967, published on October 26, 1967. The story was written by a teen aged Jim Shooter, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by George Klein. It told an alternate history where Bruce Wayne was adopted by the Kents after his parents were murdered, and how Bruce and Clark's crime fighting careers would develop.

The last official imaginary story was Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, which was orginally published in Superman#423, published on June 12, 1986, and Action Comics #583, published on June 26, 1986, both issues cover dated September 1986. It told a possible final Superman story.

That was not the end of the imaginary story in DC Comics. In the 1990's DC began publishing alternate histories of their characters under the Elseworlds logo. Gotham By Gaslight is considered the first Elseworlds story, even though it did not carry the Elseworld's logo, It was written by Brian Augusyn, drawn by Mike Mignola and edited by Mark Waid.

The first story to carry the Elseworlds logo was Batman: Holy Terror, published in 1991, which told the story about a Bruce Wayne who was a priest in the Anglican Church, in a Gotham City that was still part of an America that had never split from the British Empire as a separate country.

While not part of the Elseworlds titles, the Annuals of the various DC titles in 1991 told possible futures of the DC heroes. They were tie-ins to DC's event for that year, Armageddon 2001. Waverider had travelled back in time to find and kill the DC hero who would destroy the other DC hereos and become a world dictator. By invisibly touching each hero, he could see their future. While the event series wasn't that good, the Annuals were the best part of the whole event. I particularly enjoyed the Superman Annuals.

Superman Annual #3, 1991, published on April 9, 1991, told the story of Execution 2001, where Intergang exploded a nuclear bomb that destroyed Metropolis, including Clark Kent's friends at the Daily Planet. Superman disarms the world's armies. But when he accidentally, and unknowingly, kills some U. S. soldiers, the President asked Batman to stop Superman.

Action Comics Annual #3, 1991, published on July 9, 1991, was titled Executive Action. Superman runs for president. I covered this story back in episode #47.

Adventures of Superman Annual #3, published on August 20, 1991, was titled Beyond The Reach Of Time. Clark Kent married Lois, who would die because of some complications during pregnancy. Superman left Earth in grief and would eventually marry Maxima, a warrior princess of another planet.

Some of the Superman Elseworlds titles were:

Superman: Speeding Bullets, 1993, Kal-El's rocket landed near Gotham City, and he was raised by the Waynes.

Elseworlds Finest: Supergirl And Batgirl, 1994, Bruce Wayne serves as the "Alfred" character to the Barbara Gordon Batgirl. The story also revealed waht happened to baby Kal-El's rocket.

Also in 1994, the DC Annuals carried the Elseworlds banner. The first Superman 1994 Elseworlds Annual was Superman: The Man Of Steel #3, published on March 29, 1994. Earth was ruled by 100,000 survivors of Krypton.

Superman Annual #6, pulished on May 10, 1994, was titled The Feral Man Of Steel. It was a combination of a Tarzan and Mowgli version of Superman who was raised in a jungle by the animals.

The Adventures Of Superman Annual #6, titled The Longest Night told the first part of the story of the DC hereos failing to defeat an alien invasion of Earth.

Superboy Annual #1, published on July 5, 1994, titled Men Of Steel concluded the story begun in the Adventures Of Superman Annual. The remaining heroes finally defeat the alien occupiers.

Other Superman Elseworlds stories included:

Superman: Kal, 1995, showed Superman coming to Earth in the chivalric era, before the mythical time of King Arthur.

Superman: At Earth's End, 1995, told a Kamandi type apocalyptic story.

Superman's Metropolis, 1996, told the story of Superman in the Metropolis of the classic silent science fiction film.

Kingdom Come, 1996, was about the children and grandchildren of DC's heroes in an apocalyptic world.

Superman And Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy, 1997, told the story about a world where Nazi Germany had defeated western Europe.

Superman: The Dark Side, 1998, was about Kal-El's rocket landing on Apokolips and being raised by Darkseid.

Superman: Distant Fires, 1998, was about Superman in a post-nuclear holocaust Earth.

JLA: The Nail, 1998, told about the consequences of the Kents not finding Kal-El's rocket.

Superman And Batman: Generations, 1999, was about Superman and Batman's relationship over the decades, beginning in 1939, and continuing over the next six decades.

Superman: War Of The Worlds, 1999, portrayed Superman much as he originally appeared in 1938, in a comic book version of Orson Welles' adaption of H. G. Wells War Of The Worlds where the invasion happens in Metropolis.

Superman: A Nation Divided, 1999, tells the story of Superman during Civil War era America. This is one of the few Superman Elseworlds stories I have not read.

Superman And Batman: Generations 2, 2001-2002, filled in the story of Superman And Batman: Generations, advancing the story this time at eleven year intervals and including other DC heroes.

Superman: Red Son, 2003, was about Ka-El's rocket landing in the Stalinist Soviet Union. This is another story I have yet to read that I look forward to. The action figures that have been created from this story are great too.

Superman And Batman: Generations 3, 2003-2004, expanded the story from the previous two series to include the offspring and descendants of Superman and Batman.

Doing research for this episode has made me want to dig these stories out and read them again. Isn't that what great comic books are supposed to do?

Next episode will be about the 1940's Superman cartoons and the Fleischer Studios that produced them. After that, the rest of the summer will be spent taking a closer look at some of these imaginary stories -- aren't they all?

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Superman and all related characters are trademark and copyright DC Comics.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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