Thursday, December 30, 2010

Episode #153: Superman: The Triangle Years!

One of my favorite eras of modern Superman comic books is the era known as the "triangle years." Beginning with the Superman titles cover dated January 1991, the Superman books carried an additonal number. The first Superman title published that carrying that cover date had an additional triangle on the cover with the year 1991 and #1. The next Superman title for that month carried a triangle number of 1991: #2, and so on for the entire year. When the Superman titles cover dated 1992 were published, they began with a new triangle number 1. Each following year the triangle number restarted at number one.

The reason this triangle number was added was that, after John Byrne left the Superman titles, the creative teams that took his place slowly evolved into tighter plotting, so that eventually, each individual Superman title that month told a chapter of a larger story. The next title would advance that plot and so on. The next issue boxes at the end of the letter columns became more important, in order to know the correct reading order of the Superman titles. That is why the Superman team began the triangle numbering system. Readers no longer had to flip to the end of the letter column to organize their Superman books inorder to read them in the correct order. It was right on the cover.

In order to keep the creative teams coordinated on such tightly plotted stories, the entire Superman creative staff would meet in annual sumits to plan out the next year's worth of Superman stories. Jerry Ordway would begin what was a running joke and suggest, "Let's just kill him," and was ignored until their plans for Clark's and Lois' wedding in the comics was interrupted by the TV show Lois & Clark.

This triangle numbering system began under Mike Carlin's tenure as editor of the Superman titles, which began in 1987 and ended with the Superman titles cover dated January 1996. Eddy Barganza continued the triangle number system until the end of the era.

What I enjoyed about the triangle era and its tight continuity was that it fleshed out Superman's world. Both Clark Kent and Superman had room to develop as characters, and there seemed to be more room for minor plotlines involving supporting characters.

During this era, two titles joined the Superman family of books. Superman: The Man Of Steel, borrowing the title of John Byrne's landmark series which restarted Superman continuity, began with the July 1991 issue, published on May 14, 1991, triangle number 1991: 19. That meant that a Superman book was published every week, except on months that had five weeks. To fill that gap, Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow would be published quartlerly, beginning with the Summer 1995 issue, through #15, the Fall 1999 issue.

The traingle number system stopped when new creative teams wanted to take their individual Superman titles in their own directions.

Among the major storylines of the triangle era was Clark's revelation of his secret identity to Lois Lane, just before the Time And Time Again story, which ran in the March - May 1991 issues. In that series, Superman encountered the Linear Men, who protected the time stream. The Man of Steel was bounced back and forth through time.

In Panic In The Sky, Superman lead Earth's hereos on a preemptive strike against Warworld, now led by Brainiac.

The Death Of Superman took place in the Superman titles cover dated December 1992 and January 1993. When the producers fo the TV show Lois & Clark wanted to marry them off first, it left a gap for the comic book creative team. So instead of a wedding, they planned for a funeral, Superman's. Funeral For A Friend, January - February 1993, showed the strength of Superman's supporting cast, as they coped with Superman's death. Reign Of The Supermen, June - October 1993, introduced four possible replacements for the Man of Steel, culminating with the return of Superman himself.

Bizarro's World, March - April 1994 introduced the second Bizarro, who became the lab rat of the cloned Lex Luthor as heled a desparate search for the cure to a clone disease. Battle For Metropolis and Fall Of Metropolis, May - July 1994, told the story of a dying Lex Luthor who decided to take metropolis with him.

In Zero Hour, a crossover event in the September - October 1994, the DC Universe was reset again to "correct" continuity errors that had crept in since Crisis On Infinite Earths.

The Death Of Clark Kent, May - July 1995, introduced Conduit, a new major villain who grew up in Smallville and had learned Clark Kent's secret identity. His goal was to destroy Clark's life.

In The Trial Of Superman, November 1996 - February 1997, Superman was put on trial by an intergalactic tribunal for the deaths of the population of Krypton. It turned out that the tribunal had been manipulated by the Cyborg Superman.

Final Night, October - November 1996, was another crossover event, reintroduced the Sun Eater, which threatened Earth's Sun.

Also in November 1996, Superman: The Wedding Album  concluded the quickie romance which the Superman creative team had to scramble to pull of, after Lois & Clark finally married them off on TV.

One of my least favorite Superman storylines of the era was the Superman Blue story, from May 1997 - June 1998. Superman's powers evolved so that as a superhero, he became an energy being who needed a containment suit to keep his energy form from dissipating. When he was Clar, he was a normal person. Superman Red was introduced in the March 1998 books, when Superman Blue split into two beings, one of them the Red persona. The traditional Superman would return after the battle of the Millennium Giants.

In the early years of the 2000's, I stopped buying comic books foir a while for financial reasons and the lack of a local comic book shop. There were a number of later storylines of the triangle era that I missed, including Critical Condition, June - July 2000, where Superman suffered from a form of kryptonite poisoning.

In Emperor Joker, September - October 2000, the Clown Prince of Crime stole the powers of Mr. Mxyzptlk.

President Lex, January - February 2001, told the story of Lex Luthor's election as President of the United States.

Our Worlds At War, August - September 2001, chronicled Superman leading Earth's heroes against Imperiex.

Return To Krypton, March - May 2001 and September - October 2002, rebooted Krypton's continuity, revealing a Kandor that was possibly from another dimension.

As I prepared for this episode, I realized how much I had forgotten about some of these storylines. I have to reread them when I can find the time, and I hope to fill in the gap in my Superman collection from earlier this decade. I enjoyed this rop through memory lane, through the ups and downs of past Superman stories.

Next Episode: Happy Birthday, Keith Giffen!

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