Monday, June 30, 2008

Superman: Distant Fires--Has Anyone Else Read This?

In 1998, DC released a 64-page Elseworlds comic written by Howard Chaykin and illustrated by Gil Kane (with inks by Kevin Nowlan). Have you read this thing? You should. Because it's CRAZY!

Yes, that is Superman riding a giant mutatated cat as the Earth burns beneath him. And all his superhero pals are following his lead. Well, the ones that can fly anyway. The rest are screwed. But before I get into the horrible deaths of the many non-flying heroes, let me tell you a little bit about the premise of this Elseworlds marvel.

It begins with a global nuclear war. Everyone and everything is destroyed. Superman cries (because, being Superman, he survives, even if his shirt does not).

The nuclear armageddon really didn't do too much more than cause a lot of really big tidal waves. No nuclear winter. No gigantic radiation-filled zones. Just a lot of rubble. Rubble that's good for makeshift gravestones, thinks Superman. Oh, yeah, and Superman has also lost his powers, so he has to resort to using a shovel. And since he can no longer fly, he's at the mercy of the GIANT MUTATED RATS that infest Metropolis. Yes, it's the day after the nuclear war and the rats have already mutated to the size of elephants. That radiation works quickly, but only on animals. Luckily Superman hasn't forgotten how to fight, so he quickly dispatches the evil rats and runs away. And meets a new friend. A giant kitty cat that he tames and mounts, He-Man style. He compensates for the loss of dignity by sporting a vest and a sweet ponytail:

He wanders the continent, thinking he, his beard, and his ginormous kitty are all alone in the world, but then he bumps into Wonder Woman and finds out that people have survived! Including, Wally West, who insists on wearing his Flash costume even while hobbling around on one leg:

Note that nobody else still wears their costumes. But Wally West? He's the fastest man alive, and he wants people to know it. Even if he can't walk anymore. But that's not the real story of the comic. The real story is that the all-grown-up-now Billy Batson is in the camp with the survivors, and when Superman shows up, arm-in-arm with Wonder Woman, Billy Batson gets his Shazam-envy on. He goes so far as to create a civil war within the camp, dividing the factions between those loyal to Superman and those loyal to Captain Marvel's jealous rage. Oh, and in the battle, Wonder Woman dies. Superman sheds more tears before punching Billy Batson in the chest. Then the Earth starts to explode.

Oh, I forgot to mention that Wonder Woman and Superman had a baby at some point, and Superman also got his hands one of those sweet Green Lantern power rings. So he crafts a magical green spaceship and launches his infant son into space, because that's how the El family rolls when the planet is ready to blow and there's a baby kicking around.

And that, my friends, all happens in 64 pages. That's what was so great about the Elseworlds books. Anything could happen, and it often did. All in the same story. And Chaykin pumped out a bunch of Elseworlds in the 1990s--all of them deranged bits of genius. Plus, Gil Kane inked by Kevin Nowlan? Seriously? How can you go wrong?

As the main Superman titles were reaching their nadir, the Elseworlds Superman books like this one were keeping the legacy of Silver Age insanity alive. If you think sometimes mainstream comics can be repetitive and dull, and don't have enough crazy gigantic rat battles and hormonally jealous Fawcett characters, think again. This comic proves you wrong.


Anonymous said...

It would've been cooler had Supes kept the beard and ponytail while he kicked Batson's ass, says I.

Where did he find the time to shave? And either some really good razors survived, or he's capable of shaving with no knicks or cuts through primitive means.

...The world may never know.

andy khouri said...

I've never met anyone else who's read that book -- but yeah, I always thought it was the shit. I really miss the Elseworlds, and I really, really miss the Kane/Nowlan team-up. They've done a surprisingly large amount of work together.

Anonymous said...

He shaves using Wonder Woman's knife right after they find each other and have that scuffle. Still quite impressive though.

I remember borrowing this book from the library and constantly taking it back when it was due and getting it restamped to take out again. I just really enjoyed it. One of my favorite Elseworlds tales.

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