Superman: The Triangle Years, Part 4 – Will They/Won’t They

More from the Triangle Years series:
Part One: Embrace Continuity
Part Two: Out of the Closet
Part Three: Death, Reign, and Rebirth

The Man of Tomorrow

Believe it or not, being engaged to the Man of Steel isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

One of the great things about the Triangle Years is that you can see how each year was planned out thematically.  We saw how 1993 was focused on the death and return of Superman.  The following year was the climax of a long building Lex Luthor story.  As we moved into 1995, the Superman books appeared to be concentrating on returning to normal, or what passes for normal in comics.

The year 1995 would also feature the launch of a 5th Superman book, Superman: Man of Tomorrow.  It was a quarterly title designed to fill the 4 weeks a year when there was no other Superman book out.  Now no week would be Superman-less!

Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #1
Art by Tom Grummet and Brett Breeding

There were also a few artistic changes to the Superman books in 1995.  Butch Guice left Action Comics and was replaced by Kieron Dwyer, who was mostly known for his lengthy run on Captain America.  Barry Kitson left Adventures of Superman, replaced by future superstar Stuart Immonen.  Dan Jurgen had been replaced as penciler on Superman for a while (as he was writing and drawing the latest version of the Teen Titans) and the book featured some fantastic guest artists like Gil Kane and Jose Garcia-Lopez.  At the end of ’95, though, Ron Frenz and Joe Rubenstein took over as the regular art team.

Frenz was an interesting choice.  It could be argued that both Dwyer and Immonen were rising stars, but Frenz was a seasoned veteran.  I will fully own the fact that I love his Kirby by way of Buscema Brothers by way of Romita style, but all of those names should tell you exactly what you’re getting: old school art.  And this was the 90s.  Clearly, substance was still more important than flash to the Superman books, which is a big reason I loved them.

Event Fallout

The first major story line in ’95 was a result of the Zero Hour event that ended 1994.  During Zero Hour Month, which featured #0 issues of all the current DC books, we met Kenny Braverman, a fellow former Smallville High student who was born the night Superman’s ship landed.  Kenny was radiated with Kryptonite and eventually discovers he has superpowers which, after a long and winding road, he uses to try to kill both Clark and Lois.

While Superman initially defeats Conduit, Braverman learns that Clark and Superman are one in the same, and begins attacking Clark’s friends and family.  In the end, his suit overloads and Kenny dies, which conveniently keeps Clark’s secret safe.

The Adventures of Superman #530
Art by Stuart Immonen and Jose Marzan, Jr.

The next major event in the Superman books was obviously going to happen, but was nicely tied into DC’s latest event.  Lex Luthor had awoken from his vegetative state and had been whisked out of the country, but he was still incredibly weak.  Enter Neron, DC’s new version of the devil, who was the focus of their 1995 event “Underworld Unleashed.”  Neron made deals with a ton of DC villains and, in return for their souls, gave them amped up powers.  In Luthor’s case, he gave him his health back (but not his hair).  Although he was still a fugitive on the run, Lex Luthor was back.

The Trial of Superman

Hey, remember that time when one of your ancestor’s did something horrible and you had to stand trial for it?  No?  Is that because such a thing sounds totally insane and baseless?  Don’t tell the aliens who abduct Superman that!  They are out for blood because one of Kal-El’s relatives was responsible for the destruction of Krypton.  The Trial of Superman story runs through all the titles at the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996 and it is both much too long and not interesting.  The entire thing appears to be an excuse to put together the Superman Rescue Team made up of Superboy, Supergirl, Steel, Eradicator, and Alpha Centurion (a recent addition to the Superman ranks).  We also see the return of the Cyborg Superman, so this is something of a reunion story.  As you would imagine, Superman is not executed for his ancestor’s crimes.

Will They/Won’t They

As 1996 began, Lois and Clark had been engaged for 5 years.  It was time to shake things up.

After all this time, Lois finally realized just how awful it was going to be to be married to Superman.  She would always come second to him and, more and more, she was beginning to feel like an attachment.  That latter point is a good one, as it’s something that needed to be addressed from as far back as Lois’ first appearance.  She’d become the reporter who covered Superman, even more so now that she and Clark were together.  She lacked an identity of her own.  Once she realized this, there was no way she could could marry Clark, not without figuring a few things out.

So Lois calls off the engagement and they break up.  There’s a period of time where they’re still working together, yet are no longer a couple, and barely even friends.  How could they be after all that?

I should also mention that Clark’s old college girlfriend, Lori Lemaris, showed up, too.  She didn’t really cause any problems between them, although she was portrayed as trying to break them up.  She actually ends up as Lois’ roommate.  Oh, did I mention she was a mermaid?  Yeah.  Her addition to the cast is a nice nod to the pre-Crisis Superman and yet another inclusion of that history in the modern version’s past.

Lois eventually comes to the conclusion that she needs to get out of Metropolis, out from under Superman’s shadow, so she returns to the globetrotting star reporter she used to be.

The split between these two is natural enough, but never feels that upsetting.  Part of it is that, for all DC’s denials, Lois and Clark are a brand of their own.  There is no other couple in comics with the recognition that these two have.

Lois and Clark

Actually, think about that for a moment.  Can you name another superhero who is as synonymous with his love interest as Superman is with Lois Lane?  Mary Jane didn’t even make it into the most recent Spider-man movies.  Batman has never had a real love interest.  No one outside of comics knows who Steve Trevor is.

Lois Lane is a singular character in all of comics and it’s pretty amazing if you think about it.  When you boil Superman down to his essence, there’s always a Lois Lane there.  She’s an essential part of the mythology.

It’s something that DC struggles with.  They don’t want Superman to be set in his ways.  They want him to be fresh and new.  But that’s not who he is, and his long time relationship with Lois underscores that.  Even when they’re not officially together, they’re still together.  There as much a duo as Batman and Robin.

It’s phenomenal and a great indication of how DC has turned the Superman ship around with Rebirth.

They got married back in 1996.  The marriage would last fifteen years and never once harmed a Superman story.

Also, Clark finally cuts his hair, so that nightmare finally ended.

Lights Out

DC’s big event for 1996 was Final Night, a story which would have two big impacts on Superman’s life.  The first is that it marked the return of Lex Luthor to Metropolis.  Luthor uses the opportunity to help try to save the Earth as a way of returning to America without immediately being jailed.  He manages to do just enough to stay out of jail and under house arrest while he awaits trial.

Action Comics #727
Art by Tom Grummet and Dennis Rodier

The second big story is that Superman loses his powers.  While this happens to him more than most heroes, it’s he first time he becomes powerless after marrying Lois, which adds a new dynamic to their relationship.

More importantly, the loss of his powers would start a chain reaction that set Superman up for the next big change in his life.

On that front, the Superman books themselves had a big change in 1996: editor Mike Carlin left, promoted to Executive Editor.  He was briefly replaced by KC Carlson, who would be replaced by Joey Cavaleiri, who would overseen the remainder of the current creative teams’ runs.

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