I’m going to go ahead and apologize to you, the reader (all 7 of you), for this latest entry in the never ending battle. Because once 1998 ended, things began to take a turn for the Superman books. It’s not even that the changes that came were necessarily bad, just that they were different. And for a while they were chaotic.
It’s appropriate, I guess, that 1999 marks the true end of the Triangle Years. Karl Kesel and Tom Grummet are the first to go. Kesel had been on the Superman books since “Reign of the Supermen” and Grummet had been on and off the books since the Triangle Years began. To replace them, Louise Simonson moves from Man of Steel to Adventures of Superman with Tom Morgan on pencils. Replacing Simonson and Jon Bogdanove on Man of Steel are Mark Schultz and Doug Manke.
Schulz and Manke and Dan Jurgens and Steve Epting on Superman are the most consistent creative teams through 1999. Stuart Immonen actually gives up both regular penciling duties and scripting duties and simply plots for some new guy named Mark Millar.
There are a lot of fill in creative teams over the course of 1999, including the return of Ron Frenz, who plots and pencils a four issue arc that runs the course of all 4 titles.
If I’m focusing a lot on the changing creative teams, it’s because that’s ultimately the most important thing that happened this year. This was a changing of the guard and it was messy.
Eddie Berganza takes over as editor of the line towards the end of ’99 and installs new creative teams on all but Man of Steel. Whether this was Berganza’s doing or he was a part of the new regime put in place by higher ups at DC, I don’t know.
The New World Order
Jeph Loeb takes over on Superman, ending a lengthy run by Dan Jurgens that started before the Triangle Years. Loeb is first joined by Mike McKone, then later Ed McGuinness. If reading these issues has done anything for me, it’s given me a new appreciation for McGuinness’ art.
JM DeMatties is the new writer on Adventures of Superman with Mike Miller on pencils. Joe Kelly takes over writing Action Comics with Manuel Garcia and Kano on art.
The new creative teams pick up on a lot of the old storylines, like Lucy Lane and Ron Fortier getting married and having a baby and Lord Satannus being Colin Thornton, publisher of Newstime. It makes the transition a bit less abrupt, but the writing and art styles are significantly different.
The first year is a rough one. The new teams are obviously trying to get their footing. Lex Luthor sells the Daily Planet to Perry White after striking an incredibly stupid deal with Lois Lane. There’s a lengthy story line involving some new powers for the Parasite that is bad on almost every conceivable level. And the new creators seem to love the Joker…a lot. Honestly, the number of times the Joker shows up over the course of the last few years of the Triangle Years is, no joke, insane.
In fact, the Joker isn’t the only Batman villain to show. Harley makes an appearance, as does Talia and then Ra’s al Ghul. Given the wide range of villains that Superman has in his history, I have no idea why they went back to Batman villains so often. It’s really jarring.
After the big Joker storyline, the books break away from the core concept of the Triangle Years: the stories no longer continue the following week. Each book becomes its own, with cliffhangers resolved a month later in the next issue of that title.
In Name Only
This division of books is the standard operating procedure from here on out, continuing into 2001 and beyond. The only time the books connect is when there’s a significant storyline that requires a crossover. Yes, some sub-plots continue to show up across titles, but by and large each book is now trying to forge its own identity.
Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense that the triangle numbering system was still in place as we entered 2001, let alone that it stuck around for the entire year and even into 2002.
The books do manage to take on their own identities, but the result is a mixed bag of quality. Joe Kelly’s early issues were extremely rough and bizarrely cheese cake laiden. But in his second year, he clearly becomes more comfortable with Superman. While I’m not crazy for Action Comics #775 as the rest of the world seems to be, it’s still a solid anniversary issue.
Joe Casey ends up taking over the writing duties for Adventures of Superman and he’s eventually joined by Mike Wieringo on art. Even saddled with the “Our Worlds at War” crossover, Adventures becomes the jewel of the Superman crown. Wieringo’s art is as great as we all know it to be, and Casey seems to really embrace the inherent lightness of Superman.
Jeph Loeb’s run on Superman is exactly what you’d expect from Jeph Loeb, which, in my case, means not particularly inspiring stories. I’ve said it before, though: I now understand why so many people love Ed McGuinness’ art. He kills it on Superman.
Schulz continues his work on Man of Steel, and while I appreciate the incorporation of Steel and his niece into the mainstream Superman titles, there’s not much going on here to write home about. Mahnke continues to get better with each issue he draws, though.
Here’s the thing: the Triangle Years up until now managed to walk a fairly fine line between the pseudo-realistic, the melodramatic, the old school, and the fantastic. It never quite felt like the new creative teams managed to find the sweet spot with those. It didn’t seem like they were all on the same page.
The Triangle Years comes to an end during the first month of 2002. By this point, Superman has filled in his chest emblem with black and things just aren’t what they used to be. Which is fine. We can’t be stuck in the past forever. The new millennium demanded bigger, bolder stories and flashier art. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But it wasn’t the Triangle Years, not anymore.
The triangles would return again in 2008, during the lengthy “Return of Krypton” storyline that was a bit uneven, but ultimately enjoyable, and one of the better periods for the Superman family.
I can’t see them coming back again, though. We’ve entered an era where accessibility is paramount. If we’re going to force people to buy multiple comics for a single story, then it’s going to be all the comics, not just a handful.
Still, the Triangle Years represented a high water mark for the Superman books, a true picture of who the character was and the kind of world he lived in. It could be another twenty years before we see something like that again.