Or – “Did You Know That The Pound Is Worth Like A Buck Twenty Five?”

The exchange rate can be a scary thing.  Some years ago, I went online to purchase a couple of comics at a price already far above what I would normally pay for single issues, without noticing that the price listing was in Great Britain Pounds.  (Apparently, money is heavier in the U.K.)  As such, I ended up breaking my unofficial ‘don’t pay more than $100 bucks for one comic book’ rule twice in the same day, and ending up in the doghouse with the missus.  Still, since the comics in question were this one and a copy of Miracleman #24, it was still (albeit just BARELY) worth the price of admission…

ELSEWORLDS 80-PAGE GIANT
Writer(s): D. Curtis Johnson/Bronwyn Carlton/Kyle Baker & Elizabeth Glass/Chuck Dixon/Bob Haney/Tom Peyer/Mark Waid
Penciller(s): Aaron Lopresti/Greg Luzniak/Kyle Baker/Enrique Villagran/Keiron Dwyer/Ty Templeton/Trevor Von Eeden/Ariel Olivetti
Inker(s): Aaron Lopresti/Anibal Rodriguez/Kyle Baker/Enrique Villagran/Keiron Dwyer/Ty Templeton/Joe Rubinstein/Ariel Olivetti
Colorist(s): Gloria Vasquez/Noelle Giddings/Kyle Baker/Rick Taylor/Ty Templeton/Digital Chameleon/Pat Garrahy
Letterer(s): Kurt Hathaway/Ken Lopez/Kyle Baker/Todd Klein/Gaspar Saladino/Ken Bruzenak.William Oakley
Editor: Dan Raspler
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $4.95 (Current Near-Mint Price: $180.00)

Previously, on Elseworlds 80-Page Giant: Once upon a time at DC Comics, there was something called the Imaginary Tale, a term coined by editor Mort Weisinger to identify stories that weren’t part of the “official” canon of the Superman family.  These tales allowed the creators to take on topics outside of the usual fare, such as the potentialities of married life for Clark and Lois.  Sadly, these type of stories fell out of favor in the Bronze Age, but Marvel’s appropriation of the concept for ‘What If?’ led to DC returning to the Imaginary Story in the form of ‘Elseworlds.’  In 1999, DC slated this all-Elseworlds giant issue for release, but the contents of one of the stories caused the company to recall all copies of the issue and pulp the run, save for a number of copies already in circulation in the UK.  Years later, only a couple of these stories have ever seen the light of day…  Quoth the master, “This is an imaginary story.  Aren’t they all?”

We open in an alternate Gotham City, as a young police detective named Bruce Wayne writes what he believes to be his final words, a strange tale that started with a dead man…

Dibny’s death (quite a few years before the real article in ’52,’ mind you) is a puzzling one, as the man seems to have been frightened to death.  Wayne’s sleep is tormented by dreams, and his partner, Detective Harvey Dent, is near-madness from their horrifying discovery.  When a young police photographer named Jimmy Olsen also turns up dead, Wayne starts to believe that an unknown, malefic force is stalking Gotham.  Both bodies turn up missing, and Harvey loses all touch with reality, disappearing for weeks until arriving at Wayne’s home in the dead of night, claiming to have found the missing corpses.  The two detectives skulk into the sewers, only to find a horrifying sight…

A strange cult (C’thulu?  Bless you!) committing unspeakable acts beneath the streets of Gotham, seeking to raise an ancient power from the depths.  Harvey is hit in the face with a Molotov cocktail and horribly burned (yes, only over half his face) while the horror from beneath bears a striking resemblance to Metamorpho.  In Lovecraftian fashion, Dent is left in the sanitorium, while Bruce Wayne returns to the police force just in time to meet his new partner…

Heh.  I spent the whole story wondering why Eel O’Brien wasn’t in it…  It’s a well-crafted story that works on a number of levels, echoing a 1920’s Lovecraft vibe while skillfully playing with all the tropes of the DCU (Elastic Lad, Elongated Man and Madame Rouge are pretty creepy and filled with body horror, even under the best of circumstances.)  The second story is also clever, the story of a young rock and roll producer who has been part of all the big acts for years.  His name:  Lex Luthor.

As with the lead tale, it’s nearly as much fun to figure out all the in-jokes (a Madonna-styled single-name superstar called Diana, the transformation of young Martin Hunter into very David Bowie-styled glam-rock frontman Jon Jonzz) but our protagonist is interesting as well.  A young, hungry journalist, she has the audacity to put her expose of the life and times of Lex Luthor up on HIS OWN NETWORK, leading to our last-page fillip.

I’m less happy with the ending that I am with the story itself, but that’s probably my dislike of Luthor talking.  With an Elseworlds/What If tale, we’re just lucky when the last panel isn’t ‘everyone died screaming.’  Our next tale is really the heart of both this issue and the problem that got the run destroyed.  If you know about the history of this book, then you know what comes next…

The story itself is a mostly harmless cartoon affair that reminds me of a Tom & Jerry short from the fifties, and the humor is mostly in keeping with that theme.  An indestructible Clark Kent vexes his babysitter by wrecking the house, smashing through the fine china, bench-pressing the prize bull and other silliness.  The story ends with baby Kal-El climbing into the microwave, which was the death-knell for this comic (although the baby was unharmed.)  When publisher Paul Levitz saw this presumably imitable behavior, it spurred his decision to recall the issue.  In a funny twist, this story is one of the very few from the book to be reprinted in another source, appearing in Bizarro Comics some years later.  Next up is Chuck Dixon, taking the Birds of Prey into a world that parodies the comic strip ‘Apartment 3-G.’

The conceit quickly wears thin, though the strip format (complete with concluding faux Sunday page) makes for an interesting writing experiment.  Of course, the story that caused me to spend an obscene amount of money on the book is the last appearance of Bob Haney’s Super-Sons, in a tale where Superman Jr. breaks the news to his partner, Batman Jr., that he’s quitting…

I know that nobody actually talked or talks like that, but I love me some Bob Haney dialogue, especially in his Teen Titans/Super-Sons hipster jive mode.  You know who else writes dialogue that nobody ever says in real life?  Neil Gaiman.  Stephen King.  Truman Capote.  Jack Kirby.  Of course, in the world of the Imaginary Story, all dramatic pronouncements will immediately be met with dramatic irony, and so it is here as Superman is killed by a massive nuclear explosion while dragging the world’s warheads into space for safe detonation.  Clark Junior is devastated, but only a few weeks later, he manages to save Batman Jr. and a group of hikers from frozen death in Antarctica.  When the crisis has passed, his partner demands the whole skinny…

The story ends with the oh-so-very Silver Age reveal that Superman faked his own death, with the help of both Batmen, to convince his son to embrace the role that fate has given him.  It ends with Haney thanking everyone who requested the return of the Sons, and wishing us all peace and happiness.  It’s a pretty fitting end for the Super-Sons, and serves as a capstone to the long career of Haney, as I think this is the last story he wrote before passing away in ’04.

Next up, here’s a slightly dull two-page vignette about President Superman suffering through a very Bill Clinton seeming crisis, but oddly enough, for all the panic about the Superbaby story the next story in the issue is the one that’s actually disturbing to read.  When Jor-El rocketed his son from the dead planet Krypton, the rocket crashed in a back alley in Gotham, killing Thomas and Martha Wayne and permanently scarring their son Bruce.  The child was adopted by Lex Luthor and raised to be his personal Superman, while Bruce trains himself to become a ruthless vigilante.  On the day that Lex prepares to take his son public, Bruce arrives and guns the Superman down…

For my money, it’s MUCH more disturbing to read about one of the most popular heroes in history shooting the other in cold blood then committing suicide than some ridiculously exaggerated cartoon antics.  Still, statistically, we were bound to see the ‘everybody dies screaming’ motif in a collection of this kind of story.  Mark Waid and Ty Templeton close out the issue with a series of hysterical one-page gags, detailing the first page of theoretical Silver Age Elseworlds stories…

Boy, you just knew that the Legion’s popularity contest tryouts would come back and bite them eventually, didn’t you?  Alongside such gems as “Lex Luthor’s Daughter: Wonder Woman!” and “The Golden Age Teen Titans,” we also get this bit of genius…

Things close with a confusing story of a geriatric Superman-cum-Elvis coming to terms with the loss of his youth and the impending future, featuring the Man of Steel in tears and a cameo appearance by the then-dead Jason Todd.  It makes just about as much sense as you’d think, especially when Supes saves the day with a boxing glove arrow.  Still, one or two weird entries are to be expected, especially when the high points are pretty high.  The Lovecraft pastiche, the Super-Sons, and large portions of both the Waid story and the ‘Lex as musical genius’ story are highly entertaining, and the over all package makes me sad that some of these haven’t yet seen print.  There have been a few instances in recent years of books being destroyed and re-issued (see Superman’s beer-thirty cover for an example) but seldom has a book just disappeared.  Given that the very story that created the controversy is one of the only ones to be reprinted, it’s awfully silly to sit on the creators’ works in this case.  Elseworlds 80-Page Giant is a pretty good issue, with some gut-busting funny moments, some good dramatic heft, and a limited number of eye-rolling missteps (which, in an anthology, is something of a wonder in itself), leading to 4.5 out of 5 stars overall, which is, I think, 6.5 Stars in British Pounds.

Rating: ★★★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is the sight of a cartoon baby in cartoon danger really worth the trouble of pulping thousands of dollars in product?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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15 Comments

  1. ~wyntermute~
    May 22, 2011 at 10:24 pm — Reply

    I’ve read this (*coughthankyouinterwebscough*) and I didn’t even remember the microwave-baby until you mentioned it… So perhaps one can extrapolate from that & say that “no, I don’t think they should have shredded those issues.” :)

  2. Adam M
    May 22, 2011 at 10:53 pm — Reply

    I had never heard of this Superbaby story, but I think I now know where Pixar got the idea for “Jack Jack Attack”… and that wasn’t disturbing… it was hilarious!

  3. May 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm — Reply

    I always wanted to know what was up with this issue anyway, since I read the “banned” story in the Elseworlds HC, what else could be in store? This is just too rich for my blood, I paid out the nose for both Miracleman #’s 15 & 24 but I don’t think I could for this. DC should re-release it like they have been doing for a lot of books lately that haven’t seen the light of day in a long while. I love the “Young Darkseid”/Legion deal. That was good.

  4. Erik Waddell
    May 23, 2011 at 6:56 am — Reply

    I’ve never heard of this issue, but what a blast! A big thank you for this retro review, although I think your decision not to show us spoilerites an image of glam rock Jon Jonzz may be criminal :)

  5. May 23, 2011 at 11:47 am — Reply

    COMICS GOLD! I wish I had gotten that before it was prohibitively expensive. Ahhh the fates…

  6. Noobian74
    May 23, 2011 at 1:12 pm — Reply

    Baby in a microwave? Disturbing.

    Superbaby in a microwave? Fun-larious!

    Who did they think would be influenced by this? Would there be a baby that sounds like Stewie from Family Guy. “This superbaby has inspired me. If I were to expose myself to microwave radiation, I could use my newfound abilities to enslave humanity! Then I’ll have a sexy party!”

  7. Alisha Mynx
    May 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm — Reply

    I was explaining to a friend why this issue wasn’t released and only a few copies exist. I told her about the Baby Superman in a microwave part, and I added my response to that with this:
    Apparently someone threw a hissy fit, because they thought people might put babies in microwaves. But they put baby Superman in a spaceship and I don’t see a lot of that happening, so whats the big deal?

    • Noobian74
      May 26, 2011 at 12:31 pm — Reply

      Hey! People have been placed in rockets and came back fine. The same can’t be said for people that walk into microwaves!

      Just kidding. Good point!

  8. Oldcomicfan
    May 24, 2011 at 10:11 pm — Reply

    Ah, the old Imaginary Stories! As a kid, I used to dread finding that label when I opened up an issue of Superman or Detective comics. Like the Superman (or Batman) Family issues, or the Summer Fun issues of various comics, that label was an immediate warning that what was in side was doomed to be disappointing. Those stories, by and large, were just plain Lame. We thought of them as “Oh, oh, the writers have run out of ideas again” stories. It was sort of like when George “Gabby” Hayes showed up in an episode of the Roy Rogers show, driving a war surplus Jeep. Even as a kid, I knew that they didn’t have Jeeps in the Old West! It was hard enough to suspend disbelief reading about flying aliens who wore their underpants outside of their tights or men who dressed as bats and swung around on ropes fighting crime, but when one of those imaginary stories cropped up, I always felt that I had gotten cheated out of my dime. Speaking of which, you know why Superman wears his underpants on the outside of his clothes? He’s the Man of Steel, and steel rusts when you get it wet. Thus, he wears his underpants outside of his clothes to avoid rust stains….

  9. Oldcomicfan
    May 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm — Reply

    OMG! I just noticed the “YD” on Young Darkseid’s chest! That is just %$#@!*& hilarious!!!

  10. Damascus
    May 26, 2011 at 5:01 am — Reply

    Three slabbed copies of this book are up on ebay in the 9.4 range going for $950.00+. That’s crazy. Matthew better go slab that copy you got there. Scan yourself a copy and slab it up and then show the wife what they’re going for and maybe she won’t be so miffed at your brilliant “Investment”. ;)

    • May 27, 2011 at 8:16 pm — Reply

      Matthew better go slab that copy you got there.

      Nope. I like to read my comics, and don’t have fifty bucks to spare.

  11. Jude Deluca
    January 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm — Reply

    And they finally released this last week, along with Paul Pope’s “Berlin Batman” story.

    I’d already read the Reaching Hand, Rockumentary, Letitia Lerner, the Super-Sons, and the Silver Age Elseworlds thanks to online scans. I’d really been waiting to finally read the Vigilantes of Apartment 3-B and the Kingdom Come parody.

    The weird thing about Apartment 3-B is, when this was originally released, it would’ve been impossible to actually read about Babs Gordon and Black Canary sharing an apartment. Now Babs is Batgirl and can walk again, so there’s just as much possibility of reading Babs and Dinah living together (especially if Gail Simone has any say).

    Ariel Olivetti’s artwork in “Golden Kingdom” is incredibly detailed, and I point towards his rendition of an aged Superman. You can actually see the bulges in his costume due to his paunch, and it actually looks real instead of the way one would usually expect overweight people to be drawn. And the story itself is a bizarre and short crack at Kingdom Come, through both the premise and the writing. I felt a little “secondhand embarrassment” from reading it because of how corny it was. That is the point, though. It actually helps make the cover make sense, because for a long time I didn’t understand what that “world’s finest dinner theatre” was supposed to mean. I was equally surprised in finding out that Green Canary was actually a girl. From the initial scans of that story, you’d think she was a man.

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