What is the secret of The Sword Of Superman?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Superman Annual #10 awaits!

SUPERMAN ANNUAL #10
Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Ben Oda
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $1.25
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00

Previously in Superman Annual: Rocketed from a dead planet, Kal-El grew up in the Midwest, raised by farmers to become the greatest hero the world has ever known.  By 1984, his power and mythos had grown so vast that he had virtually no physical weaknesses (save for the obvious Kryptonite and/or magic thing, but that’s another story.)  Due to his never-ending battle, Superman found himself idolized not only around the world but throughout the universe, with his name spoken reverently on thousands of different planets by thousands of different races.

But have you ever noticed that they all use the SAME WORD?

You or I might have chalked such an astonishing bit of cosmic nonsense coincidence up to the fact that “Superman,” is at least technically his name, and thus people call him that, regardless of their mother tongue.  But not Superman (or writer Elliot S! Maggin.)  No, my friends, our assumptions would wrong, making an ass out of sump and ions because, aeons ago, seconds after the creation of the universe, there was… Superman!

Or, at least, a sword called Superman.  Was it mere happenstance that this bit of cosmic ephemera would take the shape of a sword?  Or is the shape we know as a sword a mere shadow of the Platonic Ideal of the Sword of Superman?  Also, since Superman is derived from the English word “man”, did it reverse-engineer the entire history of language as we know it to make the etymology work?  It is a bunch of ridiculous claptrap metaphysical mystery, but the evidence is clear.  Even simple farmer Jonathan Kent had a glimpse of this universal truth when, “ten years ago”, he had a prophetic dream that put the final piece of his son’s destiny in place…

I was going to say “Superboy played his role to the hilt”, but…  I believe I shall postpone.  As weird and esoteric as this explanation for the S-shield is, it’s really no more ridiculous than “It stands for hope and coincidentally looks just like your letter S,” a bit of exposition we all bear without complaint today.  The super-boy grows up to become a super-man, taking a job in a major metropolitan newspaper where one afternoon his colleague Jimmy Olsen nets an interview with the reclusive billionaire Oswald Mandias…

…Oswald.

Mandias.

Oy.

Aaaanywaaaay, Jimmy mysteriously disappears, leading Superman to track him down on Mandias’ yacht, and discovering that Mr. Oswald Mandias, king of kings, has some mighty works up his sleeve involving the latest space shuttle launch…

Effortlessly following the shuttle into low-Earth orbit, Superman seeks out ol’ Ozzy, with the intentions of breaking up his plan.  His plan, BTW, is to make some sort of announcement about his TV empire, which doesn’t sound particularly nefarious.  Indeed, since Mandias’ primary competitor, Morgan Edge, owns Galaxy Communications, and by extension, Clark’s employer, The Daily Planet, it seems like he’s on some thin ethical ground here.

Bygones…

Unfortunately for our Superman, the computer-automated systems of the shuttle have to release the cargo in the pre-programmed order, so Superman waits in orbit, hanging out with the astronauts, unaware that not one, but TWO cosmic forces are about to intersect the ship’s orbit.  The first hits the stasis pod holding Oswald…

Suddenly empowered well-beyond human norms (but still sporting a smart three-piece suit), Oswald busts out of containment and confronts the Man Of Steel on his own (inhumanly mighty) terms, with a punchinnaface…

I remember reading this comic, albeit hazily, when I was young, and while the story is…

How can I put this delicately?  It’s a bit “Woo-HOO-hoooooooo”, the art of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson is wonderful throughout.  This full-page shot of Superman crashing out of the then-brand-new Space Shuttle, with Earth in the background, is just amazingly beautiful.  Of course, there’s still the question of how and WHY Mandias put the proverbial smackdown on Earth’s greatest hero?  Turns out, they’ve met, though in a previous guise…

King Kosmos, having explained his plan like a good Bronze Age villain, leaves our Man Of Tomorrow to fall back into the world.  Cue our second strange galactic phenomenon…

With the sword that inspired him in his hand, Superman returns to Earth (without catastrophic re-entry burns) to find that everyone is immediately repulsed by his presence, running away and snarling insults at him.  The phenomenon continues even as Clark Kent, leading Lois Lane to shriek and flee at the very sight of his blue-suited nebbishry.  Returning to the mysterious blade that bears his symbol and/or vice-versa, Superman is shocked to find it has a mind of its own…

There is an unintentionally hilarious page in this issue where Superman walks the streets of Metropolis, lost in thought, as passersby immediately run away in stark terror/disgust, while he thinks about how this all could have happened.  It quickly becomes clear that it’s the mental manipulation of King Kosmos, whom Superman discovers is making a public statement about his plan to free Earth from the clutches of monsters from an other planet.  When he attempts to intervene, Superman finds himself on the receiving end of a deadly a one-two punch: Cosmic energy and utter hatred from the very people he works tirelessly to protect…

It all proves too much for our hero, with the rejection by his adoptive people stinging more than the blasts themselves.  Superman takes refuge on the moon, monitoring the Earth from a distance, thinking about a strange interaction he once had, where a young alien boy spoke to him of a sword bearing the same symbol as his costume…  The Sword Of Superman!

One day later (!!), King Kosmos has assembled the United States Congress to hammer out his plan to stomp out the alien menace once and for all, using the mental power of King Kosmos to influence those present into creating an army to head out into space and kill aliens in the name of “defending Earth.”  Suddenly, Superman arrives, but in order to keep from being crushed by the rejection of his adoptive people, he has hypnotized himself to see something else entirely…

I…  I’m not sure how to take this?  It seems that Superman is so attached to being cheered that he has to trick himself into perceiving adulation that isn’t there in order to act against King Kosmos, which seems… off?  Granted, Maggin’s Superman is one of the most human Supermen ever written, seeming to be just a Kansas farm boy with incredible power rather than a perfect genius hero, but that’s a very unflattering portrayal of our hero.  Emboldened by the blade that shares his name, Superman defiantly unmasks King Kosmos on national television…

Their battle rages across Washington, and Superman is nearly defeated before the sword turns the tide, leaving him seconds from breaking his most solemn vow…

Having apparently never heard the phrase “Be careful what you wish for”, Superman is engulfed in primal power from the dawn of the universe blah blah blah something something powerful WHOOSH!  (Also, I love that Mandias is all “Oh, right.  What I did was wrong…  I had to say that, my part in the story is over and my character needs closure.”)  Acting in response to his words, The Sword Of Superman begins channeling its energies into the Man Of Steel…

There is a sudden blinding flash of light, and Superman is as he was before, while the sword is gone, leaving only the s-engraved hilt behind.  Realizing the danger of such a powerful artifact, Superman hurtles the hilt into deepest space, sending it on an endless arc into nothing.  The story then cuts to an alien world, many years in the future.  On old man tells an old story, of a blade that came from the first moments of the universe and how many tried and failed to wield it before one man proved himself worthy.  He also knows part of the story that no one else does…

Is this storyteller Superman himself?  Is he the Sword in humanoid form?  Is he something else?  I’m not sure, thirty years down the line, but it’s a pretty epic (in the traditional sense, not the current “That was great!” sense) ending for a strange story.  I’m going to be honest: This story doesn’t really ever come together for me.  There’s cosmic folderal, a bit about King Arthur, Superman’s self-hypnotic protection against hearing bad things, all tied together with the strange idea of “the original matter of the universe” becoming a sword before swords ever existed, bearing Superman’s symbol before it (or even MAN) existed.  The high concept doesn’t work, but where Superman Annual #10 works is in the art of Swan and Anderson, both of whom exert considerable effort to make this nonsense work, and almost pull it off, only for that ending to come around, leaving the issue with 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. 

I can’t say that I really understood this story, or that it represents a Superman to I know, but man it’s fun to look at.  You just can’t argue with a good Curt Swan story…

What is the secret of The Sword Of Superman?  Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Superman Annual #10 awaits! SUPERMAN ANNUAL #10 Writer: Elliot S! Maggin Penciler: Curt Swan Inker: Murphy Anderson Colorist: Gene D'Angelo Letterer: Ben Oda Editor: Julius Schwartz Publisher: DC Comics Cover Price: $1.25 Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00 Previously in Superman Annual: Rocketed from a dead planet, Kal-El grew up in the Midwest, raised by farmers to become the greatest hero the world has ever known.  By 1984, his power and mythos had grown so vast that he had virtually no physical weaknesses (save for the obvious…
This story makes pretty much ZERO sense, but features an interesting look into Superman's psyche and lovely Swanderson art. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, but if it turns up in a quarter bin, you should check it out...

SUPERMAN ANNUAL #10

Writing
Art
Coloring

This story makes pretty much ZERO sense, but features an interesting look into Superman's psyche and lovely Swanderson art. I wouldn't exactly recommend it, but if it turns up in a quarter bin, you should check it out...

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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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