Christmas Comics Cavalcade: Superman #165 (DC Comics)
This week we’ll be looking at Superman #165, published in December of 2001 by DC Comics. The book was written by Jeph Loeb and was something of an all-star “jam” issue featuring a who’s who of popular superhero comic artists. Cover prices was $2.25.
Superman’s been involved with some great Christmas stories in his 75 year history, but this one is different in that it’s highly connected with several ongoing stories within the Superman family of titles. In brief: Lex Luthor has just been elected President of the United States of America. Superman is obviously quite conflicted about this development and spends this issue visiting with the various members of the Justice League to get their take on the recent election results.
Love him or hate him, Jeph Loeb has always been a “back to basics” kind of writer of comics. There’s never a great amount of depth to his stories, but they are often exciting, plot-heavy exercises in the superhero genre. In this, I always thought he was a very good fit for Superman, both in his work on the regular series and the Superman For All Seasons mini-series he worked on with Tim Sale to great acclaim.
After a three page prologue that sets up a future crossover, we get down to business. Superman first visits with Martian Manhunter and Plastic Man. These three pages are drawn by Humberto Ramos, whose cartoony, manga-influenced art is a good fit for these two shape-shifting characters. Unfortunately, Loeb’s characterization of Plastic Man is fairly horrendous, falling in line with most of DC’s writers at this time decided he was Jim Carrey in a spandex suit.
The groan-inducing button to all the scenes is Superman giving his fellow JLA members their Christmas presents. Let’s get this out of the way now, every single one the presents Superman gives to his colleague is AWFUL… but probably the best one is Martian Manhunter’s box of “Choco” cookies. MM used to really dig Oreo cookies in the 1980’s but I guess Nabisco got litigious with DC and now Choco’s are Big Green’s favorite snack.
Superman next visits Aquaman, with art chores being handled by Rob Liefeld. Again, Liefeld’s the perfect superstar penciler to handle this section because it plays to two of his strengths – drawing pained grimaces and NOT drawing backgrounds. Liefeld’s a limited artist in most ways and hoo boy, do these three pages tax his abilities.
The bubbles! The BUBBLES! Superman gives Arthur a snowglobe for X-Mas, or whatever they celebrate in Atlantis at this time of year.
The next section is an absolute treat, as the art is handled by Mike Wieringo. Wieringo’s stylistic animated characters are fantastic and he’s always been one of my favorite superhero artists.
Tragically, Wieringo passed away a few years after this comic was published. His take on the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern is full of fun and I love the way he interpreted the GL light constructs. Again, Superman leaves GL with an awful gift…
Next up, Art Adams for three pages of Superman visiting with The Flash. Adams’ regimented, detailed style works well in depicting the race between these two characters… and the gift?
Socks for a guy who runs!?!? BOOM, Comedy!
(Nevermind that, according to Christmas with the Superheroes #2, this is a totally useless gift… continuity, people! C’mon!)
Second to last, another overwrought tussle between Superman and Wonder Woman drawn by frequent Loeb collaborator Ian Churchill. Supes and Wondy wrestle on three very very very very busy and confusing pages while talking about the election. When Superman gives Diana his present (a small Mjolner keychain, a reference to yet another past storyline), the section ends with one of the most unintentionally confusing panels in Loeb’s tenure on Superman.
To be clear, Superman and Wonder Woman are NOT kissing, even thought it looks like they are and that the penguin to the left there is gettin’ his jollies. No, Superman was married to Lois Lane at this time! Lord knows why Churchill decided to draw this page in such a weird way, but I remember some of the comic book nerd population getting up in a dander over the lack of clarity.
Final Christmas visit: Batman, drawn by Joe Madureira. Again, another “inside baseball” anecdote, I remember Joe Mad got super pissed off with DC for monkeying with his pencils on this issue; apparently he had originally drawn the classic yellow oval Batman and editors replaced it with the then-current black bat on grey. Certainly these are the most dynamic of all the pages and with good reason – Madureira was a really wonderful comic artist before he left the business for the greener pastures of video games.
Again, lame present from Superman to the Dark Knight Detective, but at least this time he cops to the lameness by blaming Lois.
Joking aside, Loeb does a pretty decent job nailing each of these character’s probable points of view: Aquaman’s haughtiness and concern for Atlantis above all else… Kyle’s naivete… Wonder Woman’s passion. He’s clear in drawing a line from how their personalities differ so radically from Superman. He also works around the various storylines in a way that reads clearly for new readers, while still keeping fans in mind throughout. I’ll also say, some of the artistic collaborators on this issue are not my cuppa, but it’s cool to see Superman drawn by such a diverse cast of talents.