Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…not Tim Beedle. That’s right, your pal Joshua Lapin-Bertone is taking over this edition of Super Here For…, but don’t worry Tim will be back next month. We’re doing something a little different for this edition of Super Here For… and tying in with DC’s month-long celebration of all things ’90s. With that in mind, who better to write this month’s column than a former ’90s kid?
The ’90s were a crazy time for Superman. The Man of Steel died, came back to life, got married, starred in a primetime TV series and reentered the world of animation to critical acclaim. The ’90s were also a crazy time for me. I got braces, played Super Nintendo, pretended to be a Power Ranger and read my first comic book. Did I have a better decade than Superman? Who could say for sure?
I decided to use this column to spotlight a piece of ’90s Superman lore that is mostly overlooked. The Man of Steel’s death and return was iconic, but it wasn’t the only crazy thing that went down with Supes that decade. In the 1990s, Superman also changed his appearance, and it was pretty stark. I’m not talking about the mullet—I’m talking about Superman’s electric blue costume.
The look was a stark contrast from the circus strongman-inspired outfit that Superman had worn since his 1938 debut. The electric blue design was an energy-based suit that covered Superman’s entire body. He looked like a bright blue lightning bolt. Even his iconic S symbol was given a makeover, appearing a bit sharper.
During the four-issue event The Final Night, a being called the Sun-Eater attempted to destroy the sun. The conflict temporarily blocked out a portion of the sun, which of course, is where Superman draws his powers from. The problem was Superman’s powers didn’t return once the conflict ended. For a time, he used the Fortress of Solitude to absorb energy, but it wasn’t a sustainable situation.
The results of this were…interesting. Superman’s powers gradually began to shift and become more energy based. Kal-El discovered that he could manipulate electromagnetic energy and even turn himself into pure electricity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to control it. Emil Hamilton solved the problem by building a containment suit for Superman. The fabric was supplied by Lex Luthor, which made everyone uncomfortable, but the alternative was letting the energy overtake and kill Superman.
The containment suit is what you’re seeing when you look at the electric blue Superman. In a convenient-for-storytelling twist, the Man of Steel’s new energy powers disappeared when he was in human form, leaving Clark Kent vulnerable to harm. Superman wore this new outfit in all of his titles and when he appeared in other books such as JLA.
People think of this as the “What were they thinking?” era, but doing so overlooks the awesome comics that were being produced during this period. Some of the greatest creators were writing and illustrating Superman at the time, and the stories had never been better. You had writers like Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie and Louise Simonson. You had awesome ’90s art from iconic illustrators like Ron Frenz, Tom Grummett, Jon Bogdanove and many more. These were some of the greatest creators of the generation working on Superman, and the comics were appointment reading!
This was also an exciting time for Superman’s allies and enemies. Jimmy Olsen was no longer at the Daily Planet and was trying to make a name for himself as a television reporter. Perry White was recovering from a bout with cancer and returning to the Planet after a long absence. A Kandorian refugee named Scorn was trying to adapt to life on Earth.
These subplots weaved throughout the various Superman titles, making it feel like each book mattered. At the time, each book had the Superman S symbol on the cover which had the year the book was published and a number signifying its placed in the chronology. Fans call this the Triangle Era, and it gave the Superman titles a greater sense of continuity. It was almost like watching a weekly television drama.
Lex Luthor was also more fearsome than he had been in years. Years earlier, Lex had put himself into a cloned body and pretended to be his own son (we all tried weird stuff in the ’90s). Unfortunately, the clone body had decayed, leaving Lex looking like a stunt double for Emperor Palpatine. Luthor wound up selling his soul to the demonic Neron in exchange for revitalizing his body. Luthor reasoned he didn’t have a soul anyway, so why not take the deal?
The Superman electric blue era starts during this period, with Lex back in a young and vibrant body, more dangerous than he had been in years. Lex was still bald, but his eyebrows were now bright red, perhaps as a way to visually symbolize his demonic deal with Neron. This era also gave Lex a new ally. Luthor paired up with Contessa Erica Alexandra del Portenza, commonly referred to as the Contessa. She was Luthor’s equal in every way, proving herself just as conniving and vindictive as he was. They even got married and had a daughter named Lena, giving Luthor a new role as a father. Like I said, these were exciting comics that took the world of Superman to new and unexpected places.
One of those unexpected places was Superman Red/Superman Blue, where the Man of Steel split into two separate beings. I remember picking this one-shot comic up as a twelve-year-old. There was an edition of it that had a 3D cover and came with 3D glasses. I loved it!
So, how the heck did Superman become two people? Toyman and Cyborg Superman capture the Man of Steel and place him in a cage that’s mean to tear him apart. Since Superman was made of pure energy at this time, the device wound up splitting Superman into two distinct beings, one blue and one red. This wasn’t a story where the status quo was reset by the end of the comic. Superman Red and Superman Blue co-existed for months!
The two men had to share a life, taking turns as Clark Kent. Lois wasn’t interested in having two husbands and kicked both Supermen out of the bedroom until they could figure out how to fuse into one being. (Yeah, the ’90s was an experimental decade, but it wasn’t THAT experimental.) Of the two Kal-Els, Superman Red was more brash and impulsive, while Superman Blue was more calm and strategic. It was a fun dynamic. The two Supermen eventually fused back into one being in the 1998 one-shot Superman Forever. In it, the Man of Steel regained his original powers and returned to his old costume.
There was something exciting about DC in the ’90s that felt like anything could happen. Kyle Rayner was the Green Lantern, Oliver Queen was dead and Superman had a new costume. I never doubted that the original outfit would return, which allowed me to enjoy the novelty of the electric blue outfit. Besides, I could still enjoy the classic costume on Superman: The Animated Series, which was in its prime.
When I look at Superman’s electric blue outfit today, it takes me back to that special and exciting era. I remember being a pre-teen kid, going to my local comic shop and grabbing those issues. I would then head over to Burger King, which was running a promotional tie-in campaign with Superman: The Animated Series. I would play with the Superman toys, munch on a burger, and flip through those comic pages. It was a special time, and I was super there for it.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, “Gotham Gazette.” Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.