A spook-tacular Halloween treat is in store today as several blogs have joined forced to look at DC’s “Ghosts”-themed annuals from 1998, along with other supernaturally themed stories featuring your favorite DC Comics characters.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Ghosts” crossover, in the mid- to late-’90s, DC regularly linked their annuals with a unified theme or direction. In 1998, it was “Ghosts,” which depicted various heroes fighting against or being haunted by figures who had died throughout their storied careers.
While Superman and supernatural are an odd combination, the Man of Steel, being the foremost hero of the DC Universe, was, naturally, included. Superman’s installment came in SUPERMAN ANNUAL #10 (October 1998 cover; released around August 12, 1998) and calls back to a decision made by Superman early in his career, which comes back to haunt him once again in “The Death Sentence.”
Dan Jurgens, writer
Paul Ryan, layouts
Chris Ivy, finishes
John Costanza, letters
Glenn Whitmore, colors
Digital Chameleon, seps
Maureen McTigue, assistant editor
Joey Cavalieri, editor
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster
Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent pays a visit to Stryker’s Island Maximum Security Prison at the request of inmate Lloyd Corman, who is due to be executed the next day for the murder of a convenience store clerk during a robbery two years prior.
Corman pleads for Clark’s help, swearing innocence, but Clark is reluctant, saying he’s reviewed the case file and it seems pretty open and shut. Corman says he’s read Clark’s column and knows he’s “always stickin’ up fer the little guy… fightin’ fer justice fer all!” and questions if Clark believes in capital punishment.
Clark leaves, pausing momentarily when he hears a haunting voice saying, “Killer… killer! Now it’s your turn to die for your crimes!” Dismissing it as transient chatter picked up by his super-hearing, Clark heads back to the Daily Planet and begins again looking into Corman’s case. The evidence seems to stand up but still leaves questions lingering in Clark’s mind.
He pays a visit to the convenience store and gets no solid answers, only more doubt. On his way out of the store, he again hears the hollow and menacing voice. Suddenly, stacks of food fly at him from the shelves and suddenly turn green — kryptonite green. Thinking he might be under attack, Clark runs from the store to investigate as Superman. But, upon hitting the street, he sees a trio of familiar faces from the past.
Chapter 2: ‘Clarity’
Swiftly changing to Superman, the Man of Steel rockets into the air to try and find the evil three (not to be confused with “The Evil Three,” since Jonathan Hale, Rhys Williams and Cecil Elliott do not appear in this comic… unfortunately). He spots a trio of people on a nearby street and angrily confronts them, only discover he was mistaken and has just scared the ever-lovin’ out of three random people.
All of this leaves passers-by, local authorities and even Superman himself wondering if the Man of Steel has gone a bit coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs. Superman then reflects on his encounter with the Kryptonian criminals and their ultimate fate (a flashback to events that culminated in SUPERMAN (Vol. 2) #22, which marked the end of John Byrne’s run as writer and artist following the MAN OF STEEL reboot).
Superman reflects on his regret over his actions and then flies off, unknowing that Zod, Quex-Ul and Faora watch from a nearby rooftop.
Shortly, Clark pays a visit to Police Commissioner Bill Henderson and attempts to enlist his help in looking into Corman’s case. Henderson is reluctant, saying the case is solid, but Clark still sees doubt — even more after examining Henderson’s case file.
As Clark leaves, his is confronted by the parents of the man killed in the hold-up, upset that Clark is, seemingly, trying to prove Corman’s innocence. Clark pleads his case, but the father isn’t buying it… lecturing Clark on the matter of justice — something, he says, Clark knows nothing about.
Clark continues walking and is hit with more visions of the Kryptonian criminals, but shrugs them off as his tired imagination. He then visits Corman’s wife and two-year-old son.
Clark creepily look through the woman’s mail and private papers, seeing she told the truth about her son’s illness. He then sees more visions of the Kryptonian criminals and tries to shrug it off. But a booming voice from outside the window challenges him to come — and as Clark looks outside, he is shocked to see General Zod, Quex-Ul and Faora looming in the sky!
Chapter 3: ‘Inner Turmoil’
Superman goes on the attack but is no match for the three fully powered Kryptonian criminals. After seven pages of Fightapalooza ’98, Superman tries a last-ditch gamble, charging at the criminals like a Kryptonian battering ram. Inexplicably, the criminals disappear and Superman, unable to stop his momentum, crashes into Mrs. Corman’s apartment.
While collecting himself from his ungraceful entrance, Superman notices the keys the boy was playing with — and, that one of them isn’t a toy key but a key to a locker at a nearby bus station. Clark visits the station and uses his X-ray vision to survey the locker’s contents, only to be dismayed at what he finds.
Before he can ponder it further, however, he is attacked once again by the Kryptonian criminals, which results in another four pages of Fightapalooza ’98 (don’t call it a comeback; it’s been here for years). Finally discovering the three are intangible (despite them being pretty good at tossing him around earlier in the story), Superman thows an electrified piece of rebar through the spirits’ forms, causing them to dissipate.
With time nearing sunrise and Corman’s execution, Clark hurries to the prison, imploring the governor to hear him out. The victim’s father yells at Clark for being another “bleeding heart” trying to say Corman is innocent… but Clark responds to the contrary, saying that he found conclusive proof that Corman did, in fact, kill the man, but urges the governor to hear him out, anyway.
And with that, the story came to close. While Superman’s execution of the criminals would remain in continuity for just shy of another decade (it was officially disavowed following INFINITE CRISIS and the accompanying soft-reboot), the storyline was scarcely revisited again. And, aside from the other “Ghosts”-themed annuals from that year, we never got a firm resolution to the mystery of who — if anyone — was responsible for Superman’s ghostly visitors.
Perhaps appropriate for Halloween, this issue was both a trick and a treat: A trick because it wasn’t all that good… but a treat because it was actually better than I remembered it.
Halloween stories featuring Superman are a tough nut to crack. Despite Superman being more versatile a character than generally thought, he really isn’t built for tales of horror and fright. Ghosts and supernatural don’t really fit into the world of a character designed to bring hope and light.
One might also question the wisdom of revisiting the execution of the Pocket Universe villains when Superman’s own death, those killed in the wake of Doomsday’s rampage, or even the death of Krypton itself, could have provided fodder for a poignant “Ghosts”-themed story.
However, this was published in a period when DC seemed to be revisiting the early post-Crisis stories — or at least early days in Superman’s career — quite a bit. SUPERMAN: FOR ALL SEASONS, JLA: YEAR ONE and even a Byrne-written and illustrated issue of JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD that unofficially tied in with MAN OF STEEL, were all published the same month as this issue. Plus, Superman actions against Zod and the others were a watershed moment for the character and, thanks to Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern and, later, Dan Jurgens, led to many wonderful storylines. (As Michael Bailey and I discussed on a recent episode of my podcast, The Thrilling Adventures of Superman, there is a direct line from Superman’s execution of the Pocket Universe villains through “Reign of the Supermen,” one of the most-loved and most-remembered Superman stories of the last three decades, and beyond.)
It also feels like the “Ghosts” theme and the inclusion of the Kryptonians criminals was done as more of an afterthought to a story already dealing with the idea of Superman’s position on the death penalty. Yes, the two go hand-in-hand by their very nature but removing all references to the earlier story makes no noticeable change to the main plot of this one.
But still, like I said, this story was better than I remembered it. I enjoyed the focus on Clark Kent. I enjoyed seeing Clark setting out to right a wrong — even though it ultimately turned out that the original conviction wasn’t wrong. Superman is a defender of Truth, Justice and the American Way… and, to me, those often go hand-in-hand. Justice depends on truth. So, Clark searching to discover the truth in the name of justice is absolutely right in line with the character.
The art in the issue was perfectly serviceable. Ryan, while not my favorite Superman artist, draws a fine Man of Steel. Ivy’s inks are capable, not overpowering Ryan’s pencils but embellishing in most of the right ways. I do wonder if a less-traditional artist for Superman might have served the story better, given its nature. But, few complaints about Ryan and Ivy as they serve the story fine.
But, wait, there’s more
Despite the lackluster nature of the story, I want to thank Chad Bokelman over at Corps Conjecture for inviting me to play along in this crossover. It was a lot of fun and, regardless of the quality of the story, reading a Superman comic is never a complete waste of time! And special thanks to Rob Kelly at Aquaman Shrine and Garrey Adams at Gotham Knights Online for the crossover’s custom graphics!
As mentioned earlier, several blogs have joined forces to look at the various “Ghosts” annuals and other Halloween-flavored stories. Be sure to visit the other blogs to see how they spotlight their own favorite heroes!
– The Atom in “Shrinking From The Past” @ Power of the Atom
– Aquaman in “Dead Calm” @ The Aquaman Shrine
– Batman in “Bough Breaks” @ Gotham Knights Online
– Booster Gold in “Seeing Ghosts” @ Boosterific
– The Creeper in “What Creeps Out the Creeper? @ DC Bloodlines
– Firestorm in “Shoe Shine… Back from the Dead” @ Firestorm Fan
– The Flash in “Haunts” @ Speed Force
– Green Lantern in “The Corpse Corps” @ Corps Conjecture
– Green Lantern in “The Legend of Driq” @ The Indigo Tribe
– The Justice League of America in “Life Itself” @ The Captain’s JLA Blog
– The Martian Manhunter in “Heart’s Afire” @ The Idol-Head of Diabolu
– The Phantom Stranger cosplay @ I am the Phantom Stranger
– Ragman in “Tattered Remnants” @ Ragman: DC’s Tatterdemalion of Justice
– The Spectre in “Zor!” @ Siegel & Shuster: Mythmakers
– Superman in “The Death Sentence” @ Great Krypton!
– Swamp Thing in “Ghost Dance” @ The Blog From the Bog
– Vixen in “Role Model” @ Justice League Detroit
– Wonder Woman in “The Distance Gone” @ Diana Prince is the New Wonder Woman