Superman: Strange Attractors

By Gail Simone, Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning, John Byrne & Nelson (DC Comics)
ISBN 978-1-4012-0917-9 (TPB)

Here’s a Superman collection tailored to the fight fan, as the mighty Man of Steel takes on a bevy of baddies in terse tales designed as an antidote to an over-abundance of multi-chapter epics. I’m focussing on it here primarily because it’s also a complication- and continuity-light compendium featuring movie Man of the Moment Black Adam

Created by Otto Binder & C.C. Beck, Black Adam/Teth Adam debuted in The Marvel Family #1, cover-dated December 1945. There he was revealed as the power-corrupted predecessor of current magical superhero (the Original…) Captain Marvel. The Egyptian relic’s reign of evil ended with his death at the end of the story…

You can’t keep a good villain down though, and when the Golden Age Marvel was revived in the 1970s as Shazam!, the ancient antithesis eventually returned to bedevil the heroes. He even survived the continuity changing chaos of Crisis on Infinite Earths and numerous subsequent reboots.

For present purposes, the following is the backstory new readers should access…

Once upon a time Billy Batson was a little boy living on the streets of Fawcett City. His archaeologist parents had left him with an uncle when they went on a dig to Egypt. They never returned, his little sister vanished and Billy was thrown out so his guardian could steal his inheritance.

Sleeping in a storm drain and selling newspapers for cash, the indomitable lad grew street-smart and resilient, but when a shadowy stranger bade him follow into an eerie subway, the boy somehow knew it was all okay. Soon after, he met the wizard Shazam, who bestowed upon him the powers of six ancient Gods and Heroes.

Thus began an astounding career as wholesome powerhouse hero Captain Marvel. Billy eventually found lost sister Mary and shared his nigh-infinite power with her, as they both subsequently did with disabled friend Freddy Freeman.

They fought and eventually reached an accommodation with militant progenitor Black Adam, who was the wizard’s first superhuman champion, reborn in the body of Theo Adam – a distant descendant who had murdered the Batson’s parents. When a succession of crises arose, everything changed.

Immortal Shazam was murdered, Billy was exiled to the transcendent Rock of Eternity as his replacement and Freddy became a new Captain Marvel; his mighty gifts supplied by a completely different pantheon of patrons.

Meanwhile, Black Adam had found peace and redemption in the love of ascendant nature goddess Isis …until she was cruelly taken from him. The worst tragedies befell poor Mary. Deprived of her intoxicating powers she became an addict without a fix… until soul-sick Adam shared his dark energies with her. His corrupted spirit fatally tainted the once-vibrant innocent…

During his lost phase, the Egyptian warrior vacillated between hard-line hero and outright menace: joining the Justice Society of America but also arbitrarily administering his old testament brand of judgement whenever he felt the need…

This selection of Superman stories comes from Action Comics #827-828, and #830-835 (spanning July 2005 through March 2006). The run of was originally interrupted for the “Sacrifice” storyline (and collected as a graphic novel of the same name), so the volume reconvenes with the episode after…

First up is eponymous 2-part saga ‘Strange Attractors’ and Strange Attractors part 2 – Positive Reinforcement’: a battle against the incredibly bad and quite mad Master of Magnetism Dr Polaris, aided, if not abetted, by the resurrected reprobate Black Adam, currently holding a high position in supervillain army The Society

Following the aforementioned Sacrifice pause, we reconvene with #830’s ‘The Great Society’ as the Man of Tomorrow tackles Dr. Psycho. The old Wonder Woman villain is a physically stunted, sadistic psychologist with the power to control minds. When he arrives in Metropolis intent on mischief, Superman finds that every citizen is a foe and hostage at the same time.

Once again, Black Adam is on hand to render ambivalent assistance as ‘Black & Blue’ (a Villains United tie-in) sees Adam reassess his role before it all devolves into the obligatory fist fight.

Scripted by Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning ‘Old Ghosts’ sees Devil-surrogate Lord Satanus and the Spectre use the city as a phantasmal Ground Zero next, and, after refereeing that little cataclysm, Superman finds himself the target of a psychic and spiritual assault from old JLA foe The Queen of Fables in ‘Depths’ and ‘Awake in the Dark’ – with Norm Rapmund, Larry Stucker, Marc Campos, & Oclair Albert joining Nelson in applying inks to John Byrne’s pencils..

The furious ferocious fun concludes in a duel with Livewire, that perky punkette with absolute control of all things electrical who contracts ‘A Contagion of Madness’ with Gail Simone, John Byrne and inker Nelson delivering potent, punchy and self-contained mini-classics.

Not overly complicated, concentrating on exhilaration and excitement, but still managing to sustain some tense sub-plots involving Lois Lane-Kent and the rest of the venerable supporting cast, these stories are just plain fun. It’s a shame that the experiment doesn’t seem to have caught on …
© 2005, 2006 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.