The death of Superman draws nearer in The Adventures of Superman #497 as The Never-Ending Battle arrives at The Beat. With the series’ original home on hiatus, this column is going to be found here for the foreseeable future, as I couldn’t leave off before the big one.
The Adventures of Superman #497
Triangle Number: 1992 – 47
Writer: Jerry Ordway
Penciler: Tom Grummett
Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Albert De Guzman
With Adventures of Superman #497, we are in the countdown to the final battle, with one issue of each title remaining until the much hyped Superman #75. With that comes a storytelling trick that has always astonished me in making each issue feel bigger than the last. Up until this point, the issues in the story were just normal comic storytelling with no limits or restrictions on the panel count per page, but with this issue that changes. Every page of this issue has exactly four panels, no more, no less. This design trick forces the book to feel more urgent, as there is no time for extraneous moments to capitalize on the space available.
This also forces Grummett to plan his panels in a more strategic way. He knows he’s only allowed four, and has to figure out exactly how to set the pages up to best convey the story that’s being told. It’s a much more interesting artistic challenge than forcing things into a nine panel grid format, and I feel like this one should be used more frequently to balance out the overuse of the nine panel grid.
The first three pages have a narrative recap of the events of Superman #74 from the point of view of the teenager, Mitch. The three smaller panels on the first page and the two page splash following it are all checking in on the characters at the burning house, starting with the downed Justice League and then Mitch and his family. The larger panels depict Superman catching up with Doomsday, while hoping that one of the other Leaguers can help the family because it’s more important for him to stop Doomsday from hurting others.
Try as he might, Superman just can’t ignore Mitch’s pleas, because if he could, that wouldn’t be Superman. In the moment that he takes to check in on the situation, Doomsday slams into him with a FWAMM that resonates like thunder across the clear sky. The most interesting part of Mitch’s character is watching his attitude quickly shift, from the classroom where he called Superman boring, to the fight where he thought Superman was stupid and Guy Gardner was cool, to now where he realizes the thing that sets Superman apart is how much he cares. You can feel the hope return to his narration, and that’s something immensely powerful about Superman: his ability to inspire hope in the hopeless.
After saving the family, most of the issue is just non-stop action, utilizing the increased pacing of the limited panels to move quickly and relentlessly from one massive blow to the next. However, there are two moments where we pull back from the fight itself to both check in on subplots and to bring supporting characters into the fold. First, Lois interrupts a taping of Jimmy’s new “Turtle Boy” series as Perry needs the two of them to cover the battle. And then Lex Luthor II prevents Supergirl from joining the fray, saying that it’s more important that she protect Metropolis.
While the battle rages on, Superman is joined by Maxima, who has returned from taking the injured Blue Beetle to the hospital. Maxima takes to the fight with the fervor of a warrior born, but with none of the compassion of Superman. She cares not about the collateral damage or the innocent lives in danger, only about defeating the monster. As such she’s reckless in her methods, endangering everyone around her. A ruptured gas line coupled with a sparking lamppost causes an absolutely beautifully drawn explosion by Grummett, Hazlewood and Whitmore, with yet another wonderful sound effect, this time from Albert De Guzman. The explosion puts Superman and Maxima down temporarily, while Doomsday strides off in search of the next thing to destroy.
The issue closes with a determined Superman, looking to stop the threat of Doomsday on his own, because he can’t risk any more lives.
Miss any previous entries in The Never-Ending Battle? The early entries can be found at Comfort Food Comics, while more recent ones can be found here at The Beat.