How many literary homages have you read in your life? How many of them have exceeded your expectations? How many of them were so dreadful that it forced you back to the original source that inspired it? This often extends to remakes of films typically best left alone, or even games that often don’t require sequels. We’ve learned (the hard way) to accept the occasional remake or “re-envisioning”, with either support from our wallets, or by leaving our cash holstered.
Regardless of how we feel, we are entertainment (and media) consumers. We actively support an industry that routinely generates over 5 billion dollars a year. When you add comic book movie sales, we passionately support an industry that banks 17 billion dollars of our hard earned money. Not bad, especially with the state the industry was in not even 20 years ago. As of 2014, Marvel revealed that they now make more money off of their comic book movie adaptions than they do off of the comics themselves. Stories like Age of Ultron, Civil War, and Winter Soldier have all received high marks for their quality, and prolonged character growth. An industry associated with cartoons and adolescents has now grown to appeal to a mass market, who now encroach upon the once tiny niche we’d carved out for ourselves. Annoying for us, great for the publications industry. While “Tanner” and “Greg” start gnawing your ear off about what they feel about the “new” characters they’ve “discovered”, we as fans know that the excitement they are sharing was provided to them by writing teams who saw a vision. Through that vision, they crafted the overarching narratives that have lead to the amazing reveals we’ve often run to social media to discuss, and even a few that broke our hearts.
On the big screen, it isn’t as important to stick so strictly to the source, as we also wish to be surprised by the narrative, but I think we can agree that a few decisions have been quite disjointed. When it is literary is when we become a little more exacting. Depending on your install point, everyone has a basic idea of what their respective comic book universe should be.
Years ago, a good friend of mine and I received a long-running inside joke that we bring up at least once a month. When speaking to my friend’s father about “the old days” he said a lot of things about the way it used to be, not terribly dissimilar to conversations I’d personally had with my own father. Be it economics, racial tension, or simply living, he was able to (slightly) concede to things not being as rosy as he described when probed, but the one thing he vehemently denied, was a world where Superman didn’t save Lois Lane. “Superman always saves Lois”, he told us. The year was 2005. “Infinite Crisis” Had just recently started. I’d have to wait a few months to read that regretfully, my friend’s father was wrong.
Origins are often re-imaged (Superman Birthright, Secret Origins, Earth One). Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Regardless, you can’t keep a company running on the same foundation it was originally built on without growing stale. As discussed before, “Crisis On Infinite Earths was one of the first major event arcs of its kind in comics. It represented a complete rebrand of essentially everything anyone up to that point had known about their heroes while providing some closure for those who didn’t make it (America vs. Justice Society.)
Superman returned to being the last of his kind. Batman was no longer a retired (deceased) mayor of Gotham City married to Selina Kyle (earth 2) nor was he floundering with throwaway villains like Magpie (earth 1).
We now had heroes that for the most part were aged regressed (*cough* New52,) with slightly more grounded origins, worked into a contemporary setting. The rebrand was a resounding success for DC comics, and really did wonders for Superman in 1986. This didn’t come without some kickback from people who couldn’t let go and accept the revamps, but again, the name of the game is sales! One writer, however, didn’t appear to be done with stories from the previous Earth 1 continuity. He began writing a story in 1988 that would serve to reintroduce one of the greatest threats The Man Of Steel had ever faced. Quarmer, “The Sand Superman” had made his way to the post Crisis DC universe. But how could this be? DC’s whole point for the revamp was cleaning up continuity, and bringing things into the contemporary age.
Walt Simonson had a story to tell. He had a vision, and he saw it through, with the blessing of the editorial team at DC. Unsatisfied with the ending of Superman #242, he returned to it and worked to re-imagine its conclusion. Again, I ask why DC allowed him to run with the story.
The very nature of Quarmer would serve as more of a disruption to the current narrative than a help, as this Superman did not suffer from the over the top powerset, as the Superman who had come before him. In short, John Bryne’s Superman could not survive a prolonged, battle with Quarmer.
Quarmer hails from the Quarrm Realm, with deeper connections to Qward itself. Anyone who is familiar with earlier Green Lantern stories from the ’60s will instantly recognize the name, as it was the first ventured world we saw within DC’s anti-matter universe. An Oan Scientist by the name of Krona performed an experiment, in an attempt to see the origin of the known universe. The experiment somehow disrupted cosmic creation at its source, resulting in an inverted copy universe. Qward was ruled by the Anti-Monitor, with Wears being this universe’s equivalent of Oa. Like any malevolent being, the Anti-Monitor created proxies to do his bidding, which opened the door to many stories at that time, but none that directly connected to Superman, or the villain in question.
That however changed when a character by the name of “Anti-Matter Man appeared as a dimensional traveler. He was simply an explorer (At first) and did not realize the damage of crossing anti-matter with matter, which of course resulted in a lot of things exploding. I encourage you all to look up the story yourselves (Justice League of America #47), as the cause of his return to the Anti-Matter universe on earth, resulted in a fissure that never truly closed, leading directly to Quarrm.
Born of the Anti-Matter Universe, but somehow resonating at a frequency just slightly outside of it, the origins of this dimension remains a mystery even today, regardless of how the universe it resonates with was formed. It has been theorized that it too was a byproduct of the forming of the new inverted universe upon Krona’s failed experiment with exploring the source. Regardless of this yet unknown fact, it houses a host of sentient formless beings, one of which made his way through the original fissure, after another spectacular explosion of….matter. The formless Quarrm beings appear to be able to assimilate any form that they can “touch”, siphoning power from the original copy, before fully becoming whatever they’re assuming. Although Walt Simonson’s re-imaging of the “Sand Superman” arc could be explained away as being a post Crisis Version of Quarmer, and not the original, Walt fell victim to being too faithful. His “re-imaging” (save for a few details) was almost a complete condensed revisit of the 1971 story, with a finale that is still being questioned, and largely serves as the basis for this exploration.
Now that we understand the origins of the creature, I leave it to those interested to explore his motivations. That is honestly the most irrelevant part of all of this. The question again that truly matters is why? Why was the request for this story not simply denied? Why did DC editorial allow Walt Simonson to waste his time writing this? It would almost seem like they saw value in his story back in 1988. But if that were true, why did they then shelve it until 1992? There are scattered reports that he ran late with the title, but an equal amount of reports that the book was indeed shelved, originally intended to be an Annual in 1989, but changed to it’s slightly odd “Special” designation. Regardless, Quarmer made his way back, Superman “died” shortly after it’s release fighting Doomsday, only to return in Superman #504 (Sept 1993).
An exact quote from the Superman Encyclopedia explaining his return:
“As a Kryptonian, Superman’s alien genetic material enables him to absorb sunlight and perform superhuman feats. Superman survived his death by entering into a hibernation-like state, and the Eradicator’s use of him as a “conduit” by which he could absorb solar energy “restarted” Superman’s body, compared by some writers to a Kryptonian version of the mammalian diving reflex involving solar energy restoring his body to life (although sources such as Professor Hamilton and Batman have noted that available evidence suggests that the remaining energy reserves in Superman’s body when he died would have actually “run down” before the Eradicator took his body, suggesting that other factors may have contributed to his resurrection)
I would like to focus on the “other factors” that contributed to his resurrection. If Kal-El derived his power from the sun and was wearing a solar suit, why were his powers still depleted during the Engine City fight in Superman #504? How was Superman able to survive in a room with concentrated Kryptonite that even affected Hank Henshaw, but was left unfazed? Why did a cellular explosion of The Eradicator restore all of his powers, after The Eradicator was shot with a concentrated blast of Kryptonite? If he was in a form of hibernation, why did the Kryptonian birthing matrix not revive him? It took The Eradicator overloading the Fortress to restore his powers after being critically damaged for Superman to wake up. An overload that caused yet another explosion of energy and matter. Then, of course, are the oddities we began to see after his full return a few issues later fighting Bloodsport.
So many questions regarding his miraculous return, but we’ve already run over. I’ll be sure to lead off with the exact moment I believe that DC decided to indefinitely backburner their possible plot twist until they could rework the foundation of it. We’re in 1993, and things aren’t looking so good for “The House of Ideas”