The worst Superman movie is being redeemed in a new comic. 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace has long been regarded by fans and critics alike as not only the worst of the Christopher Reeve-era films, but an overall terrible movie as well. The movie was attacked on many fronts, such as its ham-fisted approach to the topic of nuclear disarmament. Superman: Space Age #1, on sale now in print and digital, shows how this material may have been handled better.
1978’s Superman, directed by Richard Donner, created the template for the modern comic book movie. The movie, which introduced the world to Christopher Reeves, also starred Marlon Brando and Margot Kidder; it was a smash hit with audiences and critics alike. Sequels followed, including a third outing starring Richard Pryor. While the films were successful at the box office, they did not play as well with critics. By the late 1980s, the franchise was on its last leg, and Reeve stepped in to direct the fourth outing. Reeves had grand ambitions for the film, but a variety of factors worked against him, and when Superman IV: The Quest for Peace debuted on July 24th, 1987, it was dead on arrival. The film, which tackled the topic of nuclear weapons and the Cold War, was panned by critics, who lambasted its overly sentimental plot; the film was also a commercial failure. Yet Superman: Space Age #1 shows fans the potential The Quest for Peace had. The issue is written by Mark Russell, illustrated by Michael “Spike” Allred, colored by Laura Allred and lettered by Dave Sharpe.
Superman: Space Age presents a new vision of the DC Universe, set against the backdrop of nuclear annihilation and the Cold War; the book is anchored by Superman, dealing with a major existential crisis. Events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis played out as they did before. As the world once again approaches the brink of destruction, Superman intervenes, silently diverting a volley of nuclear missiles to the Moon. At this point, Superman had not made his public debut, opting to work in the shadows instead; indeed, his stealth diversion of mutually assured destruction is what inspires him to eventually go public.
Superman: Space Age draws on many aspects of DC’s mythology, both in comics and media, and repurposes them, using the peak of the Cold War to explore what it means to be a hero, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace is redeemed in the first issue. That film saw Superman attempt something similar; at the request of a little child, Superman agrees to destroy the world’s nuclear weapon supply. Critics attacked the premise, calling it cheap and overly sentimental. Any approach to such material needs to be treated with care and depth and critics and fans felt this was sorely lacking from the film–and Superman: Space Age shows how it can be done, tying nuclear disarmament to Superman’s growth and development as a hero. Never once does it lean on cliches, opting for fresh takes that show the ramifications of people such as Superman on the larger world stage.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace killed the Superman movie franchise, and there would not be another film starring the Man of Steel until 2006’s Superman Returns. Indeed, The Quest for Peace was regarded as so bad that Superman Returns jettisoned it from canon, but now this maligned film’s premise is being redeemed in Superman: Space Age #1.
Superman: Space Age #1 is available now from DC Comics.