“Superman In Hell”
“What might have been.”
By, J. Ryan Buck (Lostscribe@Gmail.com)
Summer of 1986
DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was a smash success with comic fans and for the first time ever there was electricity in the air with the thought of what might come next for DC.
The British invasion of comic books was in full bloom as those crazy creators from across the pond had brought there outside the box ideas over and injected them into the American characters that had become more than a little stale from the 50 plus years since they had been created. One night at the San Diego comic Con this summer several individuals gathered for Dinner. One was Jenette Kahn, President of DC comics; another was Klaus Janson, an artist who had drawn several characters, most recently that summer a story in Detective comics, with Green Arrow, that was written by Alan Moore. His other more prominent work was as inker with Frank Miller on Daredevil. Joining them at dinner were three others, two rock stars of comics and one at this point unknown. Frank Miller had brought Daredevil from C-list hero to “must read” comic with his run; he also was working on something coming out at the end of the year called The Return of the Dark Knight or something like that. With them at dinner was Alan Moore. Alan was having a successful run on his comic Swamp Thing and he was also about to see his story with what was supposed to be the Charlton characters called Watchmen come out in a couple months. With them was one of Alan Moore’s friends and another British creator trying to break into American comics named Neil Gaiman.
The conversation was abuzz with the excitement of DC comics, an excitement that had not been present for a long time with the company. The talk turned to the plans of Superman where Jenette Kahn was tight lipped about the legendary John Byrnes plans with the character’s revamp. Miller mentioned he had a proposal that did not go anywhere with all three of the DC “big guns named Metroplis. Alan Moore pointed out that he had written the Superman story that would end the previous comics before the revamp.
It was at this time all of the guests at the table began giving their ideas for the ultimate Superman story. The ideas flew fast from everyone except Gaiman who did not even have his series Black Orchid published yet and held back.
Eventually everyone grew silent as the two rock stars Miller and Moore dropped ideas like poker players slapping cards on the table, until Alan Moore laid out the royal straight flush of ideas, “Superman in Hell!” to which all fell silent at the table while Neil took mental notes.
Fast forward to 1988 and Neil Gaiman is getting a call from Mark Waid, a young staff editor for DC comics, explaining that they need a final story for Action Comics Weekly. Waid even offered Gaiman the chance to use Gaiman’s favorite character, Hal Jordan, and Neil accepted. Neil was excited to get his first offer to not only write one of the major DC characters but his favorite character, Green Lantern! Neil had often daydreamed how he would fix the mess that was the Green Lantern universe at the time, and maybe… just maybe a good story here could land him that gig! Neil’s thoughts drifted back to that dinner and he knew exactly what he would write. After a quick call to Alan Moore to go along with the story that had hatched from the masters brain, he was all systems go to get his foot in the door of DC comics!
Legend of the Green Flame
(W) Neal Gaiman, (A) Michael Allred, Terry Austin, Mark Buckingham, John Totleben, Matt Wagner, Eric Shanower, Arthur Adams, Jim Aparo, Kevin Nowlan, Jason Little
Two members of the Blackhawk squadron are exploring ruins in Berlin Germany looking for a Nazi secret weapon.
While looking they find bodies of a man in a gas mask which is not totally unusual but they also find feathers lying around, which is very unusual. Another strange outfit even has an hour glass attached to it. (No one knows who these obvious references to the Justice Society are? Some with more time on their hands then I have, have said it’s the Justice Society from an alternate reality that appears in “The Last Days of the Justice Society Special #1.)
The Blackhawks find a Green Lantern Battery in the wreckage as the possible weapon they heard rumors about and take it with them for further study.
In the present, Clark Kent can sense his friend Hal Jordan coming from his heartbeat as he exits the elevator into the newsroom. As the two meet, Hal asks if Clark has some time to talk about some stuff.
Clark agrees and states that they can go back to his place because he can grill a mean burger. (Superman became a vegetarian in the 2000’s because why not, he doesn’t need to eat! I’ll tell you why not, because meat tastes good!) On the way out the door Lois stops the duo and asks Clark if he can do a feature for her, at a museum in the evening. Clark is at first resistant, but in the end he agrees, because it’s Lois.
The two travel through the park at night as Hal talks about how the Guardians have left and the master power battery was destroyed. Now there are still Green Lanterns, but they aren’t a collective force any longer. All the G.L.’s are just kind of doing their own thing and Hal is not sure how to handle not having this huge interstellar backup that he has always had. Hal Jordan feels alone.
As Hall continues his diatribe, Clark mentions in a very matter of fact calm way, that they are being mugged. The gang demands their wallets as Hal and Clark offer up the chance to take care of the gang to each other, “It’s your city.” “No, I insist.” They eventually decide to make a team effort of it. Clark whirlwinds them into a green cage that Hal makes to put them in. Next to the cage he leaves a flashing neon sign that says, “Stop police, muggers here!”
At the Museum the theme for the night is mysterious objects and artifacts. Wine is offered to all guests and of course Clark asks if they have any orange juice? Hal chats up and strikes out with a Selina Kyle who was at the Museum to see an item called the Pearl that mysteriously vanished before it arrived. Clark uses his press pass and he and Hal walk to the exhibit to see the items before the general public. Hal rhetorically asks, “I wonder how many people are out there?” to which Clark replies, “eight hundred and thirty two including museum staff.” As they walk this wing of the museum they find a Green Lantern battery. Hal asks Clark to use his super-vision to see if he can figure out what it is. Clark does and nearly passes out, as he explains to Hal that it is like looking into forever. Hal points out that the battery looks like Alan Scott’s but that he has his battery and this one was found in 1949 and has not been used since. Hal decides it’s time to act without thinking and turning into Green Lantern he sets about doing his oath and charging his ring back up with this strange battery.
As he finishes his oath, green energy feedback's upon them and on the next page they are face down in a grey ghostly realm.
The Deadman(Boston Brand) appears and the heroes are full of questions, chief among them, where they are and what happened? Boston lets them know that he could tell them, but they are not going to like the answer. Their dead!
Deadman lets them know that it’s only official when they walk into the light and he doesn’t know where they go from there as he has never stepped into the light. Clark and Hal aren’t ready to give up yet and Hal says he will just command his ring to take them both back to their bodies because it can’t get worse than this. Boston says those are famous last words, much like his own, “Gee from up here it almost looks like that guy with the Hook’s got a Rifle!” (Deadman is a lame character with most writers writing him, but Gaiman works him like a master puppeteer.) GL uses his ring and a green flash explodes from it.
Elsewhere, the Phantom Stranger senses a shift in the way things should be and leaves his place of solitude.
Tears cannot blur Superman’s vision. He hears a woman cry that what she did was not a sin because she loved him, then her throat is cut and she continues to scream her blood bubbling the sound of her voice. Her throat heals itself and it all happens over again. Superman smells skin burning, crisping and the scent of blood and urine all around. His eyes can see people being drowned in ice and fire and totally eviscerated only for it to happen again and again. There are millions of millions of millions of victims, so many that even he cannot count them all! All around him the realm stretches forever, and Superman cries. Hal is holding on to Superman and freaking out as Superman is nearly catatonic and floating above the burning brimstone.
A demon the shape of a giant slobbering Hawk approaches and tells them that they are in the pit stygian at the end of all hope. Hal mentions that he doesn’t believe in Hell, to which the demon simply instructs him to click his ruby slipper so he can go home then. The Hawks fellow demons travel in a floating boat as they all argue over the eyes and the fingers of the two heroes, fighting the whole way. Superman is still out of it as he is horrified by the fact that he cannot help them and that even if he could, he could not help all of them. Hal Jordan cries for Clark to snap out of it and help him because he is afraid to use the ring again at this point. Clark simply hears GL’s cries as yet another in the infinite amount of others crying for him. The demon bird bites into Superman’s calf which causes him to scream out and Hal to let go and fall to the pits below. Hal commands his ring to get them out of there, as he has run out of options and just as he finishes the order, the boat of demons throws a grappling hook through his torso, nearly tearing him apart, and the heroes vanish.
The Phantom Stranger arrives at the museum and he passes everyone, entering the wing where the power battery is.
Superman and Green Lantern are on the ground as a green flame repairs their bodies. Hal helps Clark up and Clark mentions that the worst part of Hell is that those people were creating it themselves, he could not help them, and only they could help themselves as they were the source of the punishment. Clark asks where they are now, to which Hal says, he doesn't care anymore.
A giant green flame begins to speak and explain that the Guardians of OA created the lanterns with science and magic, but they found the magic to be too wild and so they banished it. The Green Flame is the magic that was banished taking a sentient form. The Flame then orders Hal to drop his OAN power ring and take a new one with magic as its power source and then become a servant of the Flame! It’s then that the Phantom Stranger shows up and tells Hal that the Power Battery he used has tainted his ring with wild magic and that is why it is sending him to all these crazy realms.
He explains to Hal that eventually the magic power could be controlled and used but that he was not ready for it yet. Hal uses Alan Scott’s Oath to dispel the magic from the ring as Alan was the only one who could control the green flame.
(It’s neat to see the direction Gaiman was taking the Green Lanterns had he continued to reboot the franchise. This was definitely a precursor to Green Lantern becoming a magic based hero, instead of a science based one.) The Stranger takes the battery away until it is ready to be used, and Jordan commands his ring to return him to their bodies once more.
Back in the real world and in their bodies, Hal asks Clark if it all really happened, to which Clark replies solemnly that it did. Hal wonders what Clark saw in Hell, but then decides that it is better if he does not know.
Later on Superman is asking Hal about his problems again to which Hal replies that his perspective has definitely changed. There is a whole universe of things out there and he is far from alone. (This is again, another reference to the fact that this was leading to a Gaiman Reboot of the GL comic.)
So now the script is written and Mark Waid loves it! The only problem is that Superman was rebooted and now Clark and Hal no longer know each other outside of their superhero identities. The powers that be at DC tried desperately to save the story, but Neil had just gotten his first taste of editorial interference and he did not like it. He was not about to rewrite a story he had worked so hard on and poured himself into. DC would not budge and neither would Gaiman, so the story died right there. Gaiman would then move on to write characters that no one cared about or were forgotten and realized how rewarding it was to build his own universe to do with the characters as he wished.
In 2000 the whole story was reprinted in a prestige format issue as an Elseworlds style tale much to the delight of this fan writing this post right here. (My favorite writer writing one of my favorite top three characters!) This story is not only a decent fast read; it also represents what could have been. Neal Gaiman has even said that this story is from an alternate dimension where he went on to write all of DC’s big guns and reboot Green Lantern making the characters universe his own.
(If you’re wondering I culled the dinner scene and the various happenings surrounding the comic script from both the Legend of The Green Flame comic and the TPB DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore, as well as scouring of the interwebs.)
Previous installments here http://lostscribe0.blogspot.com/
Also I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, and to Scott and the other Canadians, just a really good day, since your Thanksgiving was like what a month ago? You guys are silly.