That Time When Superman Was Trapped On MTV

Today, we take a look at the time Superman was trapped…on MTV in the mid-80s?!

In every installment of I Love Ya But You’re Strange I spotlight strange but ultimately endearing comic stories. Feel free to e-mail me at brianc@cbr.com if you have a suggestion for a future installment!

One of the strangest periods in the history of the Superman comic books was that period after Crisis on Infinite Earths but before the Man of Steel reboot, where the stories continued as if everything was normal, but everyone knew that obviously nothing major was going to go down when the continuity was going to be rebooted in a few months. The end result was a number of charming one-off stories, and also a number of really weird ones (but I mean that as a compliment). One of the weird ones appeared in Superman #421 (by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Dave Hunt), just two issues before Alan Moore ended the series with Superman #423 (only to be re-named adventures of superman with #424). In this issue, Superman finds himself trapped on essentially MTV but… weirder.


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SUPERMAN FINDS HIMSELF ON…MTV?!?

I have a whole column called My Name It Ain’t Nothin’, about how comic books would often feature celebrity cameos but they would have to be slightly altered so that they wouldn’t have to worry about possibly libeling someone famous or whatever, have SOME sort of negative outcome based on the celebrity not liking their appearance in the comic. However, you would often see satirical pieces that were clearly based on these celebrities, and yet, in Superman #421, Superman gets trapped in MTV and the parodies are so vague that you really can barely even tell that anything is intended as a parody.


For instance, it all starts when the people of Metropolis all see their televisions overrun by a single image, that of Superman trapped in “Imp TV.” Naturally, you would assume that this would be the work of Mister Mxyzptlk, but in reality, this time around it was Mxyzptlk’s COUSIN, Nzykmulk, who was at fault, as both Superman AND Mxy are trapped in this music television magical reality, with Mxy Seemingly appearing in the light up floor from Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” but so vaguely it is barely a reference….


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Superman and Mxy find themselves attacked by twisted New Wave punk versions of Superman’s closest friends, and I have to say, man, Lana Lang in leather forcing Mxy to eat from a dog bowl…I am sure there’s SOMEbody out there who just found their own special kink….



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But that’s the werid thing, of course, who is this even parodying? I get that it is a parody of New Wave/punk bands, but, like, WHO? Who dressed like that? It’s so oddly generic. Wouldn’t this be the PERFECT opportunity to just have Superman and Mxy attacked by slightly off brand versions of famous music videos of the era? Was it possibly a case where Bates and Swan just didn’t KNOW many good examples of notable music videos? Lana Lang transforms into a monstrous creature and the cover of the magazine tries to tie that in with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” but obviously that doesn’t work. The funny thing, of course, is that I did a “My Name It Ain’t Nothin'” specifically ABOUT a comic book ALL about the “Thriller” video that came out around the same time as this comic, but that comic, an issue of Dazzler, sure didn’t shy from the comparison like this comic book does.


Then things get really weird when Perry White shows up (by “Perry White,” I, of course, mean a magical alternate reality version of him), and he is now sort of dressed as Rambo, only his Bandolier shoots out cigars and the cigars injure Superman (since they’re magic, donchaknow)…


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This is one truly outrageous comic book!

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THE OFF-BRAND MTV REFERENCES CONTINUE, WITH SOME…TERMINATOR REFERENCES, AS WELL

Okay, Superman is out of commission for a while, but he comes to when he meets the MTV version of Lois Lane, who is kind of sort of supposed to look like Madonna, right? That’d gotta be what they were going for here, but boy, it really doesn’t follow at ALL, does it?



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I mean, don’t get me wrong, Curt Swan does a fine job with the design of this Lois Lane, but it just doesn’t look like anything from current pop culture and I’m beginning to wonder what the heck the point of this is, parody-wise.

Then Clark Kent shows up and even though they specifically say that it is a New Wave reference, he really looks more like he’s dressed as the Terminator. The pop culture references are getting all over the place here and all mixed up!

Anyhow, Superman cleverly takes advantage of the fact that, well, come on, he looks exactly like Clark Kent, as he takes out the Clark Kent figure and takes over his identity and then gets a sneak attack victory over Nzykmulk, who made his first appearance here and ironically, is VERY similar in tone to what Alan Moore would do with Mxy a couple of months later in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”


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The relationship between Superman and Mxy was interesting in this comic, as they are both in danger of losing their lives, and it causes them to connect in a way they normally don’t. I love the bit where Mxy admits that he now gets how Superman feels during their recurring battles.


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The issue ends with Clark Kent getting to be one of those people who love to tell you about how they don’t watch television. I have an aunt who once overheard me talking about a TV show with some people at a family gathering, came over to ask us what we were talking about, with me KNOWING she was going to just use it to say she doesn’t watch TV , but I figured, what the heck, so I said we were talking about a TV show and, on cue, she replied, “Oh, I don’t watch TV.” Never change, people who don’t watch TV, never change! Wait, never mind, PLEASE change!

If anyone has a suggestion for a future I Love Ya But You’re Strange, please drop me a line at brianc@cbr.om


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