In the immediate aftermath of The Crisis on Infinite Earths, young up-and-coming writer/artist Dan Jurgens launched a book that’s become an increasingly rare breed since: he introduced a new character, never featured or mentioned in any previous continuity book, who fit right into the DC superhero universe.
The result was Booster Gold, introduced as America’s first "corporate superhero." He was one of the good guys, and couldn’t be bought—but he certainly didn’t object if people wanted to pay for the stuff he was already doing. The character, of course, was prominently featured in the Giffen-DeMatteis "International" era of the Justice League, and though his personality has changed a number of times over the years, his first appearance in 52 #1 this week harkens back to his early appearances in Booster Gold, which ran for 2 years in the mid-80s.
One of the most interesting aspects of examining Booster Gold closely, is getting to see Superman, who guest-stars in issues 6 and 7, drawn by Dan Jurgens for what may have been the first time. Five years later, Jurgens would forever cement his role in comics history by being the main writer/artist behind the Doomsday!: The Death of Superman storyline and its follow-ups. He also became the creative face of DC for a few years, spearheading projects like the Tangent Comics fifth-week event in 1997 that reinvisioned the entire DC Universe, keeping nothing except the character names the same, and of course writing and drawing 1994’s Zero Hour: A Crisis in Time, which attempted to "clean up" some of the continuity mess left after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Seeing the "early" Jurgens Superman was a little jarring—his Superman is iconic and definitive to many readers of my generation, and the difficulty he seemed to have in presenting the Man of Steel (it seemed as though, rather than drawing him as a real person, Jurgens was trying to depict Superman the way that Curt Swan might have drawn him around that time). By the time Superman appears again in issue 22 (separating a sparring pair of Boosters—something that a lot of Internet pundits are guessing might be an issue during 52), he looks substantially different. John Byrne’s Man of Steel had taken place in the interim, and the post-Byrne interpretation of Jurgens’ Superman feels much more like "home."
Booster Gold was a very interesting book—influenced by the unusual titles that were making waves at the time (ads inside the issues advertised Watchmen, Dark Knight, the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League and Batman: Year One), Jurgens tried to craft a character more fully realized than many of the black-and-white, good-and-evil superheroes who dominated the Silver Age. The fact that Booster still exists and is used regularly while other characters introduced at the time (Wild Dog, anyone?) vanished into obscurity is a testament to the fact that, despite its relatively short life, this title managed to do something right. Booster, though greedy and self-absorbed, was also introspective and constantly working to learn his place in the universe. Each event that took place in the series moved him one step closer to being the hero that he could be—culminating with a final tragedy in issue 20 that would haunt Booster’s (non-bwah-ha-hah) appearances in other books for years to come.
One of the weaknesses that Jurgens displayed on Superman—his inability to create particularly interesting villains—was fully evident here, as well, and that’s certainly a weak point in the series. Still, Booster and his supporting characters—who went through the trials of fame, the abuse of endorsees and finally a giant corporate swindle that left the hero bankrupt at the end of the series—were enough to carry the book, even when losers like Blackguard (last seen in I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League, as Guy Gardner’s co-owner of The Dark Side bar) were the headlining foes.
Even after the series’ cancellation after 25 issues, Jurgens still managed to keep Booster a vital force in the gritty world of the late ‘90s DCU. During the Doomsday storyline, Booster’s best friend in this century—Blue Beetle—was gravely injured and Booster’s powers were taken away. Even while he was no longer a productive member of the Justice League, Jurgens had him guest-starring there and in Superman fairly regularly (I remember thinking as a young man that Booster got way more play than some "cooler" characters, and wondering why). His characterization, though, has been all over the map, owing to the fact that Jurgens always wanted to tackle serious issues with the character while Giffen and DeMatteis—who used him mostly as a comic foil for Blue Beetle—are widely acknowledged as doing as much or more than the character’s actual creator in defining how he’s viewed by the readers.
With his role in 52 still very much up in the air and the possibility that he may be the next to fall prey to what seems to be the Justice League International Curse (which has so far claimed the lives and/or characters of Ice, Ralph & Sue Dibny, Max Lord and Blue Beetle), this quaint and fun superhero romp is a great thing to look back on—to see a time when, even though he was adding new layers of complexity to the superhero genre, things were somehow much simpler for Booster Gold.