Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The World of Metropolis #3

Mr Kent Goes To Metropolis

Writer: John Byrne
Penciller: Win Mortimer
Inkers: Dick Giordano, Sal Trapani
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Assistant Editor: Renee Witterstaetter
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: John Byrne
Cover Date: October 1988
Release Date: 14/06/1988

Deep beneath the Metropolis financial district, three crooks use a stolen LexCorp laser to tunnel through the rock to a bank vault. Suddenly, the laser stops boring through the rock. The crooks turn it off and see a familiar 'S' shield in the hole they have created. Superman has been tipped off and swiftly apprehends the crooks. As he flies away, he remembers his first time living in Metropolis...

Having just arrived in Metropolis, Clark checks into a cheap hotel then takes off to do some sightseeing. Making sure that he won't be noticed, he uses his flight powers to see the city from above, but quickly notices shots being fired at policemen from a building. The gunmen have stolen a LexCorp weapon shipment, and are setting up a heavy-duty assault cannon. With everyone distracted by the gunfire, Clark is able to fly in through a window without being noticed. Manipulating his flight carefully, Clark is able to fly inside for the first time, reducing his chances of detection. He is discovered by one of the gunmen, and is forced to knock him out. However, even one of his softest punches has enough power to break the gunman's jaw, and Clark resolves to get more practice to allow him to use his power without causing unnecessary injury.

Using his x-ray vision, Clark sees that the gunmen have finished assembling the assault cannon, and are ready to fire. Clark dives out of the window and is able to catch the missile as soon as it is fired. Both the police and gunmen are confused at this, as Clark was moving at super-speed and wasn't seen by them. The gunmen fire again, and again Clark catches the missile. The police start to move in on the building, and the gunmen respond with more machine-gun fire. From the roof, Clark uses his heat vision to melt the bullets, protecting the policemen. He then throws one of the missiles at the building to flush the crooks out. Heading inside, he helps an old staircase collapse, and the gunmen literally tumble out of the building into the arms of the police.

With the situation resolved, Clark heads across town to meet with the Dean of Metropolis University, Dean Reynolds. Reynolds is happy to accept Clark into the university, until he discovers that Smallville High doesn't have the necessary accreditation. As Clark is a promising student, the Dean promises to see what he can do about the situation. Leaving the University, Clark ponders on a comment made about his accent by the Dean, and decides to see what he can do about losing it. As he wanders past a diner, he notices a 'Help Wanted' sign, and before long he has a job as a washing up boy.

After a week, Clark is promoted to short-order cook, and uses his heat vision to speed up his orders. A redheaded waitress named Ruby complements him on his speed. Ruby has a bit of a crush on Clark, and offers him a lift home. When she drops him off, she gives him a kiss on the lips, and promises more.

The next night, Clark is flying above the city when he notices a lady being chased by a car. He dives into the sewers, popping up underneath the car and disabling it by wrenching the back axle off. The car comes to a halt in a narrow alley and the crooks are unable to get out. The lady climbs over the car and gets away. As she does so, she taunts the crooks by telling them that she will be filing her story on their crime ring at the Daily Planet - the lady is Lois Lane. Clark overhears her taunt and is intrigued by the thought of working for the Daily Planet.

The incident has made Clark late for his appointment with Dean Reynolds. Despite being late, Reynolds allows him to take the tests that will allow him entrance to Met U, but his time to complete them has been shortened. By writing at super-speed, Clark is able to complete the exams in time, and is granted entrance as a student. Leaving the university, he is met by Ruby, who had followed him throughout the morning. Worried that his secret has been exposed, Clark is releaved to discover that she had lost him almost immediately, and was only at the university on a hunch that he would be there. They go for a burger, where Ruby expresses her concerns that Clark may overwork himself as a student and holding down a job. Clark reassures her that he will be fine. Over the next two years, Clark and Ruby grow close, but eventually Clark's time as a student and diner worker come to a close. He bids an emotional farewell to Ruby and the diner, and heads off into the world.

Back in the present day, Clark goes to visit Ruby and her family.

This is probably the most satisfying issue of World of Metropolis. The looser structure to the story, based around a series of events rather than one notable incident, allows the characters to come through more noticeably, and gives more of a sense of the earlier life of the spotlighted character than either of the previous issues have done. This issue is also stronger through the lack of Lex Luthor as a primary antagonist. Although his influence can be felt in the background of the issue and the city, it is more befitting that Clark Kent should not meet or even be aware of the malicious nature of Luthor at such an early stage in his career.

A lot of time is spent in this issue working with the fact that Clark is not used to using his powers in immediate or prolonged situations. He struggles to fly indoors, and breaks a mans jaw by punching him too hard. The whole sequence with the gunmen really feels like Clark is flying (no pun intended) by the seat of his pants, hurtling from one challenge to the next. He feels more comfortable with his powers in controlled situations, like super-cooking burgers or aceing college entrance exams. Although the gunmen fight sequence gives a good insight into his learning process, it would be great to revisit this era to see him become more comfortable with his powers and gradually becoming the Superman we know today.

The not-quite-an-encounter between Lois and Clark is also a nice touch, even if the inspiration for Clark wanting to work at the Daily Planet seems a little sudden and baseless. Again, this major decision in Clark's life feels like it needs more grounding, and that there is unexplored territory. One thing this scene does is confirm Lois as the binding thread between the issues of the miniseries. The one consistent character throughout all four issues is Lois, from her cameo in #1 to her full blown focus in #2, to another cameo in #3 and her supporting role in #4. This makes a lot of sense; outside of Superman she is the most important character in the Superman books. Whilst Clark has an established history in Smallville, Lois has never been given such an established younger life, and touching base with her at different points in the history of the characters spotlighted in this story grounds her nicely in the run-up to Man of Steel.

Although I'm not a fan in general of this World Of... miniseries, this issue is a great reminder of the potential of the miniseries, and of the general idea of a pre-Year One set of stories. Sadly, much like Clark's relationship with Ruby (surely doomed due to the lack of an 'LL' name), events within this issue have little to no resonance outside of its covers, a running theme for the early life of Clark Kent which, notable Superman-related moments aside, rarely get referenced beyond their original appearance. Sometimes that's a good thing, but when the story is as strong as this, it can sometimes be a shame.

Next on World of Superman: The Secret Origin of... The Signal Watch!!!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

The World of Metropolis #2

(Apologies for lateness, a busy week at work combined with the refusal of blogger to save my drafts properly have put me back a little. If the synopsis seems a little off, it's because it's my fourth or fifth attempt at getting it written.)

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Writer: John Byrne
Pencils: Win Mortimer
Inks: Dick Giordiano, Sal Trappini
Lettering: Bill Oakley
Coloring: Tom Ziuko
Assistant Editor: Renee Witterstaeter
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: John Byrne
Cover Date: September 1988
Releae Date: 17/05/1988

Lois Lane rushes into a burning building, climbing up to find Wanda. She bursts into an apartment and finds Wanda, a pet dog. She breaks the window and throws the dog out to the waiting firemen, before jumping herself. Superman catches her and uses his heat vision to destroy some falling rubble. Returned safely to the ground, Lois is reuinited with Wanda and her owner, her sister Lucy Lane. That night, Lucy stays with Lois. As they eat pizza and watch old movies, Lois is reminded of how she first went after a job at the Daily Planet...

Instead of babysitting, the 15-year old Lois Lane drags her sister along to the Daily Planet newsroom. She approaches Perry White, reminding him that they have met before, even though Perry does not remember. She attempts to impress Perry, demanding a job as a reporter, and lying about her age. Lucy blows the lie, and Perry ushers the two girls out of his newsroom, telling Lois to come back in ten years. As they leave the building, a rejected Lois overhears two reporters talking about wanting to get dirt on Luthor, and comes up with a plan.

That night, Lois sneaks out of the Lane family home, having conscripted Lucy to help cover for her. Lois makes her way off the army base and onto a bus bound for Metropolis. She emerges in the city in front of the LexCorp building. She uses a nearby statue to climb up to a low-hanging window-cleaning cradle, then uses the cradle to ascend to the penthouse level. The cradle stops a few feet away from the balcony, but one death-defying leap puts Lois on the balcony, hiding behind a plant and planning her next move. However, teh cradle swings from the momentum of the jump, crashing into the building. Lex Luthor and his companions rush onto the balcony to see what has caused the commotion.

Lois rushes in behind them and immediately starts stuffing papers from Lex's desk into her pockets. Unsurprisingly, Lex notices this, and he and his companions give chase. Lois quickly gets lost in the corridors, and finds herself confronted by Lex. Lex is surprised that the intruder is so young, and hands her over to his female security, who strip-search Lois and recover the papers. Lex beats Lois with his cane and evicts her from the building, before settling down to watch the tape of Lois' search. Out on the street, Lois coughs up a piece of paper she had swallowed to prevent it from being discovered. She returns home, and watches old movies with Lucy, eating ice-cream.

Back in the present day, Lois tells Lucy that she gave the stolen paperwork to Perry White. Although it was stolen property and it couldn't be used as the basis for a story, Perry was impressed with her initiative and kept an eye on her. Years later, when Lois started becoming a famous reporter, Lex sent her a copy of the search tape to remind her of where she came from.

This second installment of World of Metropolis stands on its own more than the first. The notion that Lois and Lex have a history that pre-dates Superman's arrival is one that is returned to time and again, even in the current Secret Origin reboot. Although the idea was pushed to the background once the regular titles got going following Man of Steel, a lot is made of the idea that Lex has an obsession with Lois, especially during Man of Steel #4. As her experience of Lex starts here with her being forcibly strip-searched and beaten with a cane, it's not surprising that Lois constantly rebuffs his advances.

If the manic-laughter-Lex of the previous issue felt out of character, then the dominating-paedophile-Lex who retires to watch a tape of the 15-year old girl being forcibly strip-searched is a particularly dark edge to the character that, thankfully, has been left behind. I'm not a fan of this element of the issue or of Lex. It's too blunt and on-the-nose, and for such a serious encounter, it shapes too little of Lois' future life. Her anti-Lex reporting always seemed to come from a place of distrust of the powerful, rather than from a prior abuse.

Random things that I like about the issue include the extended sequence of Lois gaining entry to the LexCorp building, and the fact that Lois' plan is just so bad (run in, grab some stuff, run out, hope that something stolen is worth something to Perry). A real annoyance is the way that the issue wants to have a great anti-Lex payoff, but just comes across as.. well... wrong. Lois seems to find it funny and a bit of a victory that the only way Lex can get her is to watch a video of her 15-year old self being brutally strip-searched... yeah, that works Lois, you got the irony of the situation just right. The closing page just seems to decelerate the issue to the point where it screeches to a complete stop, without providing a sense of closure to Lois' story. It feels like there's a second part out there where an adult Lois wins the day, regaining the moral high ground conceded by her when she broke into LexCorp.

Next on World of Superman: Mr Clark Goes To Metropolis!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The World of Metropolis #1

A Reporter's Story

Writer: John Byrne
Penciller: Win Mortimer
Inkers: Frank McLaughlin & Dick Giordano
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Assistant Editor: Renee Witterstaeter
Editor: Michael Carlin
Cover: John Byrne
Cover Date: August 1988
Release Date: 12/04/1988

Pictures of Superman defeating an green-skinned monster adorn the front page of the Daily Planet. Perry White congratulates Lois and Jimmy on their winning story, whilst Lois teases Clark on losing out on the Superman scoop. Dismissing the trio, Perry's attention is caught by a headline announcing the latest expansion of LexCorp, which triggers some memories...

Returning from a tour of duty in Korea, a young Perry White is disappointed that no-one greets him at the airport, and takes a taxi for one to his home. His departure is monitored by Bertram, one of Lex Luthor's goons, who reports to his boss. Overhearing the conversation, the future Alice White realises that she has been manipulated into missing Perry's homecoming. Angrily confronting Luthor, she storms out, fed up with his games involving her heart. Luthor gives secret instructions to another female employee, then laughs maniacally.

In his apartment, Perry gazes at the Metropolis skyline, focusing on the Daily Planet globe. Angry at Luthor's lack of reception for his 'number-one man', Perry is about to make a call when Alice arrives. The two embrace and spend time together. That night over, dinner, Alice tells Perry that Lex is planning to dump the Daily Planet, shutting it down for good. Angry, Perry confronts Luthor, who confirms his plans and offers White a job as the lead anchor for his brand new TV station, WLEX. Perry refuses and is ready to storm out. Lex chooses that moment to have an employee return Alice's earring that has been left in his room, revealing to Perry that the two have been having an affair.

The next day, a group of schoolchildren including a very young Lois Lane are being shown around the Planet when they overhear Perry confront the Planet's editor-in-chief over Luthor's plans. Perry refuses to let the paper die, and attempts to raise the capital needed to buy the paper outright. Most of his contacts are afraid to go head-to-head with Lex Luthor, but an Asian businessman named Ling agrees to consider the offer, if White agrees to become the Planet's editor.

At home, Alice comes clean with Perry over the affair, revealing that Luthor had led her to believe for some time that Perry was dead. Alice confirms her love for Perry, saying that for all his money, power and influence, there are things that Luthor cannot buy, including Perry and Alice. The two reconcile. The next day, Ling comes through, and the Planet's front page carries the news of its reprieve. Inside, a further headline announces the marriage of Perry and Alice, which causes Lex to laugh maniacally. Later at the Planet, Alice announces her pregnancy to Perry. As Perry and the staff celebrate, Alice gazes sorrowfully at the LexCorp Towers.

In the present day, the Lane's eat out for dinner with their son, Jerry.

Wow. This is a comic that shows its age. Perry hasn't had a private life since 2003, the last time his wife Alice appeared. His adopted son Keith hasn't appeared or been mentioned in years, and I really can't recall the last time his deceased son Jerry was ever mentioned. Much like the World of Smallville series that preceded this, the events of this issue are very tied up in the continuity of the day. In this case, we see the circumstances that led to Perry becoming Editor of tha Daily Planet and, more importantly, how Luthor came to father Alice's child and why Alice concealed this from her husband.

I like this story. We don't get to see Perry passionately fighting for a cause very much in the comics, and this is one of those times where you really see some fire in what he does (at least, beyond gently abusing Jimmy). His love the Daily Planet as an institution is clear, and is something we're only just starting to see again in the pages of Superman: Secret Origin.

The Lex Luthor seen in this story is a strange one. On the one hand, he fits in nicely with the characterisation of the early Man of Steel issues. His casual manipulation of Alice White, keeping her in the dark as to Perry's survival, is a wonderfully dark example of the power he holds over Metropolis. At the same time, his penchant for bursting into fits of manic laughter whenever doing something evil feels very out of character and far too cliched for this version of Luthor.

The revelations in this story may no longer fit in with current continuity, but the focus on Perry is something not seen in the books for some time, and re-reading this issue is a welcome return to the days when the Daily Planet was more than just a place where Superman went to work when he wasn't saving the world.

Next on World of Superman: Teen Lois in Raiders of LexCorp!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Notes on dating and ordering

Hey all, and welcome to an unscheduled stopoff on the road to Metropolis. I think it's appropriate to share some of my thoughts around why I'm looking at the issues in the order that I am.

The first two parts of World of Krypton are pretty easy to place in order. In my mind, they are the start of Superman's history. Then, the story jumps by millennia to a point much closer to modern history. In this gap fits The Kents (currently incompletely reviewed by myself), again a no-brainer. Following this comes Starman #51, where Jor-El's attention is focused to Earth. After this comes the second half of World of Kryrpton, taking place at any point between the start of the 20th century and the start of World War 2. Now, that dating is a little arbitrary, and it assumes two things:
  1. Superman/Clark Kent is approximately 30 years old at the conclusion of the Man of Steel miniseries, and ages very, very slowly from there on. This would place his arrival on Earth in the 1950s (although with the normal sliding scale of comic-book dating, it's currently mid-1970s, but at the time of Man of Steel the 1950s date would have been appropriate).
  2. The journey of the birthing matrix from Krypton to Earth is not an instant or short one. I surmise that it is not travelling faster than light, and is in fact travelling very slowly. As revealed during the Exile storyline, Kryptonians were gentically bound to their homeworld, and would die if they left Krypton. With this in mind, it is unlikely that Kryptonian scientists would have spent any time developing space travel. There have been occasions where Superman has travelled the distance between Earth and Krypton in a short space of time, and indeed, during the final battle with Superboy-Prime in Infinite Crisis #7, Krypton seems to be very close to Earth. Because Kal-El was not born in the traditional sense, and the craft in which he travelled to Earth was specifically called a birthing matrix, the journey to from Krypton could quite happily have taken years without affecting his age at all.
Once Clark is on Earth, we then run through his early life up to the end of High School, before taking a moment to catch up with the other members of his supporting cast in World of Metropolis. A lot of these early issues, as well as World of Krypton #4, use flashbacks to reveal the information. Other issues, such as Man of Steel #1, take place at mutliple points in Superman's history, making placing the exact issue tricky, as technically it should occur twice. In order to nail these down, and to avoid a dissatisfactory reaeding experience whereby part of an issue may follow weeks or months behind another part on this blog, I treat each issue as one 'moment' and place that issue based on when that 'moment' occurs.

For instance, the climax of Man of Steel #1 is the reveal of Superman for the first time. Therefore, this issue occurs in this chronology after the early exploits of Clark Kent, despite the issue featuring the destruction of Krypton, and the moment where as a teenager Clark discovers part of his heritage.

Another example is World of Krypton #4. Despite having a present-day framing sequence concurrent with teh main comics published that month, the key moment in this issue is the destruction of Krypton, hence its early appearance in the timeline.

An exception to this rule is the World of Smallville miniseries. Although the flashbacks include revelations about the relationship of Ma and Pa Kent, the framing sequences and contents of issues #3 and #4 follow and expand upon revelations made in the Millennium crossover. For me, it makes more sense to tackle this series in the wake of Millennium event, rather than insert them based on their flashbacks into their historical postion.

Next time on World of Superman: As promised, the Secret Origin of Perry White.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

DC Infinite Hallowe'en Special #1

Small Evil

Writer: Steve Seagle
Art: John Paul Leon
Color: Trish Mulville
Letterer: John J. Hill
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover: Gene Ha
Cover Date: December 2007
Release Date: 31/10/2007

This story was published as pages 45-49 of 2007's Infinite Hallowe'en Special.

Hallowe'en in Smallville, and Clark, Lana and Pete have been asked by Pa Kent to take local boy Tyler, whose truck-driving father is out of town, trick or treating with them. Entering Tyler's house, the trio find Tyler prone on the ground, with blood all around him. As Clark deduces that the blood is mouse blood, Tyler gets up, having played a Hallowe'en prank on them.

As they walk through the fields into town, Tyler winds up the friends by teasing them about a mythical beast, the Manticore. They find what appears to be a blood-stained human corpse, and again, Tyler cries out about the Manticore. Clark shoots him down, pointing out that the Manticore is a Persian myth, and that the bones have been stolen from the Biology lab at school. Tyler admits to another prank. Fed up with the lack of sense of humour, Tyler leaves to find his own fun. As Clark and his friends walk away, they hear Tyler cry out that the Manticore has him, but they ignore him, which is a shame, as Tyler has been caught and killed by the real Manticore.

Before we get into this, I would like to point out that I make no apologies for treating a 5-page mini story with the same critical eye as I would treat a full issue. Besides, it's kinda fun having a go at this story...

What we have here is a Superman-flavoured telling of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with Tyler as The Boy, the Manticore as The Wolf, and Clark, Lana and Pete as the uncaring villagers. Does anyone see the problem with this? Yeah, that's right. Clark Kent, the future Superman, doesn't care when an acquaintence of his is ripped to pieces by a monster. We're talking Clark Kent, who at this point has some of his powers, who walks away from the strange new kid who has been playing a series of bad-taste Hallowe'en pranks, without casting a glance back with his telescopic vision or super-hearing to check that the guy is actually alright. Or who we are expected to believe will notice the absence of Tyler later that night or the next day, and do nothing about it.

If you're going to retell a common folk tale/fable with characters from Superman, either have the characters match their counterparts in the fable, or twist, subvert or change the fable to match the existing characters. Don't paint Superman as the kind of person who would abandon someone he doesn't really like to a vicious and horrible death without so much as caring. It's disrespectful to the character and insulting to the reader.

The Geeky Bits:

No sales information available. The lowest entry on the Diamond 300 for October 2007 was Glister #1, from Image, with pre-orders of  2,501. This comic sold less than that.

Next on World of Superman: The secret origin of Perry White!

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Action Comics #794

Invaders From Space!

Writer: Chuck Kim
Artist: Kano
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Comicraft
Assistant Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Cover: John Paul Leon
Cover Date: October 2002
Release Date: 28/08/2002

12 years ago...

Clark sits in the Smallville movie theater watching a B-movie featuring the Justice Society fighting off an alien invasion. The rest of the movie-goers react positively towards the routing of the alien invasion, and this continues once Clark, Lana, and their friends leave the theater. Clark is concerned that he can never reveal his aliene heritage in case it causes more negative reactions and alienates his friends.

His dilemma is observed by the Quintessence, a group of powerful figures who include Zeus, Shazam, Highfather, The Phantom Stranger, and a Guardian of the Universe called Kontross. The Quintessence observes that Clark is at a crossroads, and fear that should he head down the wrong path he would end up leading an army of supermen and women against the Earth.

That night, Clark confides in his parents, and Pa tells him that he is meant for bigger things than Smallville. The next day, Clark struggles to escape a blood drive, knowing that the needle would be unable to pierce his skin. He is observed by shadowy figures who identify him as the one they want. Back at home, a note tells Clark that his parents have been taken. Pete Ross arrives to pass a letter to Lana via Clark. Clark manages to get rid of him before the shadowy figures arrive. The figures are bio-suited CIA agents who have been searching for Clark. As Clark surrenders in return for his parents' safety, Pete watches in amazement from the window - his friend Clark is an alien!

Clark is held in restraints in an underground facility. He is telepathically contacted by J'onn J'onnz, who has also been captured, and undergone forced amputation of his arms and legs. Clark is rescued by his parents and Lana, who have managed to break free and, with J'onn strapped to his back, the fiveattempt to escape, only to be stopped by Green Lantern and the Justice Society. The two groups fight, but Clark and his family are eventually subdued.

In fear and rage, Clark lashes out with all his strength, rendering the Justice Society unconscious. Pete arrives witrh a mob from Smallville, baying for Clark's blood. Lana stands up for him, but fires from the battle have spread and have trapped the Smallville townspeople. J'onn reminds Clark that humans will always want to study and dissect him, but Clark chooses to save them, in the hope that a more positive outcome can be reached.

Suddenly, Clark wakes up - his experience was a dream planted by the Quintessence who wanted to see his reactions. They are now satisfied that Clark will use his powers for good and to forge a new future for the Earth.

Oh wow, this is bad...

There's a run of Superman comics from (roughly) a few months prior to Superman: The 10c Adventure through to Superman #200 that are just really, really bad. It's the point after the Jeph Loeb Superman run and before Godfall where the comics really lost their way, with an ill-advised fake-Supergirl and the most obvious attempt to shoehorn Birthright into continuity, and creators who just didn't seem to get Superman. And this issue is one of the worst published in that short era.

What does this story achieve? Well, it shows that some very powerful people need assurance that Clark Kent won't grow up to a big bad nasty man and destroy the Earth. Except that as one of the very powerful people points out at the end, they know who he will become, when he intones with as much sombreness and authority as possible 'The Earth is in good hands. The world has its Superman'. Unless Chuck Kim is trying to convince me that the concept of Superman is a universal one, or that there is some kind of Superman Corps whose members need vetting by five very powerful people with nothing better to do with their time, then they are just pointing out how pointless the whole episode is. And lets face it, if they don't know Superman's future, then why put a representation of J'onn J'onnz into the nightmare scenario? It could be absolutely anyone, and if their fears are real and immediate, then they won't know of J'onn's importance or his future connections with Superman.

The tragedy of this issue is that there is actually a pretty decent idea for a story buried in here. The idea that Clark is afraid of his alien heritage (even if, continuity speaking, he won't discover this for years to come, having merely suspected it until Man of Steel #6), especially in terms of how his friends will come to view him, is a worthy one, and one that doesn't really get explored within the comics. It's a shame that it's coupled up with a pretty lame B-movie-inspired nightmare, capped off with an 'it was all a dream' finale.

I really dislike this book. Unlike Starman #51 and Martian Manhunter #20, it has nothing new to say about the origins of Superman and the early life of Clark Kent. The Quintessence never bother with Clark Kent again, except in the context of universe-threatening events where their attention is mainly on other things. Clark doesn't grow up to be evil and destroy the world. If this issue had never been printed, Superman's life would have turned out no different. This is an irrelevant comic seeking a misguided sense of importance and for that reason alone it should be left in a dark corner and forgotten about.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 34,854
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 57
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Transformers: Generation One #5

Next on World of Superman: Spooky tales of fright and horror... it's a pretty lame short story for Hallowe'en with Superman tacked on...

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Martian Manhunter #20

Revelations Part One: Strange Visitors

Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Tom Mandrake
Letters: Bill Oakley
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Separations: Jamison
Assistant Editor: L.A. Williams
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover: Tom Mandrake
Cover Date: July 2000
Release Date: 03/05/2000

J'onn J'onnz has become aware of a spacecraft entering Earth's atmosphere. He follows it to Kansas, and finds the craft, open and empty, with footprints leading away from it. Curious as to what was contained within, J'onn makes telepathic contact with the spacecraft's AI, and experiences the death of Krypton, before being rejected for not being Kryptonian. The sound of an approaching truck makes J'onn turn invisible, and he witnesses Pa Kent bury the spaceship. Concerned that Kent may not be in control of his actions, J'onn follows Kent home and sees him and Martha agree to adopt the baby from the spaceship. J'onn leaves, vowing to return and guard the boy, ready to act if he threatens the Earth with the same destruction that Krypton experienced.

Eight years later, J'onn returns, disguised as Joshua Johnston, a black farmhand who helps out the Kents that summer. He befriends Clark, despite accidentally calling him Kal, all the time searching Clark's mind for any trace of Kryptonian that might threaten the Earth. In town, Joshua experiences racism from several youths, and Clark rushes to his defence, despite being smaller and weaker than those he confronts. Joshua attempts to break up the fight, but the parents of the other children get involved, continuing to taunt Joshua. One of the adults strikes Clark, and Joshua retaliates. Jonathan Kent arrives and the situation is defused, even though the tensions aren't. That night, the police arrive at the Kent farm - a complaint has been filed and the sherriff feels that it would be better for Joshua to leave town. Joshua agrees to leave, which angers Clark, who vows one day to make things right.

J'onn intends to return to Smallville, to ensure that Clark's desire does not develop into vengeance, but events elsewhere leave him without his memories for several years. He is able to recover, and spends a year as a high school teacher to Clark, now in his mid-teens. J'onn observes as major events happen to Clark, culminating in the reveal of his alien heritage, and progressing to the reveal of Superman to the world.

J'onn visits the Daily Planet in disguise, looking to find Lois Lane and through her, Superman. Once inside, he encounters Clark Kent, and is confused as to why Superman would hide himself and his heritage even though he has full knowledge of it. Later on, J'onn finally confronts Superman in the image of Jor-El, commanding him to embrace his heritage and reshape the Earth in the image of Krypton. Superman refuses to do so, passionately defending the Earth and its people. Realising that his fears have been unfounded, J'onn finally reveals his true self, and his past disguise as Joshua, to Superman. The two shake hands in friendship.

A concerned J'onn J'onnz looks down at an innocent baby contained in a spaceship. A great cover that serves the themes of the issue, despite not appearing within the narrative. And a great start to a great comic. This retcon insertion of the last survivor of Mars into the early life of Superman serves to strengthen both characters. J'onn becomes more trusting of other non-humans and heroes, while the bigoted behaviour of certain inhabitants of Smallville helps instill moral values into the young Clark Kent.

The issue picks up on an element of the Superman origin story as presented in Man of Steel that tends to be passed by in the general Superman mythos, the fear of Superman, what he represents, and what he might do to the planet. J'onn feels this fear, having witnessed the destruction of his own people, and learnt of the destruction of Krypton. Although we know the ultimate fate of Clark Kent as the protector of Earth, Ostrander does a good job of conveying an unsettling alternative through the thoughts and fears of J'onn.

An interesting element of the story is the choice of disguise as Joshua Johnston. A key element of Martian Manhunter's story is centered around the fear of his appearance. The man responsible for bringing J'onn to Earth, Dr Erdel, dies of a heart attack upon seeing J'onn for the first time, and J'onn is compelled to take human identities out of fear for what may happen to him if he is discovered. To then take the identity of a black farmhand in a Kansas town where racism is not unknown is an interesting choice, possibly a cathartic one, allowing him to experience the consequences of revealing his identity and thus be better prepared for doing so in the future.

I really like the ending of the book, especially the last panel, where the themes of trust and frienship overriding fear are encapsulated in a firm, friendship-defining handshake. J'onn and Kal-El share much in common, being the last survivors of their people, and in my opinion, not enough has been done with this in the Superman titles over the years. Although sitting outside of the core Superman books, this issue is a great read for anyone interested in how Superman became acquanted with the wider DCU in his early years.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 19.636
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 129
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #382

Next on World of Superman: If MM#20 is an example of how retconning origins can be a positive and enhancing experience, then our next issue is completely the opposite. Join me in a few days for the 'experience' that is Action Comics #794.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Secret Origins #19

The Secret Origin of The Guardian and The Newsboy Legion

Writer/Adaptor: Roy Thomas
Penciller: Arvell Jones
Inker: Greg Theakston
Colorist: Julianna Ferriter
Letters: Simek & Vesik (Jean Simek and Helen Vesik)
Co-Editor: Greg Weisman
Based on the origin in Star-Spangled Comics #7, 1942, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby -- and additional material by Roy Thomas, Adrian Gonzalez, and Jerry Ordway in All-Star Squadron Annual #1, 1982.
Cover: Jack Kirby (Guardian elements)
Cover Date: October 1987
Release Date: 07/07/1987
Note: This story comprises the second half of the issue, the first half being a retelling of the origin of Uncle Sam.

January 1942. Rookie beat cop Jim Harper finishes his shift and takes his usual short-cut through an alley when he is jumped on and beaten up by a local gang. Although suffering pain from his beating, he is driven by a need to have his revenge. He enters an unlocked costume shop and constructs a costume from elements of various costumes. Spying a suit of armor, he decides that he needs more protection, and, unable to decide between two different shields, he combines the two to complete his outfit. Recognising the voice of one of the thugs, he tracks the gang to a nearby pool hall where he takes his revenge. Searching his assailants, he discovers they are holding dollar bills with the same serial numbers as from a recenty kidnapping case, and realises that he as apprehended the kidnappers. Naming himself the Guardian, he exits the hall where he is swallowed up by a giant glowing orb. The orb transports him to where the All-Star Squadron are doing battle with an energy-being. Guardian impresses Green Lantern with his skills, and is offered an invite to the All-Star Sqaudron, even though he has no intention of accepting.

The next day, five young newsboys known as the Newsboy Legion are selling papers containing coverage of the Guardian's kidnapper arrest. The Newsboys are looking to gain an edge over rival paper sellers, and rob a hardware store to support their endeavours. Escaping on roller skates, the Newsboys collide with a fruit cart, and Harper is the policeman who arrests them. At the courthouse, the judge's comments to the Legion force Harper to recall his own mispent youth. As a young boy, Harper was a petty thief who was saved from a life of poverty and crime by a kindly sports trainer named Nat Milligan who worked with Harper to increase his fitness and agility. One night, Harper ran into his old thieving partner, who was gunned down in front of him, having become involved in gangs. Harper quits sports and becomes a cop, alienating Nat. Nat also led a double life, helping train members of the All-Star Squadron, until an accident turned him into the energy-being Harper had just fought.

The judge is about to send the Newsboy Legion to an institute when Harper speaks up, offering to take custody of the five and help mould them into better citizens. Despite having decided that his role as the Guardian was a one-time only affair, he realises that his alter-ego can help keep the Newsboys on the straight and narrow. Seeking money, the Newsboys agree to attract a crowd outside a cinema. They soon discover that they are actually aiding the escape of robbers who have stolen the takings. By luck, Harper is present, and overhears the Newsboys make a reference to Frankie the Fence. Realising that they have been duped, the Newsboys confront Frankie, who pulls a gun on them. At that moment, the Guardian comes crashing through the wall and punches Frankie.

That night, Guardian and the Newsboys follow Frankie as he heads to a ship in the docks to report to his boss. Despite being told to stay out of danger, the Newsboys sneak onto the ship only to find that Guardian has been captured and is about to be shot. The five burst into the room, turning the tables and freeing the Guardian. fter a short fight, the Coastguard arrive to arrest the gangsters, having been alerted by the Newsboys who had painted the nearby lighthouse red.

The next day, Harper checks in on the Newsboys. The Newsboys notice that Harper's facial injuries match those picked up by the Guardian the night before, and deduce his secret identity, although they do not confront him about this, instead deciding to keep as close an eye on him as he keeps on them.

By this point in the 1986-1990 volume of Secret Origins readers were accustomed to a double-shot of origins, one from the 'modern-day' and the other from the Golden Age. As is explained in an editorial at the back of this issue, having two Golden Age origins in one issue came about as a result of a backlog of Golden Age origins, and a desire to ensure that all backlogged material would see publication.

This retelling of the origins of The Guardian and the Newsboy Legion is worthy, if a little clunky. First of all, the story is very close adaptation of Star-Spangled Comics #7, and it's a shame that it uses elements from the more recent All-Star Squadron Annual #1. The plot lifted from this comic is the thread where The Guardian teams up with the All-Star Squadron against the Guardian's former trainer, and it is paid little more than lip-service, taking four panels at the end of the Guardian's first appearance, and a page of reminiscing during the courtroom scene. If the story in this issue had been afforded more pages, then maybe this element of the story, and its influence on The Guardian's decision to look after the Newsboy Legion, could have taken more of a center stage instead of feeling rushed and out of place amongst the more down-to-earth elements of the story.

In general I am not a fan of this issue. This is mainly because to me a good origin story should influence the characters throughout their existence. Spider-Man is forever defined by his failure to capture the burglar, the murder of the Wayne's is the one crime Batman can never stop. Here, a two-bit gangster is put behind bars and that's pretty much it. Beyond the spangly costume and the gang of kids, the plot is thin, and more could have been made of the interaction between Jim Harper and the Newsboys, or the reasons why Jim Harper was targeted for assault at the start.

Another unfortunate reason that influences my negative reaction to this issue is how the concepts of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion were later adapted and reborn with the re-introduction of Cadmus in Superman Annual #2. With the Annual arriving in stores 10 months after this issue of Secret Origins, it is unclear as to wether or not the revival of the 1970s version of these characters had been planned or not, but the prominence they took in the Superman titles between August 1988 and the end of the 1990s overshadows their Golden Age origins. The Cadmus incarnations are certainly the version I 'grew up' with and am most familiar with, and knowing how these characters would be used in the future makes me feel like the origin here just isn't as important. It's also hard to see, in this age of reprints, collected editions, pirated torrents, and wikipedia, how this material would justify reprinting today. The core concept is that Jim Harper is a cop who takes on a masked identity to further fight crime, and becomes the Guardian to a rowdy group of orphans; everything else is just window dressing.

To summarise, this issue, both in terms of plot and purpose, feels outdated to this reader, who is more familiar with Kirby's update of his own characters and the adaptations used in Superman for the majority of the 1990s.

Next on World of Superman: J'onn J'onnz, fearing for the future of Earth, takes it upon himself to monitor the growth of a young alien raised as a human in Kansas. Could it be...?