Thursday, 22 April 2010

Superman Annual #7

Year One: Strange Visitor

Writer: Roger Stern
Penciller: Chris Gossett
Inkers: James Dean Pascoe & Stan Woch
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor Supreme: Mike Carlin
Cover: Walt Simonson
Cover Date: Annual 1995

As the planet Krypton enters its death throes, it is observed by a group called the The Seven. They see the birthing matrix escape, and deduce that it will reach Earth, although they are forced to stop monitoring when the matrix enters hyperspace and passes from their view.

Forty years later, and the sight of Superman in Metropolis is still an unexpected event. Superman apprehends several members of a drug ring, overheating their guns and causing a blowout with his heat vision. As he flies away, he is unaware of Doctor Occult attempting to get his attention. Superman returns to the Daily Planet and changes to Clark Kent. Inside the newsroom, Lois is still giving him the cold shoulder, having not forgiven him for his scooping her story, even though it was over four months ago. As Clark ponders their relationship, he hears an event in the distance, and races off. As he heads into the stairwell to change, he passes Doctor Occult, coming out of the elevator. Again, he is unaware of the man trying to track him down.

 Just love this panel, completely sums up Clark and Lois' relationship for the next few years!

Superman sees a penthouse on fire. He enters, to find a scantily clad lady needing rescue. As he gather her in his arms, he moves in for a kiss. Suddenly, Doctor Occult appears, commanding him to stop. Superman is confused, especially when the flames melt away to nothingness. Doctor Occult brandishes the Symbol of Seven, forcing the lady to revert to her true form as a tentacled demon. The demon attempts to devour Superman, constructing a barrier to prevent Doctor Occult from assisting. Despite getting a major beating from the demon's magical attacks, Superman is able to blast it with his heat vision, melting the demon. He collapses in Doctor Occult's arms.

Superman comes round in Doctor Occult's office, and the Doctor explains who he is, and that he is aware of Superman's identity. Doctor Occult is a long-lived magical defender. Back in WWII, his partner, Rose Psychic, was kidnapped by the Cult of Thahn. Using her powers, Rose directed Occult to her location, and the two attempted to disrupt the summoning of Thahn. Although the demon never fully materialised on Earth, it was able to fatally wound Rose. Despite assistance from The Seven, Occult knew that he would never hold his partner again. Doctor Occult needs Superman's help against Thahn; The Seven believe that Superman is the key to his defeat, and that his arrival on Earth has forced Thahn to speed up his plans.

Suddenly, Occult's office comes under attack from a rock demon, a pawn of Thahn. Occult telepathically directs Superman as to the demon's weakness, and Superman shatters it with one blow. With the office destroyed, Superman and Occult are cast adrift in a mystic dimension with no up or down. They come under attack from more demons, but Occult is able to create a doorway back to Metropolis, and Superman escapes through it.

In Metropolis, Superman is greeted by Rose Psychic, who leads him to the site of Thahn's last summonning. Again, they come under attack, but Superman quickly realises that these demons are actually corrupted humans, missing homeless people from the area. Superman is overpowered, and is taken to be the sacrifice that will summon Thahn. Rose is captured, but suddenly is replaced by Doctor Occult, confusing the demons. Occult dispatches the demons, and encourages Superman to fight against Thahn's magic. Superman is able to break free, and, by forcing Thahn's magic against the demon, is able to banish Thahn for good. The demons return to human form.
Superman doesn't break. Wow.

Superman demands answers to his questions, including what happened to Rose, and how Occult knew his name. Occult instead fades away, leaving Superman none the wiser. Superman instead helps the ex-demons until the paramedics arrive. Reporting to The Seven, Doctor Occult tells them that Superman is still young, but that he has learned a valubale lesson, that there are forces far beyond his control and comprehension in the world.

So, it's time to lay my cards on the table. I am not a fan of magic in the Superman comics. I understand its function as a force that Superman has no resistance to. I enjoy certain magic wielders, such as the Phantom Stranger, and especially Zatanna. But if you gave me a choice of villains, one magic-based and one non-magic based, then the magic gets shown the door every time.

A big part of it is that Superman's weakness to magic is so complete and total that he ceases to be anything special when confronted by magic. He is brought down to a very human level, and often has to rely on someone else's powers of expertise to save the day. The exception to this is when Mr Mxyptlk appears, as this normally leads to a story where Superman has outhink, outwit, or play by a different set of logic to win the day. Mxy might be one of the most prolific magic-spammers Superman has ever faced, but Mxy plays by his own set of rules, and it's up to Superman to defeat him within those rules.

So, we come to this annual. And unfortunately, this annual is the type of magic story that just doesn't do it for me in the DCU. It features a magic user who at best could be described as D-list, Doctor Occult. The magic user has a loosely defined set of powers, and not one, but two silly gimmicks - the Symbol of Seven, a 'magic multi-faceted disc' that looks like one of those hypno-discs you would see advertised in the 1960s, a circle of cardboard with swhirls all over it, and the weird body-swap thing with Rose Psychic. Having said that, it is appropriate that Superman's first encounter with magic should be in the company of Doctor Occult, who was created by Siegel and Shuster three years before they would create Superman. As Superman is the first DC super-hero, Occult is the first DC magic hero, and is also the oldest (in terms of character creation) character used by DC in their current continuity.
The 'offending' Symbol of Seven.

As for Superman, he doesn't know what hell is going on, how to fight it, and has to have everything explained to him. Oh, and despite his well-known vulnerability to magic, he can somehow resist huge demonic mystical forces with only a little encouragement from a guy he doesn't really like to break free from Thahn.


There are some nice Year One touches in here. As is commented on at the end, Superman is very young, only four months into his career, and certainly impetuous. There's a moment at the start of the issue where he chides himself for showing off and missing a bullet that could have killed a bystander. Superman's reaction to several occasions where Doctor Occult either tells him to do something or refuses to explain something is one of anger, fuelled by his lack of comprehension of events. You get the feeling that once he gets back to his apartment after ensuring the homeless people are OK, he is going to sit down with a large hot drink and think things over a lot.

There's nothing special about this annual. It looks good, reads well, but ultimately it doesn't provide very much insight into the early days of Superman. After the great interweaving of The Man of Steel #2 and more current Superman elements in the Adventures annual, this feels like a let-down.

Next of World of Superman: Superman in space for the very first time.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Adventures of Superman Annual #7

Year One: Truth And Justice

Writer: Karl Kesel
Penciller: Ron Wagner
Inker: Josef Rubinstein
Colorist: Linda Medley
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Assistant (Editor): Chris Duffy
Top Cop (Editor): Mike Carlin
Cover: Walt Simonson
Cover Date: Annual 1995
Release Date: 11/07/1995

New Gods and Kalibak created by Jack Kirby
Much owed to the work of John Byrne

Superman takes down the hostage takes from The Man of Steel #2. As he leaves the bank to tell the SWAT team that the danger is over, Captain Reagan, the SWAT commander, berates him for putting himself in a position where he could have been killed. Superman listens patiently, and tells Reagan that he wants to be an aid to the police. Reagan is about to give him another mouthful when Superman hears a gunfight across town and flies away. Lois Lane runs up, but is told by Reagan that she just missed Superman.

Lois continues to miss Superman, whose exploits provide headlines for all of Metropolis' papers. A few days later, Reagan and Dan Turpin argue about Superman. Their argument is interrupted by Star City Police Officer Maggie Sawyer, in town on a holiday, and eager to learn more about Superman. Reagan introduces himself as a friend of her husband, James Sawyer, but is given the cold shoulder. They discuss Superman, with Reagan taking a reactionary view, which is brushed off by Sawyer and Turpin.

Superman introduces himself to Inspector Henderson at a murder scene, where a mob informant and his police guard were gunned down. Superman uses his powers to provide an initial forensic examination of the crime scene. Seeing blood that doesn't match the victims, he tells Henderson that the shooter is wounded, then takes off, following a lead. The shooter has stolen a taxi, which is careering down the street. Superman appears in the back seat, but the shooter refuses to give up, dropping a primed grenade and bailing from the cab. Superman rises unharmed from the flaming wreckage, and intimidates the shooter into giving up. As the shooter is led away, Toby Raines, a reporter from the Daily Star, tries to corner him for an interview. Despite mistaking her for Lois, Superman refuses an interview. Henderson confides in Superman; with Superman eradicating standard crime, the police are concerned about what will come next.

Ugly Manheim, Boss Moxie's son, makes a power play for control of Intergang. To provide a show of force, he opens a boom tube, and Kalibak appears at the crime conference. The crime lords open fire, but Kalibak shrugs off the bullets and starts attacking, stopping only when Manheim reminds him of their deal. With Kalibak as a force to take on Superman, Manheim takes control of the syndicate.

The next day, Clark Kent books an appointment with Perry White for two days time. As he hangs up the phone, the lobby of his hotel is invaded by Intergang, who attempt to rob the entire hotel. Clark uses his heat vision to trigger the fire alarms, but in the chaos, Maggie Sawyer is taken hostage. The police gather outside, but Apokoliptian weaponry keeps them pinned down. Turpin and Reagan attempt a rooftop assault, but this falls apart when Kalibak ambushes them, knocking Reagan out. Thinking that the noise is Superman arriving causes Intergang to gloat, affording Clark an opportunity to slip away and get into costume. Superman goes for Manheim, but the alien weapons force him back. Intergang threatens the hostages, but Maggie manages to get hold of one of the weapons, and a standoff develops. Manheim attacks Superman with a weapon that bathes him in the fires of Apokolips. Superman is forced to fly for help, getting a fire truck to put him out, allowing Intergang the opportunity to escape.

On the roof, Kalibak knocks Regan out, and attacks Turpin. Turpin is able to get his hands on one of the alien weapons, and unloads it into Kalibak. Enraged by the attack, Kalibak lunges forward. Turpin pulls the pin from a grenade and shoves it down Kalibak's throat. The explosion causes Kalibak to fall from the roof. Down below, Superman has recovered and manages to round up Intergang, disarming them in seconds. Manheim lunges at the prone form of Kalibak, opening a Boom Tube. In the aftermath, Turpin is taken to hospital, and Toby Raines offers to interview Maggie Sawyer about the the events. Lois Lane arrives, having once again missed Superman.

Two days later, as Superman patrols the city, wondering if Intergang's defeat has sent a message to the underworld, he notices a car in the water. He rescues the car and its driver, Lois Lane, and agrees to an interview. When Lois goes to file her exclusive, she finds that she has been scooped by the Daily Planet's newest reporter, Clark Kent.

Reagan and Henderson visit the recuperating Turpin. As they discuss Kent's article, Superman arrives to settle things with the police. Henderson officially welcomes him to Metropolis. Reagan is not happy and leaves. Superman gives Turpin his best wishes and also leaves. Henderson asks Turpin to head up a newly formed Special Crimes Unit. Turpin declines, but nominates Maggie Swayer for the position.

The first of the 1995 Year One annuals that we have come to is also the strongest. Kesel writes with a respect and reverence for The Man of Steel #2, whilst working backwards to incorporate familiar elements of the then-current Metropolis into Byrne's story. There are times when reading this issue is like experiencing the Byrne plot from a different camera angle, and the subtle shifts in emphasis work well. The opening re-telling of the Superman/bank robber encounter works well here, with Superman's powers coming across more forcefully, here setting the machine guns on fire rather than just heating them up. The pages I've used to illustrate this post are another great example of how the annual builds on what came before, here adding headlines to heighten Lois' frustration at not getting the Superman scoop.

This is very much a 'how the gang got together' kind of tale, bringing together the elements of the Metropolis SCU that would function as part of  Superman's supporting cast until the early 2000, namely Dan 'Terrible' Turpin, Maggie Sawyer, and Inspector Henderson. All throughout the issue, the characters drift towards their modern status, with the formation of the SCU looming at the issue's end, and the first meeting for future lovers Maggie Sawyer and Toby Raines.

Wagner provides pencils that invoke the stronger side of Jon Bogdanovich (check out the opening page of the annual). He creates a look for the comic that remains respectful to the 1980s fashions, of which Lois was a follower/victim, depending on your preference, whilst feeling very much modern (well, at least for 1995).

Perhaps the only bit of the issue that feels wrong is the Intergang/Apokolips plotline. Although it's nicely handled (just love Superman's confusion at his first encounter with a boom tube), having Dan Turpin go up against the son of Darkseid and come out on top just stretches credulity a little too much. Admittedly there isn't a rogue's gallery for Superman at this point in his history, but going from goons with guns to the son of the most evil entity in the universe is a tremendous step, even for Superman. That said, it certainly does fit in with Henderson's fears of escalation, a neat moment that is echoed by Commissioner Gordon at the end of Batman Begins.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 74,470
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 32
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Spawn #34

Next of World of Superman: It's Superman vs big nasty magic things for the first time ever!

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Man of Steel #2

The Story Of The Century

Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover: John Byrne
Cover Date: October 1986
Release Date: 24/07/1986

As Lois Lane and Perry White have coffee, Superman flies past the window. Since saving the space-plane, he has acquired a costume, and this is the first time he has been seen in public since the save. Perry sends Lois after Superman; this is her next big story. As Lois heads across the street, a limousine pulls up, and the driver tells her that Mr Luthor will see her. Even though Lex is due to leave for South America that evening for over a year, Lois refuses to get in, and runs off to chase the story. Unfortunately, the distraction has meant that she has lost her quarry. Undeterred, she calls her friend Chuck and calls in a favour.

Ten minutes later, and Lois is in the skies aboard a LexCorp chopper, looking for Superman. Chuck tells her that they won't be able to see him as he is more than likely flying close to ground level amongst the skyscrapers of Metropolis. Lois tunes into the police radio, eager for a tip-off.

Meanwhile, a punkish-looking girl with a large beatbox becomes the victim of a purse-snatch. The thief runs off, but runs into Superman. Turning around, he finds that Superman is now behind him. Realising that he has met his match, he surrenders the bag. Superman returns the bag to the owner, and deposits the thief into a garbage can for the police to collect. The boombox has details of a hostage situation in progress, and Superman flies off, pausing only to suggest that the girl turns her radio down.

The SWAT team and the hostage takers are in a stand-off. Despite not recognising Superman, the SWAT commander agrees to let him attempt to resolve the situation, pulling his men back at Superman's suggestion to avoid ricochets. Superman walks slowly and calmly towards one of the gunmen, pinching shut the barrel of his gun with no effort. The other crooks open fire, but the bullets bounce harmlessly off Superman's chest. Next, Superman uses his heat-vision to heat up the guns until they are too hot to hold. Finally, he renders the gunmen unconscious, and disarms the dynamite strapped to one of their chests. He makes a swift exit.

Lois has heard about the hostage situation, but has arrived too late. Chuck lets her jump off onto the roof, and she makes her way down to the street. She is miffed that she has missed Superman. Her efforts over the next few days yield no results, as she is constantly behind Superman, arriving only to see the aftermath of his presence. At the Daily Planet offices, she vents her frustrations at being unable to report on the very man she has named. A casual remark from Jimmy Olsen gives her the inspiration she needs to track down Superman...

As Superman patrols the city, he notices a sinking car, and recognises the occupant - Lois Lane. He flies down and rescues her car from the docks, just before she runs out of air, and returns her to her apartment. Stunned by what has happened, Lois is about to let Superman go when she comes to her senses, yelling at him to come back. Later on, having dried up and got changed, Lois interviews Superman. He playfully resists her questions, but agrees that the name 'Superman' is a good fit. As she presses for more details, Superman decides that it is time to leave. Just before he exits through the window, he asks her if she always carries an aqualung with her. She realises that he knew all about her plan and was just playing along. Superman flies to the roof of the Daily Planet, musing over Lois' ingenuity, and wondering if he could have noticed the aqualung before rescuing her. He changes to Clark Kent, and goes to meet his appointment with Perry White.

Two hours later, Lois rushes into the Daily Planet newsroom, clutching her exclusive write-up on Superman. The wind is completely taken out of her sails when Perry shows her the latest edition, which already has the story. He then introduces her to the author, the newest Daily Planet reporter - Clark Kent!

Good gravy, I love this issue!

This is quite possibly the first Superman story I ever read. I didn't realise this until long after I had become an avid Superman fan. At my primary school, the library had a treasury of all different kinds of comics in one hardcover. Everything from newspaper cartoon strips, to excerpts from Tintin. There were also American comic-books, including an Incredible Hulk story and, as I found out years later, this issue of The Man of Steel. I would have read this at about the same time that the Lois and Clark series made its way to the UK, maybe slightly before, and the similarities between the Superman I had read in the comics and the Superman I was seeing on TV pretty much set me up to be a fan of this incarnation of Superman. Years later, when I finally resolved to track down The Man of Steel and read it, I was hit by a strange sense of familiarity, especially with the scene involving the hostage takers, and I realised that long before I had heard of the 1986 reboot, I had read a key part of it.

This is the Lois Lane issue. I don't think any other issue brings her to the heights of character that she hits here. A large part of that is that this is one of a handful of issues that deals with Lois as a reporter in her own right, not as Superman's girlfriend/fiance/wife. At this point, the only connection Lois has with Superman is that she gave him a name. She isn't a closely connected, both in private and in the eyes of the public, with Superman as she would later become, and it's great to see her in her element without her association with Superman.

The displays of Superman's powers and abilities in this issue are just great. The sequence with the mugger running into Superman in two different directions is strengthened by Byrne's decision to not show Superman's face until the mugger gives up; until then, all we see is what the mugger sees - a huge wall-like chest.

More exciting is the sequence with the hostage takers. Superman is clearly in control, not afraid to use a criminal's fear of him to his own ends. It is Superman's confidence that allows him to walk directly up to the gunman with the hostage and disarm him at close range. It is unlikely that Superman would have been able to use this tactic later on in his career, when his appearance is something to be anticipated, rather than an extraordinary occurence.

One of the best things that this issue does is to introduce Clark Kent to Lois Lane, not as a friend or a colleague, but as a rival. Clark's arrival at the Daily Planet is a massive snub to Lois, who finds herself in competition for her position as the top reporter, for her story, and for Perry's favour. Clark and Lois do not have a friendly relationship over the next few years, and this antagonism stems from the end of this issue. It takes Lois many years to get over losing the scoop, and the ups and downs of their relationship is a key point of the first years of the post-Crisis reboot. Most importantly, however, is that Clark is presented here as a strong reporter in his own right, not as a meek, shrinking violet-type figure that he was sometimes portrayed as pre-Crisis. This Clark is not to be messed with or ignored. and over the next few years of story, we'll see his role as reporter define him just as much as his super-hero adventures do.

The Man of Steel #1 & #2 have been re-printed several times over the years. The most recent printing of the series was in Superman: The Man of Steel vol. 1

The From Crisis to Crisis episode that deals with the first two issues of The Man of Steel is also their very first episode, and can be found here.

Next on World of Superman: If this is the first costumed appearance of Superman, then this must be considered to be Superman's Year One. Now, if only there were a series of annuals that had Year One as their theme... oh wait - there is! First up, The Adventure of Superman Annual #7.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Man of Steel #1

Writer & Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Andy Helfer
Cover: John Byrne, Alex Jay (logo)
Cover Date: October 1986
Release Date: 10/07/1986

This issue also contains a one-page article, Superman: A Personal View, by John Byrne, and a 'Meanwhile...' column focusing on The Man of Steel, by Dick Giordano.

Prologue: From Out The Green Dawn

Jor-El returns to the citadel where he makes his home. He is greeted by his serving robots, and confirms to them that he has learnt what there is to learn. He asks for the child, and goes to him. The robots notice Jor-El''s distress. Jor-El stands in front of the birthing matrix containing his son. Lara bursts in, shocked at Jor-El's removal of their son from the gestation chambers. Jor-El explains everything -the green death plague that is ravaging the population of Krypton is a symptom of a much wider problem. A chain reaction in the core of Krypton is creating vast pressures, which in turn are causing natural elements to fuse into a new metal with radioactive properties. This radiation is killing the Kryptonians, and the pressure within the planet will cause it to explode within the day.

Lara is shocked at the news. Jor-El decries the sterile Krypton and the fact that none of them have lived a full life without love and passion. He reveals to Lara that the gestation chamber has protected their son from the radiation, and that with the retrofitting performed by his serving robots, can also survive a journey through space. Jor-El calls up a hologram of Earth, the planet he intends to send their son to. Lara is shocked at an image of a shirtless Kansas farmer, unacustomed to seeing naked hairy flesh. Jor-El tells his wife that the presence of a yellow sun will imbue their child with great powers. Lara asks if he will shape the Earth to proper Kryptonian ways, and Jor-El declines to answer.

The surface of Krypton start to explode. The death of the planet has arrived. Jor-El launches the capsule, saying goodbye to his son. As Krypton dies, he holds Lara for the first time, and tells her that he loves her. Krypton dies, and the rocket escapes. As it enters hyperspace, a small piece of the planet embeds itself into the rocket.

Chapter One: The Secret

A teenage Clark Kent is pretty much single-handedly winning football games for Smallville High. Jonathan Kent watches from the sidelines, observing Clark's jealous team-mates, with a look of concern on his face. Clark is revelling in his glory when his father calls him away for a talk. They go for a drive. Jonathan tells his son that he is disappointed in him, despite his success, and resolves to show him something that should have been seen a long time ago. They arrive at an abandoned field. Jonathan lifts up a concealed wooden hatch to reveal a spaceship. He tells Clark that this is where he was found, and that he is to all intents and purposes adopted.

Jonathan Kent tells how one evening, years ago, he and Martha were locking up when they saw a bright light crash from the skies into one of their fields. Driving out, they found the freshly landed spaceship. The ship opened up to reveal a baby inside. Despite not knowing if the child originated from Earth or another planet, Martha is determined to look after it, and Jonathan agrees. That night, a snowstorm hit Kansas, cutting the Kents off from Smallville for five months. This allowed them to pass they baby off as their own. Clark started to grow up as normal, but one day when he was six, he was chased and trampled by a bull. Jonathan came to his rescue, but was astonished to see that he was unharmed. As Clark gets older, he discovers he has inhuman strength, can see through walls and, most astonishingly, fly.

Clark wants to know what all these revelations mean. Jonathan starts to tell him of the responsibility that goes along with his powers, but is interrupted when Clark attempts to get in closer to the ship. As he does so, he becomes weak and is barely able to stand. Jonathan pulls his son away, and they return home. A shadowy figure watches them leave. As they pull up, Martha realises what has happened. Inside, Clark arrives at a decision. He will stop using his powers for his own gain, to make himself better than other people, and face his responsibilities. He will leave Smallville and seek out people who need his help, all the while doing so in secret so no-one knows of him. Before he goes though, he has to see someone.

Chapter Two: The Exposure

Three years later, Jonathan and Martha are enjoying a Saturday morning. Martha is updating her scrapbook of news reports concerning Clark. Jonathan questions her about what might happen if the scrapbook were ever stolen. As Jonathan settles down to read his morning paper, he is shocked to see the headline 'Mysterious Superman Saves Space Plane'. Suddenly a noise upstairs startles them. Jonathan creeps in, bat in hand, ready to confront an intruder, only to find Clark sitting in his chair, a look of consternation on his face. He tells them that they all wanted a piece of him.

Clark tells them of what happened. His travels had taken him to Metropolis, which was about to celebrate its 150th anniversary. The experimental space-plane Constitution had been arranged to land at the city airport as part of the celebrations, and Clark had gone there to see the spectacle. Suddenly, an out-of-control civilian aircraft collided with the space-plane, disabling one of the engines. The Constitution started to fall towards the crowds. Realising that only he could do something, Clark flew into the sky to catch the plane, moving fast enough to ensure that any pictures taken of him would be rendered as a blur. Inside the plane, the pilots were wrestling to gain control of the plane, whilst reporter Lois Lane became caught in a far bigger story than she intended. Suddenly, the plane levelled out and descended slowly to the ground. Looking at a surveillance camera, Lois sees a man flying underneath, holding the plane in his hands. As the plane lands, Loirs bursts out, yelling 'Hold it right there, buster!'. She catches Clark's attention and the two share a moment before the crowds arrive, demanding a piece of him. Scared by their reaction, Clark flies away.

Back in Smallville, Clark is shaken. The crowd's reaction has thrown him and his beliefs. The cat is out of the bag, and he is concerned that he can never have a private life again for people wanting to find him. Jonathan has an idea.

Epilogue: The Super-Hero

Ma is working on her sewing machine. Pa and Clark come in, having devised an 'S-shield' logo, which Ma attaches to her work. Clark then explains how he will maintain his identities. He slicks his hair back, adopts a pair of glasses, and stoops a little, creating a new Clark Kent. Finally, he puts on the costume that Ma has carefully created. It's tight, as Martha had previously noted that clothes worn against Clark's skin never seemed to get damaged. Clark kisses his parents goodbye, and flies away.  When people need his special kind of help,  it will no longer be a job for plain, ordinary Clark Kent.

It'll be a job for Superman.

Wow. What an origin. I'm a big fan of the Byrne revision of Superman (I would have to be, considering this project), almost to the point that my interest in anything published before this issue is pretty much non-existant.

The prologue almost never came to pass. The intention was to begin this series on Earth, and have Clark discover what happened to Krypton as part of the events in issue #6. I'm glad we got to see Krypton before it died. The cold, sterile world where people never bare their skin or tell each other of their love makes for a compelling contrast with the warm, loving environment that shapes Clark Kent. Although we see very little of Superman's world, it comes across as more alien than the pre-Crisis version, where the people were much closer to humans, and the planet was a more fantastical place. Lara's revulsion when confronted by the image of the Kansas farmer is great, and highlights how closed off emotionally and physically the Kryptonians are. The details in this chapter are great, from the reluctance in Lara's body language when Jor-El touches her just before they die, to the almost un-noticed moment where a chunk of Kryptonite is taken to Earth on the ship.

The opening of the first chapter is a moment in Clark's life that we almost never get to see, a time when he is comfortable with his powers and using them for his own benefit without any of the worry and angst about being an outsider that is more commonly associated with teen Clark. Of course, this doesn't last for long as he, and we, discover how he came to be in the care of the Kents. Prior to this issue, baby Clark had been deposited in an orphanage where he used his super-strength to do things like throw beds around the place before being returned to the Kents, all them time without anyone noticing anything strange when Superboy turned up in Smallville a few years later. This new version instantly feels more realistic (a word I always feel hypocritical about using when talking about a man who can fly and shoot heat beams from his eyes!), giving a plausible reason for the inhabitants of Smallville accepting a new child into the life of the Kents without ever discovering that Martha was pregnant.

It's hard to talk about this issue without addressing Superboy. Pre-Crisis, Superboy was the alias adopted by Clark Kent as a teenager to allow him to function as a super-hero in Smallville. Superboy had the full range of Superman's powers, and had a powerful set of allies in the form of the Legion of Super-Heroes, an alliance of heroes from the future inspired by the legends of Superboy. Generally speaking, it was felt that the presence of Superboy lessened the character of Superman, , and the removal of this element of Superman's life was a comon element for many of the pre-Byrne Superman revision suggestions. As well as strengthening the first appearance of Supermn, removing Superboy and, indeed, the full range of Superman's powers from the younger Clark's life effectively reversed the polarity of Superman's identities as had been previously established. It is very clear from this issue that Clark grows and develops into his own person before his powers become the focus of his life. Superman is the secret identity, not Clark Kent. It should be noted that the most controversial element of the Superboy removal was that the Legion of Super-Heroes was effectively deprived of their inspiration for forming. Several attempts would be made to deal with this over the years, and we'll encounter some of these on our journey, but none would stick for too long.

One element of the Superboy mythos that was kept was the relationship between Clark and Lana Lang, who in the pre-Crisis continuity was Superboy's girlfriend. Although Lana appears on panel once in this issue, and is the person that Clark goes to see before leaving Smallville, she is the focus of Clark's affections until his leaves. In contrast, Pete Ross, who had been Superboy's best friend and guardian of his secret identity, was initially relegated to a very minor role (he isn't even mentioned in this issue), before becoming more important as the years progressed.

I love the entire space-plane scenario. As just about everyone knows, Clark was originally intended to save a standard space-shuttle from disaster, but the 1986 Challenger tragedy forced a substitute to be created. I prefer it being a space-plane; it befits the city and the man of tomorrow that a slightly futuristic craft be the focus of Superman's first public act. I also love Lois' first words to Superman, which pretty much encapsulate her entire character in one panel. She's the first person out of the plane, hungry for the story, she's not intimidated by the fact that a guy who flew just saved her from certain death, and her use of the word 'buster' neatly shows her spunk. As an aside, the best moment in Superman Returns was the plane scene which showcased Superman's return, very obviously influenced by this scene.

If anything doesn't work in this issue, it's the brushing over of the S-shield origin. Considering the care put into every element of the book, even down to a brief explanation of why Superman's costume isn't reduced to shreds every time he gets into a fight, it feels unsatisfactory that Clark and Jonathan should just happen to come up with the iconic logo. Personally, I prefer it to be a Kryptonian symbol, as that has been a constant across almost every interpretation of the character.

The covers for this issue are also fantastic. The standard cover is great, but I really love the variant cover, which was used for the cover of the TPB where I first read this issue. I find the close-up of the hands ripping the shirt to reveal the costume incredibly iconic, and in my mind, this image is completely associated with John Byrne's Superman.

The Man of Steel #1 is a great issue that kickstarted a whole new era for Superman. Although it would start to be phased out in the early 21st century as the origin, it was strong enough to last until long after Infinite Crisis had hinted at changing the origin,

Next on World of Superman: Lois needs to meet Superman again, but what lengths is she willing to go to? Find out next time!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Why did we need The Man of Steel?

I'm taking a brief respite from the reviews to take a look at how The Man of Steel came about. All of this information is available on the internet; I am not going to be revealing anything earth-shatteringly new.

Stop me if you've heard this before. The DC Universe was once a confusing place, comprising a multiverse of similar but different worlds, each of which had their own cadre of heroes and its own history. Different versions of the same characters could exist on multiple Earths, most notably the different versions of Superman on Earth-1 and Earth-2, and the different incarnations of The Flash. Characters from the different worlds could meet, and meetups between the JLA of Earth-1 and the JSA of Earth-2 were annual events, often heralded as 'Crisis on...'. As rich as the multiverse was, it became perceived that it was ultimately offputting to new readers, who could not readily enter this continuity and grasp the meaning and differences between the multiple earths.

Crisis on Infinite Earths was originally conceived as a massive crossover to celebrate the 50th anniversary of DC Comics. Marv Wolfman, the wrtier, and Len Wein, the editor, identified the series as a chance to clean up and simplify continuity. Over the course of the 12 issues, all drawn by George PĂ©rez, worlds and characters died, and in March 1986, the Anti-Monitor was defeated and the DC multiverse was finally distilled down to one Earth with one consistent history.

The end of Crisis on Infinite Earths provided DC comics with the opportunity to put into action a plan that had been discussed in the years running up to the Crisis - a revision of Superman's history. Various submissions had been made to the then-publisher and president Jenette Khan. Although these submissions were all individual and different, several consistent elements occured, including removing Superman's career as Superboy, revising Lex Luthor, and making Superman the only survivor of Krypton.

Nothing progressed further on this until John Byrne left Marvel Comics in 1985. Having made his name as the second penciller on Uncanny X-Men, before branching out into runs as writer and artist on the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, John Byrne was one of the biggest talents in comics at the time. The chance to reboot Superman was the carrot that lured Byrne into the DC fold, and with his name attached to the project, plans were finally laid down.

Byrne came up with what he now calls his 'List of 10 Unreasonable Demands', a list of things that he wanted to change about Superman, expecting most if not all of them to be rejected. To his surprise, DC allowed all of the changes through, with the exception of an idea that involved Lara travelling to Earth and giving birth to Kal-El on Earth, before dying to Kryptonite poisoning. However, Byrne liked the idea of Superman being born on Earth, and thus the birthing matrix was born.

In July 1986, the first issue of The Man of Steel was released. Two months later, in September of 1986, Alan Moore's story 'Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow' arrived, definitively wrapping up and bringing to a close all Superman stories published before The Man of Steel.

Superman was dead.

Long live Superman!

Next on World of Superman: Enough messing around, it's time to take a look at the birth of a new Superman - The Man of Steel #1!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Superman:The Odyssey

This is going to be a long recap, as we hit our first Prestige format issue. Bear with me!

Co-Writer/Artist: Graham Nolan
Co-Writer: Chuck Dixon
 Letterer: Tim Harkins
Colorist: Noelle Giddings
Seperator: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Joey Cavalieri; Maureen McTigue
Cover: Graham Nolan
Cover Date: July 1999
Release Date: 12/05/1999

Superman bursts into a Kobra base, disrupting their plans to release anthrax into the Metropolis subway. He makes short work of the terrorists, but after the battle is over, a news report detailing the death of Bhutran leader Terri Chung, executed by the Chinese government. Saddened by Terri's death, he remembers how the two met.

After graduating from college, Clark Kent takes time out to travel the world and discover who he really is. He ends up in Paris, and while sightseeing, he comes across a car crashed into a lamppost. Realising that there is someone trapped underneath, he uses his super-strength to throw the car away. The crowds are scared and flee the scene whilst Clark gives mouth-to-mouth resucitation to the girl. Once she starts breathing again, and ambulances start to arrive, he leaves the scene.

Later that day, while having coffee, he is approached by a young lady called Terri Chung, who saw what he did both to the car and the girl, and has taken pictures. When she brandishes the film he secretly wipes it with his heat vision. The two then spend the day together. Terri tells Clark that she is from Bhutan, a small kingdom in the Himalayas near China. Her father is old-fashioned, and has regretted sending her to America for her education. Terri invites Clark to stay with her, ostensibly to help ease his travelling costs.

Terri's apartment is luxurious and palacial. Although Clark doesn't drink, she has some wine, and attempts to seduce him. She quickly discovers, however, that Clark is a man of his morals, and not interested in anything before marriage. Before the embarrassing moment can continue, armed soldiers burst in. Clark throws himself in front of Terri as the gunmen open fire, and quickly discovers that he is bullet proof. The gunmen quickly retreat. Clark and Terri head into the streets of Paris and shake their pursuers. Terri explains that the soldiers were Chinese commandos, sent to kidnap her to force her father, Bhutran's  religious leader, to yield to China. Terri realises that she has to return home, and Clark accompanies her.

As they fly across Chinese airspace in a freight plane, they come under attack from the Chinese again. The pilots are killed almost instantly, and to save Terri's life, Clark grabs her and jumps from the plane before it explodes. Terri is surprised to discover that Clark can fly, and the two finish their journey to Bhutran. The palace is about a day's walk up a giant staircase. As they climb up, they pass a stoic figure who gives Clark an icy stare - the young Bruce Wayne.

Once they reach the palace itself, they discover the remains of another commando unit who had tried to attack. Terri meets her father, the Rhana, and introduces Clark to him. Her father sings the praises of the abilities of his recently-departed American student who had single-handedly turned back the commando assault, but Terri tells him that he hasn't seen anything yet. It transpires that Terri had not wanted to return to Bhutran as she did not want to take up her duties as her father's replacement. Terri's father can see a strength in Clark, and predicts that he is destined for great things.

The next day, Terri heads into the mountains. Clark and her father have breakfast together. Clark lays out his concerns about his powers - despite his superhuman abilities, all he wants to be is human, to fit in and not be apart. The Rhana tells him that any good man would have assisted in Paris if he had the ability to do so. The Rhana is about to ask for a demonstration of Clark's powers when Clark is forced to fly away into the mountains - Terri is about to be crushed by an avalanche. Clark shields Terri's body from the falling rock and snow, then pulls her to freedom. As they fly back to the palace, Terri kisses him. Back at the palace, her father tells Clark that although his abilities separate him from normal men, he should celebrate his abilities, not deny or abuse them.

Clark spends several weeks in Bhutran, growing closer to Terri and exploring the spiritual nature of the kingdom. As he does so, he is aware of a growing Chinese presence on the borders. He helps keep them at bay in his own way, using his heat vision to disable observers.One night, as Clark and Terri walk through the corridors of the palace discussing Terri's growing acceptance of her place in Bhutran, a strange green gem causes Clark to feel pain and grow weak. They quickly move away to allow Clark to rest.

The next day, Clark flies to the top of a mountain to consider everything he has learnt over the past few weeks. He comes to the conclusion that he can balance his powers with his life, operating in secret, and never again being afraid of the responsibilities that come with his power. Returning to the palace, he is shocked to see that the Chinese army has amassed and is marching on Bhutran. The Rhana has heard of the march, and heads out to meet them. Clark and Terri try to catch him up, but before they can do so, they see him being shot at close range by the Chinese. Crying out at her father's death, Terri inadvertently gives away their position. The Chinese open fire, but Clark catches all the bullets, saving her life again. He then attacks the soldiers, disabling their guns and tanks whilst moving too fast to be seen. Believing the spirits of Rhana Bhutra to be responsible, the army retreats in terror. Clark then collapses the pass used by the army to ensure that they cannot return.

Returning to the palace, he bids farewell to Terri, who takes up her father's position as the Rhana.

Back in the present, Superman cries for Terri, who he never saw again. He flies off. The news report carries on, reporting that the Chinese army are retreating from Bhutran as the spirits of the land rise again to repel the invasion.

Our first Prestige issue is a real cracker. I'm a bit of a sucker for these occasional tales of Clark Kent discovering and coming to terms with his powers and what they mean, and this is a great story built around these themes. The conversations between Clark and the Rhana really help Clark define his own morality, and the page where Clark comes to terms with his powers and thinks about all the people who have helped define him, from Ma Kent to the Smallville pastor, all the way through to the Rhana is a wonderful moment of realisation for Clark. I really enjoyed the moment when Clark discovers that he is bullet-proof - he throws himself in the path of the bullets probably expecting to die, and when he survives he mutters 'Cool' underneath his breath

Terri is a great supporting character, and it's a shame that the story doesn't allow her to appear beyond this issue. Like the best of Clark's romances, Terri sees Clark as an equal, despite his powers. She never takes his unerring ability to save her for granted, and is unselfish enough to part company with him at the end, recognising his worth to world far outweighs his worth to Bhutran. Her journey nicely mirrors Clark's - both are lost and unsure of their place in the world at the start, but by then end, through each other's company and influence, they have accepted their place and are happy with their decisions.

This book is unusually political for a Superman book. Whilst certain plots have used international conflict as a backdrop for stories, most recently in Greg Rucka's run in Adventures of Superman, where the conflict in Umec was used as a parallel for Iraq/Afghanistan, it is rare that the story adopts a moral position on the conflict. Here, the Chinese government and their actions towards Tibet (thinly disguised as Bhutran) is clearly defined as being in the wrong. There is no attempt to provide an alternate viewpoint; the Chinese are as much the bad guys as the Kobra terrorists featured in the framing sequence. Considering the target audience of the book more than likely don't know very much about the situation in Tibet, it's probably not a bad thing, and any attempt to try and justify the Chinese point of view in Tibet is going to be forced and uncomfortable to read. In most cases, a balanced viewpoint is always more preferable to the writer taking one side over another; this issue is more than welcome to be an exception to that rule.

For most writers, the life of Clark Kent stops after High School and starts again at the Daily Planet. This issue is a very welcome exploration into the gap and what turned Clark into Superman.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 26,854
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 101
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #370

Next on World of Superman: A short break from the scheduled programming to take a look at why Superman needed to rebooted in 1986.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

The World of Metropolis #4

Ok, so this is a slight cheat. This issue actually takes place between The Man of Steel #2 and The Man of Steel #3; the flashback scenes in the Daily Planet take place a year after Clark Kent scoops Lois at the end of MoS#2. However, a lot is going to happen in terms of this blog before we get a year after MoS#2, so for the sake of coherency and to put the World of Metropolis miniseries behind us, I'm bringing it forward. After all, it fits thematically, if not chonologically...

What the hell; my blog, my rules! :)

Friends In Need

Story: John Byrne
Pencils: Win Mortimer
Inks: Dick Giordiano & Sal Trapani
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Assistant Editor: Renee Witterstaeter
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover: John Byrne
Cover Date: November 1988
Release Date: 12/07/1988

Wearing a bad wig and shades, Jimmy Olsen is drowning,. He is manacled to the floor of a boiler room of a ship that is filling up with water. Jimmy wrestles with the chains, but they are firm and secure. As the water rises above his head, he plays his 'ace in the hole' and activates his signal-watch. Superman discovers the sinking ship and saves his pal. Superman asks Jimmy why he took so long to activate his watch. Jimmy replies that as the watch is only for emergencies he wanted to be sure that he had tried everything he could to get out by himself. He then explains how he got himself into the situation, having worked his way into a drug-running organization to get to the top man, Fat Eddie Cortes. However, his cover wasn't as good as it needed to have been, as he was rumbled after a few weeks and imprisoned on the ship. Superman drops Jimmy off at the shore. Jimmy gives thanks to the signal watch, and recollects how he came to create it...

A few years earlier, and Jimmy is late for his Saturday job at the Daily Planet. His mother disapproves of the unpaid position, and refuses to let him leave until his room is tidy. After a bit of sulking, Jimmy gets on with the task, but after a short while he sneaks out of the window, climbs down a tree, and heads into work. He almost makes it to the subway, but he is hailed by Chrissie, a friend who Jimmy didn't see at the movies the night before. Althought Chrissie doesn't want to burden Jimmy with her troubles, she explains that her mother's drinking has got worse since her father returned from the road, and she feels that their troubles is her fault, as they never wanted kids. Jimmy tells her not to talk like that, and the two part company.

At the Planet, Jimmy gets on with his work as a copy boy. He catches up with Clark Kent, congratulating him on working for the Planet for a year. Lois overhears, and teases Clark about him stealing the Superman scoop from her. Clark suggests that she gets over it, and Jimmy reminds her that since the big story, she has gained most of the other Superman scoops. Lois is still frustrated that there are many unknown details about Superman, such as why his face is blurry in every photograph taken of him. Lois then ribs Clark about his lack of detail on Superman's personal life, who he was before he became Superman, and fantasises about getting that scoop on Superman's background. Jimmy is taken to thinking about a way of contacting Superman whenever he was needed. Later on, Jimmy tags along for lunch with Lois, asking her if he has any chance of being a reporter. She tells him that he is eager and bright, and hungry enough for a story, but that becoming a reporter is a long time away.

That evening, Jimmy returns home, only to discover that he has been rumbled by his mother, who proceeds to have a long and angry phone call with Perry White. Whislt this is happening, Chrissy climbs in through the window. She is not well, and tells Jimmy that she has taken a whole bottle of her mother's pills, before collapsing on the bed. Jimmy runs and gets his mother, who discovers that Chrissi barely has a pulse and is probably dying. She runs to call the emergency services, who are too busy to take her call and put her on hold. Jimmy realises that Superman could save Chrissie, and he calls Lois, who can't help. Slamming the receiver down in frustration, Jimmy breaks the phone.

Racking his brain as to how to contact Superman, Jimmy tells his mother not to bust his eardrums. Suddenly, inspiration hits, and he rushes to the entertainment system. He is able to build a crude signal generator in a short space of time that emits a signal outside human hearing, but which Superman will hear. Sure enough, at his desk, Clark Kent is unable to work due to the noise. He rushes outside and changes to Superman, and races to the source of the signal.

Superman gets Chrissie to the hospital just in time. She tells Superman that with the problems with her parents, she felt so lonely, and couldn't go on for year after year being alone. Superman reminds her that Jimmy is a good friend to her, and that he will be as well.

Back in the present day, Jimmy remembers Superman's compliments on his ingenuity around building the hypersonic signal. He looks out to the sea and sees Superman raise the sunken ship he was previously trapped on. Later that day, Jimmy goes to Chrissie's new foster home, and the two of them go out for a burger.

This is an odd issue. There's a good story in here, the tale of Chrissie, but its simplicity means that the story only takes a few pages up. There's some good observations on the nature of reporting on Superman, flavoured with the Kent/Lane rivalry from the first couple of years of the post-Crisis era. There's a nice snapshot of Jimmy Olsen, trying to make an impression at the Daily Planet. There's also a fairly dull Jimmy-in-peril wraparound, livened only gently by Jimmy's noir-ish narration. And here's the problem - the individual elements of his book fail to connect as a cohesive whole. As good as some of these elements are, none of them are strong enough to carry the issue.

To my great dismay, even the basics of storytelling break down here. The moment where Jimmy builds the signalling device is horribly fudged. It isn't established what he makes the device out of; the art suggests that it's a hi-fi, but it could equally be the kind of computer bank that wouldn't look out of place in the batcave. Of course, there's then the wonderful leap in logic that sees Jimmy build a device that emits a signal strong enough to broadcast into the center of Metropolis at teh right frequency to get Superman's attention all within a matter of minutes... why exactly does Jimmy want to be a reporter and why doesn't STARLabs or LexCorp snap him up for their R&D divisions? Oh, and let's face it, the biggest problem with this issue is that nowhere is it mentioned how the crude signalling device is refined into the handy wristwactch that Jimmy wears.

There are bits that I do like. I like the callback to Superman vibrating gently to prevent his face from being seen clearly in photographs. I also like the reference to the speed of sound, and Jimmy's hope that Superman isn't too far away to respond to the signal watch in time. These 'realistic' elements were a big part of my respect for this era of Superman, and their inclusion here pleases me. I enjoyed the moment at the end of the lunch scene, where Jimmy's naievete punctures his ambitions, when he tells Lois that Lex Luthor is the greatest man in Metropolis. I also really like how Win Mortimer manages to draw Jimmy even younger than normal for the flashback scenes.

The World of Metropolis has been a mixed bag of a mini-series. For the architect of modern Superman, John Byrne has dropped the ball on a surprising number of occasions, such as the mis-characterisation of Lex Luthor in #1 and 2, and the poor writing in #4. The use of Win Mortimer as penciller also feels like a mistake. Mortimer is a classic Superman penciller, but his heyday on the character was several decades previously, and while the work is good, certain details, such as his depiction of Superman, feel too much like they come from the pre-Crisis era rather than helping to build the post-Crisis Superman and his world.

It appeas that The World of Metropolis has not been collected in trade paperback, certainly not anytime recently. If you want to know more, check out the From Crisis To Crisis episode here, as they spend the bset part of two hours discussing the series.

Next on World of Superman: Clark Kent goes on holiday and falls in love.