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!

No comments:

Post a Comment