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.

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