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.