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.

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