Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #4


Story: Louise Simonson
Penciller: John Paul Leon
Inker: Dennis Janke
Letterer: Todd Klein
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Editor: Chris Duffy
Editor: Mike Carlin
Cover Artist: Walt Simonson
Cover Date: Annual 1995

The Knight

Superman races to the rescue after a Quraci terrorist organisation attempts to derail the elevated subway. He stops the train before it crashes through a section of demolished track, then heads inside to deal with the hijackers. He brings the gunmen to the police for arrest, and is swarmed with adoring and grateful fans. A comment made by one of them makes him think back to the day Pa Kent showed him the ship he arrived in. Later that day, in the Daily Planet newsroom, news of Batman's appearance in Gotham City breaks. Clark rushes out.

In Gotham, Superman grabs hold of Batman's line, and just as in Man of Steel #3, gets involved with Magpie's reign of terror. Once Magpie has been apprehended, Superman talks with Batman. Realising that the law is effectively powerless in Gotham, Superman agrees not to hand Batman over to the authorities. As he leaves, he discovers that Batman has no super-powers, but is a self-made man.

The Ring

The next day, Clark is relating his encounter with Batman to Ma, while the TV hosts an interview with the latest hero, Black Canary. Suddenly, the interview is cut short for a newsflash reporting that a LexCorp satellite has broken its orbit and is crashing towards Coast City. Superman rushes to assist, but is beaten to it by another hero wielding a green ring. The hero almost catches the satellite, but it breaks free. Superman is able to bring it under control and allow the hero to snare it. The hero introduces himself as Green Lantern, and he explains how he gained posession of the ring. When Lantern asks Superman about his origins, Superman is unable to answer. Green Lantern's ring identifies Superman as the last survivor of Krypton, but Lantern realises that Superman doesn't know this, and witholds the information. The two shake hands as friends.

The Speed

Returning to Metropolis, Clark files the Green Lantern story, to the ire of Lois Lane. He then returns home for dinner with his parents. While there, Pa tells him of a freak snowstorm in a neighbouring country. Superman heads off to investigate and finds the Weather Wizard causing havoc. Weather Wizard stuns Superman with a lightning bolt, but while he is recovering, Superman sees a red blur heading into the fight. The blur runs in a circle, causing a tornado to form that dissipates the Weather Wizard's weather, and topples him from his perch. The blur introduces himself as The Flash, and tells of his origin. Their meeting is interrupted by both Lois Lane and Iris West, who have been investigating the Weather Wizard. Superman discovers that the Wizard had intended to scare people away from the town so that he could rob the bank. He is disgusted that millions of dollars of property damage could have been caused to rob thirty thousand dollars.

The Tide

A little later, Superman investigates a suddenly-formed hurricane, expecting to find the Weather Wizard behind it. He is surprised to find an orange-shirted man trapped beneath a tree, recognising him as Aquaman. Aquaman explains that Poseidon is attacking him. Superman is sceptical of Aquaman's talk of gods, and attempts to dispell the hurricane. He is surprised when the weather takes the form of a face and attacks him directly, knocking him unconscious and sending him plummeting into the ocean. Aquaman recovers Superman, saving him from a mystical whirlpool. With Superman recovered, he and Aquaman lead the hurricane to a desert, where the lack of water forces Poseidon to withdraw. Aquaman suggests that the ocean is now angry at Superman, a claim Superman rejects, even after he has been splashed in the face.

The Alien

Returning to Metropolis, Clark wonders how he can file the Aquaman story and get ahead of Lois without drawing undue attention to his scoops. His thoughts are interrupted by a blaze in Denver, and he leaves to assist. The burning building is about to collapse. Superman helps hold it together, but is surprised to meet a green-skinned hero, who heads inside to save more civilians. Through the smoke and the flames, Superman sees the hero finish the rescue, but get caught in an explosion. In order to get away, the hero changes his shape. After the emergency, Superman tracks down the hero, who introduces himself as a Martian called J'onn J'onnz. J'onn tells of how he arrived on Earth by teleporter, not rocket. Superman tells him that reporters most likely saw his transformation, and that he won't be able to live in secret for long. After Superman has left, J'onn thinks about how the two of them were able to save the last trapped civilians, and wonders what could happen if more heroes worked together.

The League

A few days later, Clark hears that most of the public super-heroes have formed a Justice League, but that their first meeting has erupted into violence, with the heroes attacking each other. Superman arrives, to see the League fighting indiscriminately, with no tactics, just fighting. He notices a nearby robot, emitting a beam, and decides that the robot is causing teh violent behaviour. Superman attacks the robot, freeing the league, and discovers that is was being piloted by a small gnome-like being who vanishes. The gnome was Xotar, a being from the future who has managed to teleport himself into the hands of his era's police. Superman officially meets the League, and is invited to join. However, he turns down membership, instead offering to provide support when needed. Clark returns to the Planet, only to find that thanks to some contacts on the scene, Lois has managed to scoop him this time.

The Origin

Seven years later. Clark is at home for Ma's birthday when he is approached by a phantom of Jor-El. The phantom reveals Kal-El's Kryptonian origins, placing Clark in some sort of trance. Pa breaks the trance by whacking the phantom with a shovel, dissipating it. Superman then examines what he now knows of his origin, before deciding that although Krypton gave him his powers, it is his family that has made him a man.

This annual can pretty much be summed up as 'How I Met The Justice League' with a bit of origin-angst thrown in to tie all the meetings together. It's a bit like a cheap buffet - there's plenty of food, but none of it is overly satisfying. The vignettes are all good, but each one feels like it should be a bigger moment standing on its own, rather than 5-7 pages contained within one tale. This feeling stems from the fact that the annual uses Man of Steel #3 as its launching point. The Batman strand feels very much like a summary, rather than a retelling, with corners cut to make it fit into the space, and this feeling permeates the other meetings. What really gives this issue a sense of being rushed is that the needs of the story have Superman meeting the members of the JLA all within a few days of each other. Now, accepted DCU history has the modern age heroes appearing in the wake of Superman's appearance, but having them all occur within a week or so stretches credibility a little.

Out of all the meetings, I think my favourite is the Aquaman one. Not only does it echo the 'out of his depth' elements from both the Action Comics and Superman annuals, but it ends more ambiguously than with a handshake and a promise of friendship. Superman gets it wrong in dealing with Poseidon, by not following Aquaman's instructions, and is shaken by the discussion of Gods actually existing. There's a nice moment where Aquaman teases Superman by claiming that the ocean is angry with him, before splashing him with water, deflating Superman's dismissive attitude towards the Poseidon encounter. The ones I least enjoyed were the Batman retelling, and the first team-up with the JLA, both of which recap previously-told stories without bringing anything new to the table.

What does work, and resonates strongly with this period in Superman's life, is the ongoing thread of Superman's lack of knowledge of where he comes from. This element was downplayed until the last issue of Man of Steel, so to make it into more of a driving force for Superman during his early years helps to retroactively set up the resolution to the mini-series. Each of the heroes serves to pique Superman's interest, and each lets him down in their own way, wether by being a self-made hero, gaining powers by accident, or a gift from an alien, or simply by being an alien but stranded on Earth through very different means. Between this and the constant game of one-upmanship with Lois Lane (brilliantly interrupted by Iris West in the Flash story), this story is firmly placed in the early months of Superman's career. This story wouldn't work as well if it had occured post Man of Steel, or even more than a few months after Superman's first appearance, once his presence is accepted as the norm as opposed to something unusual and unique.

John Paul Leon's artwork is not a great fit here for Superman. One of the key elements of his art that I loved in Earth X was his use of shadow to complement what at times was some pretty minimalistic art. In a series that uncovered the secret history of the Marvel universe (only to be retconned as an alternate universe), the high darkness content in the art was well suited. Here, in a story that introduces the some of the key Silver Age heroes to the modern Superman, his use of shadow feels almost inappropriate. The first appearnace of Hal Jordan's ring contructs should be as alien and unusual as anything seen by Superman, but are rendered here as disappointingly pedestrian. Having said that, I do like his Lois Lane - he captures a keen intelligence and focus in her eyes.

The Geeky Bits: This is the second first meeting for Superman and the Martian Manhunter, following Martian Manhunter #20. Funny how J'onn doesn't feel compelled to mention that he has known Superman for most of his life... although in keeping with an issue not written for another five years he does keep Superman's origin to himself.

Magpie seems to have lost her henchmen who look suspiciously like Mike Carlin and Mark Gruenwald. She also uses her 'Happy Birthday' stick of dynamite in place of the corrosive gas  to cause a distraction, and has her secondary base in the same museum as her first.

As has been pointed out several times so far, the Batman segment is a retelling of Man of Steel #3. The Justice League segment is a retelling of The Brave And The Bold #29, although in keeping the with post-Crisis Justice league history, Wonder Woman has been replaced with Black Canary.

Next on World of Superman: Superman and Batman's rivalry has fatal consequences.

1 comment:

  1. To suggest, and I quote, "John Paul Leon's artwork is not a great fit here for Superman", is so way off base. John Paul Leon, although not a hugely recognized name, should be considered a modern master of the medium. Let me guess....you'd prefer a Dan Jurgens or a Jim Lee. You really ought to learn to appreciate someone who not only has mastered fundamentals of technique, but also has evolved considerably as a true artist. Louise Simonson was lucky to be graced with a superlative talent like John Paul Leon.