Monday, 28 June 2010

Legends of the DC Universe #1

It's been a quiet couple of weeks here at the World of Superman, caused in part by a period of nasty but not serious illness and the recovery which had left me unwilling to sit down and complete my posts. But the illness is gone, and the recovery is complete, and it's time to get back on track and take a look at the first direct Superman work from James Robinson. We'd make the most of it, because it will be a very long time before we return to Robinson's Superman work.

U.L.T.R.A. Humanite Part 1: Madness and Science

Writer: James Robinson
Penciller: Val Semeiks
Inker: Paul Neary
Letterer: Janice Chiang
Colorist: Kevin Somers
Assistant: Maureen McTigue
Editor: Joey Calvieri
Cover Painting: Glen Orbik
Cover Date: Febuary 1998

Lois Lane sits at her computer, writing an article about the current new age of super-heroes, each protecting their city from multiple super-powered attacks. She notes that until recently, Metropolis had become unique in that it did not suffer from a pantheon of super-villains. However, this has now changed, and Metropolis' guardian, Superman, has stepped up to defend the city.

Superman is battling Professor Killgrave, who is once again attacking Metropolis in a flying ship. Superman gains the upper hand, but is interrupted by the arrival of LexCorp City Security, an armored, flying private security force paid for by LexCorp. As Superman debates the legality of their actions with the team's commander, Killgrave activates his boosters and makes a speedy escape. Pausing only to ask if their suits have the speed to keep up with the escaping Killgrave, Superman gives chase, leaving LexCorp City Security in his wake.

TV news reports on an unexpected delay in the arrest of Killgrave, before going on to report about Lex Luthor's relationship with famous model Delores Winters. Luthor, angered by the TV reports, throws a statue at the screen, before dismissing Delores from his office so that he can talk business. He demands that Luthor Towers should finish construction by the end of the year, before ordering a buyout of Morgan Wilde, a research scientist whose work could lead to a cure for cancer and Parkinson's Disease, amongst others.

Lois is interviewing Professor Wilde at his laboratory. His work involves manipulation of the human body's electrical field, considered by some to be part of the soul. Their interview is interrupted by the arrival of Luthor's men. Wilde refuses to sell his research, even in the face of some obvious threats to his safety. Wilde then finishes his interview, giving Lois a copy of a picture of him and his wife. Lois is concerned as she leaves.

Later that day, Superman attempts to apprehend Madness, a new villain who uses his powers to cause temporary insanity in anyone nearby. Superman is confronted by an insane crowd who try to overpower him. LexCorp City Security arrive, but are also sent mad, firing blindly at each other. An insane cop draws his gun, and Superman is only just able to break free of the crowd to catch the bullets. He uses a show awning to subdue the crowd, who quickly recover from their madness.

Luthor's men have returned to Wilde's laboratory, where they violently beat him. Wilde is unbowed, and he activates a self-destruct mechanism he installed. The lab explodes.

Ah, part one of a multi-part, completely continous story. Believe it or not, this is the first one we've had to date on the World of Superman (I'm excusing The Kents, as that is a currently incomplete project as far as I'm concerned, although I'm so keen to get back to it...). Sure, we've had complete mini-series to date, but each of those have had definite jumps in time between issues. With Legends of the DC Universe #1, we get our first true Part One, and what a celebration we will have!

Oh, OK, I'm filling for time. Could you tell? I'm struggling a little with focusing on just the opening part of a three part story, without reading ahead or referring to events that haven't happened. This is going to make things a little patchy in the review, and there'll be a bit more filler than usual. Like here... Oh dear, I really haven't got the hang of this!

Despite my stalling, I rather like this issue. It feels like it slots in naturally into the latter half of Man of Steel. We are very much in the new age of the super-hero, as nicely illustrated by Lois' article at the start of the issue. The use of Dr Thaddeus Killgrave works well, as he is mainly used as a recurring nemesis for Superman, before he had recurring villains. We have, for instance, never been given an origin for Killgrave, and his first canonical appearance in Superman #19 is bursting out of jail, already a villain that Superman has fought. Perhaps in a nod to the general usage of Killgrave, this is not his first battle with Superman.

As with Adventures of Superman Annual #7, some retroactive groundwork is laid for the 1990s status quo in Superman. Most notable here is the appearance of the LexCorp City Security, Luthor's first attempt at a private police force for the city. These are obviously the forerunners of Team Lex, who would flourish under Alexander Luthor II around the time of the Death of Superman. We also get Luthor's first attempt to build his own skyline-owning tower, a very literal way for him to express his power over the city, which will eventually give rise to the distinctive 'LL'-shaped towers that would stand above Metropolis for nearly twenty year's worth of comics.

This first part of ULTRA Humanite has very little to do with the traditional Ultra-Humanite setup. Although Dolores Winters is present, her role is little more than a cameo. The villain isn't even mentioned by name in this issue, and it's only the title of the story that suggests where this arc is leading. Whilst I understand the need to launch a new anthology series with a strong statement, I do wonder if the overall story would have been more effective if the reveal of the villain could have been saved for the end of issue 2, rather than being spoiled in the story title. I do like the concept of Madness, but I'll touch on him more in the next two parts as he takes a more central part in the plot.

The Geeky Bits: The Ultra-Humanite was one of the DC Universe's earliest villains, pre-dating Lex Luthor and first appearing in Action Comics #13. He is most commonly viewed as an opponent of the JSA, particularly in the wake of the Crisis that removed Superman from pre-1980s continuity, but his status as the first DCU villain is occcasionally called upon, such as in this story, and in John Byrne's Generations series.

This was Robinson's first Superman gig, and also his last for some time (a tangent into the World of Krypton notwithstanding). Robinson would return to Superman in 2008 to lead the World of New Krypton themed stories across 2009 and the first half of 2010.

Next of World of Superman: Part two of ULTRA Humanite, and things aren't going so well for Lexy. I hope the stress doesn't cause his hair to fall out or anything...


  1. I had completely forgotten this arc was written by Robinson!

    It has been a while since I've read it, but I remember liking it quite a bit at the time. (Of course, given that the regular books were shoulder-deep in the Blueperman storyline, that might have colored my fondness for it at the time (any port in the storm, as they say).)

  2. Hi omike, thanks for stopping by!

    Hopefully by this point you've seen that I've put out my final review of the arc. I never read this the first time it came out, and I have to say that although the first issue was a good setup, the rest of the run didn't work out so well. Kinda reminds me of a more recent Robinson run...

  3. Blueperman

    That's a good one. I'm gonna commit that one to memory. Thanks for the chuckle.