Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Man Of Steel #4

Enemy Mine...

Story & Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Dick Giordano
Colors: Tom Ziuko
Letters: John Costanza
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Special Thanks to Marv Wolfman
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: November 1986

Lois Lane unexpectedly arrives early at Clark Kent's apartment, taking him by surprise as he hasn't finished getting ready yet. He invites her in, and she takes a good look around, taking in the neatness, and the mementoes of Clark's High School football days. The two have another argument about Clark's scooping of Lois, even though it was eighteen months ago, and in frustration Lois gives up, allowing Clark to finish getting ready. Clark shaves using his heat vision and a fragment of metal from the ship he arrived on Earth in, and in no time at all is dressed up in his finest evening wear. Lois leads Clark to the roof, where a private helicopter from Lex Luthor is waiting to escort them. The chopper flies out over the bay and lands on a giant yacht, where Lex Luthor is holding a fundraiser.

A steward leads Clark and Lois to Lex, as the two reporters discuss Lois' relationship with Luthor. They enter Lex's suite, and meet Lex, the first time for Clark. Luthor congratulates Clark on the Superman story, but when news of Mayor Bewkowitz's arrival on the yacht reaches him, he asks Clark to leave so that he might have a private word with Lois. After Clark has left, Lex complements Lois on her dress, which he has gifted to her. Lois is surprised, as she thought it was just a loaner. The two argue, and Lois storms out, pausing only to step out of the dress and to grab Clark's jacket for decency, and to take a cheap shot at Lex's balding head.

As Lois charges down a corridor, she comes face to face with an UZI. A bunch of hijackers have taken control of the ship. Clark gets between them and Lois, but is pistol-whipped unconscious, and is dumped over the side. Panicking about Clark, Lois is manhandled up onto the deck and is placed with the other passengers. Luthor is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, the deck tilts, and the ship rises out of the water. Lois takes advantage of the situation to overpower one of the hijackers, grabbing his gun and using it to keep the hijackers at bay. Superman is underneath the ship, carrying it to the harbor of Luthor's private island, the ship's original destination. Setting the yacht down in the water, Superman races to the deck, just in time to save Lois from one of the gunmen that she had overlooked.

Lex Luthor appears on deck, ecstatic at Superman's intervention, and brandishing a cheque for $25,000. Superman refuses, as he is not for hire. Lex continues to press his offer, pointing out that Superman won't be a private security guard, as Lex has his own security force. Lois wonders where they were during the attack, and Lex reveals that he not only knew that an attempt might be made on the yacht, but that he ordered his own security to hold back to allow Superman to show what he could do. Superman, Lois, and the Mayor are outraged at Lex's casual attitude to the life-threatening situation they were all in, but Luthor is uninterested - after all, he is the most powerful man in Metropolis. 'Not any more', says the Mayor, who authorises Superman to arrest Lex. Luthor is taken to Metropolis, photographed, and thrown in a cell.

Three days later, Superman flies into the subway to locate and help a pregnant woman who had gone into labour on a train. After getting her to hospital and making sure that she is OK, he walks out onto the street, where suspects that he is photographed, even though he cannot locate the photographer. He is accosted by Lex, who warns him that he has made a mistake. The people of Metropolis have forgotten who their master is, and he intends to remind them. From this moment on, Superman is a dead man.

Ah, this is more like it. Of all the issues of Man of Steel, I feel that this is possibly the most important of all. Without this issue, nothing that follows over the next decade makes as much sense. It is here that the seeds of Luthor's hatred of Superman are sown (and, indeed, said seeds take root, put forth shoots, and blossom, even though the harvest would be long and fruitful... enough with the seedy metaphors!) in a logical and compelling fashion. Prior to the Crisis, the only lasting explanation for Luthor's hatred of Superman was that Superboy was involved in a lab accident that caused Lex to lose his hair. Here, Lex is already not a nice person, but his mis-judgement of Superman's character and morals leads to a very public and embarassing downfall, one he blames entirely on Superman, and which fuels his decades-long obsession with the Man of Steel. Of all the changes made in Man of Steel to established continuity, this one was possibly the greatest and most impactful. In all major Superman media produced since 1986 (Like Bryan Singer, I'm discounting Superman IV), Lex Luthor is a man of business who has made his fortune legitmately (well, mostly legitimately...), who develops an obsession with Superman when he realises that he is no longer the top dog in town. As someone who came into Superman through the Death, going back and watching the original Superman film is tough, not because the effects and style of storytelling is from a different era, but because Lex Luthor just doesn't match up with my knowledge and expectations of the character.

This is completely Lex Luthor's issue, his introduction to modern continuity, and his first very public fall from grace. He's on sparkling form here, exalting in his power and his perceived untouchable status. His threat is very much that of a shark - graceful and powerful but with a distinct feeling that he could turn on your in a second and destroy your life. He is callous and manipulative, toying with Lois Lane more for the sport of toying with her than for any other reason. Although he appears shocked by Lois' baldness quip, he seems to relish in his destruction of her assumptions as to the intentions of the dress. And just watch how his face drops into a deep, menacing scowl when he is placed under arrest, and how that scowl stays in place right through to the end of the issue.

Lois is also on top of her game in this issue. We see just about every facet to her character, from the feisty reporter standing her ground in an argument with Clark, to the righteous fury when she realises that she has been played, culminating a superb moment where she strips off in front of Lex, leaves the five thousand dollar dress on the floor, grabs Clark's coat, and storms out dropping insults in Lex's path. We also see her army brat upbringing coming to the fore when she proves more effective at reacting to the hijacking than anyone else on the boat.

Although Lex steals the show, and Superman himself is relegated to only a few pages, there is a lovely moment when Superman confronts a gunman. Instead of heating up his gun, or disarming him at super-speed, Superman slowly crumples the machine gun from the barrel right down to the grip, where it is suggested that the stunned gunman lets go. It's a great, subtle moment, where Superman is completely in control, and doesn't need to make a big show to resolve the situation. We also get some insight into the difficulties of maintaing a dual-identity for Clark, as he realises that his weight really were just for show, and vows to replace them with heavier versions to help support his Kryptonian physique. Nice to see more nuance and subtlety beyond the 'I'd better be afraid of this bee so everyone thinks that Clark Kent is a real wimp and no-one will suspect that he is Superboy' approach of the Superboy comics of the 1960s!

I just love this issue. I have a memory of reading it and being aware of the plot long before I actually read The Man of Steel as a trade; it possibly may have been printed in the same treasury that contained The Man of Steel #2. This version of Lex, and the confrontations between Lex and Superman in this issue, are so much more interesting to me than any amount of Lex being dolled up in his battle-armour with kryptonite gloves beating up on Superman could ever be.

The Geeky Bits

Although the businessman Lex is a key part of the Byrne reboot, Marv Wolfman, depending on which source you read, had either significant input or was completely responsible for the reinvention of Luthor, hence his Special Thanks credit on this issue.

Next on World of Superman: It's been a year since the death of Harrison Grey, and for one night only, Superman goes to Gotham.

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