Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Man Of Steel #6

If it's Sunday night, then it must be time for a posting. Hey, I kept to my schedule for an entire week!

I've been having a bit of a Superman-heavy week this week. I've been re-reading the entirety of Time and Time Again to allow me catch up with 3 weeks worth of From Crisis To Crisis, approximately 7.5 hours of podcasting. I had suffered one of my periodic itunes library crashes, and in the course of attempting to restore all my user-created data, especially my playlists, I accidentally deleted my podcast folder, along with all of my active subscriptions. I've got them back, but I had a wonderful bug with FCTC that resulted in every episode attempting to download at once, even though I only clicked the 'subscribe' button. So, Michael, Jeffrey, that huge volume of downloading that made your stats look good last week? That was me. Sorry!

Anyway, I got caught up, just in time for them to release another episode, so I had to do the reading and more listening. The blog got another brief shoutout, although I am a little concerned that my last two podcast shout-outs have resulted in the hosts forgetting the name of the site! This little mishap aside, the episode was great, and a rarity for FCTC as they got to spend the entire episode working with comics that they didn't like so much, which was a nice change of pace.

All this rambling aside, I've also been looking at the final issue of The Man of Steel, also the final issue before we hit the relaunched titles from January 1987. Come and take a look with me!

The Haunting

Written and Pencilled by John Byrne
Inked by Dick Giordano
Colored by Tom Ziuko
Lettered by John Costanza
Edited by Andrew Helfer
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: December 1986
Release Date: 25/09/1986

Superman returns home to Smallville, changing to Clark Kent at super-speed to give the appearance of him arriving at the bus station. As he and his parents make small talk on the way to the farm, Jonathan is quickly silenced before he can give something away. Over dinner, Clark lays out his problems with Lois, the fact that she both resents Clark for scooping her on the Superman story, and her gentle infatuation with Superman.

That night, unable to sleep, Clark sneaks downstairs for some pie. He is surprised to see a ghostly apparition in the kitchen that speaks to him in an alien language. The apparition reaches out for Clark, and as soon as it touches him, Clark finds himself on another planet, dressed in his Superman costume, and able to speak the alien language. A figure approaches him and mistakes him for Jor-El. Realising her mistake, the figure realises that Clark is her son. As Clark tries to process this, he suddenly snaps back to Earth and sees Lana Lang in front of him.

Clark has been sleepwalking during his experience and has ended up at Lana's house. As he gets his head together, he asks Lana what she is doing back in Smallville, as she had left years ago. Lana reminds him of the last time they met, years ago. On the night he discovered that he was adopted and an alien, Clark turned up at her house late at night. They went for a walk, and Lana started to wonder if he was going to propose to her. Instead, Clark took her in his arms and flew into the sky with her. Landing, he gently kissed her goodbye, and left Smallville. Unsure of anything, Lana felt lost and confused, and it took many years for her to come to terms with what had happened.

Parting on good terms, Clark changes to Superman and returns to the field where the birthing matrix crashed. He is surprised to discover that the matrix has disappeared. As he starts to investigate vehicle tracks, the apparition appears again. He touches Superman, causing him to collapse in pain as images and information streams into his mind. Jonathan and Martha arrive, having spent the day searching for Clark in the truck. Seeing the apparition apparently attacking Superman, Jonathan grabs a shovel and whacks the apparition, causing it to disappear in a flash. Superman reveals that the apparition called him 'his son', and flies away to think about what just happened.

As he flies, Superman realises that the apparition and the woman were his real mother and father, Lara and Jor-El. He discovers the story of Krypton, its tragic end, and the fact that he is the last survivor of his world. He can now speak Kryptonian, and has knowledge of Krypton's culture. He lands on a mountain and decides that although his true parents are Kryptonian, and it is his heritage that grants him his powers, it is his upbringing that makes him who he is.

And so it ends as it began, in the fields of Kansas. There's a lovely circular feeling to this issue. After spending most of the series in Metropolis cementing Superman's role in the city and the wider DCU, it's a strong choice to bring him back to Smallville and participate in what is ultimately a very small-scale story that completely defines Superman for years to come.

This issue has three objectives: Introduce and define Lana's place in the new Superman mythos, grant knowledge of Krypton to Superman, and redefine Superman in light of this new knowledge. The Lana scenes work very well. It is revealed that Lana is the person Clark goes to visit back in The Man of Steel #1, and we see what happened that night. Lana's conflict is well-portrayed. Her confusion comes across, even as she rationalises it with the benefit of hindsight. Hers is only a small scene, but it is one of the most important in the whole mini-series. Their discussion concerning Clark's dual responsibilities define his approach towards Lois Lane for the next few years, as he balances both sides of his life. It also helps give Lana definition beyond 'Superboy's Girlfriend', allowing her to move beyond her teenage attraction to Clark and be a strong supporting character in her own right.

The second objective is rather clever, and leads directly into the third. By this point in the series, the reader knew everything that there was to know at the time about Krypton, but Superman hadn't really confirmed that was extra-terrestial. The way that Byrne introduces this knowledge to Superman is deliberately non-specific, allowing for future revelations about Krypton's past, such as the contents of the World of Krypton series, to be available to Superman. It is this info-dump that most likely provides the information for Superman to relay to Lois Lane in that series. But this is more than just dropping the knowledge of a dead people into Superman's mind. The moment where he glimpses Lara and realises her identity is beautiful but brief, whilst the appearances of Jor-El plays into the fears we have seen across this project that Superman's presence on Earth is part of a larger plan (such as J'onn's fears in Martian Manhunter #20, and the drive Superman has exhibited at times to define his origins). Although we have seen that Jor-El's intentions are benevolent, Superman walks away from this issue unsure about his biological father.

The key scene of this issue is the climax where Superman flies around whilst debating the information he has just discovered. The final panel, where Superman declares that although Krypton made him Superman, it is the Earth that makes him human is the single most defining moment for the post-Crisis Superman. In effect, Superman is stating the key principle for Byrne's rebooting of Superman, that the human side, Clark Kent, is the primary definition of character; the hero, Superman, is one part of this character. For many fans, a story that deviates from this simple statement of principle is one that they would prefer not to read, and quite often I am one of them.

The art in this issue is fantastic. Byrne is at the top of his game. The contrasts between the futuristic Krypton and the urban Smallville are strong, and the faces of the characters, especially Lana, sell the words with utter conviction. But it is the final pages again that are the real highlight of the book. Byrne has given himself the opportunity to draw Superman in his element, flying across the globe. The panel at the bottom of page 20 where Superman briefly enters orbit is beautiful to look at, but even this pales in comparison to the final image of Superman standing tall on a mountain top, having reconciled his alien and human origins. Iconic is a word that is used far too frequently, but it applies to this image absolutely. Superman has rarely looked better.

The Geeky Bits: One plotline bubbling throughout The Man of Steel, the mysterious figure who observed Clark encountering the matrix for the first time, who took photographs of Superman in Metropolis, and who stole the birthing matrix, would be resolved in Superman #1.

The placing of this issue in context of the rest of The Man of Steel is hard to do, as no dating information is given within. However, Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #4, published in 1995, recaps this issue, and suggests that these events take place seven years after the events of The Man of Steel #3. Some people have taken this to mean that the span of the entire Man of Steel mini-series is 7 years from the first appearance of Superman at the end of The Man of Steel #1, but this actually suggests that the series lasts for the best part of 8 years, as Superman's encounter with Batman in The Man of Steel #3 takes place 8 months after Superman's first appearance. Ah, dating, ya gots ta luv it! However, I subscribe to the idea that no more than 7 years occurs between Superman's first appearance and the events of this issue, mainly because the idea that Superman was active for 7 years without encountering any major super-villains with the exception of the pseudo-Bizarro feels like stretching credibility enough without adding the best part of another year on!

As a side-note, one of the more interesting comparisons between Superman and Batman is that within months of Batman's first appearance, his major villains were starting to appear, both the psychos and the metas. In contrast, Metallo, Superman's first recurring super-powered villain, took seven (or eight, see above) years to appear. I find that an interesting statement on the nature of both Superman and Batman, and their respective cities.

This issue, along with issues 3-5 were covered on the second episode of From Crisis to Crisis, which can be found here.

The most recent printing of The Man of Steel in TPB form was the first volume in the six-volume series collecting the early issues of the post-Crisis Superman. (Yes, that's not the cover, but Amazon was being a pain and kept linking this, and I rather like its simple iconography).

Next on World of Superman: Phase one of the blog is over. Phase two begins. Superman #1. And at some point over the next few weeks, a special post for continuity nuts that will re-order some of the issues that slot in between individual issues of The Man of Steel. I've been busy!


  1. ...the idea that Superman was active for 7 years without encountering any major super-villains with the exception of the pseudo-Bizarro feels like stretching credibility enough without adding the best part of another year on!

    As a side-note, one of the more interesting comparisons between Superman and Batman is that within months of Batman's first appearance, his major villains were starting to appear, both the psychos and the metas. In contrast, Metallo, Superman's first recurring super-powered villain, took seven (or eight, see above) years to appear. I find that an interesting statement on the nature of both Superman and Batman, and their respective cities.

    This is the major problem with the '86 revamp, in fact the ONLY one!
    Even back then when I was loving every minute of this I had the exact same thoughts about the implausibility of Supermans not doing much for his first seven years, think about it - Toyman, Metallo, Prankster, Parasite, Mongul, Mxyzptlk etc... all of these come AFTER that first seven years related in MoS! Lois in #5 actually places the issue exactly five years after #2 where Superman arrives in Metropolis so basically all Superman is doing in these years is fighting non-entities like Killgrave and the odd bit of assistance he gave to the JLA, it just doesn't feel plausible. Basically 'Superman' only gets serious with the arrival of his 1st issue and Metallo, who conveniently spearheads the return of the aforementioned classic foes.

    Now having said that there's no denying these are great issues. I don't know if you intent covering World of Krypton but maybe you should, it's criminally forgotten and offers a fascinating glimpse into that society's history. I always felt the era's it explored were ripe for further exploration.

  2. Sorry I blanked on the name. I felt bad about it.

    Nearly two years ago I posted all of the different MAN OF STEEL trade paperback covers. Here is a link if you are interested.

  3. Hi guys, thanks for the comments.

    Dave, I started this blog looking at World of Krypton #1, and have covered the entire series. Have a dig back into October 2009 and Febuary 2010, or check out the Mike Mignola tag, as I think this will be the most accurate to get to them.

    Michael, please don't feel bad! And thanks for the link, it's a great collection of the covers. Even though was not playing ball and bringing up the cover I wanted (the link was to the printing of Man of Steel that formed the first part of the recent trades, but the image was wrong), I really liked the simple iconography of the cover. Plus, it was late and I decided to just let it lie! By the way, it may be my memory playing tricks, but I am fairly sure that the first trade I read of the The Man of Steel in my local library had the shirt-ripping cover that this blog's logo is taken from.

  4. Looking back at Man of Steel is always pleasurable as like Legends I can remember the exact circumstances & awe I read them in, certain issues anyway, MoS #5 is particularly vivid as every panel is etched in my mind to this day. A lot of that comes from the crisp, highly distinctive art. Even today it looks stunning, Byrnes ability to do action is largely unsurpassed, as is his linework. It is no exaggeration to compare his stuff at this time to Jackson Guice or George Perez' it's just that good.
    I find MoS #6 doesnt stick in the mind all that much and I'd go so far as to say it is the weakest of the series as it is very much telling us what we already know and there is no action to spice up and divert from what is an issue of merely telling us what we already know about Clark/Superman.
    Another niggling issue I've long had (and this is probobly something you should note when you review Superman #1) is the subplot with the 'Mad Scientist' who made off with the rocketship. An intriguing development, but it never amounts to anything, and IIRC we didn't actually find out much about him untill one of the 1994 Zero Hour issues returned to him. Sort of.

  5. In my coverage of MoS #2 (and, to a lesser extent, it applies to MoS #4), I talk about how I had read this long before I had heard of John Byrne, The Man of Steel, post-Crisis reboots, or anything that people now commonly associate with this series. Rediscovering that issue when I read through this series for the first time in the late 1990s was a real watershed moment for me. I have always had near-perfect recall of that issue, and it defines for me, more than anything else, the character of Lois Lane.

  6. Interesting observation about the seven year gap of Superman's rogues to the near immediate arrival of Batman's in Gotham City. It's funny how you can read things over and over and never make the most obvious of observations.

    It looks like that's also a theme that Scott Snyder is going to be exploring in his Detective Comics run starting up this month. Now that Dick is Batman, Gotham's criminal element is changing in reaction to him donning the cowl.

    I'm looking forward to Phase Two!