Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Superman #2

Hey guys, it's been a little while but I'm back.

I first of all wanted to drop a shout-out to J David Weder, the host of the Superman Forever podcast. The podcast is one of the msot enjoyable and informative Superman podcasts out there. It's very much a magazine show, with great features on the history of Superman (I'm particularly enjoying the current look at Superman animation throughout the ages), moments of fun and silliness, and a strong look at the post-Infinite Crisis Superman, making the podcast an ideal companion to From Crisis To Crisis. I cannot recommend this podcast enough to you guys!

Secondly, if you have been to your comic store at any time over the past year you have probably noticed a series of reprints entitled DC Comics Presents. This series sits neatly between a single issue and a trade paperback, comprising 4 or so issues of a run that has not been reprinted before for about $7.99. One of the most recent issues was DC Comics Present Superman: Soul Survivor, which reprinted Legends of the DC Universe #1-3. I covered this some months ago (here, here and here), and as this is the first time this arc has been collected you may want to go check this story out if you haven't before. I'm a big supporter of this method of reprinting comics, especially as one of the strands being produced is a reprint of Peter David's Young Justice, which is an absolutely wonderful comic and one can't wait to cover in a couple of decades or so!

The Secret Revealed!

Script & Pencils: John Byrne
Inks: Terry Austin
Lettering: John Costanza
Editing: Andrew Helfer
Special Thanks to Keith Williams for Background Inks
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: February 1987
Release Date: 09/10/1986

Amanda McCoy’s research into Superman has revealed images of Lana Lang, who had been present at numerous Superman sightings. Luthor orders a team to find Lana, before ordering Connor to have dinner with him that night. He then moves onto Sydney Happerson’s laboratory, where Metallo is being investigated. Metallo rants and raves at Luthor, who simply plucks the kryptonite heart from his chest, apparently killing him. He orders a full examination of the kryptonite.

Meanwhile, in Smallville, Luthor’s agents who are investigating Clark Kent tranquilize Ma and Pa Kent before ransacking the house looking for clues. They find Ma’s scrapbook of Superman sightings and unexplained phenomenon, and decide to take it back to Luthor. As they leave, they are discovered by Lana Lang, and they kidnap her. That night, Luthor’s dinner date with McCoy is interrupted by news of Lana’s capture. Lex prepares to drug her with truth serum, but Dr Kelley warns that Lana has a serious allergy to drugs, meaning that she cannot be given the serum.

 Flying above Metropolis, Superman discovers that he is being followed by a small, agile, flying camera. Finding that it is too fast to grab, Superman confuses it with a bunch of helium balloons, but before he can investigate it, it self-destructs. Returning home, Clark Kent discovers bloody footprints leading past his door to a maintenance closet. Opening the door, he discovers the battered and beaten form of Lana Lang, who tells Superman that she has been kidnapped and tortured for two days. Her kidnappers wanted to know everything about Superman, but she refused to talk to them. She tells Clark that her kidnappers have also taken his parents.

Superman heads off to confront the kidnappers, monitored by Luthor, who orders Dr McCoy to review the gathered data on Superman and Clark Kent. Arriving at an abandoned factory, Superman confronts the kidnappers, but Luthor detonates the complex by remote, killing them and angering Superman further. Soon after, Superman bursts into Luthor’s office, threatening him with kidnapping, torture and murder charges. Luthor is not intimidated, and points out that Superman is dizzy and confused. The closer Superman gets to Luthor, the weaker he gets, the result of kryptonite radiation. Unable to proceed, Luthor throws Superman out of his office.

Superman flies Lana back to Smallville. They arrive at the Kent farm, and Superman is astonished to discover his parents, free and well. Lana’s kidnappers had ignored them and left them where they were. They report that only personal items relating to Clark had been stolen, and Superman worries about what Luthor is going to do with the information he has gained.

Luthor meets McCoy in her laboratory, where a computer is analysing all the data on Clark Kent. Suddenly, it produces its conclusion: Clark Kent is Superman. McCoy is astonished by the revelation, but Luthor refuses to believe it. To him, the power of Superman would be something to be exploited, and he cannot understand why anyone would choose to hide it and pretend to be a normal person. In his anger, he fires McCoy.

Wow, what a great issue. End of review.

What’s that? 532 words of recap followed by 5 words seems a little unbalanced? Damn you, internet, with your reasonable expectations! Damn you all to hell!

But seriously, one of the hardest reviews to write is that of something you completely love, and I completely love this comic. We’ve talked a bit about statements of what the post-Crisis Superman is, and this issue is possibly the strongest statement there is. Everything that I associate with this era is present and correct. Luthor being an absolute magnificent bastard, revelling in his power and influence? Check. A supporting cast that is as strong, if not stronger, than the title character? Check. Tremendous faith and compassion? Oh, check, absolutely check that.

Lex Luthor takes the centre stage for the first time since Man of Steel #4, and he hogs it completely. He is a predator, an unstoppable machine, devouring and spitting out not only Lana Lang but Dr McCoy as well. There are some great sexual undertones when it is implied that Amanda slept with Lex on his order, and the thought of having to physically torture Lana fills him with joy. Bear in mind that the last time Lex had a female in custody, it was a teenage Lois who was forcibly searched on camera, it can be implied that it is not only a beating Lana receives. His skills in manipulation are on fine form, sacrificing his henchmen to bring Superman to him, simply to bring the Man of Steel to his knees in the presence of his newly-acquired kryptonite ring. He also happily wrenches the artificial heart from Metallo without a second thought as to whether or not this would kill the cyborg. But it his final act, born of misunderstanding, that truly tells the reader who Lex is. Unable to comprehend that someone blessed with such power would not use it for his own benefit, he dismisses McCoy in his anger and walks away from the very truth he had been seeking. Luthor is the ultimate egoist, and anything that does not fit his view of the world is summarily dismissed.

This is the first time that the supporting cast from Smallville crosses into Clark’s Metropolis life, and for Lana Lang it’s a terrible journey. Found at the wrong place at the wrong time, a chance allergy to ‘drugs’ (what does she do when she has a headache?) sees her subjected to two days of physical torture.  Her strength shines through when she tells Clark that his identity is too important to her and to the world to give up. This moment defines Lana in the same way that this issue defines Lex. She is forever the girl next door, in love with the hero but acceptant of the fact that they will never be together. Their bond is unbreakable and their secrets too important to share. If you don’t come out of this issue loving Lana to pieces and feeling so sorry for her situation, then you probably don’t have a heart!

The other element of the Smallville cast, Ma and Pa Kent, are involved with a moment of false jeopardy that feels untrue and forced. The reader is supposed to believe that Luthor’s goons have kidnapped them along with Lana, and some attempt is made to convince us that the Kents are missing or in danger. The revelation that they were left to sleep off their tranquilizers feels as if a potentially interesting direction for the books was closed off too soon (although the missing scrapbook would provide plots for some time to come.

With all of this supporting-cast love, it could be easy to see Superman as a secondary player in his own book. Whilst it’s true that he doesn’t appear until page 10, every event in this book revolves around Superman. His presence is the instigator of the plot and its every development. When he does appear, he doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lovely little moment when Superman is trying to evade the flying camera when he stops to pay a street vendor for his bunch of balloons (apparently Superman’s belt, whilst not at Batman levels, has at least a pouch for change). We then switch into compassionate Clark, telling Lana that she should have given him up rather than take Luthor’s beating. The scene in Lex’s penthouse where Superman is blindsided by the kryptonite and is forced to retreat is painful to read, and Superman’s final utterance through gritted teeth, ‘Damn you Luthor’ is powerfully portrayed in what is possibly the thinnest panel of the year.

But what about the climax? Heavily hinted at by the cover, Lex Luthor is presented with evidence that Clark Kent is Superman and chooses to disregard it. The cover is a great exercise in creating an impossible situation and letting the reader wonder how this can be undone. Unlike certain stories involving mindwipes and scarlet pigeons, the undoing of the premise comes entirely from Luthor’s character and is all the stronger for it.

The Geeky Bits: Lex Luthor would ‘rediscover’ Superman’s identity in Superman #178. Look out for coverage of this in… ooh… about twenty years or so!

Amanda McCoy and her knowledge of Superman’s identity would culminate in the Dark Knight Over Metropolis storyline.

Coverage of this issue can be found in Episode 4 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: Magic. Blegh. Superman vs mud. Blegh.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Not Superman #2, but a call for help.

Sorry guys, the look at Superman #2 is going to be a couple of days more before it's ready. I've been getting distracted with sales figures for the Superman books. I'm not sure what put me onto this, but I've been hunting down sales figures for the post-Crisis Superman books, which isn't easy for several reasons, not least of which is the fragmented nature of comics distribution before the rise of Diamond. If there is anyone out there who can point me in the direction of the order figures for Capital City Distribution, which I understand used to be published in its own newsletter Internal Distribution, I would be eternally grateful. Many thanks to John Jackson Miller and his website comichron.com for data from 1995 onwards, which I have been slowly inserting into the relevant entries.

Anyway, if you can lend a hand with sales or order figures from the post-Crisis reboot through to the mid-1990s, drop a line in the comments or e-mail me.

See you in a couple of days!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Action Comics #584

How are we all doing this evening? Really? That's great!

I'm feeling good, thank you for asking. I spent five hours a couple of nights ago with Jon M Wilson, Zach Henderson and Tyler Crone from Teenage Wasteland: An Ultimate Spider-Man podcast, talking about the first Stuart Immonen arc on the title, The Death of a Goblin. Well, at least, we did for some of the time. Along with thoughts on DCU Online (No, I don't have it yet, I need to become more self-sufficient in Cataclysm before I start to put a second MMORPG into the mix), the rise of Joe Quesada, just how bad Ultimates 3 was (hint: very), moments in Ultimate Spider-Man that make people cry, and more vulgar profanity than the most profane episode of South Park with all the non-profanity edited out.

The episode will be up in a month or so, and I'll be sure to drop a link here if you want to check it out. I'll be interested if only to hear what Zach manages to salvage from our random mumblings.

And talking of random mumblings, how about our review for today?


Storyteller: John Byrne
Embellisher: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: January 1987
Release Date: 23/10/1986

A Superman sighting in Metropolis turns sour when the Man of Steel starts attacking skyscrapers. As the debris hurtles towards bystanders, Cyborg of the Teen Titans appears, using his sonic weaponry to disintegrate the rubble. He then heads to confront Superman, who is ranting and boasting about his superior powers. To get his attention, Cyborg hurls a metal sheet at him. The plan works, but a little too well, as Superman attacks the Titan. Superman rips Cyborg’s arm off, heavily injuring him. Cyborg temporarily blinds Superman with a laser, but is hurled off the top of a skyscraper and crashes heavily to the ground. With his internal communications systems damaged in the fall, Cyborg makes it to a telephone box where he contacts the rest of the Titans for assistance.

Wonder Girl and Changeling respond to Cyborg’s cry for help. Changeling goes up against Superman as an elephant, but is quickly batted to one side. Wonder Girl appears to subdue Superman with a wrecked car, but Superman fights back with a broken mains water pipe. Changing tactic, Wonder Girl binds Superman with her lasso. Meanwhile, Jericho breaks off from teaching American Sign Language to children when he hears a radio report of the combat. Cyborg recovers from his beating just in time to see Superman break Wonder Girl’s lasso, and leaps in to save her. Jericho arrives, getting Superman’s attention by throwing fruit at him. He makes eye contact and jumps into him, but Superman’s alien physiology prevents Jericho from fully taking control, although his presence quells Superman’s rampage. Suddenly, a man on crutches arrives and claims that he is Superman.

Flying across Metropolis, ‘Superman’ explains to the Titans what happened, whilst Jericho ‘pilots’ Superman’s body to keep him under control. Clark Kent had taken a phone call at the Daily Planet from David Gunderson, an amateur scientist who needed Superman’s help for an experiment. Arriving at Gunderson’s lab, Superman was tricked into a trap, and Gunderson was able to switch his mind with Superman’s. Gunderson then locked Superman in his basement whilst he went on a rampage in Superman’s  body, although Superman was able to escape. The Titans take Superman to back to Gunderson’s lab, where he is able to reverse the mind-swap by tinkering with the apparatus.
 In Paris, Lex Luthor reads Clark Kent’s report of the incident in the Daily Planet. Musing on the fact that Clark Kent seems to get all the good Superman stories, he decides to discover the connection between Kent and Superman.

In his column at the end of this issue, John Byrne talks about the genesis of the three post-Man of Steel Superman titles. He writes, “it would be in Superman and Marv’s title (Adventures of Superman) that we would explore Clark Kent’s place in the universe, his attitudes to the world and Superman. In the team-up title, then, the key would be… action” This definition between Action Comics and the other titles is marked, and exemplified by the contents of this issue. With the exception of the final page, none of Superman’s supporting cast appears, and no service is paid to the ongoing plots of Superman and Adventures of Superman.

Instead, what we get is action, and lots of it, featuring the stars of DC’s most popular team book at the time, the Teen Titans. First Cyborg, then the entire team, go up against the mind-controlled Superman, and this issue is little more than a very well-executed fight scene with a superficial plot tacked on. The mind-swap plot, such as it is, is pretty basic and non-descript, although the comparisons between the crripled Gunderson and the pinnacle of super-heroic ability that is Superman had more mileage than the simple homily of “It’s not you body that cripples you, Gunderson. It’s your mind!”. Unlike the similar fallen genius of Emil Hamilton, there is no on-page redemption for Gunderson, which is probably deserved thanks to his failure to disable the mind-control machine to ensure the switch would not be reversed, before going on a power-drunk rampage in Metropolis.

The action is well portrayed. Cyborg’s initial encounter with Superman is brutal and destructive. The fall from the top of the office building is painful, and the visuals of Cyborg without his cybernetic arm and leg are disturbing. The Titans fight with varying levels of success, with Changeling coming across as impulsive and a little reckless, whilst Jericho’s inventiveness to insert himself into the fight, using a piece of fruit, surely the least threatening item imaginable in the destruction of the fight, is deft and amusing.

This is a light issue, short on plot and resonance, but high on power, energy, and panache.

The Geeky Bits:

I mentioned that I would touch on this a while back, but the use of the Teen Titans as the guest stars in this issue tells us a lot about how compressed DC history is when compared to that of Superman. The last time we saw Robin was in Legends of the DC Universe #6, set between Man of Steel #4 and #5. Approximately three years or so passes between that issue and the January 1987 issues of the Superman titles, meaning that Robin has his entire career as Robin as well as some time as Nightwing, including leading the Teen Titans, in this time. Of course, Nightwing doesn’t appear in this issue, but the appearance of the Titans was intended to be contemporaneous to their current adventures in their own title, resulting in this comparison.

Talking of the Teen Titans, their hugely-popular title, The New Teen Titans, had launched in November 1980, written by Marv Wolfman and pencilled by George Perez. The success of this title meant that it was the only DC book to rival the popularity of Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men, and the two titles shared a crossover in 1982.

This issue of Action Comics was covered on episode 3 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next Time on World of Superman: We take a look at the brilliance of Lana Lang.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Adventures of Superman #425

Welcome back to World of Superman. Things are moving rather smoothly here, and there's not a huge amount to report. So I'd like to take this pre-post waffle-space to introduce you to a new podcast out there, hosted by friend of this blog Jon M Wilson, called Golden Age Superman, and focusing, surprisingly enough, on the Golden Age Superman. I got the chance to have a sneak preview of this podast just before Christmas, and the first episode was a good listen, covering the entirety of Action Comics and not just the Superman story. I think this is going to be a really good listen, and I encourage all of you give it a try.
And with the podcast-pimping now over, let's turn our attention to the issue.

Going The Gauntlet

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Jerry Ordway
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andy Helfer
Cover Artist: Jerry Ordway
Cover Date: February 1987
Release Date: 20/11/1986

Emil Hamilton pleads with an unknown listener to hear his story and to understand how he came to be where he is.

A few weeks previously, Hamilton was summoned to a meeting by Lex Luthor. There, he reveals that the company Hamilton was working for when he created his magnetic force-field generator was owned by LexCorp, and that he owns the rights to the generator. He demands the blueprints in return for a paltry payoff to twenty years of Hamilton’s work.  Returning to his lab, Hamilton starts to destroy his work to keep it out of Luthor’s hands, but a visit from Luthor’s goons leaves him fearful for his life. With the police unwilling to assist, Hamilton approaches the Department of Defence, hoping that they will work with him this time, but he is turned down.

Hamilton is approached by Compucon Services, who are interested in helping Hamilton complete his work. A few days later at a public demonstration of the forcefield, industrial saboteurs arrange the death of one of the visiting businessmen.  Branded a thief and a murderer, Hamilton finds himself without any support.

In the present, Superman faces off against the combined Freedom League machine. He survives the first attack, and uses a steel girder to render the weaponry of the machine useless. A missile is launched, and Superman flies through the streets as a decoy, before returning to the machine where he tricks the missile into blowing up on the machine. The machine is crippled, but as Superman prepares to confront the Freedom League inside, Hamilton appears with his force-field generator, trapping Superman and the machine inside an impenetrable force-field. The machine still has some functioning weaponry, which Superman is eventually able to defeat. Bursting into the machine, he is shocked when the Freedom League soldiers inside choose to commit suicide rather than answer for their crimes.  The machine explodes, but Hamilton’s field prevents the explosion from harming Metropolis. However, his contribution goes unnoticed as the public lauds Superman.

A week later, Hamilton broadcasts a challenge to Superman, calling him to Fifth Avenue to save the life of an innocent. Arriving at the location, Superman discovers Hamilton with a gun to the head of a prostitute. Hamilton’s force-fields prevent Superman from flying, forcing him to walk through a series of traps.  Superman battles through the numerous traps, surviving each one but getting weaker with each challenge. His resilience shocks Hamilton, who prepares to detonate his generator, killing himself, his hostage, and Superman. Superman smothers the generator with his body, saving their lives, and shocking Hamilton into realising what he has done.  Hamilton hands himself over to the police, and is revealed to be in jail telling his story to a disinterested guard.

In a voiceover, Lex Luthor reveals that Compucon was another LexCorp subsidiary, and that he engineered the death at the demonstration to drive Hamilton to improve the generator, which he now owns.

The second part of this two-issue story is a great introduction and character piece for Emil Hamilton. Hamilton would later, after Wolfman’s departure from the title, become Superman’s unofficial ‘scientific advisor’, participating in his adventures up until his revelation as Ruin at the end of Adventure of Superman. Even if he had never been seen again, he would have stood out in Superman’s gallery of opponents, thanks to a sensitive and detailed portrayal in this issue.

The focus here is very strongly on Hamilton, opening with a flashback to show how Emil has reached his point of desperation, relegating the resolution to last issue’s cliffhanger to almost halfway through the issue. Emil is a victim of Luthor’s schemes. For the most part he does no wrong, only finally falling foul of the sin of Pride when the public of Metropolis ignores his contribution to the defeat of the Man O’ War. He is good enough to recognise his failings, and to cease his activities when it looks like Superman has seriously injured himself to save him from the exploding generator, telling the police to shoot him if they want, but to help Superman first.


Lex Luthor is a master-villain here. Although the gauntlet of the title specifically refers to Hamilton’s set of challenges for Superman, it can equally apply to the events masterminded by Lex. Every obstacle faced by Hamilton, with the exception of the newsmen who ignore his actions, is constructed by Lex, not only to gain ownership of the force-field generator (which he achieves within the first pages of the book), but to discredit Hamilton to the point where he won’t be able to gain funding to repeat his work. Like in the last issue, Luthor’s renown as a scientist is an element, but here it comes from Emil’s respect for Luthor that makes Lex’s takeover more personally galling. At no point in the issue does Luthor threaten Hamilton, but the physical threat of the bodyguards coupled with the assault immediately after Hamilton leaves Luthor’s office, clearly shows Lex’s colours in a way that cannot come back onto him.

The Freedom League and its attacks feels very much like a subplot within the issue. For Superman, the fight is testing, but the real defeat comes when the Man O’ War is disabled. Superman breaks into the machine, only to find that the members of the Freedom League within choose to commit suicide in the name of their goals. This failure is later partially-atoned for when Superman throws himself on the exploding generator before telling Hamilton that he wouldn’t let him destroy himself.

Jerry Ordway is on top form again here. He provides a strong, visually arresting cover, sadly an event not featured within the story itself, and the fight between Superman and Man O’ War really shows how much Superman is thinking on his feet and determined not to be beaten. There’s a highly detailed panel on the final page showing Hamilton’s nervousness and worry whilst in prison that really stands out, and contrasts nicely with the previous page where the height of his madness was depicted with his face basked in red light from the overloading generator. Also notable is the panel where a near-unconscious Hamilton is given the warning by Luthor's goons, as unusually for comics, the full extent of his beating, including several bleeding gashes across his face, is shown.

Although this title takes a breather in the next issue for the Legends storyline to play out, this issue marks a satisfying conclusion to the first act of Marv Wolfman's tenure on Adventures of Superman.

The Geeky Bits: Jerry Ordway is a writer, penciller and inker best known for his re-invention in the 1990s of Captain Marvel, in the Power of Shazam! graphic novel and ongoing series. Starting as an inker at DC in the early 1980s, Ordway’s most notable inking work was over George Perez’s pencils on Crisis on Infinite Earths. As a writer and artist, his work was notable during the 1980s on titles such as All-Star SquadronI and Infinity Inc, dealing with legacy characters most commonly associated today with the Justice Society of America. After Marv Wolfman departed Adventures, Ordway became the title’s writer, moving across to Superman when John Byrne finished his run.

The flashbacks in this issue take place prior to the events of Superman #1, most likely during the three-month gap between the conclusion of The Man of Steel and the start of the relaunched title. The Superman/Man O'War confrontation takes place immediately following the last issue, whilst Hamilton's gauntlet, occuring a week later, happens after Action Comics #584. Directly following his encounter with Man O' War, Superman follow up on his phone call from the last issue, calling on David Gunderson.

This issue of Adventure of Superman was covered on episode 4 of From Crisis to Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: When Superman goes out of control, it falls to the youngest team of heroes to halt his rampage.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Adventure of Superman #424 (or, I love Jerry Ordway)

As I already covered a bunch of stuff yesterday, I thought I'd quickly cover where my reading and viewing in an internet-free world has taken me over the past couple of weeks. There's been an awful lot of Doctor Who, both the new Christmas special, which was spellbindingly brilliant, and the entirety of the Series Five boxed set. I also got to grips with Sherlock, the modern-day retelling from earlier in the year, on DVD, and finally got to the the final episode which has the most amazing cliffhanger. No spoilers, but it's up there with the reveal of Locutus for sheer 'how the hell are they going to get out of this one'-ness!

There were comics as well. A very long time ago, I made an illicit eBay purchase of the then-entire run of Captain America on DVD. I found it a few weeks ago, and picked up where I left off, which was the first issue of Mad Bomb, the return of Jack Kirby to the title in the 1970s. I made it all the way through to about #385 before the scratches on the DVD made the files unreadable, but I had a real blast with the comics, especially the Gruenwald run that I wasn't quite able to finish. From there, I went to the Legion of Super-Heroes, working my way through several years of the 1960s. I generally run cold with the Silver Age - I've been trying to read my way through the Hal Jordan Green Lantern series from the start and can only make a couple of issues in a sitting - but I love the Legion, their ridiculous rules and bylaws, the silly nature of their applicants, and wonderfully absurd concepts such as Miss Terious and Sir Prize. With the return of the internet, I know I won't be able to read as much as I have done, but I had a blast going through these comics and I look forward to reading a few issues a week.

Man O’ War

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Penciller: Jerry Ordway
Inker: Mike Machlan
Letterer: John Costanza
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andy Helfer
Cover Art: Jerry Ordway, Alex Jay
Cover Date: January 1987
Release Date: 16/10/1986

Somewhere in Metropolis, a man storms out of a meeting concerning the future of an oil-rich country subversively controlled by America. Once outside of the meeting, he summons a large mechanical construct to destroy the building where the meeting was being held.

At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent meets the latest addition to the staff, gossip reporter Cat Grant. The two stumble over each other in the lift, and find themselves attracted to each other. Clark and Cat happen upon the destroyed building and start to investigate. Whilst Clark surreptitiously uses his powers to search for survivors, Cat views a note left by the perpetrators, the Freedom League, stating that the destruction is a response to an American invasion. As the two head away, the mechanical construct surfaces again, this time to attack City Hall.

Cat and Clark visit the Suicide Slum laboratory of Professor Emil Hamilton, who claims that the government are trying to discredit him and his work.  He demonstrates a magnetic force-field that Clark is unable to break with his powers, and which is impervious to bullets. As Cat interviews Hamilton, Clark picks up radio messages concerning the attack on City Hall. Sneaking away, he changes to Superman and heads off.

Arriving at City Hall, Superman discovers a large metallic caterpillar-like construct which attempts to detain him with metallic constricting bands before hurling him away. Inside the machine, members of the Freedom League control the battle. Superman recovers from the assault, breaking free from the rubble just in time to be crushed by the ‘caterpillar’.

Superman breaks free from the rubble again and helps rescue survivors of the assault before heading after the construct.  However, all traces of the machine have vanished, forcing Superman to visit Inspector Henderson for further information.  He learns that the Freedom League are likely a Quraci terrorist group. He departs suddenly when he learns of an attack on the Daily Planet. Arriving at the Planet he discovers another type of construct, which is quickly joined by all of the machines. The different machines combine together to form a juggernaut, which faces off against Superman.

Meanwhile, the Lane family gather at the bedside of Elinore Lane, who lies comatose following an accident at a chemical plant she was visiting. Lois is distracted by her personal problems, presenting a bitchy front to Cat Grant when they meet at the Planet. As the machines start to focus on City Hall, Lois leaves the Daily Planet, and is forced into a limousine by Lex Luthor’s driver. The limousine takes her to the airport where Lois meets with Lex Luthor on his private jet. He reveals that the chemical plant where Lois’ mother had the accident was a minor LexCorp subsidiary. Feeling responsible, he has managed to develop an expensive serum that can cure Elinore Lane, as long as she takes it monthly. He gives the serum to Lois for free, only asking that she accompany him to dinner. After dinner, with Lois returning to Metropolis alone, Luthor reveals to his assistant that he purposefully caused the accident to manipulate Lois into becoming indebted to him.

The first issue of Adventures of Superman, picking up the numbering from the first volume of Superman, opens with a strong start. From the off, Wolfman is less interested in re-inventing classic villains, or building Superman’s relationship with the rest of the DCU, and more interested in building Superman’s supporting cast and giving him new and interesting threats to counter. In this one issue alone, we see Lois’s family grow with the introduction of Sam and Elinore Lane, get another addition to the Daily Planet staff with the assured and exciting introduction of Cat Grant, and meet Professor Emil Hamilton, originally conceived to serve the purposes of this story, but who would go on to become a regular member of Superman’s supporting cast and Superman’s go-to scientific advisor all the way through to Infinite Crisis nearly twenty years later.

These new characters immediately jump off the page. Straight away we understand that Lois is not the favoured child in the eyes of her father, and her calling him ‘Sam’ instead of father speaks volumes about her relationship with the main male influence in her upbringing. Emil Hamilton doesn’t have a huge amount to do in this issue, so we’ll take a closer look at him when he takes a starring role in the next issue. But Cat Grant is the real guest-star here. Her introduction is a true classic, forcing Clark into the kind of pre-Crisis bumbling reporter role with the sheer force of her appearance and her attraction to him. Thankfully, we don’t see much of this version of Clark, but to have him bowled over by her beauty to the point that he gets his leg trapped in an elevator door is a lovely bit of humour. Clark and Cat have a great chemistry together, and it’s really evident from the start that Cat is intended as a threat to the concept of Clark and Lois being together.

For the threat, Wolfman gives us Middle-Eastern terrorists attacking public monuments with weapons of mass destruction, all in response to American activities in foreign countries where oil is the motivating factor. It’s an idea that resonates far beyond the original 1986 release and, at least at the start of Wolfman’s year of plots, grounds Superman (mostly) in a realistic world with problems that reflect those of our own. Of course, this is Superman, so the terrorists use a combining Transformer-like assault vehicle. The Quraci storyline forms the main thrust of Wolfman’s year on the title, and goes through its ups and downs over the next twelve issues. But for this issue, it’s Wolfman’s depiction of Lex Luthor that really stands out. Everything that makes the post-Crisis re-invention of Luthor great is present. He’s a notable scientist, devoting his skills to curing Elinore. He’s callously manipulative, toying with the lives of innocents as he did with yacht-full of people in Man of Steel #4 and the armour pilot in Man of Steel #5. In this case, he deliberately orchestrates a near-death experience for Lois’ mother, not to win Lois’ heart but to place her in his debt for years to come. This strong portrayal, coupled with Superman #2, clearly sets up the post-Crisis Luthor in his own right, a more worthy nemesis for Superman than simply an evil scientific genius.

The real highlight of this issue, however, is the art of Jerry Ordway. Through his writing and art, Ordway would come to be as synonymous with late 1980s Superman as Dan Jurgens would be with 1990s Superman, and he literally bursts into the Superman titles here. His designs for the Clark, and especially Lois and Cat, are very grounded in the fashions of the day, which does date the art a little, but shows a closer attention to detail and greater concern for grounding the book in ‘reality’ than John Byrne’s more ‘timeless’ approach in Action Comics and Superman. But it’s his Superman that really stands out. The splash page revealing Superman for the first time on page 12 is absolutely beautiful, distinct from the familiar Byrne rendition, dynamic and full of energy, especially in the way that Superman's arm breaks free of the panel and thrusts right off the page. The cover is similarly iconic, and even quieter moments, such as Superman pondering events whilst in Henderson’s office, look great. Another interestingly composed moment is the panel where Superman perches atop a cinema billboard, confronting the newly-combined machine. Relegating Superman to the corner of the panel lends the attacking machine greater weight, presence and threat.

The Geeky Bits: Although it is never named as such in this issue, the giant Quraci machine is referred to as Man O’ War in later issues.

During the scenes at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent receives a call from Mr Gunderson. This links into this month’s Action Comics issue, where Gunderson is the antagonist (But, as we won’t get there for a couple of posts, I’ll refrain from spoiling what he does. Even though the comic is 23 years old. And even if you haven’t read it, you’ve all probably listened to the episode of From Crisis To Crisis that covers it. Or you actually recorded that episode.)

This issue was covered on episode 3 of From Crisis To Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: We get a bit wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey, as Adventures of Superman #425 manages to not only follow directly on from this issue, but take place before it, and after Action Comics #584. Confused? You will (not) be!

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Status Update

Evening all.

This is just a fast post to establish where I've been for a little while, and to set out where we'll be going over the next few weeks.

As I've hinted at before, December was a challenging month to find the time to sit down and work through comics. As well as being the busiest month of the year for work, the start of the month saw the release of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, the latest installment of my one and only gaming love.As sitting at a computer, working on my character whilst chatting with friends is generally an easier way to unwind than focusing on writing 1000+ word posts, it became easier to push the blog to one side and focus on getting from day to day without going mad.

Christmas came, and whilst I spent a couple of days with my parents in Gloucestershire with no comics or internet, my internet at home in London decided to die. And it's only come back today, about 9 hours ago. So that made it hard to get any post uploaded.

I used my offline time wisely, though. Thanks to my girlfriend's trip to Israel, I've had access to a laptop (my computer is a desktop), which has come with me to work where I've used my lunchtimes to get synopses written and read and re-read issues without the distractions of twitter, podcasts and the like.

I have the next few posts fully written and raring to be published, and as soon as I can get blogger to upload the panel scans correctly without garbling the images, I will do. I suspect my still-healing internet connection may have something to do with this. Expect a look at Adventures of Superman #424 within the next day or so.

Finally, I want to take the space here and list my three comic-related New Year's Resolutions.

  1. At least one post a week here at World of Superman. Even if I have dry spells (late March/early April will be a challenge as I'm on holiday in Los Angeles), I want enough posts published to have an average of one a week, and at least two in every calendar month.
  2. To be better at writing e-mails. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I like a lot of what I listen to. Sometimes I have things I want to say to the people who make the podcasts, wether it's to provide information, constructive feedback, or simply to tell people what a good job they are doing. Unfortunately, I tend to listen to podcasts on the go, or at lunch on work. By the time I get home, I've forgotten the need to write an e-mail, or the detail of the e-mail. Well, no more. If you produce a podcast that I listen to, expect something from me down the line.
  3. Read more Vertigo. I feel like my comics reading has become to blinkered towards DC, Marvel and heroes. There's nothing wrong with this, but it's a bit like dining out at McDonalds every day, then hearing your friends talk about a great Indian restaurant they went to. So many titles that have been lauded have come out of Vertigo in the last year, and I feel like I've been missing out. So I'll be directing some of my buying money away from titles that I feel like I'm being to be a completist (why excatly is Titans on my pull list?) and into titles and creators who work outside of my comfort zone. I'll let you know how I get on.
As I said, a new, proper post will be up tomorrow. Don't forget to follow me on twitter - @quizlacey -  and you can always e-mail me as well. See you tomorrow!