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!

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