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.
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.