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.

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