Friday, 27 May 2011

Adventures of Superman #426

It's here! Golden Age Superman episode 19, featuring myself with the host Jon M Wilson covering Superman #3, Action Comics #20 and a whole bunch of newspaper strips, has gone live. I had a blast recording the show last week, and although I get a little quiet towards the end as my local time heads towards midnight, I think I made a good shot at talking about comics that I have very little experience with. Thanks to Jon for having me on!

It's been a busy week, what with a whole bunch of work for my job, and preparation for this weekend's MCM Expo. I'm really looking forward to the show - I'm off in a couple of hours to the preview day. I can't wait to re-meet some creators from last year, including Kieron Gillen, who had yet to have his first issue of Uncanny X-Men published, and Tony Lee, the writer of the fantastic IDW Doctor Who series. There are panels for both the Green Lantern and X-Men First Class movie, and most of the voice cast of Futurama are making an appearance, although sadly no Bender or Leela. But I'm really looking forward to meeting some great Superman-related guests. Occasional JLA: Classified writer Warren Ellis (I'll admit, that's a very tenuous connection) is a guest of honour for the weekend. Hitman artist John McCrea will be there, and in celebration of that I picked up a copy of the award-winning Hitman #34, featuring Superman, for him to sign.

The biggest Superman name for the convention, though, is All-Star Superman and JLA: Earth-2 artist Frank Quitely. I have these titles from the original release, and I also picked up the first trade of Batman and Robin yesterday to re-read and get signed, and I can't wait to meet this amazing artist.

As with last year I'll be posting a review and round-up after the event, but for 'live' coverage, be sure to follow me on Twitter as that's how I'll be keeping up with the world.

Legends Chapter 18: From The Dregs…

Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist/Co-Plotter: Jerry Ordway
Co-Plotter: John Byrne
Letterer: Albert de Guzman
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Andrew Helfer
Cover Art: Jerry Ordway
Cover Date: March 1987
Release Date: 18/12/1986

The fires of Apokolips burn. Beneath the surface of the planet, a scavenger collects waste and debris from the flame pits. He has a luck catch when he snags red material, and pulls the unconscious body of Superman from the flames. Realising that his catch has survived the fires, he wonders whether he should attempt to sell him to Darkseid, but decides against it, choosing instead to let the Hunger Dogs of Apokolips know of his find. Word spreads, and a crowd forms around Superman’s prone form. The scavenger attempts to show Superman’s invulnerability by scorching his hand with a fiery torch, but gets a surprise when Superman revives and grabs his hand. Superman is more surprised to discover that his hand has actually been burned. The Hunger Dogs react to the apparent deception by forming a mob, but the appearance of Amazing Grace, the woman from the previous issue, cows the threat. She declares Superman their saviour, one of the New Gods of New Genesis, and announces his arrival as the start of a revolution.

Watching Amazing Grace and the Hunger Dogs on a monitor screen, Darkseid is unconcerned, unleashing his parademons on the crowd. Although he is unable to remember much of who he is or how he came to Apokolips, Superman recognises innocents in danger, and leaps to their defence, fighting the parademons. After a short but furious battle, Superman is victorious, and the Hunger Dogs strip the defeated parademons of their amour. Superman notices that every time he begins to think clearly and remember details of his life, his mind starts to cloud over. Unable to resist, he accepts Amazing Grace’s proclamation of him as Apokolips’ saviour, and becomes a figurehead for the rebellion.

Elsewhere, Highfather of the New Gods feels a sense of dread and unease, and consults the Source. The Source shows him something that makes him fear for the safety of all the New Gods.

On Apokolips, Amazing Grace fires up the leadership of the rebellion, before tending to Superman, relaxing his aches away in a herbal bath. Grace replaces Superman’s costume with armour emblazoned with Superman’s symbol. As Superman leads the battles, his logo and costume become symbols of the rebellion. The battle approaches Darkseid’s citadel. Amazing Grace oversees the battle from a balcony. Declaring victory, Superman embraces her and gives her a passionate kiss. Superman addresses the crowd, telling them that their hope for freedom must now be ended. Parademons swoop down and massacre the Hunger Dogs. Superman and Amazing Grace then turn away from the slaughter and face their master, Darkseid.

The second chapter of this three-part Apokoliptian romp gives us a Superman who is barely the character we know and love, and whose passion and drive to fight against injustice is gruesomely subverted in the closing pages of the book.

I came out with a lot of love for Jerry Ordway when he made his artistic debut on the Superman books, and that love stands, but it’s unfortunate that in the midst of the entire Legends event and this crossover, all of which was pencilled by John Byrne, we didn’t get a guest spot from Byrne on Adventures of Superman. Ordway’s style, whilst strong and distinctive, feels out of place in the middle of such a Byrne-led story. There is some great artwork on display here. Ordway draws the heck out of the crowds of rebelling Hunger Dogs, and his parademons look and act as threatening as the characters treat them. In later years, parademons would come to be used cannon fodder for the fists of various heroes, but here a small force are as great a threat to the rebellion as Darkseid himself. Talking of Darkseid, he is well-presented by Ordway, but the hard, malicious tone that Byrne brings to the character is sadly missing. The final panel in particular should be far more ominous than it looks. Wolfman's scripting also feels out of place in the wider context of the crossover. His scripting is more verbose than both Byrne and Ostrander, resulting in pages that look more crowded than the other issues, and that take longer to read. It's a good read, but like the artwork, it sits awkwardly in the middle of the story.

The growth of the rebellion is interesting. As the crowds grow and they get closer to their goal, Amazing Grace becomes more… well… amazing! Her transformation from rag-clad fugitive to glorious princess overseeing the advance of her troops is a sure tip to the reader that not is all as it seems, although subtle enough to prevent the shock of the final twist from being lessened.

And what a final moment this is. Superman unleashes a horde of parademons onto the massed Hunger Dogs, wiping them out, before pledging allegiance to Darkseid himself. It’s heartbreaking to see Superman party to and instigator of these actions, even though it is clear, if unstated, that Amazing Grace is the one responsible. What perhaps robs this moment of its true power is the lack of reflection or penance on Superman’s part after he regains his memories. I believe that Superman’s conscience is strong enough that he would feel responsible, even though he was being manipulated by Darkseid and Grace, and indeed, we have seen plenty of occasions where Superman takes responsibility for events completely out of his control. In a couple of years we would see Superman react very strongly to three deaths that he took complete responsibility for, but I feel that it was a missed opportunity to deal with Superman’s guilt, regardless of whether he could be truly blamed or not.

The Geeky Bits: Several references are made throughout this series to the one-shot titled The Hunger Dogs, published in 1985 as DC Graphic Novel #4. This was Jack Kirby's final work for DC, and his intention was to bring the Fourth World saga to a close with the death of the New Gods. DC disagreed, demanding that the New Gods survive the series. When the story finally saw publication, it was not as Kirby had intended, with many page orders restructured and plot points revised. The plot featured a rebellion on Apokolips by the slave population, the titular Hunger Dogs, that saw Darkseid fleeing Apokolips. At some point between that story and this, Darkseid regained control of Apokolips, and the massacre of the Hunger Dogs in this issue would be the final rebellion on Apokolips.

This issue was covered on episode 5 of From Crisis To Crisis

Next on World of Superman: We'll be back after the weekend to cover a four-way smackdown featuring Orion, Lightray, Superman and Darkseid.

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