Sunday, 31 July 2011

Superman #4

It's been a quiet couple of weeks here at the World of Superman. It should have been a bit of a shorter gap between posts, but my free copy of Microsoft Word Starter Edition froze whilst I was writing this post and destroyed most of what I had written. Two short but very enjoyable holidays followed, so now I'm ready to get a new post written.

Please don't forget to check out my podcast, 20 Minute Longbox, the compressed podcast for the decompressed, wait-for-trade age (yes, I'm trying this as the strapline for the show). The latest episode looking at Guy Gardner #5 and Justice League #1 went live a few days ago, and the next episode will be up just as soon as I've got it ready, hopefully tonight or tomorrow night at the latest.

Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen: Bloodsport

Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Karl Kesel
Colorist: Anthony Tollin
Letterer: John Costanza
Editors: Andy Helfer, Mike Carlin
Cover Artist: John Byrne
Cover Date: April 1987
Release Date: 08/01/1987

Lucy Lane and Jimmy Olsen share lunch in a shopping mall. Jimmy is trying to persuade Lucy to snoop around for dodgy dealings at her employer, Intercontinental Airlines, but their lunch is interrupted by a loud cry of ‘FOOLS!’. Jimmy pulls Lucy down as a hail of bullets bursts through the window, striking several members of the public. Bloodsport, a gun-wielding, bandann-wearing muscleman, yells about abuse of freedoms before speeding away on a motorbike. Jimmy activates his signal watch, calling down Superman.

Landing, Superman is met by Maggie Sawyer, who walks him through the crime scene. Realising that Bloodsport’s cries to clean up Metropolis mean that he will strike again, Superman goes on the hunt. Using his infrared vision, Superman picks up the heat trace of Bloodsport’s bike, and follows his trail through the city. Watching his pal fly away, Jimmy jumps into his car to give chase, but a flat battery means that he has to grab his police scanner and continue on foot.

At a bowling alley, Bloodsport is busy shooting up the place when Superman arrives. Bloodsport grabs a hostage and puts his gun against his head, forcing the two into a stand off. Superman breaks the situation by grabbing the gun faster than the bullet can travel down the barrel after Bloodsport fires. With Bloodsport apprehended, Superman is surprised when he materialises a new weapon in his hand, firing a kryptonite needle in Superman’s shoulder. Bloodsport is about to take a headshot when Jimmy arrives, brandishing one of Bloodsport’s weapons. Bloodsport throws a smoke pellet and makes his escape.

Recovering after surgery in hospital, Superman vows to catch Bloodsport, and the fact that he has access to kryptonite has revealed who is funding and providing technology to him.

At LexCorp, Luthor demands to know what has happened and why Bloodsport isn’t being effectively controlled. The scientist Kimberly explains that Bloodsport’s fragile psyche has caused him to target civilian rather than Superman. Luthor order’s Bloodsport’s termination.

Superman locates Bloodsport. The two face off, with Bloodsport conjuring larger and more powerful weapons to keep Superman at bay. As the destruction and chaos mounts, Bloodsport is suddenly hit by a blast. A tank and hazmat-suited soldiers from LexCorp have arrived, drawing Bloodsport’s attention. As he switches weapons, Superman realises that he is actually teleporting the guns in from another location. He ionises the air around Bloodsport, causing his teleport to malfunction and his weapons to disintegrate. Finally able to safely get in close, Superman disables Bloodsport, who reveals that he is holding a dead man’s switch that will detonate his power supply. Suddenly, a parapalegic arrives, using Bloodsport’s real name of Bobby, begging him not to kill himself. The new arrival is Mickey, Bobby’s brother, brought in by Jimmy Olsen. The arrival of his brother breaks through Bloodsport’s delusions and conditioning, halting his rampage.

Jimmy tells Superman that Bobby was never a soldier in Vietnam, having run away to Canada when his number came up as he was afraid to go and fight. Mickey pretended to be him and replaced him in the army, but had his arms and legs blown off. The guilt put caused Bobby to suffer delusions, resulting in several stays in psychiatric hospitals, before he disappeared just before Bloodsport arrived on the scene. The issue ends with a dedication to the names on the Black Wall and those who remember them.

This is a strong issue of Superman from this era. Bloodsport is a strong one-off villain, there’s some great interaction amongst the supporting cast, Lex Luthor is behind the scenes, pulling the strings, Superman uses his powers intelligently to resolve the conflict, whilst a true resolution comes from the actions of a supporting character.

As much as Superman is the focus for Bloodsport’s rage throughout this issue, it is really Jimmy Olsen’s story. We find out for the first time that he is in a relationship with Lois’s sister, Lucy, and that they have been together for a couple of years. It’s not the happiest of relationships, with Lucy angry that Jimmy wants her to compromise her job with Continental Airlines to feed him information, based on little more than a hunch on Jimmy’s part. Jimmy performs the first rescue of the issue, pulling Lucy out of the way of the hail of bullets that rip through the rest of the patrons of the mall, and brings Superman into the situation through a responsible use of his signal watch. Later on, it’s Jimmy who distracts Bloodsport enough to rescue Superman and get him to the hospital, and most notably of all, it’s Jimmy who takes note of Bloodsport’s rantings and does the legwork to peacefully resolve the situation. It's no wonder that DC resurrected the 'Superman's Pal: Jimmy Olsen' strapline for this issue, and should DC ever collect a ‘Jimmy Olsen: Greatest Stories Ever Told’ trade paperback, I would fully expect this issue to be included.

But whilst Jimmy is working behind the scenes, Superman is front and centre, utilising the full range of his powers in surprising and interesting ways. I’ll quickly brush over the use of infrared vision to track the heat-trail of a bike and its rider throughout  a busy city. There are so many things that would obscure a heat signature, from a powerful exhaust fume, to a hot dog vendor, to those lovely heat-venting manhole covers, and I’m glad that this particular power usage is rarely, if ever, seen again. More interestingly is the way that Superman uses his heat-vision to disrupt Bloodsport’s teleportation device. Rather than directly attack the source of the teleport, Superman uses a minor side-effect of his heat-vision to short it out. I also like how Superman's body behaves during surgery. Once the kryptonite is removed, his invulnerability returns and the doctors are unable to stitch him up, so they have to re-expose him to the kryptonite in order to finish their job. It's a small touch, but one that highlights an integrity and consistency with Superman's powers.

Most impressive of all is the way that John Byrne presents the use of Superman’s speed during the stand-off at the bowling alley. The entirety of page 8 is a fantastically-constructed series of silent panels devoted to the moment that Bloodsport and Superman face each other down with the life of a civilian hanging in the balance. It starts with a short, wide panel showing the distance between the two, before moving into close-ups of the faces, then of the weapons – the gun and Superman’s feet – before hitting slow-motion with the pulling of the trigger and the moving of the firing pin. Finally, Superman moves in, grabbing the gun and moving it away before the bullet travels the length of the barrel. It’s a brilliantly composed and paced homage to cinematic standoffs, that could easily be read whilst the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly plays in the background.

Page 8 is a merely a highlight in a superb issue of art from John Byrne. There’s a real sense of sudden and pointless brutality to the panel where Bloodsport’s bullets cut through the crowds at the shopping mall. For some reason, the inclusion of a priest amongst the victims just makes the violence worse. I’m a big fan of the panel at the bottom of page 4 where Superman views the bodies of Bloodsport’s victims, in which his shocked face, shaking with shock, is the only thing in in a large, white panel, and the rage in Superman’s face when he flies off to track Bloodsport is chilling.

If there’s anything about this issue that doesn’t work, it’s that the story seems to stop two pages before it should do. The final page is the exposition page, where Jimmy reveals the story of Robert and Michael DuBois. There’s no sense of closure to the story, no mention of what will happen to Bloodsport, whether it be jail or psychiatric care, and even Lex Luthor seems to get away with his involvement in the rampage. It’s a small but important flaw in the issue, and it’s a shame that – dedication aside – the issue didn’t have a stronger sense of conclusion.

The Geeky Bits: The Robert DuBois Bloodsport wouldn’t appear again for 8 years, when he would be forced into a boxing match with another Bloodsport, this one a fanatical racist, by his prison wardens. In the aftermath of the boxing match, DuBois would be shot and killed whilst attempting escape.

This issue was collected in The Man of Steel volume 3, the trade paperback collections covering the first year-or-so of this era of Superman, from a few years ago. This issue was covered on episode 6 of From Crisis to Crisis.

Next on World of Superman: Clark Kent goes to Qurac and has some bad dreams.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Legends #6

Hey all, not much to say by the way of an introduction, save to point out that my podcast, 20 Minute Longbox, is out there, awaiting your ears. Go check it out after we wrap up our coverage of Legends!


Plotter: John Ostrander
Scripter: Len Wein
Penciller: John Byrne
Inkers: Karl Kesel, Dennis Janke
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Carl Gafford
Editor: Mike Gold
Cover Art: John Byrne
Cover Date: April 1987
Release Date: 29/01/1987

Darkseid relishes his imminent victory, listing to Phantom Stranger the various ways that he has destroyed humanity’s faith in their modern legends. The Stranger warns that Darkseid has overlooked one crucial factor that will lead to his downfall.

In Washington, Godfrey faces off against Doctor Fate’s heroes, using his PA system to maintain his control over the crowds. Martian Manhunter arrives, despite not being summoned, just as Godfrey orders the warhounds to attack.  The heroes use their various powers to remove the controllers from the warhounds, allowing the stronger heroes like Superman to unleash their full powers. As the final warhound hits the ground, Godfrey opens up a boom tube, summoning legions of parademons from Apokolips. Doctor Fate reveals that this is why he brought the various heroes together, charging them with the fate of humanity.  As the heroes head off to fight the invasion, Fate turns his attention to the crowds. Seeing his distraction, Godfrey sends in a parademon who wrenches the Helm of Nabu from Doctor Fate, carrying it off into the skies. Unmasked and having lost most of his powers, Kent Nelson flies away to safety.

Leaving the Lincoln Memorial, Godfrey moves on to where he has captured Captain Boomerang. As Boomerang prepares to tell Godfrey all about Task Force X, Deadshot takes aim with a sniper rifle. Rick Flag disrupts his aim, revealing an alternative plan. The Enchantress steps up, turning the warhounds into Jell-O, sending Godfrey running. Bronze Tiger confronts Godfrey, but falls foul of his mind-controlling powers, letting him go. Boomerang is reunited with Task Force X, and Flag tells him that his televised threats have resulted in him being permanently assigned to the Suicide Squad.

Batman patrols Washington, controlling the rioters and looters. Guy Gardner unleashes his power ring on the warhounds. One warhound terrorising innocent civilians suddenly finds confronted by Wonder Woman, who has decided that she cannot remain concealed from the world whilst innocents are in danger. Gardner is impressed with Wonder Woman’s powers, and the two continue to battle.

Several of Godfrey’s troops blast their way into the Oval Office, attacking President Reagan. The President is unharmed by their attack, quickly defeating them, before revealing himself as a disguised Martian Manhunter. As Manhunter moves on to continue the fight, Reagan officially rescinds his executive order, giving all of Earth’s heroes free reign to join the fight.

In the skies, Superman and Captain Marvel corral the parademons, whilst Flash, Changeling, Black Canary and Blue Beetle help control the crowds on the ground. They are quickly joined by Batman, Guy Gardner, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, Doctor Fate and Superman, and the heroes face off against the controlled mobs. Godfrey arrives with Bronze Tiger, urging the crowds to attack and destroy the humans, watched from afar by a gloating Darkseid.

Suddenly, a gang of children, led by Lisa, burst through the crowds. The children line up in front of the heroes, confronting their parents in the crowds. Robin arrives, imploring the mob to see through Godfrey’s words and see sense. Lisa stands up to Godfrey, who tells her to be quiet and hits her. The act of violence dispels his control over the crowd, and they turn on him. In desperation, Godfrey reveals the Helm of Nabu, which he dons. When he tries to use the power within, the helm destroys his mind. Kent retrieves his helm, whilst Bronze Tiger slips away into the crowd to reunite with Task Force X.

The crowd asks for forgiveness, but Guy berates them for already distrusting heroes, which allowed Godfrey to take control. Captain Marvel suggests that the heroes themselves may have been responsible for this, necessarily having to stand apart from humanity to face the threats that only they can face. Wonder Woman agrees, and Doctor Fate suggests reforming the Justice League, to which all the present heroes agree to, save Flash and Superman, who offer themselves when needed, and Wonder Woman, who has slipped away.

On Apokolips, Darkseid vows that Earth will one day fall to him. The Phantom Stranger states his pride in standing with the legends of Earth.

I’ve not been kind to various part of this crossover. Read issue by issue, there was a lot of monologuing from Darkseid, and way too much repetition by constantly touching base with the same heroes, operating outside of Reagan’s edict. Here, this weakness turns into a strength, as Ostrander unleashes the new Justice League onto the forces of Apokolips. Every hero gets a part to play in the battle, and the use of such a wide variety of heroes allows for a very unexpected moment, where the first hero to encounter Wonder Woman is Guy Gardner!

Wonder Woman’s appearance here, although brief, is superb. A shadowy female figure observes Guy Gardner facing off against the Warhounds, resolving that to stay hidden would be a disservice to her Amazonian heritage. We then see her move, quite literally in a blur, before John Byrne unleashes one of the best pieces of artwork we’ve seen from him, a full page spread of Wonder Woman lifting a Warhound

It should be noted that Guy Gardner isn’t the only one taken with Wonder Woman. Superman here notices Wonder Woman, becoming gently obsessed with her over the next few months, before agreeing to a meetup/gentle date in Action Comics #600. It’s interesting that John Byrne teased this 25 years ago, with the rumours that one major element of the relaunched DC Universe in September will be a relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman. With the knowledge that both Action Comics and Justice League will initially be telling stories set in ‘the past’, my hope is that this fledgeling relationship will be given more room to grow, but with Superman ending up with Lois Lane, as per the last 20 years or so.

I like the way this story ends. It’s a very circular ending. Darkseid’s actions against Captain Marvel led Billy Batson to meet Lisa, strengthening her belief in heroes, leading her to be at the front and centre of the revolt against Godfrey. I would have liked to have seen more made of the fact that a child achieved what the heroes were unable to, breaking Godfrey’s spell, although the message that all you need to save the Earth from Darkseid’s machinations is a little child abuse is probably not one DC were wanting to play up! On a side-note, the last time Superman met Captain Marvel there was a definite air of unintentional paedophilia around. Here, Superman meets Marvel and a child gets beaten up. Maybe the two should stop having meetups! (I mention this, as one of the most popular posts on this site is my coverage of Superman/Shazam!: First Thunder #4, and I’m wondering if my audience are a bunch of strange, dark people who enjoy Superman endangering children. We’ll see what the hits are like for this page in a few weeks!).

Although Superman again declines membership in the Justice League, it is clear that his presence is a powerful and inspiring one. He takes the lead against the parademons when they appear, and his words are a big part of the reformation of the Justice League. It would be several years before Superman would become the leader of heroes that we are used to, but seeing him stand up and be counted amongst the heroes of the DCU is a rarity at this stage, and a pleasure to see.

I’m going to wrap up by simply stating that I have really enjoyed the appearances of Task Force X in Legends. I love the way Ostrander wraps up their story whilst setting the scene for further adventures, and it’s a pretty safe bet that if I had been reading comics at this time, I would have definitely been out there picking up the first issue of Suicide Squad when it hit the shelves.

The Geeky Bits

The new Justice League would be written by Keith Giffen and JM Dematteis. The series would become notable for the way the writers worked around the restrictions of not being able to use many of the A-List superheroes. Characters like Booster Gold, Blue Beetle and Guy Gardner would find their feet in Justice League International, and the title would become renowned for the use of humour, becoming colloquially known as the ‘Bwa-ha-ha’ League. This incarnation of the Justice League is well worth seeking out, as are the ‘sequels’ from the mid-2000s, Formerly Known As The Justice League, and JLA: Classified #4-9.

Wonder Woman would return to her own title, having been completely rebooted in the wake of the Crisis, in 1987. George Perez initially handled the character - the various trade paperbacks that reprint his issues were recently plugged in the letter columns of DC comics - with successive runs from creators such as John Byrne, William Messner-Loebs, Phil Jiminez and Greg Rucka.

Next on World of Superman: Probably another 3 week break. Either that, or Superman facing off against a gun-toting ex-marine called Bloodsport.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Legends #5

Hurrah, I've managed to recover the missing bits of this post! Apologies for no images other than the cover, I'm just desperate to get this post out, and I really don't want to re-grab all the panels I'd previously chosen.

Just a fast note to say that the second and third episodes of the 20 Minute Longbox have been released, covering Daredevil #502 and Countdown #48 respectively. Go and check them out, and let me know what you think at

“Let Slip The Dogs Of War”

Plotter: John Ostrander
Scripter: Len Wein
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Karl Kesel
Letterer: Steve Haynie
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Editor: Mike Gold
Cover Date: March 1987

Billy Batson stumbled through the deserted streets of Central City, haunted by the death of Macro Man. He is found by his new friend Lisa, who is concerned for his welfare. Angered by the rioting masses, Lisa runs off to try and intervene, but some stray rubble from the riot strikes her, knocking her out. Realising the danger of the anti-hero propaganda, Billy decides to put his own fears aside, and becomes Captain Marvel. Accessing the wisdom of Solomon, Marvel realises that Macro Man’s death was not his fault. He attempts to break up the riot, but Doctor Fate appears and teleports him away.

Fate is recruiting heroes who are defying the President’s order. Black Canary is next to join, followed by Guy Gardner, who has defeated the villain Sunspot. Blue Beetle and Batman are the next to join.
Meanwhile, Flash and Changeling are forced into an uneasy alliance with Captain Boomerang when the crowd manipulated by G. Gordon Godfrey erupts into a riot. Boomerang destroys a warhound, and the heroes discover that inside each one is a member of the public, piloting it. The mob goes for Boomerang, dragging him into the crowd. Before they can help, Flash and Changeling are recruited by Doctor Fate and taken away.

At the White House, Superman is discussing Darkseid’s recent actions with President Reagan when he too is recruited.

In Metropolis, Godfrey presents the captured Captain Boomerang  to the baying crowd. In front of the crowd and the cameras, Boomerang sends a subtle message to the command of Task Force X, telling them to take action to save him or he’ll make trouble. Dismissing his captive, Godfrey declares that the government has lost its authority and commands that the crowd marches on Washington. Watching, Amanda Waller orders Rick Flagg to either rescue Captain Boomerang or eliminate him.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Godfrey is about to announce who his followers should obey as the ultimate authority when he is interrupted by the appearance of Doctor Fate and the heroes he has recruited. Watching from Apokolips, Darkseid tells the Phantom Stranger that either the heroes will be forced to battle the people they have sworn to protect or they will be destroyed, guaranteeing him victory no matter what the outcome. Meanwhile, in hospital, Jason Todd decides that he must fight against Godfrey’s manipulation and the insanity of his followers, no matter how serious his injuries. Despite having a broken arm and leg, he struggles into his Robin costume and heads off to fight.

If the first two issues of Legends were about dismantling the heroes of the world, and the second two primarily concerned themselves with maintaining a hero-banning status quo whilst at the same time developing the threat posed by G. Gordon Godfrey into a more outright form, this issue is about the final move of the pieces around the board ahead of the climax. We’ve had plenty of vignettes featuring heroes defying the presidential order; here we see this develop into a recruitment drive for a new Justice League. The Suicide Squad’s story, which seemed to be over with the defeat of Brimstone in issue #3, places itself at the centre of the climax with the threats made by Captain Boomerang.

Sadly, one plot that receives a more perfunctory wrap-up is the guilt of Billy Batson, which is dispelled the moment he becomes Captain Marvel and the wisdom of Solomon reveals the deceit. One has to wonder why Billy never chose to quickly change to Marvel, use the wisdom to ascertain the true extent of his culpability, then pop back if it turns out it really was his fault. Later writers would work with the conceit that the wisdom of Solomon would have a presence in his mortal form (although the only example that springs to mind at the moment is at the start of the I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Justice League miniseries). Perhaps this moment would have held more weight within the issue if the reappearance of Marvel then led to the forming of the Justice League, with Marvel in the Doctor Fate role, but all that Marvel’s reappearance seems to achieve is getting his ass nearly kicked by a rioting mob.

The recruitment drive as well seems a bit overdrawn in this issue. Most encounters are limited to just one page, but did we really need to have four pages of Guy Gardner fighting Sunspot? I know that Guy Gardner as a Green Lantern was still a relatively new concern, but the fight seems to be fairly irrelevant and appears to serve no purpose other than to fill up space. I do like that most heroes are involved in keeping the peace or defeating a villain, but Blue Beetle is busy being mistaken for a peeping tom!

This is a Superman blog, and Superman's role here is minor but pivotal, if a little out-of-synch with his other adventures this month. Having just survived combat with Darkseid and discovered his role in the deaths of hundreds of innocents whose only desire was a better life, Superman's first response on returning to Earth is to pop round to the White House for a chat with President Reagan. I've said it before, shouldn't he be off somewhere soul searching and attempting to atone for his (admittedly forced) actions, rather than taking tea with a man who has prevented him from acting publicly? Still without Superman being with Reagan when he is recruited by Doctor Fate, the President would have been less likely to rescind his edict in the next issue.

The Geeky Bits: There's a rumour that the original ending for this issue saw a mutant with the power to control American History animate the Lincoln Memorial and use it to defeat the warhounds, resulting in the next issue being devoted entirely to Wonder Woman's debut. Before the idea made it past the scripting stage, it was realised that animating a statue and getting it to single-handedly defend Washington DC was completely shite idea, and the plans were shelved.*

Next on World of Superman: The finale of Legends. 'Nuff said.

*No, I didn't like Secret Avengers #13. Why do you ask?