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.


  1. Not a lot I can add to that excellent review, I would point out that Superman's vision powers, particularly in this era, are pretty extensive and to a degree overlap. Infra-red vision was used a few times around this time as I recall and explored more in #10.
    Let's hear a shout out for that extraordinary cover too, as you say Byrnes layouts at this time remain stunning and dynamic to this day, always looking for the most interesting and untypical 'camera shot'. the man was way ahead of his time and yet it seems like his Superman experience had a very pronounced effect on how his future work would be appreciated, rarely would he ever show the sheer imagination and energy he put into his run on the man of steel. I've always wondered just how much it took out of him...

    Dave Mullen.

  2. I don't think a Superman story should open up with a priest and a child being gunned down on panel

    Just my thoughts