DCU History 101:
by Benjamin Grose
Welcome to the second installment of my reviews of Superman Elseworlds. Instead of grading these stories on the quality of the writing or art, I look to see if these stories represent what Superman is all about. Let's get started.
My Rating System:
Superman Annual #6: The Feral Man of Steel
In a jungle in India, a shining "egg" drops from the sky. It's occupant is a crying infant, who is rescued from the hungry Khan the tiger by M'r'r the she-wolf. She presents him as her own to be accepted into the wolf pack. Khan objects, saying he must spoken for by another of the pack or be left to die. Jahd Bahlja, the panther, speaks for the "man-cub," again keeping him from Khan's mouth. M'r'r names the boy K'l'l, or "white skin." He became one of them, learning the laws of the jungle, and becoming stronger every day. The day finally came when Jahd told K'l'l of the jungle's deadliest hunter: man. He later sees what man can do, when a hunting party, under the leadership of explorer Richard Burton, kills M'r'r. He is in mourning for weeks, until Jahd tells K'l'l that Khan has become the pack's leader. K'l'l fights him to the death, and takes the skin that earned Khan the fear and respect of the jungle. Jahd shows him the strange "air-boat" he arrived in, and he takes a symbol from the craft to represent the man-pack that sent him. He vows to avenge his mother's death.
Richard Burton returns to India with his companion Sir John Ellis to search for the mysterious "jungle man." They soon meet Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, who decide to combine expeditions. They soon encounter trouble, as one of their guides attempts to kidnap Lois and steal Luthor's most prized possession. It is a green, glowing "star gem" he discovered on his expedition to Africa. He is killed by Luthor, but the group has no time to rest, as they are then attacked by K'l'l and his army. As he is about to kill Richard, Lois pleads with him to stop. He stops the animals with a single cry. In the days that followed, she gave him a more civilized name, Clark, and taught him some of their language, while he also revealed more of his amazing abilities. Aware of Lois and Clark's attraction to each other, Luthor proposes to her with his gem. She says she doesn't love him, and he is furious that she would choose the "ape-man" over him. Clark hears Lois' scream, and attempts to kill Luthor, but he collapses near his gem. Richard says that he will deal with Luthor later, but it is Luthor that deals with all of them. With Clark, and in turn Lois, under his control, his men kill most of Richard's party. He stabs Sir John and leaves Burton to die in the jungle.
Two months later in London, the "Wildman of India" is making Luthor wealthy and well known. The Queen was a guest at a special display of Clark's abilities, and Luthor orders Clark to kill her, using Lois and a sword encrusted with his gem as insurance. When he gives the command, Clark instead attacks Luthor, but is hit by the sword. During Clark's attack, the building is engulfed in flames, and Luthor drags Lois to the roof. The fight continues there, and as Luthor is about to kill him with the sword, Richard Burton reveals himself. He overcomes Luthor, who falls to his death. Lois screams as she too falls, before a human bullet darts to rescue her. Clark descends with them both as the Queen looks on. In return for saving her life, she knights him Sir Clark of Kent. Lois and Clark married soon after, and had three children. Clark's family had influenced every aspect of the British Empire, and brought a "New Renaissance" to Western civilization.
As you can probably tell, this story was inspired quite a bit by Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book." While it had many Superman elements (Lois, Luthor, and Kryptonite), Kale-El himself didn't act much like well, himself. But he was heroic, so this gets a rating in the middle.
Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #3: Unforgiven
On an abandoned aircraft carrier, a dark figure searches for something important, which can only be described as the "Holy Grail." He is the Batman, but he isn't alone. Team Luthor, led by Lex himself, demand he return the file he discovered. An explosion on the ship indicates a negative. He retreats into the ocean before emerging with a jetpack. Batman makes the short journey to nearby Orchard Island, home of a climate purification plant. After a short time resisting, he is beaten half to death by Lex before being taken into custody. This encounter was being watched by a young Kal-El. He returns to his quarters in time for a call from his father Jor-El. He speaks about his fascination with Batman to Mr. and Mrs. Kent, who have raised him since his birth, Kryptonians disapproving of physical contact. He goes to see Jor-El, having some questions about some unfair things going on. Jor-El tells Kal how their people first came to our planet. They and their world were dying, and only 100,000 of them escaped to the only known planet that could stop the plague from killing them: Earth. Jor-El secretly took his own son from the gestation banks, and he was later born on Earth. And now, 23 years later, they have practically dominated the world. Jor-El argues that it was an act of compassion, that they kept them from killing themselves.
Kal says that he must speak to the Batman, wanting to know why he fights if the world is supposedly a better place. His father, of course, disapproves. His mother calls him to say that the Kents have been assigned, that he no longer needs their care. He finds a book they left for him to help him make up his mind: The Scarlet Pimpernel. When he goes to talk with Bruce, he gives Kal a look and tells him he knows why he does it. After struggling with what he said to him, Kal hears an alert that Batman has escaped, and that he is to be brought in by whatever means necessary. He goes to find him before Team Luthor does, and he is again on Orchard Island. Lex soon finds them, and Bruce is killed, just after giving him a gift and telling Kal that someday this would be him. During the next several weeks, the Free Earth Underground destroy many Kryptonian "Ultra-Net" installations. Their secret weapon is Kal, who is using the costume and name Bruce gave him: Superman. Lois Lane is the Underground's leader, who also has a relationship with Kal. The Kryptonian Council of Elders is not pleased. Jor-El asks Lex to take care of Kal, but Lex tells him that if he wants this wrapped up as soon as possible, he should take care of it himself.
Lois gives Kal a less Kryptonian name: Clark. Clark and Lois wonder what it was on Orchard Island that was worth dying for. They visit the cave he once lived in, and speak to a man in his 30s who says he used to work with Bruce, but says he was just a crazy old man. They visit Alfred Pennyworth, but he isn't much help in his senile condition. Clark then realizes why Batman went there. The climate purification plant on the island was what stopped the plague from killing his people. If the plant were destroyed, every other Kryptonian would die, leaving Clark Krypton's last son. Jor-El goes to Gotham, the "No Krypton Zone," and finds Lois, demanding to know where his son is. Clark is with the Kents, when Luthor comes to see him. He has been working with the Free Earth Movement, and says that Jor-El is destroying Gotham. As he stops his father, Clark says that he has made up his mind. He goes to Orchard Island to find Lex waiting for him. Lex tells him that the Kryptonians aren't evil, they're arrogant and they don't need to be destroyed. He's going to keep him from doing that with the Kryptonite he has in his suit. As he is about to deliver the final blow, Lois arrives, and their shootout collapses the roof on top of him. Clark realizes that Lex was right, killing them isn't the answer, and that they were stuck with each other. Batman is still alive, his plan to get Clark into the war had worked. A war that's just begun.
This story was slightly similar to Action Comics Annual #6 I reviewed last issue, in that Kal-El fought against the oppression of Earth. But Clark's personality in this was less likable than in that issue, so this gets a slightly lower rating. As a side-note, the attitude of Jor-El and the other Kryptonians reminded me of how Superman is behaving in the current comics, wanting to protect people whether they want it or not.
On the planet Krypton, a man and woman place their son into a rocket to save him from the terrible fate that awaits them. They send him to Earth, where he lands in the field of a medieval farmer. His wife wants to keep the child they find inside, and he reluctantly agrees, fearing some kind of witchcraft. Kal, as he had named himself, grew stronger as time passed, and suffered none of the common diseases of the time. Becoming more fearful of his increasing abilities, they tell him never to reveal them to anyone. Many years later, on a visit from Oll the blacksmith and his son Jamie, Kal is unhurt when attacked by a bull. Oll says he could use a man like him in his shop, and Kal's father agrees, afraid of what Oll might say to others. He goes with them to their village of Lexford, ruled by Baron Luthor. His skills grow as Oll's apprentice, and with his pleasant nature he soon becomes one of the family.
When summer arrives, it is announced that there will be a tournament and joust. It is in honor a Lady Loisse's sixteenth birthday, the daughter of their murdered protector Lord Layne, who is a prisoner of Baron Luthor. Kal thinks she is beautiful, but Jamie says she is too grand for the likes of them. As the contest is underway, Oll tells him to compete, that he may receive a kiss from the Lady. That is all he needs, and he goes to defeat all his opponents. Loisse insists on giving him the reward herself. As the angry Baron approaches him wearing a green gemstone, Kal becomes faint. He and Loisse meet again secretly. The Baron, on a hunting trip, discovers the craft Kal arrived in, buried by his father. Kal's mother suggests her son make Luthor some armor of the strong metal. Only Kal can reshape the metal, with a fire so hot only he can survive in it. When they are finished, they present it to Baron Luthor. He asks Kal what he wants for his work, and he says the hand of Loisse in marriage. She accepts, and Luthor of course objects, but he can not deny the public request.
Kal and Loisse are soon married, but Luthor will not tolerate it. He invokes the "Droit de Seigneur," an ancient feudal law that requires any new bride to spend her wedding night with the Lord of the manor. Kal, again feeling faint near Luthor, can not stop him. Loisse resists, increasing Luthor's anger, until he can take no more and he kills her. Kal, still recovering, soon hears the news. He heads for the Baron's castle, saying he has no life left to lose. Nothing the guards do can stop Kal, including using molten lead. Only his clothes are burnt off, and the covered sword he carried was revealed. He flies to the top of the castle to confront Luthor. Kal grows weaker as he fights him, and the Baron realizes why. He grabs his stone, and stabs him in the chest, but not before Luthor and his armor are impaled with Kal's sword. It was made of the same strong metal as Luthor's armor. There was nothing they could do for Kal, and he soon died. He, in the strong armor, and Loisse were laid to rest in Lake Lexford. Jamie later relates this story to a young boy, who asks what became of the sword. Jamie tells him that with his remaining strength, Kal placed it in a stone where some good person may use it again. Jamie tells the boy, Merlin, that someday, if he works hard and studies long, that his name, like Kal's, may also pass into legend.
Kal, Loisse, and Luthor in this story were similar to their counterparts in Superman Annual #6 above, only that story was somewhat lighter. This gets a somewhat higher rating, as Kal was more human than in that story, and he didn't kill Luthor until his life was threatened.
Supermen at War!