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Superman History 101
Man of Steel 4-6
by Benjamin Grose
With art by Joey Fuentes

Welcome back (or for the first time) to Superman 101. This month I'm reviewing MAN OF STEEL #'s 4-6. I also have comments about the revamp from two of our readers.

MAN OF STEEL
Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano

Issue Four

Lois and Clark have been invited to a party aboard Lex Luthor's yacht, the Sea Queen. Clark meets Lex for the first time, and he is seemingly impressed with Clark's Superman story (MAN OF STEEL #2). Luthor asks Lois if she likes the dress he gave her, which she thought was a loan. She quickly removes it, with Clark standing guard, not wanting to accept any gifts from him. As she and Clark proceed to leave, they are confronted by terrorists who commandeered the Sea Queen. When Clark protests, they knock him out and throw him overboard. Superman arrives to carry the yacht to Luthor's private island, while Lois takes care of the terrorists. After he rounds them all up, Lex gives Superman a check for $25,000, revealing that he knew about the possibility of an attack. He allowed it to happen to see Superman in action. Mayor Berkowitz, an attendee of the party, deputizes Superman and asks him to arrest Luthor. Three days later, Lex confronts Superman, promising to remind Metropolis who is Number One. He warns that Superman is a dead man, it's just a question of how soon.

This issue marks the beginning of Luthor's rivalry with Superman. Attempting to hire Superman and his disbelief at Mayor Berkowitz's request to arrest him are very characteristic of the post-Crisis Luthor. To him, everyone has their price, one exception being Superman. Another is Lois Lane. She seems to enjoy Lex pursuing her, but will never let him have her, wanting to always be in control of any situation. Other things of interest in this issue: Clark shaving. He goes into a detailed explanation of using his heat-vision to shave, an example of the more scientific approach to the post-Crisis comics. Also, when Clark was thrown overboard, it was because he confronted the terrorists, while pre-Crisis he might have clumsily fallen over. Finally, in the final pages of the issue, Superman transports a pregnant woman to the hospital, who wants to name her son Superman, but she settles for the middle initial S.

Issue Five

After Luthor is confronted by Superman over another of his failed schemes, he goes to see the results of his latest experiment. With the assistance of a Dr. Bizarro #1 vs. SupermanTeng, he has attempted to clone a Superman to work for him. At first it appears to be a success, but the clone soon collapses and begins to crystallize, and Luthor demands it be destroyed. Meanwhile, Lois tries to console her depressed sister, Lucy Lane, who was blinded by a plane hijacker the year before. When Lucy jumps from Lois' apartment balcony, she is rescued by Luthor's imperfect duplicate, thinking it is Superman. Superman soon discovers his clone when he tries to enter the Daily Planet wearing a crude disguise resembling Clark Kent, and the creature attacks when he confronts him. Lois approaches the fighting duo, and when Superman is down, the creature grabs her and flies away. He takes Lois to her apartment, where Lucy says that she began to see shapes and shadows after the creature left her. When Superman arrives they continue their battle, until he examines the dust that comes off of the clone, which he discovers is not organic. Superman flies toward him at top speed, and the creature does the same. The impact destroys the clone, and the resulting shower of dust completely restores Lucy's sight. Superman thinks that somehow, the creature knew it would cure her.

As some long-time readers of Superman would know, this issue was a homage to the first appearance of Bizarro in SUPERBOY #68 (1958), written by Otto Binder, who is acknowledged in the credits. In that story, Bizarro also attempted to disguise himself similarly, and met a blind girl, which his destruction also cured. We also get to see Luthor's pre-Crisis green battlesuit, worn by a man involved in one of his attacks against Superman. We would later see a similar suit worn by Team Luthor members. This issue is one example of many instances of John Byrne acknowledging pre-Crisis stories in his Superman run, another being SUPERMAN #21, when Superman met Supergirl.

Issue Six

Clark has flown home to Smallville for a visit with his parents, but there is something they are keeping from him. As they sit down to have some of Martha's rhubarb pie, Clark tells them how he feels about Lois, while she seems to be infatuated with Superman. That night he is kept awake thinking about what Ma and Pa may be hiding from him, and when he goes downstairs for a snack, he is surprised by a strangely dressed and glowing man. Clark can't detect anything, but when the man touches him, he finds himself in a strange room speaking a strange language. A woman approaches and calls him Jor-El, until she sees his face, and then tells him that he is her son. He awakes to find himself in front of Lana Lang, who he thought left Smallville years ago, in her front yard. She tells Clark about the night that he revealed his powers to her, about how she felt when he had to leave, realizing that she would never have him. She asked Jonathan and Martha not to tell him she was back. Later, he thinks about what Lana and his parents have said while going to look at his buried rocket. He finds it has been moved, but before he can investigate, the glowing man appears again. As he reaches out and causes Clark to collapse, his parents arrive, and Jonathan hits the figure with his shovel. The man appears to disintegrate, and the force of the blast knocks Jonathan over. Clark believes it was a type of hologram, and says he has to go sort out all the new information it gave him. He now knows that he is Kal-El, from the planet Krypton, the son of Jor-El and Lara, and also knows its history and languages. He thinks that it may have been Krypton that made him Superman, but it was Earth that made him human.

This final issue of the mini-series gives a background on the new Lana Lang. Her personality is defined here more than it was in her previous (correct me if I'm wrong) 30 years of existence. The World of Smallville mini-series gives greater detail on her time away from Smallville. (Maybe I should review that series soon?) I'd also recommend Superman For All Seasons, as would most everyone else I've talked to, for a good story involving Lana. Clark learns of his alien heritage in this story, so he knows much about the Kryptonian culture without actually remembering it (which I personally didn't like about the pre-Crisis Superman). I think the proper approach to this would be similar to how many people who are adopted feel about their natural parents and family. (I know a bit about this because my youngest brother is adopted.) I think Superman should be fascinated by the Kryptonian culture, but he should still think of himself as a human, and more specifically, a Kent. This shows in the brief scenes we see of Clark in The Kents mini-series.

Comments!

You asked for comments on the Post-Crisis reboot of Superman… here goes.

I understand that Superman's Pre-Crisis status had numerous problems from a storytelling point of view, such as

- Too rich a continuity; Superman had met pretty much _everyone_ DC ever published at one point or another, and it became weird to have things like Krypto using a identity-change collar given him by Kamandi. Of course, this problem is closely linked to the complexity of the DCU as a whole at that time. It makes sense that Superman was rebooted just after Crisis. On the other hand, the supporting cast had been through so much that their roles were somewhat stagnated at the time.

- Too high a power level; I remember reading a Solomon Grundy vs Superman story in the 70's and wondering how come Superman could be knocked down. It really came to the point where one expected Superman to just trample over his opponents and be done with it. This was probably the most serious problem in need of a fix at the time. A related problem was the overuse of Green K and red sun radiation.

To me, that's pretty much it. I don't agree with those who think there were too many Krypton survivors, for instance; I really miss the rich Krypton story, characters and various odds and ends (say, Dev-Em as a Kryptonian and Mon-El's pre-Crisis origin). The idea of Krypton materials being somehow all indestructible except by Kryptonians was rather silly, but I still feel we lost much more than we gained with Byrne's rather bland redefinition of Krypton, its story and inhabitants. Jor-El and Lara used to be rich characters, now they're just walking stereotypes with no personalities to be found.

By the way, I don't like the new Superman being so much more linked to Earth at all. It was so interesting to have an Earth champion who was and thought of himself as an alien! I really wonder what the point was of having Superman talk of himself as being from Earth (as he did during Invasion, for instance). We lost one of his richest angles with this change. Of course, it's hard to have him travel through space often and write good stories with that without opening lots of cans of worms, so I guess I like the strong limitations on space travel he got saddled with.

Two things that were really blundered with were his powers and costume. Both are outdated and could be easily changed with the reboot, and were, but in ways that are IMNSHO drawbacks. The bigger S-Shield is not too pleasing, looks a bit arrogant even, and while losing super-hypnotism, super-breath and the like is an improvement, a bit more variety with powers would be quite welcome. And the cape really should go, it looks silly these days. A simpler, less colorful costume (such as the one he had when first resurrected, or when mind-controlled by the Eradicator) would be a big plus.

The new relationship with Batman was ever a puzzle to me. I loved the buddy atmosphere between the pre-Crisis versions of the characters, and to this day wonder how come someone would prefer them to be bickering. Luckily that's been mostly fixed back now. Of course, the opportunity for telling the various stories when their relationship gained a friendlier tone was a bonus.

Lana was an improvement. Her connection with the adult Clark is now much more real, and her hard feelings about learning his special nature were so interesting.

Luthor was innovative, but a bit self-defeating. His character became so one-note, charicatured. That said, Luthor as a rich man with no gadget-level genius was truly innovative. But it also ran out of gas sooner than the gadget-wielding, eccentric Luthor.

I was a bit disappointed as well with the "secret ID" matter. It sounds silly to me that Superman would go through the trouble of vibrating his face all the time he could be photographed, even more so because apparently the idea was that most people assumed him to have no secret ID. Roger Stern's Starman had a much better solution to the matter, for instance, and Byrne would have the perfect opportunity for putting some shape-shifting power or gismo into Superman's origin.

I may sound too critical, but it's that I feel there was a basic mistake in using Byrne's famous "back to basics" touch in Superman; he's the one archetype from which all other super-heroes draw inspiration. Reduce him back to the basics and he becomes way generic and redundant.

Back to positive comments, I like the current status for Green K. The colored Ks were lots of fun, but too hard to take seriously, and it's good to have so little Kryptonite around. The Kents being alive is also a welcome change, it helps building the human side of the character. Unfortunately, most other supporting characters were watered down to the point that Clark seems too defined by his parents now. And the Shuttle rescue was a beautiful scene, really helped defining Superman's role and his first contact with Lois.

(As an aside, I used to believe that Captain Atom's fake origin had him taking advantage of Clark's secret years as unseen rescuer as a cover for his supposed heroics. I wonder if DC ever had a clear word on the matter?)

Best wishes,
Luis Dantas

Interesting comments Luis, but lose the cape? I don't think a lot of fans would be happy! :)

You've made my day!

I just finished reading your article on Fanzing #21.

What can say about the '86 Superman's revamp? I like it a lot. But in general terms I think that the initial ideas of Byrne were good. The Kents alive being one of the better to me. "The Man Of Steel" miniseries was my reintroduction to Superman after a long hiatus on comic book reading (and collecting), I liked what Byrne has done on Superman, depowering him just to more believable levels, while still can amaze humankind with his super-deeds. The new relationship between Lois and Supes was a successful thing, too.

Only shocked when I discover that Supes and Batman were not confident between them as in the pre-Crisis stories. I always gave that as an unchanged fact, that Supes and Bats were friends!

And as the stories begin to develop, even after Byrne's departure, there were wonderful stories as well as others that we just choose not to remember them. Now that there are another "revamp" on the Superman titles right at hand I really hope that their stories begin to improve and that the new teams never forget that Superman is the best, the model, the standard against all other heroes are measured.

Gary A. Valenzuela
La Paz - Bolivia


Thanks Gary. Hmm, it seems that a lot of people were affected by the difference in the friendship of Batman and Superman. It does seem to have changed somewhat, so that they are now really friends, although strange ones! Maybe I'll do an article on it sometime.

I really want to hear your thoughts on these issues and the revamp in general. What did you like or dislike about it? Please send your comments to kryptonkid@bigfoot.com.

Next Month:
Superman #1,
Adventures of Superman #424,
and Action Comics #584

All characters and scanned artwork are ™ DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Benjamin Grose.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.

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