Superman History 101
by Benjamin Grose
Welcome back (or for the first time) to Superman 101. This month I'm reviewing Superman #1, Adventures of Superman #424, and Action Comics #584 (guest-starring the Teen Titans to go with this month's team theme). I also have comments about the revamp from one of our readers.
Superman, having followed the trail of his stolen rocket, has discovered a highly advanced, and lead-lined, laboratory. He sees photographs and information about himself, and finds the dead body of the man who took the rocket. To prevent others from getting a look, he takes the entire complex into space until he decides what to do with it. He meets Lois for a jog in the park, but they soon hear the alarm of a nearby bank, and Lois insists they check it out. When they enter, a large man grabs Lois, and when Clark confronts him, the man tosses him across the room. This allows Clark to leave and return as Superman, which is what the man, calling himself Metallo, says he wanted. A battle ensues, with each contact making Superman weaker. Metallo recalls how he was injured in an accident. The man that took the rocket placed his brain in a robotic body, and believing that Superman was an alien invader, wanted Metallo to kill him. To accomplish this, Metallo's power source was a substance called Kryptonite, a radioactive element from Superman's home planet. Metallo killed the scientist before coming after Superman. Lex Luthor is soon informed of the confrontation and is furious, remembering his promise that Superman would die by his hands. Their continued battle causes the building to collapse, and Metallo to lose his human disguise. Just as Superman starts to lose consciousness, and Metallo begins to gloat, he suddenly disappears. Lois, who has watched the fight from a distance, approaches Superman, unable to give an explanation as to where or how he had gone. Overhearing Metallo's words, she asks why Superman didn't tell everyone that he was an alien, to which he responds that he's only known for several weeks. He doesn't think that he's seen the last of Metallo or the Kryptonite, and he has an awful feeling he knows who has both.
This was a good first issue of Superman's new series, not necessarily for the story itself, but that it resolved several plot threads from MAN OF STEEL. The Kryptonite Clark felt in #1, Luthor's threat and Superman being photographed in #4, and the missing rocket and discovery of his alien heritage in #6. We also learn how Superman flies large objects. Objects become lighter as he begins to fly, like he is moving them by "sheer force of will," like he flies himself.
ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #424
While Lois and her family are visiting her mother in the hospital after an accident, Quraci terrorists destroy a Metropolis building with a highly advanced flying vehicle. After literally running into her in the hall, Clark is introduced to Cat Grant, the Daily Planet's newest writer. On the way to interview for a story, Clark and Cat stop at the site of the destroyed building. Clark insists that the workers check under the rubble for a survivor. They arrive at Professor Emil Hamilton's apartment to see him demonstrate his magnetic field generator, which some scientists say is dangerous. Clark hears another robotic terrorist attack downtown against city hall. As he fights against the nearly unbeatable machine, Lois, still worrying about her mother, is taken to Lex Luthor. After a brief update on the situation from Inspector Henderson, Superman heads for the Daily Planet to fend off another attack. As he prepares to battle all of the machines combined, Luthor reveals to Lois that he has developed a serum to cure her mother, which she must take every month. With this, Luthor believes she is indebted to him and that ultimately he has won.
This issue has a lot going on, with several subplots introduced. Clark seems to have an option other than Lois with the introduction of Cat Grant, who he thinks is gorgeous. We also meet Professor Emil Hamilton in this issue, who is basically a "crackpot inventor," of which we've seen many in Superman lore. He has now become Superman's friend, who he goes to for scientific expertise, and has been involved in many of the major Superman stories. The Lois/Luthor feud continues, with Luthor winning this round. I believe that the subplot of Lois' mother isn't resolved for a few years. One small criticism, the many subplots in the story make this seem less like a first issue than the SUPERMAN or ACTION COMICS issues.
Superman is inexplicably on a rampage, causing property damage and placing people in danger. When falling debris endangers a crowd, Cyborg of the Teen Titans is there to destroy it. He soon encounters Superman, who hardly cares that he's there, until Cyborg attacks him. It doesn't take long for Superman to tear his robotic limbs apart. Cyborg escapes to call the other Titans. Changeling and Wonder Girl soon show up, and are dealt with in a similar manner as Cyborg. Their teammate Jericho, who is mute and has been helping deaf students, hears of the battle on the radio. He arrives before Superman can crush Cyborg, and transfers his mind into Superman's body by looking in his eyes. The recovering Titans are unsure what to do with the barely controlled hero, until a man using crutches appears saying he is Superman! He explains to them that David Gundersen, whose body he inhabits, called Clark Kent at the Daily Planet to ask Superman if he could help him with an experiment to produce a new energy source. It was a trap, and David switched bodies with him. He locked the non-powered Superman up, but he knew a few "shady tricks" and escaped. They go back to David's lab, and a simple flip of a switch reverses the process. He seems to be angry at the world for his disability, but Superman says the world is not to blame. Others have overcome handicaps to become great people, including Helen Keller, Franklin Roosevelt, and even Jericho. When David had great power, he abused it like a common thug. It wasn't his body that crippled him; it was his mind. In Paris, Lex Luthor reads about these events in a story by Clark Kent. He thinks there must be a connection between he and Superman, and he intends to discover what it is!
First, I want to comment about the cover. It is very much like one from the Silver Age, especially the text. And it's pretty close to what actually happens inside. The way the story starts is also well done. We don't know what's really happening until most of the way through. When Superman escapes from his prison, it seems to really show David's character. He was so blinded by what he couldn't do, it didn't even occur to him that Superman could pick a simple lock in his body. There is a nice contrast between he and Jericho, who chose to become a super-hero despite his disability, and didn't dwell on what he couldn't do. Another thing of interest is that David's phone call was mentioned in passing in ADVENTURES #424, displaying the new inter-connectivity of the titles.
I for one hated Byrne's Revamp of Superman for several reasons:
1) If the whole DC universe was also depowered I could have accepted a muchess powerful Superman but in this current comic universe he became too Marvelized and his powers were reduced way past the point of being necessary. I can accept losing the super hypnosis, super brain, time travel abilities etc. but not being able to go into space without some breathing device was not needed and his invulnerability was reduced too much as well. He is SUPERman and should be the most powerful, non-magic, hero in the universe. Look how cool he was in Kingdom Come to understand my point.
2) I do not like having his parents alive. There was an inherent sadness and loneliness to him that made him and his mission seem so much more special. Also the fact that with all of his powers, he couldn't save his parents was a great defining moment that did not need to be lost (and it was also a great parallel with Batman's own feelings).
3) I also HATED, HATED, HATED and HATED the non-nerdy Clark. This goes COMPLETELY against the original theme and intention of the character. Making him cool is ridiculous. Siegel and Shuster were two nerds who had no success with women, which many comic readers and awkward teens could identify with, who secretly fantasized that women don't realize who they really are. This also leads to my next big problem with the cool Clark which is:
4) The whole love triangle with 2 people element was ruined, another basic element of the original creation. Not to sound sexist but many nice guys have felt frustration at one time or another regarding women who were attracted to the wrong guys or guys that were glamorous or rich etc. Superman was always waiting for Lois to love the Clark side of him, while she was blinded by the Super. We need this part of it.
5) I also miss the old Krypton. Yes there were too many survivors (Crisis could have solved this by making the anti-matter wave destroy New Kandor and the Phantom Zone without ignoring the past) but it had a rich tapestry that added to the legend of Superman. Now he is like any other hero. I also think that ONE other survivor of Krypton, in the Phantom Zone, could be done really cool and scary when he escapes (think Superman II).
6) The new Luthor - a Kingpin wannabe. The old one, as depicted in the great Elliot Maggin novels, was amazing because it was his brain that made him Supes arch nemesis.
There were some things that I did like, like Superman not thought of to have a secret ID, but for someone who claimed to go back to basics, he did anything but that and tore away all of the emotional stuff from the character. If you look at recent history (Kingdom Come, JLA, Supreme etc.) you will see that whenever he appears like the old Superman, for some reason fans seem to feel that he feels "RIGHT".
I'd like to address a few of your comments Comicbookman. First, when you talk about the Kents being alive, you mention the inherent sadness that was a part of the pre-Crisis Superman. That was one of things I didn't like. Superman shouldn't be a sad character! He has been about optimism since he was created. I think having his parents around made Clark a better, and generally more likable person.
Also, you mention that Clark was intentionally meant to be a nerd from the beginning. I don't think that's entirely accurate. Sure, he was mild-mannered in 1938, but he wasn't the "nerd" of 20 years later. I thought the point of the character was someone that represented the best of humanity, physically and morally. I also don't necessarily think he was made cool. It depended on the writer. I think that the "wish fulfillment" of Superman is still there, but instead of a nerd that is secretly Superman, it's an average guy (although a pretty successful one).
For point number four, you say, "Superman was always waiting for Lois to love the Clark side of him, while she was blinded by the Super. We need this part of it." I think we still have this part of it.
Next you talk about Krypton. I agree that we could have used a better, less depressing Krypton, and that Superman should have liked his Kryptonian heritage a bit more. They have improved on this over the years. But I still want Superman to be the last surviving member of Krypton, and also to think of himself as human.
And for Luthor, it seems that you like a specific writer's version rather than the pre-Crisis one in general. The current Luthor has been written well in several good stories. "Metropolis, 900 Miles" in Superman #9 by John Byrne, Superman #131 by Dan Jurgens, and Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb are just a few of them.
Lastly, you say Byrne did anything but go "back to basics." I'd have to disagree. Many aspects of the revamp are similar to the early Golden Age stories.
Thanks for the thought-provoking comments.
I really want to hear your thoughts on these issues (including my comments on them) and the revamp in general. What did you like or dislike about it? Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
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