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Superman History 101

Superman #2

by Benjamin Grose

Welcome back (or for the first time) to Superman 101. This month I'm reviewing only Superman #2, because 1) I have some lengthy comments about the revamp from two of our readers, and 2) I ran out of time!

SUPERMAN #2
Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

After studying all available news footage of Superman's appearances, LexCorp employee Amanda McCoy has discovered that Lana Lang was there almost every time, although she doesn't know who she is. Luthor wants her found. He also has people investigating Clark Kent. He then meets with Dr. Happersen, who is overseeing the "care" of their newest "patient," Metallo. Ignoring the doctor's warnings of the radiation levels, Lex painfully removes Metallo's Kryptonite heart, apparently killing him. He wants it studied. Two of Luthor's men arrive at the Kent farm and take care of Jonathan and Martha with tranquilizers. They tear apart the house, only to find Clark's birth certificate and Martha's scrapbook. As they are leaving, Lana approaches the house. Since she can identify them, they knock her out and taker her with them. Lex is pleased of course, but his doctors tell him that she has almost no tolerance for drugs, so a truth serum would probably kill her.

After Superman evades one of Luthor's flying cameras, Clark arrives at his apartment to find an injured Lana. She was tortured for two days before waking up alone. She believes they may also have Clark's parents. Superman finds the men who took Lana at the abandoned factory she escaped from. Lex has been watching and has the building destroyed at that moment. Thinking that the Kents are dead, Superman storms into Luthor's office. He suddenly becomes weak when he approaches Lex, who has had a piece of the Kryptonite set into his ring. Lex orders him to go, letting him live to worry about the power he now has. When Superman flies Lana back to Smallville, he is surprised by the definitely-not-dead Kents. When he hears what was taken from their home, he worries what Luthor is going to do with it. Using all the data his teams have collected, Luthor's computer deduces that Clark Kent is Superman. Ms. McCoy says that it is logical, but Lex doesn't believe it. He believes that anyone with Superman's power wouldn't hide it under a human guise. He orders the information and her to be removed.

This was the first Lex Luthor story I ever read many years ago, and I knew he was evil immediately. This Luthor gets what he wants. And when he gets what he wants, in this case Superman's greatest secret, he dismisses it! His ego blinds him to the facts even when they hit him on his fat, bald head! Another interesting thing about Lex is that almost all his employees, at least his closest ones, are women, women who all dress alike. I believe this issue is also the first appearances of doctors Happersen and Kelley, both of which later played important roles in Luthor's story, the former destroying Metropolis and the latter being Lex Luthor II's "mother." This was just as much Luthor's issue as Superman's: he appears on 14 pages, Superman on 11. And Lana! Man, did John Byrne not like her or what? :) Actually, many people consider her to be a more interesting character post-Crisis, despite or because of the hard times she's been through. Just look at Millenium and World of Smallville for more examples…This is also not the last we see of Amanda McCoy. As for the art: the cover is the main thing that drew me to this issue, with a big digitized face of Clark and Superman on Luthor's computer. The rest of the issue had the standard Byrne art. Overall, a really good issue, one that did deserve to be in the Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told.

Comments!

First of all I like the idea of the Kents being alive. Unlike the original Superman, Clark was raised to be a superior moral man by Martha and Jonathan. Not as a result of his Kryptonian heritage. The idea of having no Super powers when he was a boy had his ups and it's down side. The up side is the belief that Clark is the Kent's natural son, born at home while the Kents were snowed in during a bad winter. This means he could get his shots, birth certificate and develop as a human child, and know what it was like to be human. With all the problems, pain and joy childhood offers. This allowed the young Kal-El to see himself as Clark Kent. This means that he considers himself to be first and fore most Clark Kent not Superman. The down side was no Superboy, no Krypto. I read some were that Byrne originally planed to have Laura in the rocket and have her give birth to Kal-El in the Kent's home then die. It might have worked better than the birthing matrix. In the end it was the Kent's that made him the hero that he is, not his Kryptonian genes. As for powers, yes and no. Superman was to powerful, I am glad to see the time travel, planet juggling power level gone. Bad part, the need, for a breathing apparatus in space, and making him to vulnerable. Good to see, Superman's power levels being boosted in the recent Superman comics. Also changing his best friend from a man, (Batman) to a woman, (Wonder Woman) seems to work. Also the romantic triangle between, Lois, Clark and Diana is proving to be very interesting, both in the present and the past and even more so in the future. What I do agree with you (Comicbookman in last issue) most was the way Superman was portrayed in Kingdom Come. Not as powerful as he once was, but still more powerful then he is portrayed now. It was just the right blend of the new and old.

David Schock


Thanks for the comments David. Glad to see a regular from alt.comics.superman reading my column!

After reading Comicbookman's letter about the revised Superman I sat down and composed my thoughts on the character and thought I'd share them with you. I am not John Byrne's biggest fan, nor am I his biggest detractor. But this is more than just about Byrne isn't it?

1. Actually, I thought that Superman had become, well, boring just before his tenure under John Byrne (with the exception of that excellent two-part "farewell" story by Alan Moore). He was so powerful that there was absolutely no one in the known universe that could defeat him. Hell, he could literally move planets (As depicted by Neal Adams). We're talking defying known physics here, folks! Who could write interesting stories about God on a regular basis? I say that because, frankly, Superman had the power of God just before his revamping. The changes made to him sparked ideas in other people's heads. Because he wasn't really anymore powerful than The Martian Manhunter or Captain Marvel, Superman had to use his head. He had to think and he had to ask for help from others because he didn't have a superbrain or know everything in there is to know. He was a man now. Albeit, a man with powers far beyond those of mortal men, but a man and not a god.

All that said it's also true that someone of Alan Moore's creative capability could write interesting stories about the pre-Byrne Man of Steel. But the point is that there are very few Alan Moore's out there and what John Byrne did was stimulate many other writers with his changes to the character.

Lastly, if you are really a Superman buff, you know that John simply brought the character that Joe & Jerry created back to his roots. When they first created Superman he didn't fly, but leapt around like the Hulk. He was capable of being hurt and he couldn't go into outer-space.

2. I like having John and Martha Kent alive. From my perspective this is part of what makes Superman a man. He demonstrates his goodness and humanity by loving and respecting his parents. He seeks their counsel when he is troubled and it gives him the hokey goodness that we all admire. He really does believe in truth, justice and the American way. All that comes from being a Kent. And from having the family ties that reinforce those beliefs.

I remember reading the story of Clark at his parents' death-bed. It was a touching story and heart-wrenching. But it was not a parallel to Bruce Wayne's parent's death or the resultant psychological impact it had on him. I don't really see how his being alone made his mission in life "much more special." But that may simply be a case of reader interpretation.

3. I suppose this is a part of the character that is really open to interpretation by the reader. I never liked Clark being a nerd or a coward. When I was a kid George Reeves was giving us a Clark Kent on TV that was just as willing to face up to a criminal as Superman was. In fact, you saw more of Clark than you did Superman. I always liked this guy a lot more than the fool in the comics I was reading. So it goes without saying that I happen to like the "new" Clark Kent that is a normal guy.

Yes, the creative team that brought us Superman was inept with women and were be-speckled 90-pound weaklings. But role identification was directed towards the guy in tights, not the guy in the suit & tie for my part. When I was a kid (and even today at 47½ years of age) I idolized Superman. What Byrne did was to take two separate characters and make them one. Clark Kent is Superman now. He's really the same guy when he's in a suit and tie as when he's in costume. When Frank Miller did this with Matt Murdock & Daredevil collective fandom flipped its lid with excitement. I don't understand the resentment when this is done to Superman. I happen to think that Siegel and Shuster intended Clark Kent to be the every-man that metamorphoses into Superman. Their story telling capabilities were not as sophisticated as what we're used to today, so Kent came off as mild-mannered and not the classic every-man. Plus the comics were aimed at children, not college-educated adults.

4. Who hasn't been the odd man out in a relationship (and I don't care what gender you fancy)? Who hasn't pined after someone who was simply not aware of his or her existence? It's part of life. We all share a secret fear of being alone for the rest of our lives. I think that is part of our human nature.

Again I feel what we're talking about is the sophistication of the readers. When Superman was created and up until the early 70's the publishers directed their products towards kids. Consequently the characters were pretty simple in their concepts and relationships. Good guys wore white hats and bad guys wore black ones. And the good guy always won the heart of the heroine. But something happened in the mid-70's that impacted the publishers. The readers began to grow up and start demanding more realistic interaction with characters. Let's face it, after reading all those Dickens stories in English classes in High School, you finally realized that there was more than one dimension to personalities (and let's not even go into Stepenwolf or Kafka). We started reading Spiderman because this was a guy that really did have the same problems we did with school, girls, friends, work and family (although I don't know anybody who didn't want Aunt May to die).

Yes, Clark pined away for Lois while she ran around with her tongue hanging out for Superman. But I also recall that Lois frequently pulled Lana Lang's hair in catfights and was as bad as Lucy Ricardo in trying to figure out ways to con Superman. I don't prescribe to political-correctness, but I don't want to see the sexist approach that we had in Lois Lane comic's return either. I'm not eleven years old anymore. I appreciate that the writers try to give us a realistic approach to a relationship. I even like the idea that Clark and Lois are married now and that they have problems in their relationship. I'm much more interested in Clark Kent than I was in the one-dimensional character in the blue suit and red tie that used to be the alter ego. And, frankly, if you want stories unrequited love you need to read romance novels, not comic books.

5. One of my favorite depictions of Krypton was by Curt Swan where Jimmy Olsen met Kal-El's parents. It was like Oz. It was beautiful and strange (red traffic lights meant go and green ones meant stop). I do miss that about Krypton. But there was so much of Krypton that was just – well, silly. Even as a kid I found it too goofy for it's own good. And then there were the survivors. My god in heaven, it seemed as if about 2/3rds of the population of the planet survived! Kandor, Phantom Zone, Survival Zone, stray rockets, Argo City. Every time you turned around another Kryptonian was popping up (This might make a great Elseworlds story if you took a MIB approach to it) on earth! And not just humanoids, we had monkeys, dogs and all sorts of weird beasts. Enough already!

Then the movie came along. Krypton looks like a giant Styrofoam ball with glitter on it. Everybody wears white clothes that are so bright you think the Ajax White Knight is part of the Science Council. This place gives sterile a whole new meaning. I often wonder if the General and his cohorts were sent to the Phantom Zone because they broke the dress code!

John gives us a world that maybe only Fritz Lang could love, but it certainly is a contrast to life in Middle America. Sex is really nasty on this Krypton. So is being undressed. Hey, this world looks like Catholic School! And that's what Krypton is - a parody. That is part of what we're supposed to see in the story. Our hero came from a sterile unfeeling world and became a role model because he emulates the best of our world, not his birth world. That's the role of Krypton. It isn't supposed to be Oz, it supposed to show us that Earth is the better place – for all the problems we have, it's the better of the two worlds.

6. I always found the pre-Byrne Luthor to be, well, silly. Here is a guy that devotes his life to destroying Superman because he inadvertently caused his hair to fall out! And talk about lack of taste in fashion, here is this supposed genius who never wears anything but a gray prison uniform, until he opts for this really bizarre green & purple zootsuit! Ouch!

Actually, the new Luthor is much more sinister. He is a genius, although we haven't seen as much of it as we used to. He hates Superman because of what he stands for. This makes him the ultimate villain. He isn't mad, like the Joker, or egomaniacal like Dr. Doom. He is ruthless, calculating and resourceful in his continual conflict with the Man of Steel. Again a much more mature foil for our hero.

7. My take on the character in Kingdom Come was that this guy was the Byrne-Superman, so I can't agree that he is somehow different. I don't see that the character was in any way shredded and reconstituted. After all, Superman is really a fable as much as a comic book character. He is what we perceive him to be.

Hey, really enjoyed Fanzing this time. Keep up the good work.

Glenn Moss
glennmoss@hotmail.com


Whew! Lots of comments, Glenn, but very interesting. I agree with most of your assessments. But for the rest of you, don't think you have to agree with me to send comments. Just look at last month's Superman 101.

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 kryptonkid@bigfoot.com.

 
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