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Superman History 101

by Benjamin Grose

Welcome to Superman 101. This month I'm reviewing Adventures of Superman #425 and Action Comics #585. No comments this time. Please send some! I'm also trying a different reviewing style, so tell me what you think.

Adventures of Superman coverADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #425
"Going The Gauntlet"
Writer: Marv Wolfman
Artist: Jerry Ordway

This issue is mainly about Professor Emil Hamilton, who has been a fairly major player in the Superman books for the past several years. It's interesting to note that a story so soon after the reboot is focussing on someone other than Superman. Hamilton is telling his story to someone, although we don't know who it is. We learn that he invented his magnetic field generator while working at Nitek, Inc., which is owned by Lex Luthor. Luthor claims that he legally owns the rights to the generator by the contract the Professor signed. Lex is his usual calm, snide self. Hamilton refuses, of course, and Luthor has his men attack him in his home. After receiving no help from the police, and the Department of Defense telling him his invention is dangerous, he is approached by a representative of Compucon Services, an investment group with an interest in the generator. During a demonstration, the machine is sabotaged and a man is killed. Hamilton runs, and decides that the only way to prove that it works is to help Superman defeat the Quraci terrorists from last issue. I should mention that Jerry Ordway is excellent at close-ups. We can see the fear and desperation in Hamilton's face while he tells his story.

We rejoin Superman in his fight against the terrorists' machines. He is having more of a struggle than the Earth-1 Superman might have, but somehow he doesn't appear weak. We also see a lot of his thoughts, but they aren't as contrived as you'd expect. Unlike Byrne's Superman, Wolfman's is a man of few spoken words. During the battle, Hamilton is busy setting up his device, which would keep the fight above the streets. Superman sees this more as a bother than a help, but the Professor is determined to prove himself. Superman finally manages to enter the vehicle, but is told that they will not surrender. They activate the self-destruct, destroying the machine and killing themselves. The waste of life disgusts Superman. He declines to speak to the press, who also completely ignore Hamilton.

Hamilton has had enough, and spends nearly a week setting up a plan to finally prove himself. He broadcasts a message across the city for Superman to meet him. He has taken a hostage, and wants Superman to walk his "gauntlet," filled with assorted weapons. If he dies, the hostage will live, and the effectiveness of the generator will be proven. After some struggle he manages to reach Hamilton, but he says he no longer cares, and will destroy the machine, taking the three of them with it. Superman uses his body as a shield to protect them from the blast. He collapses into Hamilton's arms as the police arrive, and the Professor agrees to go as long as they help Superman. We finally learn that Hamilton has been telling his story to a jail guard, who has completely ignored him. There is also a narration over this by Luthor, saying that Compucon was also owned by LexCorp, and he requests that the widow of the man that was killed be given a large pension. He may be an evil man, but he is an honorable evil man.

A few final thoughts: Unlike Byrne's Superman, who still acts like he's new at the job (although he has been active for at least 6 years), Wolfman's conveys a confidence in his decisions. He also is troubled by any loss of life. As for the art, I like it somewhat more than Byrne's. Ordway's covers are also more dramatic, and not always displaying what happens in the issue, at least not literally. Overall, a highly enjoyable issue.

ACTION COMICS #585
"And Graves Give Up Their Dead…"
Writer/Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano

As with all Action issues of this era, this story has a guest star, the Phantom Stranger. He uses overly complex words in his narration, one of John Byrne's habits concerning supernatural characters. Superman is in the middle of a battle with a woman calling herself Arathaza. She was a normal, mortal human, but with the powers she has somehow gained, she has constructed a floating palace outside Metropolis. Her staff she carries seemingly drained Superman's powers, changing him into an old man. He feigns weakness, and when Arathaza approaches, he grabs her staff and destroys it. The palace disintegrates, returning her and Superman to normal. As he takes her into custody, he doesn't notice that among the harmless debris, the gem that powered her staff falls to Earth. It falls into a graveyard, one that, as the Stranger says, holds the "remains of a hundred evil men."

As Superman returns to Clark Kent's apartment, he is greeted by the Stranger. With little explanation, he transports Superman to the graveyard, where the ground has seemingly come alive. While he fights the creature, we read a narration by the Stranger, which in this case is as contrived as you'd think! Something interesting about this is that he mentions that Superman was not born on Earth. But Byrne made it a point that he was born on Earth, when the birthing matrix opened. It could be said that it was because the Stranger said it, but as he stated earlier in the story, there are things in the mortal world that he knows. Anyway, it's just a small thing.

When Superman realizes that it appears to be sentient, he becomes angry that the Stranger didn't tell him. The Stranger didn't tell him because he knew his code of ethics against killing. Wait just a second: When Byrne had Superman execute the Phantom Zone criminals, his reason was that he wanted to strengthen and reinforce his code against killing. But it seems pretty strong here. The Stranger tells him that the souls that control it are already dead. He leaves to enter their realm. They wish to return to seek vengeance on the living for their suffering. Meanwhile, Superman has prevented the earth creature from moving to Metropolis.

The Stranger shows who truly suffered, the dead victims of their crimes. When he calls upon the source of their power, Arathaza's gem appears, called the Sherabite Stone. When the half-dead corpses attack him, their victims come to his defense. With their power momentarily removed, the Stranger tells Superman to break the creature's contact with the Earth. He lifts the soil into space, and before he launches it into orbit with the sun, he pulls the Stranger out. When they return to Earth, Superman crushes the gem, and the Stranger will not reveal what took place in their realm.

A few final thoughts: The art in this issue was noticeably dreary, which probably fits a story dealing with living earth and long-dead corpses. The cover was standard for an Action issue, but it did convey what happened almost literally. Not much else to say, except that it was a fairly forgettable story. If only it were that simple, meaning that this issue will be referred to again in a story I'll soon get to…


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? Try not to just say "I hated it," or "I loved it," but give reasons why. I'm interested! Please send your comments to kryptonkid@bigfoot.com.

 
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