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Superman's Metropolis

Story by Roy Thomas and R.J.M. Lofficer
Art by Ted McKeever
Lettered by Bill Oakley
reviewed by David R. Black

Roy Thomas has a fondness for adapting classic tales to comic book form. He's done it with H.G. Wells' "War of The Worlds," the German opera "Ring of the Nieblung," and a couple of Michael Moorcock's "Elric" novels (done for First Comics in the late 1980's). Thomas is even rumored to be working on an adaptation of "The Island of Dr. Moreau" which will feature the JLA.

"Superman's Metropolis" is an adaptation of Fritz Lang's classic "Metropolis," a film originally released in 1927. Lang's film, his wife Thea van Harbou also contributed to its creation, has since been remade quite a few times since then. Thomas' adaptation is more or less faithful to the original material. Obviously, some aspects of the original storyline needed to be altered slightly to create a better fit with the Superman mythos.

The book itself is a prestige format, Elseworlds one shot set in a cold, mechanical future controlled by evil industrialists. Society is divided into two classes - a privileged elite and an impoverished underclass. No middle class exists. While the elite frolic and play in gardens of pleasure, the underclass toils deep underground to keep the machines of Metropolis in perfect working condition. Overseeing the workers' activities, and the city as a whole, is the Master of Metropolis, Jon Kent. Jon Kent's title may be "master," but he's really a puppet of the evil, deformed scientist Lutor - the true master of Metropolis.

Jon Kent's teenage son Clarc lives a life of luxury, content to frolic with beautiful maidens and puzzle over "why it is [he] can sometimes see through pillars and walls." Clarc's complacency is shattered when the leader of a worker's rebellion movement, a woman named Lois, shows Clarc how the underclass lives.

Confronting his father, Clarc is told that the workers do have a place in the brave new world Jon Kent is building; Their place is the stygian depths of the city. Allying himself with Olson, his father's former secretary who now toils as a simple laborer, Clarc builds sympathy for the workers' plight.

Superman's Metropolis

At a rally held by Lois, Clarc learns that a savior will one day rise up to serve as a mediator between the two social classes. As Thomas eloquently writes: "Between the brain that plans and the hands that build, there must be a mediator - a Superman!" The savior will wear a metal sigil (shaped like Superman's traditional "S" shield), and Olson, who saw a similar sigil among Jon Kent's papers, wonders if a connection exists between Clarc and the prophesized savior.

He and Clarc go about uncovering Clarc's true heritage, a task made more pressing by Lutor's abduction of Lois and a plot to eradicate the working class - forever. Lutor plans for an army of robots and machines to serve as the new laborers of Metropolis. After all, robots have no feelings, never make mistakes, and will never revolt.

From that point on, the story progresses to the inevitable confrontation between Clarc and Lutor. And quite frankly, anyone having read a Superman story before can easily predict the story's ending.

The story's predictability is it's greatest flaw, but the drawing factor with most Elseworlds stories is how familiar characters are used in unfamiliar and unusual ways. And to Thomas's credit, he seamlessly blends the Superman supporting cast with the characters from the original movie.

For those familiar with the movie, Freder Frederson's role is played by Clarc, Maria becomes Lois Lane, Jon Frederson becomes Jon Kent, Hel Frederson becomes Martha Kent, and Rotwang becomes Lutor. It's almost as if the Superman supporting cast were born to play those roles. (As an aside, I wonder if Fritz Lang's last name provided the inspiration for of Lana Lang's last name?) Other characters, such as Dan Turpin, Metallo, and Perry White also have bit roles in the story that sharp eyed readers will enjoy.

One weird detail involves the character's names. No, I haven't been making typos. Thomas chose to slightly alter the names. Hence, we have "Lutor" instead of Luthor, "Clarc" instead of Clark, and so on. It's a bit annoying at first, but I suppose it adds a bit more of an Elseworlds flavor to the book..

The book's overall feel is significantly aided by the painted artwork of Ted McKeever. The gritty and moody artwork creates a grim feel and backdrop for the story. McKeever succeeds admirably in depicting a future world where the industrial revolution went horribly, horribly wrong. Some readers, however, may not enjoy the stylized art. To some it may seem unfinished or lacking polish, but that effect is probably intentional.

McKeever's art is essential to the final climactic scene where Clarc confronts Lutor. The reader needs to pay extra careful attention to the art to understand why the battle turns out the way it does. I was a bit confused and needed to re-read the scene a few times, but part of the blame for the confusion rests with Thomas. He needed to more clearly define what constitutes Kryptonite in the story (Hint: it's not what you think).

Overall, I'd give "Superman's Metropolis" eight out of ten stars. The story, although a tad predictable, is engrossing, and the art successfully captures the feel of the original movie (gears and clocks abound!).

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

 
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