This is a sort of “pilot” idea for something I may do next year. It is just an experiment; let me know how you like it.
I have spent lots of time talking about the things I loved when I was a kid. Sitcoms, movies, etc. The one thing I have neglected is comic books. And I really loved comic books! Well, DC Comics anyway. I have always put off discussing them for a couple reasons. One is that there are several people who already do; at least with sitcoms I have my own little corner. The other reason is I stopped reading comics a long time ago, and was afraid people wouldn’t be all that familiar with the stuff I liked.
However I have come to realize that may be misguided, and I am also missing a chance to educate the younger folks on stories from the era when I loved comics (what age is the 80’s, Bronze?). I had a similar experience with the older 70’s books which I eventually discovered and even like. So today we are going to look at one of my favorite mini-series. Next summer everyone is looking forward to the new Man of Steel movie. However, The Man of Steel I remember was a landmark mini-series back in 1986.
This was the John Byrne re-launch which recreated the concept of Superman, and created the character I learned to love. If you read the pre crisis Superman stories he is a bit arrogant and was to powerful. I mean he hopped galaxies and broke the time barrier without any effort at all! Byrne gave us a humanized and depowered hero, and a much more likable character. He also gave us a living Ma and Pa Kent, no more Superboy, a strong and independent Lois Lane, a Lex Luthor which was a rich billionaire not a mad scientist, a Batman who did not entirely get along with Superman, a Clark who was not a massive wimp because he was the real person and Superman the disguise, and a Superman who acknowledged his Kryptonian heritage but embraced his humanity first.
Now I need to come clean, I was a dumb kid and had no idea this was going on. I do vividly remember seeing the comic and looking through it. But it really wasn’t until I read Superman #2 that I was really on board. I went back to see what I missed..and wow!
Let’s talk a closer look at these six issues.
STORY-This is the first issue and right away we can see changes. We get a sterilized Krypton where we find the planet is exploding due to the way the inhabitants have kept it. Knowing of the peril, Jor-El launches his only son to Earth. Another change had Jor-El launch a gestation chamber not a newborn child, Kal El was not born until it was open, on Earth. We flash forward to Clark, age 18, singe handedly winning a football game. It’s here that his father decides to tell him the truth. The story of how Superman was found in a rocket was pretty much the same, of course leaving out the part where the Kent’s die. Having the parents die worked for Batman, but for Superman? Better to have them alive. Clark decides to strike out and use his powers for the benefit of others. However, his first public appearance where he saves a space plane which happens to have a certain reporter board does not go well. The public suddenly beg him for things, and his appearance seems to have brought out the worst part of people. Pa comes up with the solution, a way for Clark to function in normal life and operate as a hero. He will wear a disguise as Clark Kent, and when he is saving the day he will wear the red and blue uniform…of Superman!
OPINION-Fantastic first issue! This is a solid origin, and I can’t find any fault with it. It sets everything up and even leaves some cliffhangers for future issues. Aspects of this story, like the space plane, seem to always reappear in origin stories told after this which is a credit to the writing here. Also, I don’t usually care much about art work. It would have to be really bad to bother me, and really good to impress me. However, the artwork here is just beautiful!
STORY-Lois Lane is ordered to find out who the new mystery man is flying over the city. While Superman starts to make his presence known, Lois is unable to catch him. So she lures him in for an interview. She gets the story, but is shocked to discover someone else beat her to it! Who? A new reporter named Clark Kent.
OPINION-This is not a strong follow up to the first issue, I admit it. Partly because we already met Lois in issue #1. We also don’t learn very much about her here aside from how aggressive she can be, she is more of a pest than the strong woman she would be later on. The first half is Lois chasing Superman through the city and except for some hints about Luthor it really isn’t interesting. The Superman stuff is fun, it’s always nice to see him battle dumb crooks that don’t stand a chance against him. The ending is cute but I never agreed with Byrne’s decision to make Lois and Clark adversaries. They are supposed to be in love, and I could understand them not being friends at first but having Lois outright hate Clark was too much, and thankfully it didn’t last very long. Not a bad intro to the new Lois I guess.
STORY-In Gotham City, Batman is in pursuit of a criminal until he is diverted by Superman. Convinced that Batman is a criminal, Superman arrives to arrest him. However, Batman manages to convince Superman they are on the same side, but Gotham is not Metropolis and requires a different approach. After helping Batman capture a villain named Magpie, Superman decides while he does not agree with Batman’s methods Gotham is a different kind of city and may need someone like Batman to defend it.
OPINION-This is a great story, and unlike the Lois and Clark thing having Batman and Superman not be close friends doesn’t seem as odd. Of course it didn’t last, but it was still a nice touch. They are very different and it makes sense they would agree with each other’s methods. The end of the story has Batman pondering how in another reality, he may have called Superman friend. Nice nod to previous continuity. The villain Magpie is also really good, she is given a strong backstory and you almost feel sorry for her in the end.
Story-After we establish how much Lois hates Clark 18 months after beating her out the Superman exclusive, they are off to Luthor’s yacht. We finally meet Luthor, and several things are established. He is the most powerful man in Metropolis, and he has eyes for Lois. The yacht his hijacked but Superman swoops in to save the day. All seems good until Luthor reveals he knew the hijacking could happen, and let it play out to see what Superman could really do…putting innocents at risk in the process! The guests are shocked, including the mayor who orders Superman to arrest Luthor. Luthor insists that he can’t be arrested because he is the most powerful man in Metropolis. In response the mayor says Luthor is not, not anymore.
Opinion-Awesome issue! I think the biggest and best change Byrne came up with was changing Luthor from being a mad scientist. As it’s been pointed out by others, it never really made sense. Luthor would just show up every week with a new invention to kill Superman, lose and end up in jail. Also the silver age motivation for Luthor hatred of Superman was lame. Here it makes sense; Luthor can’t accept that Superman could have all that power and use it for others rather than himself. He is determined to prove Superman is a fraud and destroy him. This leads right into the next issue.
Story-In yet another attempt to destroy Superman, Luthor manages to create a duplicate of Superman. However, his alien cell structure does not hold up and the duplicate fails immediately. Awhile later, the imperfect duplicate appears in Metropolis. While Superman contends with that, we are introduced to Lois’s sister Lucy who has been blinded by a carjacker. Lana and the imperfect Superman form a connection when they encounter each other, and in the end when it is made known that dust from the creature improved Lucy’s eyesight, the imperfect Superman slams himself into Superman causing enough dust to form which completely cures Lucy. Superman is left to wonder, did the imperfect double do that intentionally?
Opinion-This is a solid story, though it kind of feels out of place in this mini-series. It is almost as if they needed a story to round out the six issues so decided to do Bizarro (the name is never used in the story, Lex almost utters it). That doesn’t take away from the story, which is really good. The coolest thing in the issue is the first page. We see Superman apparently clutching Luthor in his silver age war suit, but on the next page we see it is someone else wearing the suit while Luthor sits calmly behind a desk denying any knowledge of the attack on Superman. Just a great way to show the change in this Luthor, he is not going to attack Superman directly but send out agents to do the work for him!
Story-Superman returns to Smallville where he is happy to be reunited with his Ma and Pa. While there two remarkable things happen. First, he encounters his old friend Lana Lang. Back in issue #1 it is teased that Clark needs to speak with someone before he leaves for Metropolis. That person was Lana, who he revealed his identity to. He then few off, shattering her illusion that they may marry one day. Lana was angry, but has accepted and even likes her role as Superman’s best friend. The other thing that happens is Clark comes into contact with Jor-El via holographic image. The image communicates a ton of data to Clark at once, including the fact that Clark is not from Earth. A fact he never considered! He flies off and realizes while his heritage is alien, his birthright is humanity. As he stands on a mountaintop he realizes that while Krypton made him Superman, it was Earth which made him human.
Opinion-They changed Lois and Lana so neither would spend their time chasing after Superman’s identity. For Lois, she never even suspected there was a secret identity. For Lana, it’s because Clark reveals his secret to her. I never liked Lana pre-crisis, but I liked this version. What’s wrong with Superman having a best friend from home? The only problem with their whole scene in this is that DC undid it later in the Millennium mini-series, but that is a loonnng story. As for the rest, we needed to see Superman finally become aware of his Kryptonian heritage, and it is done very effectively here. And for those who may be wondering, Kryptoinite is not established until Superman #1 which followed this mini-series which is another long story. Great issue and very strong way to end this mini-series.
Final Thoughts-What else can I say? Not only was this mini series extremely popular, but the origin stayed intact for almost twenty years after. It was finally wiped out by more modern stories (and of course that awful re-boot last year). But I will always cherish these stories, this is the Superman that I loved and nothing is going to take that away.
Well, that’s it for me. Like I said this was just an experiment, let me know what you think and maybe next year I will do more of these. Oh, and I am still not sure what to call these so any suggestions on that would also be appreciated.