Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Building a Better Bizarro: The Man of Steel #5

The Man of Steel #5 (December 1986)
"The Mirror, Crack'd"
John Byrne-Byrne/Dick Giordano

Doug:  I liked this issue.  At the conclusion of next week's post, Karen and I will give our overall evaluation of the mini-series that revamped the Superman mythos, but I can tell you right now that for me this has been more "hit" than "miss".  John Byrne's art has been near-perfect throughout the series, and he'd for the most part been able to update the Super-universe while still offering that occasional nod and wink to the past.  And that's certainly evident right on the splash page, as we are greeted with the Lex Luthor "Super Powers" battlesuit -- I recall letting out an audible "What the?!" when I opened this, as I felt it was a cop-out... new Superman/new Lex Luthor my foot!  Ah, but the wily Canadian scribe had a trick for us on the very next page.

Karen: For the most part, I would agree that the art has been a highlight, although for whatever reason, I feel like Byrne's stuff may not have aged as well as some of his contemporaries, like George Perez.

Doug:  I think this mini-series, along with the first 20 issues or so of his X-Men run, are among his best output.  The characters have some real mass to them, and the exaggerated elongation that in mind would plague him on the latter years of both X-Men and Fantastic Four is nowhere to be found. 

Doug:  It turns out that the super-suit was an invention of Lexcorps that had been created for NASA.  However, since there was a flaw in the construction that rendered any user mentally-impaired, it obviously wasn't mass-ordered.  Nonetheless, Superman was attacked by a "goon" (Supes' word, not mine.  Is that out-of-character?) and made short work of him.  He then flew to Hong Kong to confront Luthor about it.  Lex of course explains it all away, and we get the sense that not only is Lex incredibly rich and competitive, but he's the new DC Universe's Tony Stark.  Superman leaves dissatisfied, but with a continued warning to Luthor that sooner or later...  Lex then vacates his office, pressing a button on his desk to reveal a secret chamber.

Karen: Yeah, I got a laugh out of the whole powersuit thing. That was nicely handled, a real tip of the hat to the fans. 

Doug:  Lex enters a large laboratory where a Dr. Teng, dissident Chinese scientist, labors over a large sarcophagus.  We learn that Luthor had his offices layered with cameras and untold diagnostic equipment that captured every iota of information about Superman while he was on the premises.  The doctor then used that data to program his technology to create an exact duplicate of the Man of Steel.  One problem, however:  The equipment was infallible for any sort of terran lifeform.  It's at this moment that Lex deduces that Superman could very likely be an alien.  The professor unveils his creation, cautioning Luthor that it has been a failure.  The sarcophagus is opened and out steps an entranced doppelganger of Superman... who then immediately collapses on the floor, and begins to crystallize.  Luthor, enraged, grabs his hired hand and offers that he truly hopes he has not wasted his $100 million investment.  But just as quickly, he orders the creature removed -- Luthor is going home to Metropolis.

Karen: There's a lot of things going on here. Luthor learns of Superman's alien origin, and it's a sure bet he'll exploit it for all it's worth. It's also clear just how deep his obsession with the Man of Steel goes, to the point where he's creating his own version. He says he wants a Superman that works for him -is it all about control? Or would he have used this duplicate to frame the real Superman? There's plenty to work with here. I also wondered how technically savvy Luthor is in this new version. How much of the science does he get? Or is he merely the money man?

Doug:  Good questions; unfortunately we won't be finding out in this issue!  In Metropolis, we get to see Lois Lane's apartment and meet her sister Lucy.  We learn immediately that some sort of tragic accident has recently befallen Lucy and her sight has been lost.  Lois tries to encourage her, but Lucy is obviously depressed.  In another great all-white background panel, Byrne depicts the sullen Lucy, head in hand.  Cut away to the streets, where an ambulance careens out of control.  A blown tire brings the vehicle to an abrupt stop, but carrying a patient the situation is even more dire.  Suddenly a familiar pair of red boots lands and hoists the vehicle.  It is very soon spirited to the closest hospital.  As the crew emerges to thank Superman, a look of surprised horror crosses their faces.  We see the Man of Steel's foggy reflection in the ambulance window, but cannot make out what must have spooked the EMTs.

Karen: As someone who has read very few Superman comics, I wasn't sure of the significance of Lucy, or if she was also blind at some point in the old stories.Doug:  Back at Lois' highrise, Lucy has moved onto the balcony and is poised to leap.  She asks to herself that Lois forgive her, and pushes away.  She doesn't fall far before blue-clothed arms reach out and scoop her away from her desired death.  Taken back to the balcony, she's gently set down.  She asks if her benefactor is Superman, but he says nothing.  She feels him fly away, and is puzzled as to why he wouldn't speak.  Cut away then to the Daily Planet, where Lois has arrived to work.  After some banter, Jimmy (still sportin' that bowtie) asks if anyone has heard about the break-in at a men's store next door.  Seems the perp busted thousands of dollars of plate glass to swipe a $100 suit, and left alone a jewelry store right next door!  Clark uses his telescopic vision to peer down into the lobby and notices an odd duck wearing a sport coat over what looks to be a red cape.  In a really nifty panel, Byrne gives us the first Superman quick-change and the Man of Steel emerges in the lobby to question this weirdo.  Trouble is, when the guy turns around, he's an ashen duplicate of -- Superman!

Karen: I have to say I was shocked by Lucy jumping out of the window. This was another sign that this Superman universe (and by extension, the DC Universe as a whole) would be very different from what we were used to. The reveal of Bizarro was a bit disappointing to me. I would have preferred the 'facet-faced' Bizarro.

Doug:  All I can say is that I'm glad this version doesn't have his name and a number written on some around-the-neck Flava Flav bling!  The new guy on the block doesn't talk much, but he does pack a whallop!  Superman is sent reeling out of the building, landing in the middle of a city bus.  He urges the passengers to stay put and heads back out to confront his assailant.  We get a good look at the guy, who is fully garbed in a navy blue (not royal blue) Superman suit and what looks to be Clark Kent's wardrobe!  Superman soon finds that this imposter possesses all of his powers, including his vast strength.  When Lois comes on the scene, Superman decides it would be beneficial to rid his enemy of the civvies.  As Superman takes a shot, Lois comes closer -- close enough that she draws the creature's attention.  He grasps her wrist and flies her away.

Karen: The fight between the two is exciting and well done. It had a nice cinematic feel to it. I like how Superman seems more worried about Lois figuring out his secret identity than anything else. 

Doug:  Lois decides that she'll try to talk to the "guy".  But when she does, he turns his full attention to her, and kisses her!  In an nice piece of writing, Byrne has Lois think, "I don't believe it!  Five years I've been dreaming of being kissed by Superman..."  So by this time Superman's 30 years old, and he's been superheroing for half a decade -- I suppose this allows much of the DC revamp to fall into place.  And Byrne did it without any awkward current events "anchors" that would hopelessly date the story -- just a nice touch.  Anyway, the creature lands on the same balcony to which he'd deposited Lucy earlier in the story.  She is still outside, and can see Lois and "Superman" approaching!  Lucy approaches the doppelganger, but as she moves to touch his face, the real Superman arrives.  He tries to move the ladies to safety, but is pummeled by his  duplicate.  They engage, and Superman is hurled straight down into the street.  He notices that some sort of powder has rubbed off on his fist and sleeve.  Looking at it with his telescopic vision, he notes that it is inorganic -- the creature isn't alive.  And, in a quote that would foreshadow Byrne's move to the Avengers West Coast in 1989, Superman says, as he charges skyward, "Our ugly friend is some kind of android -- an artificial being -- just one step ahead of a robot!"  Harumph...

Karen: Five years of activity seems like an awfully long time -why would he need to make it that long? And in all that time, Supes and Lois haven't kissed? Hmmm. But don't get me started on the "artificial being" stuff. Apparently Superman thinks anything that isn't organic is fair game for destruction. Just like Byrne I guess.

Doug:  Superman rockets upward as the creature turns toward him.  Suddenly it launches downward and the two meteors strike head on.  Superman emerges apparently no worse for the wear, but the creature is nowhere to be found, having exploded into a huge cloud of dust and crystal particles.  And it's those particles that apparently cured Lucy's blindness.  Superman is complimented for taking the action that cured Lucy; however, the Man of Steel muses that he really didn't know it would work out that way... but the creature must have.

Karen:Well, I'm not really sure how exposure to little bits of Bizarro's body would cure Lucy, but I guess we just have to roll with it. It's really not clear to me how the artificial Superman, who seems pretty oblivious, would have figured that out. This story was OK, but I'm not really sure why one issue of a six issue mini-series was used on a character that wasn't (at least originally) going to reappear. It seems like there are a number of Superman foes that would have been more interesting to bring in.

Doug:  I liked this story, as I said at the top.  I thought it was somewhat interesting, however, that the name "Bizarro" was never used, and was apparently a one-and-done character.  But I loved the fact that none of the goofiness that was the Bizarro universe showed up.  The homage to Luthor's supersuit was great -- early for that sort of thing, agreed -- but I'm sure those who were longtime fans found it to be a bone-thrown.  And Byrne's art just continues to be stellar.   I'm really enjoying this re-read as much as I did the first time through, 26 years ago!


Edo Bosnar said...

While I agree with Doug that this is a pretty good story, I also see Karen's point about its place in the series as a whole. All of the other issues aspects some major aspect of the Superman story, or mythology, i.e., his origin and childhood in Smallville, his relationships with Lois, Luthor, Batman, etc., while this one really didn't do much of that. I think this would have been better as a done-in-one in Byrne's subsequent ongoing series.
I was also a bit puzzled about why the dust from Bizarro's body would cure blindness - not even a ghost of an attempt was made to explain this (was it done later in one of the ongoing Superman titles?).

Lemnoc said...

It was here the revamp and retcon began to become interesting to me. This story imbues the Bizzaro character with a great deal of the monstrous, Frankensteinian qualities from his earliest appearances in the Silver Age. Restores a kind of dignity to what was, at this point, a threadbare and tedious concept.

The idea the monster, becoming aware of his monstrousness, was capable of self-sacrifice, even if it doesn't hold up under scrutiny, really adds dimension here.

Luthor does give oblique name to the creature, BTW, in the panel where he complains of "this bizzare --OH!"

Inkstained Wretch said...

I frankly prefer the battlesuit Luthor. It was a really cool George Perez design and I liked the idea of something that put Luthor on a par with Superman power-wise.

The battlesuit Luthor only came about in 1983, just three years before this story. They didn't give it a chance!

The Byrne version of Luthor always struck me as a little too close to Marvel's Kingpin.

Amusing, too, when you think that the the Bruce Timm animated series started off with the Byrne version and ended up with pre-battlesuit version in Justice League...

J.A. Morris said...

I agree with Karen & Edo here, this doesn't really "introduce" anything new. But I guess Byrne felt he needed a slugfest, Bizzarenstein (whatever it's called) was good for that.

For me, that's one reason I never got interested in reading Superman comics. Most of his villains (Luthor, Prankster, Toyman come to mind) are just old guys who send robots or machines to attack Superman and/or Metropolis. That gets old fast.

Chris said...

I really enjoyed this mini - as I have said before - but this this issue felt a bit like a filler as it didn't really move the re-vamp along.

I'm pleased to see others felt the same way.

I wouls ay that the only things we learn are that Luthor is spending $$$ on his desire to control Superman and that Lois has the hots for him. Nothing major there then!

And I really couldn't get over the whole dust instantly curing blindness plot.

Doug- I agree it is stella art by Byrne in this series but, for my money, it gets even better when Karl Kesel inks him starting in Superman #1.

You also mention Byrne's art on the FF run. Well the last few issues were inked by Jerry Ordway and he made a world of difference. There were some beautifully illustrated issues there.

Anonymous said...

Two things:

(1) at the time of the miniseries, Byrne stated that the purpose of the Bizarro story was to show Superman's first encounter with a super powered foe;
(2) the blindness thing is a call back to the first Bizarro story - where something similar happened. Bizarro died - and when he blew up, he cured a blind person (though I don't think it was Lucy Lane).

William said...

Again. Loved this mini-series. Loved Byrne's version of Superman. Liked this issue as well. However, I will agree that it seemed more like an issue that should have appeared in the regular monthly ongoing, instead of being a chapter in the character redefining series.

I like this new version of Bizarre-OH as well. The idea of a flawed clone of Superman becoming Bizarro was a cool idea that was carried over into the Animated Series, and was also used again in the DC Animated Movie "Superman: Doomsday."

Plus, I really didn't care at all for the old character that was from the cube shaped Earth and wore the stupid sign around his neck and all that crap. Uhg. Campy comic-book schlock at it's worst.

Victor Nunez said...

Here we have the "Batman V Superman:Dawn of Justice" :) Judging by the trailer, they´ll have this story as the second act of the movie.

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