Monday, September 24, 2012

Building a Better Legacy: The Man of Steel #6

The Man of Steel #6 (December 1986)
"The Haunting"
John Byrne-Byrne/Dick Giordano

Karen: We're back with the final issue in this re-imagining of Superman. I'd invite everyone to comment on the series as a whole, as well as Byrne's run on Superman, and also how many of the ideas he came up with which were ignored or re-written by later writers.

Doug:  Ah yes -- the discussion of what was/is/and shall be canon.  Not much in any direction for modern comics, huh?

Karen: As with most of the previous issues, this one focuses on another Superman cast member, Lana Lang, but also on Superman's Kryptonian origins. The story begins with Superman returning home to Smallville for a visit with his parents.  Superman flies into the tiny town at super-speed, but it's Clark Kent who appears to emerge from the local bus station. He thinks about how Smallville hasn't changed, and how he doesn't want it to. Ma and Pa Kent are there to pick him up, and when he asks them what's new, Pa starts to say something, but Ma gives him a quick elbow to the ribs and he shuts up.

Doug:  Byrne's splash page is excellent -- that cannot be an easy perspective to draw.  The Kents are fun, aren't they?  For those of us with grandparents still around, they are sentimental characters and really serve to humanize Clark for us.  Byrne draws Clark as a giant, doesn't he?

Karen: He's huge! Makes it even harder to explain why no one realizes he and Clark are one and the same. You're right, that splash page is striking -in fact, Byrne does a great job with all of the flying sequences.  After dinner, Pa asks Clark about Lois. He says he hadn't realized his interest in her was so obvious, but with the way he scooped her on Superman, Lois hasn't exactly been fond of him. But Clark acknowledges that he would like her  -"or someone like Lois" -in his life. He tells his folks that when he returns to Metropolis, he's going to do something about this. But as he lies in bed that night he can't sleep. He wonders what it was that his parents aren't telling him. As he goes to raid the refrigerator,  he is surprised by a ghostly figure. It is Jor-El, his Kryptonian father, as we saw him in the first issue. However, Clark has no idea what's going on.

 Doug:  Byrne raises an issue we've discussed on the blog before, and that is -- who is the "real me": the man or the mask?  Clark emphatically states that he is the real, while Superman is the cover.  I found that interesting, as I really think that in the past it was "Clark Kent" that was the disguise while the Man of Steel was real.

Karen: I haven't read enough Superman comics to speak with any authority, but I always felt Clark was the 'real' person, whereas with Batman, his heroic identity seemed to be the true one.

Doug:  I also thought it was interesting, and spoke to Clark's upbringing and moral fiber, that when he was fretting about the "secret" that his parents were keeping from him he intimated that he could use his powers to reveal whatever it was -- but chose not to.  We had questioned just what sort of kid he was back in our review of issue #1; this sort of answered that question that perhaps he was just a brash kid on the football field, immature and in love with his budding abilities.  And in regard to the refrigerator splash, that's just a heckuva waste of a rhubarb pie...

Karen: You know, I don't even now what rhubarb pie is. Never had any. Anyway -The phantom-like Jor-El smiles broadly at Clark and speaks to him, but Clark can't understand him. Jor-El places his hand on Clark's forehead and suddenly, Clark is no longer in his kitchen, but in a strange place, wearing his Superman outfit. He begins to speak the language Jor-El spoke to him, and asks where he is. He looks around and quickly realizes, based on the landscape, and the three moons, he is not on Earth! A woman approaches him -readers will recognize her as Lara from issue one. She looks at him and recognizes that he is her son. Her image dissolves into that of a red-haired woman -- Lana Lang. We pull back and see that Clark is crouched in the field outside his parents' home.

Doug:  This again was a scene borrowed from Superman: The Movie, where Clark is able to interact with his father, or at least a hologram of his father.  I guess we should assume that the image of Jor-El is recorded, but it is creepy to think that perhaps it truly is a two-sided exchange.  I recall waiting, at the time of the first read, for the Kryptonians to show up in insignia similar to the Superman "S" -- but I guess the similarities had to stop somewhere.  And what of the scene with Lara?  Why would something like that be pre-programmed?  

Karen: Apparently Clark was 'super-sleep-walking,' and Lana heard him and found him. Clark is surprised to see her back in Smallville. She tells him she had left for a long time, because of "what you did to me." We then flashback ten years, to the night that Clark decided to start using his powers to help people. Before he left Smallville, he visited Lana. They went out for a moonlit stroll, and he talked to her about the world and all its problems. Unfortunately, Lana was thinking, hoping, that Clark might be about to propose to her. Instead, he tells her he thinks one man might be able to help the world, and it might be him. She's taken aback; more so when he grabs her and flies into the sky with her!  Clark revealed his powers to Lana that night, and flew her around the world. She was absolutely thrilled -and then it ended. he dropped her off on her porch with a brotherly kiss on the forehead, and then vanished from her life. She wasn't stupid; once she saw Superman on the news she knew it was Clark (wouldn't everyone from Smallville??). She pined for him for some time, but eventually came to accept the situation and came back home.

Doug:  Some people might not consider this to be a very exciting or even necessary part of this mini-series; after all, the cover touts this ish as "the epic conclusion!"  Well...  But seriously, this issue is all about characterization -- we titled this post "Building a Better Legacy" for a reason.  Byrne, for my money, really shows his strength as a writer over these five pages.

Karen: Some things of note here. Byrne clearly draws Lana as attractive but not glamorous - she's a real counterpoint to Lois. Secondly, Lana's longing for Clark is well-done. Many of us have been on one side or the other of such a one-sided relationship. Clark seems a bit clueless but not a cad.

Doug:  This Lana Lang is a far cry from the Lana of Curt Swan's Adventure Comics, who was as pretty as any of the exotic Legionnaires.  But her depiction here really humanized Superman, and was necessary for it to come off.  While Lois is integral to the story as a whole, I would have a hard time imagining Superman/Clark having this sort of a conversation with her.  I don't see Lois as too deep emotionally, at least in the limited time we've seen her.  Lana's just more down home, honest, earthy (man, sounding like a hippie all of a sudden).

Karen: After his talk with Lana, we next see Clark as Superman. He's decided he has to face up to some things. He thinks about wanting Lois in his life, but then recalls Lana's words -that Superman belongs to the world, "not one woman." This segues into the Man of Steel wondering about his origins. He flies off to find the rocketship that brought him into the world. He heaves up a large wooden panel from a field -but shockingly, the ship is gone! Superman wonders if Pa might have moved it, but using his super-vision, he sees tracks from a piece of heavy equipment. Before he can pursue that line of inquiry further, Jor-El appears again in his wispy form. He calls Superman his son, and then blasts him with some sort of ray. Superman falls to the ground, clutching his head. The Kents come tearing up in their old pickup truck, and Pa tries to hit Jor-El with a shovel. There's a flash of light and the alien disappears -as does half of Pa's shovel! Superman realizes that it was a holographic projection. After making sure Pa is all right, he tells his parents he needs to go away somewhere to think.

Doug:  Say, I need to interject this -- did you see that it was mentioned at least twice that Clark is 28 years old?  Correct me if I'm wrong, but I sure thought it was said earlier that he went public when he was 25, and just last issue Lois said she'd been wanting a kiss from Superman for five years.  I wonder why they decided to cut two years away, somewhat arbitrarily?

Karen: Doesn't quite add up, does it? I do recall reading somewhere that, pre-Crisis, DC insisted that Superman was perpetually 29.

Doug:  So, the rocket's gone; do you recall also seeing a shadowy figure at the same site, back when Clark was a high school senior and Pa first showed it to him?  If I recall, some of this comes to light in the first issue of Superman.  It's interesting that the first time Clark encounters the Jor-El projection, it isn't until he's "touched" that his mind goes awry; here, apparently Jor-El is getting to him wirelessly.  But back to the movie -- this scene is similar to the rocket scene in the film, but when Kal-El was an infant.  He learned all of Kryptonian history and culture from the recordings his father had installed in the ship.

Karen: As Superman flies off, far above the Earth, he realizes who he really is. He knows now that he is not a mutant or a Soviet science experiment, but an alien.Not only that, he is the sole survivor of his species. He swoops down into a frozen, mountainous region (no, there's no giant golden key!).  He thinks about how all the knowledge of Krypton has flooded his head; he knows of his people's history, culture, religion. And he decides that all of it is meaningless, as Earth, and America, are the places that shaped him, and made him into who he is. And so, at the end of this mini, Superman learns his true origin as an alien being, but embraces his humanity as being more important to him.

Doug:  And I want to step back a week, to some of the comments that were made concerning the plot and placement of the Bizarro encounter.  I didn't say anything at the time, as I was awaiting this issue.  But I do not find issue #5 out of place at all, and instead feel that it's integral to the whole of this six-part story.  If you even take the second half of it, we see Luthor defined, which presents the major antagonist for Superman -- in that story, we see Superman's feelings for Lois, learn a little about Lois and how she operates, and see Superman's morality and heroism; then in issue #5 we get some straightforward superheroing but with a heaping helping of Superman's powers on full display.  So we then come to this issue, which is really an epilogue to the entire story, not a chapter in and of itself.  For me, this issue is almost an antithesis to issue #5; where it was about brains and brawn, this is about heart and soul.  That's my take, anyway. 

Karen: I was struck by how this version of Superman really doesn't feel all that different to me than the previous one. But then, I was not a big Superman reader. 

 Doug:  I felt at the time that the promise of a somewhat depowered Superman was all-too-quickly abandoned.  If he was no longer a god, then he sure was a strong candidate for demi-god!

Karen:  I did think it was interesting that the Kents were still alive. That was a new element to play with. But in general, this Superman was the same upstanding guy he'd been for most of his existence. And he focused on his human heritage. I'm really surprised to hear that the Superman of the New 52 is much more centered around his Kryptonian nature -and that DC has no plans for him to have a romance with Lois Lane! That is just insane. To me, that relationship is one of the keys to Superman. It defines the character. Without it, well, it's just not Superman.


Edo Bosnar said...

Great write-up, guys. I really liked this issue as well, and thought it was a great conclusion to the mini-series.
Just to address a few points made by Karen: I think the whole point of the post-Crisis Superman reboot was just to stream-line and update his back-story, etc., while still having him "feel" the same. Like I said, I liked this series, and I think Byrne and company did a really nice job of making a "new" Superman that really wasn't too new. Also, I agree that Superman loses a great deal without Lois - if that's what's happening in the current series. In fact, I think the key, mandatory components of the Superman mythos are: he's an alien, but raised in small town America, he's a big city reporter, he loves (and eventually gets together with/marries) Lois, and his arch-nemesis is Lex Luthor.

Inkstained Wretch said...

This issue kind of annoyed me. While it was good on its own terms for the reason you guys cite, it also exemplifies the casual re-writing of the DC mythos that followed in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths and how that played havoc with continuity.

My basic problem with it was this: For the sake of streamlining history and clearing away the things that Byrne didn't want to have to deal with Superboy and his entire history with the Legion of Super Heroes was scrapped. And on an apparent whim too.

The worst part about it was that they could have left that history in without really changing Man of Steel #6. Clark Kent could simply have gone to future, spent his early years there and then returned to the present to become the grown-up Superman. Apparently nobody thought of that. It would have made a great story for Man of Steel though...

ChrisPV said...

I've always viewed Clark as the real person, even back in the Silver Age, for one very simple reason. Superman doesn't NEED Clark. He doesn't need a job, or an apartment, or even food. He can hear trouble anywhere on the planet, and back in the 60's he had a corps of robots to do all his monitoring for him. He isn't at the Daily Planet chumming it up with Jimmy Olsen for any practical reason whatsoever. He's doing it because he likes it. He eats because he wants to, not because he has to. And that's why the New 52 version rings so false to me. He puts on the glasses because it's expected by the reader, not because the character seems to enjoy human interaction.

Fred W. Hill said...

Just musing here, but this coda brings to mind the various sorts of heroism. Characters like Superman and Captain America, his closest echo at Marvel, are heroes, as I perceive them, because they want to do good, to help people and stop or prevent harm, and they'd be that way even if they had no powers. BatMan and Spider-Man also want to do good, but in BatMan's case its shaped by the thirst for vengeance he's had since his parents were murdered in front of him while in Spider-Man's it's shaped by the guilt he's felt since he caught his uncle's killer and realized it was the same theif he had previously let run off while he stood by and purposely did nothing.
I like how Byrne made the point that despite his powers and alien origin, Superman cherishes his adopted humanity. He is truly Clark Kent, but just has to pretend that he is ordinary so he can enjoy the companionship of normal Earthlings rather than be forced to live in a lonely Fortress of Solitude when he wasn't being a hero.

Garett said...

I've enjoyed the art highlights throughout these reviews. That is a dandy splash page pose!

Anonymous said...

I have to heartily agree with your comments regarding the splash. My absolute favorite part of the Byrne run on Superman was his art for the flying shots. He made the flying look dramatic - and did something very few artists do. He made flying look cool. All artists should - but few do.

Unknown said...

"Inkstained Wretch" I was a long time Legion fan. It was shocking to see DC casually wash the Superboy out of the LSH. The LSH history was shook to the foundation in the process.
I think most LSH readers had the same idea you mentioned.
How diffucult is it to write a plot that puts Clark into the future? That he trained there in secret to learn to use his powers?

Later they tried to put a bandaid on the bloodied LSH history. The Pocket Universe Superboy....*oy*

Karen said...

I loved the Legion, never cared about Superman, so I was devastated when they wiped out Superboy. It seemed so unnecessary. I think the Legion never really recovered.I'm not sure that the change really did anything for Superman either.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I have the paperback and original series when this was released. It was a terrific take on Superman and John Byrne was at his best. I'd like to know what happened to his run on Superman. He left because of some comments he made in Time magazine that DC didn't agree with. I would like to know if any of our readers know why he was asked to leave. I remember all the controversey occured when there was a 50th anniversary of Superman on the cover of Time magazine. Bryne drew the cover and reading the article, I can't see anything that Byrne said that stood out as being anti-DC or Superman.

Crimson Cowl said...

Whilst I can appreciate the problems faced by Legion fans, I thought Byrne made absolutely the right choices where the character of Superman was concerned. It was supposed to be a 'back to the essentials' exercise and that's exactly what it was.

1. Clark Kent should grow up on a farm not in a small town.
2. Clark should be the real person not Superman, and there should be none of that rather sinister 'faking'that was found in some older stories.
3. Rein the power levels in.
4. ...and yes, there shouldn't be any teen superhero or superdog nonsense.

Yes continuity was messed up, but DC felt that their continuity was so compromised by this time that this needed doing -that's why Byrne was hired to 'Marvelize' Superman. As far as Superman himself is concerned I think he did a fine job.

Chris said...

I can totally understand the feelings of Superboy/ Legion fans towards this Byrne re-vamp. It seems re-boot will leave some casualties and I had similar feelings regarding Spidey's Brand New Day. Long term fans feel cheated.

However, as I've said before, I was new to DC and so I didn't mind a bit that anything was changed as it was all new to me! Byrne was at the top of his game and the whole series was an enjoyable read.

Doug - I still think issue 5 was the weakest issue. I don't think it was as much of a slugfest to justify it being catagorised as such. Each other issue had moved things on by establishing the world and limits of Superman's powers. All #5 basically showed was that Lex figured out he was an alien before Clark did and Lois had the hots for him.

Number 6 was much better but not without the odd bit.

For example, did I miss how the visions appeared (esp. the first one in the kitchen) and what exactly they were? Because there did seem to be some interaction going on there. Or should I just accept this because it's comics after all.

Still the scenes with Lana were very well done and Ma and Pa Kent were great comedy value.

I stuck with Superman for years afterwards. I enjoyed the continuity of the various titles and there were some great stories despite the "power level" of Superman. In fact it was the supporting cast which made the book.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone realize where the idea of the 'Superman' actually originates? It comes out of similar ideas that mankind has evolved out of root races- talked about by the Theosophists for one thing. Hitler took the philosophical concept and tried to turn it to his own ideas. Also, relating to Hitler, the Swastika was a symbol long before he made use of it; it was used in many different cultures- Native Americans among those who have utilized it.

As far as the Superman story- this is saying that the Jews are actually aliens?

Doug said...

Anonymous --

No, I'm pretty certain that young Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, both of whom were Jewish, were not saying that their forebears were aliens.

And the swastika had been associated with the concept of the volk before Hitler joined the National Socialists or created the Nazi flag.


Anonymous said...


You ARE a teacher- right? Guess you MIGHT know a bit about that.

I do know the Theosophists, whom I think you've probably heard of, utilize- or did utilize- the swastika as a symbol; by Theosophists, I'm talking of the specific group connected to the mystic Madam Blavatsky, and which exists to this day.

The swastika HAS been utilized in cultures around the world. It was an important symbol in Tibetan culture, I believe, and Hitler was supposed to have had people searching that area for mystical artifacts, and knowledge.

'Raiders of the Lost Ark' is influenced by this- obviously. Anyway, thanks for commenting back to my mostly off-topic commentary.!


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