Friday, August 30, 2013

Kryptonite Nevermore! Superman 233

Superman #233 (January 1971)
"Superman Breaks Loose!"
Dennis O'Neil-Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson; cover by Neal Adams

Doug:  I mentioned to you quite a while ago that I bought a copy of the DC Comics Library edition of Superman: Kryptonite Nevermore.  I got a sweet deal on Amazon from a book dealer in Arizona (took it right out from under Karen's nose, did I).  How's a used-like-new copy for $5.50 sound?  Yep, MSRP was $40 on that bad boy.  I was a happy fella when the package arrived back around my birthday in June.  We've been saying for years that we have to get more DC on the blog, and we especially need to get some Superman reviews posted.  Since I don't have very many stories featuring the Man of Steel, this book seemed to fit several bills.  I'll be picking through these stories off and on in the months to come; we'll enjoy the ride together!

Doug: You know, we joke now (scoff, sometimes) at DC's seemingly-constant rebooting of their heroes, titles, and indeed universes.  But even back in the late Silver Age and early Bronze Age, the Distinguished Competition was doing some heavy market strategizing with revamps to Batman ("new look" in 1964, O'Neil/Adams "Dark Knight" in 1970), Green Lantern (O'Neil/Adams in 1970), and Wonder Woman (Diana Prince arc, 1968).  It only seems fitting that the company's flagship character would also get a makeover, and that came in today's reviewed issue.  Julius Schwartz had taken over the Superman titles from longtime editor Mort Weisinger; things were going to change.  Gone would be the Superman robots, the bazillion survivors of Krypton, and the Super-Pets.  Oh, and one more thing -- Kryptonite.  Yep, this was billed on the splash page as "a return to greatness", and the iconic Neal Adams cover even sported a big fat 1 on it.  This wouldn't be yer daddy's Man of Steel, junior!

Doug: We begin in a "proving ground" somewhere in the American desert.  Superman's come to monitor an experiment whereby a Professor Bolden hopes to create a reaction that would provide cheap energy from green Kryptonite.  Superman, always prepared for the worst, had crafted a giant leaden dome-like shield should the experiment somehow go awry.  Well -- you guessed it:  AWRY City, baby!  There's an explosion, and as Superman rushes in with the shield the whole lab blows, bathing Supes in a green glow.  Gonna be a goner, is he -- has to be!  You'd be wrong.  Superman is knocked unconscious, and tense minutes later he comes to with the Professor and other scientists present.  They notice that a small sample of Kryptonite that had been in the lab has been transmuted to harmless iron.  Soon, another lab rat runs up with some green K that had been stored at some distance; it, too, has been changed to iron!  Superman flies off to investigate to see if indeed all the world's green Kryptonite has been rendered harmless.

Doug:  We cut to the Daily Planet, where the usual cast of reporters and cub reporters is assembled.  The Planet has just published a "stop the presses!" edition proclaiming the end of green K, and the no-doubt invulnerability of Superman.  Clark Kent, amazingly -- must have been a quick trip around the world to scope out that green K cache -- is at his desk and decides to mute his enthusiasm somewhat as Jimmy Olsen rushes through the office blaring the good news.  However, in walks Morgan Edge, now owner of the Planet.  He's not a happy guy, you see -- any fella whose invulnerable simply cannot be trusted.  Then Edge brings us to the next big change in the life of Clark Kent/Superman -- he assigns Kent to take a television camera and cover the launch of the new mail-rocket.  Kent protests, saying he's a newspaper man; Edge reminds him that he's an employee and is now working for WGBS-Television.  This scene evoked memories of several weeks ago, when the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photography staff of 38, choosing instead to send their reporters out with a digital camera.  Denny O'Neil was somewhat prophetic when writing this scene!

Doug:  Kent does indeed cover the launch, which is apparently within driving distance of Metropolis.  I'm thinking if Metropolis is some sort of stand-in for New York City, this is pretty implausible.  Hmmm... was this still writing intended for 10-year old boys?  Anyway, Clark uses his X-ray vision while on the air live (so that wouldn't erase the tape in the video camera?) and spies a "suspicious-looking" chap with a walkie-talkie.  Sending his report to a station break, Clark whips through a change into his fighting togs.  I'd forgotten one of the sillier aspects of the Clark Kent/Superman backstory -- when doing the quick change, Clark obviously couldn't leave his clothes laying around in a phone booth or some other public locale, so he instead stuffed them into a pocket in his cape!  Funny how we never saw that bulk -- I mean, the guy just took off a suit -- and his shoes!  Glory be....  Ah, I'm trying to be positive here.  Superman accosts the creep, who boldly admits that he and his cronies are going to heist the rocket and sell it for money to some foreign power.  And just to show that they've covered their bases, this guy busts out a piece of green Kryptonite from his satchel!  What, could you just buy this stuff at Wal-Mart??  Of course, it's gone  powerless, and to prove it, Superman snatches it from his adversary and... eats it!  This triptych of panels has been reprinted before.  I think in the first two Curt Swan shows one of his strengths, and that is facial expression; however, in the third I'd argue that Superman doesn't even look like the same guy!  Weird...  Superman then thumps the crook on the chin, and hightails it back to his spot on camera as Clark Kent.

Doug:  Clark announces the launch, which goes off without a hitch.  Using the dust from the rocket ignition, Clark switches back to Superman and tails the rocket.  He assumes that it will be taken over once above the clouds, and he's right as two small jets appear and on an intercept path.  But feeling more alive than ever, Clark takes it right to them.  He gets a greeting from some missile fire and shrugs it off, attempting to fuse the airplane's electrical system.  He's dismayed, as for some unknown reason it doesn't work.  No worries, though -- ripping a hole in the plane's fuselage, he enters the cockpit and knocks the pilots' melons together.  He remarks that he had then set the plane's auto-pilot to glide safely to the ground, and then turns his attention to the other jet.  Landing on top of it, he rams his fists through the roof of the cockpit and knocks the pilots unconscious.  Flying to the front of the craft, Superman digs his fingers into the nose and pulls it along until he catches the first plane.  And then he makes this puzzling statement:  "Next stop, the Metropolis Airfield... and then jail!  Curious coincidence... I'm now directly over the spot where I landed yesterday, after the prof's gimmick exploded!"  SAY WHAT??  I don't have a problem with the launching of the rocket taking place in the desert -- makes a heckuva lot more sense than launching it somewhere on the East coast.  But then how did Clark Kent (don't play the Superman card on me) get to the launch site so quickly, and wearing the same clothes he had on at the Planet?  Just sloppy storytelling...

Doug:  As Superman flies over the site of the earlier accident, he's suddenly overcome by a feeling of weakness.  He thinks that his strength is waning, and that it's worse than the feeling induced by prolonged exposure to Kryptonite.  But as he passes that area, he's suddenly revitalized.  Back at the Daily Planet, Clark returns (still wearing the tan suit) to a sea of compliments from Jimmy, Lois (sort of), and Morgan Edge.  One guy isn't too happy about Kent's report, and that's Planet editor Perry White.  White protests that he needs Kent on the paper; Edge reminds Perry White who is boss now.  And on the side, Clark Kent wonders how in the world he'll be able to switch to Superman while waiting for the next commercial break.

Doug:  There's an epilogue to the story.  Back in the desert, the impression that Superman's body had made in the sand after the explosion suddenly comes to life.  It rises as a filled-out figure, and then begins to shuffle off toward the mountains -- heading east!

Doug:  As I've clearly stated, this story has some holes in it.  If you've followed the Bronze Age Babies through the years, you've probably gotten the vibe that I'm not generally gushing over Denny O'Neil's scripts.  He's OK -- certainly he's made his mark with plenty of other fans.  But I find his writing either heavy-handed or like this -- just a bit on the sloppy side.  But tossing the benefit of the doubt his way, perhaps a couple of the things working against him were a) the tight editorial control DC was known for and b) the fact that the story was only 16 pages in length.  I am willing to cut him some slack in this inaugural authoring of the Man of Steel.  As to the art, count me among those who generally like the Curt Swan-Murphy Anderson team.  When we did our recent Bronze Age penciler polls, Swan had his detractors.  I've always found him "comfortable" -- not flashy as some other artists of the era, but very steady.  And as some of us commented about certain characters who have a "look" in our mind's eye, Curt Swan is the artist on the Superman that shows up in my head.  As I said, it's a sense of the familiar.  One last comment, before it's your turn:  you might notice the coloring of the art samples, which are from the above-mentioned collection.  I really like the true four-color, somewhat muted, presentation here.  As we all know, reprint coloring can be all over the map -- this standard reproduction is actually quite nice in its aged look.


Humanbelly said...

Gosh, did that arc really take place in '70/'71? Time does play tricks, doesn't it? Y'know, could this story be considered as one of those Silver Age/Bronze Age turning points that we discuss every so often? In my mind (and probably everyone's) it's certainly the turning point between "old, corny" Superman and "modern" Superman.

Never owned this run, but my buddy's older brother did, and I remember reading those. The evolution of that Sand Superman creature kept me on the edge of my seat, to be sure. You're absolutely right about the coloring choices in the reprint, Doug, and I imagine the way SandySupes looks in the following issues bears that out. I'm not sure modern coloring processes could carry off that faded, textured look quite the same way.

And this Swan/Anderson art flew completely beneath my notice when I was a kid-- really, QUITE good stuff.


Edo Bosnar said...

I know I had this story in a floppy (rather than a digest or some other reprint format) and did some checking (thanks GCD!): it was reprinted in Action #485 in 1978, with a similar, yet new cover by Adams - which is what enticed me to buy it.
Your review pretty much sums up my own response back then, i.e., I was pretty unimpressed, although an additional factor for me then as now is that I'm just not a big fan of Swan's art - sorry.
However, like you, I really like the way the coloring is reproduced here. This is way reprints of all older comics should look - they should emulate the original look as much as possible.

Doc Savage said...

Swan is the best Superman artist. Pretty sure that off-brand Superman face must have been re-done as it doesn't even look like Swanderson in the least.

This issue, to me, is a case of DC fixing what isn't broken. Superman doesn't need to be Marvelized.

I have yet to be impressed by an O'Neil story. Favorably impressed, I mean.

david_b said...

This is ONE SERIOUSLY awesome Superman cover. Was going to hunt this one down myself.

Looks like a cool, retooling if wonky new approach to introduce contraints on the previous 'Anything-is-possible-he's-Superman' Silver fare.

You kinda wonder, after the GL/GA, WW, Titans, and Batman format changes, just what would have been done with Supes. It may have had lapses in logic (that didn't change), but with changes such as broadcast media becoming the hip, coming-of-age venue for the Daily Planet, changes were necessary to keep stories fresh and topical.

giantsizegeek said...

I remember buying this issue on the newsstand - it was a big event. I was excited over the "new direction" and the awesome Superman cover by Neal Adams. The art by Swan and Anderson seemed super-charged compared to previous issues. Since I had been reading Denny O'Neil's stuff in GL/GA and Batman, I hoped he was working some more of that mojo for Kal-El. What followed was a year or two worth of stories, with great covers, but the plot just seemed to fall apart. The sand creature was a bit of a let down. Terra Man followed.

But that cover is a classic. Alex Ross did a rendition of it some years back.

Anonymous said...

In 1992 Walt Simonson re-did this story in an issue titled Superman Special #1. Unfortunately it hit the stands right around the time of the Death of Superman and got lost in the shuffle. Walt did a nice job adapting the original multi issue arc into a single giant sized comic. The Special also featured a gallery of outstanding Superman pin ups by Frank Miller, Barry Windsor Smith, Michael Golden and others.

Doug said...

Superman is such a tough character to write as consistently interesting. I think that's why I always gravitated more toward Superboy. As a teenaged character, at least in the way I perceived the writings of the various authors who shepherded the character, he'd not yet attained godlike status in power or reputation. Additionally, he could get somewhat lost among his Legion counterparts, often playing second banana or at least being equaled by Mon-el or Ultra Boy in the power department.

As of now, the "You might also like" links below the post are giving readers the opportunity to jump to our 2-part review of Superman: Peace on Earth. I like the Dini/Ross rendition of the character. God-like yes, but fully aware of his limitations and dealing with those limits emotionally. It's a nice bit of depth layered onto the mythos.


Humanbelly said...

Am I remembering that there was a subsequent complication, in that Superman become vulnerable to . . . sea water or something? And say, was that indeed the end of Kryptonite forever, or did it come back over the years (like with a re-boot or something)?

Sometimes I do wish I'd managed to sustain an interest in the character over the years, but he has just never, ever been able to pull me in emotionally, and w/out that level of personal investment in the character, interest wanes all too easily. . .

(SMALLVILLE, I'm finding, is a huge exception to that problem. . . )


William Preston said...

I remember reading this issue at my mother's beauty salon; I had just bought it at the town magazine and gift shop, where I would buy most of my comics until I became a serious collector (of Marvel!) and other venues emerged.

I loved the art, and I still find it strong. (It fit well with the reruns of the George Reeves TV series.) This was my Superman. I only owned a few issues before this, and at this time, I started buying Superman more regularly. It was a great run in which I thought anything was possible. (That whole thing about the boy who was linked to Superman by saying "Lynx" was part of this, right?) To an eight-year-old, that shambling sand Superman was pretty scary!

Ray Tomczak said...

Kryptonite stayed away for several years, but during Martin Pasko's run on Superman, starting in 1976, he had Kryptonite begin falling to Earth from space again. Besides Kryptonite, he brought back some long unseen villains such as the original Toyman, Bizarro, and even Titano the Super-Ape, as well as creating a new version of Metallo, the brother of the original. Also, by the time Pasko was writing the title, the depowering of Superman that began with this issue had long since been reversed.

Edo Bosnar said...

Anonymous, I just bought that Superman Special earlier this year (usually don't buy floppies, but I like Simonson's art and I don't think it's been reprinted anywhere) and your comment prompted me to read it over the weekend.
You're right: it's a really good little story, and that art, of course, is phenomenal.

Doug said...

I accidentally deleted the following comment in the Moderation section. My apology to Northstar, and here it is in its entirety:

NorthStar has left a new comment on your post "Kryptonite Nevermore! Superman 233":

I agree about the color and really like this way of reprinting old comics. I feel the color choices were made at the time with the final print result in mind. Unfortunately most reprints use coloring that is too saturated. I have not found one other reprint using this nice method.
Does anybody know of other books that are reproduced like this one?
Is there a site where one can buy legal scanned issues? I don't mind when the scanned pages had the contrast a bit cranked up to get the blacks darker, but I really dislike the look of issues that had the color re-done. No interest.

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