Friday, November 22, 2013

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's Man of Steel -- Superman 309

Superman #309 (March 1977)
"Blind Hero's Bluff!"
Gerry Conway-Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Frank Springer (cover by Garcia-Lopez)

Doug:  It was two months ago that we began this 3-part look at the Bronze Age Man of Steel under the influence of the pencil of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and I'll attest to it being a visual pleaser.  However, I've only been lukewarm to the story.  What will this conclusion bring us?  Why wait?

Doug:  When we left Superman, he was pondering his future after the revelation from Supergirl that they were not Kryptonians but mutants -- the outcome of their fathers' experiments with atomic energy.  Superman had just beaten two environmental terrorists named the Protector and Radion.  Now we see him doing what Batman usually does -- cleaning up the streets of Metropolis.  But this time it's finding and thrashing a mob operation in the suburbs, and Superman makes quick work of the crooks.  Of note in this section is the mention of Chicago, which always troubles me when reading in the DC Universe.  C'mon -- it's either our Earth or it isn't.  I can deal with Metropolis and Gotham City if that's all we ever get.  Whenever writers started to mix in real cities it becomes incredibly problematic.  The police chief gives Superman a backhanded compliment when he thanks him for corralling Samuel Simeon's gang, saying he's surprised Superman would assist the police in such a small-potatoes matter.  Superman says it's his planet, and he needs to deal with the details from now on.  It's an awkward exchange to say the least.

Doug:  We're treated to another terrific looking if highly implausible costume change as Superman descends like a missile into Metropolis Park, changing into a full football uniform (what, was it stuffed in the pocket of his cape??) and reporting for action in a scrimmage game between local media outlets.  Clark's distracted as the game begins, though, and takes a hand-off and abruptly heads toward his own goal!  His teammates don't tackle him in time, though and the GBS team ends up losing the game by one score! I'd think that hitting Clark Kent would be like tackling a tank.  We cut to Supergirl, who has arrived to an unknown location in answer to a distress call.  She's addressed as "cousin", called by her Kryptonian name, and it's obvious that those assembled know what's been going on with "Kal-el".  A space armada is encroaching on a planet, and our mystery men are quite concerned.  Supergirl says she'll alert Superman and they'll take care of it.  But one of the men casts a doubt on her plan -- whereas Superman once believed himself a "man of the universe", he perhaps no longer does.  Supergirl scoffs at that idea, and flies off to enlist Superman's assistance.

Doug:  In Clark's apartment he's emerging from the shower, still smarting from his dumb Jim Marshall play.  He's shocked to see Supergirl waiting for him -- I had to laugh at the picture of Clark trying to cover his chest as he saw Supergirl; Namor wouldn't care.  Supergirl explains the danger to the planet Xonn and implores Clark to come with her.  When he balks, saying he has revised his priorities, Supergirl slaps him up against a wall and storms out on her own.  She tells him in no uncertain terms what she thinks of his priorities.

Doug:  Lois is over for dinner -- pretty nice how she comes to Clark's apartment to cook for him.  He's daydreaming out the window, thinking of what Kara had called him -- a coward.  His eyes wander to the place where Xonn is located and he zeroes in with his telescopic vision.  What does he see?  Supergirl and Krypto fight valiantly against the invasion force, but are soon knocked out of the fight.  Clark now knows what a mistake he's made.  He quickly (brusquely) hustles Lois out the door and speeds off to the sector where Xonn is.  His movements are monitored by our mysterious meddlers.

Doug:  Superman tears through the fleet with little difficulty and wonders to himself why Kara could not have.  He sees a large green humanoid emerge from a craft and head toward him.  Taking a defensive posture, the Man of Steel thinks he has it made when the being's attack misses to the right.  However, there's a boomerang effect to the asteroid that was struck, and it hurtles at Superman from behind and knocking him off balance.  And then he's washed over with horror -- his eyesight is gone!  It's not long until he's immobilized by his assailants.  Now inside a large vessel, he's reunited with Supergirl and Krypto.  Kara explains that under the influence of Xonn's sun, Kryptonians are blind and half of their superpowers have gone.  What's everyone's opinion of the multi-colored suns aspect of Superman lore?  Brilliant literary device, or seemingly built in deus ex machina?

Doug:  Our Kryptonians are approached by a crystalline character (Martinex's long-lost relative?) named Cyrotor, who explains what has befallen Xonn and why resistance is futile.  Xonn is being attacked by the J'ai, an alien race that has never known peace -- war is what they do.  Additionally, when one of the J'ai dies, he is replaced by eight new organisms -- multiple reproduction to an exponential level.  All warlike.  Cyrotor tells the Super-cousins that the J'ai cannot be defeated.  Supergirl gets suspicious of some of the word choices Superman is making in conversation with Cyrotor and begins to ask him... then he blows up in her face.  He says he knows she's duped him about Krypton and is furious.  Kara uses the word "us", which leads to the explanation of the masterminds of the plan -- the Kandorians!  All of them, and Kara, had become concerned that Superman had a fixation on the safety of the Earth, to the extent that he had begun to meddle in the affairs that Earthmen should be allowed to handle on their own.  Superman goes ballistic about the entire ruse, and blasts out of their globe-like prison.  He flies off to engage the J'ai alone.

Doug:  Superman is being weighed down by the sheer weight of the attacking J'ai, when he comes upon the solution to ending the attack.  The J'ai do not seem to communicate with each other -- they swarm like bees.  Somehow Superman comes to the conclusion that since the Xonn communicate through sonic waves, shattering their buildings will somehow negate the life engergies of the J'ai.  OK -- sure!  Why not?!  As the Man of Steel flies on a frantic mission of destruction, leveling building after building, Cyrotor and Supergirl watch from afar.  The J'ai collapse as a group, their threat ended.  Later, the three Kryptonians fly through space, heading back to Earth.  Once near our atmosphere, Supergirl asks her cousin if he can forgive her.  He nods affirmatively, and adds that the reason he became obsessed with saving Earth is due to its beauty and immense relevance in his life.  And she, as a fellow Earth adoptee, should feel the same way.  And with that, Superman takes his leave.

Doug:  Well, alrighty then.  I'm just not sure what to make of this.  As I said at the top, the art was nice to look at throughout the three issues.  I'd said earlier that Garcia-Lopez especially did a great job of depicting flight.  He also wowed with the super-changes; the taxi cab wardrobe switch last issue was my favorite.  Plot-wise, I'll stand by comments I've made around here since we opened shop here over four years ago:  this is a Bronze Age DC, and it reads like it was written with a 10-year old boy in mind.  It's not awful, and I suppose I can swallow what Gerry Conway and Julie Schwartz were selling.  But given my druthers, I'd make mine Marvel nine times out of ten.  However, and I said this at the conclusion of my review of Superman #307 -- I respect Gerry Conway's talent for being able to write under two very different "house styles", or at least house "expectations".  It's a well-written, if not so greatly plotted, story.  And for what I perceive it to be, I guess I don't have that much of a problem with it.


Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, I just remembered after seeing the cover and some of the pages you posted here that I used to have this issue. Obviously, it didn't make much of an impression on me, because I don't really remember anything about the story - I just remember certain panels and pages. As you noted, the art is really nice, and that's what stuck with me.
As for the story, having read your reviews and many of the pages you posted, I have to agree with your assessment: it's a really silly plot all the way through, but the writing (dialogue) and pacing are mostly pretty solid. As I recall, that's something you can say about a lot of DC's output in the 1970s.

Garett said...

Thanks for the review again, Doug! I'm a Garcia Lopez fan, but I hadn't read these stories. Thinking about Superman and stories--I'd say my favorite stories are the first two movies. They involved more romance with Lois, more humour, and more colorful villains...perhaps those are the keys to a good Superman story.

It would've been great to see Garcia Lopez stick with one title for an extended run--the Justice League after Dick Dillin passed away would've been a treat. I could also see him doing an awesome Green Lantern.

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Edo, I think you latched onto a really important idea. A story shouldn't be considered "bad" or "dumb" simply because of the plot. There can be positive elements gleaned from the greater whole -- dialogue, as you stated. And there's where Gerry Conway saved this triptych of stories. I commented along the way that he proved his mettle as a writer by doing a very competent job within the constrains of the Bronze Age DC editorial parameters. Others might have caved into the silliness that could be a BA DC plot.

Garett, as I also raved throughout about Garcia-Lopez's depictions of our Kryptonian heroes in flight, a GL series would have looked fantastic!

In two weeks, my Friday review will be a DC classic -- "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!". It will run on 12/6/13.


Unknown said...

I remember buying this 3-part story way back when I was 12, and even then I wasn't impressed with the story. But it did have Garcia-Lopez art (and Supergirl--drawn by Garcia-Lopez! -- I am partial to the "hot pants" costume!)... as well as Clark spending some quality time with Ms. Lane.

I remember that a lot of Superman stories at the time pack a lot of punch at the beginning-- and then just kind of puttered out at the end, usually with a crazy deus ex machine at the end...

johnlindwall said...

I also owned this issue as a youngster and remembered it fondly from the cover, and the interior art. I guess I enjoyed these stories more then most. Reading these reviews is making me want to buy the Superman stories from his era and relive those days. This buff Garcia Lopez vesion of Supes is "my" personal version of Supes. He looks so solid and strong. Just perfect. I loved both Marvel and DC in those days and these Superman stories entertained me and kept me coming back month after month. Thank you for helping me relive those days!

Marc P said...

I read this as a 6 yr old. THIS is Superman to me! I love this story! Conway did something other writers failed to do with Superman. He gave him physical challenges. My favorite era for the character is from 76 - 80 although I enjoy the entire 70's decade. Garcia Lopez is my 2nd favorite Supes artist after Swan. It's really close. Later he drew him to look more like Reeve.

I love this story. It was perfect for the age I was at then but I still enjoy it today. Bronze age, rather than reboot the character, simply used silver age elements when they worked & ignored them when they didn't. Great time!

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