Superman (Volume II) #8 (August 1987)
John Byrne and Karl Kesel
Doug: That John Byrne fella could draw Superman, couldn't he? But what kind of guy would put Clark Kent in pants held up by a belt with a monogrammed buckle, as Byrne showed us on the splash page? Hey, if that's the worst thing that happens in this story, I think we'll be OK. For those of you not here last week, we began a 4-part review of the last Superboy story -- at least as it concerns the pre-Crisis Superoby. The Legion, in an effort to take their ongoing war with the Time Trapper right to the source instead ended up in 1950s Smallville where they encountered The Greatest Hero of Them All. But their teammate did not offer to help them -- instead, he used a time-stasis ray on Mon-el, Ultra Boy, Cosmic Boy, and Night Girl to imprison them. He barely missed using it on Brainiac-5, Sun Boy, Blok, and Invisible Kid -- all of whom escaped into the time stream. Their time bubble, by the way, looked like it was heading for 1987. Hmmm...
Doug: We open in Smallville, Kansas in the "present". Clark Kent is uprooting a tree to the astonishment of Lana Lang. Lana remarks that even though she's known for years that Clark is Superman, it still amazes her. Byrne uses the first three pages of the story almost as a primer for anyone who'd been living under a rock for the previous year, through the Man of Steel mini-series and the first seven issues of the Superman re-numbering. We get some backstory on the Clark Kent disguise (establishing firmly that Superman is real and Clark is fake), Superman's powers (he's using super-strength and heat vision to set posts for a fence for Lana), and Clark's life in Smallville. But as Clark, Lana, and the Kents enjoy a picnic basket, Clark suddenly bolts from the scene, sensing trouble on the other side of town.
Doug: Clark changes to Superman at super-speed (but having been shirtless, where did he get his costume?), and arrives at the abandoned Simonson Limestone Quarry in seconds. He quickly locates the disturbance -- a large clear bubble and four "aliens". Two of the "guests" are not human. But in the previous scene, Clark had experienced trouble with the reliability of his heat vision. As he surveys the situation, it inexplicably goes off, scattering the unknown visitors. Of course on the ground, the Legionnaires think they are being attacked by Superboy. And Sun Boy returns fire -- literally! Byrne uses a thought balloon to tells us that a) Superman is stunned by the intensity of the heat and b) he has no idea who his assailants are. Brainiac cautions Sun Boy to tune it down -- there's no way Superboy would try to harm them. But Sun Boy, addressing their nemesis as Kal-el, says to tell that to the four teammates they left in the 1950s. Blok decides that Super"boy" is circling for another attack, and lifts a limestone column hard and fast. Superman knows that if he doesn't do something with it, it will land in the middle of town. So he does what a Superman can do -- he shatters it with a single punch. The Legion uses it as a distraction and flies up to meet their "crazed" teammate. Superman is thrown off guard when Invisible Kid does his thing, and Blok uses the moment of hesitation to drill Super"boy" from above. Superman hears the name called, and is again a little mixed up.
Doug: Blok drives Superman into the ground. All of this is happening so fast, that while Brainy is calling to Sun Boy that they are making a terrible mistake, Dirk's already on the way down to help Blok. While Superman strikes Blok, he recalls meeting a Superboy near the end of the Crisis. That Superboy was from "Earth-Prime", and here's where I'd like to take a time-out from the blow-for-blow description of this issue and interject some comments from John Byrne, and from Paul Levitz. Rather than re-type a half of a page from a full-sized magazine, I am taking the liberty of providing a scan from Jim Ford's article, "Too Much Time on My Hands: The History of the Time Trapper", published in Back Issue! #68 (October 2013). All rights are reserved to Ford and to TwoMorrows Publishing.
Doug: For my money, this was all very poorly imagined, executed, and bordering on plain ol' stupid. As Superboy had never existed on Earth-2, and as the Legion was going to be kept around (although from the post-Crisis onward, endlessly rebooted), I failed then and do now to see the necessity of this "housecleaning". While DC through the years has had many corners of their universe supported by rabid fan support, the Legion seemed to hold an almost cult-like loyalty among its adherents. This seems to have been a kick in the teeth and a "We don't care" from editorial toward longtime Superman and Legion of Super-Heroes fans.
Doug: So back to our little tussle... Sun Boy in particular was tired of the battle, so warned Blok to get out of the way as he was about to unleash the full intensity of his power on Super"boy". But he didn't reckon on the speed of this Superman, who easily dodged to his right. But Superman knew this was a powerful enemy, and noticed that the heat was much higher than when they'd been outside; he questioned his invulnerability. But as he gathered to knock Sun boy out of the battle, Brainy put up a forcefield from off stage. It was strong enough to repel the Man of Steel, but more importantly it gave a moment of breathing space for Brainiac to get everyone's attention and call a halt to the fisticuffs. Once the dust cleared, it was clear to the Legion that this was Super"man" they'd been mixing it up with. And so explanations began, as Brainiac-5 narrated the history with which we are all familiar -- best known to us as the events of Adventure Comics #247. Brainy continued to tell tales of Superboy's heroism through the many adventures of the Legion in the 30th Century. He concluded his remarks with the Legion's visit, albeit mistakenly, to what they thought to be Superboy's Smallville (reviewed last week). The last 2 1/2 pages of Brainy's recount have the same script as Legion #37, but with Byrne's art replacing Greg LaRocque's pencils. As Superman begins to grasp all that has been told him, he marvels at the fact that this "Superboy" could actually be more powerful than he, and could time travel alone and unaided. And just then...
Doug: The five heroes are bathed in a red ray, and we recognize that as the time-stasis ray Superboy had used on the other four Legionnaires. Yep -- it is. Superboy now stands atop a building in the quarry, the ray apparatus in his left hand. He again states his regret at his actions, but tells the assemblage that for the fate of the universe, the Legion must die! To be continued.
Doug: I thought it was interesting that a fair portion of this book was a recap of the previous chapter. I suppose we can infer that John Byrne's Superman revamp was selling off-the-charts, while the Legion of Super-Heroes was perhaps middling on the sales charts? Another factor definitely would have been the Legion's status as a direct sales only title -- accessible to a much smaller readership. Whatever the case, I didn't really feel cheated, because Byrne's art was at the top of its game in this era under the inks of Karl Kesel. As I've gone on record several times in the past stating that I really don't care for Byrne's latter Fantastic Four work, his art on Superman perhaps refocused his mind. His figures seemed full again (as in the X-Men days), and not slight and spindly. This was really impressive work. I think the story here is really intriguing -- not saying that the result won't end up being disappointing, but at least halfway through it is definitely holding my interest. Next week it's Superboy vs. Superman, and then we'll conclude the month back in the Legion book with The Greatest Hero of Them All.