Friday, September 27, 2013

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's Man of Steel -- Superman 307

Superman #307 (January 1977)
"Krypton -- No More!"
Gerry Conway-Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Frank Springer (cover by Neal Adams)

Doug:  This post goes out to our readers who have clamored for some Superman stories as illustrated by Bronze Age great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  Today's your day.  And what's more, since I chose this story because it also contains Kara Zor-el, this will be a 3-part review stretching over the next couple of months.  Look for parts two and three (Superman #s 308 and 309) on Fridays in October and November.  And in case you didn't notice, famed Spider-Man scribe Gerry Conway is at the helm as our author.  Will he work some of that early 1970s Marvel magic, or will we walk away thinking "Of course... this is a Bronze Age DC mag."?  Let's check it out.

Doug:  DCs at this time had a curious layout, as the main stories were only 17 pages long.  The bonus, of course, was generally a 5-6 page back-up feature.  So while the headliner sort of got short-changed as compared to his Marvel Comics counterparts, the reader got a little more bang for his or her buck (or in this case his 30c).  We open with the Man of Tomorrow in a bit of a sour mood and bent on wasting a factory.  A figure we don't recognize, but who bears a striking resemblance to the Ray, sizzles into the panel from Stage Right.  He engages Superman and then knocks our hero for a loop using numerous different powers.  Claiming to be a mutant and with atomic-based abilities, he identifies himself as the Protector and makes a vow of his own:  he is the champion of all polluting industries.  Wait... say what?  He's standing up for the environment's enemies?  O...K...

Doug:  Superman's dumped out of the sky and onto his red panties, and right at the feet of a Mr. Slotvik.  Slotvik claims responsibility for bringing the Man of Steel to the factory; Superman replies that he only came to help.  We then get a flashback over three pages that shows how Milton Slotvik had approached Clark Kent after one of Kent's news broadcasts.  Slotvik knew the company for which he worked was using resources which were most likely causing employees to come down with cancer.  Slotvik wanted Kent to investigate and perhaps bring some publicity to the situation.  Clark suggested that maybe an impartial party should join in, and offered to contact Superman.  Slotvik agreed.  However, the conversation was interrupted by a "news groupie" named Terri who threw herself at Clark.  Of course, Lois Lane happened by at just the right (wrong) time, jealousy emanating from her pores as she coldly addressed Clark about her plans to fix him dinner.  Clark, however, exited with Terri.  And then... this took a really weird turn.  While on the elevator with Terri (nope, no Love In An Elevator here), Clark began to fill out the invitations to his own pity party -- "You call me a man -- but I'm really a native of a planet called Krypton -- and much as I like you, we can never be anything to each other -- any more than Lois and I!  I'm an alien -- an outcast -- a loner -- and that's the way it must remain!"  And he walked off in a foggy funk and left Terri wondering what the heck just happened.  Me, too!

Doug:  We cut back to the near-present as Superman makes an appearance at Slotvik's job site, Metro Chemical Plant.  Supes is greeted by Morton Kalmbach, the president of the company.  He's a smarmy sort, and offers our hero a tour.  Kalmbach's attitude is one of greed and uncaring, and he admits to Superman that there's bound to be some collateral damage on the way to a healthy bottom line.  Superman stops him and asks if he's admitting to knowing that what they do at the plant could be causing cancer for the laborers; Kalmbach says it's only a "socially acceptable" danger to the men.  And that's when Superman went off.  Once the flashback is over, Superman leaves Slotvik and flies away to the Rocky Mountains where he finds a high peak upon which to sit and brood.  He thinks about the mortality of the men in danger at the plant, and then his mind wanders to Krypton... his lost Krypton.  Readers are then treated to a brief backstory of Jor-el and Lara, the rocket bearing little Kal-el to Earth, the explosion of Krypton, etc.  Superman's losing his cool here, and shouts to the heavens, "Hear me, world!  I won't let you commit planetary suicide!  I swear I won't let you die... I swear it!"  I thought at this juncture the story began to take a turn down the path that Paul Dini and Alex Ross walked in their wonderful Superman: Peace on Earth treasury.  But it was short-lived.

Doug:  Superman swoops onto a giant ocean-faring tanker and begins to pluck sailors from its decks.  The men are whisked away and deposited on a nearby island.  As Superman works, he thinks to himself that a) these are the sorts of ships that have oil spills and b) this one must therefore be about to dump crude into the ocean!  His goal is to hoist the ship and put it into orbit (yeah, because that wouldn't burn up on re-entry and cause atmospheric damage...), then come back to Earth and corral any others he can find.  Umm...  Did Conway forget about the fuel crisis of the mid-70s?  Because pulling a whole lot of supply is going to increase the demand and drive that price up, up, and away...  Well, as Superman begins to gain some lift, he's suddenly attacked with ice.  Yup -- the Protector wants to be sure those super-tankers can do their thing, even if it is leak all over the seven seas (remember the query I posited about Conway's scripting back at the top?).  The two super-combatants get it on, with Superman again coming out on the short end and the Protector again escaping.  Superman figures no worries, and surfaces to again take care of the ship.  But who should be on site but his cousin, Supergirl?

Doug:  Kara asks Superman what the heck he's doing, and when he tells her she becomes the voice of reason... temporarily.  She barks at Clark that they have no right to interfere and that he needs to stop.  He asks her if she wants Earth to end up like Krypton, and here's where the wheels fall off.  Kara grabs Superman by the arm and tells him he needs to deal with the fact that Krypton didn't explode because there never was a Krypton!  Superman is no alien -- he's the Earth-son of Jonathan and Martha Kent!  And then she zips away, heading north.  Superman gives chase, and they are very soon at the door to the Fortress of Solitude.  Supergirl continues on this odd path, and once inside begins to destroy all of Superman's Kryptonian memories, including the large statues of Jor-el and Lara.  Superman begs her to stop, but she just keeps going, eventually showing him the Bottle City of Kandor.  Superman asks her how she would explain the fact that there are thousands of Kryptonians living in the bottle -- and she says to look again.  All of the people in the city, and the city itself, is just a plastic model.  Superman is about to lose his mind when Kara slaps him -- get with it and quit living the lie!  She tells Superman that they are not cousins, but they are mutants.  Their fathers, Jonathan Kent and Fred Danvers, were scientists working on atomic experiments.  Fall-out from their efforts mutated their children.  Superman's sweating now, really questioning everything.  And then the Protector arrives.

Doug:  Just like that -- this yahoo shows up and starts to mix it up with Superman again.  And once again, Superman looks like a second-stringer.  The Protector displays all the powers of Captain Atom, the Vision -- you name it -- he can about do it all.  And that keeps Superman off balance until he decides to use his X-ray vision to look inside his antagonist.  He notices that the Protector's heart glows just before he makes a molecular change.  The Protector can sense that Superman is using X-rays against him, and so begins to transmute himself into nitrous oxide.  However, at that same instant Superman switches to heat vision and WHOOM!  The Protector is nowhere to be found.  Supergirl asks Superman if he's all right.  He says that physically he is, but emotionally he's a mess.  He's excited that he's no longer an orphan, but what is his life now all about?  We'll find out together near the end of October, kids!

Doug:  I'm glad Edo Bosnar and others recommended that I check out some Garcia-Lopez Superman stuff.  As I've said at some point around here (shoot, I can't recall what I had for breakfast yesterday!), I had the Superman vs. Wonder Woman Limited Collector's Edition when I was a kid, but have no idea whatever became of it.  So I was excited to get the Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez hardcover at WizardWorld Chicago in August and recover that story.  The art in this tale, as advertised, was really nice.  I haven't seen enough of Garcia-Lopez inked by others yet (well, Romeo Tanghal on the Teen Titans Baxter series, but I don't recall much about it), so I cannot really comment on Frank Springer's influence.  But the figurework is really done well, the panels have varied camera angles, and the story does move along.  My criticism isn't with any of the visuals herein but the story.  Sheesh!  I don't want to sound all negative and like a broken record, but tell me this isn't a Bronze Age DC!  I'm sorry, this story is more about Julius Schwartz and less about Gerry Conway.  That being said, and although I thought the level of the story was again marketed to that tween-aged male, I think it does show that Conway's no slouch.  Because he does sell the story -- it's ridiculous, but that's plot only.  The story itself is not poorly written.  And you know what?  I've already read the next two issues, and it gets just a trifle sillier as we go.  Stay tuned in about 30 days.


Anonymous said...

Hot pants!

Doug said...

Man. I work for around 2 1/2 hours on this post, and its only redeeming quality is a shot or two of Supergirl's legs.

Everyone have a great weekend -- another Saturday morning cartoon post is coming your way tomorrow, courtesy of Karen!


david_b said...

Nice legs...

(Does that help..?)

Karen said...

I recall my partner telling me about these stories as he was reading them, and I thought they sounded pretty whacked out. Now, actually seeing the pages, I don't know if the art really makes it worth reading them. I guess if you want to try to put a positive spin on it, you can say that at least Conway was trying to do something extremely different and make the reader think -for maybe half a second -that it was just possible everything we knew about Superman was wrong. Yeah, I don't really buy that either.

Well, you never know until you try, right? Right? Thanks for going out there and giving it a shot, Doug.

Doug said...

Yeah, it's feedback, and I suppose more specific than the "hot pants!" comment. At least you zeroed in on what you were looking at. I'm just left unclear as to whether or not our first commenter actually liked the hot pants, or was really getting more toward the overall leggy look of Miss Kara.

Karen and I just exchanged an email about 20 minutes ago, and here was a query (of complaint, I'll be honest) I wrote. It speaks to our quizzicalness (my word) as to why the discussion-based posts can have great response, but the reviews rarely do:

*I'm always curious why people don't latch on to elements within a post. They could be talking about Conway, Garcia-Lopez, Julie Schwartz, Marvel vs. DC, Supergirl, the Superman mythos of Kandor, etc., lame super-villains, forced environmental discussions, etc.*



Doug said...

My comment above is intended as a response to David B. I did not know Karen was writing at the same time, so if things seem a bit out of order that is why.


david_b said...

Just teasing, Doug. It is Friday and I'm flying back today..

The story does look good, some meat and perhaps depth to is (just reflecting the timing with the first Supes film to assess writing style changes to the Man of Steel.

To me, it's really the art that sells it. Beautiful art by Jose.

Edo Bosnar said...

Well, I'll just say right from the start how lovely I find the art, just to get that out of the way (can't go wrong with Garcia Lopez in my opinion).
As for the story, I've never read it, and your review makes it sound like a bit of a mess. However, I see the germ of a good story (maybe an Elseworlds type deal?) in the idea of Superman (and Supergirl for that matter) being a delusional mutant who thinks he's an alien. Too bad to hear that the next two installments won't really be an improvement...

Doug said...

Edo, in regard to reading the two succeeding issues, it was a downhill train that ended mercifully.

I get so frustrated watching creators going back and forth between the Big Two and always -- always -- liking their Marvel output better. Even the artists... One would think that if you can draw "men in tights", you can draw men in tights. But (for example), I always prefer Rich Buckler's Marvel stuff to his DC output.

I know I'm prejudiced toward Marvel, and I can't always explain why DC seems to fall short for me. I don't find fault in their characters -- I think they have some great ones! But the cardboard cut-out characterization, the explanations to the readers of clues that weren't anywhere to be found in the story -- that sort of stuff is the line of separation in my eyes. And I know and respect that we have quite a few DC apologists who stop by here regularly and I hate to rain on anyone's parade.

But like I said in the post, this is a Bronze Age DC.


Garett said...

Great art here, and thanks for the review Doug! I'm one of those who's been clamoring for Garcia Lopez reviews, but this is one I haven't read. I think he's the best Superman artist--more solid than Adams, better anatomy than Byrne, more contemporary than Ross with his retro Supes look. Springer is a pretty good match here with the inks, although Garcia Lopez inking himself is better as he adds a degree of sharpness.

Protector's costume with a curved flaming sword is odd...a reference to burning oil, the middle East? Perhaps his white costume represents an attempt by the big company to put a clean image on their dirty product. As Edo said, Supergirl's claims seems intriguing in an Elseworlds kind of way. It seems like a thin connection between the two stories going on here, unless it comes together in the next issue.

I don't mind the idea of "issue" comics, as long as they're not boring--need a good villain! Protector has good powers to challenge Supes, so I see potential, along with the smarmy president you mentioned. I could see this type of story having relevance now, with society's energy choices in the coming years and global warming.

Graham said...

I had this issue when it was published, but didn't stick around for the rest. Mainly bought it for the Adams cover.

From what my fuzzy memory recalls, I was buying more Marvel by this time. It seemed to me like DC was trying too hard to be like Marvel and really didn't get it, sort of like Pat Boone doing a Little Richard song. That just wasn't how DC was built at the time.

When I started reading comics, I was younger and more geared toward DC's approach, which I thought was geared more for younger readers. Eventually I shifted toward Marvel because I wanted more meat, more character development, etc... When DC started doing that, it didn't seem natural (see Pat doing Tutti Fruitti). I knew those characters the other way.

Hopefully, this makes sense. I'm typing this on my phone and having to go back and fix my ham-fingered spelling every other word.

Garett said...

Doug I think Neal Adams and Perez did their best work for DC, even though their work for Marvel was excellent.

Doug said...

Garett --

I agree about Adams, and that's something I've always wished we'd have seen more of: Neal playing in the Marvel sandbox.

As to Perez, a regret of mine that I need to fix is the fact that New Teen Titans hit right when I got out of comics, and I've never read the complete original run (when I got back in the Baxter paper series was underway and I collected that for awhile). So I largely have to plead firsthand ignorance to much of Perez's early DC fame, but rest assured that I hold his Wonder Woman, History of the DC Universe, and of course Crisis in very high regard.


Garett said...

Hey Doug, yes I also wish my DC favorites Garcia-Lopez and Aparo had done some work for Marvel. Garcia-Lopez on Thor or X-Men would be spectacular. Not sure what title for Aparo at Marvel--something like Batman and Spectre...Daredevil or Doctor Strange?

Anonymous said...

"Hot pants" guy here.
My post certainly wasn't a comment meant to dismiss the review.
The reviews are why I come here. Whenever I'm in an airport or a waiting room I go straight to the library section.
But Neal's cover just struck me that way. There she was right next to the title. 70s Supergirl was a first love and the fact that she dated a nerd like Brainiac 5 gave me hope.

Doug said...

HPGuy -

No worries! Thanks for stopping back by for some embellishing. And thanks for the compliment by telling us of your airport reading - that's pretty cool to hear!


Rip Jagger said...

After years of the absolutely reliable Curt Swan, the more dynamic pages of Jose Garcia-Lopez were a revelation of sorts. Here was a Man of the Steel for the time. His artwork is so utterly fine all the time that it's easy to take it for granted, and a lot of folks did sadly.

Rip Off

david_b said...

I'm always mixed on Adams.. I LOVE his DC work, obviously as a gold standard, for folks like Jose or Dick Dillin to emulate or top. I just didn't like his Marvel work as much.

Precisely, his cover work was still beautiful, but his interiors on Marvel mags didn't aways hit me right.. For instance, just got in an Adams' Inhumans/Amazing Adventures ish 7. Love the exquisite cover, but the interior Adams art seemed a bit too busy. Beautiful facial expressions (signature Adams..), but busy.

Just my humble opinion.

Gustavo Delamarques said...

I loved the "true" supergirl pré-crisis, I hope that she return to comics in the next future.

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