Monday, September 8, 2014

The Greatest Hero of Them All - Superman 8

Superman (Volume II) #8 (August 1987)
"Future Shock"
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.


Edo Bosnar said...

Nice review, Doug. And while I don't agree with your overall assessment of Byrne's art, I will agree with you that the art in his story looks very nice indeed. Love the splash page with Superboy and the whole Legion.
Anyway, even though I was more or less regularly reading this revived Superman series by Byrne, I don't remember this one. It's probably because - as I noted last week - I was avoiding anything to do with the post-Crisis Legion.

And judging by that page you posted from Back Issue, it seems like that was a sound decision on my part. Man, how contorted it all got. I think if I tried to keep track of all the explanations and whatnot, I'd - to use a brilliant phrase coined by occasional commenter Teresa - go scooters in the head.

david_b said...

Not a big Byrne fan, but this cover's very very nice. Looks like a fun story, and the Legion looks great.

The face on Superboy in that last splash page looks a tad creepy.

Dantharr said...

Nice article, good call on the Byrne's art resurgence taking over Superman. I also love that the cover is a homage to his Fantastic Four cover.

Doug said...

Dantharr --

A few persons were having a conversation on Twitter yesterday afternoon about this cover and the FF one you linked to. One gentleman commented that he really liked the way Byrne placed the Legionnaires in the exact positions as their FF counterparts.


William said...

You know what's sad, I love this comic (big Byrne fan, as you know), and I always knew that the cover was an homage to FF #249, but I never picked up on the fact that the Legionnaires where representing the FF.

It makes perfect sense too because Gladiator was representing Superman in the original FF comic. So, this is Byrne doing a DC version of the comic he did over at Marvel. Very cool. Now, if you'll excuse, I have to go and read it again now that I know what I know.

Humanbelly said...

Ha! The cover-homage caught my eye immediately-! Like Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Weber, I guess Byrne is more than happy to borrow from himself every once in awhile. . .

Hey, kind of a neat, subtle detail that relates clear back to Byrne's original Man of Steel mini-series: Remember the issue where smooth, clean, sterile Jor-El and Lara were looking at an image of the Earth, with a big ol' strapping, hairy farmer at the center of the shot? And Lara practically faints at the sight of such a "primitive"?

Well, cripes, look at Clark! He's the spittin' image of the same kind of Earthy "Primitive", isn't he? Big hairy chest and all! What happened to his parents' genetic code, from which he was incubated? Is Clark himself a throw-back somehow? I mean, the Kryptonians look an awful lot like they've evolved right past having hair anymore, even. . .


WardHillTerry said...

I'm trying to suppress my snark. I will concede that the Legionnaires look better in this story than they do in their own book. I hadn't realized the cover cuteness before, but I had stopped reading FF much earlier. (I didn't like it then, and I've read some collections of it more recently and I still don't understand what all the fuss was about. I found it rather dull.) Obviously Byrne told Levitz which Legionnaires he wanted to use, the brainy one, the fire one, the invisible on , and the stoney one. From such decisions are stories crafted. Doug, I agree this story felt like a kick in the teeth to long-time fans, and even insulting in the next one. One last thing; I disliked much about this revision of Superman and this book opens with a doozy. Setting aside my issues with Lana Lang (why even have her as a character? invent someone new!), Superman does NOT use his powers to help his friends with their chores so they can have time for a picnic. He uses his powers to help his friends solve crimes, to right wrongs (sometimes via a practical joke), to assist the Army or a construction crew or a research investigation, but not to flaunt them. Where did he have his costume?

Comicsfan said...

Heh, I didn't know the Evil Eye doubled as a time-stasis ray. :)

Anonymous said...

I have to throw out a huge thank you to the inner-web-a-pedia thingie for any and all information that follows. When Claremont/Cockrum were creating the Imperial Guard, it was a direct homage (blatant re-imaging) of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes. Google Imperial Guard and it breaks down the characters. As I know little to nothing about LSH, the list will probably mean more to those who are long time fans. Claremont even states the Gladiator's "real" name Kallark is a combination of Kal-el and Clark.

And before I forget, another great review Doug. There are parts that are foreign to me but you enthusiasm for the subject matter certainly comes through.

The Prowler (gonna reggae you here, gonna reggae you there gonna reggae you right into the atmosphere).

PS: Everyone who loves reggae music say "I Ray".

Pat Henry said...

I've always thought that, rather than kill her off, DC should have transported Supergirl permanently to the 30th Century. She was a good fit with the Legion... unlike Clark, she grew to teenhood in an ultramodern Kryptonian city... and could have had a backstory that was independent of whatever they were trying to achieve with the "Last Son of Krypton."

Her presence in the Legion, her homage to the original Man of Steel, would have obviated a lot of the nonsense "required" in this story.

I don't think DC quite realized what a hot property Supergirl was—an icon for a generation of young women—even if her sales didn't quite translate to a book of her own. Her depiction in the Justice League animated series was pitch perfect.

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