Monday, January 29, 2018

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #424 – 425 & ACTION COMICS #585

“MAN O’ WAR!” | “GOING THE GAUNTLET”
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Artist: Jerry Ordway | Inker: Mike Machlan (#424)
Letterer: John Costanza | Colorist: Tom Ziuko | Editor: Andy Helfer

The Plot: (Issue 424) A terrorist group called the Freedom League attacks a building in Metropolis. At the Daily Planet, Clark Kent meets new hire Cat Grant, a gossip columnist. Cat tags along when Clark receives a call from someone looking for Superman. The reporters meet with Professor Emil Hamilton, who reveals a defense system he’s created, but Clark ducks out when City Hall comes under assault by the Freedom League, changes to Superman, and fights back.

(Issue 425) Professor Hamilton describes to an unseen party how Lex Luthor told him his device was LexCorp property since he partially developed it on company time with company computers. Luthor’s men stole the plans and Hamilton was unable to get the police to help. Soon after, he was approached by a company called Complicon, who financed further development of the device. Henderson perfected it, but unseen sabotage caused it to kill a man during his demonstration.

Hamilton then caught up with Superman during his fight with the Freedom League and used the device to shield Metropolis from harm, but no one noticed his contribution to the battle. Next, Hamilton called out Superman, threatening to murder a hooker unless the Man of Steel faced his “gauntlet” within the confines of his device’s force field. Superman beat the gauntlet, saved the girl, and Hamilton went to prison, where we learn he’s been telling his story to an inattentive guard.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: In issue 424, Lois’s mother is near death in the hospital due to a lab accident, and Lex Luthor tells Lois he can save her with a monthly dose of a special serum. Luthor uses this overture to win Lois’s trust, hoping to eventually turn that trust into love.


Cat and Clark immediately feel a mutual attraction. Shortly thereafter, Cat mentions that Clark’s “…last novel was… scrumptious.” So Clark’s a novelist? Huh?! (And what, exactly, does he write that an oversexed gossip columnist would refer to as “scrumptious”?!


Professor Hamilton, a mainstay of many iterations of Superman outside of comics (and therefore, I assume, a future mainstay of the comics as well), has his first appearance here. Also making his post-CRISIS debut is Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis Police, who I believe originated as a character in the old ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV series before transitioning to the comics, and back into various other adaptations.

My Thoughts: Yikes. This is bad. Really bad. My experience with Marv Wolfman is that he’s the sort of writer who can either come up with something outstanding, or just hack his way through an issue or two, and this story certainly qualifies for the latter. Hamilton comes across as an idiot, Lois comes across uncharacteristically gullible, and Luthor’s plan is needlessly convoluted.

(For those, unlike me, who care: it turns out Luthor also owns Complicon and uses that company to get Hamilton to finish the device Luthor had already taken anyway, only to sacrifice one of his employees to the demonstration for absolutely no discernible reason, which leads to Hamilton trying and failing to kill Superman, an outcome Luthor says he’s pleased with because he presumably wants to kill him personally. No. Sense. Whatsoever.)

On top of all this, Jerry Ordway’s artwork just doesn’t work for me here. I’ve seen him draw other stuff and I generally find his work pretty good, but when he’s side-by-side with John Byrne, Ordway suffers by comparison.

But I do like Cat Grant so far, and hopefully there’s nowhere for Wolfman and Ordway to go but up, right…?

“AND GRAVES GIVE UP THEIR DEAD…”
Writer/Penciler: Byrne | Inker: Giordano
Letterer: Costanza | Colorist: Ziuko | Editor: Helfer

The Plot: High above Metropolis, Superman battles a sorceress named Arathaza, and when he defeats her, a piece of her magical staff falls to Earth. The Phantom Stranger recruits Superman to accompany him to a graveyard, where the fragment animates the spirits of numerous violent criminals buried there, resulting in the creation of a massive earth creature. While Superman battles the monster, the Phantom Stranger travels to the spirit plane to challenge the criminals. Superman defeats the physical threat while the Stranger bests the spiritual one, and the day is saved.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The Phantom Stranger describes Metropolis as the largest city in the world, meaning the city described as such last issue must have been Metropolis as well — though why the Teen Titans seemed to be operating there rather than in New York is a mystery.

Superman is acquainted with the Phantom Stranger and also name checks Doctor Fate during a conversation with him, hinting at still more unrevealed adventures during the five years he’s been in costume.

Superman uses his classic catchphrase, “Up, up and away!” as he flies the earth monster into outer space.

My Thoughts: Byrne is clearly utilizing ACTION COMICS as the Superman equivalent of MARVEL TEAM-UP, which is a fine idea — but unfortunately, as with TEAM-UP, ACTION feels like an afterthought, a non-essential read with no furthering of sub-plots, no check-ins with the supporting cast, nothing. Heck, Clark Kent hasn’t even appeared in either issue, aside from a one-panel flashback in #585.

Much as I disliked Marv Wolfman’s two issues of ADVENTURES, at least those felt like part of an ongoing narrative. So far, even with Byrne’s artwork trumping Jerry Ordway’s, ACTION is easily the weakest link in post-CRISIS Superman comics, simply because it feels like filler.

Next Week: George Pérez and Wonder Woman enter the post-CRISIS world!

12 comments:

  1. I remember the 'author' occupation mentioned in Superman's entry in the DC WHO'S WHO: HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, or more appropriately, the post-Crisis Supes, since by the time the series reached the end of the alphabet, CRISIS had retconned things. It's unfortunate that Supergirl, and the Earth-2 Superman/Wonder Woman get entries, but the Earth-1 Super(was Superboy, owned Krypto, cousin Supergirl, and worked as a TV Anchorman)man and the Earth-1 Wonder(JLA founding member, adopted Donna, had a powerless 'Emma Peel' phase, lost Steve a lot)Woman did not.

    I think the more appropriate counterpart of the team-ups would be DC COMICS PRESENTS. I believe Supes teamed with Fate in one of the DC COMICS PRESENTS as well as the JLA-JSA team-ups (which would still happen despite some changes).

    Jerry Ordway finally draws the Superman series. Before that, his Supes focus was the Earth-2 counterpart in ALL-STAR SQUADRON, INFINITY INC., and inking Perez's work for CRISIS (as well as a remake of the original ACTION COMICS#1 in the SECRET ORIGINS#1 issue of the Golden Age Earth-2 Superman).

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    1. That's nuts. You'd think they would've just finished the entirety of WHO'S WHO with the pre-CRISIS stuff, as an homage to the past, then released a new update series with post-CRISIS continuity.

      I had some issues of WHO'S WHO as a kid. I didn't read many DC Comics, but I liked the characters and those books were pretty informative. I used to love to pore over the illustrations of the Batcave and the Wayne Foundation Building.

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  2. I now know why my friends that stuck with Byrne on Superman also didn't bother with the Wolfman stuff, because good lord, that sounds awful. Those panels where Cat Grant turn up are just dreadful.

    It did strike me as odd at the time that DC had turned Action into basically "DC Team Up" when Marvel had moved away from that sort of book. Marvel Two In One was gone, replaced by the solo Thing book, and Marvel Team Up stopped in early 1985, becoming Web of Spider-Man. (And if my memory of the timing was right, Action as team up book basically took the place of DC Comics Presents.) Always found it odd that DC went in that direction rather than giving Action to another team and letting them do Superman stories-or that Byrne himself didn't want to have his original stories in Action! I mean, given the choice between relaunching Superman in a new #1 or continuing Action Comics in a new era, I know how I'd have gone.

    Mind, for a year after Byrne left, Action was a weekly anthology, so apparently no one at DC had a clue what to do with the title that launched their empire...

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    1. Good point, and something I hadn't considered. Marvel had pretty much just abandoned the team-up format at this point, and here we have DC rebooting their flagship character's flagship title to mimic that style! I wonder if it was DC's idea or Byrne's...?

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    2. Well, considering the original ACTION COMICS was an anthology of crimefighter stories that Superman was just a part of, one could argue DC was not so much departing but coming back to its roots.
      Back to WHO'S WHO, they did do an update right after the end of the first series, Batman finally gets a two-page spread (by Alan Davis and using YEAR ONE in its text). Although I preferred OFFICIAL HANDBOOK OF THE MARVEL UNIVERSE for its deeper text and collection of pictures past and present (who took pride that they had the issues that depicted the pictures?), I also liked WHO'S WHO with its splash pages by certain artists (George Perez drew TITANS entries, Gil Kane the GREEN LANTERN entries, Carmine Infantino FLASH, Jack Kirby NEW GODS, John Byrne DOOM PATROL, etc.). Perez's WW entry was my first info on the reboot before reading the actual comics. They also did a WHO'S WHO IN STAR TREK in a similar vein (Byrne drew Khan, Sarek, Mudd, Perez drew Apollo, Gary Seven, etc.).

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    3. True, but Detective Comics also started as an anthology title, but you didn't see DC snag away one of Marvel's biggest talents, put him on it, and turn it first into a team up, then BACK into an anthology title. DC just didn't seem to know what to do with their flagship title for three or so years, and it's still weird to me today.

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    4. I agree that I generally liked OHOTMU better, but I did love those WHO'S WHO montage images. They were really cool.

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  3. My comment is more of a blanket statement on the whole series. There's some spoilers below for those who haven't read this stuff before, so please skip this if you want to read these fresh.

    I only read Byrne written issues and the best thing about his Superman run was his art. The series never took flight, it felt like a practice run, from the atrocious first cover (Superman defeated by Metallo, what a bad decision for issue #1) to the controversial last issue.

    Often threats ended in an anti-climax with a lot of exposition between Superman and Maggie Sawyer or whomever. Big panels made the issues go by quickly. There was never some sense of a story building to anything, just a bunch of rather flat vignettes.

    As noted in your earlier review, explanations were offered that weren't needed for how Superman did things. Telekinesis?

    I didn't like when stories overlapped with the Marv Wolfman issues either. Later on there's the resolution to the Hawkman Shadow War and it's just a boring space fight; I realize that was Byrne wrapping up someone else's story but it was still dull.

    The great nine panel Mr. Miracle escape in one of the issues wasn't enough to make up for the terrible Sleez plot.

    It felt like this was supposed to be an amazing take on Superman and it all felt very slight.

    However, I do enjoy reading your reviews and appreciate you taking the time to share them on your site.

    cheers

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    1. Thanks for the info, Anonymous. I'll try to watch for some of that sort of thing going forward. I like Byrne's SUPERMAN so far, but the other two titles leave me indifferent (ACTION) or cold (ADVENTURES). In any case, I'll be disappointed if this early stuff is the best there is. Byrne is setting up some good stuff from my perspective, so it'll be a shame if none of it pays off.

      To your point about the "anti-climax with exposition" approach, that was exactly how I felt about the previous issue of ACTION, with the Teen Titans. It's just an issue-long fight between Superman and the Titans, then it's all wrapped up in a really cluttered final couple of pages.

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  4. I also had no idea Clark Kent was a novelist...

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  5. There was an one-shot written by John Francis Moore titled Under a Yellow Sun, which was meant to be one of Clark Kent's novels.

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    1. Thanks! Good to know DC kept that idea alive to some extent. Still seems odd it's just randomly mentioned here like we should've known it all along, though. I'm always happy to "discover" new information as I go along, but it's odd the way Wolfman brings it up here.

      I wonder if Byrne and/or Wolfman came up with the idea, but both thought the other would formally introduce it? I feel like a better way would've been a thought from Clark in MAN OF STEEL about delivering his first manuscript to his publisher or something. Same basic idea -- a throwaway line on the subject -- but that way it feels like a new fact being taught to the audience rather than coming across like it should be common knowledge.

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