Monday, May 14, 2018

ACTION COMICS #590 & SUPERMAN #8

“BETTER LIVING DYING THROUGH CHEMISTRY”
Story & Pencils: John Byrne | Embellisher: Dick Giordano
Letters: John Costanza | Colors: Tom Ziuko | Editors: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: The creature called Chemo is reborn at a chemical plant in Metropolis, and assaults the Metal Men at their headquarters. Superman becomes involved, and together the Metal Men and the Man of Steel defeat their foe.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Incredibly, this issue features the first appearance of Lois Lane in post-CRISIS ACTION COMICS — and also the first appearance of Clark Kent in anything more than a brief flashback!

Reference is made to the CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, as it’s noted that Chemo somehow existed in multiple universes pre-CRISIS, and this version of the creature is apparently an amalgamation of those various incarnations.

Superman knows the Metal Men and has also encountered Chemo before.

Metal Man Tin explodes near the end of the issue, and the group’s creator, Doctor Will Magnus, refuses to rebuild him. A note on the final page says to watch for upcoming Metal Men announcements, so presumably this was all resolved in a mini-series or relaunched ongoing or something.

My Thoughts: Well, it’s another stand-alone team-up issue, as I’ve come to expect at this point. I know literally nothing about the Metal Men — I’m pretty sure this is the very first comic I’ve ever read featuring them — but they seem kind of cool, though possibly a bit overly “Silver Age-y” by the standards of the eighties. (Not that I’m complaining; I like Silver Age-y and I like what I’ve seen of the Metal Men — they just feel a little out of place next to Byrne’s other stories from this era.)


From the creative standpoint, I’m not sure I’ve noted yet that all of Byrne’s stories so far have featured absolutely zero omniscient narration captions; a nifty trick which I mostly like, as Byrne conveys any necessary contextual information through dialogue, thought balloons, and artwork. But here, he’s finally unable to go that route. He needs to play third-person narrator to explain what Chemo’s deal is, since it relates to the Crisis and the fact that there used to be multiple (or, dare I say, infinite) Earths, but there no longer are — and that’s not something Superman, or anybody else, would know.


So while I can’t fault Byrne for dropping his established style and using some omniscient captions, I must note that it’s very jarring to suddenly read them for a couple pages, when none of his post-CRISIS stories to date have had any to speak of!

“FUTURE SHOCK”
Story & Pictures: John Byrne | Inking: Karl Kesel
Coloring: Tom Ziuko | Lettering: John Costanza | Editors: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: While picnicking with his parents and Lana Lang in Smallville, Clark Kent detects trouble on the other side of town. He changes to Superman to investigate, and finds himself in battle with members of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the thirtieth century. When Superman and the Legion eventually make peace, they are ambushed by Superboy, who zaps them with a paralysis ray.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: The issue’s cover is an homage to Byrne’s own FANTASTIC FOUR #249.

Back to the confused timeline… this story takes place between the main action and the epilogue of SUPERMAN #7. Oh, and the ACTION COMICS issue above is presumably set after the epilogue from last issue, by the way. I must say, while I liked this narrative device when Byrne employed in on FANTASTIC FOUR, it creates a huge headache when used on a character who stars in three titles, one of which is scripted by a different writer!

Superman’s heat vision acts up for unknown reasons, first almost failing to shut down as he helps Lana with yardwork, then firing spontaneously when he encounters the Legionnaires.

Brainiac-5 of the Legion explains that the group wound up in Superman’s time when they traveled down the timestream in search of their enemy, the Time-Trapper—but before reaching this Earth, they landed in Superboy’s Smallville, which was exactly as they remembered it from prior visits there.


Brainiac-5 recaps the Legion's history with Superboy to the Man of Steel. Also, Superman notes that he met a young man named Superboy just after the Crisis, a few months back.

The Legionnaires speak of Smallville citizen, and frequent Superman backstory mainstay, Pete Ross, and Superman knows who he is — though it’s notable that Byrne hasn’t once used or even mentioned Pete in any of these post-CRISIS stories up to this point.

Interestingly, post-CRISIS Superman has yet to meet his enemy, Brainiac, for the first time, meaning he's actually meeting Brainiac's "descendant", Brainiac-5, before Brainiac! (Though I suppose if Superboy met Brainiac-5 before he became Superman, that was probably true pre-CRISIS as well...)

My Thoughts: I’ll save my thoughts on this storyline for next week. Instead, I’d like to note something I’ve always found kind of funny and weirdly a little sweet, too: John Byrne is on record as not much caring for the Legion of Super-Heroes, and he’s stated more than once that this dislike is rooted in reading their very first appearance as a young boy. In that story, as recapped here, the Legionnaires play a few practical jokes on Superboy, first messing around with him regarding his secret identity, and then tricking him by sabotaging the “tests” they’ve prepared in order to induct him into their group.


Byrne has said that, as a boy who didn’t make a lot of friends, he was often the butt of practical jokes at school, and the Legion’s treatment of Superboy resonated with him as something akin to that sort of preadolescent cruelty, so strongly that he carried the feeling all the way into adulthood.

Now, I could say that Byrne missed the point here; the Legionnaires were just joking around, and in the end Superboy was totally okay with it, and — especially as an adult — Byrne should probably recognize that. But instead I’m going to go positive and note that young John Byrne, from some of the stories he’s told, sounds like he was really sort of a sweet an innocent child. He disliked the Legion for how they treated Superboy. He’s said before that he used to go outside at night and look for the Blue Area of the Moon in the sky. He also has noted that he very earnestly worried for comic book characters when they were in danger; the “meta” idea that they’d always win because they were superheroes never occurred to him.


I guess it’s nice to know that -- at one time, at least -- he was like that!

Next Week: The Superboy/Legion saga concludes in ACTION COMICS #591, then Superman meets Doctor Stratos in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #431.

5 comments:

  1. Interesting to know. I never thought the Legionnaires' actions were cruel; I wouldn't call them jokes, just tests on Superboy's character and humility. That written, having a similar school experience as Byrne, I do sympathize.
    The second issue brings me back to my fanfictions. If your Cartoon Network/Toonami experiences also included DRAGON BALL Z, then I will admit writing a fic called SAIYA-MAN AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES, incorporating the Legion future into the DBZ world, with Son Gohan in the Superboy role (this continuity, which I fitted in the 10-year time-skip between the Buu arc and the End of Z Tournament, has now been rendered out-of-continuity by the new DB SUPER series). And there is also my DBZ/New Mutants (Magneto tenure) X-over...

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  2. I was also kind of charmed by the Metal Men, who I'd never read about before this Action issue. I was already a bit of a Legion fan thanks to The Great Darkness Saga, and was happy to see them getting the Byrne treatment (even if I didn't get why Blok was missing a nose).

    I used to be much more focused on picking up the Superman comics as they came out than I was with the Action issues, so I went months before getting around to tracking down the conclusion of this Legion two-parter. Look forward to the review that'll refresh my memory as to how it all turns out.

    And I believe that heat vision is a sub-plot that pays off in a couple of issues in one of my most fondly-remembered stories of the run.

    -david p.

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  3. Blok had his distinguishing features blown off in
    the 'Prophet' storyline in LEGION, the last complete Levitz-Giffen story (He left midway during the Legion of Super-Villains arc in the Baxter Print series).

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  4. He maybe should have have created a story about the Legion of Superheroes on the Blue Area of the Moon to get over it.

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  5. One more thing. SUPERMAN#8 has a page of the entire Legion assembly, this is based on a splash page of the group entry in WHO'S WHO: THE HISTORY OF THE DC UNIVERSE, with one difference: The original drawing had both Sensor Girl and Queen Projectra. By the time SUPERMAN#8 came out, it was revealed Sensor Girl is actually Projectra! (Originally, she was planned to be Supergirl, somehow surviving her death in CRISIS but with most her powers gone, but TPTB rejected that revelation).

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