Monday, May 21, 2018

ACTION COMICS #591 & ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #431

“PAST IMPERFECT”
Story, Pencils, & Figure Inks: John Byrne | Background Inks: Keith Williams
Lettering: John Costanza | Coloring: Tom Ziuko | Editing: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: Superboy freezes Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes with his stasis ray, then takes the Legion members to deliver them a mysterious master elsewhere in the timestream. Superman breaks free of the ray’s effect and pursues, but is thrown off and lands in Superboy’s Smallville. Pete Ross find him and brings him to the Kents’ home, but Superboy soon returns and a fight ensues.

Krypto joins the fight and heads for Superboy’s lab to grab some gold Kryptonite, but the rock robs him of his powers before he can use it. Pa Kent gets an idea from Krypto’s sacrifice and confronts Superman with all the forms of Kryptonite, but none work on him. However this pause in the action allows Superman and Superboy to make peace.

Superboy and the Legion depart for the future to battle Superboy’s master, the Time-Trapper, but they insist Superman return to his own time rather than risk his life by coming with them. Superman reluctantly agrees and is returned to modern-day Metropolis.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Superman notes multiple times that Superboy is more powerful than he is, but the Man of Steel’s experience allows him to go toe-to-toe with the Boy of Steel.

The Time-Trapper explains how it is that Superboy and his version of Smallville exist in the post-CRISIS universe:


Superman recognizes Pete Ross from high school, though as noted last time, post-CRISIS Pete Ross has not made an official debut yet. Superman also notes the differences between his Smallville and Superboy’s, in particular the fact that Superboy’s version seems more idealized than the real thing.


Superman also says that he envies Superboy’s life in some ways, both for his super-powered dog and for his world’s innocence.


When Krypto loses his powers, he also loses his super-intelligence, becoming effectively a normal dog. A year or so earlier, Alan Moore had killed off pre-CRISIS Krypto when the loyal dog died of Kryptonite exposure defending the Fortress of Solitude from attack. This version of Krypto’s sacrifice, while still sad, is much more palatable, at least to me. (Though it’s marred a bit by Byrne’s apparent inability to draw a dog’s face. His Krypto looks like some kind of giant rat.)


Note: The conclusion of the Superboy/Legion storyline takes place in LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #38, by Paul Levitz, Greg LaRoque, and Mike DeCarlo. It is printed in the MAN OF STEEL trade paperback series, but I opted not to cover it here since it’s not related to the ongoing Byrne/Wolfman stories. But, for the record, it features Superboy and the Legion confronting the Time-Trapper at the end of time, where Superboy sacrifices his life to save the day.

My Thoughts: John Byrne has said that, though was hired by DC to revamp and reboot Superman, he naturally had some strong nostalgia for the Silver Age stories with which he grew up. This “Pocket Universe Saga” seems to be Byrne’s love letter to a version of Superman’s history that he has ret-conned out of existence. From the Kents’ general store to Krypto’s thought balloons to the image of Smallville as a picturesque 1950s town, this is the Superboy Byrne knew as a child.


Now personally I have little interest in the Legion of Super-Heroes. I know they have a pretty big following and I’m sure there are some great stories about them (I fully intend, someday, to read this “Great Darkness Saga” I’ve heard so much about), but, being characters from the far-flung future with little connection to the modern day, they feel to me like Marvel’s (original) Guardans of the Galaxy, a group I’ve also never looked at for similar reasons.

The fight between Superman and Superboy is fun, though, and its aftermath is even better, as Superman realizes Superboy could never truly kill his future self, or let the Legion remain prisoners of the Time-Trapper, because he himself couldn’t do it either. I’m not afraid to admit that I even got a little misty-eyed along with Pa Kent as Superman appealed to Superboy’s conscience with a paternal hug.


Oh, plus -- it's another ACTION issue that means something to the overall storyline, so that's great, too.

“THEY CALL HIM -- DOCTOR STRATOS”
Writer: Marv Wolfman | Penciler: Erik Larsen | Inker: India Inc.
Letterer: Albert de Guzman | Colorist: Anthony Tollin | Editors: Mike Carlin & Andy Helfer
With Special Thanks to Len Wein.

The Plot: Superman runs around the world, trying to stop weather disasters created by a madman named Doctor Stratos. Eventually he finds Stratos’ castle and defeats him.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: This issue's cover seems to be a pin-up by Jerry Ordway. It has nothing to do with the plot.

Lois Lane and Cat Grant have a run-in in the ladies’ room and Cat tries to make nice with Lois, but is given a very hostile cold shoulder for her trouble. Cat also notes that she will soon begin a custody battle for her son.

Stratos believes that he is a son of the gods, having been found as an infant at the foot of Mt. Olympus. At the end of the story, his theory is apparently proved correct as he survives getting killed and manifests a flaming body.

My Thoughts: This issue reads like a really bad Marvel inventory story from the eighties. It’s just Superman flying around from place to place, then randomly figuring out how to beat the bad guy because we’re almost out of pages. The artwork from a very young Erik Larsen, while showing some promise in places (I know his work is polarizing, but really like his nineties/Spider-Man stuff for the most part), is overall extremely rough and hampered by struggling to cram way too much of Wolfman’s story into way too few pages and panels. In fact, were it not for Wolfman’s participation and the sub-plot pages about Cat, I would’ve assumed this was an inventory story!

Next Week: Remember Wonder Woman? She’s back with issue #8!

6 comments:

  1. Obligatory reminder that you need to read the Great Darkness Saga goes here.

    And here's the way too clever way to "fix" the Legion's continuity that the Crisis reboot caused, and the attendant damage this and other poorly thought out retcons and changes did was so great they wound up having to reboot their timeline AGAIN in 1994, and the Legion never really recovered from all the reboots that the decision to have their cake and eat it too with Superboy. It's just too complicated by half. The kind of clever than isn't really clever Byrne loves to do. Just make Superman the inspiration for the Legion. Neither Superboy or Supergirl were in the Legion. There, settled.

    I've ranted before about companies never really fully buying into reboots, so I won't do it again, but if you're not going to embrace it, don't bother to reboot.

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    1. Jack, I promise that someday I will read "Great Darkness". I've seen so much praise heaped upon it over the years that I feel like it's an essential comic story at this point!

      Your fix makes perfect sense to me... why DC couldn't have thought of that thirty years ago is beyond me. Byrne's even said that when he accepted the assignment to reboot Superman, he asked about the Legion and was assured by Dick Giordano that it would be handled. Then, a few months later, he was told no one knew how to fix their backstory.

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    2. I actually hope I haven't overhyped it and ruin it for you! But it's arguably the best pre-Crisis superhero story DC did, and I clearly love it to bits.

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  2. Pre-Crisis Pete Ross was Superboy's best friend. He moves to Smallville, an amateur kid sleuth, and gets along with Clark, although he starts noticing similarities between Kent and Supes. Eventually, Pete coerces Clark to dress up as Superboy, only to reveal that he was told to look for someone to play the hero at the local pageant and found Clark fit the part! (Aah, the Silver Age...)
    However, it seemed the writers saw the potential, so shortly after, Pete (who becomes pretty tight with Clark, blowing off an invitation to a costume party because they planned to not include that nerd Clark) secretly discovers Clark changing. He decides to keep this secret, instead inconspicuously aiding in Clark maintaining his secret ID from suspicion. However, Superboy never learns the truth until adulthood.
    The present isn't kind to Pete. He has a son, who gets kidnapped by aliens. Superman does all he could, but learns (from the LSH) the kid has a heroic destiny that requires him to stay where he is. Pete goes mad over his loss and plans revenge on his former friend. Stealing Luthor equipment (back in his mad scientist days), he brings Superboy to the present and steals his body. Then he captures Superman, and well...look up the cover of DC COMICS PRESENTS#14. Fortunately, everything is resolved when Superboy-in-Pete's-body gets Krypto to OWN Pete-in-Superboy's-body and the emancipated (by the last of his strength) Superman forces a surrender. The switch is reversed, and Pete goes to an asylum, where Superman somehow manages to get his son back, restoring his sanity. And then Alan Moore writes his WHttMoT? story...

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    1. Thanks, angmc43. My main exposure to Pete was the early seasons of SMALLVILLE. Beyond that, I think I've only seen him here and there in relatively minor appearances. I know that post-CRISIS, he eventually marries Lana and becomes Lex Luthor's vice-president, but I had no idea about all that stuff that happened to the pre-CRISIS version! That's kind of a crummy life...

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  3. The issue with Superman and Superboy was a true highlight for me. :)

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