Saturday, June 22, 2013

Nostalgia Review: The Man Of Steel 4

(NOTE:  This review is for the similarly-titled 1986 comic book mini-series.  It's NOT for the 2013 movie, which I have now seen, but this still isn’t about that.  I did write up a little bit about it the other day, however, if you want to look at that post.)

At last we meet the mysterious “Mister L,” as the new – improved? – Lex Luthor makes his debut.

Is that Lex Luthor or Robert Loggia?

The Man of Steel, “Enemy Mine…”
Written by John Byrne
Art and Cover by John Byrne and Dick Giordano
Edited by Andy Helfer
Special Thanks to Marv Wolfman

Finally there’s an issue with a story worth recapping.  That’s not to say that the previous issues were bad or boring, but the plots just weren’t that complex, as the focus was primarily on the establishment of the new status quo.
That’s true here, as well, but I find the story a little more compelling than those of the previous two issues.
Our story opens as Clark Kent opens his door to greet Lois, who is dolled up in a slinky little number.  Clark himself is in the process of putting on formal attire, so it’s clear that the two of them have plans to attend some sort of event.  It’s also clear that Lois isn’t terribly thrilled about the fact that Clark is her date.
It’s apparent that this is the first time Lois has been to Clark’s place, and she comments on how surprisingly tidy it is for a bachelor pad.  We also learn that the fancy dress Lois is wearing is a loaner from the host of the event they’re attending.
Clark explains that he doesn’t spend that much time at home.  As Lois looks around the apartment she spots some of Clark’s high school trophies, and the two share a bit of mildly flirtatious dialogue about how Clark has managed to keep in shape.
Things go south, however, once Lois finds a picture of Jonathan and Martha and wonders how two people who look so nice could end up with such “slime” for a son.
Lois, it seems, is still holding a grudge about Clark scooping her with his Superman interview, which, as Lois points out, happened “Seventeen months, two weeks, four days, and an odd number of hours” prior to this evening, letting us know that we’ve moved forward in time significantly since the second issue.
Clark points out that he didn’t scoop her out of spite, though that’s no comfort to Lois, who tells him she has no interest in discussing it further, and tells him to finish getting ready.
As he finishes preparing, he thinks about how he really needs to keep working at chipping away the personal animosity that Lois feels towards him, given his own considerably less hostile feelings towards her.
Last issue we learned that, unlike the pre-Crisis incarnation, this version of Superman needs to breathe.  Based on Clark’s stubble, we learn in this issue that he also needs to shave.
The idea that Superman’s hair didn’t grow was a convenient plot point to avoid explaining how he trimmed his indestructible hair in earlier stories, but it was also kind of dumb.  I’m not certain if his hair grew up to a certain point and then stopped, or if the hair he had when he arrived as a toddler was all the hair he would ever have.  If it’s the latter, one has to assume that Silver Age Superman had a little something in common with his arch-enemy down in his bathing suit area…
In any case, thanks to the bear he’s seen sporting in the trailers for the “Man of Steel” movie, there was a lot of speculation – as part of a cross-promotion with Gillette – as to how Superman shaves, with Bill Nye himself weighing in with his own theory.
However, Byrne had already established how it was done (a method that was also used on “Superman:  The Animated Series.”

Watch Clark "byrne" away his stubble.  I'm sorry.

Coincidentally enough, I recently read an old Supergirl story in which Red Kryptonite causes Superman’s hair and fingernails to suddenly grow to great lengths, and it’s established that his heat vision alone isn’t up to the task of trimming his hair and nails, and ultimately it requires the combined heat vision of Supergirl and Krypto to do the trick.
With that out of the way – and before Clark can explain why he’s got such light weights – the two head up to the roof of the building, much to Clark’s dismay.  It seems that their “ride” to the event is, in fact, a helicopter, which is parked atop Clark’s building.
This is, Clark notes, most likely illegal, but Lois points out that in Metropolis anything with the name “Luthor” on it is above the law.
Clark asks if Lois approves.  She tells him that she doesn’t, but it doesn’t do much good to disapprove, given that Lex is the most powerful man in Metropolis.
We get a whole lotta exposition, with information about Lex and his company – Lexcorp – as the two intrepid reporters are flown out to sea, and Lois lets us know that while there have been a lot of questions about some of Lex’s activities and business practices, no one has ever been able to prove anything.
When she talks about his charitable works, Clark asks if her opinion of Lex might be colored by her relationship with him, as he’s heard rumors that Lex and Lois are a “hot item.”
Lois shoots that theory down, pointing out that Lex is a “collector” and he only wants her because he can’t have her.
The event the two are attending is being held aboard the “Sea Queen,” Lex’s enormous personal yacht, and at last the time comes to meet the man himself.

Up to this point – at the time – I was on board with the changes that Byrne had made to Superman.  That includes the fact that he had jettisoned the whole idea of Superman having once been Superboy.
I knew that as a consequence of that we would be presented with a very different kind of Lex Luthor, given that the old relationship no longer existed.
(For those who don’t know, Lex was a friend of Clark/Superboy in Smallville, but turned evil after Superboy inadvertently caused Lex to lose all of his hair.  It’s exactly as stupid as it sounds.)
However, I wasn’t prepared for an overweight, balding, middle-aged businessman, and, frankly, I didn’t like it.
Eventually, he won me over, but while I tried to keep an open mind, I really did not care for this version of Luthor initially.
As was mentioned back in #2, Lex had been away from Metropolis for quite some time, so he wasn’t really “up” on the whole Superman thing, though he had read Clark’s interview, and he congratulates Clark on his success, and his apparent humility, given that Clark refused to accept an award he’d won for the story.
We learn that, rather than having a strained friendship with Clark/Superboy, this version of Lex has a strained friendship with Perry White, to the point that Perry straight-up hates Lex.
Clark absents himself after Lex asks to have some time alone with Lois, during which he makes another attempt at adding Lois to his collection, letting her know that the $5,000 designer original she’s wearing was actually intended as a gift.
It doesn’t work out so well.

"Yeah, like I haven't been checking you out with my X-Ray Vision anyway."

As she leaves the room, Lois suggests that Lex should invest some of his money in a better barber, as he’s beginning to look like Fred Mertz.
Neither reporter gets very far, as they find that the yacht has been hijacked by armed terrorists.  Clark steps between Lois and the man pointing a gun at her and gets conked on the head and thrown overboard for his troubles, at which point, assuming him to be dead, Lois clearly begins to reconsider her hatred of the man.
Of course, we know that this was just a convenient excuse for him to get away, and soon, as the terrorists round up all the guests – including the Mayor of Metropolis – Superman throws everything into disarray by picking up the entire yacht.
Because Byrne likes exposition a lot, we learn from Superman’s thoughts that he is able to lift greater weights with ease when he’s flying, as if his power of flight somehow involves the negation of gravity.
In the chaos on the yacht, as Superman flies it to Lex’s private island, which had been the destination, Lois takes out one of the gunman with a kick to the groin and gets hold of a weapon.
After setting the ship down in the harbor, Superman swoops in to save Lois – who had mostly wrapped things up herself, thanks to skills she had picked up from being an “Army Brat” – from another gunman who had escaped her notice.
With that taken care, of Lex reappears and thanks Superman for saving the day.  He then hands him a check for $25,000, which is intended as a retainer.  Lex actually wants to hire Superman.
Superman, of course, is not interested, despite Lex’s insistence.
It turns out that Lex more or less knew that this hijacking would take place – he’d had some trouble with this group in the past – and had asked his security team to wait and see if Superman showed up so that he could see him in action.
This doesn’t go over well with Superman, the Mayor, or Lois, the latter of whom claims that Lex is responsible for the murder of Clark Kent.  Superman lets Lois know that Clark is fine, as he “fished him out of the water” before picking up the ship.
Even so, the Mayor insists that this was a criminal act, and so he deputizes Superman and orders him to take Lex into custody.
Lex says, “Don’t be absurd, Frank.  You can’t arrest me.  I’m Lex Luthor.  I’m the most powerful man in Metropolis!”
”No, you’re not Lex,” the Mayor says, as Superman looms behind him.  “Not anymore.”
Damn, Lex!  Apply cold water to the burned area!
Three days later we find Superman helping out a woman who goes into labor on a stalled subway train, and as he leaves the hospital, thinking about how glad he is that could talk the grateful woman out of naming her newborn son “Superman,” though she did give him that as a middle name, he becomes aware of the sensation of having his photograph taken.
While he doesn’t see anyone with a camera nearby, he is concerned, as he generally takes great pains to ensure that his face is never clearly photographed.
Deciding that it may have been his imagination, he prepares to make with the up, up, and away, but is interrupted by Lex, who informs him that his lawyers got him out of jail in a matter of hours, that the charges will never stick, and that Superman’s ass is officially grass.

Put on a purple shirt and green tights and then I'll take you seriously, Lex.

Up Next:  Sadly, a story that could only be considered “good” on Bizarro World.

Some Thoughts:As I said, I wasn’t really feeling this version of Lex back in the day, but even then I had to admit that while I didn’t like the character, I did feel that Byrne gave him a much better reason to hate Superman than had been in place in prior continuity.
Then again, almost anything would have been better.  Over the years, recognizing the ridiculousness of Lex’s motivation, there had been some retcons to add a little more depth, such as stating that in addition to causing Lex to go bald, Superboy’s bungling had destroyed the experiment Lex had been working on, one which would have proven to be the single greatest achievement of his life.  If I recall correctly, he had actually created life in his laboratory.
In any case, this was more interesting and sensible – and also more 80s – but it wasn’t what I wanted in a Lex Luthor.  Not that I can say what it was I did want.  I think I wanted him keep the whole evil scientific genius aspect, just with a better motivation.
But, again, in time, almost a year into the run of the regular monthly series, this version of Luthor finally won me over.  I can actually point to the specific issue that did it for me – a backup story in Superman #9, in which Lex goes all “Indecent Proposal” – as we got to see just what a horrid creature of pure evil Lex really was at his core.
I have to say that I liked Lois in this one – she had a lot of the spunk of Bronze Age, pre-Crisis Lois, without practically being a super-hero in her own right the way she was sometimes presented – but while I was glad that she didn’t reciprocate Lex’s interest, I still thought it was weird that she was friendly with him at all.  Does it really make that much difference that you’re “borrowing” a $5,000 dress, Lois?  I don’t know, it just didn’t sit right with me.  I won’t get into it here, but eventually Byrne did a story in which we learn a little about Lois’s background with a story from when she was a teenager, and there’s some serious skeeviness involving Lex that makes her not telling him off well before this that much more disturbing.
Still, I’m glad that she moved on from having any kind of attraction to him very quickly and decisively.  I also liked seeing her angry façade break down once she thought Clark was killed.
I also liked the way Byrne took the standard cliché of Clark needing an excuse to get away and turned it completely upside-down by having Clark being brave rather than feigning cowardice.
Of all the changes Byrne introduced, I think the more dynamic, non-wimpy Clark Kent was my favorite.

The Art:
Once again…it’s Byrne.  It’s not Byrne at the top of his game, but it’s still Byrne.  There’s not a whole lot more I can say.

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