|Haunted by his past!|
The Man of Steel, “The Haunting”
Written by John Byrne
Art and Cover by John Byrne and Dick Giordano
Edited by Andy Helfer
As he flies in to Kansas and catches sight of Smallville, Superman engages in some expository thinking about how little the place has changed and how glad he is that it hasn’t and about the folksiness of the people and blah blah blah, and it may be that I’m a little burned out on the topic of homecomings as I write this, so I’ll just mention that he switches to Clark Kent mode at super-speed and mixes in with a group of people arriving by bus to pretend that rode shoulder-to-shoulder with the common folk and he’s soon greeted by Jonathan and Martha and on his way back to the farm.
Yes, he gets to just fly there on his own whenever he feels like it and doesn’t have to spend more than a day penned up in airports and – okay, moving on…
I will mention, as I may have already, that I liked that Byrne decided to have the Kents still alive in Superman's adulthood, as, per the expository thoughts Superman had when he was flying home, it’s good for him to have people he can rely on and confide in.
Unfortunately, it seems that the Kents are not confiding in him, as during the ride back to the farm Jonathan begins to mention some new development but is promptly and demonstrably shushed by Martha, which makes Clark suspicious.
Still, his suspicions are nothing that can’t be handled by a home-cooked meal, and the topic of conversation soon turns to a certain beautiful lady reporter, whom Clark evidently mentions quite frequently in his letters home.
Clark admits that he does have very strong feelings for Lois, but he’s troubled by the fact that he doesn’t seem to be able to get past the grudge she holds against him for scooping her on the Superman story.
Martha, confident in her son’s ability to overcome any obstacle and to be irresistible to the ladies, tells him that if he’s serious about Lois he needs to get after her. Clark agrees:
|First order of business should be a new wardrobe, Clark. It's not really surprising that this guy wears his underwear over his pants when he's in costume given what his civilian clothes are like...|
Later that evening, Clark finds himself unable to sleep, and his thoughts return to the secret that his parents seemed to be keeping from him. As he raids the fridge for a midnight snack, he’s confronted by a ghostly figure speaking a strange language which zaps him and causes him to fall to the floor. The next thing he knows he’s in costume and speaking the same language as the ghostly figure, and he no longer seems to be in the Kents’ kitchen, or even on Earth. If I were a lesser man, I’d make a “Wizard of Oz” reference at this point:
|"Gah! Lana, bring the alien lady back!"|
Apart from her brief appearance in the first issue, this is the first we’ve really seen of Lana, which is fine by me, frankly.
Over the next few pages we learn that it was Lana’s return to Smallville and the neighboring farm that Jonathan and Martha were keeping a secret from Clark, and that it was Clark that had caused Lana to leave Smallville in the first place.
Back on that fateful night years earlier when Clark set out on the path that eventually led him to become Superman he made one stop before leaving Smallville behind. He stopped to talk to the most important person in his life: Lana. We get a flashback to that night from Lana’s perspective, and learn that he told her all about his powers and flew her around the world talking about his hopes, fears, and plans.
And then left.
Lana confesses that when she saw the serious look on his face that night she thought – hoped, really – that he was going to propose. Instead, he told her that he was even more of a catch than she already thought he was and that by the way he was leaving her behind.
This would be the point at which most people would make the standard reference to Superman being a dick, but it’s Lana Lang, so I don’t care.
Lana also confesses that for a while she hated him, but in time she came to accept her lot in life, and she realized that Superman could never belong to just one woman because he belongs to the world, and she knows that he hadn’t intended to ruin her life.
As the sun rises, the two old friends part on good terms, but Superman has some thinking to do. He considers Lana’s words about not being able to belong to just one woman and more or less dismisses it as he thinks about Lois. That’s the thing, Lana. He can be with one woman. Just not you.
He also considers what she said about belonging to the world, but it raises the question of which world. Deciding that, based on the strange vision he had earlier, it’s time to stop avoiding the truth and look for answers, and so he heads to the place where Jonathan had stashed the ship in which they’d found baby Clark. He discovers to his shock and horror that the ship is gone.
At that point, the ghostly image of Jor-El appears once more and hits him with another brain zap.
As Clark flops around in agony on the ground as his mind is filled with alien imagery and information, Jonathan and Martha pull up and come to his rescue:
|Is there any problem a shovel can't solve?|
Needing some time to think and sort through all of the information that just got forced into his brain, he takes to the air and sifts through all that Jor-El showed him, and slowly the pieces come together and he realizes who is and where he is from. There’s a lot more information to be unpacked – Jor-El basically dumped the entirety of Kryptonian history, culture, and knowledge into his brain – but now at least he has the broad strokes.
In the end, however, while it’s nice to know where he came from, he concludes that he already knows who he is:
|If I were Superman, a good 20% of my time would be spent just standing around looking majestic.|
And with that we reach the end of this beginning. There would prove to be a lot more left to learn about this new version of Superman, but the broad strokes were all in place, and readers now had some idea of what to expect, knowing which parts of the mythos had been kept, which had been updated, and which had been thrown out entirely. It was a good start, and, ultimately, in the hands of the people who took over after Byrne’s sudden departure about two years later, led to some of the best Superman stories ever written.
Despite the desire of some to go back to earlier interpretations of the character – or worse, to align him more with the Donner movie – The Man of Steel remains an important and influential high-water mark in the character’s 75 year history, and it had an impact on the presentation of the character in other media, as with “Lois and Clark,” “Superman: The Animated Series,” and “Smallville,” and it’s still my preferred interpretation.
Up next: I take a brief hiatus from Nostalgia Reviews. I’m not sure what will get the treatment next, though I’m leaning towards one of my favorite Superman stories from the pre-Byrne era, though I may move on to something not related to the Metropolis Marvel at all. We’ll see, I guess, so stay tuned.
Again, this is “my” Superman in a lot of ways, though much of that comes not from this mini-series but rather from the later stories that built on the foundation that Byrne put in place, which, to be clear, includes the stories that Byrne himself did in the regular monthly books.
As should be apparent from my rather scathing review of the previous issue, TMoS is not exactly flawless.
Even this issue, while a marked improvement over the last one, is kind of boring, and is extremely exposition-heavy, even for Byrne, who has a particular fondness for panel after panel of talking heads.
Given my distaste for the character – which predated the “Smallville” TV series – I was glad to see Lana relegated to a relatively minor role, and to have it made clear that Clark loved Lana in strictly platonic terms. It was a nice inversion to see her being the one pining for Clark and not the other way around. It was also a nice touch to give her the sort of consolation prize of knowing his secret, which allowed her to fill the role formerly held by Pete Ross back in the day (though Clark hadn’t known that Pete knew).
The mini-series set up some lingering plot threads – such as the missing ship – that would eventually be explored in the monthly books, which I thought was a nice touch. It’s also worth noting that while we saw Clark having a very brief exposure to Kryptonite in the first issue, it never makes another appearance in the mini-series, which is actually a harbinger of things to come, as Kryptonite would prove to be considerably less ubiquitous in the new status quo, and didn’t become an overused plot device in the way it had in earlier stories.
Overall, despite the backlash from those who wanted more of the same-old same-old stories, I thought this did an excellent job of reintroducing and revitalizing DC’s flagship character and weaving him into the new continuity created in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Naturally it didn’t last – not much does in comics – but it had a good run, and it resulted in a lot of really solid stories.
I’m always happy to see Byrne’s vision of Krypton. The only thing I like more is Byrne’s vision of Krypton as illustrated by Mike “Hellboy” Mignola, who would provide the art for the World of Krypton mini-series that Byrne wrote the following summer, which delved into the history of Superman’s homeworld and the events that led to its destruction.
Byrne also filled in some of the blanks in the lives of Clark and his cast of supporting characters in a World of Smallville mini-series and a World of Metropolis mini-series.