It's hard to believe that there is only one issue left in this series. In some ways it has felt like Byrne's Man of Steel, snapshots of the formative moments of Superman's origins. In other ways, it has felt like 2 mini-series - the Smallville years and the Metropolis years. The last issues have read like a standard comic so some resolution should happen. That said, we all know how these stories end so it isn't like we need to see everything wrapped up in a bow.
Like prior issues, one of the things I have really liked here is the comparison of Superman and Luthor and their different leadership styles. How they shape the feel of the city ... inspire the citizens.
Unlike prior issues, this one adds some new elements to the Superman mythos rather than just re-imagining or re-inventing the Silver Age, streamlining some elements of Superman's origin into the current continuity and current storyline. Specifically, it was interesting to see General Lane added to the early years as an adversary for the Man of Steel.
The issue opens up with Superman helping out with a fire, saving some people trapped in the burning building.
But he is still new to the city and Metropolis is still under the thrall of Luthor and his ethics and morals. Look at how the people he rescued act. One guy doesn't trust him. One acknowledges the save. The last one is incredulous as to why Superman would save them ... as if there needs to be a reason or reward for doing the right thing. It is that sort of distrust or 'what's in it for me' attitude that Lex exudes.
And Superman is just the opposite.
The blaze was part of this Lex/Superman battle for the soul of the city. The fire was deliberately set at one of the Daily Planet's distribution centers. The Planet is later shown to be the only paper consistently showing Superman in a positive light.
The knowing glances between Superman, Lois, and Jimmy speaks volumes. Luthor had to be behind the fire. If he controls the media, he will control how Superman is perceived.
One thing I liked about this scene was Lois' flirting with Superman, coyly bringing up how Superman and her keep meeting. Funnier still is Jimmy jumping in and spoiling the moment.
He looks down from his penthouse and laments that the people of Metropolis are 'looking up into the sky'. It is such a small but powerful moment. Luthor looking down at the people, the size of ants. He doesn't want them to be inspired, to look up for hope ... that line works both literally (to see Superman) and metaphorically.
Luthor is perfectly portrayed here ... not outwardly evil wearing a purple jumpsuit and shooting laser guns. He is more slyly malevolent, eroding the hope of the city. Wonderful!
And Luthor knows how to play all the angles to get what he wants. He not only brings in the military to investigate Superman, he brings in General Lane. This way he can attack the Lois aspect of Superman's emergence as well.
What better way to bring General Lane into the fold than by playing up the alien/human relationship twist. This 'unnatural' relationship won't sit well with the spit-polished rigid military father. It is here where we see the seeds of hatred planted which bear the bitter fruit we currently see in Lane in the New Krypton continuity.
And is it me or did Gary Frank model General Lane after Lee Marvin.
John Corben is also re-introduced into the mythos, as the junior officer hand-picked by General Lane to court his daughter. At least we now know who the flower-sending John from the earlier issues is.
Not surprisingly he is a cad, physically throttling Lois when she rebuffs his advances. When it turns violent, Clark steps in and coolly defuses the situation with the old 'handshake test of strength'.
It is classic Clark. Look at the 'aw shucks' smile on his face as he silently humiliates Corben. What a clever way of maintaining the Smallville exterior while fighting for truth and justice.
In a twist of Superman's history, Luthor deduces that Kryptonite can hurt Superman the waste produced by experimenting on the Green K is what mutated Rudy Jones into the Parasite. And the Parasite in turn hurt Superman. Luthor sees causation.
For some reason, the Kryptonite basis of the Parasite's origin doesn't sit as well as me as other new imaginations in this series have. It feels more like a Smallville the show 'meteor freak' origin.
Lois is so impressed with Clark's stare down of Corben that she invites him out to lunch. A lunch date! She can sense something deeper to Clark then his stumbling and bumbling ... something attractive.
But when she calls him on it, when she asks him who he 'really is', he slips into pure Clark and spills his milk all over her.
Ridiculous and retro as it may be, it shows how even early on Lois might fall for Clark. I thought this just worked.
It hearkens back to a simpler time where Superman's main job was disaster assistance, not battling super-villains.
Lane starts interrogating Superman ... asking him about his alien roots, his purpose on Earth. Despite Superman saying he considers himself an American, Lane continues to push. It forces Superman to declare that he is no one's enemy and leave.
I have read 'the first encounter with Kryptonite' story a couple of times, most recently in Superman Confidential. It is always great to see that astonished look on Superman's face when he is injured for the first time. Here the bullets still bounce off him, but they cause damage. We see the blood stains.
The last volley of bullets ricochet into the Kryptonite causing the Metallo suit to explode. Even injured, Superman's first thoughts are for Corben ... first apologizing for the accident, then imploring the troops to get a medic.
Superman then weakly flies off.
The news begins to trumpet Superman's 'attack on the military' and just like that it's all out war on Superman. The army is called in to shut down the Planet. Meanwhile, Lex claims he can save Corben with the Green K. And Superman ... he is hiding out in the sewers, healing.
The ending reminded me a bit of Batman vs the police in Batman: Year One. But it is such a downbeat ending. My hope was that this series would end with the city embracing Superman and his attitudes. It will be hard to get there in the 22 pages left. I hope we do get there.
For me, the strongest scenes in this issue were those with Lois. I think Johns just feels comfortable writing her and her banter with Clark. Those scenes just clicked.
I wish this series could go a full 12 issues and really flesh out the background. I'll be sad to see this end.
As usual, Gary Frank's art really sizzles.
Overall grade: B+/B