Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back Issue Box: Superman #176 - Kryptonian Day Of Truth

Last week Superman #709 came out and continued the rehabilitation of the 'Grounded' storyline. Hooray for writer Chris Roberson who seems to be righting the ship!

As  I mentioned in my review, something I appreciated in the issue was all the references and homages to classic comic history littered throughout. While I don't know how a new reader processes this stuff, to an old-timer like me these references enrich stories, bringing the depth of character history to the table and confirming the respect the creators have for what has come before.

There was a lot to love in Superman #709 but my favorite reference was of Val-Lor and the Kryptonian Day of Truth. It was too good a reference to pass up without looking closer.

I am pretty sure the first time the Day of Truth is discussed is in Superman #176 from way back in 1965. I will admit that I bought this issue at a comic store sale based only on the cover which is pure Silver Age wackiness. But what a treat to discover that one of the stories within the issue is devoted to the Day of Truth.

Written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by Curt Swan, I present to you 'Superman's Day of Truth'. I think this story captures the best of the Silver Age in many ways.

Yes, Superman stands for Truth, Justice, and the American Way. But what about unfiltered pure truth? Can he remain a hero?

The beginning of the story shows a number of quick vignettes showing both Superman and Supergirl being brutally honest to everyone they encounter.

First Superman, acting as judge at a baby contest, calls the rowdy babies 'the worst collection of miserable brats' he has ever seen. When Lois asks why Superman offended the mothers, Superman retorts that he won't be a hypocrite and 'praise those little demons.'

Supergirl also shows a surprisingly frank honesty as well.

While attending a dinner made for her by the Supergirl Fan Club, Kara insults their cooking. 'The salad tasted like moldy hay'! Wow.

Not surprising is the girls' response. They begin to cry. Supergirl seems somewhat shocked by this. Her fans asked for the truth and they got it ... both barrels!

The interactions continue throughout Metropolis.

First he reveals to Jimmy that his girlfriend isn't all she claims to be.

Then he calls the invention of a struggling scientist a 'miserable flop'.

And then he says Perry White's cigar smells like the city dump.

That certainly is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No sugar coating the facts here.

Later, while testifying in a trial, the criminal's lawyer demands that Superman reveal his alias. Superman agrees to tell the truth, but only once and in writing.

Of course, those restrictions allow him to use his powers to remain truthful but protect himself.

Then the lawyer asks Superman to reveal the location of his Fortress of Solitude. Superman does it ... but it turns out later that the coordinates he gave are to an abandoned early Fortress underwater. Truthful I suppose.

Lois and Lana aren't about to let this opportunity pass them by. In classic Silver Age shenanigans, they corner Superman and ask him to tell them who he really loves.

Again Superman uses his powers to remain truthful but keep his secrets to himself. The answer is so loud it is incomprehensible.

So why is he being so honest, even if it is insulting?

The answer is revealed in Kandor.

Superman and Supergirl parachute into Kandor to join in a Kryptonian celebration. Gathering at a statue of Val-Lor, the greatest hero of Krypton, the Kandorian citizens listen as the city elder reads from the ancient Book of Deeds.

The elder reads how centuries before the destruction of Krypton, an alien race called the Vrangs invaded Krypton and took over. These humanoid bat-like creatures enslaved the Kryptonians.

Not only were the people of Krypton forced to do hard labor but they were humiliated by the Vrang forces. The Kryptonian leaders were hung up in arenas for giant cats to play with like chew toys. They were worked until they collapsed. And they were forced to smile while doing so, thanking the Vrangs for allowing them to live.

Finally, one Kryptonian ... Val-Lor ... stood up to the Vrangs. Vowing not to lie, he says he despises the Vrangs.

Because of his valor, Val-Lor is gunned down.

But his death acts as a catalyst, energizing the Kryptonians to rise up and overthrow the Vrangs. Val-Lor spoke the truth! And the truth sets the Kryptonians free. The very chains of slavery become weapons as the Kryptonians rout the Vrangs.

And so, on this day each year, Kryptonians must tell the truth ... just as Val-Lor did.

Okay, an inspiring story with a nice sentiment, wrapped up in the silliness of the Metropolis encounters ... that's the Silver Age!

With the ceremony over, Superman and Supergirl return to Earth and explain the holiday to their friends. Despite the blunt nature of Superman's statements, his friends understand and forgive.

While a 'Day of Truth' is an interesting comment, couldn't Superman and Supergirl state things in not such an abrasive way? Or does the nature of the holiday mean you need to speak frankly ... whatever you feel must be couched in those terms, no matter how incendiary. I mean, isn't there a truthful way of saying the salad wasn't tasty without saying it is like moldy hay?

More about the Vrang invasion and the Day of Truth is discussed in 1981's Krypton Chronicles, something I touched on here.

I definitely like this story, a mix of silliness and inspiration. And I am glad Dorfman included Supergirl in the story as this was a Kryptonian holiday. But I would say it is of low importance to a Supergirl collection.

Overall grade: B+ (seen through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia)


TalOs said...

Heh i recall growing up in the '80s' buying from a store's back issue bin this issue as a kid where after reading left me thinking Clark and Kara were just plain "meannies". :P

Still none to happy with Superman #709, where it had Flash chasing down Superman, while reciting Kryptonian lore and dressing residents of Earth in Kryptonian garb, all while Flash's under the influence of a Kryptonian lore reciting headband (which miraculously survived "New Krypton"'s destruction without so much as even a scratch) and the writer not willing to include Supergirl (who i'm sure would be more than curious as to find out about what had Flash acting in such a peculiar manner) and Kara finally reuniting with Clark leading to addressing her possible concern about his whole "walk accross the US of A" too.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a very, very funny issue. Who knew both cousins could be so devastatingly blunt?

You are right, they appear to believe that honesty is synonymous with abrasiveness? No one explained to them you can be truthful AND tactful?

Then again, there's nothing normal about their respective upbringrings.

And couldn't they have explained the Day of the Truth to their friends beforehand?