Saturday, March 5, 2011

Back Issue Box: Superman #309

Superman #309 concludes the 3 part storyline I have been reviewing with a psychologically distressed Superman being told that Krypton never existed. Some of the themes in this arc have echoes to 'Grounded' so I thought it was worth reviewing.

Gerry Conway and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez continue to do the internal creative work. Unlike the prior two issues, there is no Neal Adams cover here. Instead Garcia-Lopez and legend Gil Kane provide the cover art. And after being firmly set on Earth the last 2 issues, thematically tying Superman to the planet, this issue takes a leap into a more universal setting.

Last issue, after defeating the mutant villains The Protector and Radion, Superman accepted the facts that Supergirl has been telling him, that Krypton never existed, that all of it was a delusion in Clark's mind to help him cope with his supposed mutant origins. With the weight of Krypton off him, Superman suddenly feels more connected to Earth than ever. He isn't alone any more; he is is home.

And that means he suddenly can focus on things a bit more 'grounded'.

The issue opens with Superman stopping a local crime boss from receiving a weapons shipment. One of the police officers seems surprised that Superman would take the time to stop something as mundane as a mobster. He always assumed Superman was aloof, had his eye on the big picture ... not the 'small details' like street level crimes. That sentiment has been seen in 'Grounded' as well with Superman interceding with drug dealers and abusive husbands.

But this Superman doesn't pile on the sarcasm or condescension like the one in 'Grounded'. Instead he simply states he feels home now and will try to be there for all problems, big and small alike.

And if he is a human after all then maybe he should partake in some more human activities ... like a pick-up football game in the park. This Superman craves 'human contact' something he denied himself when he thought himself an alien, as a Kryptonian first.

Of course, Clark can never succeed in things like this. He runs the wrong way, helping the other team score a touchdown.

But is he a human? Remember Supergirl told him that ... but she then was mysteriously talking to someone about their 'plan' with Superman.

Later, we see Supergirl talking to a group in shadows about what is happening with Superman. The conspirators then tell Kara that in deep space a peaceful race called the Xonn are about to be massacred by a belligerent race of warriors called the J'ai. The right thing to do, of course, is protect the Xonn and Supergirl is going to get Superman so that the two cousins can stop this genocide from happening.

The shadowy group thinks that Superman might not jump into the interstellar fray. Now that he 'believes' he is a human, he might not identify with other worlds and other races. He might not care about a distant world. Hmmm, they say he 'believes' he is human not that he is human ... we knew this was all a hoax right?

Anyways, Supergirl thinks that Clark's heroism will still be there and that he will help her defend the Xonn. But why is she wearing her Legion flight ring? And who are these people she is working with to hoodwink Superman? And why are they trying to pull off this hoax?

Supergirl goes to Clark's apartment where he is showering after the football game.

I always find this panel a little off-putting. Am I stretching things by saying there is sort of sexual/seduction feel to this? Superman drying off, Supergirl's long legs highlighted, her face in the shadows. Even the line 'hope you don't mind me waiting for you' sounds suggestive. There is almost a 'The Graduate' feel.

Or am I seeing things that aren't there?

Amazingly, Superman does just as the group said he would. He tells Supergirl that he has too many issues to contend with on Earth, his home, to get tied up in an intergalactic war. He won't help the Xonn! Now that doesn't sound like the Superman I know. He really is suffering mentally right now.

And we get a little bit of a 'Dark Supergirl' response from Kara. Last issue she told Clark to 'shove it'. This issue she calls him a coward and slugs him. She is going to do what is right and fight the J'ai. And Superman can shove his priorities 'where the sun doesn't shine'. I like this strong confident Supergirl ... even if slapping Superman seems over the top.

Supergirl takes Krypto along to help her battle the J'ai.

Meanwhile, Clark again tries to enjoy a nice romantic dinner with Lois. But during the meal, he uses his super-vision to see how things are going. And unfortunately, he spies Supergirl and Krypto being defeated and captured.

Even if he currently believes that Supergirl is not his cousin and is just the daughter of his father's friend, he cannot leave her to die in space.

So he basically pushes Lois out of his apartment, telling her something suddenly came up, and flies out the window.

I guess that was the end of the potential Clark/Lois romance. Interesting to see though.

Out in space Superman finds that there is a good reason why Supergirl fell to the J'ai. They are extremely powerful warriors. And what's worse, the orange sun of the system they are in has struck the Kryptonians blind! Defeated, Superman is thrown in a cell with Supergirl.

In the prison cell, the heroes learn from the Xonn that the J'ai are like the mythical hydra. If a J'ai warrior is killed, 8 more crop up. Their 'population explosion' method of rebirth simply overwhelms their opponents. Superman calls the hydra myth a 'human myth'. And if he distinguishes it as human ... he must know he is Kryptonian.

He confronts Supergirl about her lies and she seems appropriately distraught. While the 'cousin' and 'Kal' references seem like weak proof (she could be doing it out of habit), Superman also realizes that there is no easy explanation for Krypto.

Faced with the truth, Supergirl opens up about why she has been lying to Superman. The people she has been talking to have been the Kandorians who were rightly worried about Superman's sanity. They feared he might be losing his grip on reality, that his feelings of abandonment from being an orphan were overwhelming him.

It's easy to see their concerns given how Superman was acting in the last couple of issues. He seemed obsessed, something we saw back in the 'Dominus' storyline of 1999, where Superman decided to take over the world for its own good.

But I don't know why stopping his obsessions by making him think he was deluded or schizophrenic is any better. I had to laugh a little at Supergirl's explanation: "an emotional problem should be removed rather than solved." That's pretty poor counseling. And the removal of the problem of his obsession with protecting Earth was to make him think that he was from Earth? Seems 1000% wrong to me. That Kandorian psychologist should have his license revoked.

But re-learning the truth about his origins seems to ignite the fight in Superman. And suddenly he realizes how he can defeat the J'ai. He smashes into the crystalline structures of Xonn at a particular frequency such that the resulting sound waves paralyze the J'ai troops.

Now how he is able to do this when he is on a foreign planet and completely blind I'll never know. But if I can swallow the rest of this nutty story, I guess I just have to accept this.

What does seem wrong is how everything so neatly ends on a happy note in the course of one page.

Back on Earth, Superman claims he wanted to save Earth so desperately because he loves it, as much as he loves Krypton. And he feels that Earth is his home and he is proud of his obsession to protect it. Ummm .... but that contradicts many of the thought balloons we read in the first two parts where he said he felt alien and unaccepted. And if his obsession is still there, will he start tossing oil tankers into space again. And ... shouldn't he be just a tad perturbed at Supergirl that she was part of this bizarre form of therapy?

Instead he flies away happily. And Supergirl simply sheds a happy tear realizing she should feel his obsession as well. Hmmm ... does that mean she'll start dismantling factories? It all ends too easy ... too fast ... to pat. I'd almost rather see an entire epilogue issue where Superman explains his feelings and Kara explains her motivations. Instead we get one page.

So this is a tough 3 part story to grade, I'll be honest. I have to admit that the premise of Superman feeling disconnected from Earth but cherishing it to the point of wanting to save it any way possible is a good plot. Much like 'Grounded', the idea that Superman might have a tough time understanding and dealing with everyday people and their issues has some merit. It is just tough to pull off the story without having the hero seem powerless or idiotic. So whether it is burning a stash of drugs (like in 'Grounded') or taking apart a polluting PVC factory (like here), it doesn't solve the problem of drugs or pollution and makes the hero seem ineffective.

I also thought the idea that Superman was a human mutant and Krypton was all a delusion was also an interesting theory. Sounds almost like an Elseworlds waiting to happen. So that does bring a bit of originality to this story.

The anti-pollution angle is good to see retrospectively in our current world of increasing green measures. I always like it when comics are used as a social media to educate the readers.  But the pro-pollution villains of the Protector and Radion seem ridiculous.

Supergirl plays a crucial role in this arc and is shown to be confident and strong. But I think she also seems like she has too big of a temper here. And I don't know if she would play along with the Kandorian idea of therapy.

Lastly, Conway does his best with the plot, stuffing a lot into 3 issues. Who knew so much could be resolved so quickly ... maybe to quickly. And Garcia-Lopez does a very good job on art.

From a Supergirl collection point of view, I would put this as low/medium importance. I always like seeing the cousins interact as sort of equals and that happens here. And the Neal Adams cover of Superman #307 is definitely a nice piece for a Supergirl fan.

Overall grade (3 issues): B


Anonymous said...

I suppose "seduction" image is a little off because they are cousins. What are the Kryptonian views on relationships of this sort? Are we wrong to project American values onto this? I suppose it isn't as bad as the Batman/Robin images that make Batman look like a pedophile.

The Supergirl image, with her great legs (as opposed to Power Girl's chest and the impossible bodies of the males)is refreshing, considering what goes on with the book now. Hopefully the longer hair returns instead of the boy cut. Hopefully the boy cut of what she wears under her skirt changes as well (and goes back to the way it always was before). Considering the way the male kryptonians look (including Superboy) and how Power Girl looks, Supergirl should not have shorts under her skirt-- something that would ruin the sex appeal of any female.

Gear said...

This three story arc is similar to the Grounded one, but seems to be polar opposites in how it's told. ANJ, like you said, it's almost too fast. Things happen and then wrap up too quickly, an almost frantic pace. In Grounded it seems like molasses, we're so many issues into it and it feels like we haven't even gotten through the second act. Today's slow pace and ponderous story telling can make it hard on the reader at times. I find myself wanting them to just get on with it.

It's interesting to see the huge difference in the relationship between Superman and Supergirl. Here Kara is concerned and tries to do something, even if her actions and the actions of the Kandorians are ill considered. We've gone over twice as many issues in the Grounded arc and Superman hasn't talked to anyone about his concerns, even his family.

That "Graduate" image was a bit off-putting, but DC and Marvel were making a huge effort to be "relevant" at the time. If they hadn't put Supergirl's face in shadow, and hadn't had Superman partially dressed and coming out of the shower, we probably wouldn't notice.

I'm reminded of how much I miss the strong understanding of human anatomy that you would see in comics during the pre-Liefeld days. With different artists Supergirl looks pretty much the same, even while the artists maintain their own signature styles. The artist's personal vision seems to dominate today, even at the expense of consistency in character design.

Anj said...

In Grounded it seems like molasses, we're so many issues into it and it feels like we haven't even gotten through the second act. Today's slow pace and ponderous story telling can make it hard on the reader at times. I find myself wanting them to just get on with it.

I agree wholeheartedly. There needs to be a middle ground. In particular, New Krypton seemed to drap a bit, but then was finished at the same crazy pace as these issues, with some of the NK plots dropeed completely (Mirabai, silver pelts, etc).

Grounded does seem a bit lengthy already. I do like the point you make that Supergirl reached out to Supes here ... something not seen in Grounded yet.

Anonymous said...

Well my main problem with this three-parter then and now that while Superman and Supergirl are much more team-mates and equals, Kara is reduced to being the Paid Agent of the "We Know What is Best for You" Kandorians.
I blame this on writer Gerry Conway who made his bones over at Marvel and as such feels he has to impose serious emotional conflict on the Kal-Kara relationship. They are not Reed Richards and Sue Storm after all.
The artwork though is superlative, almost all Supergirl's guest appearances outside her Superman Family Feature look great given that her core artists for much of that run were Win Mortimer and Don Heck.
Oh and trust me, the scene in the locker room slightly creeped me out back in the seventies and I was dumb kid then.

John Feer

Anonymous said...

Is this issue from the 70's? 'cuz I notice Supergirl is wearing hotpants.-ealperin

Anonymous said...

Something I noticed about Gerry Conway growing up on comics: he was somehow incapable of writing a story where the tone was consistent from beginning to end. If tone didn't contradict itself, there would be some other contradiction that left even a twelve-year-old wondering Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

My favorite example is the end of the JLA/JSA crossover where Mr. Terrific was murdered, and Jay Garrick was loose on Earth-2 under the possession of a murderer. Conway tacked on a happy ending where Superman declared victory (?), and then there was a "Superfriends" joke about how they couldn't get out of the energy bubble surrounding the JLA satellite (??). Sorry, Gerry, the correct answer was "somber resignation".

So was this Gerry's fault or the editor's? Both, I would imagine.

Supergirl-outside-the-shower seems to be another example of Gerry being unaware of the tone he's setting, and also it's kind of hot. Perhaps I shouldn't have shared that.