Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Superman #235 - Who Is Ferlin Nyxly?

What was Mr. Mxyzptlk's greatest trick in Action Comics? It was the birth of his son Ferlin.

And born to Ms. Nyxly, that would make him Ferlin Nyxly.

So who is Ferlin Nyxly? Will he appear in the Superman books?

The truth is he already has appeared!

I don't know if Morrison has the same 'every Superman story has happened in continuity' belief as he has with Batman. But if he does, we have seen Ferlin Nyxly before, way back in Superman #235.

Superman #235 was just the third issue in Denny O'Neil's revamp of Man of Steel, the 'Sand Superman' storyline that started with the elimination of all Kryptonite on Earth and ended with Superman's powers significantly decreased. In between Superman learns Eastern mysticism, Clark becomes a TV reporter, and Morgan Edge is introduced (and is an agent of Darkseid). Hence, these really were 'The Amazing NEW Adventures of Superman.'

At some point, I suppose, I'll wax poetic at length about this storyline.Suffice it to say that I liked it enough to make a panel from the first issue my avatar on most sites.

At this point in the arc, Superman hasn't lost any power yet. But he is aware of a doppelganger of himself, a sort of sand golem, which is following him around and does seem to temporarily weaken him.

'The Sinister Scream of the Devil's Harp' was written by O'Neil and drawn by Superman legendary team Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson. It opens with Clark and Lois covering a Metropolis Concert Bowl concert, the piano magic of ... Ferlin Nyxly!

Lois is surprisingly blase about the whole thing thinking even the best piano player is nothing compared to Superman.

As is usually the case, something happens that requires Superman to come and save the day. A Middle Eastern ambassador is also in attendance and a rogue political group tries to kill him by dropping a bomb into the crowd from a helicopter.

Clark is able to slip away and stop this threat pretty easily. The crowd rushes to adore him, disturbing the concert. Superman gives Lois a friendly wave to acknowledge that he sees her only to quickly return as Clark.

The crowd fawns over Superman and eventually and noisily takes their seats. Throughout the commotion, Nyxly plays. But it is clear he has a pretty low self-esteem and some anger issues.

He has been waiting his whole life for this chance and now no one is paying attention. It reminds him how he thinks that he is "a loser ... a weak, forceless scholar".

I do have a Morrison theory about this that I will get back to at the end.

Turns out Nyxly had no musical talent, despite a lifelong wish he did.

Instead he was a museum curator. One night he strums on a bizarre harp discovered in a 'lost city'. While the eerie music resonates he wishes he had musical talent.

Suprisingly, after that plucking of the strings, Nyxly is a virtuoso. And, interestingly enough, the current 'world's best piano player' Timos Achens loses all his musical ability.

Despite taking the music world by force and becoming a mega-star, Nyxly still thinks little of himself. And this latest interaction with Superman reminds him that he still is simply a man.

Shortly thereafter, Superman races out to sea to stop a potential disaster, nerve gas may spill into the ocean from a sinking ship. En route to the disaster, Superman again encounters his Sand double, a silent being who for now mirrors Superman's moves.

At the same time, Nyxly ... again bemoaning his fate as an ugly, non-super, piano player ... grasps the harp and wishes he could fly. And just like that Superman (and Sand Superman) lose the ability to fly.

Realizing that he can become something more, Nyxly dons a Pan costume. While he says he empathizes with Pan (the ugliest god), I don't know if donning a satyr costume would be the first thing I would do.

But even with flight and mad musical skills, he is still Nyxly. He considers himself homely and dumpy. And he looks at the beautiful people  on the beach and thinks that world is simply beyond his reach. And just like that, he snaps, robbing armored cars and using the harp to wish for invulnerability.

And, of course, Superman loses his invulnerability at the same time.

Now super-powered, musically talented, and flush with cash, you would think Nyxly would head to a tropical island and live a life of luxury.

But instead, his internal anger ... his feelings of inferiority ... are transferred to Superman. So rather than revel in his powers, he challenges Superman to a death-duel in Metropolis stadium. And Morgan Edge, who hates Superman, allows Nyxly's challenge to be broadcast!

Now Superman can't fly and he isn't invulnerable, but he still has super-strength and speed. And, one thing he isn't, he isn't a coward.

It is a quiet small moment in this book, but I love this part. After all, isn't part of being Superman doing what is right no matter what the danger?

The 'duel' doesn't last too long. Nyxly strums the harp like mad, wishing for super-strength and super-speed. Suddenly Superman is very normal. Despite that, he refuses to surrender. I love it!

I also like this panel composition for some reason. The reverse angle of Nyxly hoisting Superman up just carrier the right feeling of action.

I also have to laugh at the packed Stadium! Did the stadium owners charge admission? Open the doors? Have the concession stands running? Admit it, if the doors were open, who wouldn't go to see a Super-duel!

Of course, it doesn't take a super-genius to realize that the harp strumming has led to the power-switch. And the Sand Superman has been just as depowered by Nyxly. So, when it shows up at the battle, Superman tells him to smash the harp. And, the Sand Superman does just that.

And with that, Superman and the Sand Superman are suddenly re-powered. Nyxly now is back to powerless talentless museum curator too.

Was the harp magic? Or science? We'll never know.

And the Sand Superman? For the third straight issue, it shambles off silently. More to come from that to be sure.

All right, this is a pretty goofy issue. Sure, Superman acting courageous is a nice piece, even when he is depowered. It is a foreshadowing of the end of this arc when Superman has been drained of a third of his power but still vows to fight on.

But re-reading this issue with the understanding that Nyxly might be an Earth-born 5th dimensional being makes it much more interesting. Remember, in Morrison's Action Comics, Ms. Nyxly really doesn't show any powers, only revealing herself once. Maybe Ferlin doesn't know his heritage!

And maybe his inferiority comes from some internal feeling that he knows he is somehow bigger than the tawdry world around him. Maybe that's why he wants to be more, to simply be who he is. And maybe the harp isn't magical or scientific. Maybe all this power-swapping was him simply using his innate abilities, maybe the harp was just a mental crutch he used to explain why things happened. And wouldn't the dream of Mxyzptlk's and Nyxly's child be to become an entertainer ... like his jester/magician dad? And isn't Pan a mischievous god? Who better for Myx's son to dress up as!

All right, maybe I am trying to force one line from Sholly Fisch's back-up story in Action into Bronze Age continuity. But it did make this a more interesting read. I wish there was a way to find out of Morrison or Fisch had that in mind!

The Sand Superman storyline is one of my favorites if only for its audacity. During the early 70's O'Neil rewrote Batman as the Dark Knight again, depowered Wonder Woman and made her a judo fighter, and depowered Superman. Pretty impressive.

Overall grade: B (on its own merits), B+ (if I add in current ideology into the story)


Anonymous said...

A+ in my books, on the strength of that marvelous Swanderson Artwork. They were the perfect team for Superman, tons of emotional content with great action sequences...I just love those books for the artwork, never really been surpassed IMHO.


Martin Gray said...

Wow, great work Anj. I'm sure some of your guesses will gibe with what Grant Morrison is thinking. I doubt anyone else get this - I'm proud of you!

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments.

And thanks for the compliment Mart!

If only I could ask Morrison!

collectededitions said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
collectededitions said...

Ferlin's harp bears a striking resemblance to Vyndktvk here, no?