Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bullet Review: Superman #282

Earlier this week I appeared on the DigestCast show of the Fire and Water Podcast Network to discuss The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest: The Many Lives of Supergirl. One of the stories in that digest was from Superman Family #165, a tale where Linda Danvers becomes a guidance counselor at the New Athens Experimental School and wonders if she should continue a career as Supergirl.

That time period, of Kara questioning being a super-hero, isn't one of my favorites. I like the Supergirl who is fierce in her defense of the helpless and a warrior for justice. Rereading that story reminded me of the back-up feature in Superman #282. In that story, Superman tries to impart some wisdom to Supergirl, telling her a tale from Krypton that in some ways reverberates with her current dilemma. Now Supergirl is really a small part of this story, only part of the framing sequence. But it is worth reviewing.

This story is also the first appearance of Nam-Ek, one of my favorite Kryptonian villains.

Lastly, this issue is also worth obtaining for the main story, 'Lex Luthor ... Super-Scalphunter.' That story, written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Curt Swan, is a bit bonkers. Luthor vows to scalp Superman and wear the Man of Steel's locks as a toupee. He also dons his famous purple and green battle suit for the first time.

But onto the Supergirl story!

'The Loneliest Man in the Universe' was part of The Fabulous World of Krypton series, a back-up feature which showcased 'untold stories of Superman's native planet.' The story is written by Marty Pasko with art by Ernie Chua (also known as Ernie Chan).

Pasko is a key creator of my youth, writing many of the formative Superman stories that I read as a youngster. He also was key in revitalizing a number of stale Superman characters like Toyman, Metallo, and the Atomic Skull. I mean, the guy wrote Action Comics #500! So it was great to see his name here.

And I don't know any other time (outside of a couple of Justice League of America covers) where Chua drew Supergirl. And I love his take on the character. There is something young and fresh to her look here. She is definitely a young woman, not a young girl. And he even includes that 'finger to the face' quirk when in deep thought.

Here she again says that she is thinking of becoming a 'normal girl', thinking about her career, becoming a wife and mother. She craves an ordinary life. Superman warns her about being careful about what she wishes for.

He then tells the tale of Nam-Ek, a scientist obsessed with becoming immortal.

To complete his immortality serum, Nam-Ek breaks the law, killing two rondors. Rondors are sacred creatures who emit a healing ray from their horn. They also happen to be hideous and excrete a horrible smell. But given their healing properties, hunting them is against the law.

Confronted by the police for killing the rondors, Nam-Ek goes on the run to Xan, a deserted ancient city. There he drinks his formula. And while it does make him invulnerable and immortal, it has the unanticipated consequence of mutating Nam-Ek into a 'human rondor'. Hideous and foul-smelling and on the run, Nam-Ek remains in Xan to continue his experiments.

The transformation scene as shown by Chua is appropriately terrifying.

After living for 500 years in solitude, Nam-Ek has made incredible discoveries, curing diseases and making other breakthroughs. But alone, he is going mad. He decides that enough time has past for him to try to re-enter society.

But his appearance and smell make him a monster. He is shunned.

The isolation becomes so severe that he decides he will try to remove his own horn to become human again but that is impossible. He then goes to the rondor herds hoping they can cure him but even these beasts are afraid of him and run.

Finally, as we all know, Krypton explodes. But being immortal, Nam-Ek survives, floating through space and crying. Tragic!! But how could Superman know about him??? Hmmm ...

Now I don't know if Nam-Ek's breaking of sacred laws and living an eternity alone is equivalent to Supergirl wanting to live 'an ordinary life' within society but Superman reminds her that sometimes what seems like a blessing is a curse.

With this story in her head, Kara leaves to contemplate her life as both Linda and Supergirl.

How gorgeous is that last panel? Just stunning.

So again, this isn't much of a Supergirl story but it is part of this time period where she is questioning her future. And the Ernie Chua art is a bonus.

Now if people clamor for more Nam-Ek coverage just let me know! He appears in Superman #311-315 as well as the Phantom Zone mini-series from the 1980s!


Anonymous said...

I love your back issue reviews.

I read this story! It was very entertaining (and it's hilarious in hindsight that a Kryptonian was called Nam-Ek) and even thought-provoking in spite of its campiness. Every time I read this kind of stories I wonder how can anyone prefer the Post-Crisis stagnant, unfeeling, supremely dull Krypton to the Pre-Crisis bright-colored, amazing world of wonders that was full of unique and distinctive features like the Fire Falls or the Thought-Beasts.

(Unsurprisingly, lurk in the John Byrne Forums and you'll find a lot of people hating any version of Krypton which is fun and interesting, and every stories delving into the Kryptonian lore and past. Because, you know, Krypton is merely an excuse for Superman's powers, and Superman must forget about his origins and be a proper American)

Kara's last question is real great. Yes, Kal. How have you ever heard about Nam-Ek?

I also preffer a Supergirl used to life on Earth and comfortable with her heroic duty (which is because I have issues with several of Dark Mark's Pre-Crisis Supergirl fanfics. By the way, he has just updated one of them for first time in years. This is what I call something unexpected). Nonetheless, I can accept a story arc where she's questioning her career... as long as she comes out of it as a stronger, more self-assured hero.

I reckon that back then, the writers were trying to play up the differences between Superman and Supergirl. Kal-El would never question being a hero, so Kara Zor-El has doubts and a part of her craves for a normal life.

I like the art. I miss Kara being drawn as a young, lovely woman.

Anonymous said...

My Ghod Bronze Age Superman could "screw up a two car funeral" (to quote my white haired old mother's lexicon)...Supergirl is having normal post adolescent qualms about her role in life, and Kal El mansplain's her a story from Krypton's Past detailing The Horrible, Awful, Wrong Consequences of Aspiring to Power (ergo you'd end up Alone & Adrift) ...Great Story to tell a young woman on the verge of throwing in her cape...sheer genius Kal El....
Agree with all above, Ernie C, drew a preposterously pretty Supergirl, normal looking all details but stunning in totality (sort of how Melissa Benoist sells it these days)...helluva shame he was never her Key Penciler, might've done her a world of good sales wise.