Monday, May 11, 2020

A Little Bit Of Kandor: Superman #371

Well, after that whole Candor nonsense, I thought we all could use a little palate cleanser. So let's head away from modern comics and head to the Bronze Age and the then 'new' Kandor.

Superman #371 came out in 1982, just about 3 years after  Superman #338 , the classic story when the 'real' Kandor was enlarged and those Kryptonian citizens were relocated to Rokyn. (Funny to think that that issue was one of the earlier books I reviewed here.)

But just as any good IP gets reinvented, DC and the super-offices must have thought that the Bottle City of Kandor was too good an idea to stay away forever. So why not bring it back.

Even more interesting, at least to me, is that Len Wein wrote this issue bringing back Kandor, just as he was the writer on #338 which took it away! Did Wein regret the decision? Want to bring it back? Was this just editorial dictating it and Wein happened to be on the book?

For Superman fans, it certainly is an eye-catching cover. What is this bottled city in the Fortress? And what is the crazy alien doing trying to destroy it? For continuity nuts like me (even at that tender age), I had to buy this. My original copy was lost in the 'parental purge' so I was only able to get it again recently.

On to the book!

"Kandor Lives Again ... If You Can Call This Living!" was written by Len Wein with art by classic Superman artist Curt Swan and Dave Hunt.

And we start with a well crafted splash page of Superman peering through the glass of the bottle into this Kandor and being greeted by the citizens within.

In what must be a nod to Star Wars, the people inside say 'Superman you are our only hope!' You can imagine Luke Skywalker at the diminutive recording of Princess Leia saying the same words.

But as interesting as that line is, more interesting is Superman's response. He thinks he must be losing his mind.  Superman doubting his own sanity.

All in all, a very solid opening page that grabs the audience.

We then get a quick primer on Kandor.
We see Brainiac shrinking the city.
We get a flashback to Superman #338 when Superman enlarged Kandor.
And then we hear that just that very day he had put out a meticulously reconstructed, down to the last detail, replica of Kandor.

I don't think the news that the city has been out for one day is a needed element for the story. It does raise the drama.

And I wonder why Superman would take the time to rebuild all the rooms, furniture, etc of the city. But perhaps he just misses the glimpse into his past so much he thought it would be worth it.

Luckily, these beings aren't some visual hallucination or Superman's madness.

They are alien refugees!

Their leader, an elder statesman named S'aje (get it ... sage!) tells of the doomed world of Sh'ster (get it ... Shuster!). Much like other worlds they evolved from lower life forms to barbarian primitive beings to the highest utopia of peace and science. It sounds very much like classic Krypton.

And that isn't the only resemblance to Krypton. Turns out the planet is doomed! The sun of Sh'ster is about to go supernova. The people doomed.

After an exhaustive search, the people of Sh'ster come upon Earth. On seeing the people of Earth, they know they could fit right in. And so starts a pilgrimage.

Now Wein glosses over the most interesting part. The best of Sh'ster are allowed to pass through a portal to Earth. Meanwhile, those left behind perish in the conflagration of the sun. You can imagine that this might have been the fate of Krypton if the Science Council actually listened to Jor-El.

How did they pick who could go? What did those left behind do? Riot? Rally in peace?

But in a cruel twist of this sideways Superman origin, the people of Sh'ster are diminutive in stature in comparison to Earthlings. Look at this 'Pa Kent' person investigating the crash landing.

When it is clear they won't be safe, the aliens flee to the other place they knew they could find sanctuary. They had learned of the Fortress of Solitude.

And lucky enough, Superman had a pre-built, right down to domiciles, tiny city perfect for them.

What a coincidence!

Unlike the permanence of Brainiac's shrink ray, the Sh-sterian size problem is strictly physiologic. As a result. Superman can use the microwave tunnel he uses to shrink down and visit to enlarge two of the travelers so they can acclimate to Earth and make sure the planet is right for them.

'Phil' and 'Grace' both enjoy new lives provided for them by Clark, including jobs in Metropolis. In fact, Grace is so natural that Steve Lombard makes a pass at her only to be snubbed when she accepts lunch with Clark.

At lunch, both of the aliens talk about how good Earth will be for them ... if it weren't for the snuffles they seem to be suffering.

Perhaps Earth's atmosphere isn't perfect for the Sh'sters.

And it turns out it really isn't.

Whatever the cause, the two revert to over-sized prehistoric barbarians from their world's past. And they prove to pack quite a punch.

I do like small moments like this one where Superman goes crashing into a dinner and slides down the bar, taking out everyone's meal.

His pat 'just passing through' line is classic and cute.

With a bit of craftiness, Superman is able to wrap up the brutes in pavement and fly them back to the Fortress.

But even there they prove to be something of a match for our hero. Instinctively, they even grab weapons from the Fortress' cache.

Then the 'Phil' alien sneezes again and Clark finally realizes what's happening.

It is the germs on Earth which have infected the Sh'ster diplomats and reverted them to the beast forms.

So if it's a germ that needs beating, why not expose them to White Kryptonite which is lethal to plant life and other forms of life like microbes. With a dose of White K, the fever ends and we see Phil and Grace again.

It is interesting how many of my recent reviews have had a germ as a plot point, one cured with White Kryptonite. Perhaps this could have been part of my COVID series of reviews as well.

And I still don't know what White K does. Kill bacteria? Viruses? Plants? Fungi?

All that's left is the wrap up. Superman gives us a little Kryptonite lecture, informing the Sh'ster citizens that until he can figure out how to keep the msafe from Earth's atmosphere they'll have to stay in the city.

They understand. After all, this is still than death by super-nova. With this city their new home,  S'aje says they will honor  the place by keeping the name Kandor. And that brings a tear to Superman's eye.

It is fascinating that just 3 years after Superman #338, we have another version of Kandor and another Superman promise to figure out how to enlarge them safely. I guess everything old is new again? Or perhaps the cover could have said 'Superman and Kandor! Together again for the first time!'

I'd be a bit remiss if I didn't say that there is a brief side adventure where Superman fights with The Purple Piledriver, one of the goofiest of Bronze Age villains. I loved this 2 panel sequence. It is very Dragon Ball Z. A massive energy blast which obliterates sight until the smoke clears. And someone is remains completely unharmed.

Too funny.

I honestly don't know what happened to this Kandor. Did this story get resolved before the Crisis came?

Not a bad little story which brought back a Kandor. Worth it for the right low price.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for the reminder of a fun story. It is a shame that they had to bring in a new Kandor, I liked the idea of Superman having one huge problem solved, it’s not like he didn’t still have Mon-El to worry about. Still, it was a good read... was this the Purple Piledriver’s second and last appearance the only other place I recall him was in his Action Comics origin.

I’ve been reading Eddy Zeno’s Curt Swan: A Life in Comics and it makes me appreciate all the more panels like the ant’s eye view of an earth ‘giant’ - what a master he was.

H said...

From what I can find online, Len did regret 'fixing' Kandor and realized the idea had some more mileage. I think they only used the bottle city once more before the Crisis though- the annual that Alan Moore did, and that was just for a quick gag. Maybe everybody else forgot about it, because they used Rokyn a few more times.

Also, Superman was big on recreating Kryptonian history in the Silver Age so it makes sense that he'd recreate Kandor. A great issue all around. I mean, how did they get the Purple Pile-Driver past the CCA once, let alone twice?

Professor Feetlebaum said...

Nice look back at a story that is somewhat forgotten today. Offhand, I can't recall any stories featuring the new Kandor after this. But then it wasn't too long before the Crisis eliminated it all anyway.

Did Len Wein regret the decision to enlarge the original Kandor? Yes he did!! He said so in an interview with Michael Eury published in "The Krypton Companion" (Twomorrows Publishing 2006)"

Eury: "Len, you came to Superman's rescue to help him overcome one of his greatest failures by enlarging the Bottle City of Kandor in Superman #338...Do you consider this your most noteworthy addition to pre-Crisis Superman lore?"

Wein: "This sounds weird, but I almost hope not. It seemed at the time that it was the time to do it. Although I like the ending of the story, I'm sorry I did the story."

Eury: "Oh, really?"

Wein: "Yeah. One of the things that has happened in comics over the last 20 or 30 years is, we're an industry, certainly editorially, of people who grew up on these books. And all of us, at some points of our careers...have said "oh, God, I am so tired of that," whatever "that" is, so we changed it or dropped it. But I don't think that any of us realized at the time that what was old to us was new to somebody just coming in. When I was doing Superman, in every issue that I could possibly manage it, I went out of my way to do a shot where Clark sees something about to happen, and pulls his shirt open and says "This looks like a job...for Superman." Even now, as I say it, I get chills down my back. It's THE seminal moment of what Superman is. Some people say, "But everyone's seen that." Well everyone HASN'T seen it."
"So I came to Kandor thinking "I'm so tired of this. It's been 20 years, 30 years,of that stupid city. So I came up with a story I thought might have some emotional impact. I pitched it to Julie and he said "Sure", and we did it. And I regret that, because the idea of a bottle city of tiny people is a much cooler idea than what I left it as."

Have you ever done a review or a look back at Superman # 158, the first Nightwing and Flamebird story?