Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Told today, Superman would probably have to kiss Hal's ring...

I'm in a staggeringly bad mood today, so let's take a brief look at some things I don't miss (and maybe a couple I do) from DC Comics, using Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #4, "Hero" Written by Louise Simonson, pencils by John Paul Leon, inks by Dennis Janke.

Whereas Marvel often went with crossovers in their annuals, DC would sometimes go with a theme for the year, that would go across multiple books without them necessarily tying into one another. In 1995, that theme was "Year One." This is ground that has long since been trod over again and again (and to continue the metaphor, burned down and on occasion salted over) but it wasn't a bad idea then. Simonson strings together multiple points from Superman's relatively new, post-Crisis continuity, like his first meetings with Batman (from Byrne's The Man of Steel #3) or Aquaman (also told in Aquaman's annual for 1995) or the Justice League of America.

Now, that last one was later retold and expanded a bit in Waid and Kitson's JLA, but I don't know if Simonson or some other story set the precedent: Supes helps the JLA out against the Lord of Time, then cops out of League membership, stating he didn't have the time to devote to the team. (I do prefer Waid's story, where after Supes leaves, Green Lantern launches the chair Flash made for Supes into space.) As I've said before, I don't miss that aspect of that era of Superman stories, not one little bit: at the very least, figure Supes would've taken a reserve spot and a communicator, and not left with a vague, I'll-be-there-if-you-really-REALLY-need-me promise.

So, some of this annual's scenes I've seen before, or since; but there is one that I'm not sure has remained canon: Superman's first meeting with Hal Jordan, Green Lantern:

Why tongs? Did Hal just come from a barbeque or something?
As Clark tells his mom over the phone, that he's met a lot of heroes but none like himself; a news report breaks in about a twenty-ton Lexcorp satellite headed straight for Coast City. Since the thing is inexplicably not breaking up in the atmosphere, Superman streaks to the scene to avert disaster. A disaster currently not being stopped, by Coast's own Green Lantern. Tongs, Hal? You're going to stop a multi-ton, hurtling towards disaster satellite with tongs? It's not like the damn thing's even yellow...

Sure enough, the tongs don't work, and as Hal kicks himself by remembering his dad saying he would be a failure; Superman slows down the satellite enough for Hal to get his head back on straight and net it. He and Supes chat a bit, as he puts it down on the beach.

Yeah, no way you'd let your city be destroyed, unless you were in a lame and forgotten crossover or something...Hmm. This would be foreshadowing, if Coast City hadn't been obliterated by then. Fauxshadowing. I'm going to assume this was inserted via editorial mandate and not by Simonson, but the trend at DC then, while Kyle Rayner was Green Lantern, was that Hal had always been unstable, which would be why he went bad and became Parallax. If Hal was seen in flashback, he was often either acting sketchy, foreboding, otherwise hinting towards future instability. This was done more than a couple of times, but that's still a fistful of retroactive blacklisting versus years of being the steadfast hero in his own book, the Justice League, and various other appearances. Put that way, "possessed by yellow evil entity" starts to look pretty reasonable.

This could be another of those things that happened in the DC Universe proper, and I might be thinking of the New Frontier again, but didn't Hal's dad die when he was pretty young? I thought Hal idolized his pilot father, and it's hard to believe someone that hung up on his dad calling him a failure, would have the confidence to become a test pilot, or Green Lantern, or even Hal Jordan.

As Hal talks to Superman, he thinks maybe he can thank Supes for the assist, by helping him learn about his past: Supes hadn't learned about Krypton just yet, placing this scene between The Man of Steel #3 and #6. Hal's ring tells him about Krypton, but Hal decides telling Supes the whole sole-survivor business would just be too harsh.

So, I'm torn: I liked this annual, and I enjoyed the highlight reel trip through Superman's past. I don't like the editorial fiat of the day coming into things: Superman's first visits with the Flash and Aquaman are also shown, and they manage without any heavy-handed foreboding of Barry's sacrifice or Arthur losing his hand. I wouldn't mind seeing more of these, especially since this one manages to avoid getting too mired in Superman's origin, which gets a new coat of paint and/or massive revisions every year or so now. (Which is it today: was Krypton a sterile, loveless society? Silver-age science action planet? Totalitarian war zone? Chock full of crystals? What?) But if I did, I'd want just a single issue trip, not six or twelve issues of revisions. And I'd want it straight, without dropping a bucketload of hints about current storylines: the Clark of ten years ago doesn't get to muse about maybe someday, a new Krypton will arise, and he'll leave the care of earth to other hands...


Mark said...

Very nice article. I'm also at a sort of cross-roads with the whole superman thing. Tbh, I think I get tired of not only the things you've described, but also the fact that he's too "perfect"

I mean, what's a lot more interesting is the anti-hero, as you said, someone like Batman.

This article, although humorously, does well to failings of superman in the the Batman vs Superman debate.

SallyP said...

Hmmmm....I was under the impression that Hal worshipped his father, and I don't remember reading anywhere else that Martin Jordan thought that young Hal was a loser.

Hal did seem to go through a pretty poor stretch there for a while, before and during the whole Parallax thingie. Of course, Superman was a bit of a jerk for a while too, at least in the JLI, not to mention Bats. Thank goodness they're all back to being comparatively well-written now!