Installment 6: Superman: The Man of Steel #67
- Cover Date: May 1997
- Released on: March 5, 1997
- Triangle Number: 1997/18
- Writer: Louise Simonson
- Pencils: Jon Bogdanove
- Inker: Dennis Janke
- Editor: Joey Cavalieri
Spoiler Free Synopsis
More problems with appliances. Scorn arrives in Metropolis. A fight leads to bigger problems. Superman…Menace!
Spoiler Filled Commentary
The thing about this issue that stood out to me the most was the change in tone from the previous chapter of this story. Action Comics #732 ended on a somber note with Superman telling Lois that sometimes there are no happy endings as the Atomic Skull is being carted away by STAR Labs. It left things uncertain and I really liked that on a dramatic level.
That feeling wasn’t carried over from Action Comics to Superman: The Man of Steel. This issue opens on a comedic note, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch of the imagination because watching Clark bounce around the apartment and become a magnet for pots and pans and spatulas is funny. It just took me a minute to adjust from one creative team’s vision of Superman’s powers going wonky to another. This was a side effect from the Never-Ending Battle System storytelling engine that the Superman titles used at the time. Even though the books were ostensibly a weekly comic telling the ongoing tales of Clark and Lois and the gang you did have to factor in that the different writing and artists teams would have their own ideas on how to approach the material.
This issue was heavy on action with most of the page count devoted to the fight between Scorn and Superman with the added complication that Superman’s abilities are now a liability because he doesn’t have a full mastery of them. The fact that Scorn and Superman can’t understand what the other person is saying only complicates matters more. This is a very Marvel approach to storytelling; two characters meet, there is a disagreement or a misunderstanding and they fight.
What elevates the fight slightly is that it’s not completely mindless. It starts because Scorn reaches out to Superman and is blasted back by Clark’s new abilities. Combine that misunderstanding with Scorn’s problem with law enforcement and suddenly it’s on. Sometimes a fight like this can start over a petty or minor problem but I liked that Simonson and Bogs delved into the characters to make their slugfest more plausible. I also appreciated that Scorn realizes that something is off about the fight and wonders why someone that is obviously a peacekeeper is putting so many people in danger with the fight they’re having. It’s just another layer that justifies the action.
And on a purely visceral level the action is just amazing. I was never entirely sold on Bog and Janke’s take on Scorn but that is more than made up for by how powerful Superman looks. He’s a huge, Kirby-eqsue figure and all of his punches look like they can level a mountain. Yes the collateral damage is excessive at times. Superman throwing a taxi cab back at Scorn is a bit over the top but at some point you have to decide how much escapism you want to buy into. Do you want to worry over the cab driver that’s lost his or her livelihood now that the cab is demolished or the cab owner’s endless phone calls with the insurance companies pleading with them to accept a claim involving two aliens fighting with your vehicle? Or do you want to see some fun action and not worry about such things? Your mileage may vary.
While all of that is going on the various sub-plots that have been bubbling along continue to simmer. There’s a brief exchange between Lois and Simone D’Neige which gets a little heated but like the rest of this issue has a more comedic flavor to it. Simone first appeared in Adventures of Superman #0 as a woman in Clark’s past. She was a reporter that mentored him while he was in Paris and it was more than implied that their relationship went beyond her showing Clark the finer points of reporting. After Clark ducks out of an interview to save a busload of tourists from an explosive planted by a terrorist group Simone “dumps” him both personally and professionally. She comes back into Clark’s life in Adventures of Superman #544 when Franklin Stern hired her to bring in a fresh perspective to the Planet and like Dirk Armstrong she became the person in the room that would make suggestions that Lois or Clark or Perry never would. In this issue Simone and Lois argue over the Planet’s coverage of Superman’s recent problems and Franklin Stern has to come in and play “Dad” when their argument spills into the newsroom.
It is weird that Stern would not want his staff to debate the material they publish. It seems like you would get a more objective take on a story if opposing sides are discussing the pros and cons of the piece.
Speaking of Dirk Armstrong, the sub-plot of him believing Superman might now be a menace gets a little more traction in this issue. The scene where he hands in his editorial to Franklin Stern because he can’t get a hold of Clark or Perry is played for laughs but things get serious at the end of the issue when Superman inadvertently causes the power to go out and Stern starts to buy into Dirk’s ideas. I’ve written in previous installments that the more recent idea of Superman being looked at with suspicion and maybe a little bit of fear is not to my liking but it was something different in 1997. Because of that I don’t have the problems with characters like Dirk and Simone pushing the idea of “SUPERMAN IS A MENACE!” that I do with more contemporary creators and filmmakers having similar characters do the same thing. To be fair I think that Dirk’s take on the issue is a little more honest than Simone’s but Simone has been played as more of a high culture muckraker while Dirk has been shown to be someone with deep held beliefs that are at odds with Clark, Lois and Perry. There’s a lot going on with the staff at the Daily Planet and I love seeing those sub-plots play out.
I do think that Dirk losing his pants and having his toupee fly up as Superman passes by the Daily Planet building was a little over the top. That doesn’t mean I didn’t think it was funny but over the top nonetheless.
Jimmy Olsen is having his own set of problems during Superman and Scorn’s fight. Before this storyline began Jimmy had moved from the Daily Planet to WGBS and had his own Geraldo opening Al Capone’s vault moment by trying to expose Lori Lemaris as a criminal. Oddly enough this isn’t why Cat Grant is dressing him down during their scene together. WGBS is going through some changes after the death of Vincent Edge and apparently ratings are going to make or break people’s careers. Cat Grant doesn’t come off as particularly likable as she subtly threatens Jimmy’s job but makes up for it with the second chance she gives him when word of Superman’s fight comes in. Things go badly when his camera goes out but I liked that he hasn’t completely given up. If my memory is correct this is the beginning of a running sub-plot involving Jimmy becoming a bit of a jerk.
There’s a very brief scene involving a character named Whitty Banter. Again, if my memory is not lying to me Whitty was a talk show host based in Metropolis that was based on David Letterman and the running gag with Whitty in the comics, outside of his name, is that you never see his face. When the battle between Superman and Scorn lands in front of the Metropolis Theater, where the show is taped, we get another sight gag of the power going out and peoples’ hair but that’s not what drew my attention. No, it was the cameos by Jerry Seinfeld and Julia Louise-Dreyfus on the couch next to Bibbo (who is wearing a suit of all things) that caught my eye. Seinfeld was one of the biggest sitcoms of the nineties and when this comic was published it was well into its eighth season. The cameo is pretty subtle so if you know who the people are you get something out of it and if you don’t it really doesn’t matter. Seinfeld was a very public Superman fan and DC even sent him a replacement Superman magnet that hung on the refrigerator of Jerry’s apartment on the show when it was lost during an earthquake, so having him make a cameo is not only appropriate culturally but it’s also on point when it comes to Man of Steel.
So, the power is out in Metropolis, Superman is out of control and the Daily Planet is about to declare that he’s a menace.
Now that’s how you end an issue!
Next Time: THIS IT! THE CHANGE FINALLY HAPPENS! A NEW LOOK MEANS A NEW ERA AND ELECTRIC SUPERMAN FINALLY EMERGES!