Title: Up, Up and Away — part one
Writers: Geoff Johns and Kurt Busiek
Artist: Pete Woods
By Joe Sergi
03 May 2006 — As a huge Superman fan, I was very worried about reading the One Year Later titles. Now, let me back up a second and give you some background so you will understand: I have been reading Superman comics since the 1970s. I remember reading all about the Silver Age Man of Steel — you know, the one who could move planets and travel through time. I also remember reading Superman Family, which featured the adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Superman, starring the Superman of Earth 2 and his wife, Lois Lane. The Superman of Earth 2 was older than his Earth 1 counterpart and not quite as powerful. Although both Supermen were iconic and heroic and DC published some great stories featuring both Supermen (sometimes together), I could not relate to the characters. In short, they were not my Superman. My Superman was created in 1986 — when John Byrne revamped the series and the character.
After Crisis on Infinite Earths, John Byrne was allowed to take the then Superman mythos and turn it on his head. In doing so, he fixed the thing about Superman that bothered me the most: Clark Kent. You see, while I enjoyed both the Earth 1 and Earth 2 Supermen, there was something that bothered me about their alter egos: why would the most powerful man in the universe pretend to be a mild mannered reporter? More importantly, how could someone as incompetent as Clark Kent keep his job? John Byrne addressed this problem head on. Whereas the Silver Age Clark Kent was just Superman's nerdy secret identity (with an occasional wink to the readers), Byrne made Kent the real person and Superman the mask. It made more sense. Under Byrne, and later Roger Stern, Clark Kent was someone the audience could relate to. He had loving parents (who were both still alive — another brilliant move) and was actually liked by his coworkers. The readers could relate to Clark's excitement when he published his first novel, his nervousness when he went on dates and we all cheered when he eventually proposed to and married Lois Lane, his soul mate. Moreover, because Clark Kent wasn't merely a disguise, the other cast members were allowed to show more depth. For example, the Silver Age Lois Lane spent all of her time trying to prove Superman's dual identity. Now without this impulse, she had time to grow as a character and be portrayed as a strong woman and someone Clark would actually want to date and marry. In fact, Clark didn't even tell her of his dual identity until after they were engaged. The real Clark Kent is what made me a Superman fan.
Now there has been another crisis, one which featured the return of the Superman of Earth 2, the potential return of the multiverse and a promised shake-up for the big three. The fate of my Superman is in jeopardy.
This brings us to the review of Superman #650. What can I say? All my concerns were baseless; I need not have worried. I loved each and every page of it: the art, the story and, most importantly, the new direction for the story.
The plot is simple: it is one year later, and Metropolis no longer has its greatest hero. To make matters more interesting, Clark is powerless and must rely on others to fight his battles. Such as the one with this week's villain: The Kryptonite Man. As a result of recent events, Lex Luthor has lost everything and is hated by the Metropolis that once idolized him.
This is not an original plotline for Superman. Clark lost his powers in the "Curse of Krimson Kryptonite" storyline. Similarly, he had no powers after he came back from the dead. In addition, there were several stories which involved a powerless Superman trapped in space — usually as a result of red solar radiation. Finally, Clark lost his powers as a result of the events in Final Night, which led to the thankfully shortlived Superman Red / Superman Blue fiasco.
So although we've seen a depowered Superman before, this time it is different. This time, Clark doesn't want his powers back and is content being a mild mannered reporter. And that is why I loved this story. Clark Kent is allowed to shine. He is a star reporter once again, referred to by his coworkers as "Mr. Action" — a term once used to describe Jimmy Olson.
There is a great scene which occurs shortly after the Kryptonite Man attacks. In it, Clark helps an old woman to shelter and then rushes down an alleyway, grabs his glasses and... uses his signal watch to call Supergirl to the scene. Supergirl then battles and defeats the Kryptonite Man, while Clark admires how much she has improved in the last year. This is a great situation that shows that Clark can be super, even without his superpowers. Perhaps Clark's acceptance is based, in part, on the fact that Metropolis does not resent Superman for leaving, but merely wishes him well.
In addition, we get to see Lois and Clark in a loving and fun relationship. The book starts with them sharing a romantic picnic in Metropolis Park and watching a Superman retrospective. They are clearly enjoying the movie and each other. They joke about the "liberties" the filmmakers took with Superman's origin. This heartfelt reblooming of their relationship continues throughout the book; whether buying a pretzel from a street vendor or walking through the Daily Planet newsroom, it is clear these characters are in love and married. This is a much better characterization of Lois than her recent alternating roles as jealous shrew and damsel in distress.
This plotline also allows the support cast to shine: Supergirl is Metropolis' new protector, and Jimmy Olson is depressed over Superman's absence and his recent demotion. He complains that everything is less exciting, and that nobody looks up in the sky anymore. It is a realistic portrayal of a character that has lost his best pal and his gig as a reporter. Once more he's been relegated to office gopher, and no one is there to cheer him up.
And then there is the villain of the story. Although this issue features the debut of the all new Kryptonite Man, the real villain is Lex Luthor — who has narrowly escaped conviction... on 120 criminal counts, including election fraud and first-degree murder. But this freedom has cost him dearly: the people of Metropolis despise him. To make matters worse, he has also lost LexCorp. His horrible year is a perfect contrast to Clark's perfect one. Despite this, and in character, Luthor will not let this stop him. He reveals that he has a crystal (perhaps from Infinite Crisis). Inside the crystal is the image of Krypton's past and a word — "Doomsday" — in Kryptonian.
It is clear that Luthor must be stopped, and this is a job for Clark Kent... who has published a series of articles on the "Fall of Luthor". They face off in an alleyway, where two of Luthor's goons drag Clark. Luthor instructs Clark to stop the stories. Clark tells him to go to Hell, and Luthor beats him up. As Luthor leaves he yells, "I always knew you had a glass jaw." And the issue ends with us wanting a rematch.
Character is what makes this a great story. The issue is not simply about the fight-of-the-week, although we get a doozy with Supergirl and the Kryptonite Man. It is quite clear that both Busiek and Johns have a great amount of respect and reverence for the characters. They are not trying to shake things up, like some other OYL titles, but instead are attempting to return the title to the greatness that Superman once was. Other recent writers have attempted to leave their mark. Busiek and Johns appear content to tell a great story. And I, for one, am grateful.
I give it an A+.