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Friday, 22 February 2019

Superman 34 - the origin of Skyhook

Jerry Ordway takes over scripting with Superman 34 (Aug 89), while Gammill and Janke remain on the art. This issue follows the most recent issue of Action Comics, which saw Superman finally return to Earth.

The issue opens with a flashback, as we get the origin of Skyhook. Back in the 1880s, a man had been stealing children in Metropolis. He kept them in St Christopher's, which was already an abandoned church even then, and used them as his criminal urchins. So in many ways, he was Skyhook even before his transformation.

The people spotted him stealing a child, and followed him to the church where he was beaten, and then hung to be burned alive. As he died, he pleaded to god for forgiveness, but it was a demonic voice that answered his call, changing him into the flying, deathly figure he became.

Superman is still at Clark Kent's apartment with Jimmy Olsen and Matrix, pretending to be Clark Kent. This scene follows the end of Action Comics, and includes Jimmy taking a photograph of Superman and "Clark" standing next to each other. I really do love how Matrix was used as part of covering Superman's absence from Earth, and the photograph, which effectively proves the two are different people, is so undramatically taken.

I also love the "It" moment, when Skyhook lures a balloon carrying child, from under a bridge. Sure looks like a sewer grate in this shot, though!

We hadn't seen Maggie Sawyer's daughter or ex-husband since the first Skyhook story, but both are back now. Jamie's father wound up turning her over to Project Cadmus to be studied, along with the other flying children they retrieved from Skyhook. Maggie is not happy about this, but understands why it has to be.

Then Skyhook calls on his children, who flee the facility through the sewers, with Maggie and her ex in hot pursuit.

Maggie calls on Superman, who comes and helps fight Skyhook. It's more challenging than expected, since the dust that Skyhook gives off is magical in nature, so it affects Superman.

But in the end it's Skyhook who defeats himself, flying in for an attack, but mistaking a statue for Superman. Skyhook winds up impaling himself, and dying. This reverses his magic, and the children lose their wings. But even though Skyhook is dead, we are left wondering who gave him his powers. To be honest, I'm not certain, but it's one of two characters who will be introduced down the road, both with connections to St Christopher's.

Superman 33 - Superman inherits the Eradicator

Superman bonds with the Eradicator in the Stern, Gammill, and Janke tale from issue 33 (July 1989).

Most of the story takes place on the tiny asteroid near Warworld, where the Cleric and Superman are, but there are a few other scenes. The story opens with the people who truly run Warworld appointing Draaga as Mongul's successor. But, like Mongul, Draaga will merely be a figurehead.

Back on Earth, Luthor has Brainiac moved to the facility he acquired from STAR Labs, but Doctor Kelley has no progress report to give.

The Cleric has told Superman about his creation of the Eradicator, and its mixed history, as both a weapon, and a device to protect and maintain Kryptonians. Now the machine makes further contact with Superman's mind, showing him scenes from the Eradicator's past, and learning of Superman's.

The Eradicator sends Superman and the Cleric into a dream of young Pa Kent fighting during World War 2, which I always thought was meant to indicate that the Eradicator wants to be like a father to Superman.

Back on Earth, there is more confusion around Matrix, who continues to impersonate Clark Kent. The Kents themselves call the Daily Planet, but reach Matrix, rather than anyone who can be of help. Since everyone still thinks Clark has some weird amnesia, Perry White puts Lois Lane in charge of finishing the Intergang articles, now that Cat Grant has revealed to them all that she was the inside source.

Superman feels he is not worthy to possess the Eradicator, and it draws those feelings out, his guilt about executing the Kryptonians from the pocket dimension. The Cleric discusses this with Superman, how the other options, just leaving them there to starve, or bringing them to Earth where the courts would not be able to do anything, and the villains would desire revenge, were all bad choices. He did the only thing he could, and seems to stop blaming himself after this point.

With Superman, the last survivor of Krypton, now in possession of the Eradicator, the Cleric can allow himself to die.

But as he passes, he begs Superman to show him his true heroic face. This means that the very first thing Superman does with the amazingly powerful Eradicator is use it as a reflective surface so that he can shave. Kind of mundane, after all the build up, but also sort of charming.

With his powers and costume also restored by the Eradicator, Superman is ready to head back to Earth. He buries the Cleric, putting his symbol on the tombstone. We will see this grave again in later stories.

The story continues in the next issue of Adventures of Superman.

Superman 32 - Mongul vs Superman

Superman 32 (June 1989) is the first of two issues that are part of a larger story, which began in Action Comics Annual 2. This story arc saw the introduction of the post-Crisis Mongul and Warworld, as well as a new entity, the Eradicator, a piece of Kryptonian technology that would become very important over the next few years. Stern, Gammill, and Janke handle this chapter in the tale.

This issue picks up immediately after the end of the Action Comics Annual. Superman has been forced to fight against Draaga on Warworld. He wins, but refuses to kill his opponent, contrary to the rules of the planet.

This causes Mongul, the leader of Warworld, to come into the ring himself to face Superman. Mongul also intends to execute Draaga for losing, but Superman even fights to save the alien's life. Draaga is not pleased. He would rather die honourably than have Superman fight his battles for him.

Draaga stays off to the side while Mongul pounds Superman into the ground. Mongul is larger and stronger than Superman, whose powers have been waning.

Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, Matrix has made itself look like Clark Kent, and come to town. Jimmy Olsen finds Matrix, although he thinks it's the real Clark Kent. Matrix's confusion about things makes Jimmy think that Clark has amnesia, or has been drugged by Intergang.

Mongul takes both Superman and Draaga to his torture chamber. I ought to have mentioned that all of this is watched by the Cleric, using the Eradicator to make contact with Superman. 

The Cleric fears that Mongul will kill Superman. The Eradicator, whose primary function is the maintainance of Kryptonian existence, teleports Superman away just in time.

The issue ends on the Pieta pose, with the Cleric holding Superman. They never do miss an opportunity to make Superman into Jesus. 

The story continues in the next issue of Adventures of Superman.

Superman 31 - Lex Luthor lies to Mr Mxyzptlk, and makes and offer

Tom Peyer and Paris Cullins join Stern and Janke for the first of two stories in Superman 31 (May 1989). Despite Superman's image on the cover, he appears in neither of the tales. This is an all-Luthor issue.

The first story sees Mr Mxyzptlk return to Metropolis. He grabs a city bus and starts using it as a cigar, and turns Luthor's armed defenders of the city into toys. Mxyzptlk is waiting for Superman, but when it becomes clear the hero isn't going to show up, sets his sights on the next power in the city.

That's Lex Luthor, of course. Mxyzptlk makes himself look like Superman as he comes blasting into Luthor's office, but quickly reveals himself, and informs Luthor that he will not leave until Luthor makes him shave his head bald.

The only useful information Luthor's scientists can give him about Mxyzptlk is that he never lies. So Luthor decides to get the imp to sign a contract, that neither will initiate any violence against the other, and then breaks his word, using all the deadly weaponry he can to try to kill Mxyzptlk. It has no physical effect on the imp, but dos infuriate him so much, that Luthor lied, that Mxyzptlk heads back to his dimension on his own. Luthor is pleased, but one of his scientists worries about what will happen next time, now that they have taught Mxyzptlk about lying.

Jerry Ordway, Jurgens and Janke provide the third chapter in Luthor's back-up story, as he makes his bid for STAR Labs.

Brainiac appears briefly in this story, being tended to by Doctor Kelley and Happersen. Brainiac is still comatose, and the scientists have no idea how to wake him up.

Morgan Edge expects to make a fortune trading stock on the STAR Labs deal, and buys as much as he can. When Luthor makes his offer, the board of STAR Labs dumps thousands more shares onto the market, a poison pill tactic meant to make it harder and more expensive for Luthor to take over.

To finance this, STAR sells off one of their facilities. Luthor ought to be angry, but he closes out the chapter in a celebratory mood. Clearly something more is going on here.

The story concludes in the back-up feature in the next issue of Adventures of Superman.

Superman 30 - Superman is miserable, and Lex Luthor wants a challenge

Stern scripts both the lead story and the Lex Luthor back-up in Superman 30 (April 1989).

Kerry Gammill and Dennis Janke provide the art on the lead story. Superman is having a harder and harder time with his exile. He starts off this story on a volcanic planet with sulphurous air. It feels like hell to him, and he thinks it might be what he deserves. At least for a while. Superman decides not to die slowly on that world, and heads back into space.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Matrix is slowly recovering. She spies on the Kents, and hears them talk about how much they miss their son. She wonders what it would be like to have people care like that. What it would be like to be Clark Kent.

Superman finally finds a world that is to his liking. There are no inhabitants, no animal life at all, but it has large grassland plains. He decides to settle there, and begins farming. It's not an exciting life, but it's one he can adjust to.

Then one might a massive storm hits. When the sun rises, Superman sees that everything has been washed away, there is nothing now but clay and mud. Using his x-ray vision, he sees that this is the planet's normal cycle, fertile ground to clay, over and over. 

Superman is reaching his breaking point, and when he flies into an asteroid storm, loses his cool completely. In his rage, he fails to notice an asteroid piercing the tube on his air supply, causing it to leak out.

The story continues in the next issue of Adventures of Superman.

Dan Jurgens joins Stern and Janke for the Lex Luthor back-up, a four part tale that moves back and forth between this book and Adventures of Superman.

With Superman having left Earth, Luthor is now the undisputed master of Metropolis. He thinks back over all their battles. Currently Luthor is having problems with Emil Hamilton and Jose Delgado, who outwitted him when it came to the Gangbuster costume, and Morgan Edge remains his corporate rival, but none of them are the kind of challenge that Superman was.

After a disappointing meeting with his vice presidents, who had small, safe ideas on building the company, Luthor decides he needs to go big. He wants to initiate a takeover of STAR Labs.

The story continues in the back-up feature of the next issue of Adventures of Superman.

Superman 29 - dead cities

Dan Jurgens joins Brett Breeding as they pick up a plot thread from the 1987 Adventures of Superman Annual, in Superman 29 (March 1989).

At the top of the story Superman is heading back to the planet he fled, the one with the aliens. He has realized he needs to replenish his air supply. On the way he spots a stranded ship.

The same alien race is aboard, and Superman is able to perform some basic repairs, restoring their life support. He also gets the air he needs, and heads back out into space. He finds another planet, complete with cities, but it appears to be inhabited.

Back on Earth, Perry White sends Lois Lane to Trudeau, South Dakota, where the military are releasing a cover story about the deaths of the people in the town, which took place a couple of years ago in the annual I mentioned. The cover story involves a train wreck and nerve gas, but Lois doesn't buy, and sneaks past the lines to do her own investigating. She comes across the dusty remains of the people of the town. She even gets the true story, and you gotta love the military guy explaining that they don't want the public fearing that aliens are coming to steal their brains while they sleep.

Superman finds the same piles of dust in the cities on the planet he is on, and realizes the Wordbringer has been there as well.

Flying out into space, he finds the massive ship of the Wordbringer, which houses thousands, if not millions, of brains from other worlds.

The story concludes in the next issue of Adventures of Superman.