25th Anniversary Review of John Byrne’s Man of Steel Part II
John Byrne’s historic six issue mini series, The Man of Steel, just turned 25 years old. The series would (re)introduce Superman after the Crisis on Infinite Earths mega event which finished up early Summer 1986. I am reviewing the series for it’s 25th anniversary. On Wednesday, I reviewed issues #1 – 3. Today, I’m going to review issues #4-6. For more information about Crisis on Infinite Earths, see my article on Strange Kid’s Club here.
Issue 4 gives us a full introduction to the new Lex Luthor. Instead of the bald mad scientist we all know, Lex has been re-imagined into more of a business mogul, a la Donald Trump. And I think it works much better. In the beginning of this issue, Clark and Lois are going to a party thrown by Lex, so Lois shows up at Clark’s apartment to pick him up. We see several awesome panels of Clark shaving with his heat vision and Lois discovering Clark’s barbells which he keeps to explain why he is in such great shape. But Lois comments they are too light for Clark to keep such a great figure and Clark has to mentally remind himself to get heavier weights (he can’t judge very well because he has super strength). Clark and Lois then head to the event on Luthor’s yacht and it is besieged by terrorists during the party. Superman saves the day, takes down the terrorists, and then Luthor tries to hire him into his payroll all while explaining that he knew the terrorists were going to hijack the boat but he did nothing so he could see Superman in action. The mayor was in attendance and justifiably angry that Lex put all of his party goers in danger, so he has Superman arrest Luthor. Luthor’s lawyers have him out in less than two hours but afterwards he confronts Superman and literally threatens to kill him in front of everyone in the city in the near future. And boasts that he’ll never be arrested for it. It’s intense.
In issue 5, Byrne starts things off with a clever inside joke. There is a great shot of Superman holding up Luthor’s green battle armor from the Kenner Super Powers toy line. A sly little reference that illustrates why I love Byrne’s writing. Anyway, this issue introduces Bizarro although he’s never really called that within the story. In the beginning, we see Superman holding the aforementioned green armor in front of Luthor accusing him of a bunch of things having to do with that armor. Luthor, of course, feigns ignorance and lists out all the reasons why Superman can’t prove Luthor had anything to with the armor. Realizing he has no proof, Superman leaves while proclaiming that he will someday make Luthor pay for all of his crimes. While he was in the office, Luthor scanned Superman’s cellular structure with the intent of creating a super duplicate. The results are immediately fed into a cloning tank (instead of waiting to properly analyze the data) that seemingly successfully creates a duplicate of Superman. However, the duplication process was built on the assumption Superman was a mutated human being and the discrepancy caused the duplicate to fail and collapse (which, as I said, could have been avoided by properly analyzing the data first). Luthor, now armed with the knowledge that Superman is an alien, orders the duplicate destroyed. Next, we meet Lois’ blind sister Lucy. She is so distraught by her recent loss of sight that she attempts to jump off the balcony of her sister’s apartment. Bizarro saves her (we have to assume he escaped because we aren’t told), but she’s blind so she thinks it’s Superman. Superman runs into Bizarro, who has disguised himself as a Bizarro-Clark, and immediately gets into a fistfight with him (sort of a hallmark of Byrne’s Superman). They battle each other for the rest of the issue throughout downtown Metropolis. Finally, Bizarro and Superman collide in a spectacular mid-air collision that reduces Bizarro to a fine dust that falls over Lucy Lane and cures her blindness. We are led to believe that the creature somehow knew its sacrifice would cure Lucy’s blindness.
In this final issue of the mini-series, Clark returns to Smallville to visit his adoptive parents. One night he is greeted by a hologram of his real father, Jor-El. When the hologram touches his forehead, Clark sees images of his home planet, Krypton. And he meets his birth mother, Lara. When Clark wakes up we are introduced to Clark’s childhood friend, Lana Lang. Lana has loved Clark for years and is pissed at Clark because he revealed to her his secret identity and she realized that Clark and Superman belong to the world and that they could never truly “have a relationship”. After Lana dresses Clark down, Clark visits the site where his rocket crashed to Earth and is visited again by the Jor-El hologram. Pa Kent spectacularly bashes it with a shovel and there’s a huge explosion. Clark gets a download of Kryptonian information from the hologram and after flying off by himself to process the info, realizes he was meant to rule the humans. That doesn’t sit well with Clark and he decides that he has been officially adopted by humanity and will continue to serve as their protector. Cue Pledge of Allegiance in the background and bald eagle landing on his shoulder. THE END.
And that was the newly minted origins of the post-Crisis Superman as envisioned by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne. The series is fun and it definitely forshadows the tone of the upcoming issues of Superman and Action Comics that Byrne would write and draw. Luthor really works well as a billionaire businessman. I like the new Bizarro, but am sad Byrne killed him. The final issue is a bit thin, with the last several pages full of Superman just flying around talking to himself. But overall, this series is a fun and enjoyable read.
Following this series, John Byrne would continue the new Superman’s adventures in the new Superman #1 and he would also take over writing/drawing Action Comics with issue #584. The current-to-that-point ongoing Superman book was re-titled Adventures of Superman starting with issue #424. Marv Wolfman took over writing that title and Jerry Ordway would draw it. Here’s a DC house ad advertising the three new Superman titles.
I didn’t originally read the Man of Steel mini-series for the first time until 1988 or 1989. I was introduced to John Byrne’s Superman in the pages of the comics seen in the ad above starting in January 1987. Byrne’s Superman and Action Comics issues are some of the most fun Superman stories I’ve ever read. They were good enough to turn a Flash fan like me into a Superman fan.
This coming January, I’ll talk more about the Byrne Superman and Action Comics runs as they will be hitting their own 25th anniversary. Like I said, they are awesome.