Cover date: October 2004
Reviewed by: Jason Larouche
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Darwyn Cooke and J.Bone
University professor Harold Gorky is fed up with the emphasis society puts on athleticism. From superheroes to football jocks - in particular Tank Torgan, star quarterback for the undefeated Tigers - Gorky feels unacknowledged as an intellect, even by his attractive secretary Tiffany. Although he tries to get her to call him Harold, Tiffany is too enamored by Tank's accomplishments to recognize "Mr. Gorky's" crush. Elsewhere, Buffaloes owner Sam "Sagebrush" Sourdough finalizes with Superman his stint as guest referee at the next game. Superman notes that he never turns down a charity request. Immediately after they shake on it, Superman bumps into Gorky, who does not accept his apology. Gorky approaches Sourdough with an offer to deliver a quarterback that can surpass Torgan's abilities. Sourdough skepticism only increases at the notion of it being an invisible quarterback, but agrees nonetheless to Gorky's offer.
At the game, Gorky, in the audience with Tiffany, promises her a surprise. After Sourdough introduces Superman, the Buffaloes take to the field with their newest addition: The Phantom Quarterback, an apparently invisible man wearing a visible uniform. As promised, the quarterback dominates the field, crushing the Tigers in both offense and defense. At the same time, behind the stands, Gorky busily operates hi-tech remote controls, noting to himself that his invention worked. He returns to the stands to receive congratulations from Tiffany. However, much to his disappointment, Tiffany's holding the winning ticket to a free flight with the Man of Steel. He quickly picks her up and carries her away from Gorky. At the second half of the game, the phantom quarterback receives the kick from the tigers. Deliberately, he goes offside to lure Superman over to him. The quarterback easily tackles Superman to the ground, much to everyone's surprise, and scores the winning touchdown. But rather than stay and celebrate, the Phantom runs out of the arena.
Curious, Superman flies after him, tracking him down at the science building. Inside, the Phantom Quarterback stands motionless beside Gorky. Gorky flips a switch and the quarterback is revealed to be a robot capable of invisibility. Superman listens to Gorky gloat about how clever he is and his motive behind the deception: to impress Tiffany. Superman surprises Gorky while he stores the robot in the closet. Gorky explains that for once the little guy was going to win, not the all-star athlete. At that moment, Tiffany bursts in to congratulate Gorky and admit that he was right about brains overcoming brawn.
Superman decides to let the long-suffering scientist to have his moment in the sun, understanding why Gorky did what he did. Gorky and Tiffany then walk towards the sunset with Tiffany making wedding plans with "Harold".
Story #2: "The Secret of the Phantom Quarterback"
Co-plotters: Paul Levitz and Keith Griffin
Art by: Keith Griffin and Al Milgrom
Superman returns from a time traveling adventure to Metropolis, expecting much-needed R and R. However, his plans are disrupted as his super-hearing picks up a police radio describing a hostage situation. In a run-down apartment building, surrounded by S.C.U. officers outside, the blonde-haired suspect has the female hostage on the ground and tied up. He gloats about having a kryptonite bullet ready for the hostage's big hero. But before he can finish blinking, a red-and-blue blur transports him in seconds from the apartment to a jail cell. Superman flies over Metropolis Stadium on the way to STAR Labs to drop off the kryptonite. In the locker room, meanwhile, a football player named Steve Lombard is morose at how badly his performance on the football field has become. Desperate, he decides to increase the dosage in a prescription his doctor gave him. His coach tells him to stick to his regimen rather than use any more experimental steroids. Lombard doesn't listen.
At the Daily Planet, Perry White's verbal thrashing of Jimmy Olsen is heard by the entire staff. Jimmy wants to be a sportswriter now that the regular reporter quit, but White says no, and Clark is in agreement. Olsen persists and tells Clark that Mr. White gave him permission to accompany Clark to Metropolis Stadium, where rumors are spreading that it may be ready to collapse. The moment Jimmy turns his back, Clark is gone.
Superman arrives at the stadium where Lombard, in uniform and now high on the "prescription", is on the rampage. He is paranoid and barely recognizable out of the orange glow emanating from his skin. Superman engages him in battle, and Lombard easily tosses him aside. Superman quickly retrieves materials from the clubhouse and the debris around them both and cobbles together a "cosmic treadmill", goading Lombard into racing him in order to burn off the excess energy. At frightening speed, Lombard overloads and an explosion occurs...
Later, at the Metropolis Medical Center, Lombard is normal again, explaining how the last of the drug was gone from his bloodstream. Lombard admits he's finished as a player. The coach says he had a good run as a consolation. As Superman flies off over the building, Lombard contemplates pursuing the sportswriter position at the Daily Planet, aiming to begin his new career with a story about the dangers of steroid abuse.
Story #1 - 3: While this story deserves a 2, I'm giving it a 3 because it was great to see Stan "The Man" Lee try his hand at writing another Superman story. I just feel that he was somewhat in the plotting of this tale. This felt less like a Superman story and more like it belonged in the pages of a 1960's Marvel comic book...like the early issues of Amazing "Adult" Fantasy. He did capture the essence of the hero being Harold Gorky, but missed out on creating fun scenes with Superman. In fact, Superman's dialogue seemed very cliche and hollow. The character of Tiffany could have been an intellectual equal rather than a ditzy blonde, which really was the weakest part of the story. Then there was the corny names like "Sam Sourdough". I suppose that Lee was trying to encapsulate a Julie Schwartz-type feel to the story since the book is part of a company-wide tribute to Schwartz. For those fans who know about Schwartz, I guess only they can determine if Lee was successful.
Story #2 - 3: Paul Levitz and Keith Griffith managed to create a better story than Stan, but still fall short of the mark. The character of Steve Lombard appeared akin to the old washed-up-player cliche that's been used before. The drug that he takes isn't even identified, nor are his powers. All the reader knows is that he glows orange, is barely visible, and has enhanced strength. Also, fans are left guessing what devastation the explosion left when Lombard overloaded. Then there is the cosmic treadmill...WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?! For a Byrne-version of Superman, this plan was really ridiculous. Although this cautionary tale has more effect in plot and dialogue than Lee's script, it too fails to capture a small essence of realism.
Art #1 - 2: Darwyn Cooke's art style appears reminiscent to Bruce Timm's design of DC characters at first glance...nothing more. The characters are too cartoonish, the effect of like, say, a super-strong handshake has a Loony Tunes reaction of the weaker man's hand being crushed behind human limitations. Superman's face looks as stupid as his characterization; he's just a square-jawed moron with a cape. Whoever hired this clown should be fired because no way would Schwartz have hired this poor an artist in the original story this book is based on.
Art #2 - 4: Keith Griffith's art combined with Al Milgrom's inks reminds me of the nineties style Superman comics followed during that decade. The design of this Phantom Quarterback is much better and more scarier than a set of pads and a helmet running across the field by themselves. Superman is drawn as he should be. Although a few minor characters seem very disproportional, the artwork holds this story together. Milgrom and Griffith make a great art team.
Cover - 4: An excellent modern take on a classic cover. It's nice to see DC pay homage to Julie Schwartz in this way.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2004.