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Superman: Earth One Vol. 3
The follow-up to the NEW YORK TIMES #1 bestselling graphic novels SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL. 1 and 2 is here! Written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Ardian Syaf, SUPERMAN: EARTH ONE VOL. 3 follows a young Clark Kent as he continues his journey toward becoming the World's Greatest Super Hero.
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"The Master Mesmerizer of Metropolis!"
Writer: Martin Pasko (based on a story concept by Al Schroeder III)
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Reviewed by: Bruce Kanin
Awake, Clark heads to a mirror in his apartment and mulls over the validity of his nightmare - and super-disguise. And so, forty years after Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster gave birth to the Greatest Superhero Ever, Superman finally realizes that (quote, from his thought bubble), "...that's the dumbest disguise I've ever seen!" and "Superman wearing glasses is what I look like!"
As the story continues and Clark continues to wonder why his flimsy disguise has seemingly fooled millions for so many years, he sees that Metropolis is being attacked by a super-villain called The Spellbinder, who is able to induce mass-hypnosis to get folks to do just about anything, including the relinquishing of their valuables at his command.
Before long, after a battle between super-hero and super-villain, Superman figures out that The Spellbinder is using a form of hypnosis as his power. The Man of Steel is then amazingly able to use his own super-hypnosis power to all but insure that every person in Metropolis won't be affected by The Spellbinder's power (Superman broadcasts his own hypnosis via a giant view screen hovering over Metropolis - this was Superman's own invention for 1978, mind you - no plasma or LCD 80" TV sets available back then!).
That task complete, Superman heads back to work as a newsman at WGBS Broadcasting (his Daily Planet days are long gone) - and changes back to his Clark Kent identity in a studio wardrobe closet. But then - during mid-change with his Superman uniform partly exposed - Clark is interrupted by Lana Lang (and Martin Korda, a new associate producer)!
So finally, also after forty years, Superman's secret identity has been exposed - and to the woman, who, as a girl in Smallville, had been trying to prove it countless times (albeit that Superboy was Clark Kent)! Right?
To our astonishment - and Superman's - Lana fails to recognize that this is Superman changing to Clark. What she sees is Superman wearing glasses! Superman first thinks that his hypnotic suggestion earlier to everyone in Metropolis has affected Lana's mind - perhaps she's forgotten who Clark Kent is.
Lana explains to Superman that she knows Clark, and that he, Clark, and Superman, have a superficial resemblance at best! The red-headed newswoman then goes on to tell Superman that he's "...too heavily built...and you're much too handsome" (ouch - for Clark!). She then concludes with "No - forget it! You don't really look like Clark at all!"
Superman then asks why Lana thinks this way especially since she used to believe Clark was Superboy, back in Smallville. She reaffirms this former belief, but explains to Superman that she never knew "...how you could change your appearance so drastically when you became Clark!"
The scene is interrupted, and Clark is left confused as to why Lana sees him as Superman and not in his secret identity. In the meantime, The Spellbinder is at it again, and Clark determines that, just as he had to do with the folks in Metropolis, he's got to self-hypnotize himself against the super-villain to also become immune, which he does.
Before long, Superman begins another battle with The Spellbinder (who, by the way, via footnote from the late, beloved editor Julius Schwarz, is revealed as a former foe of The Batman - from way back in DETECTIVE COMICS #358, December 1966!). Superman, though, mistakenly believes that The Spellbinder's hypnosis will be ineffective on him, due to the aforementioned super self-hypnosis he performed; however, it doesn't work, and The Spellbinder is able to use his abilities to "convince" Superman that he's lost his own super-powers.
After The Spellbinder wins the battle and leaves the scene, Superman figures out why his super self-hypnosis failed to protect him from The Spellbinder and why Lana didn't recognize him as Clark Kent. Of course, he doesn't tell us, the readers, right away, keeping us in suspense while he goes to vanquish the super-villain. Superman is able to avoid another dose of hypnosis from The Spellbinder after realizing that the villain is using sound, not visual powers, to make people, including Superman, "suggestible". Via super ear plugs, Superman is able to resist The Spellbinder's hypnosis and thwart him once and for all.
That sets us up for the story's finale, which makes the battle with The Spellbinder pale in comparison. In a nutshell, Superman has figured out that his very own simple disguise is making people believe that Superman and Clark Kent appear differently enough such that no one will think one is the other.
Yes, he finds that his glasses - which have lenses made of the Plexiglas from his Kryptonian rocket - are channeling low-level subconscious projections from Superman himself to make people believe that Clark and Superman appear differently. Whereas ordinary glass or Plexiglas would not have this effect, Clark's super-lenses do, because they are from Krypton - and "things" from Krypton take on super-special characteristics on Earth, as did Superman himself.
As Clark puts it, "What (people) see is the image of Clark I try to project". From a drawing of himself as Clark that he's obtained, we see that the image projected and seen by others of Clark Kent is somewhat frail, not very muscular and relatively thin - and perhaps almost balding - all very un-Superman-like. Superman goes on to surmise - and effectively explain to us readers - that this effect not only is projected in person, but is carried via photographs and cameras. He further explains, presumably to ward off readers from writing in with all sorts of discrepancies that the effect must linger even in situations where Superman has temporarily lost his powers.
And so the story concludes, with a blockbuster revelation about the Man of Steel and the secret identity he's had since Day One!
Story - 4: To some degree, this is not an easy story to rate. On one hand, it features a relatively run-of-the-mill tug of war between Superman vs. The Spellbinder. Superman's discovery that the villain is using sound waves to hypnotize folks is clever, but that story is really no more than a "3".
However, the idea that the Clark Kent glasses actually play a more major role in disguising the Man of Steel than ever believed is, to this reader, brilliant, though flawed (more on flaws later). In effect, the writer is trying to tie up a fundamental loose end and an implausibility that existed in every incarnation of Superman, whether the comics, TV series or movies. One only needs to think back to THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (with George Reeves) and the scenes in which Clark is without glasses - looking a heck of a lot like Superman - without Lois, Jimmy or Perry noticing - to be reminded of how ineffective the disguise is (Noel Neill, in commentary on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN DVD SEASON TWO, says, in effect, that had she, Jimmy and Perry realized that Clark was Superman, they would have been out of jobs!).
So, to make use of the Clark Kent glasses as a mechanism for explaining why no one noticed that the two identities are one and the same - is perhaps a stroke of genius. It makes this a milestone of an issue worthy of a "5".
But why is it only a "4"? For two basic reasons: first, the idea is flawed, despite explanations put forth by the Man of Steel that make it sound logical. And second, the Superman family of comics never referred to it again, almost as if the editors in hindsight considered it apocryphal with regard to Superman lore. (John Byrne, in his Superman reboot, certainly ignored this, and came up with a more plausible scenario in which Clark and Superman look and sound different due to alterations in voice, hairstyle and posture - similarly done in the Superman movies with Christopher Reeve).
Why is the idea flawed? Well, extending the effect of Superman's subconscious projection via photos and cameras is a bit far-fetched. Imagine a newspaper photo of Clark Kent that's sent to the other side of the Earth and then archived for awhile. Are we supposed to believe that this effect survives both space and time?
Perhaps we need to relax our imagination and allow that one through. But what about the countless times that Bruce Wayne, AKA The Batman, has filled in for Superman as Clark Kent? Even assuming that Wayne wore Clark's super-glasses, he's not Superman, and wouldn't have been able to project a super-subconscious desire via some sort of super-hypnosis that he's frail looking and such. Bruce Wayne wouldn't have even known to do that, if he could, because Superman only discovered this effect in SUPERMAN #330!
And how did Bruce Wayne disguise himself - as the frail Clark, or the Clark that looks like Superman-with-glasses? He wouldn't have known to do the former, as mentioned; if the latter, then wouldn't people have gotten suspicious that the Wayne version of Clark looked like Superman - or just not like Clark?
Moreover: why wouldn't Bruce Wayne himself - or any one of the handful of folks that know Clark and Superman are one and the same - have mentioned this difference to Superman? Or did Superman subconsciously project no difference between his two identities for those friends who know his secret ID?
It's true that for many a comic book story, one shouldn't think all that hard - though it can be a lot of fun. For this one - the story was decent and the concept of Clark's super-glasses was revolutionary and fun to debate. That's what comics are all about - fun.
Art - 4: It's hard to believe that Curt Swan began his long and illustrious (so to speak) career back with SUPERMAN #51 in 1948. Thirty years later, he's still at it in SUPERMAN #330 (and would continue for nearly another two decades before his death in 1996). His grand inkers of years gone by, Stan Kaye, George Klein and Murphy Anderson were difficult acts to follow. That said, Frank Chiaramonte does an admirable job and was possibly one of the more decent inkers for Swan in the post-Silver Age.
All told, the pencils and inks aren't as crisp and clear as they were in the Silver Age, and there is sometimes certain sameness to the facial expressions, but they tell the story well. I'd take Curt and Frank any day.
Cover Art - 3: The cover was done by Ross Andru and Dick Giordano, two well-known and seasoned artists who both had a huge impact on DC Comics art over the years. The cover makes it as high as a '3' primarily for one reason: covers are supposed to "grab" the reader, and this one does, especially with disclaimers such as "Exclusive! Superman's secret revealed!" and "Revealed at least - the startling SECRET of how SUPERMAN fools the world with his CLARK KENT identity! A SECRET endangered by the sinister schemes of THE SPELLBINDER!"
It also "grabs" the prospective buyer with the scene - Superman and Lana Lang having a seemingly amazing argument: Superman, in uniform with glasses on, is trying to get Lana to believe that he's Clark Kent. And Lana, not to be fooled, doesn't believe him! This is a complete switch versus what Lana, and her rival, Lois Lane, have been trying to prove for years!
As such, the cover is intriguing enough for us to want to know what the heck is going on!
However, if not for that big twist and its depiction on the cover, the rating here would be lower. It's a very congested, crowded and busy cover. There is too much to look at and too much text. Also, with all due respect to Andru and Giordano, who did many SUPERMAN and ACTION COMICS covers in the post-Silver Age period, it's all somewhat cartoony. It's not something I would mount on my comic book wall from an artistic sense - but would do so because this is such a fascinating issue.
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