Superman Comic Books
Superman: Special Reports
Wolfman & Ordway's "Adventures of Superman" - Part 2 (of 2)Author: Sean Hogan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last updated: January 7, 2002
Superman vs Terrorism
Adventures of Superman #427 opens with Superman invading the country of Qurac and thinking about his global responsibilities, "I've always hesitated before using my powers to affect the course of life on Earth. I can't let myself act like some god even if some people think I may be one. But if I were around in World War Two, I would have had to confront Hitler, or I'd be shirking my responsibilities. I may have special powers, but I'm still only a man." Wolfman adds that Superman "has the strength to rule this world, but he has the wisdom to not even consider it." Yet he is prepared to ignore international law and wage war on a foreign country.
Superman's invasion of Qurac is interrupted by a psychic attack by Prana, leaving the invasion and the moral questions it raises unanswered. The questions themselves are thought provoking and well presented, as Superman is forced to confront his ethics while battling the illusions and the temptations they bring.
Issue #428 resumes Superman's attack on Qurac as he demolishes its army in just one day. This plot is given short shrift as it wraps up in four pages. There is no real discussion of the implications of Superman's actions, except a television narrator saying that heads of state and civilians around the world "have come out in total support of Superman's actions."
Superman acts with impunity, in violation of international law (subsequent vocal support by world leaders in itself does not make his actions legal) and apparently without any real proof of Quraci terrorism. We have no indication of concern by other nations nor any attempt by Superman to justify or explain his actions to the world.
Although it seems Superman is content to cease his attack after destroying the weapons of war and lecturing President Marlo, there is no mention of Superman's internal battle last issue when he rejected the idea of imposing his will and ruling Earth. Yet here he does just that. His parting words to Marlo are "Sue me".
This attitude contrasts and contradicts his reluctance to go after Luthor in a similar manner, as Superman waits to find proof of Luthor's illegal activities.
In an earlier issue, Superman compared Qurac as competing with Libya and Syria as a terrorist nation. Yet he makes no move against any other terrorist country. He also leaves Qurac vulnerable to attack from other countries. There is no follow up on any of these issues.
The same issues face both writers and their readers even more vividly today . At the time Wolfman wrote these stories in 1987, terrorism was something that happened in other countries, far removed and therefore able to be safely and simplistically dealt with in a single issue of a comic book.
The issue of private life vs public duty arises several times in later stories, while the issues of responsibility and control were the focus of the 1999 story arcs called "Superman 24/7" and "Superman: King of the World".
Wolfman's stories make an excellent starting point for discussions on any of these issues.
Personal vs Professional Responsibilities
The balance of Adventures of Superman #428 deals with more personal matters. We see Clark and Cat becoming friendlier. Perry White begins to take centre stage as he investigates mobster Jay Falk and as his son, Jerry, is kidnapped to silence Perry. Perry wrestles with the demand that he retract his story - he is unable to bring himself to breach his journalistic ethics even though his son's life hangs in the balance. Jerry is rescued by Superman before Perry's decision is finalized, but Jerry feels betrayed and storms out.
We also see more of Superman's questionable ethics as, to get information, he leaves a gangster atop the Daily Planet's globe and says "I'd never hurt you! But y'know, I'm a busy guy, and I might not be around when you do finally slip! Oooh, it is a long way down, isn't it?"
Superman later sets another gangster's clothes on fire with his heat vision, letting him believe he might burn to death. At least this time, Superman does promise he won't hurt the thug and doesn't put him in any real danger.
Issue #428 also introduces two new characters to the supporting cast, who will quickly become fan fav'rits -- Bibbo Bibbowski and Jose Delgado (who will become Gangbuster).
Issue #429 reintroduces the Circle, as one of their members, a big brute calling himself Concussion, sets out to kill Superman in revenge for the death of Prana. The other main plot deals with Cat Grant, as she drags Clark off to a romantic skiing weekend. Cat's pursuit of Clark is interrupted when they see a news broadcast about Joseph Morgan, who is under investigation for criminal activities. Cat confesses to Clark that she was married to Morgan and that 5 years ago she lost custody of their son, Adam, when the court deemed her to be an unfit mother.
Clark has a serious lapse of judgment when he decides to have Superman pay a visit to Morgan to demand that Cat be allowed to see Adam. During their conversation, Concussion attacks. Although Superman wins, Morgan and Adam are both injured and taken to hospital. Adam blames Superman for trying to take him away from his father and for causing their injuries. At the hospital, Morgan agrees to let Cat visit Adam -- as Superman spies on their awkward reunion.
Although Clark mixes his personal and heroic lives, Wolfman has him begin to doubt his actions. He realizes he made a mistake by having Superman get involved because of Clark's personal life. As the issue ends, he is heading home to his parents to try and find some answers.
Again the story does a nice job of furthering two threads -- the Circle plot and the relationship between Cat and Clark. Other subplots are not dealt with as we find out more about Cat's personal history. Interestingly, it is not very clear where right and wrong lay in these stories.
In this issue, Superman acts from good motivations, but finds that motivation is not sufficient. Morgan is portrayed as a suspected criminal, but he and Adam are clearly devoted to each other. Morgan's view of Cat as someone more interested in playing the field than looking after her son has a ring of truth to it, as did Cat's earlier version of events. Yet Morgan allows Cat to see Adam when he could have easily prevented any contact.
Issue #430 continues to develop Clark's struggles to reconcile his two roles. While it appears he did not go home after last issue, he is trying to plan his parents' 49th anniversary party. His efforts, both to plan the anniversary and to keep up with his journalistic work, continue to be frustrated by his duties as Superman. The action part of the issue is a fight against the Fearsome Five (former Titans foes), two of whom are secretly members of the Circle.
Near the end, it's another of Pa Kent's patented talks that reassures Clark. He says that Clark and Superman are both parts of one person. Sometimes one side becomes more important than the other, but even Clark can't take on the whole world's problems. "But what you are isn't what you do. You're the same man, with or without the fancy suit ... you're a good man. You are doing your best. Don't ever forget that."
Even Good Writers Have Bad Issues
The next issue, #431, suffers from a break in the quality of both writing and art. Erik Larsen guest-pencils, and the art suffers from the differences between *nine* inkers for the 22 page comic. The story is almost all action-driven this time, with only a few scenes set aside for Cat Grant's custody sub-plot. The problem with the story is that it centers on a villain who is cliche'd and boring.
Dr. Stratos attempts world domination by using a satellite to control weather patterns. We see Stratos is evil because he even kills his own people. We see Stratos is crazy because he thinks he is the abandoned son of Olympian gods. We see Superman is brave and smart because he fights the nasty weather attacks and deduces Stratos' secret headquarters. We see justice as Stratos, consumed by flames, falls to his apparent death. The issue ends with a reborn, transformed Dr. Stratos, with upraised fists, vowing revenge, "not tomorrow or the next day, but it is inevitable!" Or not. To my knowledge, Stratos never reappeared. If I'm wrong, I'd rather not know.
The next three issues show a definite upswing in both story and art with "Gangwar". The youth gang problem comes home in issue Adventures of Superman #432 as Jerry White, a member of the Eagle gang, is suspected of involvement in a tenement fire. Jose Delgado, Jerry's guidance counsellor who was with Jerry at the time of the fire, confirms Jerry's innocence.
Luthor uses the gang violence as a platform to announce a program to "take gang members off the street and put them on the payroll." In fact, Luthor's hoods are beating up and recruiting the gang members for Luthor's own purposes.
Jose, concerned about his kids, decides to investigate. Lois becomes interested in Jose and trails him to a meeting where Jose confronts several gang members, trying to convince them to go straight. But it's a set-up, and soon Jose and Lois are trapped in the burning warehouse -- only to be saved by Superman.
Issue #433 is titled "A Tragedy In Five Acts", and each part focuses on a member of the supporting cast. Jimmy interrupts a robbery by the Eagle gang and unmasks Jerry White. He decides to let Jerry go, and covers up for him. Lois also meets Jerry, who is storming out of Jose's apartment, and learns of Jerry's criminal activities.
Perry White faces the difficulty of printing Lois' story about his son. Jerry, now in prison, refuses to speak to his father. At a public meeting, Jose publicly accuses Luthor and is later attacked by Luthor's goons. Meanwhile, Jerry is led by guards to a beating by other inmates, which makes Jerry decide to talk about Luthor's involvement.
Finally, we learn of Luthor's plot -- he has been treating the gang members with adrenal stimuli to develop them into ultimate warriors. He watches two combatants in a fight to the death. Only one of the hundred test subjects manage to survive the stress caused by the exertion of fighting.
The story works well, as it maintains the flow of the tale despite the changing character viewpoint.
In issue #434, Jose Delgado creates his new costume and heroic identity of Gangbuster. He learns of a massive attack being coordinated with guns and targets being assigned to gang members. Superman arrives just in time to help Gangbuster stop the scheme. Luthor is protected when gangster Jay Falk takes the fall for him. It's not a complete victory for Luthor as Superman leaves a message that he knows the truth and that "the battle is over but the fight has just begun".
The other sub-plot involves Jerry, who is released from prison and tries to make amends with his parents. Perry even takes time off work to travel with Alice and Jerry and to try to resolve their problems.
While none of the issues of "Gangwar" stands alone, the arc succeeds in telling its story within the three issues.
The Year In Review
With the exception of the Legends tie-ins, the stories in Adventures of Superman stand alone from the other Super-titles. While events in the other titles are referred to, none of the issues require reading of the other Superman comics. Wolfman is able to develop his characters and plots without interference.
If those stories were told today, they would have been completed in about 3 months and been written and drawn by 4 teams doing 3 issues each. In my opinion, it's worth waiting a year for a good writer/artist team to tell a story on their own. The consistency brought to the tale by having the same writer and artist strengthen the series when read as a whole.
If you haven't read these issues, I recommend that you hunt the back issue bins and get them (well, avoid #431 with Dr. Stratos).