Into the back issue box #27

by  in Comic News Comment
Into the back issue box #27

The ground rules for the posts are here.  Today, they’re particularly pertinent, as we shall see!

Superman Adventures #36 (“This is a Job for Superman”) by Mark Millar, Aluir Amancio, and Terry Austin.  Published by DC, October 1999.


I have heard some good things about Millar’s work on this comic, but thanks to my pathetic little boycott of his work (which I’m not getting into here, thanks for asking), I have never gone back and bought any issues.  When this came up randomly, I decided to break my boycott, because it’s not like I sought it out, right?  So I get to read his work on this, and see what the fuss is about.

I’m of a few different opinions about this comic.  On the one hand, for the purposes of these posts, it does a wonderful job introducing a first-time comic reader to DC’s greatest hero.  If you had been living in a bomb shelter like Brendan Fraser for your entire life and knew nothing of Superman, this comic pretty much shows why he’s such a hero.  My personal objections to it will come up again, believe me.  But let’s check the actual content out!


On the splash page is Superman, taking off his boring Clark Kent clothes and getting into character.  Millar fails to give us a reason why Superman is able to do all these things, but we can’t have a flashback to Krypton every issue, and that’s okay.  What a first-timer would see is the way he uses his powers, and that’s good enough.  The reasons are best left for later, once you come back for more.  So, Superman’s ready for action!  The second page shows a kid praying to Superman to ask him to find his lost puppy.  His parents don’t think there’s much hope.  Any moron can tell that Superman will eventually find the puppy, even though his dad cynically says that “Superman’s got more important things to do with his time than look for little lost dogs.”  Au contraire, mon frere!  Despite its obviousness (obviousity?), it’s a decent framing device for the story.  Superman cares about his flock, after all.  If the idea of a kid praying to Superman sounds a bit sacrilegious, well, I’m sure the author of Chosen never even considered that angle!


Superman flies above the city listening in on various conversations.  He hears a call for help and zips down to thwart a bank robbery.  Said robbery is being carried out by punks with “ice-guns,” but they are no help against the Man o’ Steel, who blows the ice back over the crooks and freezes them.  Ha!  Take that, punks!  Millar manages to get a reference to Intergang into the script, which indicates that there’s a criminal organization that Superman fights regularly.  One of the crooks escapes, and an ambulance swerves to miss him, crashing into a telephone pole (in the panel, there’s a flyer for the missing dog, a nice reference to the first page).  Superman captures the crook, of course, but there’s a pregnant lady in the ambulance who’s “suffering complications.”  What to do?  Good thing Superman is there – he flies the ambulance to the hospital, and everyone’s happy.  But wait!  A doctor informs Supes that he’s performing a transplant operation, but the donor heart is still in Chicago, because the airplane that was carrying it has been … hijacked by “political extremists.”  Isn’t that always the way?  That’s a political extremist on the cover, by the way.  But you probably figured that out.


One of the bad guys on the plane is holding a gun to a girl’s head.  Interestingly enough, she’s wearing more of a shirt inside the book than she is on the cover.  Odd.  A terrorist wants to “kill some passengers and double our demands,” but another tells him to “shut up and stick to the plan.”  Of course, we don’t have any idea what “the plan” is, because just then the Last Son of Krypton shows up, and he cares not for “the plan”!  The guy who wanted to kill some passengers yells at him, “We’re not some common thieves doing this money!  We’re political activists, fighting for a cause!”  Superman tells them he stopped listening the minute he saw the guns, and melts their fancy firearms with his heat vision.  A bad guy rolls a grenade with “enough explosive power to put you, me, and everyone within a 500-foot radius in tomorrow’s obituaries” at our hero, who picks it up and smothers the explosion between his hands.  Suck it, “political extremist!”  The bad guy, a bit panicked, says, “Aren’t you even interested in why we took up arms against the system you serve with such blind devotion?”  Superman says, “Politics was never my thing” and flicks him with his index finger, knocking him out.  Yeah, Superman is into a higher calling – like being worshipped!  Anyway, he gets the heart to the hospital, and hears about some kids trapped in a mine shaft.  He’s off again!


Deep in the mine, the kids are in trouble.  They have air, but the shaft is starting to flood.  The fire department isn’t sure if Superman will show up in time, but suddenly he appears!  Well, duh.  He busts into the cave and holds the roof up while the kids get out.  As the rescue workers help, one says he’ll never figure Superman out.  He says, “We risk our lives ’cause it’s our job, but he does this stuff practically 24/7 and doesn’t ask for a nickel.  He shuns publicity, never waits around to be thanked … I mean, what’s his angle?”  You fool – he demands your adoration as your Deity!


The next sequence shifts from humorous to serious very quickly, as Superman heads back into the city.  Over the police scanner, we get news of a gang riot, but the dispatcher suddenly notices that Superman showed up and all is well.  As we chuckle at Supes’ quick work, he comes across a suicide, which just happened.  He bemoans the fact that he missed it, but the cop tells him not to fret, because the guy was a scumbag.  Superman gets huffy and says, “A human being just died here, Officer.  Regardless of his past, this is one occasion where the man deserves a little respect.”  Before he can lecture more, another cop gives him the suicide note, which explains that the guy murdered someone and blamed his brother, who is, naturally about to die in the electric chair.  The killer just couldn’t take the guilt anymore.  The execution is scheduled for midnight, and our hero says, “Good Lord!  What time is it now?”  I guess we should be thankful he didn’t say, “Good Me!”  Unfortunately, it’s 11:59.  Of course.  Superman has only a minute to save the day!  He flies off, gets there just as the switch is flipped, and manages to rip out the wires and save the dude’s life!  The various onlookers rant about how he can’t stop an execution even if he disagrees with capital punishment, but Superman tells them about the note.  The real killer, he says with a downcast face, “decided to face his own sentence tonight.”


You’d think that would be enough for one night, but you’d be wrong!  Out in space, the Olympus One station is getting bombarded by meteors, and it’s about to destroy them.  Guess who comes to their rescue!  Yes, it’s Green Lantern!  Oh, wait a minute, it’s Superman!  We don’t know exactly how much time has passed since he saved the dude from the electric chair, but he had time to get into his own customized space suit, complete with Superman logo on the chest!  He bats the meteors away from the station and blasts a big one heading right toward him.  The day, as they say, is saved!


The next morning the news of his exploits is everywhere as the city wakes up, and then we check in on sad little Timmy (he actually never gets a name, but I’ll call him Timmy) and his lost dog, Patch, who has miraculously returned!  The dad thinks that Superman had nothing to do with it, because he’s been busy saving the world, but Timmy says, “Don’tcha get it, Dad …?  He’s Superman!”  The last panel shows our hero flying through the air, with the Daily Planet building in the background as the sun rises on the city.  It’s interesting that we’re left wondering if Superman really did bring Patch back to Timmy.  I mean, of course he did, but we’re never told explicitly that it’s so.


On the surface, this is a perfectly assembled Superman story, and for a first-time comic book reader, it’s a wonderful primer on the possibilities of the Man of Steel.  Many of his powers are on display, and the various people commenting on what he does is a nice touch.  We get the worshipful attitude many people have toward him, the surprise that he doesn’t do these sorts of things for the glory, his utter selflessness, and his determination to make things right and treat everyone who deserves it with respect.  Millar does a great job with Superman’s characterization, from his apolitical attitude toward terrorists (all he cares about is helping the victims, not their rationalizations for taking hostages) to his desire to save everyone to his sense of humor (when he rescues the kids in the cave, he quips that the two hundred feet of rock he’s holding up is “heavier than it looks”) to his refusal to give up, even when the odds are stacked against him.  A first-time comic book reader would be enthralled by what Superman could do, and this comic would offer them just a hint of his prowess.  And then they’d have to come back for more!


So it does its job.  The problem I have with the book is incidental to that, because Millar isn’t writing this comic for me.  However, I’ll still mention it.  This is a fairly stock Superman story, in that every so often, the writer of a superhero comic (usually one with Superman or Batman, but occasionally others) feels the need to write a “day in the life” kind of story.  So Superman goes about doing stuff like this, and there’s usually a part where he saves a kid’s puppy or something.  Occasionally we’ll get a Batman story in which he beats punks up but manages to get a junkie to Leslie Tompkins’ clinic, where she gets him into rehab (unless she lets him die to prove that Batman is a tool – but she would never do that, would she?).  Everyone does it, so they become less special every time we see it.  They seem like incredibly easy stories to write, too, because nothing is that hard for the hero.  In this story, Superman zips around without really breaking a sweat.  It’s not that it’s not a good story, and getting one like it every ten years or so is a refreshing reminder that these guys are really heroes, but again, it simply feels like a primer to the character.  So this is a very good comic for someone who has never read a Superman comic book or even someone who’s never read a comic book before, but for a jaded fan like me, it’s a charming distraction that I wouldn’t want to see too often.  I know Superman is a hero.  He doesn’t need to prove it to me by finding Patch for little Timmy.


Despite that, I would recommend this comic to someone who was interested in seeing what superhero comics are all about.  Millar keeps everything zipping, Amancio’s art is cartoonish and vibrant, with just enough menace in the bad guys to make us worry for a split-second, and it has enough meat on its bones to make some interesting points about Superman.  It’s astonishing to think that the Evil Mark Millar who is writing stuff today is even capable of this kind of story.  What the hell happened to him to make him so bitter?  Anyway, this is a fun book that does its job: gets people interested in Superman.  Yay!  Now I can go back to boycotting Millar’s comics.  But at least he was trying to get people interested back in 1999!