Monday, October 22, 2007

SUPERMAN #9 DC Comics, 1987

Look at that cover.

That is a SHOCKER of a comic book cover! Somebody needs to tell Superman that green eye shadow doesn't work with his outfit - I don't care if he's been hit with Joker venom or not, it just doesn't work. And those eyebrows! Damn. Somebody get the Queer Eye guys in here, 'cause Superman needs some manscaping, stat.

I am an unreserved fan of John Byrne's relaunch of the Superman books in the mid-Eighties. Byrne wrote and drew a completely revamped Superman with the ground-breaking mini-series Man of Steel, then followed up with a new Superman comic and a brand new Action Comics team-up title. Times were good for Superman fans.

In this issue, written and pencilled by Byrne with inks by Karl "Under Twelve Parsecs" Kessel, The Joker decides that Gotham isn't challenging enough so he comes to Metropolis to screw with Superman. That's just asking for trouble. But The Joker is crazy and ambitious, so it's understandable if not wise.

The story is short, but longer than you would think a Superman vs Joker match-up would run. I'd say it would last all of three panels under normal circumstances, but John Byrne uses The Riddler Factor to good effect here, postponing the inevitable and lopsided showdown between godlike alien being and skinny clown for as long as possible.

As stated elsewhere, The Riddler Factor is:

"...that combination of luck, moxie, and plot contrivance that allows lame
villains to survive when they are hopelessly outclassed by their superhero
opponents. "

The whole thing begins with a clone of Superman robbing the Metropolis Diamond exchange by getting all Jokery and releasing deadly green gas from his robot ears. Like so:

Turns out the Superman robot has a live thermonuclear bomb in its chest, which Superman takes care of by flying it into space, of course. That sort of begs the question: if The Joker has enough resources to build a nuclear bomb gas-spewing Superbot, why is he using it to rob jewelry stores? Because he's batshit insane, that's why.

Actually, the whole thing is part of a plot to screw with Superman. Because, as The Joker says, "Why not?" Oh, Joker, you so crazy!

One thing I am not crazy about is Byrne's take on the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. If memory serves, Byrne was just carrying over the Joker character design he used for the Legends mini-series. I'm a big fan of Legends, but that doesn't mean I like this look for the Joker. Check him out in this crappy scan which I swear I did not do at work:
The Joker looks creepy, but not in a scary psychopath way. It's more of a funhouse mirror kind of creepy.

Look at him. He's got David Byrne's puffy suit wardrobe, Karen Carpenter's diet plan, Donald Trump's eyebrows, George Washington's teeth, and Alien jaws. What the hell, man? I mean, clearly he's exagerrated for effect, but how does his mouth work? What would the Byrne Joker's skeleton look like, a Whitley Streiber alien? Hey, don't get me wrong, I think The Joker should be grotesque but I also think he should be recognizably human. Just a little nitpicking for you.

Minor quibbles aside, this issue was great. I'm a huge fan of Kessel's inks over Byrne's pencils and I thought this was just a great light-hearted done-in-one story.

This issue also features a fantastic Lex Luthor back-up story that deserves a post all its own.

In the short story, Lex stops his limo at a roadside diner for some bacon & eggs and a little casual, life-wrecking cruelty.

He picks a foxy married waitress named Jenny and offers her one million dollars if she'll jettison her life and come to Metropolis with him for one month. That's one million dollars for thirty days of sex with Luthor. I'd ask for two million. He tells the waitress he'll wait in his limo outside for ten minutes and then his offer will be off the table. Oh, BTW can he have his breakfast in a to-go container? KTHX

It is established that the waitress is married to a bit of a jerk, but the decision is gut-wrenching. Should she dump him and leave her simple life for a month of God-knows-what in Luthor's crib? Oh, what to do?

Of course, Lex drives off before the ten minutes have elapsed. In his limo he gloats, "Jenny Hubbard will never know what her final choice would have been. And that question will torment her for the rest of her meaningless life!" We learn that he does this stuff all the time.

I love that story! It should be called "Lex Luthor: Total Asshole."


ghostman said...

That cover looks like it's a picture of Bizarro's cousin, Fabuloso.

So we know that Superman was fully aware of the "When In Doubt, Throw Them Into Space" Rule in 1987. Too bad he'd totally forgotten it by the time Doomsday stopped by. Hell, just knocking him into the ocean would have done the trick. Grumble, grumble.

Keath007 said...

I think "Karl "Under Twelve Parsecs" Kessel" is the funniest thing I've read all month.

Elliott said...

I've never understood this "Kessel Run" thing. Isn't a parsec a unit of distance not time?

and another thing HAN FIRED FIRST!

naginata said...

Lex Luthor: Total Asshole

I would SO read that comic. hee! :)

Chris said...

Man, nice! Sweet review, and I digs me the David Byrne big suit! But that link to the Star Wars wiki? Reading that article made my brain bleed with terror!

Anonymous said...

You know, I bought this comic on release back in high school, and I had pretty much forgotten it except for the Luthor: Asshole story. That one always stuck with me as summing up Luthor's character perfectly - all the wealth and power in the world, but the little things mean everything to him. Never too busy to stop and fuck with someone....

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure it's Karl Kesel, Dave. Don't let Sims see this blatant "I don't know my comic creators" sort of gaffe or you'll never live it down :)

Anonymous said...

I dunno. Was it really an improvement to make Krypton a sterile planet of superscientific emotionless drone-people dressed in... I don't know, what the hell were those things they were wearing? Clothing made of sticks?

Byrne's Krypton made thematic sense -- the Kryptonians were an evolutionary dead end because they gave up love, love is what makes Superman super -- but otherwise, it was a dud. Boring. You couldn't do anything with it. And Byrne sacrificed any sense of either glory or tragedy; Krypton was dead inside anyway, so who cared when it died?

I'm not nostalgic for Silver Age DC generally, but the Krypton with the Crimson Forest and the headbands? That Krypton totally rocked. It was -- what are the kids calling it these days? -- a story engine.

(I'm don't know what Krypton is like these days. Do I want to know?)

Doug M.

not that anonymous said...

It's definitely Kesel. Maybe I'm wrong, but I figured that Dave spelled it "Kessel" on purpose just to work the whole Star Wars joke in. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for the sake of Art. (Which Art, you ask? Garfunkel.)

cbrown said...

Didn't they bring Jenny Hubbard back years later, and have her try to assasinate Luthor or something? Because, you know, you really shouldn't just leave anything alone.

ghostman said...

Holy crap, cbrown, you're right. I asked the Internet, and she appeared in one other issue, Superman (Vol. 2) #163 (DEC '00), and tried to assassinate Luthor when he was running for president. (Only hit him in the leg, though--aim for center-of-mass next time, lady.) Yeah, way to piss on one of the best post-Crisis Luthor stories there, DC--just couldn't leave that unfucked-with. It's not like there aren't millions of other people who have a grudge against the bald bastard.

Bully said...

Heck, which of us hasn't tried to assassinate Luthor one or two times by now? In Metropolis, that's just a fifty dollar fine and time served.

Elliott said...


Now that you've done your expose on Deathstroke how about Bronze Tiger and Deadshot. Complete the holy trinity of cool characters.

You can do it.

Ryan Eldridge said...

I think you need to write a letter to DC, Dave, and see if they'll hire you to write Lex Luthor: Total Asshole!

GarBut said...

"Jenny Hubbard will never know what her final choice would have been. And that question will torment her for the rest of her meaningless life!"

Fair enough, Lex, fair enough, but I bet you could have tricked JERRY Hubbard into your limo if you told him there was seom Harvey's Bristol Cream in there...

Dan said...

I just read the story where Jenny Hubbard shoots candidate Luthor last night! (don't ask why I was reading Superman: President Lex.)

Bringing Jenny back was definitely an example of needlessly reinstating a one-shot character, or as it's better known, "Disco Stu syndrome."

Brian said...

They brought her back as a failed Presidential assassin?!? Lordy, that bites.

Mind you, if this qualifies her for exile on the Salvation prison-planet, that might make for an interesting arc.

chad sexington said...

Heh. You watch, Jenny Hubbard will probably end up getting superpowers and going after Lex again, just to increase the suck. I hope she gets a Waitress-Sense--that would be handy for knowing when people need a refill, or if they're trying to skip out without paying the check.

Kate said...

Yes, a parsec IS a measure of distance, and that's entirely the point. Han is so good a navigator, he is able to take the shortest route possible to do the Kessel run while still avoiding all the dangerous stuff like asteroids and planets and debris along the way. He can cut the journey down to 12 parsecs (presumably other, less capable, people take longer routes because they're less confident in their ability to avoid the hazards and must give them a wider berth.

...Lucas talks about it in the directors commentary for ep IV if you own the DVD.

Anonymous said...

I think that Luthor back-up story and the story where Luthor finds out Superman's secret identity were absolutely the two best parts of Byrne's run, at least from what I remember of it -- and Superman was only in one of them, tangentially at best. "You must call me Lex now, my dear."

I would totally buy Lex Luthor: Total Asshole.

De said...

I couldn't help myself:

My tribute to Superman #9

Trevor said...

"Somebody get the Queer Eye guys in here, 'cause Superman needs some manscaping, stat."

Turn in your testicles to the proper authorities, you are no longer authorized to use them.

Anonymous said...

Hey, instead of "Lex Luthor: Total Asshole", let's have Millar write it and be "Lex Luthor: Ultimate Arsehole"!

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