Monday, September 9, 2013

Superman #200: "Hey! Look At How Different We're Being!"

After I reviewed Superman #300 for my 300th post on this blog, I decided, since I own every centennial issue of Superman/The Adventures of Superman with the exception of #100, which I plan on buying just as soon as I win the lottery, to make that sort of thing a tradition here.  Thus, for the 400th post, I'll look at Superman #400 and so on.  As I arrived at this brainstorm too late to cover Superman #200 in my 200th post, I'll take a look at that one right now here in post #350.
The first challenge in writing about this issue is telling you that, as was the custom with Superman anniversary issues prior to the Byrne revamp, it contains what used to be called an "imaginary story" while resisting the almost overwhelming urge to quote Alan Moore. (And now I don't have to.  I'm willing to bet that most of you are now doing it for yourselves, my referring to it having called to mind the very quote I'm talking about.)  When comics fans and historians discuss the great Superman imaginary stories of the Silver Age, bandying about such titles as "The Death of Superman" and "The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue,"  this issue's tale, "Super-Brother Against Super-Brother," written by Cary Bates and drawn by Wayne Boring, never comes up in the conversation.  As you'll see, there is a reason for that.
The story begins like the traditional origin of Superman, with Kryptonian scientist Jor-El, having determined that the planet Krypton is soon to explode, feverishly working to complete the rocket ship that will carry his young son Kal-El to safety.  His plans are interrupted by the arrival of Brainiac, who shrinks Jor-El's home city of Kryptonopolis and places inside a bottle.  The living computer has done this in order to save the city from Krypton's imminent destruction.  Before he can shrink the rest of Krypton's cities, however, the danged planet goes and blows up.
Unfortunately, Brainiac's plans to enlarge Kryptonopolis on a new planet are scuttled by the fact that the only known supply of ZN-4, the rare element needed to enable him to enlarge living beings, has been exhausted.  Thus, he wanders about the galaxy for years looking for a new supply.
Meanwhile, life goes on in Kryptonopolis, and the Els have a second son, Knor-El.  The two brothers grow up and Kal becomes a scientist, while Knor trains to go into law enforcement.
Eventually, Brainiac finds some more ZN-4 and a suitable planet to enlarge Kryptonopolis upon.  Before he can do so a stray meteor collides with his ship, forcing him to crash on Earth, but not before safely depositing the bottle city on the ground.
Surveying their new home on their viewscreens, the Kryptonians notice that, in Jor-El's words, "Earth is overrun with crime."  Soon, Jor discovers that Brainiac managed to teleport to holding tanks in Kryptonopolis just enough ZN-4 to enlarge one person.  He further realizes that the yellow sun and weaker gravity of Earth would make grant superpowers to any Kryptonian who ventured outside the bottle.  Therefore, he sponsors a competition among the city's young men to determine who will get to be Earth's Superman and aid the humans in their war on crime.
Knor-El wins, and takes a job at the Daily Planet under the name of Ken Clarkson so that he will know when Superman is needed.  Soon, aliens come to Earth with conquest on their minds and expose Knor to Kryptonite, seemingly killing him. After Jor-El loses contact with Knor on his video monitor, Kal, reasoning that his brother is danger, uses synthetic ZN-4 that he has made to enlarge himself and go outside the bottle to save Knor.  The aliens use their green Kryptonite on Kal, but instead of killing him, it turns him into a giant, because, for no good, the green K in this imaginary story has the unpredictable effects of red K in the "real" Superman stories.  So, Knor isn't dead after all, just in temporary suspended animation, and he revives in time to help Kal dispose of the aliens.
The story ends with Knor continuing his career as Superman in Metropolis, while Kal moves to Quebec, takes a job at the Montreal Star as reporter Charles LeBlanc, and protects Canada under the name of Hyperman.
Throughout the story, Bates has an annoying habit of exaggeratedly pointing out the obvious changes he has made to the traditional Superman mythos for this imaginary tale, as if we couldn't see them for ourselves.  For example: "Yes, in this story, it is Kryptonopolis, not Kandor, which is stolen by Brainiac!" or "Another surprise! In this imaginary saga, Brainiac is not a diabolical villain, but a life-saving hero!" or, most egregiously, "And so, in this tale, it not Kal-El, but his brother Knor,  who becomes Superman!"  Thanks for clearing that up, Cary, since the image in that same panel of Knor-El wearing the Superman costume kind of left things a little vague.
Aside from Bates talking down to the reader, there are more important reasons why this issue isn't on a par with the classic imaginary stories cited above.  The changes to the legend of Superman that Bates so painstakingly points out seem random and made simply for the sake of being different.  Furthermore, the story offers no fresh perspectives or insight into the character and legend of Superman.   Even worse than that, its kind of dull and predictable, despite Bates' labored efforts to surprise the reader.
Finally, the ending of the story is just plain odd.  Out of nowhere, a caption in the final panel, which shows Kal-El as Hyperman soaring over the Quebec skyline, informs us, "As we celebrate our 200th issue, Canada is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a United Federation.  This is our tribute to our neighbor to the north.---Ed."
What's odd about it is that the country the issue is supposedly paying tribute to isn't even mentioned in the story until the bottom half of the final page.  In fact, the whole issue turning out to have been a salute to Canada is the only real surprise Bates delivers in the entire story.

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