Sunday, April 27, 2014

Citizen Kent

It was three years ago this very week in  a soon to be controversial short story appearing within the pages of the milestone 900th issues of Action Comics, that Superman announced his intention to formally renounce his United States citizenship.  Why, you may be asking yourself, am I only just writing about this instead of venting my spleen on the subject back when people actually cared?  Simply put, the truth is that I had not read the story in question and I really didn't give half a crap about the latest manufactured controversy that was getting the panties of all the Fox News commentators and others of their ilk in such a twist.  The even more shocking truth, though I feel that I must reveal it in the interests of full disclosure and integrity and other such quaintly last century concepts, is that I still haven't read the story and, quite frankly, I still don't care about the whole controversy that much.  I have, however, recently been reading some of the reactions and  commentaries, including those emanating from Fox News, that popped up on-line at the time. 
Everything that I read brought one question to the forefront of what's left of my mind these days.  What does it mean?  What, to be perhaps redundantly specific, does it really mean for Superman to give up his citizenship?
Upon thinking about it further, this invariably led to other questions.  Is Superman really an American citizen at all? Is Superman even real?
Now before you accuse me of being delusional and unable to distinguish between fact and fantasy, let me assure that I am not about to tie a beach towel around my neck and leap off the roof of my apartment building shouting "Up, up and away!"  For one thing, I have neither a beach towel nor access to the roof.  More to the point, I am fully aware that Superman is a fictional character created by a couple of teenagers from Cleveland back in the 1930s and not in any sense "real" in our world.  When I ask if Superman is "real" I am speaking solely within the context of the fictional reality in which his never ending story is set.
When you get right down to it, Superman is, as John Byrne took great pains to emphasize when he revamped the character back in 1986, merely a leotard, a pair of boots, a cape and a spit curl.  He is a disguise, an assumed identity that allows Clark Kent to carry out his morally dubious, extra-legal super-powered vigilantism under a cloak of anonymity. 
It is Clark Kent who is the U.S. citizen, and presumably remained so even after having his public hissy fit in front of the entire world as Superman.  Hiding within the persona of Superman allowed Kent to be able to stand up in front of the cameras and tell America what it could go do with itself while escaping the consequences.   I assume that there would be some consequences in our reality if a high profile celebrity without a secret identity that he could retreat into publicly renounced his status as a U.S. citizen.  At the very least, I suppose that the now former citizen would be asked to exit himself from our shores immediately.  Kent, on the other hand, can slap on a pair of hipster glasses and a blue suit and go back to apartment at 344 Clinton Street in Metropolis and his job as a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper as if nothing ever happened.
That lack of repercussions makes Superman renouncing his non-existent American citizenship a meaningless, empty gesture.  Therefore, the entire story itself, no matter how well written or beautifully drawn it may have been (and the pages I've seen on-line have been quite lovely, as a matter of fact), is totally pointless and a waste of paper.   Thus, pointless, as well, is all the right wing bluster that accompanied the story's publication.  But then, right wing bluster is usually pointless, no matter what the blowhards are blustering about, isn't it?

Superboy #147

I'd never read the lead story  in Superboy #147 before yesterday, yet I'd read the story many times.  The seeming contradiction in that previous sentence dissolves once I reveal that this is the story that finally, a dozen years on since their initial appearance, revealed the origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes.  It's a story that has been told and retold, with only slight modification, many times since.  Besides this issue, my vast accumulation of old comics includes the Legionnaires 3 mini-series, Secret Origins #25, and Legion of Super-Heroes (Vol. 4) #1, #8 and #0, all of which contain retellings or summaries of these same events.
Thus, anyone with even a mere passing knowledge of the Legion and its history, such as myself, should not need me to provide a recap of the story. However, I'm going to do so anyway.  
Three teenagers, Garth Ranzz from the planet Wynath, Rokk Krinn of Braal, and Imra Ardeen, a native of Saturn, find themselves travelling together as passengers on a spaceship bound for Earth.  Each has their own reasons for coming to our world.  Garth is searching for his missing brother, and  Rokk has come to find work, while Imra has hopes of joining the interplanetary law enforcement agency known as the Science Police.  Additionally, each of the trio of youngsters has their own super-power.  Rokk's and Imra's are innate.  Everyone on Braal has magnetic powers, and all Saturnians are telepathic.  Garth's electrical powers are the result of an attack by Lightning Monsters while out joyriding with his twin sister and brother, who gained similar powers in the incident.
Also on board is R.J. Brande, whom Rokk describes as "richest man in the universe."  When the ship lands on Earth, a pair of gunmen attempt to assassinate Brande on behalf of his shady cousin Doyle.  After Imra reads the killers' minds and warns the tycoon of the danger, Garth and Rokk use their powers to disarm and capture the criminals. The grateful Brande invites the heroic trio to meet him in his office the next morning where he offers to set them up as a team of teen super-heroes inspired by the example provided by 20th century legend Superman through his adventures as Superboy.  
The subsequent retellings of the tale to which I alluded above are all remarkably faithful to this seminal version by writer E. Nelson Bridwell and artist Pete Costanza.  The basic story survived the continuity changes of Crisis On Infinite Earths, and writer Paul Levitz even found a way to keep Superboy as a part of  Legion history after John Byrne's revamp of Superman wrote that phase of the Man of Steel's life out of existance.  The most significant alteration of the origin came with Legion #8 in 1990.  Apparently  operating under an editorial decree that all ties between the Legion and Superman be cut, writers Keith Giffen and Tom and Mary Bierbaum fashioned a new time line in which the inspiration for the Legion's founding was not Superboy, but rather Daxamite hero Lar Gand, the former Mon-El now to be known by the name of Valor.
It's interesting that, aside from a cameo on the splash page and a brief mention at the end of the story, the title character of the series does not appear in the lead story of his own book.  This foreshadows developments of just over a decade hence when Superboy would abandon the title, which had become known as Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes some years earlier altogether, after which it would be entitled simply Legion of Super-Heroes, and finally Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes before ultimately being canceled in 1987. 
The remainder of this 80 Page Giant issue is filled out by a quitnet of reprints re-presenting the initial appearances of several Legion members or elements of the Legion mythos, as well as the story in which Supergirl is inducted into the group.   The Legionnaires whose debuts are shown are Ultra Boy, Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Sun Boy, Bouncing Boy, Shrinking Violet and Brainiac 5.  Also included are the initial appearances of the Legions of Super-Villains and Super-Pets, the latter consisting of Krypto, Streaky the Super-Cat, Comet the Super-Horse and Beppo the Super-Monkey.
"The Legion of Super-Traitors," the tale which introduces the Super-Pets, has a couple of pieces of unintentionally hilarious dialogue.  After Superboy, under the influence of the sinister Brain Globes of Rambat, attempts to kill Krypto, meeting, understandably, with a look of disapproval from the super-dog, the Boy of Steel, still controlled by the Brain  Globes, thinks to himself, "Where does this mere mutt get off looking down his wet nose at the mightiest boy in the universe?"  Where, indeed?
Later, as Krypto attacks one of the Globes, it pleads, "Don't come near me, Accursed Mongrel!"  In reply, Krypto thinks, "Accursed mongrel, huh?--Making with the mental digs, eh?  Okay, you're asking for it, Buster!"  Yeah, baby, it is ON! Krypto don't take no shit from nobody!
Since this post is part of my series on 147th issues, I'm going to go into a little more detail here on the final story in the book, which first appeared in Superman #147.  This is the tale which introduces the Legion of Super-Villains in a story by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and artists Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff imaginatively entitled "The Legion of Super-Villains."
The story begins with an imprisoned Lex Luthor volunteering to help out his fellow convicts by repairing their broken radios.  Clandestinely stealing parts from every unit he works on, Luthor builds a device capable of communicating with the future.  Knowing of the existence of the Legion of Super-Heroes, Luthor has reasoned that there must also be a Legion of Super-Villains to oppose them.  His attempt to contact the villainous Legion is answered by the appearance in his cell of futuristic devices which he uses to escape.  Shortly, he hooks up with the Super-Villains themselves, who proceed to introduce themselves and relate their origins.
Cosmic King is a scientist from Venus who invented a ray that could transmute matter, and who gained that power for himself after being zapped by his own ray.  Unfortunately for him, his dreams of fame and fortune are short circuited when he learns that transmutation is considered a great evil on Venus and he is subsequently banished from his homeworld, leading him to journey to Earth and take up a life of crime.
Lightning Lord is the brother of Legionnaire Lightning Man, formerly Lightning Lad.  He relates a slightly different version of the incident which gave him and his brother powers which does not include any mention of their sister, whose first appearance as Lightning Lass was still two years in the future as of this story's initial publication.  A footnote added for this reprint observes that "Lightning Lord hasn't told the full truth," and directs the reader to "See the first story in this magazine."  Well, of course he's lying. He IS a super-villain, after all, and therefore EEEE-VIL.
Saturn Queen comes from Saturn, where there is no crime.  Upon arriving on Earth, however, she suddenly felt compelled to use her powers of super-hypnotism to become a criminal.
The evil Legionnaires lure Superman to a planet in another solar system and trap him in a Kryptonite force field.  Luthor is prepared to execute his archenemy when the adult version of Superman's former teenage pals in the Legion of Super-Heroes arrive.
The two Legions battle to a stand off until Superman tricks Luthor into releasing him from the force field, after which he journeys to Saturn and uses a giant shovel gather material from Saturn's rings and encircle the planet where he had been imprisoned with it.  Apparently it is radiation in the rings of Saturn that affects the minds of its citizens and keeps the world free of crime.  Under the influence of Superman's newly created ring around this planet, Saturn Queen turns against her comrades, tipping the balance of power and winning the battle for the good guys.  The good Legion take their evil counterparts back to future and Superman returns Luthor to his cell on Earth.
While I'm reluctant to criticize the work of one of the men who invented the entire super-hero genre and without whom I would not be writing this blog, I have to say that the level of imagination reflected in the rather bland title of the story is, unfortunately, on display throughout the entire eleven pages of the story.  It is a rather pedestrian and unremarkable tale, aside from its importance in Legion history.