Saturday, March 14, 2009
DC Comics Presents #29 (January, 1981)
"Superman and The Spectre-- Together in a confrontation that will redefine mortality!"
The Man of Steel reflected on recent events, including the "malevolent alien despot called Mongul," how he "reluctantly" defeated "my ex-Justice League comrade" J'Onn J'Onzz, his enlisting the aid of Supergirl to blow through Warworld, and how he'd reprogrammed the artificial planet to destroy itself. "The concussion from Warworld's death-throes blew me halfway across this stellar system-- but Supergirl should have rejoined me by now... unless, for some reason, she can't! Of course! That's the only explanation! Kara's collision with Warworld must have knocked her unconscious-- and she just kept flying through sheer momentum!" Fearing she might keep soaring through the void forever, Superman performed super-math to determine her trajectory and give chase.
Superman flew faster than he ever had before, breaking one barrier after another, bursting the bonds of infinity and reality. Just as he was finally about to reach Kara Zor-El, the Last Son of Krypton bounced painfully off the materialized chest of the Spectre. "I have merely done my duty, Superman-- nothing more! You were traveling too fast-- too far-- toward realms no mortal eye may be permitted to behold... and thus, I was dispatched to put an end to your flight!" As for Supergirl, she was "quite unconscious, and thus blissfully unaware of that which she might otherwise see!"
Superjerk wasn't "interested in whatever it is you're trying to protect," annoyed at the Spectre's warnings. "Just who made you boss around here, anyway?" The Dolt of Steel failed to realize the Almighty was trying to turn him away, and that even his arms were too short to box with God. The Man of Whine tried repeatedly and impotently to punch the Spectre, until the embodiment of God's Wrath swallowed him whole. Things got especially surreal at this point, as Superman tried for the 1,734th time to save Krypton, as well as flailing at the Grim Reaper as it again cut down his adoptive father, Jonathan Kent. Finally, Kal-El fought the embodiment of his dark side. Only when Superman realized he'd lost control of his id monster, fueled by his overwhelming arrogance and emotionality of late, did it vanish.
The Almighty's voice then boomed, "And admitting your foolishness is the first step on the path to true wisdom, my son!" The Spectre elaborated, "I know you only meant to save your cousin-- and yet, by pursuing her, you risked the ultimate destruction of civilizations beyond numbering," by piercing the final barrier, "that golden veil beyond which no living man may pass." Besides, the Spectre was able to materialize Supergirl in his ghostly arms at will. "That was all you ever truly needed to do, my friend-- simply ask!" Having learned his lesson, Superman took the Maid of Might to cradle, while the Spectre vanished as though he were a dream.
I've both enjoyed and been frustrated by this story arc since I was first exposed to it in the late '90s. I cut my comic reading teeth on team-up books, and especially love when two heroes can relate to one another in a meaningful way-- a necessary element that's eluded the writers of revivals since the mid-'80s. However, even for a Superman hater like myself, his overblown ego in this story was a bit off. I'd really like to know why J'Onn J'Onzz was rushed off the stage after the first issue, with the added torment of only seeing him beaten up in flashback sequences from then on. I was also wounded by being teased with the prospect of Jim Starlin in his prime drawing Martian Manhunter, as evidenced by the cover of the first chapter, only to have a slapdash round robin inking job make the interiors look like amateurish crap. While I'm no fan of Romeo Tanghal's overwhelming embellishment in general, compared to the awful work of "Quickdraw," his efforts on the latter issues was a relief.
On the other hand, Mongul was an outstanding introduction to Superman's ever weak sauce rogues gallery. He was that rare foe that could both out-think and out-muscle the Man of Steel, offering him a real challenge and stakes. Len Wein hinted at a back story for the villain, and I regret it was never elaborated on after he left the character behind for later DC Comics Presents writers. Paul Levitz at least kept Mongul's m.o., but it seems the writers who reworked the villain from the ground up Post-Crisis only ever bothered to skim the one Alan Moore story for reference. I wish the jaundiced giant had made it to this third chapter, but it was clear early on that the story was about Superman's ego more than anything. Finally, Supergirl came off very well in this arc, reminding me once again of her yet untapped potential as a solo star.
"Where No Superman Has Gone Before" was by Len Wein, Jim Starlin & Romeo Tanghal. Follow the link to read about this issue's back-up feature, "Whatever Happened To Dr. Mid-Nite?"