Adventures of Superman #443 (August, 1988)
"Prisoner of Conscience"
Writer - Jerry Ordway
Penciller - John Statema
Inker - Doug Hazlewood
Letterer - Albert De Guzman
Colorist - Julianna Ferriter
Assistant Editor - Renee Witterstaetter
Editor - Michael Carlin
Cover Prices: $1.00/$0.75
Catching up on a bit of my comic book "homework"... this week I'm gettin' learnt up on Superman's adventures with... sand.
Clark and Jimmy are bunking together at a middle-eastern Holloway Inn, having been sent on assignment to trail a missing/captive journalist named Henry Kanfeld. Jimmy's kinda marking out for the situation, while Clark tries to temper his expectations... after all, this story will very likely have an unhappy ending.
Clark and Jimmy gather their duplicate passports and head down to the lobby to meet with Jawad Al Gurdan. Jawad is a friend of Clark's who will guide them into the occupied territory across the Jordanian border. We also meet Jawad's associate and driver, Hassam, who makes no secret his disdain and impatience with Americans.
The foursome crosses the border, and Jimmy questions why they need duplicate passports. It is explained that they'll need an unstamped one to pass back though from Israel... otherwise it would be invalidated.
Once across the border, they... and this is nuts... walk up and knock on a terrorist group's front door! This goes about as well as you might expect... they are dragged in at gunpoint, and Hassam is shot in the gut! Clark tells Jimmy and Jawad to hoof it and allows himself to be taken hostage.
Jim and Jaw run down the street, with Jimmy activating his Superman signal watch. They don't make it all that far before Jimmy sees something shiny down an alley... a girl, called Tehra. She seemingly puts a trance on young Olsen, and he follows her out into the desert.
Back at casa terrorist, Clark has made short work of the baddies and ties them up in the front room. He heads to the back and meets a pair of captives (Bob and Bill) being held, and asks if they know anything about Kanfeld. They claim to have known him... but he'd left, and their captors took credit for his execution.
By now, Clark hears Jimmy's signal watch. He tells Bob and Bill to sit tight (yeah, where are they goin'?) and he heads off to check in with his Pal. He arrives just in time to pull Jim and Jaw out of a vortex that Tehra is whipping up.
She doesn't take this intrusion kindly... and manifests a giant sand monster to fight Superman off. The creature manages to keep Supes occupied long enough for Tehra to pull Jimmy into the vortex. Superman is just barely able to follow down the hole before it closes up. Poor Jawad is left by his lonesome in the middle of the desert... presumably left to die.
|R.I.P. in pieces, Jawad...|
On the other side of the vortex (and where the story really loses my interest)... Superman emerges in an odd futuristic dimension... which is ruled by a Serpentor knock-off and a pair of Krangs.
We learn that Jimmy was abducted for his... red hair. These extradimensional exiles "interlace" with humans. Jim's body is sent away, and the Serpentor-like Emperor orders his charges to fight Superman. All's going well until Superman is tossed onto a platform that forms an impenetrable dome over him.
We join Jimmy and learn that these exiles use human bodies when they... er, become incorporeal (?) by entering "the void". Tehra has been petitioning for Jimmy's body to be used as the host for her brother, Husque... however, the Emperor has different plans. He's going to use the body for his son Ahkry. The Emperor's host-body is also that of a Westerner, and he'd like for his son to "match".
That's all Tehra needs to hear... she runs straight to Superman and cries "betrayal!". Odd, she's got no problem body-snatching, so long as the body is of use to her! We get a lengthy history lesson for the exiles... and Superman is informed of the Emperor's designs for Jimmy. We also learn that Superman himself is being kept on ice to serve as the Emperor's next host body!
Superman is freed, and again begins fighting off the exiles. Ultimately using one to fire a blast directly at the Emperor... destroying his Professor X-esque hover chair.
We rejoin Tehra who has run off to tell a man called Zander to stop the "matrixing process" for Ahkry. Apparently, all past host bodies were already dead... it's against the exile code to kill a living person to use their body. Ahkry, obviously, ain't too happy to hear he's not getting his freckly new bod... and he begins to protest. So, Tehra breaks a bottle over his head. Okay...
Jimmy's body is offloaded, and suddenly the matrix chamber fuses into the form of a giant metal beast... whose cries are identical to the sand monster Superman fought earlier. This is Tehra's brother, Husque.
Husque takes out the Emperor and returns to the void and Jimmy begins to recover. Superman walks over to the fallen (and now maskless) Emperor, and yup... it's the journalist he was looking for, Henry Kanfeld.
All appears to be well in the world of the exiles... now free of the tyranny of the Emperor... until, whoops... Tehra's buddy Zander dons the mask. Aw, c'mon Zee... Meet the new boss... same as the old boss.
We (finally) close out with Superman and Jimmy back in the real world... heading back to the Holloway Inn (where Clark Kent should be waiting). In our final panels, we see the Exiles are still stomping the desert.
From much of my research, I found that this issue was originally supposed to be a 1988 Annual for one of the Superman titles... which due to it's increased page count and lack of ads (not counting those on the inside covers) I can certainly see that. I've seen a few reports as to the "why", and most are in agreement that this story had to be repurposed into a regular monthly issue due to John Byrne getting ready to leave the Superman books around this time. Can't really speak with any authority to that end... but, figure I'd include it.
Was this originally supposed to be an annual? Well... it kinda feels like a story that would be in an annual. Can't say it's a bad issue... but, I was kinda bored by it. There's a sort of timelessness to this story... like, where it could be dropped in at any point during this era, and not seem out of place. That's cool, however with that said, there's really nowhere that this story would look like it really "fit" either. Again... this is not a bad story...
... just a long one. I honestly struggled to get through this one. To be fair, it started off really strong. I enjoyed Clark and Jimmy heading into hostile territory. I always dig their dynamic, and this was no different. Once we met our underground (?) dimension... it kinda lost me. It was confusing and boring. The ending was fairly strong I guess, leaving things wide open for the exiles to be revisited... but still, ehhhh.
You may have noticed up top I listed two cover prices for this one. It's strange, apparently this issue had exclusive "Mall" variants. The cover is exactly the same, however, rather than the UPC code (of the Direct Market Superman shield) in the lower-left corner, there is instead the logo of a Mall. Those with the mall logos were marked at $0.75, while the others listed at a buck. My copy bears the logo of the Fiesta Mall, which is located in sorta-kinda nearby Mesa, Arizona. Might have to keep my eyes peeled for more of these in the cheap-o's.
|The non-mall $1.00 version|