Man of Steel #1 (1986)
“From Out the Green Dawn…”
Writer & Penciller – John Byrne
Inker – Dick Giordano
Colorist – Tom Ziuko
Letterer – John Costanza
Editor – Andy Helfer
Cover Price: $0.75
On this week’s Weird Comics History segment on the Weird Science DC Comics Podcast, Reggie and I discussed that strange and wacky time in 1984 where Marvel Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter was approached by bigwig Warner Bros. publishing executive Bill Sarnoff about the possibility of Marvel taking over the publication of the DC Comics characters. Can you imagine Supes and Spidey under the same umbrella? It was a great discussion, so check it out!
One of the things about this story is how quickly current-comics legend/then-Marvel creator (and writer/artist of two of Marvel’s highest selling books at the time, Fantastic Four and Alpha Flight), John Byrne took to the idea. He wanted to write Marvel’s Superman, and even drew up a test-cover and plotted (or perhaps even fully scripted) the Man of Steel’s new Marvel-ous origin. Over at the Jim Shooter blog, some of the concepts Byrne was planning to implement are shared and addressed. It’s a great resource for some of the inner workings of the industry.
I’m also currently covering the prehistoric Internet’s reaction to John Byrne’s impending arrival to the Superman titles at DC in the 80’s as part of my Usenet Fandom series. If you have any interest in how the “fan on the street” took to the news back in ye old 1985, definitely check them out!
But first, let’s discuss what John Byrne actually did do with Superman. This is one of those well-trodden issues that I often shy away from, because honestly… what can I add to such a legendary book? Well, let’s find out…
Prologue: From Out the Green Dawn…
We open under the red sun of Krypton as a flying round transportation device approaches an asymmetrical structure. Upon exiting his transport, Jor-El is greeted by Kelex a robotic servant. He excuses himself to his lab. Inside the lab is a dark sphere, as Jor-El draws closer we can just make out a humanoid form inside… his son.
Lara, Jor-El’s wife enters and is shocked to discover he removed their child’s birthing matrix from what she calls the gestation chamber. It has been Kryptonian law for centuries that a parent may remove their child’s matrix, however, it has not been exercised in centuries.
Jor-El shares with his wife that Krypton is in a grave and urgent state. The planet has a radioactive pressure building up inside it, and will likely explode even as soon as within the hour.
Lara asks what this means to their son… Jor-El speaks of a plan. A plan to send their son to safety… to a planet called Earth… a nation called America… a subsection called Kansas. Earth has, as we all know, a yellow sun. A sun under which their soon-to-be son will grow into a supreme being, not unlike a God.
Of special note, this Krypton is a rather sterile one. Jor-El says himself that society is cold and heartless, stripped of all human feeling. Lara is shocked when she observes a shirtless Earthling, calling him a savage… almost disgusted that he dare bares his naked… hairy flesh.
No sooner do they finish their discussion that the planet’s mantle starts to give way… radioactive eruptions begin blasting from underground. With nary a moment to spare, Jor-El launches the Matrix skyward… it leaves Krypton as the planet explodes.
The original Byrne Marvel plot has this part called KRYPTON. In this pitch, Krypton is facing the same threat, however, rather than there being a birthing matrix, in this version Lara is with-child. Whether or not this means the Marvel Krypton is a less “sterile” Krypton, I am unsure. This chapter ends similarly… a ship escaping an exploding Krypton, however in the Marvel version, Lara is the passenger.
Chapter One: The Secret
Clark Kent is a the star football player for Smallville High School. He is the hero of the gridiron and his coach couldn’t be happier. His teammates, however, are a different story. Pa Kent is looking on, and has a disappointed look on his face. Following the big win, Clark is hoisted on the shoulders of his classmates and is treated like big man on campus. Pa approaches and sternly tells him it’s time to go home.
During the ride home, Pa tells Clark he’s a bit disappointed in him. Clark is taking too much of the glory on the field… and Pa thinks he knows why he’s able to be so dominant. He drives his son to a field. There’s a large wooden hatch covering an area of the ground. Pa lifts the hatch revealing… the Kryptonian birthing matrix.
He comes clean, telling Clark this is where he and his “mother” found him. Clark is shocked to come to the realization that he’s adopted! I’m loving this… Clark not knowing until now is such an awesome wrinkle Byrne adds.
Pa tells the story of the night they observed a streak of light crash into the field, some eighteen years ago. Jonathan and Martha tentatively approach the odd black sphere, only to have it dissipate, revealing a little baby boy.
He continues… The couple decided to pass the child off as their own natural son. We observe a few vignettes of Clark’s youth, including his earliest encounter with Lana Lang. One story John shares concerns the day Clark was trampled by a neighbor’s bull… and come out of it without a scratch.
We watch other feats Clark exhibited during his youth and adolescence. Lifting tractors, and being knocked off a cliff only to find out that he could fly.
Back in the present, curious Clark approaches the matrix himself. As he gets closer, he becomes dizzy and Pa has to help him back to the truck. They return to the Kent farm, and John shares with Martha that Clark knows.
In the Marvel version, the second chapter was called SMALLVILLE. Here, the Kents still witness the Matrix landing. Jonathan helps the injured and very-pregnant Lara out of the wreckage. Soon after, she gives birth to a boy who she names Kal-El as she dies from Kryptonite poisoning. There is still an exhibition of Clark’s superhuman powers, including the same cliff scene in which he discovers he can defy gravity. During this chapter, Jonathan Kent dies while attempting to physically pull a tractor from some mud.
Chapter Two: The Exposure
Jonathan Kent enters the kitchen where he finds his wife Martha tending to her scrapbook. She has been keeping all of the newspaper clippings concerning a recent string of miracles that have occurred. Jonathan happily advises her that he has a new addition for her collection. MYSTERIOUS SUPERMAN SAVES SPACE PLANE reads the cover of the Smallville Post.
The pair hear an odd creaking coming from upstairs… just where Clark’s room would be. Armed with a club, Jonathan heads up to see who goes there. He opens the door to find Clark sitting in the darkened room… “They wanted a piece of me, Me. They all wanted a piece of me.”
Clark shares the story of his recent space plane endeavor in Metropolis. A small airplane flew too close to the craft and caused it to begin plummeting toward the Earth. Clark flew into action and steadied the space plane, which also had as one of its passengers, one plucky brunette reporter, to a safe landing. Of note, I believe they had to call the craft a “space plane” due to the recent Challenger tragedy.
After the space plane came to a stop, Lois exited and followed after Clark wanting to know who he was and what he was doing there. It wasn’t long before Clark found himself surrounded by a mob, all begging and making demands on him. He came home, because he just didn’t know how to deal with it all… Pa smiles and thinks he might just have an idea.
Back in Marvel, the next chapter is called METROPOLIS. This chapter features Clark being hired at the Daily Planet and the introduction of his classic cast. The President of the United States gets kidnapped by terrorists (not ninjas?) Clark proves to be a bad enough dude to find the POTUS, but not bad enough to take matters into his own hands. He calls the authorities and informs them of the President’s location. The raid is successful, however, not without casualties. The President himself is gravely injured. Clark realizes that he could have taken care of the entire affair on his own, and save the President without a hitch. He talks it over with his remaining parent-figure, Martha, who apparently saw the writing on the wall all along, and gives him his first costume.
Epilogue: The Super-Hero
This is a cute scene of the Kent’s creating Clark’s Superman costume… including the “S” shield. Here Clark learns that he has to carry himself, and even style his hair differently when he’s in either persona. He gets dressed, kisses Ma on her forehead and takes off… stating when someone needs a special kind of help, it’ll be a job for SUPERMAN!
The issue closes with a text piece by John Byrne.
Marvel’s closing chapter is called THE MAN OF TOMORROW. Here the costumed Clark breaks up an armored car robbery, rescues a stuck tramway car, and pulls a car full of people from a collapsed tunnel. Lois Lane approaches, and feels an instant attraction. She tries to get an interview, but he says he’d already promised Clark Kent the exclusive. The Marvel issue closes with the introduction of Lex Luthor who is shown reading the Daily Planet.
Chills. Every single time. This is an amazing way to re-imagine a legend. This Clark Kent is one that I feel is quite possibly the most relate-able one ever. The little things that Byrne adds, like him not realizing he’s “adopted”, or even that he’s anything special… even though he can fly really speaks to how he was raised, and why I feel the Kents are a necessary presence in Superman comics. It just feels wrong to follow an “orphaned” Superman. He needs them as an anchor, they are the real in his surreal world.
I like that, while this was a dense and packed (ad-free) issue, nothing felt crammed. In comparing this with the Marvel pitch, it felt as though Byrne was trying to cram everything we should know about Superman into one issue. After reading The Man of Steel #1, we haven’t been to the Daily Planet yet, we’ve barely met Lois, Lana only appeared in a few panels, and Lex is nowhere to be found. They’ll all be here soon enough, but they really weren’t necessary for this tale.
I like that most of this issue took place in Smallville. It made me feel like we were given a true opportunity to “meet” Clark Kent. He’s not just some blue-blur here… he’s a young man. The scene where he is trying to process how “everybody wants him” was amazing… and one of those things you don’t often think about when considering the private-lives of superheroes. Given his values and upbringing, Superman/Clark would almost certainly have a problem with being mobbed by people who all want something.
This is an awesome issue… an awesome series… hell, an awesome era in Superman and DC Comics alike. If you haven’t experienced the John Byrne Superman, do yourself a favor and check this stuff out.
***The Marvel Bits are from:
This issue had two covers… in a time where variant covers actually MEANT something.