Superman (vol.2) #148 (1999)

Superman (vol.2) #148 (September, 1999)
Writer – Dan Jurgens
Pencils – Steve Epting
Inks – Joe Rubinstein
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Glenn Whitmore
Separations – Digital Chameleon
Associate Editor – Maureen McTigue
Editor – Joey Cavalieri
Cover Price: $1.99

Welcome to the post-Crisis DC Universe, Vartox!  What took you so long to get here?!

Yes, my friends, it took Vartox until just before the turn of the century to make his post-Crisis debut.  What’s more… he’s stuck sharing the spotlight with a pair of geeks we’ve never seen before… and after this story, will never see again.  Good thing Vartox Week doesn’t discriminate!

Oh well… can we at least hope that some of the Vartoxian charm survived intact?  Well…………

We open with Superman arriving on Mars to do NASA a solid in changing out a battery on a rover… which he does with ease!  But then… he is overcome by a strange sensation, and vanishes!

He arrives on a seemingly barren planet… in a far off solar system.  He deduces pretty quick that the NASA rover’s battery dying was likely due to some powerful entity setting Superman up to put him in the right position for snatchin’.  It’s at this point he finds himself attacked by… could it be?  Is it?  Yep, it’s Vartox!

Looks like Var is also a victim of forcible teleportation… but, it’s not just him… also, a woman called Vestion and an odd critter called Paz.  From what I can tell, Vestion and Paz are brand-new characters.  The gimmick here is, they are champions of their respective worlds, and have been summoned to this planet the same way Superman was.  Superman pleads with them that they work together to get to the bottom of the situation.

We shift scenes to the Kent farm in Smallville where Lois is visiting with her in-laws.  Lois is a bit out of sorts, due to Clark’s recent job change and his overwhelming Superman-schedule.  Their chat is interrupted by the arrival of Pete and Lana Ross… who have with them, their new baby… Clark!  Well, that’s just a bit too much for Lois to take.  She excuses herself to the bathroom to process the idea that her husband’s old girlfriend named her baby after him.

Back in space… Superman, Vartox and the rest are addressed by their captors… the very sands of the planet they’re standing on.  They claim that there are invaders imminent… and they require the aid of these champions to fight them off so they can evolve and prosper.  To illustrate their kindness… the sand critters tell the champions that regardless if they choose to help them or not, they will be sent back home.

The champions decide to pitch in an stop the invaders.  Vartox declares that they be sent to the invaders straight away… despite Superman’s suggestion that they might wanna formulate a plan first.  Before they know it, they’re in the thick of it… with Vartox bee-lining toward a great big deadly tower.  Realizing the danger, Superman scoops up his allies and “nopes” the hell out of there.

He drags his teammates to a clearing so they can catch their breath… and ya know, plan an effective way to take down the interlopers.  Paz and Vestion run interference, while Vartox nails the deadly tower… and Superman hoists the baddies’ Destroyer Warship into space.

The invaders immediately submit… and beg to be allowed to leave the planet unharmed.  Superman, being Superman… is cool with it.  And so, the aerial armada leaves… promising never to return.

As promised, Superman is returned home.  Vartox and the rest… are not.  Turns out this was all a ruse… Vartox, Vestion, and Paz are indeed champions of their respective planets… however, they are being held hostage by their shadowy employer.  They are to deliver Superman… and the Earth, or else… their planets of Valeron, Gravacus-7, and Po’ahn will be destroyed.

Well.  That was Vartox’s post-Crisis debut… pretty, uh, underwhelming… right?

It’s pretty clear he was just a “warm body” here… just a slot-filler, who some tenured readers might recognize.  Gone is all of his tortured characterization (and silliness)… all we’re left with is a hot-headed brawler.  His new costume sucks too, by the way.

Would I have been happier with no Vartox at all?  Well, probably not… if you know me, I’m a big “lore” guy… and, even though this Vartox ignores everything that happened to him during the Bronze Age (I mean, Valeron is still a thing post-Crisis)… I’m still happy for any callback.

Vartox aside, it was a pretty decent little story.  It was nice seeing that Superman’s fellow “Champions” weren’t inherently evil… instead, they were “just following orders” lest their mysterious benefactor destroy their respective homeworlds.

The brief visit to Smallville was also pretty neat.  It’s interesting seeing Lois’ reaction to the Ross’ new baby… who just so happens to have been named after her husband.  That’s bound to be awkward… and it was handled pretty perfectly here.  Lois being one to never let ’em “see ya sweat”, it stands to reason that she’d be all smiles until she could break away to reflect.  Really interested in watching this develop.

Overall… if you’re buying this for Vartox… you might be disappointed.  If you’re a member of the Vartox faithful, well… then you’re gonna need this one in your library regardless.  This issue is actually available digitally… which, not counting his very brief appearance in “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” might just mark Vartox’s earliest appearance in the digital shop!

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