Superman (vol.2) #150 (1999)

Superman (vol.2) #150 (November, 1999)
“Earth’s Final Hour”
Writer – Dan Jurgens
Penciller – Steve Epting
Inker – Joe Rubinstein
Letterer – John Costanza
Colorist – Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor – Maureen McTigue
Editor – Joey Cavalieri
Cover Price: $2.95

This issue has a fitting title, “Earth’s Final Hour”… because, this might just be the final day of Vartox Week.  The next few issues featuring the Manliest Man Who Ever Done Manned came out at the tail-end of my unemploymentstravaganza… a time where comics couldn’t even touch my Top 10 list of priorities.

And, wouldn’tcha know it… they’re proving to be some tough books to track down in the now!  So, unless we have another Vartox Week Miracle in us… this might just be it (for now).  I think it’s something like… if we all believe in Vartox, it can happen!  We might have to all clap or something too.  Might not be a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s worth a shot!

I will be pounding the pavement today.

We open with Superman looking into the present crisis Earth is facing.  Ya see, there are hundreds… nay thousands of large needles raining down on the planet, and embedding into the ground.  Superman is helpless to stop them… there’s really just too many.  He is connected via comm-link to Professor Emil Hamilton… who also doesn’t have any answers or suggestions.  However, he does reveal that this appears to be a world-wide phenomenon.

Superman attempts to yank one of the drilling needles out of the ground… and receives a terrible shock which sends him flying.

Then… the drill-needles begin to fall… in Metropolis!  The people proceed to freak out… which is likely the only acceptable reaction to something like this.  Jimmy Olsen tries to settle a few tea kettles, until Hamilton informs him that this might, in fact, be the end.

Superman begins heading back toward Metropolis, when he is struck in the sky by a flying tanker truck?!

Courtesy of… well, Vartox of course!

And he didn’t come alone.  Vestion and Paz are also there… and they take turns whuppin’ on Superman.  Paz uses his powers to open a portal… which expels Kryptonite gas.  Superman goes green and hits the ground.

It’s here that we learn just who employed these three champions… Brainiac!  He draws the Kryptonite out of him… becasue he wants him to see his world destroyed.

Superman zaps Paz’s wrist-mounted augmentation device with his heat-vision… to which, Brainiac laughs.  He then uses that same heat-vision to heat up a natural gas pipeline… which Brainiac finds far less humorous.

Superman uses the distraction to “Clark down” and hide among the rubble.  Brainiac and the gang don’t even bother to check the area for him, instead they head back to Brainiac’s (sadly not-skull-shaped) orbiting ship.

Meanwhile in Metropolis, the Ross’s drop in on Lois.  These folks are like bad pennies… they just keep showing up!  Pete drops Lana and Baby Clarkie off, and asks Lois to join him for a walk down to the corner store to buy some diapers.  This is obviously just an excuse to chat up Lois without Lana around.  He apologizes if “Baby Clarkie” makes her feel weird… and he himself even wonders if Lana might still have a thing for the adult Clark.

Speaking of whom… Superman returns to he and Lois’ apartment, and is surprised to find a different L.L. sitting on his couch!  At this point, Vartox delivers a message… Superman must give himself up, or Metropolis will be destroyed.  Well, can’t say he isn’t original with his threats.

Looking skyward, we can see Brainiac’s (non-skull-shaped) orbiting ship… it’s impressive from a size perspective… but, would’ve been worlds cooler had it been shaped like a skull.  Whattayagonnado?

Superman flies off to a rooftop and does the whole “You want some?  Come get some!” bit… and learns that Vartox and Company indeed “want some”.  It’s a quick and bittersweet victory for the baddies… and Vartox promises to make Superman’s death as painless as possible.  Brainiac, however, makes no such promise… and blasts Superman to a pile of ashes.  Now, for a dude named “Brainiac” shouldn’t he be thinking “Wow, that was a bit too easy…” right about now?

With their job complete, Brainiac’s Champions ask to be sent home to their now-spared planets.  Well, not so fast kemosabes… Brainiac makes them watch as he destroys Paz’s homeworld of Po’ahn.

Just then, the embedded needle-drills begin to glow… it looks as though Earth will be the next planet to crumble.  Well, no… ya see, Superman ain’t dead after all.

Superman and the Champions proceed to beat the hell out of Brainiac… beating him all the way back through his orbiting ship.  They do so with such swiftness that he does not have the time to detonate Valeron, Gravacus-7… or even a planet we give half a damn about, Earth!  Paz leaps in, and uses his powers to teleport Brainiac into the ship’s fuel pods… which doesn’t look terribly comfortable.

With Brainiac out of the way, Superman reveals his sleight of body trick.  When Brainiac fired at him, Vartox used his hyper-shield to protect Superman… at the very same time, Paz teleported Superman away to safety.  This was their plan the entire time… though, nobody filled Vestion in.

As Superman and Emil Hamilton work in tandem to jam Brainiac’s signal (and neutralizing the drill-needle-spear things), the big man himself creeps out of the fuel pods… and uses a blast to send the Champions flying.

He’s not interested in hanging around though… Brainiac takes this opportunity to beat a hasty retreat.  Superman goes to follow… but is stopped by the Champions.  This is their fight now… and this is the last we’ll see Vartox until after yet another Crisis.

We wrap up the issue, and the Dan Jurgens run on Superman with a message about how precious life is… and, with a wink to the reader, how Superman will never stop fighting for truth and justice.

Well… that was Vartox’s stay in the post-Crisis DC Universe.  As mentioned during the synopsis… his next appearance wouldn’t be until the “nebulous interim” known as the post-Infinite Crisis DCU… to be more specific, Power Girl (vol.2) #7 (February, 2010)… which I’ve got my eye on!

This also ends Dan Jurgens’ time as the long-tenured architect of the Superman line.  His was a great run… I will likely always view Dan as the Superman creator of my generation.  But, times they were a’changing… and it might’ve been the right time to inject some new blood and new voices into the Super-books.

As for this issue on its own… it’s really rather convenient, isn’t it?  Superman “dies”, and returns revealing it was all according to a plan that… not even all of the Champions were privy to, much less the reader!  It’s a shame, because the needle-drill gimmick is a good one!  This is actually a threat that Superman cannot stop… it’s just not possible for him to be quick enough.  Early on in the issue, he said “for every one I destroy… another hundred fall.”  Those are some high-stakes.

That, of course, begs some questions… why weren’t there more people panicking?  Where was the Justice League?  Or hell, where were just the other Metropolis-based superheroes?  Or those who wear “S”s on their chests?  Hard to really judge the stakes when only Superman seems concerned.

Overall… if you’re buying this strictly for Vartox… you’re likely to be disappointed.  Like I said yesterday, Vartox was clearly just a warm-body that long-time readers would recognize.  It’s doubtful that there were any future plans for the character… especially with this being Jurgens’ swan song before the Berganza-era settles in.

Some great art… and a really good (if not a tad too convenient) story.  Worth a look if you find it in the cheap-o’s.

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