Superman (vol.2) #1 (January, 1987)
“Heart of Stone”
Story & Pencils – John Byrne
Guest Inks – Terry Austin
Letters – John Costanza
Colors – Tom Ziuko
Editor – Andrew Helfer
Cover Price: $0.75
Here’s one that’s a long time coming… I’m actually a bit surprised we haven’t discussed this one before.
We open with Superman busting through the wall of a lead-lined laboratory in search of his stolen rocket/birthing matrix. This is hot off the heels of Man of Steel, so the whole “strange visitor from another planet” bit is all pretty new to him. For that matter, so is wearing an outfit equipped with a cape. Anyhoo, he continues through the seemingly abandoned lab, until he comes across a whole lot of data… about himself!
He walks around looking at all of the pictures and information regarding him, and uses that as an excuse to mentally expound and drop a whole lotta exposition… f’r instance, in his civilian identity he goes by “Clark Kent”… and he grew up in Smallville… and now works for the Daily Planet in Metropolis. Before getting too wrapped up in his own life story, Superman happens across the long-dead body of a scientist. He deduces the fella had his neck snapped, and has been dead for several weeks at this point. After scanning his fingerprints, Superman’s more or less convinced that this is the guy behind the Birthing Matrix theft.
Before heading outside, Superman notes the presence of a vat of acid. After grabbing a scoop of the stuff, he observes that there are bits of human bone in the soup.
Realizing he’s late for a civvie-situation, and not wanting anyone else to happen across the lab…. Superman just plucks a whole bunch’a Earth around it, and takes it to the Lagrange Point between the Earth and Moon… that’s where the gravitational pull between them is equal, and so the lab should stay put while he attends to other matters…
… matters like, going for a jog with Lois Lane! After a quick change of clothes and a lambasting from Lois for being “four minutes late” for their run… they finally get to it. Something I’d forgotten in the years since, Lois and Clark were pretty flirty here! It’s kind of Moonlighting-ish, which I suppose makes sense considering the year.
As they jog along, they pass by a bank. Naturally, the bank is being robbed. Well, not so much robbed, but occupied by a big ol’ brute with a very stylish rat-tail. Lois’ nose-for-news gets the best of her, and she tries to get a closer look. This works out just about as well as you might imagine.
Clark rushes in for the save… but, since he’s not in his “work clothes”, has to pull his punch. What’s more, he has to roll with the punch he receives in return! This allows enough space for Clark to “supe up” and confront his follicly-fashionable foe.
After demanding this guy “unhand that woman”, Superman grabs the baddie by the… well, not so much “collar”, but the upper portion of his open vest. I tell ya, this dude dresses for success. They say don’t dress for the job you have… dress for the one you want. From the looks of it, this fella wants to be Bayou Billy. Anyhoo, shockingly the big guy hurls Superman through a wall!
Superman lunges back in, and Lois runs off looking like she’s trying to get to the bathroom before having an accident. I mean, she’s really clenched here… or, maybe just she’s skating and forgot the wheels, I dunno. She’s actually just looking for Clark. When she doesn’t find him, she assumes Superman already swooped him away to safety.
The baddie, self-identified as Metallo, continues pummeling Superman… and vows to kill him. Superman, beaten and battered, asks why. This takes us into a neat “split-screen” sort of situation, where we see that Metallo had been working with the scientist from earlier… and by “working with” I mean “was experimented on by”.
As Metallo continues to choke Superman out, the police bust in… and unload several shots into the villain’s chest!
Lois rushes to Superman’s side to check on him. He’s certain the threat is over… since he can’t detect Metallo’s heartbeat. Well, not so fast, kemosabe… Metallo is alive and well, because, ya know… instead of a heart, he’s got a hunk of Kryptonite in his chest.
We jump back into flashback mode, and watch as the scientist rants on and on about Superman being an alien invader. He speaks of twenty-eight years prior when he watched a spaceship crash down in Kansas… the very one he’d eventually steal. Along with the ship was a message from Jor-El. From this, the scientist deduced that Superman originally hailed from Krypton… and also, that chunks of his home planet were harmful to him. Where he got that second part, I haven’t the foggiest. The Green-K is implanted in Metallo’s chest… and, seeing as though he’s now powerful enough to kill Superman, Metallo goes on ahead and snaps the Doc’s neck.
While Superman and Metallo resume combat, we jump over to the LexCorp Building, where Mistuh Luthuh is brought up to speed on everything going on. He is not pleased to hear that someone else might wind up taking Superman down before he gets the chance.
Back at the bank, the battle brings the house down! Lois tries to head over to check on Superman, but is restrained by the police. From the rubble rises… a less-human-looking Metallo, and he’s holding Superman’s torn cape!
Superman pulls himself out of the wreckage as well… and drags himself up Metallo’s body, which the baddie finds both humorous and pathetic. At this point, Metallo’s chest opens… revealing his Kryptonite Heart. Feeling the effects, Superman immediately recoils.
Just when it looks like all hope is lost, Metallo… vanishes?!
Lois rushes by Superman’s side, and explains that one second, Metallo was standing there… the next, there was a great big shadow… and then, Metallo was gone! Superman has a sneaking suspicion who might’ve been behind that…
I can’t remember the last time I even looked at this issue… probably at least twenty years. It feels kinda weird as a “first issue”, until you take into account that this could more or less be Man of Steel #7. Not sure what you’d be thinking if you were a long-time fan of the character at this point, and somehow missed out on the status-quo shifting miniseries before reading this. I guess you’d probably be thinking “I’d better track down that status-quo shifting miniseries.”
Looking back on this some thirty-something years later, I’m trying to figure out if this was a more staggering change to the Superman-faithful than subsequent reboots/relaunches/new takes. Considering that this sort of thing didn’t happen all that often back in the long ago, I figure it probably was. I feel like, as fans today, we’re always kinda bracing for the announcement that “everything we know is wrong”… it’s just a well the creatively bereft go to a little too often anymore. I’d assume there was definitely more of a novelty to such an endeavor in the mid-late 1980’s.
Since Man of Steel, I can think of nearly a half-dozen re-takes on the character… and we’ve discussed all of ’em here! Heck, I’m sure I’m probably leaving a few out!
So yeah… with our jaded and tired 2019 eyes, it might not be so easy to note what a seismic shift this book was to fans of the Silver and Bronze Ages.
It’s probably safe to assume that Superman was de-aged a little bit for this. We’re given an age of 28… which maybe makes him less of your “dad”, and more of your “cool uncle”… which is fine. He’s old enough to be considered an “adult” without being seen as “over the hill”. Also, 28 in 1987 is probably a tad bit different than 28 in 2019. I think late-20’s/early-30’s is probably the best age for pre-married Superman.
Speaking of “pre-married”, I was almost taken aback by Lois and Clark’s awkward sorta-kinda adversarial flirting during their jog. Like I said, it’s been forever since I’d read this… but this was something I didn’t really recall. I just assumed their relationship started here the same way it always seems to. Wasn’t expecting Clark to try and lay on the charm… but was pleased to see that he did!
The art here is classic Byrne, which… to me, Byrne in the 80’s was like the prototypical comic book artist. Like the old “dictionary definition” of a comic book artist. Very clean, easy to follow, not over-drawn. His writing… it’s pretty wordy. Not a bad thing… and it would likely be enough to keep a kid quiet for a leg of road-trip… but, it’s definitely noticeable. Feels like he’s competing with Claremont for words-per-page!
I suppose much of the exposition was necessary… however, I feel like it might’ve been better presented in captions rather than having Superman “think” everything. It just came across as pretty clunky… not sure anybody thinks so “clunkily”.
Overall, this is certainly an important issue, and starts to establish the new status-quo. Like many “first issues” of the day, some of the more interesting (to me) stuff is in the essay that occupies the “letters page” (included below). Lots of neat stuff from Byrne in there… it feels like he was really hankering down for an extended stay with the character! This issue is available digitally… though, if you search for “Superman #1” over at DC Digital, you’re going to be searching for awhile!
(Not the) Letters Page: