Superman: The Man of Steel #91 (1999)

Superman: The Man of Steel #91 (August, 1999)
Writers – John Rozum & Mark Schultz
Art – Charlie Adlard, Doug Mahnke & Tom Nguyen
Letters – Phil Felix & Ken Lopez
Colors – Glenn Whitmore
Separations – Digital Chameleon
Associate Editor – Maureen McTigue
Editor – Joey Cavalieri
Special Thanks – Scott Koblish
Cover Price: $1.99

We’ve got a weird one today… one that kinda feels like the result of “dreaded deadline doom”… but, very fun nonetheless.

We open with Lois returning home to find her husband typing away at the computer… with his tights uniform on!  She asks him what he’s working on, and he explains that it’s a “story”… one which he was unwittingly a part of.  He prints out a copy so she can give it a (not-so-analytical) scan… and we hop right into it ourselves!  We meet a man named Musgrove, who is speaking to a counselor named Dr. Samenpur… remember that name.  Musgrove is convinced that Superman… is out to get him.

Ya see, it all started not too long ago, when Musgrove worked for Wackyland Toy Company.  He was an “idea man”, who came up with new concepts for board games and the like.  He worked for a man named Morgan, who had no issue taking complete credit for Mussy’s ideas.  As you may imagine, this rubbed our man the wrong way.

And so, he decided from that point on to never to share an idea until it was ready to go into production… this way, he’ll be able to get full credit.  The paranoia is setting in… only compounded by the fact that he’s noticed Superman flying past his apartment window three times in a single hour.  He’s convinced that Morgan has hired Superman to “keep an eye on” him.

The next day, Morgan visits Musgrove’s cubicle and asks what he’s working on.  Tight-lipped, our man doesn’t say much… to which, the boss comments that he’s sure, whatever it is, it’s bound to be “Super”.  Uh-oh.  According to Musgrove, the way he said “super” was very suspect.

And so that evening, Musgrove returned home to his apartment… and realizing that he didn’t have the resources to completely line his apartment with lead… he lined a box for his game ideas instead.  He then worried that maybe Superman could read his thoughts, meaning he’ll still be able to steal his game idea… and so, it’s tinfoil (and lead) hat time!

He became so obsessed with his new game idea, that he quit Wackyland Toys and devoted all of his time to it.  Some time later, his game was finally done… and ready to be shopped around.  Wouldn’tcha know it, while on his way to try and sell the thing, he finds himself stuck in the middle of a(n on-foot) jewel heist getaway!  Superman takes up the tail, and catches the baddies… but not before all of Musgrove’s notes are flung all over da place!  Superman does his thing to recover them… but, as far as Musgrove is concerned, all Superman wanted to do was get a peek at his idea.

Dr. Samenpur asks Musgrove what his game’s all about, and we learn that it’s called “Invasion Earth”… and get this it’s based on what he believes Superman is up to!  He explains that the game is sort of like Risk… only, instead of countries, it’s a battle between planets.  So, yeah… it’s exactly Risk, with a re-skin.

Ya see, Musgrove isn’t convinced that Superman was the sole survivor of Krypton… and, ya know, judging by how many Kryptonians are running around at this time, it’s hard to tell him that he’s wrong.  What he’s actually thinking, is that the Kryptonians are laying in wait for Superman’s “signal” to invade and take over.  That’s where “Invasion Earth” comes in.  Musgrove compares Generals using Chess as a means to employ strategy, and he figures that once “Invasion Earth” gets some play, folks will be able to fight off the supposed Kryptonian invasion.  Ya follow?

Only one problem with that plan though… ya see, kids ain’t playing board games anymore.  Upon visiting with Felix Walton of Brad Lee Norman Games, our man discovers that it’s all about the video games nowaways.  Which, I mean, if he could turn “Invasion Earth” into a video game, it might actually “train” people to fight off the aliens, right?  I mean, the military uses ’em, don’t they?

While Musgrove is getting the bad news, he notices a copy of the Daily Star on Walton’s desk.  He learns that Superman will be at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Children’s Hospital, and decides that might just be the place to confront his foe.

As Superman delivers his speech, he realizes that there is a building on fire nearby.  He cuts the ribbon with his heat vision, however before he can take his leave, Musgrove runs up to shake his hand.  While shaking, Mussy pins a tracer to Superman’s sleeve.  He also whispers that he’s “on to” him.  A confused Superman flies off.

Musgrove checks in on his tracer… and is shocked to learn that Superman is actually headed directly for his apartment building… ya see, that’s the building currently on fire.  Musgrove runs in for another confrontation… and, assuming Superman burned down his building to keep “Invasion Earth” from hitting the public, even throws a punch at the Man of Steel’s jaw…

Superman warns the fella that he’s got a few broken digits, and suggests he see the paramedics before taking off.  When he does, however, Musgrove stabs one of them in the eye… and bites off the thumb of another.  Uh-oh… dude’s lost it.  Ya see, this session with Dr. Samenpur, is actually court-ordered.

Musgrove is starting to lose his patience, and asks that Samenpur deliver his message… get his game out into the ether.  Frightened, and perhaps looking to diffuse the situation, the Doc agrees.  Then, Musgrove thinks on it a bit… ya see, Samenpur… is just Superman with the letters rearranged!

Enraged, Musgrove throws Samenpur out the window!  Lucky for her, Superman just happened to be flying by.

Next thing we know, Musgrove is being wheeled into the Mount Hope Home… where he tries to pitch his game to some other troubled souls.

We wrap up with Superman and Lois, having finished going through this weird story… and Superman taking inventory of just what it means to be a “symbol”.

What a strange little story!  Had a lot of fun with this one.

Ya know, concepts like “paranoia” can be pretty fascinating… and perhaps don’t get enough play in superhero comics.  I mean, if we look at this story, and consider that Harvey Musgrove is just one guy… gotta wonder just how many Metropolitans are there that are constantly looking over their shoulder expecting that Superman is watching them?

Now paranoia isn’t an altogether alien sensation for me… I’ve been known to partake in delusional worries and irrational frame of mind myself.  I think we all do to an extent… which is why a story like this might resonate so well, even if it’s amped to the nth degree.  I’ll concede that I’ve looked over my own shoulder a time or two… but, I promise you that I’ve never bit anyone’s thumb off.

Now Superman as a “symbol”… not the ending I was hoping for.  I wanted there to be introspection, sure, but the symbolic nature of Superman kind of hinders the nuances that this story could have.  I mean, lets take Superman out of the equation altogether…

… I think it’s safe to say we all have certain people in our lives that we really don’t want to look foolish in front of, right?  And doesn’t it always wind up being those people who see us screwing up or looking foolish?  There’s this confluence of coincidence… almost a joke on a cosmic level, that the people we want to look our best for are the ones who see us at our worst.  It’s almost without fail!

Let’s look at Harvey Musgrove.  Superman just always happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to feed into his delusions, his paranoia, and his victimization.  He feels as though he’s a target… perhaps a bit like how many of us feel on the highways and expressways when we notice a “speed trap”.  We feel singled out, even though there are hundreds of vehicles passing the Officer every minute.  Though, perhaps I’m paranoia-ly projecting!

Maybe it’s because I grew up in New York… I mean, who didn’t feel like they were being watched by… this guy?

Though, with Musgrove… there sure was an awful lot of coincidences, I’m not sure even a rational person in his position wouldn’t become a bit unnerved.  Though, a rational person probably wouldn’t lock themselves in their apartment to work on a game to stop a supposed alien invasion… but, whattayagonnado?

Anyhoo, It’s rare that an issue that so clearly feels like a fill-in can be so captivating.  This was an interesting transitional period in the Superman books… one that I’m always tempted to go back and re-experience.  Maybe one’a these days, when I discover the 25th through 30th hours of the day!  This issue is well worth a look, and is available digitally.

Letters Page (featuring a familiar face):

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