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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comic Book Moments – Day 23

Here is the latest cool comic book moment in our year-long look at one cool comic book moment a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we continue our special Tear-Jerker Week of cool comic book moments!

Today’s “tear jerker” moment comes from a classic Alan Moore Superman story (the third of…hmmm…let’s now say four tear jerking moments from this story).

Enjoy!

To recap, we’re looking at the classic Alan Moore/Curt Swan “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” storyline that told the “final” Superman story before the Byrne “Man of Steel” reboot.

Yesterday, we finished up Superman (Vol. 1) #423, which was by Moore, Swan and inker George Perez. Now we’re on to Action Comics #583, which was by Moore, Swan and inker Kurt Schaffenberger.

When we left our heroes, we were in the midst of Lois Lane’s re-telling of the “last” Superman story. Superman’s villains have all become murderous sociopaths, and the strongest villains have gathered together (Luthor/Brainiac, Kryptonite Man and the Legion of Super-Villains) and are laying siege to the Fortress of Solitude, where Superman has holed up with his closest friends to protect them (Superman, Krypto, Lois, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White and Perry’s wife, Alice).

The fighting has more or less ended for the night, and Superman is talking with Perry (there is a great bit where Superman reflects on what he – Superman – feels to have been cowardice on his part not to have chosen sooner between Lois and Lana – it’s a great bit) while Lana and Jimmy make a fateful (and basically suicidal) decision (after making the decision, Lana then overhears Superman say that Lois would have been his pick, so it makes her sacrifice all the more poignant).

(Click to enlarge)

If I had to pick one “moment,” I guess I’d go with the “Nobody loved him better than us. Nobody!”

Great moment.

And again, since we still have one more moment left, please keep discussion of other specific moments from the issue until we get them all in, then you can talk about the moments all you’d like! :)

17 Comments

Wait, this, and not Krypto as the third?

Great moment. The room gets very dusty whenever i read these two issues *sniff, sniff*

Other question I have always wondered: On the cover, to Captain Marvel’s right (viewer’s left) – who is that supposed to be? A miscolored Martian Manhunter? Looks like Luthor’s colors, but why would he be there?

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 24, 2009 at 7:05 am

“Nobody loved him better than us. Nobody.”

Except for Lois.
Except for Lana.

You know Jimmy totally didn’t turn his back.

I like the dual meaning on the “second-stringers” line.

Wow, that Elastic Lad costume was weak.

No emblem. Just printed words.

How…plain.

Like I said in the earlier comments, Superman cringing and cowering while his friends storm off to get killed on his behalf is as unheroic as it gets. Superman was a guy whose life was rarely in any real danger due to the caliber of his villains in comparison to his outrageous power levels. A guy who can move planets up against the likes of Lex Luthor and Brainiac? Even the one guy who could match his power level, Bizarro, was so incredibly dumb even that wasn’t really that much of a challenge. Most of his superhero career was a cakewalk. Mxyzptlk, probably his most powerful foe, only wanted to be a nuisance and not a danger. You never really got the feeling Superman was in danger of dying in most of his adventures.

So the one time death seems imminent for him rather than an incredible long shot, what does he do? He hides and cowers and lets his friends die, all while the reader has to be beat over the head with how wonderful he is, despite his cowardly actions. This is part of DC’s “tell don’t show” problem it has with its characters, it tells you its characters are great so much that readers just start accepting it as fact without evaluating their actions anymore.

The thought of pre-Crisis Superman’s “last adventure” being one where innocence of his villains is lost, they finally start playing for keeps and his response to cringe and let his friends die protecting him is not only depressing and cynical, it’s just cowardly and unheroic.

Also, the thought that he’s too much of a coward to just tell Lana he doesn’t love her and is willing to string both of them along until his grave is pretty damn cowardly too. It’s just part of being a man. Surely it’s less jerky than letting her miss out on her prime years pining over him instead of moving on to a man who really does love her. It’s a decision he makes for himself to avoid a hard choice, not something he’s doing for their benefit. Another cowardly moment by Superman. And the thought that he gets his “out” from the hard choice by Lana dying on his behalf, for a guy who doesn’t even respect her enough to let her know his true feelings, and as a result of her death the guy is free to marry her rival, you know, the one who wasn’t out there risking her life, is depressing as well.

What exactly is so heroic about Superman in this again?

Nice. Of course, Insect Queen was Lana’s best-known superhero identity, but that wouldn’t have made this moment possible.

It’s a nice scene, but it does make Lana look pretty shallow. Jimmy is talking about responsibility and paying debts, while Lana’s sole motivation seems to be “I’ll prove I’m better than that bitch Lois!”. But then, this was an homage of sorts to the Weisinger Era, so I suppose a bit of misogyny is just Moore being authentic. ;-)

And especially authentic to that costume and powerset’s background in Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #21, which was just the setup to a super-powered catfight between Lana and Lois.

J.K., the key was that Lana was doing this BEFORE she hears what Superman was saying. She and Jimmy were both sacrificing themselves alREADY, her learning that bit about Superman loving Lois was just added emotion.

Well, the pathos of the Silver Age Superman is that he was *deeply* helpless.

He could time-travel and had complete knowledge of what a wonderful place Krypton was, but couldn’t save it.

He was raised by loving earth-parents, and couldn’t save them, making him an orphan twice-over.

One childhood best friend became his bitterest enemy.

Another childhood potential best friend he had to sentence to a thousand years of torment to save his life.

He could never win the love of the woman he loved in the way he wanted (and the Moore gloss on that, while poignant and in-character, isn’t quite right– the point was that he wanted Lois to love *Clark*.)

For decades he couldn’t help Kandor.

And ultimately he couldn’t save his cousin.

The usual trope that he was boring because he could do anything and everything and he only became interesting after his cape could get burned on reentry was always entirely wrong. He was hemmed in on all sides by self-imposed restrictions and by the human condition– so the fact that he was hemmed in for much of WHTTMOT doesn’t bother me.

Jacob, it’s not that he tried and failed. It’s that when he saw death coming, he didn’t try at all. He hid and cowered and acted scared. And the regular humans stepped up where he was afraid to and died. It wasn’t like your examples where he was trying and ended up failing. It was that he didn’t try at all for selfish reasons, and the people he was sworn to protect had more guts in the end than he did. The more insurmountable the odds, the more he should have tried to protect his loved ones, even at the cost of his own life. So when it’s kooky Toyman or low-power Luthor or superdumb Bizarro, he can save them a million times and get the glory, but when it’s a threat that looks insurmountable and entails no glory, just a death in the remote arctic, he passes and lets his friends take the weight and die?

I’m not one of those people who think Superman is automatically better when depowered, although I do think he needs more challenging villains. I just hate when people just call a Superman story heroic simply because the text of the story hammers the point home that he’s heroic nonstop. If you look at his actual actions in the story divorced from the near propaganda written in the text, he’s a coward in the story.

I have this same problem with Kingdom Come, another great supposed example of Superman heroism. He is fine fighting crime when everyone looks up to him, the moment he faces a challenge from other heroes and the refuse to do things his way, he pouts like a kid playing street football who gets a bad call and leaves like a kid who’s taking his ball home to sulk. Then we’re supposed to believe that the modern heroes, the ones who stuck around and actually kept fighting the good fight instead of throwing tantrums and sulking, were the bad examples. So what if their methods were flawed, at least they weren’t quitters and they tried to keep doing the right thing. To this day I still have no idea why Superman is supposed to be considered more heroic than the modern heroes in Kingdom Come other than the fact that Waid and the characters just tell us so over and over in-story.

T – I’m gonna go waaaaay out on a limb here and say you haven’t read this story in a while.

I’m with you on the Lois-Clark-Superman-Lana love triangle, but that’s always been deeply messed up, based in a child’s view of adult relationships and the not-always-successful way the Silver Age Superman books tried to incorporate sitcom style humor.

I don’t see regrouping in a safe, strategic location, where neither Superman nor his allies were in any danger as “cowering” The narrative text says “As night fell, it seemed that a standoff was declared there was a lull in the battle, we all knew it wouldn’t last long.” This was after a pitched battle, starting around noon, where Superman was actively, and CONSTANTLY, fighting off Brani-Luthor’s attacks, and doing some serious damage to Braniac’s machines. Superman simply took a break from a war or attrition, hoping that the contingent of heroes outside including Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, the Martian Manhunter, Superwoman, and… um… Green Arrow (for moral support, I guess) might break through the barrier in the meantime.

Now I grant you, there’s a heck of a lot of LOGICAL problems with the scenario, but all of them make Superman look stupid, not cowardly.

(Come on! He has a lead-lines suit, right? He has weapons, right? He’s much faster than any of his enemies, right? Why isn’t the Kryptonite Man doin’ 25-to-life in the Phantom Zone in the flick of a synapse?)

And, of course, not keeping constant, vigilant watch on Jimmy goddamn Olsen proved to be a major tactical error.

And, to counter your last, over-generalized anti-DC point, lemme give you a quote from the very last page of the story:

Superman? He was overrated and too wrapped up in himself. He thought the world couldn’t get along without him.

And three guesses who actually uttered the above snippet.

So claiming that DC “tells you its characters are great so much that readers just start accepting it as fact without evaluating their actions anymore” is flat-out wrong, at least in this story.

MarkAndrew – I admit, I did not read the book in a while. I’m still not a fan of the story, but you do make some decent points in its defense.

It’s that when he saw death coming, he didn’t try at all. He hid and cowered and acted scared. And the regular humans stepped up where he was afraid to and died. It wasn’t like your examples where he was trying and ended up failing. It was that he didn’t try at all for selfish reasons, and the people he was sworn to protect had more guts in the end than he did. The more insurmountable the odds, the more he should have tried to protect his loved ones, even at the cost of his own life.

T, this is a pretty classic scene from heroic stories. The hero is always in his tent the night before the final battle talking about the choices that he has made with a confidant. Macbeth learned of the death of Lady Macbeth in such a setting and gave a pretty famous soliloquy (something about Sound and Fury…). Tennyson had King Arthur reproaching Guinevere prior to his final battle. Copolla had Michael Corleone in the garden with his father before finishing all the Family business in “The Godfather”. It is a standard scene and hardly “cowardly”. It is a man preparing for his own death. It says something about Superman that he spends his last night worrying about others. Maybe not making the right tactical choices, but caring deeply about their feelings.

Maybe if Moore had more than two issues, he would have spent the time to close off the various tactical options and add to the tension. Instead, he cuts to the chase and makes excellent use of a stock heroic scene and silly bit of Silver Age business to make an emotional point. Personally, I love this moment.

I’m with you on the Lois-Clark-Superman-Lana love triangle, but that’s always been deeply messed up, based in a child’s view of adult relationships and the not-always-successful way the Silver Age Superman books tried to incorporate sitcom style humor.

MarkAndrew, I disagree slightly with you here. On a metaphoric level, Superman is sort of the opposite of the Hulk. The Hulk gets stronger as he gets angrier. That makes for pretty straight-forward drama, since you just have to put something annoying in Bruce Banner’s way, give him a reason not to get angry and you have got a story.

Superman requires a more subtle writer.

The Man of Steel derives his strength from his heart. His compassion, warmth and empathy are what make him powerful. The guy never seems to hate anyone. For example, he is always talking about what a wonderful guy Lex Luthor could be, if he would just straighten out his priorities.

That leaves him with an enemy problem. There are a finite number of ways that you can have an antagonist when the spite is only going one way. On the top tier: you have an accident causing a rift (Lex), someone who hates him because of his father (General Zod) and someone who is dispassionately evil in a vaguely Nazi-like way (Brainiac). There is nothing as personal as the Green Goblin or Two-Face.

What the versions of the Superman story that have worked the best for me (the Weisinger stuff, the Donner films, “Smallville”) have done is move the focus away from the enemies. One of the best ways to do that has been love triangles. Lois-Superman-Clark is the classic, but Lana-Superman-Lois is actually under-used at this point. I’ve always liked Lana and it seems like there are some great stories left untold there. For example, is Clark reluctant to tell Lois that he is Superman because of something that happened in Smallville? It seems logical.

Moore’s stuff does have an element of misogyny, true, but this was Moore trying to explain why Super-man let Lana and Lois spends year basically having one extended cat fight over him. It doesn’t completely work, but he did try. And I think this scene it makes Lana look all the better. She knows Supes is never going to pick her over Lana. If anything, most women would have said “Fine, let that skank go out there and fight for you, I’m done”. But, instead, she still loves him enough to possibly sacrifice herself for him anyway.

It makes another scene from that issue look awesome as well. After the Legion of Super-villains kill Lana, they admit it to Supes, and he freaks out. He screams at them about killing Lana, and starts blasting them with his heat vision. Saturn Queen, who is telepathic, picks up from his thoughts that he actually wants to kill them, so they run. It’s interesting as that is the moment which pushes him over the edge, from wanting to stop his opponents to killing them. And it’s much like the “Burn” scene which was already posted, but while he was calm there, he’s all rage in this scene…

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