Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Flea Market Finds: Superman v.2 #35

Posted by Don MacPherson on August 24th, 2014

Superman v.2 #35
“Visions of Grandeur” & “the Racer’s Edge”
Writer: Jerry Ordway
Pencils: Curt Swan & Kerry Gammill
Inks: Dennis Janke
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Letters: John Costanza
Cover artists: Gammill & Janke
Editor: Mike Carlin
Price: 75 cents US/95 cents CAN

Those original 1989 prices listed above may seem like an incredible bargain by today’s standards, but I got this quirky, quarter-century-old (!) comic book at a local flea market along with three other 1980s books for a mere two bucks. Money well spent. This particular post-Crisis comic is noteworthy for a number of reasons. First of all, there’s the participation of the late, legendary Curt Swan, whose work in the 1960s to the early ’80s defined the look of the Man of Steel for a couple of generations. But more interesting is the unconventional, divided approach to the storytelling. Jerry Ordway has crafted two tales here, one occupying the top half of each page and the other, the bottom. Each is illustrated by a different penciller and focuses on a different character, but what’s so novel about it is how the two stories and their visuals mirror on another.

Lexcorp scientists observe and monitor a comatose Milton Fine in a remote facility, ensuring the dangerous criminal doesn’t regain consciousness, as Lex Luthor has warned them of what a danger the strange man poses. Little to do those scientists know that lurking within that dormant form is Brainiac, who’s undergoing a psychic journey to regain his mental strength so he can break free of his human jail. Meanwhile, Morgan Edge, telecommunications tycoon and secret agent of Apokalyptian evil, teeters on the brink of death in a hospital bed, haunted by a mysterious dark figure. Edge is tormented by memories of a traumatic childhood and visions of the devils with whom he’d bargained for power and freedom from their malevolent persecution.

While it was a pleasure to sample Curt Swan’s work again, his style isn’t quite as apparent as usual. The reason is clear: inker Dennis Janke’s role appears to be to bring some consistency to this divided comic book, which is a valid approach given the circumstances. Kerry Gammill’s work, on the other hand, tends to resemble the style of John Byrne at times in this issue (especially when Darkseid is included in the imagery). It may be intentional, given that Byrne was the writer and penciller for the first 22 issues of this series. Visually, while the split approach to the storytelling is interesting, constantly looking to the top and then the bottom of the page is a bit disorienting at times. I tried reading one of the stories on its own and then returning to the beginning of the book to read the other, but the mirror effect of key panels and sequences draw the eye and connect the stories.

Given how immersed these two storylines were in Superman continuity at the time, they’re pretty accessible. I wasn’t reading this title much during this period, post-Byrne, but Ordway’s script fills the reader in on just about everything s/he needs to know to follow Brainiac’s and Morgan’s personal plotlines. And that’s what Ordway offers here: a couple of character studies, and the fact that the focus is on villains rather than the titular hero or his supporting cast is a little different.

Unfortunately, while some of the character-driven bits are intriguing, nothing actually happens in this comic book. The larger or even smaller plots really aren’t advanced at all. Given the use of the divided focus and two pencillers, this feels instead like something of a place holder, a filler issue assembled in a hurry or as something of an inventory piece. Furthermore, in the character studies, there’s nothing to like about Brainiac or Edge, and not much with which to sympathize — save for the Black Racer, whose story is really glossed over in favor of the “stars” of this particular issue. Still, as something of a rare experiment in mainstream super-hero comics and as a flashback to the Copper Age, it was definitely worth my four bits. 5/10

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