Superman comics continue to baffle me. Somehow they manage to combine kid-friendly, sometimes downright silly storylines with a deeper subtextual meaning that hasn’t really been seen in too many other comics on “the shelf.” This collection is no exception to that, merging a few rather random and bizarre events with a deeper tale about Superman’s quest for identity.
The stories featured here occur shortly after Superman: Exile, although it’s clear that there are at least a few issues in between the end of that trade and the beginning of this one. (And thank god for Mistah J being a veritable encyclopedia when it comes to this stuff, otherwise I’d be completely lost. He consistently helps fill in key information missing from “the shelf”.) Essentially, after returning to Earth with the Eradicator, Superman began realizing that it was having adverse affects on those around him. Hiding it deep within Antarctica, he thought he was done with it. As all readers know of course, it could never be that simple.
The eradicator comes alive, reaching out to Superman, calling him back to it. Superman returns to Antarctica and claims to have gained power over this ancient relic from Krypton. All is not as it seems however, as Clark Kent begins behaving quite erratically.
While all of this is happening, there are a number of, shall we say, throwaway fight scenes, loosely tied in but not really doing all that much to advance the story. These primarily focus on a few bad guys seeking out Superman to engage him in a fight.
And of course, the bad guys are continuously sloshed throughout the entire comic. It was absurd, and certainly seemed to lean more towards childish humor. The fights themselves were fairly pedantic, and as expected Superman came out on top in each of them. The inclusion of these characters felt like comic filler, meant to plump up the comic without adding a whole lot to the main story.
The eradicator’s effects on Superman’s personality were far more interesting to read about. Under the device’s control, Superman starts to become more and more removed from society, eventually losing both his job and apartment. He accepts this fate with a resigned detachment, focusing on the logical implications. Even his appearance begins to change, with his classic blue and red Superman costume being replaced with an homage to his father’s Kryptonian garb:
The eradicator brings out the Kryptonian side of Kent, making him act less and less human as he fully embraces his alien heritage. He becomes far less likable when he acts this way, embracing a sense of detachment and showing no emotional concern for those around him.
The last issue in this trade is by far the most powerful. Jonathan and Martha Kent, concerned over Clark’s well-being, travel to Metropolis to find out what’s wrong. Clark brings them to his new icy fortress in Antarctica, where he explains his new strictly logical behavior. Pleading with the son, the Kents beg him to remember how much they love him. It is only when the eradicator fails to obey Clark’s command that he is snapped out of this behavior. When the Kents’ lives are put in danger, Clark realizes that he has not been controlling the eradicator, but that it has been controlling him, and he works fiercely to destroy it. He succeeds, and his compassionate, human side returns.
The last few pages of this comic were, in my mind, the whole point of reading this trade. Superman returns to his classic uniform, and reflects on his time under the eradicator’s control.
There have been many Superman comics in which the man of steel questions his identity, attempting to unite his Earthly upbringing with his Kryptonian heritage. For so long he was determined to embrace his alien ancestry. Finally, Superman has accepted what has been clear for so long: that although he was born on another planet, he is human in his heart. It is that caring, that compassion, that separates him from his Kryptonian ancestors, and which makes him more powerful and “super” than any of them ever were.
This reflection was easily the most intriguing aspect of this story. While it didn’t fully mesh with the childish humor included earlier in the trade, it nonetheless serves a vital purpose in helping further cement Superman’s identity, as well as his role on Earth. It was a poignant inclusion to show Superman fully embracing his Earthly identity, and while he doesn’t entirely denounce his heritage, he does acknowledge the failings of that once-great society. It would be so easy for him to view Krypton as superior given their advanced technology, but Superman recognizes that technology alone doesn’t make a civilization, and that the humanity and emotional connections on Earth make it vastly superior. This detail was well thought out, and made me appreciate the character of Superman that much more.
Although there were moments when this comic felt pedestrian and a bit dragging, the story’s ending made it a worth-while read. The reader is given a greater insight into the man Superman really is, and how he views himself in this world. It creates a closer connection between reader and character, linking this Kryptonian hero with the planet he’s adopted as his own.