Retro Review: DC Comics Presents #29

Welcome to part three of my look at DC Comics Presents #27-29 & 36.

DC Comics Presents #29 featured Superman and the Spectre in a story titled “Where No Superman Has Gone Before”. Len Wein is still the writer, and Jim Starlin draws with Romeo Tanghal providing the inks again. I’m not sure what happened here because this issue is a lot cleaner and leaner with the inks as compared to the previous issue. Maybe Tanghal had more time, or he felt more in tune with Starlin’s pencils, or maybe he was told to dial it back, but whatever the reason, this issue is better looking overall. We get another great Starlin cover, though there’s that weird pose for Superman–Starlin likes these odd bent knee poses. Also, I wonder how that background was created?

Of the three issues so far, this has to be my least favorite. There’s a lot of expository dialog, somewhat meaningless self-examination, and not a lot of anything else. The first three pages are setting up the plot of the issue (find Supergirl), reexamining in one page what’s gone on before, and then Superman figuring out what to do next. I really feel for the writers at times. When publishers (or maybe it is just certain editors?) feel they need to get readers up to speed on the previous issue’s events, the writers try to do it in a way that isn’t just stupid, but sometimes you paint yourself into a corner. Here, Superman admits to himself (and us) that everything that’s happened in the last two issues happened “so fast”, and he’s trying to “make some sense” of the events. But he’s Superman, with that superbrain that can do this:

(Is that math even real?)

Yet he needs to narratively explain events to himself to make sense of them? Ok, I’ll grant that an examination of events can help clarify the situation at times, but then why go all the way back to events from issue 27? I know, I’m grousing too much here, so let’s move on.

Superman speeds off into the cosmos after his cousin, moving so fast that he shatters “the confining barriers of space and time as if they were so much fragile tissue”. Hmm, and yet Mongul can zap him and escape? Ok. Anyway, Superman pours on the speed and

(Apparently John Wallis was right.)

Nice hyperbole, Mr. Wein. :) But he does find Supergirl, and just when he’s about to reach her, the Spectre shows up. I always found this interesting because the Spectre was an Earth-2 character at that time. Yet, he’s shown here to be beyond the confines of one reality. Earth-2 characters would often team up with Earth-1 characters, sure, but it usually involved some dual universe-spanning dilemma. Here, though, the situation is a bit different, and much more believable, considering what Superman is about to find out.

Spectre tells Superman he cannot pursue Supergirl into the realm she has entered, but Superman will hear none of it and proceeds to threaten Spectre. In fact, when Spectre refuses to stand down, Superman does what he apparently does best.

Granted, Superman is highly emotional, but we seem to get a return of the “I’m Superman, I can do anything” mentality that we started with in issue #27. Of course, if the Spectre were more direct, he could have avoided the confrontation altogether. But that would make for a much shorter story, right? Since Superman refuses to listen to reason, Spectre decides to take him on a “journey of revelation”. First stop: Krypton, where we get a quick five-panel retelling of Superman’s origin. And here’s where things get silly. Superman has apparently lost it so much that when shown an image of Krypton that’s about to explode, he treats it as if it’s the real Krypton and hugs the dying world as if he could contain the explosion. So much for that superbrain. Next, Spectre subjects the Man of Steel to more psychological torture by showing Jonathan Kent being hacked down by the classic image of the Grim Reaper, Superman powerless to stop it. As Spectre says, “Even your much vaunted powers has limits.” Superman concedes this, but Spectre doesn’t buy it, so he sics a doppelgänger on Superman: “he is the dark side of your own spirit!”

Finally, Superman gets it. He realizes that he has been “thinking with my heart instead of my head”. Hmm, your only surviving member of your family goes missing and a demigod is sent to teach you a lesson in using your brain instead of getting overly emotional. Huh? Oh, and for good measure, God shows up.

Finally, Spectre explains that Supergirl went into a realm of death, which is why he couldn’t allow Superman to continue his pursuit–because someone who consciously entered that realm would die, but since Kara was unconscious, she was ok. Huh? Anyway, Superman asks God for help, and Spectre retrieves Supergirl (she materializes in Spectre’s arms, still sleeping). Spectre tells Superman that all he ever had to do was ask. That Spectre, what an prick! :) Superman then relates the moral of tale before he and Supergirl head home: “Power is meaningless … until it is tempered with conscience”. I would have said wisdom. Superman is nothing but conscientious (to a fault perhaps), but he was acting foolishly and full of himself when first dealing with Mongul and then with Spectre.

Thus ends the three-part story. Like I’ve said, I really enjoyed this multipart story for the strong ties to each previous issue, and for the psychological journey that Superman travels. Considering that most of this series was done-in-ones, I am amazed that Len Wein and Jim Starlin were allowed to tell this story over three issues. But wait! There is, in my mind, a sequel of sorts that we’ll look at next time.

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