Thursday, July 15, 2010

Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #2 (1993)

The Bloodlines aliens’ ship crash landed in a swamp within driving distance of Metropolis. The monsters swiftly camouflaged their vessel, while displaying shorthand personality through traits (Glonth=glutton, Angon=angry rebel, etc.) When I biker gang approached the crash site, Angon ignored calls for discretion to rip into the gang and feast. Assuming the former of an athletic Caucasian female with long brown hair in a top knot, Angon stole a motorcycle and announced she was going to town alone to feed on “the pigs who burrow there.”

In a Metropolis slum, John Henry Irons worked out at the Iron Factory gym, spotted by his buddy Tom O’Brien. Since Tom referred to John by his real first name, rather than his alias, the pair presumably had a long history between them. Either that, or it was a screw-up, since Tom’s mom know Irons as “Henry Johnson.” Tom was wearing a bleeding Superman shield t-shirt his sister had hand painted, because there was no money in the household for store bought memorial gear. Knowing what a big fan Tom was of Superman, his little brother Petey had helped touch it up, and the kids gave it to Tom as a Father’s Day present. Life had been hard since their father died, but Tom made sure ends were met.

Tom asked how John was holding up after his injuries chasing Zoid’s killers, and doing fine, the pair turned their attention to Tom’s mullethead lil’ bro Petey. The “twelve or so” lad, spitting image of Tom, had gotten a paper route before school job to help out the family. John defended the initiative, but Tom worried it might hurt Petey academically. Tom had to return to work at the gym, but John walked with Petey for a ways, demonstrating his knowledge of trajectories through well tossed newspapers. Petey hero worshipped Tom, “the strongest guy and the gym, next to” John, but there was some concern he might also follow Tom’s example of dropping out of school.

Suddenly, Angon rode by on her cycle, nearly running Petey down with even slowing her roll, eventually finding herself in a filthy alley. Angon attacked an indigent and sucked out spinal fluid, which had a slightly sour taste. The monster then hid the body down a storm drain, which proved so convenient Angon began using it routinely.

Mary O’Brien was walking home with her groceries, when the skeptic was dragged into Rosie the psychic’s apartment for a free tarot reading. “Father Kevner says tarot cards aren’t… aren’t Christian.” Rosie divined tragedy was due to befall Tom, and rushed Mary out the door to try enlisting “Henry Johnson’s” help with the matter. Irons wasn’t at home, and by the time he returned, the sweetness of Tom’s spinal fluid had been suckled by Angon. Unaware of such, Irons donned his recently engineered suit of armor, and flew a patrol as the Man of Steel.

The Man of Steelseries’ writer had previously scripted X-Men related books, whose readers might recognize the sewer dwelling mutants dubbed Morlocks in the Underworlders who trolled under Metropolis. These subterranean derelicts discovered Tom’s body on a mound of corpses, but when O’Brien was reanimated as a horrific form whose hair had been replaced by blades all over his body, they panicked. Tom couldn’t remember who he was, and feared me might have killed all those people himself. The “Steel” Superman was soon on his trail, talking with the Underworlders and finding the tatters of his personalized t-shirt.

The Man of Steel ran straight into Angon on his way out of the sewer, and found his defenses useless against its tough red hide. However, a spike fired from Steel’s gauntlet into Angon’s tender mouth was enough to send the nasty creature scurrying away until a battle strategy could be joyfully devised

Tom’s mother couldn’t sleep for worry, and neither could Petey, who snuck out of their apartment to find his brother. Maggie Sawyer and the Special Crimes Unit had followed up on the Underworlders’ reports of the mass grave, an unusual variation on vampirism, and “some kind of spiked werewolf.” The cops had the tatters of Tom’s shirt as evidence, but Petey overheard the conversation, and stole the remains to protect his brother’s identity. Angon spotted the youth on the run from the scene, and hoped this “red-hair” would taste as good as the last.

“Superman” finally found Tom, but O’Brien was too confused, frightened and blinded by self-pity to listen to reason at first. Tom’s blades ripped away portions of Steel’s armor, both intentionally and inadvertently, as you couldn’t touch Tom without connecting with his blades. O’Brien eventually listened to reason, but not before a lot of property damage had been inflicted, bringing police to the scene. The Man of Steel ignored officers’ demands and fled the scene with his friend in precarious tow. After a quick payphone call to a worried mother, who Tom still didn’t recognize, the heroes learned Petey was missing. O’Brien wrapped what was left of his clothes in barbed wire to keep the book from going Mature Readers, and a new search began.

Outside the Iron Factory, Petey was attacked by Angon, and did a far better job of holding back the beast than his elder brother had. First beating at Angon’s maw with a lead pipe, Petey next thought to throw it through a gym window to set off its alarm, hopefully drawing aid. This alerted the Steel Superman, already en route, who carried Petey to safety. Tom threw himself at Angon, his blades doing more of a number on the alien’s armor than anything in Irons’ arsenal. Petey jumped back into the fray, so Tom expelled the blades on his arms and chest to allow him to safely carry Petey out of the dang way again.

Where neither O’Brien’s nor the Man of Steel’s weapons could turn Angon back on their own, Irons had Tom fire blades into the alien’s chest, and rivets drove them deeper into Angon’s hide. Already hurting and flanked by cops, Angon finally decided it was all “TOO MUCH!” After the creature disappeared, Petey was dismayed to learn Tom didn’t know who he was, “but I’d like to! You’re a cool kid, you know that!” The brothers hugged, and Petey figured, “You took care of us for all those years. And now we’re gonna take care of you!” Maggie Sawyer allowed Tom to walk, but O’Brien was hot to find Angon and return to normal. Petey thought Tom looked cool as is, figuring he could become a super-hero. “I’m gonna call you Edge! You’ll be awesome!”

Angon licked her wounds, figuring the other aliens would be angry if she allowed their numbers to be depleted by dying in glorious battle. It was still pissed though, and set on feeding some more…

“Cutting Edge” was by Louise Simonson, Eddy Newell & Mike Barreiro. This was the second Bloodlines annual, which I bought new, and found entirely inferior to Lobo Annual #1. Neither Alan Grant's pedestrian script nor Christian Alamy's Biz impersonation have stood the test of time, and this book wasn't nearly as awful as I remembered. I believe this was the second appearance of Steel, and something of a sophomore slump, though his introduction in Superman: The Man of Steel #22 (June, 1993) doesn't exactly thrill anymore, either. Newell's art remains rough and uneven, with muddy coloring by Glenn Whitmore, but is not without its charms. The story reads like an innocent throwback to the '40s boy comics in an unholy union with '90s ultraviolence. Annoying at the time, I now find Petey the can-do hero of this piece. Edge was quite the whiner, but I guess I'd be a sad sack too if my pubic hair developed the consistency of barbed wire.

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