Superman: The Man of Steel #21 has Lois play action hero to find her fiancé’s body, and sees yet another tragedy befall the Kents.
Superman: The Man of Steel #21
Triangle Number 1993 – 9
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
The cover to this issue is a complete spoiler for the contents, but it is yet another immensely powerful cover from this saga. Bogdanove and Janke illustrate what should be a serene Kansas landscape. Rolling fields of amber wheat, flocks of birds in the distance, farmhouse and barn on the horizon. But the serenity is shattered by Martha Kent running to her husband, collapsed in the sea of grain. It utilizes its negative spaces and shading to draw the eye right to Jon Kent’s fallen form.
We return to an issue that is “collected” within that original omnibus. And by collected I mean pages four and five, pages seven and eight, and pages fifteen and twenty-two made it in. As before it skips almost every plot that isn’t related to Ma and Pa Kent, including skipping most everything with Lois this time.
The main plot of this issue follows the Cadmus threads but brings Lois into the loop of what’s happening. The explosion at the end of Action has caused flooding in the tunnels and basements of Metropolis. And an investigation into the source of that explosion is what leads Lois to Superman’s tomb. This issue is just a showcase on Lois, highlighting her tenacity and drive, while also allowing her to play action hero. She uses her wits to get into the tomb, she uses her contacts to find the body, she uses her fire to beat the shit out of the scientists working on Clark. And in the end, she uses her real power to expose Cadmus via the Daily Planet.
A fun thing about going back to this issue now, years later when I’ve read so many more comics spanning both the Marvel and DC universes, is seeing just how much fun Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove have with bringing the Morlocks from the X-Men into Metropolis. Some of them are pretty obvious pastiches, but they’re still lots of fun, especially the three that got time to shine this issue: Teletype, the seal that talks with psychic images; Neepnose Packhorse, the pink thing with a long snoot that can phase through anything; and Bubble-Up, the giant talking frog that carries people in his mouth. These are all fantastic character designs, even if I immediately called out Teletype for stealing Artie Maddox’s schtick.
But the heart of this issue comes from the stuff that did make it into the woefully incomplete omnibus. As Ma and Pa Kent return to Smallville, Pa’s not doing great. Everywhere he looks, he sees memories of Clark. From being proud of his new calf to wanting to fly, and finally to the day he came home looking for guidance in a world that just wanted every piece of him. Each sequence is undeniably sad, and you can feel the loss and loneliness just emanating from Jonathon. Jonathon blames himself for Clark’s death because it was his idea for the secret identity and for the costume. Martha tries to assuage his guilt, by telling him it is no more his fault than it is Lois’s, and that he needs to accept that. However, the issue closes on the saddest of all the Ma and Pa sequences, as Pa is holding a copy of the Planet that has Lois’s story about Cadmus as he stands at the site where the rocket crashed all those years ago. Slowly and quietly, Pa just gives up and collapses in Martha’s arms much as Clark did in Lois’s. It’s a callback that works beautifully and is just completely and utterly devastating.