Back in the day, the Big Two of comic books (Marvel and DC) were known for homaging each other in various ways. The most notable of these homages was during Halloween, when both companies would do stories set in Rutland, Vermont. You see, every year, Rutland holds a special Halloween parade, in which people mostly dress up as superheroes. It was started by the late Tom Fagan, who was a local writer and comic book fan. It would be used as a setting for several Marvel and DC stories in the 1970s.
Another way they paid homage to each other was by creating pastiches. One of the most notable pastiches was Marvel's Squadron Supreme, who were essentially an homage to the Justice League. I looked at their 12-issue mini-series last year. DC also did homages to Marvel characters. One example is the one we'll look at here. So join me as we take a look at Superman battling a twisted take on the Fantastic Four in Adventures of Superman #466!
The cover is awesome. You got the Man of Steel battling two of the "Fantastic Four". What I love is the "Invisible Woman" of the bunch is all like, "Oh my God, watch it, you rockbrained idiot! You nearly trampled me!", while the "Mr. Fantastic" of the four is all like, "What is going on? Why are we fighting Superman?" It's a great cover, I love it.
"The Limits of Power"
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Artists: Dan Jurgens (Layouts), Dick Giordano (Finished Art, credited as "Sludd" Giordano)
Inker: Dick Giordano
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Editors: Jon Peterson, Mike Carlin
The story begins at a NASA control center in Houston, Texas. They're monitoring the space shuttle Excalibur as it attempts a problematic reentry.
On the reentry, the crew of four astronauts are exposed to bizarre radiation. Sound familiar? The shuttle explodes and crashes into a wooded area. Two of the astronauts, a man named Hank Henshaw and a woman named Terri, find each other. The dialogue suggests they are a husband and wife team. The two are alright, but Terry notices Hank's hair is now completely white. Hank asks about the other two astronauts, man named Jim Garrison and Steven...I'm giving him the surname "Tempest", because why not? If we're going to rip-off the FF, let's go all out. Steven calls out for help, as the radiation caused him to...get a new look.
Hank theorizes that the radiation mutated Steven Tempest, causing the destruction of his original body...and the creation of a new body composed of radiation. Steven freaks out, worried that he's going to die. Terri realizes Jim is missing. They quickly find him, and much like Steven Tempest, Jim Garrison is not a human being anymore.
Yeah, this...Thing, for lack of a better term, is no cantankerous idol of millions with a speech pattern like Jimmy Durante. Instead, much like Steven, his body was destroyed. Instead of forming a new one out of the radiation itself, his new body was formed from the ground and spaceship wreckage around him. And unlike Steven, he's in constant pain.
Hank reminds the crew they were experimenting with radiation out in space when they ran into trouble. Propriety demands they return to NASA, but they're too far away. Metropolis is closer, and since the experiments were also funded by Lexcorp, they should go there. How Hank knows where they are and that Metropolis is closer is beyond me. Steven discovers that he can use his new energy powers to create platforms, and he uses this ability to transport the others there. Terri wonders if this is the right thing. Hank assures them that it is. Jim needs help as he is clearly in agony, and unbeknownst to the others, Hank suffers from radiation sickness.
In the Big Apricot, Lois Lane is getting a visit from her sister Lucy. Lucy is teasing her older sister about making dinner for Clark. Clark Kent arrives, and Lucy takes that as her cue to leave. As she heads out, she thinks about looking up Jimmy Olsen again. The doorbell rings, and Lois goes to the door, thinking it must be Lucy. Lucy tends to be a bit forgetful with her keys. But it's not Lucy, it's Perry and Alice White. Perry has arrived to give some papers for Lois to study, presumably for a story she's working on.
Alice is rather icy towards Clark, as she felt Clark stabbed Perry in the back. You see, Clark had taken an editorial position for a while at Newstime, a competitor magazine. He then quit and returned to the Daily Planet, and Alice felt Clark's taking that job was a metaphorical finger to Perry as Perry White was the one who found Clark and made him into the reporter he is today. Geez, Alice! If Clark was being offered a better job, why not take it?!
Meanwhile, in a park, two men are meeting. These men? Morgan Edge, alleged criminal. Bruno "Ugly" Mannheim, head of Intergang. If you ever watched Superman: The Animated Series, you may be familiar with Mannheim (voiced by Bruce Weitz) and Intergang. They're basically an organized crime syndicate that uses technology from Apokolips. Mannheim assures that Edge's legal troubles at the time will handle themselves...provided he stay out of trouble. Edge says he needs no help, but Mannheim intimidates him and states that Edge had better stay away from Daily Planet reporter Cat Grant. If he does, he'll be alright.
Steven Tempest unknowingly flies over this scene as he and the rest of the Excalibur crew fly into Metropolis. Terri notices that Hank doesn't look well. Hank admits this, and wonders if he'll create a new body, much like Steve and Jim. But now's not the time for thinking. The astronauts arrive at Lexcorp's front door, and the overeager guard basically tells them, "get out or I'll blast you." Hank pleads to let them use the lab. The guard is alerted that they are contaminated by radiation. The guard panics and calls for some heavier backup.
Perry White gets a tip about the astronauts arriving in Lexcorp, and asks Lois to check it out. Clark will stay behind and watch the dinner. Clark agrees. When the others leave, he decides to go investigate himself. After all, this sounds like a job for Superman. Superman arrives, and sees the astronauts brawl with some armored Lexcorp guards.
In typical Superman style, the Man of Steel tries to calm everyone down and figure out what is going on here, although he does think that if they are angry at Luthor, they may have a darn good reason. Steven thinks Superman is about to be blasted by one of the guards. He tries to fight back, but accidentally hits Superman. It's not helped by Jim hurling another guard at Superman. Steven loses it and starts blasting everyone. Superman uses one of the guards' battle suits to contain him. Garrison then smacks the Metropolis Marvel with a lamppost. However, Hank Henshaw is able to calm everyone down and explain himself.
Henshaw explains they were doing some experiments in space, but then they got hit with some unusually intense solar flares. Superman realizes that some days earlier, he destroyed a Kryptonian artifact called The Eradicator into the Sun [In Adventures of Superman #465 (April 1990)]. It leads him to wonder if maybe he's at fault for this. Was that the reason those solar flares hit? Either way, Superman pledges to help in any way he can.
Elsewhere in Metropolis, one Cat Grant (you may know her from the Supergirl live-action series) gets a visitor.
Meet Jose Delgado, the Gangbuster. He was on his way to tell Lois he was rooming at the local "Y" for a while, but he also has some news for Cat. You see, established earlier, Morgan Edge is on trial for his connections to Intergang. Cat was one of the people who exposed him, so her ex-husband fears that they will target her. As such, he hired Jose to be her bodyguard. Cat is not too happy about this, but Jose reminds her that Intergang are bad news. Both she and her son Adam are in danger, so he's sticking to her. Besides, he already spent the money Cat's ex paid him, so he might as well do the job.
Back at the Lexcorp labs, Henshaw is having some frustrations. He's running out of time. Terri's starting to fade into another dimension, Garrison is in agony, and he has no idea what to do to help them. Henshaw himself...doesn't look so good.
Hot dang, he looks bad. His skin is melting off, and he has no time to rest. He looks like the next hot new horror monster. You know, I think this is what happened to Jim and Steven, but Henshaw's just undergoing the process much more slowly. Superman suggests they ask STAR Labs for help. Luthor is not there to help, and the Man of Steel is no scientist. Man, he could use that Pre-Crisis super-intelligence right now. Henshaw angrily refuses, saying only he can find the answer.
Terri starts to fade away, and Steven breaks out of his improvised warsuit prison, more powerful than ever. He flies into the sky, ranting about how powerful he is and that he can do anything. Superman pursues him into space, but is having trouble keeping up. Yeah, at this time, there was an effort to instill limits to Superman's power. Steven flies towards the sun, ranting that he hears it calling to him, wanting to join with him. He ends up getting torn to shreds...somehow.
Superman realizes the other three astronauts still need help, so he flies back down to the Lexcorp lab, thinking maybe he can get the JLA or Titans to help...but he's too late. Henshaw is almost a skeleton. He's still holding on, though. But for not much longer. With his dying words, he pleads for Superman to save Terri, as it's too late for him or Jim. He tries to tell him how to save Terri, but dies before he can finish. Superman notices that he can barely see Terri. She's almost finished being transported to the other dimension.
Jim is able to point out a radiation chamber. Superman deduces that Hank must've been trying to use that equipment to save himself, Jim, and Terri. Yeah, because adding more radiation will help. Terri gets in the chamber by going through the door. Meanwhile, the pain-addled and teary-eyed Jim heads towards an MRI booth.
Henshaw's plan ends up working, and the radiation restores Terri to normal. With that problem solved, Superman and Terri race to find Jim and see if it's still possible to help him. Henshaw may have thought there was no way, but Superman is not the type to give up on helping someone. They do find Mr. Garrison...what's left of him.
As shown in the panel, Jim basically the MRI booth to commit suicide. He was so in pain that he must have felt that it was the only option he had left. Terri is heartbroken. Her husband and two comrades are dead. Where can she go from there? Personally, I can imagine that she is still employed by NASA or Lexcorp, so I can imagine that, after a mental break to deal with all of this, of course, they can still give her something to do. Superman vows to help all he can. He blames himself for this, as he thinks that his throwing the Eradicator into the sun caused the solar flare that helped make this whole mess.
Terri indicated that could not have been possible because...the solar flare that caused this mess occurred yesterday morning. Superman did toss the Kryptonian artifact into the sun the same day...but he did it during the afternoon, so he couldn't have caused it. Yeah, minor error there. According to Superman earlier in the book, he tossed the Eradicator several days earlier. It was just a tragic accident. Superman takes Terri to a hospital. After this, he heads home.
Back in his apartment, Superman is back in his guise as Clark Kent. He uses a bit of heat vision to finish the soufflé that Lois was making earlier to perfection. Lois arrives, and she wants to tell him about some happenings at Lexcorp. Lois, are you talking about that battle earlier? Because Clark was there. As Superman. I'm assuming that she stumbled on something else.
You see, earlier in the issue, Clark had wanted to talk to Lois about their relationship. Earlier in the story, Clark had wanted to say something to her, but Lois wasn't interested. She wasn't a fan of the word "relationship", and she just wanted to see where things went with them at this point. The whole experience with the astronauts reminded Clark that life can be shorter than one thinks. Lois may want to let their relationship proceed at its own pace, but sometimes you have to give things a push, to take a chance. If it fails, at least the attempt was made. Lois is confused by what Clark means, but he explains by kissing her. Lois returns the kiss.
The story ends with Jose Delgado witnessing this and walking away.
This was actually a pretty good issue. As a "done-in-one" issue, it was very enjoyable. The Superman creative team, paying homage to the Fantastic Four, with tragic results. Honestly, I would have loved seeing these four stick around for a while, perhaps even try to be heroes alongside Superman, but the radiation slowly driving them mad. But I get why it's a done-in-one, and it's a very enjoyable one.
Jurgens and Giordano make quite the good art team in this book. The characters are very expressive. Also, I love their designs for the transformations for Steve and Jim. They're very reminiscent of the Human Torch and the Thing, but also have something original about them. Like they were pastiches that had the potential to evolve into original characters in their own right.
This story would introduce Hank Henshaw, would become one of Superman's biggest headaches later on. But wait, didn't he die here? Well, not exactly. His body disintegrated, but his mind survived. He became a disembodied consciousness that had the ability to build new bodies out of mechanical parts. He used this power to possess the "birthing matrix" that rocketed the baby Kal-El to Earth. Configuring it into a rocketship, he would use it to explore the cosmos. He would learn of Superman's tossing the Eradicator into the sun. This, combined with the time in space, would cause Henshaw to develop a hatred of Superman, and a desire for revenge against the Man of Steel. After Superman died battling Doomsday, Henshaw saw an opportunity to make Superman pay for the loss of his crew. He would use his powers to become one of the four impersonators of Superman that showed up afterwards. It was here that Hank would be in his most recognizable form: The Cyborg Superman.
Hank Henshaw would also be associated with Green Lantern, particularly the Hal Jordan incarnation. As part of his scheme of revenge against Superman, Henshaw would destroy Hal's hometown of Coast City. This tragedy would eventually drive Hal to go insane and become Parallax, leading to the rise of Kyle Rayner as the (at the time) sole Green Lantern. Green Lantern: Rebirth retconned this by saying that Parallax was an entity of living fear that took advantage of Hal's grief to possess him.
Interestingly, Superman would team up with the actual Fantastic Four in a 1999 crossover. Appropriately enough, Hank Henshaw was one of the villains of that crossover. I have that one, and I just may take a look at it one day for this blog.
I love this era of Superman, and I don't think it's talked about very much. It's a real shame. In my opinion, late 80s-90s era Superman was a hidden Golden Age for the character. Fun stories and great art. If you can find some of it, get it. This issue has been collected in trade form, particularly in the 2013 trade Superman: Dark Knight Over Metropolis. It has a team-up story that would make a great story to look at on Halloween...
Next time, the Crisis on Infinite Earths rages on, and we see the fall of another major hero...