The Never-Ending Battle: A Superman Triangle Era Retrospective #11 – They Saved Luthor’s Brain! by Cori McCreery

They Saved Luthor’s Brain!

Action Comics #678-679; Superman: The Man of Steel #13-14; Superman #69-70; Adventures of Superman #492; Triangle Numbers 1992 – 24-30

Writers: Roger Stern, Louis Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway; Pencillers: Jackson Guice, Jon Bogdanove, Dan Jurgens, Peter Krause; Inkers: Ande Parks, Dennis Janke, Brett Breeding, Keith Williams, Denis Rodier; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterers: Bill Oakley, John Costanza, Albert De Guzman

Oh boy, here we go. Action Comics #678 is the revelation of Lex Luthor the Second’s true secret origin, and it’s a doozie. But before we can dig into that, Ron Troupe gets hired at the Daily Planet, as a result of the money that the paper was saving after letting Fosberg go. Now buckle up, because this is where things get buckwild. Another attempted assassination of Lex Luthor the Second occurs, but he’s saved by Supergirl and the assassin is apprehended after a ricochet hit him. Cut to the hospital, where he’s blathering nonsense about saving Luthor’s brain, before being sedated. He wakes up to Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis PD, asking about why he tried to kill Luthor. And what he does by explaining his motives is to also explain Luthor’s scheme. Luthor’s scheme that involved faked medical records, a throwaway body double to crash in the plane in his stead, and a brain transplant into a fresh body. The assassin was one Dabney Donovan, formerly of famed genetics institute Cadmus, trying to atone for the monster he created. For you see, Lex Luthor Junior was actually a clone, grown to the elder Luthor’s specifics (including the full luxurious head of hair). But after spilling his guts, Donovan was in for a surprise, because the second man in the shadows of the room was none other than Luthor himself. Donovan gets the last laugh, however, as he too is a clone of the real Donovan, and internally combusts himself to rob Luthor the satisfaction of killing him. So now Luthor knows that there’s someone out there, beyond his control, and that’s something that Donovan knows will eat away at Luthor.

Whew. Another thing that happened in Action was that Metallo gave Superman the information he needed on Cerberus, so Superman: The Man of Steel #13 looks to resolve that long running plot thread. The revelation of just what Cerberus is is astonishing. Like his agents, he too is a cyborg, but all the jarred heads that were featured in the previous issue are interchangeable, and all are Cerberus. As a particularly insane head is in charge of the robot body and fighting Superman, several other jars are destroyed. The climax is the whole headquarters launching as a missile aimed at Metropolis, but Superman is able to deter it back to its original location destroying all but a single head. The issue also touches on many of the ongoing subplots. There’s Ron’s sister’s group still picketing Perry for hiring practices. Perry argues with his wife Alice that they’re off base, but it really comes off as a well-meaning but overly defensive white man unable to see the systemic racism that exists in the power structure he inhabits. It’s a very realistic portrayal that is incredibly nuanced, especially for 1992. There’s also Jimmy’s friend Babe in the hospital donating blood, due to a mysterious plague hitting Metropolis. Oh to laugh off the fears of a plague in modern times hahaha oh no. In a sitcom plot gone awry Babe sees Jimmy coming to visit Lucy and kisses him on the cheek just in time for Lucy to see and get wheeled off angrily back to her room.

One subplot that’s been part of both the previous issues was the kidnapping of Lana Lang by the Sons of Liberty. She was kidnapped in Action and Senator Ross was given their demands in Man of Steel. They want him to smuggle a gun into the Senate hearing of their founder Major Holcraft and shoot him before he can testify. Guest penciller Peter Krause does a fantastic job of conveying the weight on Ross’s mind as he struggles with his guilt and conscience. In the end, he decides he can’t kill a man, even to save Lana, but the Sons have another option with a man named Lockwood who is also in the chamber. Lockwood uses the gun that Ross smuggled in to shoot the Major before fleeing. Holcraft dies en route to the hospital but not before revealing that Agent Liberty is among the members of the Sons of Liberty. In fact, Benjamin Lockwood is the identity of Agent Liberty, and is the one who finished the assassination of Holcraft. The issue ends with Pete on trial for his part in the assassination, before Judge Kramer and in the sights of Agent Liberty. 

Kraus also pencils the second part of this saga, guesting on Adventures of Superman #492, and while he’s not Dan Jurgens or Tom Grummett, he does a fine job for two fill-in issues while I can guess they were busy preparing for things coming in just a few more months. Liberty gets a crisis of conscience and fails to pull the trigger on Ross while he’s in Kramer’s courtroom. For the second time in as many months, Superman comes to blows with one of his “allies” during “Panic in the Sky,” this time confronting Agent Liberty over the skies of Washington. Liberty has helped to escape Superman, and saves Ross’s life from another would-be assassin at the prison. In the end, Liberty helps to take down the rest of the Sons, sending proof of their schemes to Clark Kent. Ross is freed from jail, and cleared of the criminal charges due to the circumstances, but will still face consequences within the Senate chambers. This is one of those arcs that had been building in the background of books for months before it got to see payoff, and while I wish it had had the regular art teams, it still manages to deliver quite the punch at its conclusion. 

There’s one last issue to tie up the Pete Ross plot, as he decides to step down from the Senate after his actions got a man killed. Such ends the political ambitions of Pete Ross, at least for now. The rest of the issue is focused on Superman fighting a villain in Washington, DC. One thing that separates the DC Universe from the Marvel Universe is that DC’s heroes are much more spread out. In Marvel, almost everyone is in or around New York. Many of the cities in the DC Universe may be fake cities, but they still present a broader range of locales with their own identities. Washington was the operating city for Hawk and Dove before Hawk broke bad, and now that Superman’s visiting he has to take care of one of their old foes, a woman named Shellshock. 

“A sinister plague falls over the city of Metropolis!” proclaims the cover box on Superman: The Man of Steel #14. Robin has come to town to investigate the epidemic that has befallen Metropolis over the last few months. Remember, Mildred and Fran both had experiences where someone felt weak after seeing a doctor, and then Lucy Lane after leaving the hospital also got weak in the sunlight. Robin thinks it’s a vampire, but that’d be silly right? Of course it’s not silly, this is a comic book, which means that not only is it a vampire, but it’s also Dracula. Bogdanove being Bogdanove, uses this to once again flex. The way he pivots between various incarnations of Dracula is incredible, as he shifts for Legosi, to Oldman (months before that movie would release), to Count Orlok. I quite like the idea that Dracula can adopt different looks, but his true form is that of the hideous monster of Nosferatu. Superman’s still out of town, but don’t worry, Jimmy Olsen, vampire slayer is on the case. Decked in outlandish combat gear with stakes, garlic, and a comically oversized cross, Jimmy is ready for anything. Not ready for much of anything is a depressed Sam Foswell at the cemetery thinking about offing himself. He’s so depressed that even Dracula doesn’t want anything to do with him. As Jimmy and Robin meet while on the hunt, and are caught off guard by the vampire’s lack of traditional weaknesses, Clark finally returns to Metropolis. He runs into a neighbor and the reader gets a glimpse that things are violent in her home, from her bruised face to the cruelty in the words of her husband. Clark doesn’t have time to dwell on this though as Jimmy summons him with the signal watch. Superman rescues the kids, but the vampire is able to flee despite it being dawn. 

So the team-up and story continues in Superman #70, with Jimmy panicked over Lucy’s road to undeath. On his way to check on Lucy, Superman is distracted by a plummeting Sam Foswell, who just jumped off the Hob’s Bay Bridge. Prior to Superman catching him though, he was confronted by Blaze in disguise as an angel. You see, she has need of an Earthly agent, because her brother Satanus (gasp a new competitor joins the fray) is making plays on her claimed souls. She also provides the deus ex machina to cure all the vampires and defeat Dracula, because if he’s a vampire she can’t take his soul either. Oh and trust fund brat, sidekick to a billionaire, Tim Drake convinces the recently unemployed and homeless Jimmy Olsen to blow up his car.

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