Saturday, 7 November 2009

Terra-Man : Yet another reason why Superman comics are awesome!

Terra-Man is a cowboy with alien technology who rides a winged horse. He is awesome and his first appearance in Superman #249 (1972) is one of my favourite Superman stories. The story begins with hologramatic cowboys delivering an exploding message to Superman telling him that "the man" is coming to kill him at sundown. This unique method of delivery and the mystery of the identity of this "man" really puts the willies up our hero. He doesn't have time to ponder the oncoming threat however as his Kryptonian Birth-spell has begun. Apparently Kryptonians would get so depressed at being a year closer to death that it had become an inborn instinct for every Kryptonian to completely lose their shit every six years on their birthday. Superman knew that he was about to be at the mercy of a complete emotional breakdown just as this mystery villain arrived. I love this example of the cultural differences between Earth and Krypton. It makes sense. Why should an alien culture mark birthdays in the same way we do? Okay, birthday depression being ingrained genetically into an entire race is hard to swallow, but balls to it Superman's about to fight a cowboy with Atomic Bomb Bullets.

And fight him he does. Terra-Man turns up at sundown as promised and assails our hero with the aforementioned Atomic Bullets . He also uses Killer Cigar Smoke and a bullet that just gets really, really big and clobbers Superman. Meanwhile Superman is having a super freakout and his powers are behaving unpredictably. In one brilliant bit his X Ray vision is reversed and he is forced to stare in horror at his own brain! However Superman quickly turns each super freakout to his advantage and is able to defeat Terra-Man. The story ends with a lovely image of Terra-Man's horse flying wild in the countryside and awaiting the inevitable return of it's master. I don't know about you but Superman fighting a Super-Cowboy with Killer Cigars while he flies upside down and stares at his own brain sounds pretty entertaining to me. Sadly Terra-Man hasn't done much in the past few decades. He was brought back in Superman #46 (1990) as an eco-warrior (boring!) but died a couple of years ago when Black Adam ripped him in half.



I've written before about how, in 1986 John Byrne began writing a very different version of Superman, one that was a little more relatable to your average non-superpowered reader. I honestly think that the character benefited greatly from this new take, however in other respects we lost a little something too. Superman's new relatibility came at the cost of some of the more outlandish aspects of the Superman myth. The Super-books lost a wonderful imaginative silliness that is as much a part of Superman as Lois Lane and Kryptonite. I believe that one of the characters that embodied this wonderful silliness was Terra-Man. The eco-warrior version of the him was an example of how such "silly" characters didn't work in a world where Superman had at least one foot planted in reality, even if the other was in a pocket dimension.
Recently however these "silly" aspects are returning. Superman: Secret Origin has seen the return of Superman's indestrucatable suit forged from his baby blankets. Krypto the Superdog was last seen kicking (or at least biting) zombie ass in Blackest Night Superman #3 and the Bottle City of Kandor is the basis for pretty much everything that's currently happening in the Superman books. Grant Morrison has done much to pay tribute to and expand on the outlandish aspects of the Super-myth in All Star Superman, a series that includes, among other things, Superman beating Atlas and Samson in an arm wrestling match and a baboon called Leopold in a Superman suit.

Many fans are lamenting what they see as a return to the Silver Age staus quo. I welcome it because it's a return that is very much informed by Byrne's take on Superman. For example, Byrne highlighted the role of Ma and Pa Kent in Superman 's life as an example of his version of Superman's stronger ties to humanity. Pa Kent has recently died but his death has made his lessons and example more prominent than ever in the mind of his adopted son. This strong tie to Earth and humanity is particularly relevant as Superman is currently living on New Krypton leading an army of Kryptonian soldiers. Hopefully just like Krypto and Kandor we'll soon see the return of Terra-Man. If the current trend in the Super-books is anything to go by Terra-Man will have that classic element of silliness combined with an edge of maturity informed by all the growth and development made by writers like Byrne over the past twenty years. Like Superman himself, the best of both worlds.

1 comment:

  1. I have to agree with you on Terra-Man... He was an excellent bad guy! He gave combined the classic Schwartz-era puzzle villain with a Wild West/magic motif. He looked like Burt Reynolds, dressed like a colorful Clint Eastwood, and operated like a desperado in a B-movie Western. If you feature more articles on Terra-Man, I'd be a very happy fan!

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