Menace of the Red Would-be Clone

January 2, 2004

By Avi Green

Action Comics #801-805: The Harvest
Writer: Joe Kelly
Penciler: Pascual Ferry

I’m going to have to say, of all the recent Superman stories written recently, this is by far one of the best ones, perhaps also due to the freeing up of the 3 current titles after the cancellation of Superman: The Man of Steel in early 2003, by enabling them to be written independently from each other, and not just wrapping themselves up in 4-8 part arcs within less than a month or so.

In this story, we reach a climax – and a battle – that appears to have been planned for storytelling in the past two years, between Superman and a fellow lone Kryptonian survivor, this one a villain – the one, the only, General Zod. He wears red body armor, which, if around in the Golden and Silver Ages when he first appeared, was no doubt meant to suggest that his philosophy is akin to Communism, and he certainly is determined to rule the world in very much the same way as the Commies wanted to in the time of the Cold War.

Here, what happens is that an outbreak of strange chemicals causes various people – mostly in the midwest – to turn into all sorts of strange shapes and to develop metaphysical powers, and to stop the effects, General Zod appears and recommends turning the sun red in its energy…which president Luthor agrees to, much to Superman’s dismay, even though it’s not all that surprising as to what Luthor would do.

Things then really become weird when Zod takes off his helmet to reveal that he looks just like Superman. And, as told here in the storyline, he was another survivor from Krypton, of course, but unlike Kal-El, he’d fallen into the hands of the Russians and was trained to become a machine of war. And since then, he’s pretty much taken up their philosophy, having been influenced by their ideologies, of course.

Lois warns Clark before he goes that Zod is undoubtably going to dupe him, and indeed he does: after turning the sun’s energy red, which cures the outbreak of abnormal effects in earth’s residents in the US, but also saps the metahumans of earth of their own powers and renders them powerless, he overpowers Superman and leaves him in the sun’s atmosphere, stuck in his armor to contemplate the trickery that’s being conducted.

Upon his return to earth, with Luthor and everybody else thinking at first that he’s really Superman, Zod reveals himself as who he actually is, and both he and his forces, the Blackhawks, including a villainess named Faora, set around to taking over the globe and crushing all opposition, with the world’s metahumans powerless to stop him. And Luthor is forced to kneel before him and to hand over power of the US to Zod as well.

Luckily, Lois is brought to Washington, where she’s allowed to speak with him, during which time he’s able to place a holographic image of himself in a chair and use a secret teleportation device to travel to a spaceport to take off and travel to the area of the sun to rescue Superman, who’s lucky to be in Zod’s armor, which is just what’s kept him being consumed by the heat of the sun.

How about that. Luthor, as much as he dislikes the Man of Steel, is forced to go and rescue his archnemesis from a grisly fate in order to save his own skin from another very lethal foe, and of course, the world as well. As much as Luthor may be a villain, he can think straight at times too. And in this story, the teaming of two age-old enemies makes for a great story that works very well indeed.

After getting Supes safely inside the spacecraft, Luthor and the Man of Steel are forced to make a detour to a moon-based prison to evade the space-based forces of General Zod, who’ve tracked them down to try and stop them, a special maximum security prison at that, where many of Superman’s own rogues gallery and such are kept, many for atrocious crimes committed against the earth. Even John “Metallo” Corben is one of those kept on the moon-clink, and this time, after all the dreadful crimes he himself committed over the years, he makes himself useful by removing the armor from Superman that he himself is unable to remove due to his also being hindered by the effects of the sun’s alterations in color patterns. Isn’t it nice that, for once, one of Superman’s most menacing adversaries can prove to be of great help for a change as well?

A retaliation plan is put to work, and president Luthor gets some of the convicts to agree to help by offering special honorable mentions for them, and also by Superman’s giving them some good persuasion on the matter. While as for Luthor, it’s his task to take steps to restore the sun to its normal situation with assistance from Metallo, who, I might add, now has a robotic body not unlike the Transformers! Until then, Supes gets his powers restored via a burst of yellow solar energy from the criminal Coldcast, also among the list of convicts dispatched to help liberate the earth from Zod and his army of villains, the Blackhawks.

We then get a pretty enjoyable showdown between the Man of Steel and General Zod, at which end…it appears that Zod’s done for. Yep, it appears he’s dead.

If this death of such a notable adversary is indeed so, I’ll have to admit, I’m a little sad to see such a great villain bite the bullet, but, nevertheless, this is still a very well done showdown, and it made for one of the best battles of 2003.

And, in the end, Superman makes another great contemplation of life and its possibilities, which is brilliant as always for the Man of Steel too.

A most highly recommended story arc for Man of Steel fans this is, and should not be missed.

Copyright 2004 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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