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The Man of Steel as Douchey Frenchified Artiste – Superman #211

November 22, 2011

The old Silver Age Superman double features can be a bit problematic in that, instead of providing double your pleasure, they all too often are weighed down by a stinky half. Or, if you’re really unlucky, two stinky halves. My math isn’t great, but if I remember my fractions THAT’S ONE WHOLE STINK. It can be a dicey proposition.

I’m pleased to report that this issue, while brimming with the stupidity of the day, is fun. No stink in either half. I might be overselling its virtues. I’m frequently left banging my head on the home office desk when confronted with Silver Age contradictions and conundrums (of which this comic is not immune — see some of the parentheticals below). Here, though, the positives outweigh the negatives. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that the stink is well-covered with pleasant perfume.

What made it fun? Art and glasses.

Half #1…

Thrill as Frank Robbins, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito prove that “You, Too, Can Be a Super-Artist!” and turn the World’s Greatest Hero into a self-absorbed Eurotrash prick!:

I remember as a kid owning instructional booklets that had that line method of how to draw comic book characters. I followed them exactly and my stuff always looked like shit. You either have it or you don’t.

Clark Kent gets alerted to a con when a young kid comes to the Daily Planet offices to sell a comic strip that he’s created, and Clark gets saddled with the task of letting the poor kid down gently. What complicates matters is that the youngster is brandishing a real, authentic, gen-u-ine certificate stating that he’s an accredited artist. Clark, while of course being kind to the feelings of a child, is less than convinced about his “incredible” talent:

“Nowheresville.” We dig, man. We dig. (And is this Super-Ape some cousin of Titano’s?)

Someone’s obviously been taking advantage of the kid, and there are probably others out there who’ve suffered a similar duping. This con works up the big guy’s ire. Lex Luthor is assuredly out hatching some world-destroying scheme. Likewise for Brainiac. BUT THIS SINISTER CORRESPONDENCE COURSE MUST BE STOPPED AT ALL COSTS.

Clark begins his deep undercover operation by mailing in his own sample:

Still better than Liefeld.

Clark gets accepted into the program, and a little eavesdropping and x-ray vision at their main office later, he confirms that, sure enough, it’s all a scam. That criminals are raking in wheelbarrows full of cash from an artistic course requires a greater suspension of disbelief than anything else in this issue, but roll with it we shall. Clark starts taking classes (with the beret) under the tutelage of Professor Da Fony (one of those times…), and uses his super-powers to make himself a genuine portrait-painting prodigy. When he shows an ability to copy the masters with exact precision, the crooks see his talent as a chance for them to make even more money (swapping phonies for the real McCoys). To be a better copycat, Superman heads back in time to study with the masters that he’s going to be mimicking. First up, Thomas Gainsborough. When travelling through the time-stream he passes through Halley’s Comet’s trail and inexplicably gets made younger and blue (another of those times…), but this makes him an oddly appropriate model for The Blue Boy:

Next up is Rembrandt van Rijn and Superman modeling for one of the characters in The Night Watch:

All this invaluable experience helps Supes make detailed, but slightly flawed, forgeries, and in turn helps him expose the ring and its moustache-twirling head:

A-HA! How about that, Mr Fung? (The thought of the Mona Lisa with a giant Todd McFarlane LOOK AT ME signature makes me chortle with fiendish delight.) The certificate-issuing syndicate is busted up. WE ARE SAVED.

Last, but not least, Clark gives the young artist that started this whole thing a boost:

The Doogie Howser of comic strips.

The second half of the issue — the cover story (Dave Wood, Curt Swan and Jack Abel) — is yet another in the long line of I KNOW CLARK KENT IS SUPERMAN NOW WATCH ME (FAIL TO) PROVE IT exposés. Homer Ferret (another of those times…) lures Clark back to his (Ferret’s) Smallville home with the promise of a big Superman scoop. Once there he takes the intrepid reporter into his back room:

Am I the only one getting a “creepy stalker shrine/sex dungeon” vibe?

Ferret latches dopey Clark into his chair, and then lays out his big scoop. It all comes down to Clark growing up in Smallville at the same time as Superboy, and, well:

Undone by an optometrist. How embarrassing. Now the eye doc is going to zap his prisoner, and if Clark survives it proves he’s Superman.

Clark calls his bluff:

So Ferret had no balls to go along with his poor planning (off the top of my head I can think of roughly a forty-five holes in his master plan). Well played. This not-so-close call has one lasting effect, though — Clark decides to upgrade that splendiferous disguise of his:

Yeah, that’ll do it.

What makes this comic rise (modestly, I admit) above the rest, especially when there are so many elements that threaten to send a reader into a towering, forehead-slapping rage? When blue boy time-travel side effects, Professor Da Fonys and Homer Ferrets conspire against our good sense? And apart from the Curt Swan contribution, which never ceases to comfort and entertain Superman devotees?

It’s pretty simple. I confess to being a sucker for art within art, so Superman taking up the bush and easel and studying with masters strikes a chord, as does the sly slap at the art class advertisements that dotted many a comic book in those days. You sense that Andru and Esposito thoroughly enjoyed reproducing classic works of art as a modest homage.

More importantly to the comics universe, it’s great to read even the tiniest little story that confronts head on Clark Kent’s stupid glasses. That Superman hides behind the flimsiest of disguises — if you can even call it a disguise — has long been a source for fanboy bemusement (and letters column fodder). It’s hard to get around. The most famous man on the planet working with investigative reporters and maintaining his secret identity with only the aid of a comb and frames is a lot harder to believe than heat vision or super-breath. It’s kind of fun, but it’s kind of frustrating, too.

This comic doesn’t explain that discrepancy, nor does it resolve it. But at least it grapples with it, and it surely gave readers in 1968 the reassurance that they weren’t crazy, and that other people noticed those dumb glasses as well, AND THAT THEIR VOICES WOULD BE HEARD. Strength in numbers. This comic was a lot of fun to wade through.

He wore a raspberry beret…

One Comment leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    December 19, 2011 11:58 am

    Superman SUCKS!
    He’s the most useless & stupid (shit) supervillain created.(This needless loser like him is gonna ended up as a villain)
    Superman is scum, dumb moron & gangster asshole.(His brainless fans, actors, etc are weak-minded, sore losers with low IQ)
    All of his comics, cartoons, movies, dramas, etc are all shit, crap, garbage, rubbish & suck-ass.
    He must be removed from this face of this planet.
    Superman & DC Comics (& their fans, forever) SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS, SUCKS & SUCKS!

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