I’m a big fan of the Superman: Man of Steel trades which aim to collect all of the post-Crisis Superman stories in somewhat chronological order. The books have been pretty interesting, especially considering that they were trying to lessen Superman’s powers, bring him more down to Earth and really make him the only Kryptonian in the universe. We also start off from square one between Clark Kent and Lois Lane as well as all the other background and supporting characters. As I mentioned in my post about Superman: The World of Krypton, I like this part of Superman’s history because it’s the time I got into and overall it feels more creative. It’s fun reading these adventures and seeing him interact for “the first time” with characters like The Joker, Mr. Mxy, Mr. Miracle and Big Barda. I liked the trade, but this post is about a really weird and gross couple of segments from the collection written and drawn by John Byrne which were originally published in Action Comics #592 and 593 from 1987.
Basically, Big Barda is knocked unconscious by fellow New God (a former denizen of Apokolips appropriately named Sleez), dressed like a trollop, filmed doing presumably naughty sexual things and almost filming a pornographic movie with Superman. After a pretty funny scene where Barda encounters a pimp and prostitute in Metropolis’ Suicide Slum, someone swipes her purse and runs into the sewers where Sleez lives. Sleez takes the thief out, finds Barda’s Mega Rod in her purse and with the assistance of some pink monster things, knocks Barda unconscious. Next time we see of them, Sleez–who controls minds–has dressed Barda up in a strange orange fringe…thing and has her dancing around his sewer hideout barefoot and seemingly topless. Yes, this is surely strange, but it gets worse. Superman eventually shows up to help and Barda gets free. While trying to attack Sleez with her Mega Rod, Barda says “Now, Sleez, it is time for you to pay! Pay for the indignities which you heaped upon me in the past two days!” At this point we’re not sure if she’s just referring to the barefoot dancing or something else. It’s something else. Sleez winds up knocking both Barda and Superman out. End of part one. The next issues starts with Mr. Miracle coming back home only to find Darkseid hanging out drinking wine on the purple easy chair in his living room. This page doesn’t really do much to explain the story, it’s just one of my favorite splash pages of all time. It’s very “Oh hello, I didn’t see you come in.”Like any good guest, Darkseid shows up with a VHS tape of the host’s wife doing…things. His explanation of how he got it is kind of funny, but I can’t help but feel grossed out by how cavalier this whole thing is handled. Meet Mr. Grossman, the man distributing the Barda tape for Sleez. Sleez shows up with a mind-controlled Superman and implies that they can make a tape of him and Barda together after Grossman wonders what kind of woman could stand up to Superman’s…embrace. So Grossman gets a set and tries to get something going between the mind-controlled Barda and Superman, but they’re resisting Sleez’s control. Then Mr. Miracle finally shows up and the two heroes break free of Sleez’s control. Grossman gets caught, but Sleez makes a break for it. The end.
I find it mind-boggling that an editor signed off on this story. Sure Byrne doesn’t come right out and say that Sleez had sex with Barda on camera (in fact, we have no idea what the content of the video is, but Barda feels violated, so the context is there). Maybe they thought the kids wouldn’t catch on and this kind of thing would titillate the adults? Ugh, it’s gross. And the main question is “Why would you involve one of the most recognizable characters in the world in a weird sex story that implies, at worst, rape and at best, filming a naked woman not under her own control?”
So, yeah, this happened. And it got reprinted. I’m torn on that one because, as regular readers know, I’m 100% for all-inclusive collections, but I’m not so sure if these two gross issues needed reprinting.