Adventures of Superman #468 (July 1990)
Superman versus a pile of junk. A living pile of junk! And other important stuff happens that will have repercussions for years to come! (Seriously.)
We start with a bunch of random machinery in the LexCorp building assembling itself into vaguely human-like form and scaring the crap out of a janitor. At the same time, all the communications on the East Coast go kaput (this being 1990, that means phones and… telegraphs?). Superman investigates and realizes the mega-interference comes from a NASA facility outside Metropolis, where the living junk person has recently shown up. That’s when we find out that he’s actually…
…Johnny-5 from the 1986 motion picture Short Circuit! No, not really: it’s Hank Henshaw, the astronaut who died in front of a LexCorp computer two issues ago. Just like Hank’s buddy temporarily rebuilt his body out of rocks due to the magic of cosmic radiation, Hank has managed to do the same thing with technology. The only member of Hank’s crew who still has a real body is his wife Terri, but watching her friends die caused her to go catatonic. Unfortunately, seeing Hank come back as a robotic monster doesn’t do wonders for her mental condition either.
Anyway, after Superman has finished dealing with all the problems the communications blackout caused, he shows up at NASA and greets Hank by punching him so hard his entire robot body comes apart.
Hank quickly reassembles his body, but upon learning that not only has he caused a massive blackout but the mere sight of his new persona made his wife slip into a coma, he decides there’s nothing for him on Earth and exiles himself in space. Using NASA’s equipment, Hank beams his “soul” to the Kryptonian rocket that Superman left suspended in orbit back in Superman #1 and forgot about. Hank builds himself a mini rocket from the Kryptonian technology and speeds off into deep space, despite Superman’s efforts to get him to reconsider his decision.
After that, Superman goes to his Fortress of Solitude and writes an entry in his futuristic Kryptonian journal (basically, an iPad), and then we actually get to peek at that through a special 8-page insert. Most of the journal is just a kind of dull recap of Superman’s friends and non-friends, but there’s an interesting bit at the end where he fantasizes about one day telling Lois Lane he’s Clark Kent. That “fantasy” right there is a pretty big spoiler.
Despite being sad about his wife, at the end Hank sounds pretty excited about exploring the cosmos and gaining more knowledge. Overall he seems like a pretty cool dude, like Carl Sagan meets Reed Richards (meets Johnny-5). He even forgives Superman for punching him!
However, at some point in the future, the details of how he left Earth will become a little iffy in his memory and he’ll blame Superman for everything. Oh, and he has access to Kryptonian technology and Superman’s DNA (from the birth matrix in the rocket). But what could a villain do with that?
- I’m not joking when I say Superman forgot about the Kryptonian rocket he left in space (along with the big chunk of land and laboratory it was in): he’s seriously like “oh, right, here it is,” as if he’s talking about his keys or something. At the end of the issue he finally puts away the rocket in the Fortress of Solitude, though.
- This, somehow, is the second issue in one month where a widowed female character that was more or less OK the last time we saw her is revealed to be catatonic from the delayed shock of something she went through: first Jimmy’s mom in Superman #45 and now Hank’s wife, who was bummed but pretty non-catatonic at the end of her last appearance. That’s a pretty specific trope to be abusing in such a short period of time.
- Speaking of Jimmy, we saw in that same issue that he got some tickets to a satanic disco from Jerry White, who works there. As Jimmy and Lucy Lane are heading to the disco, they happen to run into Jerry again, but he’s in a hurry and clutching a mysterious paper bag. You… you don’t think the satanic disco gig isn’t as a legit as it looked, do you?
I always thought this plot was pretty dumb: Lois Lane is supposed to fly to Smallville to have dinner with Clark Kent and his parents, but the phone lines go down (because of Hank) just as she’s about to tell Clark she can’t be there. Later, Clark sees her as Superman and he’s so distracted saving people that he forgets he’s not wearing his glasses and tells her they’ll talk during dinner.
Most people would have cracked the mystery of Superman’s secret identity right there, but this being Lois Lane, she just thinks Superman is inviting her to dinner too (we’ll find out what’s keeping Lois busy in the next issue of Action). And of course, when Lois doesn’t show up at the airport in the end, Clark thinks she chose Superman over him and Charlie Browns away.
Clearly, these two dummies belong with each other.