Body & Character in Superman: Peer Pressure
by Travis Hedge Coke
Peer Pressure, a 1994 Superman story by divers hands parallels young Clark Kent’s concern that his achievements were are unearned and a neighbor of Kent’s from childhood, Kenny Braverman’s growing jealousy animosity from their high school days to adulthood, when he comes to Metropolis intent on murder.
This is the post-death longhaired Superman, which as a lifelong longhair is always attractive to me. This is also my favorite era for the Lois Lane/Clark Kent romance, The Death of Superman over, the newlywed air and we-didn’t-die sweetness vibrant.
Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove are one of the greatest writer/artist teams to ever work on a long Superman run. Their opening chapter for Peer Pressure, entitled, A Whole New World, is credited not with typical artist writer editor inker but by surnames: A Simonson Bogdanove Lopez Duffy Pitaris Carlin production. They were by this time that fine-tuned of a collaborative institution.
Kenny Braverman is born in the cab of a pickup truck a short distance from where Superman’s rocket from his homeland impacts. John and Martha Kent, of course, rescue this rocketed baby adopting him secretly their own. From here forward, Braverman’s life will at least always seem as if framed by Superman’s existence.
I have to talk about how gorgeous Bogdanove’s Superman is. His Superman in flight, in motion, is extraordinary. While many representations of Superman are somewhat sexually sterile, Bogdanove’s has an immense physical passion clear in his body language, in framing, which comes out whether he is standing, soaring through the air, or lifting the love of his life in his arms and kissing her full of the mouth.
Several of the artists during this time in Superman comics, which is called the Triangle Era, developed a distinct body language for public Superman, public Clark Kent, and the private man with his loved ones and close friends. It is Bogdanove, however, who took this in some of the best directions.
And, not to be too crass, it is Bogdanove Superman who has heft in his crotch.
Serious credit goes to the colorist on this issue, for presenting several scenes in a single color, controlling how we receive scenes and what we focus on.
By the end of the first issue, we understand that this is not an enemy of Superman’s, but someone attacking Clark Kent without knowing he is Superman.
Much of the Superman/Lex Luthor dynamic of an earlier age of comics, was positioned around their having grown up together and Luthor’s mounting jealousy. In this continuity, with that avenue erased, Kenny Braverman takes on a similar role as someone who was perfectly good, just not Superman .
Chapter two, Awards, by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, et al, begins with an amazing sequence of eight panel pages. This layout enhances the time-sensitive nature of the scene, as a bomb and timer are set, and a police murdered.
Let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge how stunning and elegant all four covers of this story are. All four covers have a greater design sensibility, a more bookstore display sensibility, than many of their DC published contemporaries.
We see in this second chapter, that Braverman definitely has superpowers. Now a kind of tentacled cyborg, he has also taken on the name, Conduit.
The scenes of Clark and Lois together privately are beautifully intimate, with Clark free to use his special abilities but also free from having to pose or take on a superhero ambiance. Intriguingly Clark is defensive while talking to Lois about his high school accomplishments. He has full conviction, or claims to have full conviction, that his superpowers – including strength speed and intelligence – were not responsible for his awards, accolades, or accomplishments.
We see in flashbacks that this may not be wholly true. Clark has no real scope of his abilities. As well, we witness Clark and, childhood sweetheart, Lana Lang, as good kids , but as kids; hypocrites. Coupled with Braverman’s abusive home life, we can trace the roots of his obsessive jealousy.
In the current day, Clark Kent is awarded the LexCorp Zenith Award for Journalism, “recognizing outstanding achievements in the field of journalistic communications,” for his coverage of the recent Crisis event called, in-world, the Crisis in Time, and published in real life, as the miniseries and line wide crossover Zero Hour. We barely have time to feel the irony of Clark receiving an award from Lex Luthor’s corporation, when the bomb planted by Braverman/Conduit explodes.
As Superman and as Clark he investigates coming finding that Braverman is willing to set his own men’s heads on fire to avoid capture.
Chapter three, With Powers Beyond Those of Mortal Men, penciled by Barry Kitson and written by Karl Kesel, again highlights the comfort and familiarity these writers and artists have with Superman, his cast, and his world. Superman and Lois are both more relaxed at home and in public, but while this means sitting around in her shorts with a diet soda and a huge bag of potato chips reading entitled women in journalism, we see he is neither a traditional Superman or traditional Clark Kent, his hair ruffled, wearing sunglasses, cut-off jeans, barefoot as he paints walls in their apartment .
Private Superman/Clark neither slumps and fumbles, nor does he pose call in dominant gestures . And, he tells really dopey jokes.
There is some irony now, in Braverman volunteering as a lab experiment to serve the CIA, given Clark does what seems to be an editorially-prescripted turn in military service in the more recent Superman Year One.
While Braverman is experimented on, trying to prove his worth, we see that Clark Kent was in France, being mentored and having a sexual dalliance with a more-established, slightly older journalist.
When Braverman and Clark Kent meet as adults, Braverman is playing CIA spy to the hilt. While Clark’s girlfriend says, as apparently girlfriends say traditionally between them, if not for Clark, she would go for him, Braverman’s plan transforms into arranging a terrorist bombing, that will fulfill his duties of destabilizing a cabal and humiliate Clark Kent.
No one died in the incident, quietly prevented by this pre-Superman Clark, but it does lead to a breakup between Superman and his mentor/girlfriend, who grabs credit for their cowritten article on the events.
By the fourth chapter, written by David Michelinie and drawn by Jackson Guice and Dennis Rodier, we understand that Braverman is now empowered by and producing kryptonite radiation. That he has inside his body the perfect weapon with which to assault Clark, and, being unaware of Clark’s alien origin, Braverman does not even register the specificity of the weapon he has at his fingertips.
While, The Yesterday Man, has less subtlety in bodies, and suffers somewhat from color work that appears uncomfortable with the transition between earlier and then modern coloring techniques, it also features a particularly strong sense of physicality and an intriguing inking style.
The Yesterday Man pulls in the focus on Braverman, commanding an essentially terroristic team, at least one hundred strong, who may believe they are committing sanctioned and patriotic duty, or may just be there for the money. Combined with his current situation, we see in flashbacks, how quickly and how easily, Braverman moved from wanting to prove himself to the CIA with service and abandoning that drive for self-service and easy murder.
His method for assassinating an ambassador, for example, was to fly over them and bomb the entire embassy. The CIA does attempt to punish him for these actions, but we also see both their failure and Braverman continually measuring himself to who he knows only as a Pulitzer-winning journalist, but we also know is Superman.
Braverman is so obsessed and in emotional traction, he literally travels his entire adult life high school yearbook at hand.
We follow Braverman’s quiet firing from the CIA to his resettling in his hometown, where he “steals” a friend from Clark as a romantic “conquest” and terrifies the shit out of her.
For all of Braverman’s supposed elite spy training, his CIA career, essentially his MO, is basic sniping or blowing buildings up. That’s what he’s got.
Even after multiple derailing of his plans, Braverman does not consider in the slightest further Superman involvement. He simply disparages him as the weary muscle man.
In the end, Braverman does not realize his kryptonite radiation is weakening or affecting Superman. He believes that his brute strength and innate superiority gets the better of someone who is more marketing than reality.
Never the end for Superman or for Clark Kent, with Braverman (temporarily) defeated, Peer Pressure finishes with the damage of their battle revealing what appears to be interred corpse, still in coffin, very dead that is Superman. With this tease, we are left wondering if the Clark that Braverman has been competing with and trying to murder, is actually Superman or an impersonator?
Story for another day, or the following week if you were reading at time of original publication.
Peer pressure is likely you never receive the accolades of, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Kingdom Come, or to be as remembered as The Death of Superman, Miracle Monday, or the infamous, Superman Goes for a Walk and Lectures People. That is a true shame. It has a wealth of subtle characterization, a taut and thrilling story, and it is a whole hell of a lot of fun.
Body & Character in Superman: Peer Pressure
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