The Nail
by Alan Davis, Mark Farmer
(DC Comics, 1998)

It begins with a slightly weak premise. Let's assume that on the fateful day the infant Kal El's spacepod fell to Earth, Ma and Pa Kent had a flat tire and, feeling a bit frisky anyway, stayed home. They never found the pod or raised Clark Kent to be the upstanding hero we all know and love. Now, without his sterling example to lead the way and protect Metropolis from the forces of evil, the general public has been swayed to believe that all superheroes and masked vigilantes are evil aliens -- all while the real evil aliens plot to take over the world.

It's not the best start to The Nail, a three-part graphic novel by Alan Davis. But Davis whips the story into a frenzy and walks away with one of the best Elseworlds tales of recent years. Fans of Alan Moore's classic Watchman will recognize portions of the plot, as heroes are forced to surrender to the authorities or take their chances with a fickle public, branded as outlaws.

Without Superman's pacifying hand, Lex Luthor becomes much more powerful than he is in the normal DC Universe. And, using Kryptonian technology found in the abandoned pod -- as well as traces of alien DNA -- he builds an unstoppable criminal empire all under the guise of political respectability. But the ultimate bad guy is not who you think....

There are unexpected deaths and defeats. There are also some poignant and dramatic scenes in this book, particularly when Batman is forced to watch the brutal murders of two young charges at the hands of a high-powered Joker. There is also a romance, which many Bruce Wayne fans have been clamoring for since the Catwoman first appeared. Throughout it all, there is a potent undercurrent of desperation and dedication among heroes who too often fall under Superman's shadow and don't get their proper due in DC comics.

It doesn't reveal too much of the ending to note that the Kryptonian orphan is found, moral code intact, among the peace-loving Amish. Pity poor Lois, though -- he first appears with a beard peeking out from under that broad, flat hat, which by Amish tradition means he's already found himself a shoofly pie-lovin' wife!

The Nail is an excellent story, well worth tracking down to become a valued addition to your collection.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 7 June 2003

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