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"Under the Skin": The people of Smallville, Kansas have become victims to parasites who feed on their fear, and Superman and Steel are having difficulty doing anything to stop it with Mr. Santiago


Quote1 However it plays out... the end will be the same. I'll mourn Metropolis. Then... everyone else I ever knew... everything I ever fought for... everything... everything... Goodbye. Quote2
-- Superman



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Synopsis for "Under the Skin"

The people of Smallville, Kansas have become victims to parasites who feed on their fear, and Superman and Steel are having difficulty doing anything to stop it with Mr. Santiago and Mrs. Takahara using their mental powers given to them by Brainiac to attack them. They believe that by closing the Phantom Zone portal through which the creatures came, they can help prevent Superman from falling into a trap. Unfortunately, Lana Lang has been caught and is trapped on the other side of that portal waiting for Superman and Steel to save her. Mr. Santiago suggests that she is a necessary sacrifice. Fortunately, Hiro Okamura has developed a means of disrupting their mental abilities, and Superman and Steel take the opportunity to enter the portal and seek Lana.

Inside, Superman is immediately struck by how unfamiliar the place seems - completely unlike any part of the Zone he's ever seen, and overrun with the fear-parasites. Both men attempt to suppress their own feelings of fear and concern for Lana, so as not to give the creatures anything further to feed upon. Using his organic steel, John Henry covers them both in it, so that their hearts and endocrine systems are adjusted to counter-balance their feelings of fear, to make them unappetizing. Despite its use, Superman is worried that his motivation to save Lana is dulled by being left with only his reason. They share a muted gladness that Lana is not among the used-up corpses of those whom the creatures have finished feeding on, but they are still taken aback when they see her in the clutches of their enemy.

They can both hear her voice in their heads, and John Henry has to strengthen the emotional controls in their protective suits to prevent their emotions from getting the better of them. Clark can see through the illusion to see that whoever is talking is just using her voice to lure them - but he wants to know who it really is. The speaker reminds him, explaining how twenty years back, it had fed upon a drifter who was afraid of getting caught for stealing a chicken, and caused the fire that drew Clark out of school. Before being put in the Phantom Zone, it had once been called the Ultra-Humanite, and when it encountered Clark as a boy, it knew it could feed on Earth forever. But Clark was strong, and fought it back into the crack in the Zone where it could hide from him. Still, it had got a taste for Clark's fear, and waited until Doomsday broke out of the Zone for its chance to sneak out and get another taste.

Meanwhile, monsters have begun escaping the Zone and attacking the people of Smallville, and Mrs. Takahara warns Clark telepathically that they need to kill the Ultra-Humanite. The creature tells him not to listen, but Lana speaks in her own voice, and warns him that she's already dying, and he'd better finish her off and save everyone else. In his state of emotionless reason, Clark can't discern properly whether Lana's words are just another of the creature's tricks, and realizes that the only way he will be able to tell is to free himself of the organic steel protection.

He tears the armour from his body, and is immediately so overwhelmed with fear that his mind takes him back to when he laid his parents to rest. No one had been there for him except Lana. Her family was charitable enough to let him sleep on their couch for the week, and it took their patience and care to show him that things could be normal for him again. But years later, Doomsday would come, and make him responsible for her parents' deaths - by his failure to save them. And in the future, he supposes, everyone he cares about will die. First Lana, here in the tentacles of the Ultra-Humanite. Then Lois, Bruce, Diana - and soon, the rest of the world with them - everyone he ever knew. The world will be consumed by fire, and all of the things he ever fought for will be erased from existence.

Clark forces himself to continue facing his fear, letting the creature feed on it until it has no need of Lana anymore, and lets her drop into John Henry's arms. He lets it feed on him until it needs to call back its monsters to contain it all, and with the people of Metropolis safe, they decide to close the portal, with Superman inside. Eventually, the creatures are all so full of fear that they can't stomach anymore, and yet, Superman lives. He insists that he's fine - a lie - and ushers John Henry and Lana out of the portal before it's closed. Glad to see that he succeeded, the townspeople close the crack, and Smallville is saved.

In the morning, Clark and Lana hold another funeral for both of their parents, who were dug up by the creature, to see them properly buried again. Afterwards, Lana expresses regret that she blamed him for her parents' deaths, knowing it wasn't really is fault. She explains that she saw his nightmare, and it showed her what it really means to be Superman, and now she knows she was wrong to place any blame on him. And what's worse is knowing just how much loss he's going to experience in his lifetime. With a wry smile, Clark assures her that he won't be losing anyone today, at least.



Notes

  • This book was first published on February 4, 2015.
  • No special notes.

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