This one starts with Superman destroying the Laser Defense System satellite in orbit. You may remember the LDS was a top-secret orbital laser designed to protect Earth from space-bound threats. Superman found out about it accidentally (and was pretty mad that he hadn’t been told) and has now convinced the Pentagon that it’s unreliable. The one-armed general in charge of the project (General Derwent, who we saw vowing revenge against Superman an issue or two ago) watches on a monitor as Supes collects the pieces of the smashed satellite. Derwent rants about Superman ruining his secret project and possibly getting him demoted. I can kind of understand Derwent’s point, but it seems like there’s more to it than just the LDS. As Superman collects the last of the satellite debris, he notices something else falling toward Earth and quickly realizes it wasn’t part of the satellite. It’s a chunk of metal and Superman reads a Kryptonian warning on it that says it contains dangerous micro-organisms. We see the thing is sentient, as it’s thinking about conquering Earth. When Superman goes after it, the metal changes into a humanoid shape and attacks. The resulting smash-up knocks Superman into the ocean and the humanoid to Mooney Island, site of the recent LDS headquarters. The humanoid sees Superman pulling down sections of chain link fence on the Island and decides it needs to merge with him to gain his vast power. How can Supes be on Mooney Island when he just got knocked into the ocean unconscious? Good question; we’ll see in a bit. Anyway, the humanoid transmutes itself into a piece of fence and the ersatz Superman collects it along with the other pieces of fence. The real Superman recovers from his clash with the humanoid, but can’t find his adversary, so he brings the LDS debris back to Mooney Island and delivers it to General Derwent. Derwent is still pissed off and says he’s the one who made sure Superman was kept in the dark about the LDS. After Supes leaves, Derwent confides to his aide that he lost his arm through a freak accident. The Army was testing a new missile and Superman volunteered to be the target; a microscopic piece of shrapnel entered the General’s arm (so small he didn’t even feel it) and caused an infection that ended with the arm being amputated. So that’s why he hates Superman so much. They get back to the lighthouse headquarters on the Island and we find out the “Superman” that was dismantling the fence is actually a Superman robot that washed up on the Island a while back, smashed to shit. The General ordered it to be reassembled and reprogrammed so they could use it around the base. Yeah, I’m sure nothing will go wrong with that plan. Oh wait! Something’s already going wrong. The transmuted humanoid makes contact with the Superman robot and takes it over, transforming it even further. Superman checks his Kryptonian history records and finds out the humanoid was created by one of Jor-El’s fellow scientists. He started with micro-organisms he called “commensals”, which could multiply and transform into metal to replace missing limbs, sort of like nanobots. But like nanobots, they soon ran wild and completely enveloped the test subject, turning his whole body into metal. The scientist froze the commensals and shot them into space (which seems to be the Kryptonians’ solution to everything), but now they’ve thawed and reached Earth. Superman realizes the commensals could ravage the whole planet. Back on Mooney Island, we see the Superman robot, transformed to gleaming metal by the commensals, but lacking a soul. It offers to merge with General Derwent to get revenge on Superman and he agrees. The resulting Kryptonoid rushes to Metropolis to attack Superman, who just gets out of its way in time. The Kryptonoid can control other metal objects and soon wraps Supes up in a lamp-post. The Kryptonoid reveals why it wants revenge on Superman—because it thinks he’s really Jor-El! The Kryptonoid prepares to assimilate the trapped Man of Steel, but we’ll have to wait till next issue to see what happens.
- The back-up story is a Private Life of Clark Kent thing by Burkett/Schaffenberger/Blaisdell. It’s kind of a stupid story about Clark being taken for a missing heir who was kidnapped as a baby. Clark’s supposed father is a millionaire recluse who hates cops, so Clark goes with his friend Jeff (who’s a cop) to see the millionaire (whose name is Linden—maybe a reference to some of the people who claimed to be the Lindbergh baby?) and just as Clark convinces him he’s his long-lost son, some old partner of Linden’s tries to waste him. Jeff pounds the guy and it turns out Clark was bullshitting all along and Jeff is really Linden’s son. They pretended otherwise because Linden wouldn’t have even talked to Jeff since he’s a cop, but now he’s suddenly proud of him and all this shit. Like I said, it’s pretty stupid.
As you can tell by the title, this one continues from last issue. You may remember Microwave Man was some crook named Lewis Padgett from back in the 30s who got kidnapped by aliens then brought back to Earth in the present as an old man. Padgett still had his microwave powers but couldn’t control them too well, so he got his alien friends (who were hanging around to see if he needed help getting readjusted) to make him young again, restoring his power to full vigour. Now he’s destroying Superman statues and leaving “Come at me, Bro” messages around town. Clark and the WGBS news team review some old newsreel footage of Padgett’s crime spree back in the 30s, but before Clark and Lana can do the nightly news, the transmission is knocked out by microwaves. I wonder who could be doing that? Superman tracks the microwaves to Padgett’s hideout and they fight. Supes quickly realizes Padgett isn’t an old man anymore, though he doesn’t know why. They fight and Padgett’s ability to absorb and recharge himself with microwaves makes him strong enough to hurl Superman into space. Supes realizes that there are way more microwaves around now than there were in the 30s, which explains Padgett’s increased power. Superman figures he can just take Padgett back in time to when there were no microwaves and beat him easily. But before Supes can carry out that plan, we see Padgett’s alien friends zapping Superman with some kind of beam. It doesn’t seem to affect him, but when he returns to Earth, Padgett challenges Supes to a contest of strength and he accepts. Padgett puts everything he has into it and Superman concedes, saying Padgett is too strong for him. Turns out Padgett’s renewed youth was only temporary and he ages and dies. Padgett knew his time was limited, but wanted to challenge Superman and go out in a blaze of glory. The alien ray let Supes know all that, so he pretended to lose to Padgett to give him a glorious exit. The aliens take Padgett’s body to scatter his molecules in space.
- Lana still suspects Clark is Superman, but is playing it cool.
- When Microwave Man knocks out all the TV signals, we see a couple in their house complaining that they just paid $62 to fix the TV; the husband says it’s probably one of those SSTs flying overhead. Ah, the Seventies.
- Superman says that everything—TVs, microwaves, radar, CBs—runs on microwaves, which is why Padgett is so strong now. I don’t think that’s strictly true; all those things are part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum, but they’re not all microwaves. Most of them have different wavelengths/frequencies.
- There’s a back-up story about Air Wave by Rozakis/Saviuk/Chiaramonte. This is the second Air Wave, young Hal Jordan (a cousin of “old” Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern). Young Hal is moving to Texas to live with his uncle and aunt (Jack and Jan—apparently Green Lantern has a bunch of brothers, all of whose names start with J). Hal starts by foiling a hijacking at the airport, then meets Jack and Jan’s babysitter Karen, who he instantly wants to bang. She’s kind of a nerd and suggests they go to a model train exhibit. Naturally, some loser shows up to attack the exhibit, Hal changes to Air Wave, and pounds the guy. He makes up an excuse about hiding during the fight, but those nerd girls are smart, and Karen seems to already suspect that Hal and Air Wave are connected.
- This Air Wave story was supposed to be a rotating back-up with Atom as the second feature in Action Comics and the blurb at the end says this story is continued in Action #490. But the Implosion reduces page counts in most comics, eliminating back-up features, so we won’t see Air Wave again until Action #511. I don’t know if that story continues from this one or not … I guess we’ll find out when we get there.
This one is a bit strange; I suspect it was an attempt to give Hex a new backdrop instead of the Old West that he’s used to. We start out in Charleston, South Carolina where Hex has just arrived after receiving an urgent telegram. Turns out some fancy-looking dude wants Hex to play Phileas Fogg and cross the Atlantic in a balloon. Why Hex? Because he has a rep for doing anything for a buck, and this guy offers him $5000 to make this trans-Atlantic jaunt. Hex may be greedy, but he ain’t stupid; he turns down the money, so the pretty boy clonks him on the head and tosses him into the balloon’s gondola. Naturally, the dandified dude is staying behind, to catalog the adventure and make improvements if the balloon fails. Translation: he’s too scared to go himself, so he shanghaied someone else into it. But Hex wakes up just before the balloon is cut loose and grabs the dude, dragging him into the air. The guy’s fancy clothes tear and he plunges to his death, which doesn’t bother Hex too much—except he has no idea how to control the balloon. Hex figures out how to control the balloon to some degree, but it drifts south by south-east, never close enough to land for him to try descending. Hex ends up east of Brazil and finally sees a ship below. He descends and is taken aboard, but the sailors are nervous; they’re obviously hiding something and the captain assumes Hex is there to spy on them. The crew attacks and Hex fights back but is overwhelmed. He’s whipped, but can’t answer any of their questions, since he’s not really a spy. The captain gives his crew shit for sailing too close to the Isle of Palms (where cannibals live), then has Hex thrown into the hold. He immediately realizes why the crew is so nervous—it’s a slave ship, taking people from Africa to Brazil. Hex makes friends with the slaves, including a couple who speaks English: Mbwasi, the King of his tribe; and Cricket, who was a slave to the crew but was tossed in the hold for insubordination. Hex uses his Bowie knife (which he hid in his boot) to open the locks on their chains. Some of the slaves have already fashioned spears from pieces of wood and the iron rings of the water barrels. Mbwasi has a piece of flint around his neck and Hex figures that’s their ticket out. That night, he starts a fire and when a couple of crew members come to check it out, he and Mbwasi kill them. Cricket goes to get weapons from the armory, but it turns out he was planted in the hold to monitor the slaves. He tattles to the captain about the escape, but Mbwasi spears him in the back; apparently, Mbwasi didn’t trust him. The captain shoots Mbwasi and the crew clashes with Hex and the slaves and they end up controlling opposite ends of the ship. The crew tries to negotiate, since a storm is blowing up and Hex and his friends have control of the bridge, but no one who can navigate or even steer the ship properly. While the crew try to negotiate, Hex sneaks along the side of the ship and grabs the helmsman, dragging him back to the wheelhouse. Hex orders him to steer them to safety and leaves the slaves to watch him. Hex encounters the captain and ends up knocking him into the water. The slaves kill the helmsman and Hex tries to steer the ship through the storm, but it breaks up on some shoals. Only Hex and a few former slaves are left alive, clinging to some flotsam. The next day, they’re found by descendants of escaped slaves from the Isle of Palms. Hex realizes these are the cannibals the captain was talking about and resigns himself to being eaten. But the newly freed slaves (whose language is intelligible to the cannibals) plead for Hex’s release. The cannibals give him a dugout canoe and some provisions and send him on his way. He tries to warn the slaves about the cannibals, but they can’t understand a word he says, so he leaves before the cannibals change their minds. As he’s paddling away, he sees smoke from cook-fires rising over the island.
- The dude knocks Hex out with a wrench. Why would he have a wrench handy when he’s working on a balloon?
- The balloon’s designer said the prevailing winds were perfect to take Hex across the Atlantic and they wouldn’t get such a chance again for six months, but the unguided balloon moves south toward Brazil.
- Mbwasi tells Hex the stone around his neck is magical and sacred, which seems a bit overboard on the “ignorant savage” trope. West African tribes were smelting iron well before A.D. 1000 (maybe before Christ), so I think a tribal chief would be familiar with flint.
- For a guy who fought for the Confederacy, Hex doesn’t seem to harbour any particular prejudices against black people. By the standards of his day, he’s practically enlightened.
- At the end a caption says Hex is heading for the Brazilian coast to look for a friendly settlement where he can book passage home. That sounds like one of those hand-waving things writers do to wrap up a story, but as we’ll see next issue, Hex’s sojourn away from the States lasts longer than just this issue.