This one starts with Superman in Houston stopping an experimental rocket sled that sped out of control. He slows the errant sled without injuring the test pilot and flies off. Back in Metropolis, He reflects that it’s nice to “escape” into his Clark Kent identity for a while, since being Superman 24/7 would probably drive him nuts. Clark runs into a neighbour, Mrs. Goldstein, who tells him he should exercise more and recommends he join a gym called the Hercules Health Spa. Over at the aforementioned establishment, we see a couple of pals (Ray Ryker and Grant Haskill) working out. The two are lifelong friends, but Ray has always been slightly overshadowed by Grant, and under their good-natured rivalry there seems to be some real resentment from Ray. Grant’s girlfriend Laurel picks him up and they take off, leaving Ray to his jealousy. At WGBS, Clark apologizes for standing up to Morgan Edge last issue, but gets in shit for interrupting a meeting with a big advertiser. Clark is trying to re-establish his “meek and mild” persona after acting like a stud toward Edge a couple times. Clark and Lois head off to cover a demonstration at Shady Point Nuclear Plant (which sounds more like a retirement community than a nuclear plant). At the plant, Grant and Laurel show up (Grant works there) and are let in by the guards, but the protesters take the opportunity to push through the gates. The guards corral them and shove them back out, but Ray uses the distraction to slip inside the plant and back out again, mingling with the protesters. Clark grabs Ray for an interview, but Ray is nervous and finally says that protests are pointless—people need to take direct action. He then runs off, leaving Lois wondering why a protester would turn down a chance to spout their beliefs on TV. Inside the plant, Grant is showing Laurel a high-tech suit he designed that works kind of like a motion capture suit; he wears the suit and his movements are transferred to a robot (NRG-X, which stands for Nuclear Radiation Generator-Experimental), which mimics his every movement. The robot can safely work with radioactive materials, directed by Grant’s movements. While he’s showing off, we see what Ray was up to when he snuck inside the plant—he left a bomb, which now goes off. The lab falls apart and Laurel is pinned under some beams. A shadowy figure pulls the beams off her, but thinks he’d better not move her in case she’s injured. He goes to find help. Outside, the protesters freak out about the explosion (and say “I told you so”) and start running away. Clark uses the confusion to get separated from Lois and change to Superman. Superman averts a meltdown by inserting a bunch of cooling rods into the reactor and heads into the lab, where he finds Laurel. She’s awake and unhurt, but she freaks when she sees Grant pinned under a bunch of rubble. Superman gets him out, but says Grant is in some kind of deep coma. Outside, Lois and a cameraman are snooping around and a figure comes out of the wrecked plant. Lois freaks and screams when she sees it’s not a person and “Grant” realizes his mind has been transferred into NRG-X’s body by the explosion. Superman shows up and goes after the robot, thinking it’s attacking Lois. Grant can’t communicate from inside the robot, and he accidentally discharges some energy that knocks Superman on his ass. NRG-X takes off and Superman follows—as does Lois, naturally. Superman catches NRG-X, who again emits some weird nuclear energy. But this time, the energy turns Superman into a true man of steel … a steel statue! Lois freaks out and NRG-X runs off to have a freakout of his own. We’ll see what happens to the Superman statue next issue.
- Judging by the women lounging around at the gym, Clark might want to think about joining up.
- The test pilot that Superman rescues in the rocket sled is Stacy Macklin from recent issues of Wonder Woman; Stacy was one of the astronauts who trained alongside Diana Prince. I’m not sure why she’s testing a rocket sled, but it’s in Houston, so maybe she still works for NASA.
- There were a lot of stories about nuclear plants around this time. I guess it was pretty topical in the real world.
- Outside the gym, Laurel picks Grant up in her car, but by the time they get to the nuclear plant, Grant is driving. Must be one of those old-fashioned guys who think it’s unmanly to be driven around by a woman.
- Ray Ryker looks like Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley.
You’ll remember last issue, Vartox came to Earth and started working at WGBS after his planet of Valeron blew up. Vartox determined that he was somehow the cause of his planet exploding, and that the same thing was going to happen to Earth. Vartox tries to warn Clark about the impending disaster, but they’re interrupted by a secretary named Jennifer. (Clark and Vartox are in the supply room, Clark’s favourite place to switch identities.) Vartox uses his new position as head of security for WGBS to bullshit Jennifer and he and Clark leave. Before Vartox can tell Clark about Earth’s peril, Lana interrupts them and shanghais him for lunch. (The two of them started dating—or banging—last issue.) Lana can tell Vartox is hiding something and he comes clean, telling her his real name and what happened to his planet. Lana says he has survivor’s guilt and wonders why she keeps falling for aliens. Clark gets a bulletin about a town called Corlyville in Wisconsin where every single person is convinced the world is about to end. Superman goes to check it out and finds everyone in town is dead certain the world is ending. They’re so desperate they cling to him like leeches and beg him to take them off into space where they’ll be safe. He dumps them in a haystack and heads back to Metropolis, where he finds the “doom” phenomenon has become universal: cults are planning mass suicides, people of every denomination are heading toward Jerusalem, and the UN has dissolved so the members can go home to be with their families when the end comes. Vartox tells Superman he’s been accidentally transmitting his own worries about Earth’s destruction to humans around the world (since Vartox’s powers are psychic in nature). They head for the Fortress of Solitude, stopping some Eastern European country from euthanizing its own citizens with a pre-emptive nerve gas strike on the way. Vartox tells Superman he picked up some weird element in space that reacts with oxygen, setting off a chain reaction of tiny atomic explosions. Valeron was destroyed faster because its atmosphere had three times as much oxygen as Earth’s, but Vartox figures Earth only has ten hours or so left before it blows up too. But when they use their microscopic vision to look for the oxygen reactions, there aren’t any and Superman assumes Vartox’s survivor’s guilt has driven him crazy. Vartox attacks Supes, beating the shit out of him and stunning him with a brain blast. Vartox then tries to convince Superman that he’s back on Krypton and it’s going to explode. Vartox figures that will make Superman take him seriously, but recalling what happened to Krypton (and knowing he can’t really do anything to stop it) makes Superman go wild and he crashes through the Fortress wall. Vartox wonders if he went too far with his ruse (you think?), but outside he and Superman both find evidence that the deadly oxygen reaction is taking place. So why wasn’t it happening inside the Fortress? Superman realizes the chunks of rock Vartox brought (which are all that’s left of Valeron) must stop the reaction somehow. So he and Vartox travel to where Valeron used to be, gather all the remains they can find into two giant asteroids, smash them together over Earth, and disperse the dust through the atmosphere, which stops the oxygen reaction and saves Earth. Makes sense to me! Vartox tells Lana he has to leave (that’s what happens when you put out too soon); he wants to find another planet that needs his help. Lana says she’ll wait for him, but I can’t see that lasting too long. Next issue is the big one … #500. Don’t miss it!
- Jennifer walks in on Lana and Vartox making out, which makes her the queen of interrupters. Come to think of it, she’d really have wondered if she walked in on Clark and Vartox in the supply room before they were fully dressed.
This one starts with Superman disabling an alien space probe that was putting some astronauts into suspended animation. Supes decides to follow the probe back to its planet of origin, light years from Earth. He finds two space fleets engaged in an interstellar war. By eavesdropping on their comms, he finds out the fleet from the planet below (Nyrvn) goes around kidnapping other races and forcing them to serve in the Nyrvnian army, to attack more worlds. Superman disables the entire Nyrvnian fleet (which is all robot-piloted) and is about to go after the Nyrvnians themselves when he’s interrupted by some old friends … the Legion of Super-Heroes. Four Legion members (Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Sun Boy, and Dawnstar) have traveled back in time to stop Superman from interfering with the Nyrvnians. Supes wonders why they’d want to protect a bunch of interstellar warmongers, but Lightning Lad tells him that the reason their 30th Century is so peaceful is because Earth defeated an invading space fleet and basically put an end to warfare in the solar system … with help from the Nyrvnians’ advanced weaponry. The Nyrvnians need the intervening thousand years to develop that weaponry that eventually saves Earth, so Superman can’t stop them now. Superman isn’t convinced, but Sun Boy tells him the whole Nyrvnians-saving-Earth” thing is already history to them, so there’s no point in trying to change it. Supes finally accepts it, but isn’t too happy. After he leaves, the Legionnaires use their powers to prevent the Nyrvnians from killing their foes, and they worry what will happen if Superman learns “the whole story”. Hmmm, looks like they’re hiding something. At WGBS, Steve Lombard tells Clark he has a visitor waiting in his office; it turns out to be Pete Ross, who Clark hasn’t seen in ages. Pete tells Clark that aliens have kidnapped his son, Jon, and urges Clark to go after them as Superman. (Pete found out Clark’s secret identity on a camping trip years ago in the pages of Superboy, but kept that knowledge to himself—until now.) when Clark sees an artist’s rendering of the ship that stole Jon and recognizes it as a Nyrvnian ship, he freaks out and heads back into space. On Nyrvn, the Legionnaires find Jon Ross and he thinks they’re there to rescue him. But they tell him he’s destined to be Nyrvn’s greatest hero when he grows up, so they can’t interfere with his future. Jon doesn’t care about being a hero and just wants to go home; he’s sure Superman will come save him and Saturn Girl realizes Jon knows Superman’s secret identity. Superman is approaching Nyrvn when he inadvertently speeds up and travels forward in time. Turns out Dawnstar gave him a little extra impetus because she wants him to see the big battle in the Millennium War where Earth and Nyrvn defeat the alien attackers. Superman is awed by the destruction and tries to stop the fight, but gets blasted by enough futuristic tech to knock him out. The Legionnaires were half-hoping Superman might actually stop the Millennium War himself, making the Nyrvnian tech unnecessary, but even he’s not strong enough. Superman wonders if the Nyrvnians’ millennium of warfare was against any specific opponents or just fighting in general. Saturn Girl sees what he’s getting at … they could give the Nyrvnians a series of war games, progressing in difficulty, to hone their skills and build their arsenal instead of letting them lay waste to other civilizations. Kind of like “A Taste of Armageddon” but with no Barbara Babcock. The Legionnaires bring a bunch of advanced tech from the future and construct a huge space armada to keep attacking the Nyrvnians, and Superman donates a bunch of his Superman robots to run the whole thing. Now the Nyrvnians can build their strength for a thousand years until they finally fulfill their destiny, without countless others being decimated along the way. Unfortunately, Jon Ross still has to stay with them to fulfill his destiny and Superman has to break the news to Pete back on Earth. Pete doesn’t give a shit about destiny or future history, and he swears he’ll make Superman pay for taking his son away from him. We’ll see what Pete does next issue.
- I’m not sure I buy Sun Boy’s “it already happened so you can’t possibly change it” argument. If that’s the case, then why did the Legionnaires have to come back in time to stop Superman from screwing with the Nyrvnians?
- Jon found out Superman’s secret identity in Action #457, which is the one with the famous cover that makes it look like Superman is about to do something … unsavoury.