Comics Reviews: Superman 340, Action 500, DC Comics Presents 14

Superman 340 coverSuperman #340 – “The Night of the Walking Bomb” – Len Wein/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

You’ll remember last issue a not-so-friendly rivalry between two old friends turned deadly when one of them (Ray Ryker) sabotaged the nuclear plant where the other (Grant Haskill) worked. When the bomb exploded, Haskill’s mind was forcibly transferred into a robot he’d been using to safely work around the plant. Superman was unaware of all that and just saw a menacing figure threatening Lois, so he attacked the robot. Haskill was still confused by the mind transfer and lashed out, hitting Superman with some weird energy that seemed to turn him into a true Man of Steel—a steel statue. That’s where this issue starts, with Lois freaking out over the Superman statue. But it turns out Supes wasn’t transformed into a statue, he was just encased in a thin coating of steel, from which he soon breaks free. Superman heads inside the nuclear plant, where he finds Haskill’s body (in a comatose state) and his girlfriend LaurelSuperman busts loose weeping over him. Elsewhere, Haskill wanders through Metropolis, lamenting being trapped inside a robotic body. He figures the protesters at the plant must have been the ones who set the bomb and caused his current condition, so he vows to get revenge. At the hospital, Clark Kent puts in an appearance and he and Lois learn that Haskill’s body is in great shape, he just has no brain activity at all … which technically means he’s dead. Laurel doesn’t want to accept that and freaks out. Clark changes back to Superman and goes to look for the robot, assuming it had something to do with Haskill’s condition. The robot (NRG-X) invades the protesters headquarters and even though he can’t speak, manages to get his point across when he tries to bring the whole place down on their heads. Superman shows up (having followed the robot’s radiation trail) and tackles NRG-X, getting him out f the building. NRG-X tries to use his nuclear energy on Superman again, this time turning a lamppost into wax. Supes douses iced robotthe robot with water from a fire hydrant and ices him with super-breath, but NRG-X quickly melts free. The robot collapses the building on the protesters and takes off; the distraction works, as Superman has to stop the building’s collapse (he ends up rebuilding the place at super-speed) and by the time he’s done, NRG-X is gone, this time masking his radiation trail so Superman can’t track him. Superman heads to WGBS to do the nightly news and of course the top story is on the nuclear plant explosion. NRG-X is watching (the old cliché of standing in front of a store full of televisions) and sees Clark’s abortive interview with Ray Ryker from last issue. Haskill puts two and two together and realizes Ryker is the one who sabotaged the plant and caused his current misery; he turns his anger toward Ryker and heads for the gym where the two of them always work out. NRG-X busts into the gym, freaking out most of the patrons, and goesSuperman saves Ryker after Ryker. Naturally, Ryker has no idea why a robot is stalking him, and Haskill can’t speak, but his actions are pretty clear—he’s there to waste Ryker. Superman shows up and addresses the robot as Haskill, having figured things out while investigating Haskill’s lab. Ryker is so scared, he confesses to setting the bomb and begs Superman to take him in. Supes tells him to take off while he handles Haskill. Haskill sees his chance for revenge evaporating and tries to blast Superman, but Supes breaks the robot’s hands off. Haskill figures there’s not much left for him to do except go out with a bang, so he fires carbon cooling rods out of his arm-stumps at Superman. Losing the cooling rods makes NRG-X go critical and a punch from Superman starts a chain reaction that’ll result in a huge radioactive crater where Metropolis used to be. Superman realizes Haskill played him and flies the robot into space milliseconds before it explodes; I’m sure none of the radioactive fallout in space will affect Earth. Superman heads back to Earth to arrest Ryker and in the hospital, Laurel is still hoping Haskill might recover. The doctor says that’s impossible without some radical change in Haskill’s condition … and we see the comatose Haskill’s eyes glow, almost as if they were radioactive …

Noticeable Things:

  • NRG-X’s nuclear powers are reminiscent of Firestorm’s the way he makes substances change form. I assume that was intentional, since both involved nuclear plant accidents.
  • Lana mentions to Clark that she’s made a decision about her future with Superman, but we aren’t told what it is. I assume it’ll be addressed in an upcoming issue.

Action 500 coverAction #500 – “The Life Story of Superman” – Martin Pasko/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This issue is just what the title says, a retelling of Superman’s life. But it’s not all flashbacks; there’s a present-day menace for Supes to face as well. We start with the Man of Steel showing up at the Superman Pavilion at the World’s Fair, which is being held in Metropolis. He’s introduced  by the Mayor, who also introduces the Fair’s organizer, J. Robert Arngrim, who has pledged to donate a million dollars from the gate receipts for the Fair to Superman’s favourite charity, in exchange for Supes leading a tour of his namesake pavilion. The tour starts in the Krypton exhibit, meant to honour (and partially recreate) Superman’s home planet. Superman says his memories of Krypton are spotty, since he was so young when he left, and Arngrim talks him intoKrypton exhibit using a mind-prober ray (which is one of the exhibits) to bring back some of his memories and share them with the crowd. Superman is reluctant, but the crowd’s enthusiasm sways him and he sits under the mind-prober. Elsewhere, we see a shadowy figure in a lab gloating about Superman using the mind-prober and saying he can tap into Superman’s memory. Behind him, some kind of vapour fills a human-sized glass chamber. Superman’s memories are enhanced by the mind-prober and we get our first flashback, to the infant Kal-El playing with his mother, Lara. Krypton had been plagued by earthquakes lately, and Jor-El tried to convince the leaders that the planet was going to explode, but they didn’t believe him. He wanted to build a fleet of space arks to evacuate, but nobody would cooperate, so he started testing smaller Krypton destroyedrockets on his own. He tested one using Kal-El’s puppy, Krypto, but the spaceship was hit by a meteor and caromed off into space, leaving young Kal despondent. As Superman relives these painful memories in the present, we see the secret lab again. This time, we can see there’s a young child inside the glass tube who looks exactly like the infant Kal-El from Superman’s memories. The kid is being fed those memories through a weird helmet as the mysterious scientist looks on. Superman’s memories skip forward to the fateful day when Jor-El’s doomsday prophecy came true. He and Lara put young Kal-El in their last test rocket and blasted it off just before Krypton blew up. In the present, the memories of his dead parents and doomed planet overwhelm Superman for a few minutes, but he continues the tour. Next comes the Superboy exhibit, which is less detailed, so as to protect Superman’s secret identity. He does confirm that he grew up in Smallville (which you’d think might be enough of a clueinvulnerable baby for people to figure out his secret), then remembers to himself how his rocket crashed in Kansas and was found by the Kents. Unlike later retellings of Superman’s origin, in this version there was no months-long snowstorm to cover Martha Kent suddenly having a kid. Of course, the Kents are older in this version (and so is Kal-El), so there was no way anyone would believe he was their natural kid. They dropped him at an orphanage, then showed up a couple of days later and adopted him. I’m not sure that’s how adoption works, but whatever. We get an overview of Clark’s boyhood, how his parents discovered his super-powers, how they found out the cloth from his spaceship was indestructible and made clothes from it, and how they raised him to have good old down home values and to help people who needed it. Thus, Superboy debutSuperboy was born; in the hidden lab, the Kal-El doppleganger absorbs all these memories too (even though Superman is no longer hooked to the mind-prober) and strolls through a mock-up of Smallville. Superman reminisces about his first Superboy costume and how he learned to disguise himself as Clark Kent by changing not only his look, but his mannerisms and voice. He tells the tour group about Kryptonite and remembers how he discovered its deleterious effects on him: Martha found some green K and added it to Clark’s rock collection before they found out it made him sick. We learn that the reason there is so much Kryptonite on Earth is that large amounts of it were pulled through the space warp that brought Superman’s rocket; that also explains the survival of certain Kryptonian artifacts, like the Phantom Zone projector and the Kryptonian weapons he’s used in various adventures. Superman tells the crowd how he found his long-lost dog, Krypto and gets allKrypto's debut choked up thinking about him, which Lana apparently doesn’t understand. Lois speculates that Superman enjoyed having a connection to his past and mentions he also has some sad secret that he’s never shared with her. Of course, we know it’s the deaths of his adoptive parents, the Kents. On their deathbeds, he promised them to use his abilities to help people and he moved to Metropolis soon after they died. Superman reflects on how moving to the big city was a culture shock and how he got his job at the Daily Planet … by scooping Lois on a story about Superman. He gives the tour an overview of his Fortress of Solitude and talks about how happy he was when his cousin Supergirl came to Earth. The topic turns to Superman’s love life and he reflects on the various women he’s cared for—Lana, Lori Lemaris, and Lois—but wonders if he can ever have a real relationship with a “normal” woman. He shows the tour group statues Superman capturedof his biggest villains (Toyman, Luthor, Parasite, Brainiac) and tells them how he recently enlarged the bottle city of Kandor. He shows them his collection of various types of kryptonite (seems dangerous to have that stuff lying around, but he says it’s safely shielded) and mentions how he recently stopped using his Superman robots because Earth’s pollution screwed them up. One of his robots proves it’s still useful by showing up to the ceremony as Clark Kent to divert suspicion about his absence. Arngrim says the tour is almost over and leads the group toward an exit, preceded by Superman. But as the man of Steel goes around a corner, he’s pulled under the floor by an ingenious trap and replaced by an exact duplicate. He finds himself in the hidden lab we’ve been seeing and his antagonist turns out to be … Lex Luthor. Come on, who else would they use as the Big Bad for issue #500? They start fighting, and Luthor manages to hold his own, ostensibly because of his super-powered gloves that enhance his strength. But he also takes a punch in the face from Superman and is hardly fazed, soLuthor pounds Superman something else is going on. While they fight, Luthor reveals his machinations: he used a red-sun ray to render one of the genuine Kryptonian artifacts (which Superman supplied to Arngrim for the exhibit) vulnerable and broke off a sliver of it. When Arngrim shook Superman’s hand, he scraped off a tiny skin sample (since the Kryptonian sliver was now invulnerable again) and Luthor used that to grow a clone of the Man of Steel. Superman’s memories were transferred to the clone, which was grown to adulthood super-fast. (Apparently, Luthor had memory-recording devices all over the exhibit, so that’s why he could continue draining Superman’s memory engrams even when Supes wasn’t under the mind-prober.) Luthor reveals that Arngrim is a clone too, since the real one would never help him. Throughout their fight, Luthor has been beating the shit out of Superman and he finally reveals that the whole lab is Luthor's originflooded with red-sun radiation, rendering Superman powerless. Luthor cages him and reveals his master plan: he’s going to kill Superman, blow up everyone in the pavilion with a photo-electric trap (leaving Arngrim to take the blame), and take off with the Superman clone, which he programmed to obey him. No one will suspect him of killing Superman, since the clone is indistinguishable from the real thing. Supes wonders if Luthor’s memory-drain gave him the secret of his civilian identity, but Luthor says it didn’t; the memory-implanting process could only be interrupted once and instead of using that to learn Superman’s secret, Lex had to use it to alter the clone’s feelings toward him … otherwise the clone would know Lex is a gigantic asshole, just like the real Superman does, and wouldn’t obey him. Upstairs, we see the results of Luthor’s tampering, and it worked a little too well. The clone is praising Luthor and saying the animosity between them is all his own fault; he interrupted an experiment and blew upSuperman pounds his clone Lex’s lab, causing him to lose all his hair. Lois and Lana know something’s wrong, since Superman would never defend Lex Luthor like that. In the underground lab, Superman uses mundane skills to escape his cage—he hooks the keys off a nearby peg with his belt—and turns off the red-sun generator, then decks Luthor with one finger. Superman stops Lois from setting off the explosive trap and beats the shit out of his clone. He tosses the clone into the kryptonite exhibit and the clone’s powers are removed by the gold K. Superman then uses the Arngrim clone as a battering ram and pounds both clones into unconsciousness. Lois and Lana congratulate him, but he says that last-minute saves and pounding bad guys is just the story of his life.

Noticeable Things:

  • Lois and Lana briefly wonder why Clark isn’t there when the Fair first opens, but don’t seem too worried about it; you’d think those two would be more suspicious.
  • Arngrim reminds me of Richard Mulligan’s version of General Custer in Little Big Man.
  • Superman’s mom is pretty hot, but she’s drawn here to look almost exactly like Lois, which seems a bit creepy to me.Krypton quakes
  • In the Superboy exhibit there are some statues of the Legion, including Tyroc, which is ironic seeing how little he appeared in the actual Legion comic.
  • Apparently the cloth from Krypton in Kal-El’s rocket was indestructible, but Martha Kent unraveled it and resewed it into clothes for him. When it came time to fashion a costume, she unraveled the clothes and made the costume. Clark himself added the extras by using stuffing from the rocket’s seat for his boots, the seat belt for his costume’s belt, and glass from the smashed windshield for his glasses.
  • The scene where the Kents test the invulnerability of the fabric is funny: they hit it with a rake, shoot it, and even explode dynamite under it!cloth testing
  • Wouldn’t people be suspicious that Superboy left Smallville right after the Kents died and Clark moved to Metropolis? Seems like a pretty obvious clue.
  • In the diagram of the Fortress, there’s a room marked “Censored”; I assume that’s where Supes keeps his porn stash. (He says it’s to protect his secret identity, but come on …)Fortress diagram
  • A (flashback) newspaper headline mentions that Supergirl is Superman’s cousin, but someone on the tour says she assumed she was his girlfriend. I think a lot of people used to assume that.Supergirl debut

DC Presents 14 coverDC Comics Presents #14 – “Judge, Jury … and No Justice” – Paul Levitz/Dick Dillin/Dick Giordano

You’ll remember last issue Pete Ross’s son was taken by aliens and he asked Superman for help. But the Legion explained that Jon Ross would grow up to be a heroic commander for the aliens, which would eventually lead to the aliens allying with Earth just in time to stop an invasion. Superman tried to explain all that, but Pete vowed revenge. This issue starts with Clark and Lois covering a trial and being bored out of their minds. Just as they’re about to take off, Superboy busts in and attacks, knocking Clark through the wall. Clark uses the confusion to change to Superman and tackle his younger self, who seems intent on murdering Supes—which confuses the hell out of Lois. Superman is confused too, since he doesn’t believe this is really a younger version of himself. They mix it up and Superboy seems strong enough to be theSuperman blasted real thing, but he breaks off the fight after getting an idea of how to fight Superman more effectively. Superman burrows up under the rubble and changes back to Clark for Lois’s benefit. Later, he wonders who this pissed off Superboy could be, since his x-ray vision revealed Kryptonian physiology and fingerprints identical to his own. He gets a signal from Jimmy Olsen’s watch and follows it to the Grand Canyon, where he’s ambushed by Superboy using some kind of kryptonite bazooka that’s powerful enough to knock Superman out. Supeman wakes up in kryptonite chains to see Superboy has kidnapped his closest friends—plus Steve Lombard. Superboy says he’s going to state his case and have them pass judgment so he can execute Superman. He finally reveals who he really is—Pete Ross, in Superboy’s body! He tells Superman he Superboy as Pete escapesused his connections (apparently Pete is filthy rich) to uncover one of Luthor’s old labs where he found a time machine and a mind-transfer machine. He used the time machine to bring Superboy to the present and switched minds with him, leaving Superboy tied up in the lab in Pete Ross’s body. Superboy Pete tells the “jury” about his son and asks them to judge Superman, but they already know the extenuating circumstances. Jimmy says even if they didn’t, they’d still trust Supes, and Pete threatens to blow them away. In Luthor’s old lab, Superboy (in Pete’s body) uses a Bunsen burner to burn through his ropes and escape. He realizes he’s in Smallville and heads to the Kent house to see if he can find something to help him fight Superboy Pete. But his future self has cleaned out all the good stuff, so there are just a few trinkets left behind. But Superboy thinks that just might be enough. Back in the Grand Canyon, Lois,Krypto attacks Lana, Jimmy, Perry, and Steve tell Pete to go to hell and he tries to blast Superman with the kryptonite bazooka. But Supes makes a heroic effort and busts his chains, just in time to avoid being annihilated. Unfortunately, it took the last of his strength and he lies near unconsciousness as Pete zips into space to get more kryptonite to finish him off. Pete plays a little space snooker and lines up some kryptonite meteors to fall on Superman and pulverize him, but before he can go for the money shot, he’s attacked—by Krypto! Yup, Krypto the super-dog has returned from his long sojourn in space just in time. He instinctively knows it’s not his real master in Superboy’s body and goes wild, knocking Pete back to Earth hard. Krypto frees Lois and the others, who get the remaining kryptonite away from Superman. Pete is still ready to fight, but now Superman is ready for him (and has Krypto by his side), so Pete gives up. They head back to Luthor’s lab in Smallville, where Superboy (in Pete’s body) says one of the trinkets he found in the Kents’ house was Krypto’s dog whistle, which is what brought the mutt to help. Superman reverses the mind-switch and sends Superboy back to his proper time (where he gives Krypto a big juicy steak, even though he technically hasn’t earned it yet). Supes wonders what to do with crazy Pete Ross, and vows to try and find a cure for his madness. We’ll see what comes of that in future issues.

Noticeable Things:

  • If the trial was that unimportant, why were two reporters assigned to it?
  • Dick Dillin draws Lois differently from most Superman artists; she looks a bit like Dinah Lance (without the blonde wig) or even Carol Ferris. Maybe Dillin only knew one “brunette” face.
  • I’m not sure in what story it was first established, but there was a convention that if Superman and Superboy were ever in the same place at the same time, one of them would be teleported to a random time period, thus avoiding the inherent paradoxes of them co-existing in time and space. Since Pete’s mind was inside Superboy, neither of them was teleported, which as a big clue to Superman that the Boy of Steel wasn’t the genuine article.

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