Comics Reviews: Superman 341, Action 501, DC Comics Presents 15

Superman 341 coverSuperman #341 – “The Man Who Could Cause Catastrophe” – Len Wein/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts with an earthquake opening a huge fault in downtown Metropolis. Superman shows up to rescue the people who fell in, then closes the fault in a very Silver Age way: he fashions a huge needle and thread out of broken lamp posts and telephone cables and sews the fault back together, sealing it with his heat vision. I can’t even begin to analyze all the reasons that wouldn’t work. Superman can’t figure out what caused the fault in the first place, since Metropolis is built on solid bedrock, but we see the man who engineered the whole mess … Major Disaster. He’s usually a Green Lantern villain, but he’s causing disasters in Metropolis as part of some big plan, and that plan includes Superman. Superman reports to work as ClarkSupes vs the volcano Kent and we learn the earthquake is only the latest in a series of disasters stopped by Superman; a tornado and a tidal wave have also threatened the city in the last few days. Obviously these aren’t natural disasters, but nobody can figure out what’s causing them. Of course, we know Major Disaster is behind it, and he’s back at it the next morning, causing a volcano to erupt in a downtown park. Superman shows up and freezes the lava with his super-breath, but while he’s distracted, Major Disaster zaps him from behind with some kind of energy from his hands before taking off. Superman didn’t feel a thing. In his hideout, Major Disaster indulges in the supervillain’s favourite pastime of talking to himself, and we learn that the energy that was inside his body (the same energy that allowed him to cause disasters) was killing him. He concluded that a superhuman body was needed to contain and “detoxify” that energy, so he transferred it to Superman. After 24 hours, Major Disaster will retrieve the energy Disaster found(which will no longer be harmful to him) and kill Superman. At home, Clark Kent is trying to figure things out and has a sneezing fit that gives him a clue (as well as blowing out his windows). He realizes something in the air is irritating him and wonders if it could have something to do with the weird energy readings he found at each disaster site. Later, we see Major Disaster in his hideout, ready to retrieve his energy from Superman. But before he can go looking for the Man of steel, Supes shows up to kick his ass. Major Disaster tries to retrieve his energy from Superman’s body, but it’s gone and Supes smashes the machine and slaps Disaster down. Superman explains hat he found the strange energy inside his body and released it into a dying sun, reviving it. So Major Disaster’s energy turned out to be useful for a constructive purpose instead.

“The Man Who Could Cancel Catastrophe” – Len Wein/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This is the second story of this issue, and it involves J. Wilbur Wolfingham so you knowWolfingham it’ll be goofy. As Clark Kent leaves his building, he learns that his doorman, Frank, recently bought some “disaster insurance” in the form of a glowing pendant that will supposedly teleport him away from any natural disasters (such as the ones in the earlier story). When Clark learns that a “Mr. Wolfingham” is the one selling the pendants, he knows his old nemesis is trying to get rich by ripping people off again. He goes down to the scrap yard where Wolfie is selling the pendants and sees a demonstration of how effective they are. Wolfie drops a car on his own head, then pops up afterward, perfectly fine. Clark’s x-ray vision shows him that Wolfie used a hidden trap door to avoid the falling car and emerge behind a wall. But the crowd thinks the pendant teleported Wolfie from harm’s way, and they start buying them like crazy. Clark decides to mess with Wolfie’s head a bit, so he uses a passing thunder-cloud to strike himself with lightning, zips away at super-speed to make it look like he was obliterated, Wolfie caughtthen shows up again and thanks Wolfie profusely for the life-saving pendant. That gets the crowd even more worked up, but not nearly so much as Wolfingham himself, who thinks he’s accidentally stumbled on a gold mine. He takes back all the pendants he sold, claiming they need to be adjusted, then gets ready to head overseas where he dreams of making a mint with the “teleportation pendants”. He’s stopped by Superman, who saves Wolfie’s ass (when he tries to activate the pendants by dropping another car on himself) and tells him the whole thing was bullshit. Wolfie tries to bribe Supes, but naturally that gets him nowhere. Later, Frank the doorman tells Clark the glowing rocks in his (and everyone else’s) pendant turned out to be some kind of meteorite, which they all sold the museum for twice what they paid. Clark tells Frank that Wolfingham’s schemes always end up benefiting everyone but the flim-flammer himself.

Noticeable Things:

  • Wolfingham is obviously based on W.C. Fields, physically and in the way he acts and talks.

Action 501 coverAction #501 – “The Mystery of the Mild-Mannered Superman” – Cary Bates/Kurt Schaffenberger/Joe Giella

This one starts with Clark Kent talking to a psychiatrist. No, he hasn’t finally cracked from the strain, it’s just some goofy idea that Morgan Edge has, that all his employees have to talk to this psychiatrist (Dr. Bartlee) for the well-being of the staff. Maybe if Edge wasn’t such a dick all the time, his people wouldn’t need counseling, but whatever. Bartlee tells Clark that the persona he shows when he’s on camera—smooth, confident, unflappable—is completely different from the meek and mild guy he usually is. Bartlee thinks he can bring out the dynamo lurking beneath the wimpy exterior and Clark pretends to go along. He cuts the session short when he detects a satellite falling out of orbit and has to go stop it as Superman. (How’s that for dynamic, Doc!) After he destroys the satellite, we see its fall was engineered by a couple of aliens hiding on an invisible spaceship. They caused the satellite to fall, knowing SupermanLois and Clark almost get romantic would come to stop it, because they had imbued it with something called Quoa radiation—which Superman has now absorbed. Back at WGBS, Morgan Edge asks Clark to help him win a bet by dressing up like Superman to fool Dr. Bartlee. Since Edge says he’ll donate his winnings to charity, Clark agrees, but after he leaves we see the whole thing was Bartlee’s idea. He thinks having Clark dress as Superman and getting everyone to fawn over him (especially Lois and Lana) will boost his confidence and cure him of his insecurity problems. Lois and Lana aren’t too impressed by Clark in his Superman outfit, though Lois does seem a bit taken with him after Lana leaves. Unfortunately, a strange figure made of solid energy busts through the wall and totally kills the mood—don’t you hate it when that happens? The solid energy thing grabs Clark, who seems to be scared shitless, and tosses him out the hole in the wall onto the alien Superman scaredspaceship. The aliens turn out to be members of the Superman Revenge Squad (three guesses what their raison d’ être is) and the Quoa charge they zapped him with earlier has forced his fake “mild-mannered” Clark Kent personality to become real. So he wasn’t bullshitting for Lois’s sake when the energy creature attacked, he really was terrified. He’s still scared out of his mind, but manages to escape, flying away from the Revengers as fast as he can. They’re not too worried, since they know Superman will instinctively flee from danger now, instead of heading toward it like he used to do. Supes puts in an appearance at WGBS, learning about Edge and Bartlee’s trick and promising to save Clark Kent. Superman goes after the Revenge Squad, trying to keep his eyes shut to control his fear, but as soon as they blast him with a weapon he freaks out, even though the weapon can’t hurt him. Edge has a news team on the roof of the GalaxySuperman pounds aliens Building and Superman figures they might be the key to overcoming his fear; if he automatically acts more confident (as Clark Kent) on camera, then if the news team keeps their cameras on him at all times, he should be able to ignore his fear. I know, it doesn’t really make sense psychologically, but it works anyway. Being on camera brings out his confident side and he fights his way through the Revengers’ weapons and beats the shit out of them. He lands the spaceship and emerges, pretending to be Clark dressed as Superman. Dr. Bartlee figures the “real” Superman left Clark to soak up the glory and to give it an extra boost, Lois and Lana start clinging to Clark like remoras. This whole story reads like filler; I hope next issue is a bit more substantial.

DC Presents 15 coverDC Comics Presents #15 – “Plight of the Giant Atom” – Cary Bates/Joe Staton/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts with Ray (Atom) Palmer coming to the JLA Satellite to relieve Superman from monitor duty. Except Ray isn’t in costume and tells Superman he may never become the Atom again. The previous night, Ray and his wife Jean stumbled onto a mugging, but when Ray tried to change to Atom, he couldn’t bring himself to do it; he was seized by an irrational, overwhelming fear that kept him from shrinking. Ray tried to stop the muggers himself, but got his ass kicked. Luckily, the “victim” turned out to be an undercover cop and he stopped the muggers. Jean was actually kind of happy that Ray might not be risking his life anymore, but Ray isn’t ready to give up super-heroing just yet. He shows Superman a drawing he made after waking up from a nightmare a few mornings ago; it shows him being crushed inside the structure of an atom.blasted from the Fortress Superman figures Ray had some crazy-ass nightmare that freaked him out so much it gave him a phobia of shrinking. Supes offers to take Ray to his Fortress of Solitude and hypnotize him so he can remember his nightmare and overcome its effects on his psyche. They call Batman to take monitor duty and head for the Fortress. Superman gets things ready, but they’re interrupted by an alien spaceship (there was a lot of that going around this month) outside the Fortress. Superman recognizes the ship as belonging to the Sabromians, a race he recently stopped from invading another planet. I guess they didn’t take it well. The Sabromians blast the Fortress and Superman and Atom go flying through a hole in the wall. Atom wonders what good he’ll be without his powers, but Superman gives him a pep talk. The Sabromians note that there’s something different about Superman since the last time they tangled, but Superman and Atom capturedprepare to use their secret weapon against him. Supes and Atom try a frontal assault on the ship, but get blasted by a weird ray. The ray’s effects son manifest, surrounding Superman with an aura that cuts off all the sun’s energy, thus rendering him powerless. The two heroes are quickly captured and wake up inside the Sabromian ship. Atom is startled to see that the aliens are huge; the Sabromians tell the vanquished duo they’re going to blast Superman’s Fortress to pieces and leave the two heroes imprisoned. Superman is so weak he can’t even move and begs Atom to save his Fortress before keeling over. Atom is still wondering what he can do with no powers, but soon realizes he may not be as powerless as he thought; in his frustration, he punches the wall, which crumples under his fist. Normally, Atom’s strength is proportionally increased when he shrinks, so why does he seem so strong now, when he’s incapable of shrinking? He figures out what’s going on and goes after the Sabromians, pounding most of them. But the last one tries to blast the Fortress, onlyAtom pounds aliens being stopped when Superman blocks the beam and decks the alien. Turns out Superman’s weakened condition disappeared as soon as he was brought on board the ship; since it was solar-powered, being on board subjected him to a huge dose of solar radiation, which powered him back up right away. He pretended to be powerless to goad Atom into taking on the aliens. So what’s the big revelation that Atom figured out? The aliens aren’t actually giants … Atom and Superman were both shrunk the whole time. They grow back to normal size and Superman reveals that the blast that threw them out of the Fortress didn’t come from the aliens—it was Superman himself, blasting them with the Kandorian shrinking ray. He figured shrinking Atom without his knowledge would show him that his fear was all in his head … either that or shattered his psyche forever, turning him hopelessly insane. But it worked, so Superman gets to feel clever as usual.

Noticeable Things:

  • If you’re wondering why Atom is in costume at his regular height (since his costume normally only appears after he shrinks), he had a spare, normal-sized costume on the Satellite.

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