Comics Reviews: Superman 346, Action 506, DC Comics Presents 20

Superman 346 coverSuperman #346 – “Superman’s Streak of Bad Luck” – Gerry Conway/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

You can guess the theme of this story by the title, and Superman’s bad luck starts on the first page. It’s winter and the streets are icy as hell, which means traffic accidents. This one happens to involve Lois Lane skidding out of control toward a delivery truck. Superman scoops up some sand from a nearby construction site and dumps it on the street, giving Lois enough traction to slow down. But the truck driver freaks out for some reason and bails out of his vehicle, leaving it to plow straight toward Lois. Superman tries to halt the runaway truck, but his feet slide on the icy road and he’s pushed backward right into a fire hydrant. Superman manages to cap the broken hydrant and stop the truck, but just barely. Lois gives him a big smooch (yeah, it seemsClark gets his assignment like she’s hot for him again) and he takes off to get to  WGBS, since Clark Kent is due on the nightly news in mere moments. He zips through the newsroom, grabbing a random story from the teletype, and just makes it to his seat in time. Unfortunately, his crappy luck continues, with the “hot story” he grabbed being about some old lady’s missing cat. Morgan Edge gives Clark shit after the newscast and Perry White offers him a chance to do a real story for the Daily Planet. It seems WGBS has a new game show (which takes place in the studio right behind the news studio) where rich people—actors, businessmen, singers—answer questions. The twist is, they risk losing their own money during the show, which is donated to a cancer research charity. The show has become a hit, since audiences love seeing rich people lose their dough, and the millionaires can’t complain (even though they lose most of the time) since Superman saves blimpit’s for a good cause. Perry wonders if there might be something else going on, so he assigns Lois and Clark to check it out and see if the money’s going where it’s supposed to. He also tells them they’re in direct competition and whoever writes the best story will be published. Lois tells Clark he doesn’t have a chance because he’s lost all his reporter instincts, but as she’s yammering on he spots a crisis with his x-ray vision and takes off. A lightning bolt has struck a blimp and even though it’s filled with helium, Superman fears the gasoline in the engines could be set aflame when the blimp breaks apart. He gathers the debris and inhales the flames, then sets the remains of the blimp at the airport. Lana happens to be there with a TV crew, but when Superman tries to tell her what happened, a stream of flames shoot from his mouth, almost incinerating them. Cursing his bad luck, Superman flies into airless space to douse the flames before heading back to WGBS. On the game show set, Lois is snooping around while another millionaire loses some money. She discovers the moneyLois gets jumped is being put into a fake safe, but gets mugged before she can say anything. Superman is not far away, just on the other side of the wall. He’s finally figured out (as I’m sure most of you did a while ago) that there might be a connection between his bad luck streak and the game show that exploits people’s bad luck that just happens to tape right behind the desk where Clark Kent sits. Superman looks through the wall with his x-ray vision and sees Lois is in trouble. He busts into the studio, but the “cameraman” turns the camera (and the bad luck rays) directly on the Man of Steel, causing him to trip and knock himself out … which is not just bad luck, but pretty damn embarrassing. The mastermind behind the whole thing turns out to be Professor Amos Fortune, the old JLA villain. He decides it’s time to get out of Dodge, so he has his thugs pack up the “Murphy Machine” from the camera and takes Lois hostage as they head for the rooftop helipad. After they leave, we see that Superman wasn’t really knocked out, he Superman stops the chopperwas just faking it. Maybe this is his chance to be rid of Lois for good. On the way to the roof, Fortune obligingly tells Lois that his Murphy Machines create a bad luck aura around people, which enabled him to cheat the rich game show contestants out of their money. Obviously, spillover from the Murphy Machine in the camera leaked through the wall separating the studios, causing Superman’s unlucky streak. Supes comes after Fortune, who is trying to escape in a helicopter. Fortune and his men turn their Murphy blasters on the Man of Steel, but uses super-clapping to send the rays back where they came from, destroying the helicopter. Superman saves everyone and takes off after dumping the crooks in jail. Later, Lois tells Perry what happened and Perry says it looks like she’s scooped Clark on the story. But Lois is in for a shock … it seems Superman wrote his own account of the incident and left it with Jimmy. I guess the scooper got scooped herself.

Noticeable Things:

  • I wonder if we’re supposed to conclude that Lois’s kiss (and her possible renewed interest in Superman) was part of the bad luck streak?
  • The game show host is Johnny Nevada, who’s basically DC’s equivalent to Johnny Carson, though there’s not much resemblance.
  • Fortune’s Murphy Machine is named after Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
  • Fortune’s previous attempts to manipulate probability involved a Stimo-Luck machine, which affected hidden “luck glands” in the human body.
  • If you’re wondering why Superman pretended to trip and get knocked out, he wanted to eavesdrop on Fortune’s plans and knew Lois could worm the truth out of him.

Action 506 coverAction #506 – “The Children’s Exodus From Earth” – Cary Bates/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

Last issue, a weird alien furball named Jorlan showed up near Metropolis and charmed local children like some extra-terrestrial Pied Piper. Superman fought Jorlan, but the alien proved too strong for him to beat. No wonder, since Superman later found out (from a Phantom Zone prisoner named Orn-Zu) that Jorlan is from Krypton. The craziness continues as Lana Lang reports on the dearth of children at a local amusement park. The missing kids show up, still trailing behind Jorlan, and are even whisked up into the air by the furry alien. Meanwhile, Superman is still in his Fortress, talking to Orn-Zu. The Phantom Zone prisoner says he created Jorlan and it’s a threat to all of Earth’s children unless Superman frees Orn-Zu to help him fight it. Superman gets an alarm about the children being shanghaied by Jorlan, but when he gets to Metropolis he finds they’re not harmed—nor even frightened; Jorlan was just taking them for aJorlan pounds Superman jaunt up in the air. As Superman approaches, Jorlan attacks him and ends up pounding him with its Kryptonian strength. The children all give Superman shit for fighting their friend, but Superman is preoccupied by a nagging flash of memory that he’s seen Jorlan somewhere before, briefly and a long time ago. He returns to the Fortress where Orn-Zu tells him the full story. Orn-Zu was a bit like Superman’s father, Jor-El, in that they both predicted Krypton’s imminent destruction. Orn-Zu’s warning (about the sun going nova) was wrong and he was ridiculed by everyone. He didn’t lose his conviction, but decided he’d tried to save Krypton’s children … the short-sighted adults could burn. So Orn-Zu built an android (Jorlan) which he made cute enough to seem harmless and gave it hypnotic power. Jorlan’s power could also activate latent parts of the kids’ brains so they could fly, thus following him as he circled the planet to gather more children. Jorlan's originOrn-Zu planned for Jorlan to pull all the kids in his wake through a space warp to a yellow-sun system, where they’d be safe. But Krypton had recently banned all space travel (which is why Jor-El had to construct Superman’s rocket in secret), so they registered Jorlan as a spaceship and blasted him, sending him spinning off into space. Orn-Zu was sentenced to the Phantom Zone for building Jorlan in the first place. He now begs Superman to free him so he can help save Earth’s children. Superman realizes Jorlan’s original programming must be intact, which means Jorlan will collect all Earth’s children and take them into space (though not through a space warp, since Earth already has a yellow sun). Supes frees Orn-Zu, who seems a bit shaky but attributes it to his long imprisonment. They head to Metropolis, where Orn-Zu says Jorlan will home in on his brainwaves, since he’s Jorlan’s creator. Sure enough, Jorlan shows up and Orn-Zu uses his super-breath to make it look like Superman punched him out. Turns out Orn-Zu was dying of some esoteric Kryptonian disease and his confinement in the Phantom Zone staved off his death. He figures if Jorlan thinks Superman killed Orn-Zu, it’ll abandon itsJorlan freaks out original mission and pursue him to avenge Orn-Zu’s death. Orn-Zu urges Superman to lead Jorlan on an eternal chase across the universe to save Earth’s children. Orn-Zu’s prediction is correct … as soon as he dies, Jorlan freaks out and comes after Superman, who can barely stay ahead of him. During the chase, Superman finally remembers where he say Jorlan before and flies forward through the time barrier, hotly pursued by Jorlan. He recalls seeing a fleeting glimpse of Jorlan on one of his frequent trips to visit the Legion as Superboy, so he flies through the same time corridor he used years ago and comes across his younger self. Since it’s impossible for his two disparate selves to co-exist, the adult Superman shifts into an “invisible phantom state”, leaving Jorlan to encounter Superboy. Jorlan’s desire to kill Superboy (who has the same brainwave pattern as his adult self) and his desire to save children (which Superboy is) come into conflict. In classic Star Trek fashion, the logical contradiction causes the android to blow up and Superman heads back home, leaving Superboy to wonder about the weird furry alien he saw briefly in the time stream.

DC Presents 20 coverDC Comics Presents #20 – “Inferno From the Sky” – Denny O’Neil/Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Joe Giella

This one starts out with a guy named Garmer (who’s something of a Western stereotype) frantically trying to get ahold of Clark Kent on the phone. Clark’s not home—not surprising, since Superman is talking to a bunch of kids not far from the phone booth Garmer’s in—so Garmer leaves a message saying he needs to talk to Clark about the “Bo Force”. Before he can elucidate, the phone is shot out of his hand and he takes off, pursued by a couple of thugs. If you’re wondering why Superman didn’t intervene, he’s already flown off, which is why the thugs waited to shoot at Garmer. They wait for Garmer at his hotel and waste him, but Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen just happens to be staying at that hotel and stumbles onto the shooting. He captures the thugs, but Garmer dies after mumbling something about “Bo Force” and how it can power every car in the country. Green Arrow figures he should check it out. A few hours later, out in the Southwest, we learn that Bo Force is the name of a businessman. He’sOllie pounded discovered a geyser that shoots what looks like water, but is much more interesting; this “water” works like gasoline when put into a car. And a tankful of it has enough energy to run one car for a year. Unfortunately, it has a slight side effect … the car bursts into flames minutes after starting. But Bo figures he can iron out that little glitch later. In the meantime, he wants as much of the high-powered water pumped as possible, and hires a new secretary to keep careful records of all the water that’s pumped and stored. Bo mentions his previous secretary (Garmer) got killed for asking too many questions, so this new guy better be careful. Meanwhile, Oliver Queen has shown up and wants to see Bo, who tells his guards to give Queen the standard treatment. They beat the shit out of him, but he vows to come back and return the Green Arrow pounds guardsfavour. In Metropolis, Clark is on his way to a movie with Lois and Jimmy when he gets Garmer’s message. Turns out Bo Force is a crooked ex-Congressman, so when Jimmy mentions Garmer was murdered that morning, Clark begs off the movie to check things out. Out West, Green Arrow has rented a plane to scope out Force’s set-up from the air, but Force launches anti-aircraft missiles at him. Arrow bails out and pounds a couple of guards, but is overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Meanwhile, Superman has zoomed out West to check things out and he saves Green Arrow’s abandoned plane from crashing into a farmhouse. Arrow is tied to a platform above the geyser, where the heat will boil him alive next time it erupts. Before the boiling water can cook the Emerald Archer, Superman shows up and freezes it with his super-breath. He releases Green Arrow and Force blasts Superman with some of the fancy water, which bursts into flame. Naturally,Superman caps the gusher that doesn’t bother Superman, but some earth tremors do. He determines the underground stream feeding the “energy water” runs under a nearby town and is about to erupt. He pulls the top off a mountain to cap the new geyser and puts out the flammable water that manages to squirt free by drawing into space with a super-vortex. Green Arrow captures Bo Force and just to wrap things up neatly (and avoid changing the economics of the entire DCU), Superman says the last eruption exhausted the underground stream of its flammable water. There’s not even enough left for scientists to analyze, but Green Arrow figures stopping a greedy capitalist counts as a win.

Noticeable Things:

  • Green Arrow and Force have a weird argument about economics; Force wants to dangle his gasoline-substitute water in front of the government to parlay his way into the White House, which he says is the American entrepreneurial way. Arrow says America has always shared its resources with the world, so both sides make a profit. I’m not sure either of those viewpoints is entirely true—or false.
  • I’m not sure why the water coming from the geyser didn’t light on fire, but it did when used in cars and against Superman, and when it erupted in the town. Superman says there’s an unstable element in the water that made it flammable when not released naturally, but that really doesn’t make much sense.

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