Comics Reviews: Superman 349, Action 509, DC Comics Presents 23

Superman 349 coverSuperman #349 – “The Turnabout Trap” – Martin Pasko/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts with Superman returning from a mission in deep space. He goes to the Daily Planet, where a new receptionist is on duty. The newcomer doesn’t know Clark, or even recognize his name, and protests when Clark walks right into the city room. Clark soon realizes why he wasn’t recognized … this isn’t exactly the Daily Planet he’s used to. The trappings are the same, but everyone’s gender is reversed, so he sees Jenny Olsen and Louis Lane talking to editor Penny White (who still hates being called “chief”). Penny is wondering where Kent is and Olsen says “she” will turn up soon. Clark leaves and sees a window cleaner falling off a platform outside. Before he can change to Superman, the window washer is rescued … by Superwoman, who Clark assumes is theSuperman meets Superwoman absent Kent. He uses his x-ray vision to look around, spotting gender-swapped versions of the JLA on their Satellite. He concludes he’s somehow ended up in a parallel universe, but when he tries to leave the planet, an invisible barrier stops him. The barrier is so strong he can’t break it and he knows it must’ve just been put there, since it wasn’t there when he returned from space. Superman figures someone has set a trap for him, so he goes back to the Daily Planet to study up on the history and current affairs of this strange world. He notices Clara Kent, back from wherever she was before, but is startled to see Superwoman flying by outside. In this world, Superwoman and Clara Kent are two separate people, which suggests that whoever set up this little charade isn’t aware of Superman’s secret identity. Clara is reviewing a file of Superwoman’s enemies (Leslie Luthor, Toywoman, Bizaress, and Mr. Mxyzptlk) and Superman gets an idea about what’s going on. When he flies out to talk to Superwoman, tied down in the desertshe freaks, accusing him of being the most dangerous criminal the world has ever known. She starts beating the shit out of him and Superman refuses to fight back, saying he’s not “liberated” enough to hit a woman (which is actually the opposite of liberated, but whatever). Superwoman gets some help from her cousin, Superboy (the blond counterpart of Kara/Supergirl) and they slap a helmet on Supes’ head that fills with kryptonite gas, rendering him too weak to fight back or flee. They take him to the desert and tie him down to the ground. Wonder Warrior is summoned to keep an eye on Supes so Superwoman can go prepare his trial before the World Court, even though the kryptonite gas helmet is keeping him pacified. Superman uses the sun reflecting off his helmet to hypnotize Wonder Warrior into falling asleep, then attracts the attention of some buzzards circling overhead by playing dead. He agitates one of the buzzards into striking the helmet hard enough to shatter it, dissipating the kryptonite gas. Superman breaking free wakes Wonder Warrior, who snags him with his magic lasso. But before he can compel Superman to do anything,Superman lassoes Mxyzptlk Supes decks him and takes off. He finds a billboard and writes a message to the asshole behind all this … Mr. Mxyzptlk. The imp appears and Supes explains that he figured out Myxzptlk’s involvement when he noticed he was the only Superwoman villain who hadn’t been gender-swapped. (And because Mxyzptlk doesn’t know Superman’s secret identity, but of course Supes keeps that clue to himself.) Mxyzptlk is pissed off when his supposedly hot wife turned out to be less prepossessing than he’d thought. He annulled the marriage, but hated seeing Superman and Lois happy on Earth, so he figured he’d trap Supes on an Earth without a Lois Lane, and where he was hunted as a criminal. As Mxyzptlk tries to fade out, Superman uses the magic lasso he took from Wonder Warrior to grab the imp. Supes commands him to say his name backwards, thus returning him to the Fifth Dimension and dispelling all his conjured bullshit. Superman heads back to the real Earth, but almost shits his pants when he meets Louis Lane … Lois’s cousin who’s visiting from out of town.

Noticeable Things:

  • Jenny Olsen dresses exactly like Jimmy, in the green suit and bow tie, but it kinda works on her; sort of “butch-cute” if that’s a thing.Jenny, Louis, and Penny
  • Superwoman looks exactly like Lois Lane;  I’m not sure why Mxyzptlk added that particular detail.
  • The gender-swapped JLA wear exact replicas of their regular counterparts, which works for the women, but Wonder Warrior, Black Condor, and Superboy look like they’re ready to go to a fetish club.
  • If you’re wondering why Superwoman and Wonder Warrior didn’t imprison Superman on the JLA Satellite, Warrior says they don’t want him to have access to all their secrets.
  • If the helmet glass was brittle enough to shatter from a buzzard’s beak, couldn’t Superman have just slammed his head against the ground to break it? And don’t buzzards hunt by smell? Playing dead wouldn’t attract one unless Superman was starting to putrefy.

Action 509 coverAction #509 – “The Great Space-Travel Hoax” – Cary Bates/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts with the launch of a rocket carrying scientific instruments to Mars. But the rocket goes coo-coo right after take-off and Superman swoops in to get it back on course. His x-ray vision shows a weird-looking alien clinging to the rocket, steering it off-course. Superman tackles the alien, but it’s stronger than it looks and drags him out into space as the rocket plummets Earthward. Superman’s adversary fades away once they reach outer space and heads back to catch the falling rocket. The scientists at ground control decide to self-destruct the runaway rocket, but Superman saves the nose cone with all the scientific instruments in it and delivers it to Mars. The next day at work, Lana Lang asks Clark to cover a story she was supposed to do because she wants to spend some time with her father before he goes home. Clark isn’t happy, since the story is about a bunch of whack-jobs calling themselves the Skepticons, who claim space travelSuperman saves nose cone of any kind is a hoax, but he finally agrees to do the interview. He goes to Brambleville and meets the Skepticons, who tell him every space-related news item—Sputnik, the moon landings, even the rocket Superman saved yesterday—are all bullshit. The Skepticons even believe Superman himself is something of a hoax, since they insist there’s no life on other planets. They say the money the government provides for space travel, exploration, and research is pocketed by the agencies involved, who then fake up a bunch of stuff to satisfy the public. Clark finishes the interview, but when the nightly newscast rolls around, he’s nowhere to be found, so Lana has to handle it alone. Turns out Clark switched to Superman and headed back to Brambleville that afternoon because he noticed (with his super-senses) that every member of the Skepticons is actually an alien in disguise. He wants to know why aliens jumped by monsterwould pretend to be human and deny the existence of aliens. As he gets to the Skepticon headquarters, Superman is jumped by the same weird creature that attacked the rocket. As they’re fighting, the creature imparts its origin to him telepathically. The aliens’ ship blew up over Earth fifty years ago and only five of them survived. They realized they were stranded on Earth, so took human form as a disguise, but eventually the despair of knowing they could never return home became too much. They created a device to wipe out all memory of their alien existence, but it was so powerful it ended up implanting the belief that aliens and space travel in general were impossible. The creature is an unconscious psychic manifestation of their denial, a psychic enforcer, that’s trying to make their beliefs true. That’s why it sabotaged the rocket flight and why it’s trying to eliminate Superman. Supes tries to pull the creature out into space, out ofSuperman gets rid of monster psychic range of the Skepticons so it’ll dissolve, but it figures out what he’s doing and stops him. As the Earth is moving through space, stopping in mid-air above the atmosphere has the effect Superman was looking for and the creature disappears. Supes returns to Skepticon headquarters, which he uproots and encases in a protective bubble filled with oxygen. He propels the bubble through space toward the Skepticons’ old planet and wakes them up so he can shatter their worldview. Once they realize he’s taking them home, they’re grateful and on the way he fills them in on what he knows of their origins.

Noticeable Things:

  • Since superman can fly to Mars and back in minutes, why are scientists wasting time and money building rockets? Superman could deliver whatever payload they want—including manned flights—to any planet in the solar system.
  • This issue (and others from this month) contained a special insert story “The Computer That Saved Metropolis” by Bates/Starlin/Giordano. I’m not going to review it because it’s basically just a 28-page ad for the TRS-80 computer, which I guess was supposed to be big at the time. I don’t think Superman’s endorsement worked, as I don’t recall knowing anyone back then who actually owned a TRS-80.

DC Presents 23 coverDC Comics Presents #23 – “The Curse Out of Time” – Denny O’Neil/Joe Staton/Vince Colletta

This one starts with Dr. Fate gazing into his crystal ball, watching an ancient pirate ship disappear. His wife, Inza, is waiting anxiously to hear what he sees and isn’t happy with his answer. Apparently Inza has inherited some kind of curse from her ancestor (the captain of the pirate ship) that’s turning her into a monster … at the moment, she looks like Two-Face and it’s only going to get worse. Fate says until he can find her ancestor’s grave he can’t banish the curse, but he’ll keep looking. On Earth-1, Lois and Jimmy are at STAR Labs to do a story on some kind of weird new science bullshit. The ship Fate is looking for materializes in the lab, smashing through the wall and sending debris toward the street. Luckily, Clark was on his way to the interview and changes to Superman to intercept the debris before anyone is hurt. The ship’s captainSuperman swordfight with Hawkins (Ezra Hawkins) is kind of an asshole, not to mention a bit obsessive; no wonder Inza is cursed. He’s an English privateer and  assumes Superman is working for Spain (more specifically for someone called El Muchacho), even though Superman speaks English with no accent and they’re obviously in a modern city not on the high seas. Hawkins just puts everything unexplained down to “Spanish trickery” and challenges Superman to a swordfight. Supes notices a strange green glow around Hawkins and blows from the pirate’s cutlass actually hurt, so Superman figures magic might be involved. He disarms Hawkins but surrenders when one of the crew uses Lois as a hostage. On Earth-2, Fate has managed to figure out tat the pirate ship is on Earth-1, but hasn’t zeroed in on it yet. He heads through the dimensions and runs into El Muchacho, who’s some kind of imp demon. El Muchacho is a Spanish name, but he seems to speak with an Irish accent, like a leprechaun. Anyway, he flees once he realizes Dr. Fate saves the shipDr. Fate is too strong for his spells and Fate follows. On Earth-1, Superman has been chained up and forced to “row” the ship through the air so Hawkins can scout out the city before attacking. Lois is still a prisoner, so Superman tries to break free but can’t, and Hawkins admits he recently encountered the magic-wielding imp, El Muchacho. Some of the imp’s power must’ve transferred to the ship, which is why the cutlass and the chains can affect Superman (he’s vulnerable to magic). Hawkins decides to attack City Hall and El Muchacho shows up, drawn to the ship by his own residual magic. He frees Superman, which causes the ship to plummet from the sky. Fate shows up and keeps the ship from crashing, then neutralizes all the spells around it, which allows Superman to bust his chains. Hawkins weapons can no longer affect the Man of Steel and Fate grabs El Muchacho, saying he has to return the ship to its proper time and place. Superman gets Lois and they watch as Fate takes the ship back where it belongs. Fate removes the curse from Hawkins, which returns Inza to her usual hot self. I’m sure they celebrated with some sweet loving.

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