Comics Reviews: Superman 361, Action 521, DC Comics Presents 35, Warlord 47

Superman 361 coverSuperman #361 – “Stowaway From the Stars” – Cary Bates/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts with an alien named Drxla being sent on a mission from a faraway planet. We’re not told what the mission is, but it’s something that’ll save the entire population. On Earth, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are returning from Bermuda on a luxury liner after getting an interview with a Soviet defector. They run into their old acquaintance, Captain Horatio Strong, who’s cruising the seas with his wife. We get a reminder about Strong; he’s basically a Popeye rip-off who used to eat rare seaweed called sauncha to gain super-strength, but the sauncha turned out to be grown from alien spores and made Strong a little crazy … not to mention being addictive. Strong says he feels great now that he’s offeveryone into the pool sauncha, but confesses that he keeps a pouch of the stuff handy in case he has to rescue his wife. That night, an alien (obviously Drxla from the opening panels of the story) sneaks into Strong’s room and makes a grab for his sauncha pouch. The next morning, Strong freaks out when the pouch is missing, but his wife points out that it’s on the floor beside the bed. Strong goes for a morning workout and ends up telling yarns to some kids. He’s talking about the time he fought a pterodactyl when one swoops down and grabs him. Everyone on deck is fascinated, so Clark lets himself get knocked into the pool and changes to Superman really fast. He moves faster than the eye can see (to keep Lois from getting suspicious) and zooms into the clouds to help Strong. He uses his heat vision to make the pterodactyl drop Strong, then pushes him toward the pool with a puff of super-breath. The pterodactyl buffalo attackvanishes and Superman zooms back to the pool and changes to Clark Kent just in time to be “rescued” from the pool by Strong. That evening, some dude in the lounge is trying to impress a woman by bragging about his hunting exploits and mentions his most dangerous game was a Cape Buffalo. Guess what comes busting through the wall? Yup, a Cape Buffalo. Before Strong can chow down on his sauncha, Superman drags the beast out the hole in the wall and into the sky. He’s thinking about how the Cape Buffalo is considered one of the most dangerous animals on Earth, much like the dreaded Oourba Beast on Krypton. As he’s musing on that, the Buffalo changes into an Oourba and stings him with its deadly tail. The ship’s passengers have seen Superman, but they assume he’s just on a routine patrol; even Lois isn’t suspicious, which is unlike her. Superman lands on a nearby island and gets slappedSuperman and Strong fight the Oourba around by the Oourba, but Captain strong shows up to save him. Strong sucked back some sauncha and he and Superman team up to pound the Oourba. When they knock it out, the beast changes into an alien woman right before their eyes. She seems to be dying from lack of energy and the fight probably didn’t help much. But when Strong holds her hand, she revives immediately, feeding off energy from his sauncha-powered body. She explains that her planet uses sauncha as its only food source, but a recent blight killed off all the sauncha there, so they searched the galaxy for another source. She was sent to get Strong’s sauncha, almost exhausting herself on the journey, but found it had impurities in it that would make it impossible to plant back on her planet. She figured if Strong ate the sauncha, she could absorb its energy straight from him, so she kept changing her form to menacing monsters gleaned from people’s minds. She’s safe now, but she figures her planet is doomed until Superman uses his heat vision to cleanse the sauncha of its impurities. Drxla returns home and Strong is proud that his sauncha will save an entire planet.

Noticeable Things:

  • Captain Strong is obviously a take-off on Popeye, what with the sauncha giving him powers and everything. His wife’s name is even Olivia!

Action 521 coverAction #521 – “The Deadly Rampage of the Lady Fox” – Gerry Conway/Curt Swan/Frank Chiaramonte

This one starts in New York, where a new character called Vixen prowls the city at night. She shows up at a fur warehouse and steals a van-load of furs after taking down the guards. Superman is appearing at a charity show not far away and hears the ruckus with his super-hearing. He checks out the warehouse and goes after the stolen van. When Vixen sees him coming, she ties the van’s wheel so it’ll stay straight and jumps Superman. He’s surprised that she can actually knock him off-balance and her claws scratch his skin. The van plunges into the river and Superman blows Vixen away with his super-breath before diving down to retrieve the van. But it’sSuperman meets Vixen too late … the furs are ruined and Vixen has gotten away. Back at the warehouse, the owner (Mordecai Mule) is bitching about the wrecked furs and all the import duties he had to pay to get them to the States. A police detective tells Superman that Mule imports furs legitimately, but some of the furs are from protected species in their own lands, which means they were illegally obtained and exported. Mule can’t be prosecuted here, since selling the furs isn’t illegal in the States (which seems stupid if they really want to stop illegal fur trading), so maybe someone decided to do what the law couldn’t. Superman says he Vixen as Mari McCabedidn’t really get a good look at the thief and takes off. The next day, Morgan Edge says he’s sending Clark and Lana to India to report on poaching. One of Edge’s friends (Solomon Samuels) runs a fashion magazine and wants to team up on a story about poaching. Clark notices a beautiful woman leaving WGBS with Samuels. She turns out to be his top model (Mari McCabe), and the one who pushed him to do the story on poaching. We also learn she’s Vixen, but nobody else knows that. When they get to India, Lana sends Clark back to the hotel on a useless errand so she can go ahead with the guide and get the story on her own. Mordecai Mule is also in India and recognizes Lana, so he follows her. Vixen has been watching Mule and hitches a surreptitious ride on his truck, and Clark sees Mule and Vixen trailing LanaVixen catches Mule so he changes to Superman to follow along. Got all that? Superman grabs Vixen and finds out she destroyed the furs knowing Mule would have to come to India personally to push his poachers to replace them quickly. She manipulated Samuels into sending an American news team to get the goods on Mule. Unfortunately, Mule has decided to eliminate Lana, so he stampedes some elephants toward her team. Superman rounds up the elephants and corrals them with some trees. Vixen confronts Mule and kicks his ass, leaving his trussed up for Superman and Lana. Vixen is gone, but Superman figures he’ll see her again.

Noticeable Things:

  • Vixen was created by Gerry Conway and originally was meant to have her ow comic back in 1978, but the DC Implosion killed that idea, so her debut ended up being delayed a few years. Apparently, she didn’t take the comic-reading world by storm, since her next appearance isn’t until DC Presents #68 in 1984 (also written by Gerry). After that she joins the Detroit JLA, so give Gerry credit for not giving up on her.
  • It’s explained that Vixen’s powers come from a magical amulet, which is why they can affect Superman.

DC Presents 35 coverDC Comics Presents #35 – “The Metamorphosis Machine” – Martin Pasko/Curt Swan/Vince Colletta

This one starts with Clark Kent finishing a news report and being told to return some borrowed film from STAR Labs. When he checks out STAR, he sees Man-Bat breaking in. Man-Bat is confined by STAR’s security bubble, but manages to bust loose. He’s grabbed by robots and Superman shows up to free him. Supes has heard good things about Man-Bat from Batman, so he gives him a chance to explain why he’s breaking into STAR Labs. Man-Bat is reluctant, but figures he can trust Superman, so he reveals his secret identity (Kirk Langstrom) and says he’s trying to save his daughter. Unfortunately, someone much less trustworthy than Superman has STAR Labs under surveillance—the Atomic Skull. He’s still pissed off at Supes over his previous defeats and follows Superman andSuperman meets the Langstroms Kirk, hoping to get his revenge. Skull isn’t working alone either; he’s got a girlfriend named Felicia, complete with a snazzy Skull costume of her own (though hers is more form-fitting). Kirk takes Superman to his hotel and introduces him to his wife (Francine) and their daughter, Rebecca. Rebecca was born with some kind of mutation—probably as a result of the bat-serum Kirk and Francine took—and her hearing is so sensitive that she can’t sleep. Kirk figured STAR’s mutation experiments might hold the key to curing Rebecca. Superman says those experiments were shut down a while back, but he has another idea that might help Rebecca. He says he recently found an alien device that might help Rebecca’s condition, but Superman and Man-Bat blastedthey’ll have to go to his Fortress of Solitude since it’s too dangerous to move. Atomic Skull and his lady follow and we learn that prison doctors cured Skull’s brain seizures, but his neural implant is still in his head. So he can still use his brain-blasts, but they’re much more controllable now instead of being random. At the Fortress, Superman shows Kirk the device, an ultra-sonic wave generator that may be able to rearrange organic matter, thus curing Rebecca. Before thy get a chance to try it, Atomic Skull and his partner bust in and steal the sonic generator. Lady Skull wonders if they should grab Man-Bat since he’s a shape-shifter, but Skull says his transformations are only temporary and they need a permanent metamorphosis. Superman and Man-Bat try to stop the Skulls from reaching their Skull-Saucer, but both of them get blasted. Superman’s flying power is canceled out by the sonic generator and Man-Bat grabs him,saucer goes out of control but when he gets blasted Superman has to use his super-breath to puff up a soft snowbank for them to fall into. The Skulls use a cloaking device to hide the Skull-Saucer and Superman discovers the sonic blast rearranged his bodily structure so he can only use one super-power at a time … which means he can’t fly and use his x-ray vision to find the Saucer. Man-Bat says he can find it with his sonar. Inside the saucer, Atomic Skull is trying to translate the instruction manual for the alien sonar device and Felicia is freaking out, telling him to hurry up because she’s about to change back. Superman and Man-Bat bust in and Felicia takes off with the sonar device. Man-Bat chases her while Skull falls off the saucerSuperman and Atomic Skull fight. Supes shorts out Skull’s brain-blast controls, but an errant blast hits the controls, sending the Saucer into a death-dive and sending Skull flying out the door. Man-Bat catches Felicia, who starts turning into an animal in front of his eyes. She says her species has a short lifespan and she needs to transform into a human before she dies. She and Man-Bat struggle over the device and it goes off in her face. Atomic Skull is clinging to the outside of the Saucer, but Superman has to stop its deadly fall before attempting to save Skull. He pulls the Saucer out of its dive, but Skull loses his grip and plummets earthward. Back inside the Saucer, we find out Felicia’s secret … she was a panther that Atomic Skull evolved into a human. He fell in love with her, so when she started turning back he had to find a way to make the change permanent. But the blast from the sonic device while fighting Man-Bat did just the opposite, accelerating her regression back into panther form, where she died. Superman uses the sonic device to fix his powers and to help Rebecca; I’m not sure if she’s permanently cured, but I assume so. Superman can’t help wondering if he’s seen the last of Atomic Skull.

Bobo reads about Rex“Whatever Happened to Rex the Wonder Dog?” – Mike Tiefenbacher/Gil Kane

This is kind of a goofy story, but it’s always nice to see an ape make good (although Bobo’s personality here is sure different from his Post-Crisis depictions). Basically this story explains how Rex the Wonder Dog and Bobo (aka Detective Chimp) could still be having adventures decades after their first appearances. Years ago, Bobo (who’s a total Rex fanboy—er, fan-ape) and Sheriff Case went to the circus to see Rex and his master (Danny Dennis) perform. Age was catching up with Rex (and Bobo for that Matter), but they were happy to meet each other. When the circus take got robbed, Rex went after the thieves and Bobo followed, thinking Rex was trying to find Bobo’s lucky Liberty dollar (which he’d accidentally spent to get into the circus … would they really make a chimp pay the admission?) they tracked the thieves toBobo and Rex catch the thieves Bimini and ran into an alligator in the swamps. Rex was hurt and Bobo got him some water, which revived the dog pretty fast. They chased down the thieves and brought them back with the stolen money (with Bobo driving the boat). After Sheriff Case noticed Bobo was more agile than he’d been in years, he had a doctor look at him and the doc said Bobo had reverted to 18 months old. Apparently the water he and Rex drank was from the Fountain of Youth, so they both got a new lease on life. Rex and Danny ended up going to the moon, while Bobo eventually became a washed-up alcoholic … but that’s another story. They seemed to communicate in thought bubbles, but I’m still not sure if Bobo and Rex can actually understand each other.

Warlord 47 coverWarlord #47 – “Hunter’s Moon” – Mike Grell/Bob Smith

This one starts with Jennifer Morgan and her escort (or captor, although she doesn’t seem to know she’s basically a prisoner) in Castle Deimos. The barbarian (Faaldren) approaches Jennifer with a dagger as she sleeps, following orders from his unseen master … who apparently resides in the box Faaldren carries everywhere. But Faaldren has a change of heart—since Jennifer has been so kind to him—and cuts his own hand with the dagger, feeding some blood to whatever is in the box. Since they’re in Castle Deimos, I can make a pretty good guess as to the box’s contents. Further south, Travis Morgan and Shakira are still looking for Jennifer, but are startled to see something unexpected … a full moon. Not exactly mind-blowing, at least for us, but Skartaris isn’t supposed toWarlord talks to Rostov have a moon. Shakira’s certainly never seen it before, and it makes her nervous. Morgan theorizes about the reason the moon hasn’t been seen before; it has to do with an erratic orbit (we even get a diagram of the double-helix path the moon takes) and the fact that Skartaris’s ever-present sun blots out the moon except at extreme angles … like near the North Terminator where they are now. Morgan uses the moon to his advantage and goes out to hunt for game. He bags an antelope, but on the way back finds a trail of dead barbarians leading to a fight in a clearing. A guy is beset by a number of barbarians and Morgan jumps in to help, supporting the underdog as usual. The newcomer’s clothes proclaim him a denizen of the outer world, so Morgan addresses him in English. The guy turns out to be Mikola Rostov, fighting barbariansMariah’s old fencing instructor … and boyfriend, though he’s a bit cagey about that. Apparently, Rostov was looking for Morgan; Professor Lakely steered Rostov toward Skartaris when he found out Rostov was looking for Mariah. Morgan tells Rostov about Mariah and Machiste being stranded in the past, and that Rostov probably can’t follow unless he can find some fragments of the meteor that sent them there … or possibly by magic. Rostov is skeptical, but Morgan says he’ll introduce him to Shakira and see what he thinks of her magic. While Morgan rests, Rostov sneaks off to go hunting … without weapons. When he gets back, Morgan is suspicious (especially since there’s plenty of fresh meat right there), and notices Rostov seems to have gained weight in the last couple of hours. Before he can figure out what’s going on, they’re jumped by barbarians and tied up. The barbarians are cannibals and are preparing to chow down when the moon rises again. Rostov turns into a werewolf and slaughters the cannibals. He and MorganRostov turns into a werewolf square off, but before Morgan is forced to kill him, Rostov changes back to human form. He explains to Morgan that part of his reason for coming to Skartaris was the eternal sunshine … he thought his lycanthropic curse would be dormant there. But Skartaris does have a moon—with an unpredictable orbit—so he’s right back where he started from. Rostov admits he was the one who initially attacked the barbarians (in wolf form), but the moon disappeared and he found himself fighting for his life, right before Morgan showed up. Rostov wonders if some magic in Skartaris might cure his condition; until he finds a cure, he can’t risk being around other people and bids farewell to Morgan as the moon rises again.

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