Comics Reviews: Superman 374, Action 534, DC Comics Presents 48, Warlord 60

Superman 374 coverSuperman #374 – “Love is Deadlier … the Second Time Around” – Cary Bates/Curt Swan/Dan Adkins

Last issue, Superman’s old friend Vartox came to Earth for a visit, and to reconnect with Lana Lang. Vartox’s planet is too toxic for Lana to live there, but she acquired a protective aura from an incorporeal benefactor. Instead of being suspicious of this sudden good fortune, Lana and Vartox were thrilled and started making plans for her to go back to his planet together. But as we saw, there’s a mysterious woman behind all this and she’s got a grudge against Vartox. When Vartox used his hyper-vision to watch Lana saying goodbye to Clark Kent, he got insanely jealous when he saw them kissing and vowed to kill Superman. As this issue starts, Lana and Lois say their goodbyes while watching a broadcast of Lola Barnett (DC’s answer to Rona Barrett) spill the news about Lana leaving WGBS to go live with her alien stud. Clark has returned to Smallville to reminisce about his childhoodSuperman and Vartox fight a tank friendship with Lana, but Vartox shows up to interrupt his reverie. Vartox attacks Clark in the open, but Clark manages to change to Superman without being seen. He notices Vartox is in some kind of trance and shakes him out of it. Vartox can’t remember anything, just that he really wanted to find Superman. Explanations have to wait though, because a tank suddenly bursts through the ground in downtown Smallville. (Superman speculates it’s some long-dormant trap abandoned by the young Lex Luthor.) Superman and Vartox deal with the tank and discuss Vartox’s recent trance, putting it down to nerves over his upcoming move home with Lana. But we see the mystery woman (a good-looking blonde) watching them and we learn she’s behind Vartox’s trance and his murderous rage toward Syreena plans her revengeSuperman. She’s also the one who gave Lana the protective aura so she could go to Vartox’s planet, but I don’t think she did it out of kindness. She really hates Vartox for some reason (she calls him unfaithful) and is planning to get revenge through Lana. That night, Lana gives her farewell broadcast and prepares to leave Earth the next day (after her farewell party, of course). She and Vartox have dinner in a floating bubble high over Metropolis (show off!) and Lana heads home; no poontang for her tonight, I guess. Vartox hangs out with Superman and tells him he’s still nervous about making a commitment to Lana. He says he’s only felt that way once before. Superman assumes he’s talking about his dead wife, but Vartox says there was someone else before her. (Gee, I wonder who that’s going to be?) Vartox tells Superman about Syreena (yep, it’s the blonde who’s been following him); they met years ago on Valeron and fell in love instantly, but whenflashback to Vartox finding out the truth about Syreena Vartox was pursuing an extortionist who was killing people and blackmailing the government, he was devastated to find out it was Syreena. Apparently she’d been siphoning his hyper-energy through an amulet she gave him, using his power to commit her crimes. Syreena said she started out using him but fell in love for real, and begged him to let her go. Vartox did love her, but he threw her in prison anyway. Not long after that, Vartox accidentally blew up Valeron (long story, something to do with anti-matter) and vowed never to fall in love again … which obviously didn’t take. As they’re talking, Superman and Vartox use their headsSuperman and Vartox do various good deeds, including rescuing a burning oil tanker and shattering an iceberg by ramming their heads together at super-speed (!). Superman heads back to Metropolis for Lana’s farewell party, but Vartox decides to stay behind. Big mistake, as Syreena shows up and uses her “mento-disruptor” on him again. She convinces him Superman is going to put the moves on Lana, so Vartox flies toward Metropolis, vowing to kill Superman … which is pretty much how this issue started. We’ll see if he finally gets around to it next issue.

Action 534 coverAction #534 – “Two for the Death of One” – Marv Wolfman/Curt Swan/Dave Hunt

This one starts with the Galaxy Building being menaced by that dreaded super-villain … the Mole! Yeah, you heard me, the Mole. Apparently he burrows under buildings with a machine and causes them to sink into the ground or something; kinda reminds me of mole man’s early schtick in old FF comics … or that hairy freak in the old Spider-Man cartoon who stole buildings. Anyway, Clark changes into Superman, but before he can kick the Mole’s ass he’s shanghaied into the past. He ends up in the Middle Ages and knows it must be magic that’s grabbed him when he finds himself falling and can’t stop. He lands in a parabolic dish that looks like a satellite dish carved from wood. The serfs around the dish say that “Lord Satan” warned them about Superman. They figure Superman might be in league with Lord Satan, soSuperman grabbed by a tree they come after him with pick axes and whips. That tells Supes who’s behind this caper as he fends off the peasants clumsy attacks. Sure enough, Lord Satanis (from Action 527) pops up to torment Superman, but when Supes goes after him, it turns out to be an illusion. Satanis creates an Earth Elemental (I wonder if Marv was a D&D fan?), animates a tree, and turns a column of smoke into a dragon. Since Superman is vulnerable to magic, the attacks take their toll and the dragon captures him. He’s taken to Satanis’s throne room (which looks very D&D), where he notes Satanis is looking a bit under the weather. Satanis admits his recent activities have taken their toll, but he claims to be getting better all the time. Satanis recaps their earlier flashback to Satanis being dragged to hellencounter, when he and his wife Syrene were vying for the Runestone and Syrene cast it back into the past and followed it. Satanis says he followed her and took the Runestone, but she summoned the hand of the real Satan, who dragged Satanis down to Hell. After striking a bargain with Satan, Satanis returned to Earth in Medieval England. Some villagers took care of him and he showed his gratitude by conjuring a bunch of snakes to kill them. Satanis is expecting the Runestone to arrive here any time and built the parabolic dish to catch it and concentrate its energy. He needs to filter the energy through Superman’s invulnerable body in order to absorb it. The Runestone shows up and Satanis casts a spell, directing the mystical energy into Superman, who’s in agony from the powerful magic. When Satanis isSuperman pulled both ways by Satanis and Syrene ready to absorb the energy, he finds he can’t approach Superman because some kind of force field surrounds the Man of Steel. It turns out to be Syrene’s doing, still intent on getting the Runestone’s power for herself. As Satanis and Syrene both try to siphon the energy from Superman, he begs them to stop, saying the force is tearing him apart. Apparently he was right, because he suddenly splits into two identical Supermans. (Don’t worry, they’re not red and blue versions.) We’ll see if Superman gets his shit (and everything else) together next issue … and we’ll get a guest appearance by Marv’s favourite galactic goofballs, the Omega Men.

DC Presents 48 coverDC Comics Presents #48 – “Eight Arms of Conquest” – Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn/Irv Novick/Frank McLaughlin

This one starts with Aquaman getting a distress call from some fish. He finds them dying because of lowered oxygen and salt concentrations in that part of he ocean. After saving the fish, Aquaman finds some STAR Labs equipment left over from an experiment that was supposed to be canceled. He assumes STAR labs are responsible, so he heads for Metropolis to give them hell. On the way, he’s mugged by an octopus, and when he tries to control it mentally, the octopus unleashes a brain blast of its own. A bunch of octopi show up, blasting Aquaman with telepathic waves and knocking him out. In Metropolis, Superman is delivering an aquatic creature from the Andromeda Galaxy to STAR Labs. A Professor named Marché thanks Superman for the gift, but they’re interrupted when Jenet Klyburn tells them Aquaman is there and he’sAquaman fights Superman pissed off. Aquaman busts in and tries to pound Marché, accusing him of starting up the experiments again. Superman tries to calm him down, but Aquaman is stronger than he used to be. Before he can do too much damage, he keels over and Superman douses him with water to revive him. Aquaman comes to his senses and says he doesn’t know why he attacked Marché, but he figures the mutated octopi he tangled with are responsible. It turns out Marché was trying to revert that part of the ocean to approximate conditions of the primordial oceans, but Aquaman knew the water there was contaminated from nuclear tests, so he asked Marché to shut down the experiments. Superman figures the octopi must’ve wandered into the area and become mutated. Marché wants to study them, but Superman and eels frighten the octopiAquaman say it’s too dangerous and they have to get rid of the mutated creatures. They head out to take a look and see the octopi are even more mutated than a few hours ago, which blows their minds. The octopi are controlling fish, making them dredge the sea floor. Superman and Aquaman are grabbed by some octopus guards and Aquaman summons a school of moray eels, the natural enemies of octopi. Despite their advanced mutations, the octopi react instinctively, letting the heroes go and throwing out clouds of ink. The octopi order a bunch of fish to attack and Aquaman matches their mental commands with his own. He stops the attack, but the fish are caught between the two mental commands and go into a frenzy. Superman blows them out of the way to safety, but the battle is interrupted when Dr. Marché shows up in a STAR mini-sub. One of the octopi mentallyfighting the octopi mutants dominates Marché, causing hi to start blasting with the mini-sub’s laser. Superman disables the sub while Aquaman wrestles the octopus, breaking its hold on Marché. The laser blasts uncover what the octopi were dredging for … a buried spaceship. The ship has numerous compartments around the outside, so Superman stuffs the mutated octopi into the chambers for safekeeping. Aquaman summons Topo (his octopus friend) and uses him to translate the alien octopus’s thoughts. Apparently the octopi lived on another planet and when it was destroyed they came to Earth to take over. But the conditions were so different they ended up devolving into regular Earth octopi until they were revived by the nuclear tests. The alien octopus says their conquest plan is back on and hits Superman with a mind blast that cuts off his brain’s access to his neural system, paralyzing him. Superman takes the leader out of the waterAquaman’s mental powers protect him from the same fate, so he starts grappling with the octopus. Aquaman realizes he can use his telepathic commands to control Superman’s body, since Superman’s mind isn’t capable of it right now. Aquaman uses Superman’s heat vision to free himself from the octopus leader and has Superman carry the leader up into the air, where it loses its powers. Marché has called in the Coast Guard, so they can use helicopters to keep the octopus out of the water until Superman recovers. Supes puts the last octopus in the spaceship and prepares to take it to a watery world where the octopi can live by themselves. He offers to take marche along to study them, but Marché decides he prefers the lab to field work.

Black Pirate splash“Whatever Happened to the Black Pirate?” – Roy Thomas/Alfredo Alcala

This one starts with Jon Valor (aka the Black Pirate) having a nightmare about how his son (Justin) fell overboard during an adventure five years before. That caused Jon to give up his Black Pirate identity and tell the King who he really was. He’s been content for the last five years, but Justin’s death still haunts him. Unfortunately, his life of leisure is soon to be finished, as he’s called on by the King’s minister (Roderick) to go to the Netherlands and search out some pirates that have been preying upon English ships. The King is too busy dealing with the Puritans to root out the pirates, so he wants Jon to do it. Jon is a loyal subject, so he agrees to don his pirate garb once more and heads for Holland. While scoping out a possible pirate port, Jon finds the place is full of Puritans. He’s even more shocked to find Justin still alive … and he’s become a Puritan too. Jon thinks Justin a traitor, but Justin says thedefeating the English fleet Puritans just want to go to America to be free of the King’s intolerance. Justin admits he’s been raiding English ships to get funds for the trip. Jon swears to return to England and say nothing of Justin’s expedition, but before he can embark an English fleet shows up, led by Roderick. Jon realizes Roderick must’ve followed him and probably plans to wipe out the Puritans. Jon and Justin rally the Puritans and fight off the English fleet. Jon captures Roderick personally and Justin asks if Jon wants to join them on their voyage to America. Jon says England is his home, but wishes Justin all the best and promises to let his mother know he’s still alive. Jon watches as his son and the other Puritans sail west and quotes Shakespeare as he waves goodbye. So I guess the Black Pirate that haunts Opal City in Robinson’s Starman is Justin Valor, not Jon?

Warlord 60 coverWarlord #60 – “Death Dual” – Mike Grell/Jan Duursema/Mike DeCarlo

This issue starts with some action, as Darvin leads his Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser knock-offs into the dungeon where Travis Morgan is being held. Morgan has been replaced at the palace by a double and Darvin has been told to eliminate the real deal. But one of Darvin’s urchins (Tinder, who’s actually Morgan’s son Joshua, though Darvin and Morgan are the only ones who know) has unchained Morgan, so he’s ready when his executioners show up. After using his swinging manacles to take down the Mouser, Morgan impales Fafhrd on his spiked helmet. Darvin drags Tinder out and gives hi m shit for loosing Morgan’s chains. Tinder pulls away, but leaves something behind … Morgan’s watch, which Tinder has been wearing around his upper arm. Darvin recognized Tinder as Morgan’s son because of the watch, so he figures as long as he has it he can still use his knowledge about Tinder toMorgan kills the Mouser make some money. Morgan finishes the Mouser off, but not before learning it was Praydor (the corrupt councilman) who hired him. At the palace, Praydor tells his henchman the real Morgan is dead, so power now rests in their hands. The fake Morgan tells the Council that Tara (the Queen of Shamballah and Morgan’s wife) has no interest in matters of state so it’s up to them to govern. Tara is passing by and overhears, so she goes to the library to research a way of denouncing Morgan. Graemore (Tara’s old friend and new lover) stops by and she explains that the council has always resented taking orders from a woman and now Morgan is on their side, trying to push her out of governing her own city. So she’s looking for a legal way to get her power back. The real Morgan shows up at the palace and commands Praydor be brought to him at once. He searches the palace for Tara shoots the impostorhis double, finally finding him in the royal bedchamber, boozing it up as usual. They fight, but before the duel can be resolved, Tara shows up holding Morgan’s gun. She’s not sure who’s who, so she asks who the King of Swing is, and Morgan says “Benny Goodman”. But that’s not the answer Tara was expecting, so she almost shoots him. He convinces her to wait and racks his brain trying to figure out who she means. He finally realizes she’s thinking of the Sultan of Swat and says “Babe Ruth”, upon which Tara shoots the fake Morgan. Morgan and Tara are reunited, as Graemore looks on sadly. Praydor is sentenced for treason and ends up chained in the palace dungeons … with an iron helmet covering his head.

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