Comics Reviews: Superman 391, Action 551, DC Comics Presents 65, All-Star Squadron 29

Superman 391 coverSuperman #391 – “Who Stole the Newswoman of the Year?” – Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin/Curt Swan/Dave Hunt

This one follows from last issue, with Lana Lang receiving a broadcasting award at a banquet as her date, Clark Kent, looks on. But Lana’s ex (Vartox) phases through the wall and he’s apparently lost his mind. He grabs Clark and almost exposes his secret identity, but Clark uses his super-breath to suction the words out of Vartox’s mouth before anyone can hear. Vartox tosses Clark out the window, where he wraps himself in a banner to stop his fall before changing to Superman. Lana’s not impressed by Vartox’s neanderthal behaviour, but he doesn’t give hr much choice, grabbing herweirdo with fake Lana and teleporting away. By the time Superman gets back, Vartox and Lana are gone and a huge ball of photonic energy is left behind. Superman contains the energy and takes it into space, where it explodes harmlessly. Superman changes back to Clark and pretends he landed in a tree when Vartox threw him out the window. Later, Clark reports Lana’s abduction on the news and a shadowy figure (the same one from last issue who’s obsessed with Lana) watches the show. He’s pissed off about Lana being taken and goes into an adjoining room to talk to … Lana? She’s in shadows, but it kinda looks like her. At WGBS, Lois is bad-mouthing Superman, saying he’s slowed down lately and Clark wonders if Lana vs the volcanoshe’s right. Meanwhile, Vartox sneaks into the Fortress of Solitude and accesses the computer for info on Superman. Inside a volcano 7,000 miles away, we see Lana trying to climb out. She slips and falls but is saved from being broiled by Vartox, who says he had no idea how feisty Lana was. That makes her suspicious, since she and Vartox were once engaged, so he should know her pretty damn well. The weirdo who’s obsessed with Lana is reading about Vartox in the paper, wondering why he’d come back to claim her now. We see this guy’s version of Lana, who looks like her but never speaks … or even moves. She could be a mannequin or a robot; either way, the guy kisses her and leaves. He’s wrapped up in his own thoughts (wondering if Vartox would respond to aSuperman saves Lana's stalker televised plea to bring Lana back) and almost gets run over by a car full of bank robbers. Superman shows up to save the guy’s ass and he starts haranguing the Man of Steel, telling him he has to save Lana from Vartox. Elsewhere, Lana realizes the guy who kidnapped her isn’t really Vartox, but he won’t tell her who he is and leaves her beside the volcano. At the Fortress, Superman finds his computers wrecked and comes to the same conclusion as Lana … this isn’t the real Vartox. As Superman wonders about the fake Vartox, an alien spaceship enters Earth’s atmosphere. The ship is met by Superman, who guides the craft down and confronts the pilot, who turns out to be an fake Vartox kills Goopelalien from Lyra-8 named Goopel. He’s looking for a fugitive named Srakka, who is a Dybbuk … a creature that can take over the body of someone else. Goopel warns Superman that Srakka is very dangerous, but Goopel gets a shock when Superman starts changing in front of his eyes. Yup, it’s Vartox (well, Srakka in Vartox’s body) using his shape-shifting power. Srakka eliminates Goopel and his ship, but realizes his hold on Vartox’s body is weakening. He’s not too worried, since he has his sights set on an even better host body … Superman’s.

Action 551 coverAction #551 – “Superman: Friend or Foe?” – Marv Wolfman/Gil Kane

This one starts with Jimmy Olsen and Justin Moore discussing a story in a rival paper about Superman attacking Vandal Savage. Jimmy is defending Superman, but Justin points out there’s no evidence Savage has ever committed any crimes, so maybe Superman is the one in the wrong. Lois is still pissed off about being scooped by Lana on her Middle East story, so she’s in no mood to arbitrate. Clark is called into Perry’s office for a human interest assignment and Clark notices a photo of Perry’s wife in the garbage. Clark heads to the hospital to cover the story of Jeffrey and Jennifer O’Hara, twins with some kind of spleenic disorder. The medicine they need has been prepared in the Soviet union and is supposed to be flown to Metropolis right away. (This was when the Cold War was still going on, so Soviet/American cooperation like that wasn’t thepounding HIVE operatives norm.) The doctors get word that Afghan terrorists have stopped the plane with the medicine from taking off in Moscow. The doctor says the medicine only remains viable for about eight hours after it’s prepared and the Soviets can’t just whip up more because the rare herbs used take days to prepare. Clark overhears all that and zooms off toward Moscow as Superman. But before he can even get out of Metropolis, he hears an alarm at City Hall and finds a HIVE team breaking in with high tech weapons. He takes them out, but a guard tells him there are HIVE attacks all over town, so he delays his trip overseas to zip around the city and pound all the HIVE operatives. The digression has taken an hour, so he heads off to Russia. He’d better hurry, saving ocean linerbecause the Russian general in charge of troops surrounding the plane is being told to rush the aircraft and try to take out the terrorists. On his way across the Atlantic, Superman encounters an ocean liner that’s caught on an islet that suddenly rose to the surface because of a seaquake. Superman keeps the liner from falling to pieces and deposits it in Ireland, delaying him further from his mission. On the way to Moscow, he saves a guy falling off the Eiffel Tower and keeps a cable car in Switzerland from crashing. Superman finally arrives in Moscow (where he’s mistaken for Russian hero Red Star) and smashes into the plane to pound the terrorists. (He also gives a speech about how they aren’t real freedom fighters, just terrorist assholes.) The Russians are happy to give him the medicine (and the general observes that Russians and Americans aren’t so different afterpounding terrorists all), but as Superman is leaving, he’s hailed by some scientists who have bad news. They tell him the medicine is made up of synthetic chemicals and rare herbs, but the herbs have lost their potency since the doctors who prepared it thought the medicine would’ve been used by now. The doctors say they could refresh the medicine to make it potent again, if they had more herbs. Superman flies to Uganda at top speed (though he pauses to stop a flood on the way) and finds the herbs. But it’s raining like hell and an earthquake strikes, starting a mudslide that threatens to bury a bunch of houses. Superman saves the inhabitants, but at the cost of the rare herbs, which are buried in dealing with mudslidethe mudslide. Superman is pissed off at not being able to save the twins and wonders if he should’ve ignored some of the delays in order to save them, thus condemning others to death. But by a stunningly lucky coincidence, one of the people he saved from the mudslide is a botanist who worked with the Soviets on the medicine. He directs Superman to a nearby valley full of the valuable herb, which Superman rushes to Moscow and then heads back to Metropolis with the medicine, thus saving the twins. There must have been pacing problems with the story, because finding the herbs, zooming to Moscow, and taking the medicine back to the twins is all crammed into the last page.

DC Presents 65 coverDC Comics Presents #65 – “Slayer from the Dark Dimension” – Paul Kupperberg/Gray Morrow

This one starts with Clark Kent waking up from a terrible nightmare about Superman killing his friends, destroying the Galaxy Building, and even wasting himself. Clark is in New York for a broadcasters’ convention and has been having nightmares for the past few days … and they’re getting more intense. Downtown, a woman (Natalie Simons) and a young man (Robert Haley) both find themselves drawn to a small occult shop in Greenwich Village. The proprietor, Madame Xanadu, welcomes them by name and already knows what’s troubling them. Like Clark, they’ve been having nightmares where a malevolent voice compels them to kill their loved ones.Clark almost burns Lana Natalie couldn’t deal with the thought she might kill her husband and kids, and Robert feels the same about his parents and friends, so they both left their houses trying to get away from the evil dreams. Madame Xanadu says she can help, but there’s another person in the same boat who should be along soon. Clark attends the broadcasters’ convention with Lana and Morgan Edge. They’re bored out of their minds and when Clark’s mind wanders, the voice from his dreams urges him to burn Lana with his heat vision. Clark comes to his senses and diverts the heat beam, starting a fire on the table (which is blamed on Edge’s cigarette). Clark is so freaked out he’s shaking and quickly leaves, flying around the city to ponder his problems. He repairs a tarot readingbreak in he Brooklyn Bridge, but the malevolent entity from his dreams invades his mind again, forcing him to smash through the Bridge. At Madame Xanadu’s, the evil influence is working on Natalie too and she freaks out. Robert and Madame Xanadu manage to calm her down and help her fight off the evil with peaceful and loving intentions. Superman’s troubled soul leads him to change back to Clark Kent and wander until he shows up at Madame Xanadu’s place. She’s expecting him and does a tarot reading. (I get the feeling Kupperberg was a tarot fan … or had recently read a book on the subject.) Madame Xanadu hints that she knows Clark’s secret and he tries to play it cool. She introduces him to Natalie and Robert, explaining that the evil entity has been targeting Clark’s dreams and the other two are just splash-over damage. All of them sense a dark presence and suddenlySuperman infected with evil find themselves transported to an inter-dimensional realm. The evil entity stalking Superman’s dreams finally reveals himself as Maaldor the Darklord (who we last saw in issue 56). Forcing Maaldor to confront his own evil drove him mad and he now inhabits this nether-realm, dreaming of the day he could bring Superman here and drive him crazy. Maaldor hits Superman with a dose on concentrated evil, but Madame Xanadu brings him back before it consumes him. Superman tries to fight Maaldor, who uses the Man of Steel’s fears and memories to torture him. Superman’s will is strong enough to fight through, so Maaldor unleashes his evil on Natalie and Robert, turning them into beings of pure evil who merge with the Madame Xanadu exhorts Natalie and Robert to fight backdimension. Madame Xanadu uses her power (and her personality) to appeal to Natalie and Robert, asking them to remember their families who they loved so much they left home to protect them. They fight back and Natalie’s so pissed off she’s ready to attack Maaldor, but Superman takes on the Darklord himself, banishing his evil presence. All of them wind up back in Madame Xanadu’s shop, with Superman as Clark again. Madame Xanadu uses her magic to cloud Natalie and Robert’s memories of Clark’s secret identity. Of course, she still knows the truth, but Clark isn’t too worried … after all she did for him, he knows he can trust her.

All-Star Squadron 29 coverAll-Star Squadron #29 – “A Man Called Doome” – Roy Thomas/Jerry Ordway/Rick Magyar

This is a modern update of the story from Leading Comics #3, way back in 1942. The framing device is Shining Knight telling Winston Churchill (who he’s been guarding personally for a while now) that he’s just received an invitation to a general meeting of the All-Star Squadron. Shining Knight has been torn over whether he should go back to the States to rejoin the All-Stars, or stay in England to keep an eye on Churchill. Shining Knight gets thinking about the other team he belongs to (the Seven Soldiers of Victory) and tells Churchill their origin, which takes up most of the issue with one big flashback. Only a few months ago, a villain named Dr.Doome retrieves historical figures Doome (yeah, you read that right) used a time-travel device to call up figures from history: Napoleon, Nero, Attila, Genghis Khan, and Alexander the Great. Doome figures he can use his time machine to send the historical figures anywhere in the time-stream, where they can wreak havoc and pave the way for an alternate future that’ll be easily dominated by Doome and his cronies. Doome tells them they need to obtain five rare metals to put his plan into action. (Yeah, it’s a Golden Age story, so you know there’ll be multiple chapters.) The historical figures knock off an armoured car to steal some gold and run afoul of Green Arrow and Speedy. Speedy gets knocked out and his walkie-talkie is stolen by Attila (who’s fascinated by the “talking box”). That lets Seven Soldiers conveneGreen Arrow listen in on the villains’ conversation and he realizes they’ll need help, so he calls in his pals in the Seven Soldiers of Victory. (For the record, that’s Crimson Avenger, Stripesy, Star-Spangled Kid, Shining Knight, and Vigilante, as well as Arrow and Speedy.) They have a hard time believing a bunch of guys have come from the past, but Shining Knight reminds them he’s from the time of King Arthur, so anything’s possible. They overhear Doome telling each of his minions where to strike and quickly divide into teams to meet the various threats: Star-Spangled Kid and Stripesy head up to Canada to keep Napoleon from stealing a gold shipment; Green Arrow and speedy head to Florida to keep Alexander from getting some radium; Shining Knight’s task is to stop Genghis Khan from obtaining platinum in Alaska; Crimson Avenger goes out to sea to prevent Nero from hijacking aGreen Arrow and Speedy fight Alexander shipment of uranium; and Vigilante goes to South Dakota, where Attila will try to steal some tantalum. Doome has given each historical figure a rod that will return them to their own time periods if they wish, so as the Seven Soldiers defeat their foes one-by-one, each villain wishes himself back to his own time where he can be the victor, instead of the vanquished. The Soldiers track Doome to his castle and evade several traps to get inside. Doome can’t travel to the future without the metals he needed, so he projects himself into the past, hoping to conquer it. Speedy finds one of the rods that can bring them home, so they follow Doome and end up at the end of the Trojan War, with the Trojan Horse outside the walls of Troy. Doome tells the Greeks that outside the walls of Troythe Soldiers are their enemies, so the Soldiers have to kick some ass. Odysseus is quite impressed by their fighting skills, especially Shining Knight’s. Agamemnon isn’t sure who to believe, so he commands Doome and the soldiers to get in the Trojan Horse and prove their worth. Doome decides to get the hell out of there, using one of his rods to return to 1942. The Soldiers soon follow (although Shining Knight is tempted to take Agamemnon’s offer and join the battle). As the Soldiers are returning through time, Doome offers Shining Knight the chance to return to the days of Camelot if he’ll abandon his friends, but Shining Knight tells him to go to hell. When the Soldiers confront Doome in his lab, he activates the machine to send himself to the future. Without the metals he needed, the machine overloads but DoomeDoome's machine blows up jumps in anyway, hoping it’ll project him forward in time before it explodes. The machine blows up and there’s no sign of Doome, so the soldiers aren’t sure if his desperate gamble worked or not. The Soldiers pledge to fight evil wherever it appears and Shining Knight wraps up his story for Churchill, who thinks the story indicates Shining Knight’s desire to rejoin the All-Star Squadron. Churchill gives him his blessing, but Shining Knight has actually decided to stay, saying that England is his homeland—whatever century it may be—and he wants to defend it and its leader. For once, Churchill is speechless.

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