Comics Reviews: Superman 392, Action 552, DC Comics Presents 66, All-Star Squadron 30

Superman 392 coverSuperman #392 – “If a Body Meets a Body” – Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin/Curt Swan/Dave Hunt

Last issue, Lana Lang was kidnapped by Vartox, her old flame, who turned out to be a scumbag alien who took over Vartox’s body. Superman doesn’t know that, so he thinks Vartox has gone nuts. There’s also a goofy guy named Wallace Gurkheim who has a thing for Lana and was urging Superman to get her back. This issue starts with the fake Vartox taunting Superman, daring him to find where he’s keeping Lana. Meanwhile, Wallace pens what sounds like a suicide note and rows out into the ocean alone. The fake Vartox is holding Lana in an ancient Incan pyramid and she realizes just how alien he is when she notices his shadow;alien virus origin it’s not humanoid at all, more of an amorphous blob. The alien (Srakka) claims to be a sentient virus, basically a single cell of alien RNA. He tells Lana how he’s been jumping from one host body to the next, draining their energy and moving on as they die. He discovered that super-powered beings sustained him longer and that they were easier to feed on if they’d suffered some great loss. So he started killing people close to his potential hosts to make it easier to invade their bodies. After bouncing through numerous hosts, he destroyed Vartox’s planet so he could take him over, but Vartox mistakenly thought he’d killed the previous host. That addled his mind for a while, which is why he was so confused upon coming to Earth. But now Srakka is in full control and ready Lana in troubleto go after his next target body … Superman. Out at sea, Wallace is waiting for death to take him when his rowboat is obliterated by an ocean liner. He falls into the ocean, but flies up out of the waves moments later. As Superman works on a way to track Lana and Vartox, someone comes crashing through the wall of his Fortress. It’s Wallace, who says he knows Superman well and needs his help. The fake Vartox broadcasts a challenge to Superman, telling him he’ll destroy the world if the Man of steel refuses. Superman zooms down to Peru to confront “Vartox”, who has Lana suspended over a cauldron of boiling oil. Srakka’s use of Vartox’s powers can’t stop Superman for long and we see Wallace phasing into the pyramid to help Lana. Srakka breaks free fromSuperman captures the virus Superman and blasts the pyramid, seemingly killing Lana. That sends Superman into a frenzy and he attacks “Vartox”. Srakka’s true virus form tries to take over Superman’s body, but he’s ready for the parasite and grabs him. Superman flies the alien virus to Pluto to keep him frozen forever, leaving Wallace to get Lana to safety. Turns out Vartox borrowed Wallace’s body (since Wallace has a thing for Lana it made it easier for Vartox’s essence to inhabit him) and Lana thanks both of them before Vartox re-enters his own body. By the time Superman gets back, Lana has offered Wallace a job at WGBS (does she have that authority?) and Vartox is ready to reaffirm his friendship with Supes. It’s a little weird for Lana to offer a job to a dude who was basically stalking her, but whatever … I guess it’s meant to be a happy ending for everyone.

Action 552 coverAction #552 – “Another Time! Another Death!” – Marv Wolfman/Gil Kane

This one starts with Superman saving people in Suicide Slum from a building collapse (and using the rubble to dam a raging flood in the Philippines). Superman finds the collapse was caused by strange branches growing up from under the foundation of the building. The really weird thing is that the roots belong to a prehistoric species of tree. We see Vandal Savage monitoring the situation and find out he’s responsible for the tree. Savage has also infected Superman with some kind of disease that will allow Savage to control the Man of Steel. Out on the West Coast, a meeting is taking place with some familiar faces in attendance … well, familiar if you’re a comics fan. Cave Carson, Dane Dorrance (of the Sea Devils), Congo Bill, Rick Flag (of the original Suicide Squad), Animalgolden temple under the ocean Man, and Dolphin have been invited by Rip Hunter to his high-tech headquarters. Hunter looks older than usual (and the others are no spring chickens, except Dolphin) and he explains his advanced age is part of why they were called there, although he claims he wasn’t actually the one who invited them. The adventurers tell their stories, which all sound suspiciously the same. They all found strange temples full of treasure in various locations (underground, at the bottom of the sea, on a Cambodian mountain, in the jungles of Africa and Brazil), but before they could explore or even report these fabulous finds, men claiming to work for the U.S. Government swooped in and took Rip's story of going back in timeover. Most of the adventurers have had their official licenses, passports, and privileges revoked and they all want to know why. Dolphin’s story is slightly different; she has amnesia and only remembers waking up near the undersea temple (the same one the Sea Devils found) and being captured by men with weapons. She was taken on a boat but escaped back into the sea when her need for water became overwhelming. Rip Hunter then tells his story: he and his Time Masters (Bonnie, Corky, and Jeff) decided to go back and see the very beginning of time. They got there and it was quite the psychedelic Ditko-fest, but they were startled to see one of the golden temples just like the others saw on Earth. Right after they saw the temple, the time machine was thrown forward and they ended up back in the present, except now they were all old. Even Corky, an 18-year-old kid, was around 80 after the trip.Superman blasted underground The others have numerous questions for Rip, but he tells them it’s time they met the person who called them all together and who can answer those questions. At the Daily Planet, Lois is pissed off because another story about Superman (written by Clark) has bumped her story off the front page. Lois invites Clark to dinner, but he already has plans with Lana, which doesn’t help Lois’s mood any. At Abraxas Industries, Vandal Savage puts his plan into motion. Apparently, Savage had Superman sprayed with some kind of culture the first time they fought and it’s been maturing all this time, taking hold unnoticed while Savage kept Superman busy with trivial crap. As molten jets of lava erupt in the park, Superman swoops down to freeze them and heads Superman trapped under domeunderground to find the cause. Deep under Metropolis, he finds a golden temple, which he knows has never been there before. Superman is blasted from the temple and the microscopic spores suddenly grow into prehistoric plants, wrapping him up and taking him to the surface. The plants are semi-intelligent, responding to Savage’s remote control, but Superman soon breaks free. He can’t get too far from the plants though, as he finds himself trapped under an unbreakable dome. The plants are trapped with him, but the dome is expanding, which means if it isn’t stopped it could take out the whole city. Out West, the Forgotten Heroes meet their mysterious patron, the Immortal Man, who tells them they have a mission in Metropolis. When Rick Flag mentions Metropolis being Superman’s territory, Immortal Man says Superman is the threat … and they have to kill him to end it.

DC Presents 66 coverDC Comics Presents #66 – “The Resurgence of Blackbriar Thorn” – Len Wein/Joe Kubert

This one starts in Gotham City, where Clark Kent and Lana Lang are attending an unveiling ceremony at the museum. Lana’s father (Professor Lewis Lang, well-known archaeologist) has discovered something in Scotland that dates back over two thousand years. Among the crowd are Jason Blood (aka Etrigan the Demon) and his girlfriend Glenda Mark. Blood senses something evil in the air and is on edge. Professor Lang unveils his find, which turns out to be a very lifelike statue of a Druid from Celtic times. Lang explains that the Druids supposedly had power over weather, illusion, and could extend their lives by changing into other forms. I think you see where this is going. As soon as the moonlight coming through the skylight hits the statue, it comes to life,Superman and Etrigan fight Thorn claiming to be an ancient Druid named Blackbriar Thorn. When security guards try to grab him, Thorn conjures a wind to blow them away. Clark slips away to change into Superman, while Glenda distracts Professor Lang long enough for Jason to sneak off and become Etrigan. Superman goes after Thorn but gets wrapped up by enchanted branches. Superman’s vulnerability to magic make him easy prey for Thorn’s animated trees, but Etrigan shows up to burn Superman free with some magic of his own. Thorn conjures a rainstorm to douse The Demon’s flame and blasts him with magical energy before escaping out the window. Superman and Etrigan follow, but Thorn has disappeared into a magical fog; even Superman’s vision can’t find him. Since the threat is now gone, Etrigan disappears too, leaving Superman to Thorn's originwonder who the hell he is. Clark shows up at the museum at the same time Jason Blood reappears and Professor Lang introduces them. Lang wants Blood to help since he’s an occult expert, but Blood is reluctant. Glenda basically bullies him into it and they go to Blood’s place where he finds some info on Blackbriar Thorn. Thorn was a powerful Druid who fled the Roman invasion and turned himself to wood to hide. A local cataclysm buried him until Lang dug him up and the moonlight (with the moon apparently being in the proper conjunction) reanimated him. In Gotham park, Thorn contemplates his next move and wastes some muggers who try to grab him. He figures his wooden body might not stand up to hard use, so he decides to take Superman’sEtrigan reveals Thorn's deception indestructible form for himself. Since he doesn’t know where to find Superman, he uses magic to grow the park full of trees and other plants so it ends up completely impassable, like something out of Sleeping Beauty. Superman soon notices and heads over to check it out. (If you’re wondering why Batman isn’t responding to this crisis in Gotham, Superman mentions he’s off on a mission with the Outsiders. Superman fights through the tangle and sees Professor Lang wrapped up in the branches. He goes to help the Professor, but Etrigan shows up and blasts Lang with a firebolt. Superman freaks out until Etrigan points out that “Lang” was really Thorn in disguise, trying to Thorn blasted into obliviontake over Superman’s body. Thorn and Etrigan fight, but Thorn is too strong and starts growing to gigantic proportions. Superman and Etrigan aren’t sure what to do until Thorn boasts of drawing his strength from the Earth itself. Superman tunnels underground and lifts Thorn into the air on a divot of soil, breaking his contact with the ground. The power Thorn has already absorbed runs wild, consuming him in a lightning bolt. With Thorn gone, the Park returns to normal and Etrigan gives Superman one last rhyme of congratulations.

All-Star Squadron 30 coverAll-Star Squadron #30 – “Day of the Black Dragon” – Roy Thomas/Mike Machlan, Ricard Howell/Sam De La Rosa

This is kind of a flashback story with Wonder Woman telling Liberty Belle how she and some other All-Stars fought the Black Dragon Society recently (a story that’s been foreshadowed for several issues). A contingent of All-Stars (Starman, Sandman, Atom, Hawkman, Spectre, Dr. Fate, Johnny Thunder, and Dr. Mid-Nite) are briefed on the Black Dragon Society, a Japanese organization that may have spies and saboteurs on American soil. Eight inventors of secret weapons have recently been kidnapped, possibly by the Black Dragons, and the government wants the All-Stars to get them back. Yeah, this is one of those stories where the team splits up to take onHawkman fights Black Dragons multiple threats. The only one that’s told in detail here is Hawkman’s encounter with the Black Dragons: they’ve kidnapped the inventor of some kind of helicopter prototype that can slice right through buildings. Hawkman almost gets wasted trying to stop it from destroying New York and finally gets on board, pounds the Japanese agents, and uses the chopper to destroy their headquarters. The other All-Stars take on more Black Dragons who have appropriated various other secret weapons: a zeppelin, a torpedo, modern Greek fire, a laser, and a tank. Atom finds himself in San Francisco looking for a powerful explosive the Black Dragons have purloined. He runs into a Japanese-American named Morrie Fushido and attacks him out of paranoia. (He also Atom and Morrie fight Black Dragonsrefers to him as a “Jap”.) Turns out Morrie is a good guy, a loyal American trying to help find the people who are attacking his country. Atom apologizes for being a dick and they fight their way through some Black Dragons to retrieve the explosive and find the missing scientist. In the final mission, Johnny Thunder ends up captured (naturally) by a bunch of Black Dragons who stole some kind of chemical that dissolves metal. He sends the Thunderbolt to stop the Dragons from using the chemical and T-Bolt summons the All-Stars to save Johnny’s ass. They pound the Black Dragons and Atom tells them that most Japanese in America don’t support Japan. As we return to the present, Liberty Belle and Wonder Woman discuss the anti-Japanese sentiment that’s been growing since Pearl Harbor. Liberty Belle points out there was plenty ofRoosevelt signing Executive Order 9066 anti-German feeling during WW I but it faded quickly. Wonder Woman says it’s different with the Japanese, since there was already an undercurrent of racism there to begin with and the War just makes it more acceptable to hate Japanese people. Liberty Belle says Americans are basically fair-minded, so she’s sure they’ll do what’s right. The last page shows President Roosevelt signing Executive Order 9066, authorizing the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans (most of them born in America) for the rest of the war, as well as confiscation of their property and abrogation of their basic civil rights. So much for Liberty Belle’s theory about the inherent goodness of Americans. This story does read like a bit of a history lesson (or an after-school special), but it is a chapter of American history that was ignored for a long time and deserves to be looked at critically.

Noticeable Things:

  • Liberty Belle alludes to the big meeting of the entire All-Star team, which we’ll see next issue.
  • This story addresses Wonder Woman being “only” the secretary of the JSA (and to a lesser extent, the All-Stars), a position she’s happy to hold, saying any contribution she can make is fine with her. Wonder Woman can apparently write faster than Belle can type, but she has to slow down to keep her pen from melting.
  • The Black Dragon Society was real, but I don’t know if they ever carried out any operations on American soil. They were active in Japan before the war and supported a strong, militaristic government.
  • The multi-part Black Dragon fight in this story came from All Star Comics 12, back in 1942.

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