Comics Reviews: Superman 394, Action 554, DC Comics Presents 68, All-Star Squadron 32

Superman 394 coverSuperman #394 – “The Man Who Would Be President” – Eliott S! Maggin/Curt Swan/Dave Hunt

This one starts with some guy giving a lecture to a group of people about how great Superman, then ending by calling for his destruction. In Metropolis, Superman saves a woman from a burning building and a bystander named Bucky Berns watches with concern. Apparently, Bucky is a newspaper columnist and just wrote a column about how old tenements should be burned down. Bucky concludes this fire is just a coincidence and goes to meet his friend Perry white for lunch. Perry offers Bucky the chance to write his column for the Daily Planet. The next day, Clark is so engrossed in Bucky’s column, he runs right into Lois, literally. The column is about some modern-day Viking who leads a community of Norsemen descended from Vikings up in Maine. Bucky thinksSuperman fights Valdemar Valdemar should be enlisted to fight against pollution. Maybe Bucky’s columns are prophetic, because Valdemar attacks a paper mill that’s spewing smoke and other crap into the environment. Superman is there trying to reduce the pollution from the mill and locks horns with Valdemar. The Viking says he and Superman aren’t really enemies, but if Superman protects those who defile the Earth, he’ll pound him. Superman realizes Bucky’s column predicted this (as well as the tenement fire), so goes to have a chat with Bucky. In Russia, the same dude who lecturing about destroying Superman earlier reports on the success of his plan. Apparently, they’re using an “actualization ray” from a satellite to bombard Bucky Berns so his thoughts become reality and people believe he’s prescient. The Russians will start Superman endorses Buckysuggesting (through the satellite rays) what Bucky should write, and that’ll lead to the destruction of both Superman and America. Bucky’s newest column suggests that Superman should endorse someone for President and that people should vote for whoever Superman backs. That night, as Bucky is being honoured at a dinner, Superman shows up and endorses him for President. People immediately rally behind him and it looks like Bucky has a pretty good shot, which the Russians are certainly happy about. When Clark heads home, he finds Valdemar waiting in his apartment, ready to destroy some more polluters. Clark shows him the articles he’s written against three separate companies and mentions that all three have injunctions against them. Clark calls each one to see if they’re complying with the courtSuperman and Valdemar wreck the factory orders, but none of them are, so Superman and Valdemar go to see the judge who issued the injunctions. He writes court orders shutting down the three polluting plants and Superman and Valdemar deliver the orders, wrecking each plant in turn. The last one is a nuclear power plant and Superman triumphantly tells Valdemar that a new coal-burning plant can be built on the site. Maybe Superman hasn’t quite grasped the point of environmentalism yet. There’s a sub-plot about Perry White romancing his estranged wife, but we’ll have to wait until next issue to see how that urns out, as well as the stuff with Bucky for President and the Russians’ plot. Frankly, this reads like a goofy Silver Age story, despite all the editorializing against pollution.

Action 554 coverAction #554 – “If Superman Didn’t Exist” – Marv Wolfman/Gil Kane

Last issue, Superman disappeared after helping eradicate a strange pyramid at the beginning of time. This issue begins with an alien armada (the Zandrians) coming to Earth to find there are no super-heroes to resist them. Apparently, the Zandrians visited Earth in the primitive past and found its inhabitants too warlike. They planted the power pyramids, knowing they’d be found and destroyed some day, which would release energy that would snuff out the spark of imagination humans need to develop the heroic ideal. Not only has that lack of imagination led to the elimination of violent tendencies, but humans in the 20th Century are still living almost like cavemen, with no modern conveniences. The aliens attack, decimating the primitive humans and aJerry and Joe create Superman couple of kids named Jerry and Joe run from the attackers and search frantically for their parents. But Jerry and Joe aren’t like the other kids … they’re always dreaming up stories and strange characters instead of doing practical things like hunting, fishing, or farming. Jerry and Joe can’t find their parents and they try to rally some other people to resist the aliens, but everyone’s too scared. The kids head for their secret hiding place, a cave outside of town, where they discuss how to fight the attackers. Jerry suggests that their favourite creation, a heroic character who has the power to fly and move mountains, might be able to fight the invaders. As Jerry describes the hero, Joe draws him on the cave wall and of course, it’s Superman. The Zandrians detect a pocket of Superman comes back to liferesistance, a spark of the heroic ideal returning to Earth. If the ideal spreads, reality will go back to the way it was before the pyramids blew up, so the Zandrians broadcast a message telling the people of Earth they want the two rebels. Jerry realizes the aliens are afraid of their Super-Man creation … not of him specifically, but the idea of him. Jerry and Joe go home and fashion Superman costumes for themselves, then convince the townsfolk that if they believe in Superman, the aliens can be defeated. The townspeople collectively believe and Superman pops back into existence, going after the alien fleet. He smashes the ships and finds the leader of the invasion. The Zandrians turn out to be little goofy-looking parrotheads with tentacles, who remove violence from the people they wish to conquer because they’re incapable ofSimon and Kirby violence themselves. The Zandrians put everything back to normal and swear to do the same for every planet they’ve ever conquered. Superman returns home and Jerry and Joe are congratulated by their parents for never losing faith in the heroic spirit of humanity, no matter how bleak things looked. The story ends with a couple of young guys named Jack and Joe trying to come up with a new super-hero for a comic book. They have an epiphany, thinking their new creation may be as good as Superman or Wonder Woman. I’m thinking that’s meant to be Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and their creation could be Captain America. So yeah, this story was a little weird. As a writer, I agree with the power of ideas to change humanity, but this particular story mostly comes off as an apologia from DC to Siegel and Shuster for treating them like crap for so long.

DC Presents 68 coverDC Comics Presents #68 – “Destiny’s Children” – Gerry Conway/Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson

This one starts with some guy strapped into a machine where he receives a “cerebro-charge” that fries his brain. Some goons remove him and tell their leader that a mature brain can’t handle a full cerebro charge. The leader tells them to implement Operation Arcade Sweep … I think we can guess where this is going. In Metropolis, Vixen surprises Superman near the Galaxy Building, saying she needs his help. Supes met Vixen back in Action 521, so he agrees to listen to her. In an arcade downtown, a kid named Murphy plays a new game called Galaxy Starfighter that’s touted as a “total immersion” game, with the player inside a cabinet. Meanwhile, Vixen tellsSuperman and Vixen talk to Jimmy Superman about her friend’s nephew (Kip), who disappeared while playing Galaxy Starfighter. This isn’t the first Superman has heard of this trouble, so he takes Vixen to see Jimmy Olsen, who’s working on the story. We see Murphy hit 100,000 points on Galaxy Starfighter and get teleported to somewhere else, just like Kip did. Murphy is tranquilized and thrown into the “brain room” with the other abductees. The leader (who everyone addresses as Colonel) looks like Christopher Walken’s character in A View to a Kill, except he seems to have ripped off Heat Wave’s costume. At the Daily Planet, Jimmy tells Superman and Vixen that thirteen other kids have disappeared over the last few weeks while playing Galaxy Starfighter, but the cops think Superman trashes game factoryit’s too far-fetched to take seriously. The game is manufactured by a company called Cerebrus Exports, owned by an ex Army colonel named Carlton Cerebrus. Vixen heads for Cerebrus’s yacht to look around. She sneaks aboard but gets blasted by a brain charge powered by the kidnapped kids, who are all hooked into Cerebrus’s brain machine. Upstate, Superman infiltrates the Cerebrus factory and finds they’re adding extra components to the video games. The guards use high-tech machinery to attack Superman, who busts loose and starts trashing the place. On Cerebrus’s yacht, Vixen wakes up strapped into a chair and Cerebrus obligingly gives her his origin story. He was in the Navy and studied the psychic power of the human mind, but the Navy wasn’t interested. He kept working on it after he got out and invented the cerebroVixen saves Superman from Cerebrus machine, which draws power from people’s minds. But only adolescent minds are resilient enough to handle it, so Cerebrus devised the video game as a test. He’s now ready to sell the technology to some foreign government, but first he’s going to demonstrate how the machine burns out an adult mind by using Vixen as a test subject. Superman busts in and Cerebrus hits him with a brain blast, knocking him out. Before he can kill Vixen, she busts loose from the chair and starts kicking ass. Cerebrus tries to blast her, but Superman recovers and grabs him. Cerebrus hammers Superman with psychic energy, stunning him, until Vixen disconnects the kids from the machine, sending feedback into Cerebrus that fries his brain. I wonder if this story was a way of re-introducing Vixen to the readers, since Gerry will be using her in the Detroit Justice League later this year?

All-Star Squadron 32 coverAll-Star Squadron #32 – “Crisis on Earth-X: The Prequel” – Roy Thomas/Rick Hoberg/Bill Collins

This one gets a bit … complicated. Last issue, the Squadron’s first full meeting was interrupted twice: first Uncle Sam showed up to tell the All-Stars about a parallel Earth (Earth-X) where the Nazis were winning and where several other heroes (including Hourman) had already been killed; then Midnight stumbled in carrying a box that contained Doll Man, who looked half-dead. Doll Man turns out not to be in as bad shape as he looks, so Uncle Sam continues his story. He tells everyone how he dreamed about the attack on Pearl Harbor (in Earth-X) and came back to Earth-2 to get help, recruiting a bunch of loser heroes (Neon the Unknown, Red Torpedo, Magno, Invisible Hood, and Miss America) to help fight the Japanese. He decided he’d better get at least oneUncle Sam's team obliterated good fighter, so he went to see Hourman, who was kinda retired. After the obligatory misunderstanding fight, Hourman agreed to help Sam and the others and they headed to Earth-X. They stopped the Pearl Harbor attack, but all Sam’s teammates were killed. Sam was tossed in a mental institution for going on about Pearl Harbor and it turned out foiling the attack stopped America from entering the war. That gave the Nazis a chance to get the upper hand and they look like they might win the war. Sam came back to Earth-2 to get help setting things right on Earth-X, but he had another dream, this one about a Japanese fleet coming to attack America’s West Midnight and Doll Man in Earth-X ParisCoast, so it’s even more urgent he recruit some heroes to come to Earth-X with him. Midnight says his story may just corroborate Uncle Sam’s and launches into his tale. Midnight ran into Doll Man while investigating Uncle Sam’s appearance at Hourman’s place. They saw Sam and the other heroes go into the dimensional vortex, but when they tried to follow, they ended up in Earth-X France, with someone who may be that Earth’s version of Mlle. Marie. They joined the Resistance and learned of the Japanese attack on the United States, tangling with Baron Blitzkrieg when they tried to get away with the info. Doll Man got blasted by Blitzkrieg, but Midnight found another vortex and leaped through, followed by some Nazis. (I guess the vortex manifested for Midnight at the same time it didAll-Stars split up to help for Uncle Sam back in the States.) Midnight evaded his pursuers and came to the Perisphere for help, as we saw last issue. The All-Stars debate whether or not to help Earth-X, since it’s not their world, and finally decide to send a team to check out the situation. Doll Man wakes up and tells the All-Stars the target on Earth-X is Santa Barbara, but Robotman’s world monitor says a Coast Guard ship has disappeared off the California coast on this Earth. That, coupled with numerous incidents of sabotage in the home cities of various super-heroes, makes the All-Stars wonder if the Japanese are planning an invasion here as well as in Earth-X. A number of All-Stars (Ray, Japanese attack Santa BarbaraBlack Condor, Phantom Lady, Human Bomb, Red Bee, Uncle Sam, and Doll Man) agree to go to Earth-X to see what’s up and Liberty Belle, Firebrand, Johnny Quick, and Starman head out to California in case the Japanese are planning something. The rest of the heroes head home to combat the sabotage attempts. As Spectre transports the seven All-Stars to Earth-X, he finds himself barred from accompanying them by the heavenly voice that compels him to fight evil. The rest of the team arrives safely on Earth-X … just in time for an all-out Japanese attack on Santa Barbara.

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