Superman #400 – “The Living Legends of Superman” – Elliot Maggin/Joe Orlando, Al Williamson, Frank Miller, Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Wendy Pini, Michael Kaluta, Kelly Alder, Klaus Janson, Jim Steranko
This is an anniversary issue of Superman that contains stories drawn by numerous artists with the common theme of Superman’s legend and legacy. All of the stories are set in the future and none of them is particularly earth-shattering, as far as I’m concerned, but I’ll give a brief synopsis of each one. First up is a huckster (Homer) on the moon in 2199 who’s trying to sell some miracle cure-all to a crowd of people. Homer tells a story about how he was the last person to see Superman, years ago when he was a space pilot and got in trouble in an asteroid field. An aged Superman (looking like Charlton Heston’s Moses) rescued Homer but some Kryptonite dust in the asteroid field almost killed the Man of Steel. Homer followed Superman’s directions and took a flask from his cape that cured Superman of the green K poisoning. In gratitude, Superman gave Homer the secret of the cure-all and he’s now willing to sell it to these people. A kid in the crowd questions details of Homer’s story, but admits the concoction tastes pretty good, which convinces most of the people to buy it. Of course, the kid was a plant and he and Homer head off for the next settlement, reflecting on the power of history to shape men’s minds. The next story is about a reporter (Lois Olsen) in 2230 talking to a scientist named Mendell, who has managed to gather evidence from a parallel world (in other words, our world) that Superman was really Clark Kent. Mendell’s evidence is of fictional portrayals of Superman (TV, comics, movies) and since all of them agree Superman was Clark Kent, Mendell figures the same must be true in his universe too. The third story is set in a dystopian 2491, where the 1% keep the rest of the people oppressed in poverty and near starvation. A homeless guy named Konrad Glumm sneaks into the old Metropolis Public Library to keep warm and discovers something besides books … Superman’s costume in a box. Konrad puts it on to help stay warm and when a guard comes to throw him out, the indestructible costume protects Konrad from being disintegrated. That inspires Konrad and he runs out into the streets, telling people to resist and rise up. Everyone is impressed when Konrad’s costume turns the cops’ deadly rays aside, but his triumph is short-lived and the cops shoot him in the head, disintegrating him. But Konrad (and in a roundabout way, Superman) has inspired a new American Revolution that eventually overthrows the plutocracy and restores freedom and equality to the people. The next story is set at a spacebound university in the future. Two professors argue over a recent find from the 20th Century (Superman’s costume); one thinks Superman never really existed and was just a character in a video game, while the other is certain Superman was a woman, representing the oppressed minorities of the time. The students are bored, as most students are by history lessons, and miss the significance of Superman and his impact on society. The next story is about two kids who go to see a Superman movie in the future. But these movies are interactive, with VR technology allowing the viewers to become characters in the movie and even shape the story to their own whims. One kid plays Superman as a Batman/Shadow dark avenger type, but the other one imagines Supes closer to the way we know him. The next story is set in 5902, where Superman (and other heroic people throughout history) have becoming legends. But Superman is exalted above the rest and even has his own holiday, Miracle Monday, where families gather for dinner and set a place for Superman, kinda like Passover and Elijah. This Miracle Monday, a guy named Riley Benedix returns home (from a Heroes’ Convention) for the special dinner, but an unexpected guest shows up … Superman himself, hurled through time by a quantum anomaly. Riley is the only one who realizes who their guest is, but the Benedixes invite him to share dinner with them and tell Superman the story of Miracle Monday. Riley says goodbye to Superman, who is kinda touched to be the object of such worship, and for decades afterward, Superman’s portion at the Miracle Monday dinner always gets eaten. Riley’s family assume he’s doing it, but Riley knows better. The last story is a doozy, like something Stapledon would’ve dreamed up, but it’s written and drawn by Jim Steranko. Millions of years in the future, Superman’s descendants have spread throughout the cosmos, but their powers have diminished through interbreeding with ordinary humans (whose own capacities have increased over countless generations). The Supermen have discovered a new skill known only to them: ARCing (Aurora Ray Conversion), which means they can change their bodies to pure energy. As human science advances, they map out the universe, discovering it’s finite and forbidding anyone to breach the barriers. But an accident near the edge of the universe creates a rift in the barrier, with reality flowing out of it like water down a drain. In order to plug the hole and possibly restore this universe, the Supermen teach humans to ARC, hoping that if every living being in the universe converts to energy, they can plug the hole in the barrier. As the entire population of the cosmos coalesces into ten bundles of energy, the last of the Supermen (A’Dam’Mkent) starts going nuts when he realizes he’s alone in the universe. He encases the ten energy bundles into capsules and shoots nine of them at the gap, plugging it and flinging A’Dam’Mkent and the final capsule across the universe. With the universe restored but now empty, A’Dam’Mkent laments his solitary fate until the final capsule opens and a woman emerges … an Eve for A’Dam’Mkent, with whom to repopulate the cosmos. Steranko certainly doesn’t think small, does he? And that’s it for the stories. There are a bunch of pin-ups sprinkled throughout the issue too, by Brian Bolland, Jack Kirby (and Terry Austin), John Byrne, Jack Davis, Leonard Starr, Walt Simonson, Bernie Wrightson, Steve Ditko, Mike Grell, Bill Sienkiewicz, Jerry Robinson, and Moebius.
This one starts with a guy escaping from prison. He’s been planning the escape for a while, but needs a little luck to pull it off, and he gets it when the guards’ spotlight blows out. Three weeks later, Superman stops by his Fortress of Solitude to drop off an alien mineral he’s been studying. After shelving the mineral with all the other alien substances he’s collected, Superman zooms to Metropolis just in time to appear as Clark Kent on the nightly news. Before Clark can begin his broadcast, he sees a live report from the Carroll County police station of some weirdo in a homemade costume flying around and trashing the station. Clark takes off, changing to Superman and heading out to the suburbs to stop the masked menace. The guy (who calls himself john Doe because he was a faceless prisoner for over two decades) lets Superman know he’s seeking revenge for being jailed on a false charge. Doe is wearing glowing handcuffs that seem to give him the power to fly and shoot force bolts. He blasts Superman, who shrugs off the impact easily. Doe switches tactics, tossing bombs at the crowd below and while Superman deals with that, Doe shakes the police station into a pile of rubble. Superman goes to grab Doe, but suddenly forgets how to fly and plummets to the ground. Doe takes off and the cops urge Superman to chase him, but Supes isn’t sure how, since he still can’t remember his ability to fly. By the time his memory returns, Doe is long gone and Superman is worried because Doe claimed the amnesia was his doing … and that he could do it again any time he wants. Later, we see Doe in touch with the Monitor, who hooked him up with whoever provided Doe’s advanced tech, but now the Monitor wants paid. At WGBS, Clark talks to Perry White, who’s still having marital problems, before having another weird memory lapse. This time, he recalls being Superman (and fighting John Doe), but forgets his secret identity as Clark Kent. After stripping off Clark’s clothes (luckily he’s already alone in his office), Supes goes out to look for John Doe. Doe is wreaking havoc at the courthouse, still trying to get vengeance for his wrongful conviction. (Judging by Doe’s thoughts, his conviction wasn’t wrong, since he killed someone in self-defense, plus “three others I had to kill”.) Superman confronts Doe and has another memory loss, this time forgetting his invulnerability and hiding under a truck to escape Doe’s energy blasts. Superman tosses a manhole cover that shatters Doe’s handcuffs and Doe freaks out and flies away. Superman’s memory is really getting bad now, as he forgets he’s Superman and wonders why Clark Kent would be parading around in a garish costume. He finally remembers his dual identity, but is worried that the lapses are getting worse. The next day, John Doe attacks the state prison, but Superman is there waiting for him, since it was the obvious place for Doe to strike next. Superman bags Doe without any trouble, but Doe refuses to say how he caused Superman’s amnesia. Superman finally realizes Doe was bullshitting about causing the amnesia and zips back to the Fortress to look at his alien mineral collection. Turns out one of the cases had a hairline crack in it … the one containing Amnesium, an alien ore that causes memory loss. When combined with the new mineral Superman deposited there, it caused progressive memory loss, which Superman cures with one of his machines. (The last few panels seem rushed, like the creators ran out of room to finish the story.) This villain kinda reminds me of Joe Smith from Amazing Spider-Man 38; he even wears a green and orange outfit like Joe Smith did.
“Ambush Bug” – Robert Loren Fleming/Keith Giffen/Bob Oksner
As promised on the cover, there’s an Ambush Bug story in this issue, but it’s just a back-up (and it’s pretty goofy, like most Ambush Bug stories). It’s hard to describe the story (the word “plot” doesn’t really work when talking about Ambush Bug), but basically Bug is a private eye who figures out Superman’s secret identity by noticing the obvious resemblance between him and Clark Kent. Then Bug gives us a weird origin story (which is probably bullshit) and then he decides to be a vigilante and starts by roughing up a Buick beside an expired parking meter and dropping it at police headquarters. Then Bug tries to emulate Wolverine and become a samurai, leaning into the whole blood and violence thing, but Clark tells him that’s already getting old. There are some funny moments, but surreal post-modern humour usually doesn’t work for me.
This one starts with Hawkman and Hawkgirl answering a distress call from space and finding a space station that looks like it’s been invaded by a hostile force. The distress call changes, displaying the name “Kal-El”, which the Hawks know is Superman’s Kryptonian name. They can’t get a signal through to Earth, so Hawkman heads onto the station, where he finds a bunch of yellow aliens (Orgons) surrounding a Kryptonian who looks close to death. Hawkman starts pounding the Orgons, who take off. But one of them stays behind and knocks Hawkman out. Since he has no other way to escape, the last Orgon boards the Hawks’ ship, knocks Hawkgirl out, and tosses her out the air-lock. On Earth, Clark Kent receives a telepathic distress call from the Kryptonian we saw on the space station and immediately changes to superman and heads out into space. He arrives just in time to help Hawkman bring Hawkgirl back aboard the Thanagarian ship, where they find the Orgon using the Absorbascon to glean knowledge from the Hawks’ computers. Superman has met Orgons before (in issue 51) and explains how they can’t develop their own science, but are great at adapting existing tech. Before they can grab the Orgon, he conjures up a device (something he learned to do from the Absorbascon) that lets him teleport away, leaving Superman to tell the Hawks about the Kryptonian distress call he got. Hawkman remembers the unconscious Kryptonian on the space station, who turns out to be Var-El, Superman’s great-grandfather, whose lab Hawkgirl discovered in issue 37. Superman tells the Hawks about his subsequent meeting with Var-El and the Atom (again in issue 51), but Supes doesn’t know about Professor Hyatt bringing Var-El to the present in that story, so he’s surprised to see him here. Elsewhere, the lone Orgon is pleased with his new ability to conjure up whatever tech he can think of, but decides he wants to conjure another Absorbascon. He realizes he’ll have to attack Thanagar and conjures a space fleet to help him. On the space station, Superman and the Hawks can’t wake Var-El and their efforts are interrupted by a distress call from Thanagar. The Orgon’s fleet is attacking, so Superman and the Hawks head back to help, soon realizing the attacking fleet are basically all drones commanded by the Orgon. Superman calls for the Orgon to face him one-on-one, but the Orgon blasts him with red sun radiation. On the Hawks’ ship, Var-El wakes up and figures out what’s going on. His powers are starting to return, so he uses the lab on the ship to prepare a defense against the Orgon’s tech. On Thanagar, Superman’s powers are gone due to the red sun blast, but his costume is still invulnerable, so he talks Hawkman into lending him his wings so he can go after the Orgon again. He makes it to the Orgon’s ship, but the Orgon conjures a weapon capable of killing Superman in his weakened state. Before he can waste Superman, Var-El shows up and grabs the Orgon, flying him out into space before he can react. Superman’s powers start returning and his telescopic vision shows him Var-El’s plan; he’s created a perfect vacuum out in space, so once Var-El and the Orgon are inside it, the Orgon won’t be able to conjure any weaponry since there are no molecules for him to transform. The Orgon still has the weapon he was going to use on Superman, but when he tries to transform it into something more useful, the feedback blows him and Var-El apart … which Var-El knew would happen. Superman is sad he never really got to talk with Var-El, but he’s proud his great-grandfather went out a hero, and believes Var-El may still be watching over him in a way.
This one starts with some assholes stealing a tank (the one taken from the Black Dragon Society in issue 30) and going on a rampage. Luckily, Robotman and Commander Steel are nearby and stop the tank, although Robotman gets his legs burned off by the tank’s flamethrower. While helping Robotman, Steel overhears a broadcast on a nearby radio from a Nazi propagandist called Lady Lorelei. She’s already crowing about Steel and Robotman’s trouble fighting the tank, which suggests she was close enough to see what was happening. She also mentions the capture of Captain Brad Farley, a name Steel recognizes as the husband of his ex, Gloria. Steel stops off at Gloria’s place (leaving Robotman in the alley) and goes up to talk to her. Gloria isn’t happy to see him, but she changes her mind when he unmasks and reveals that he’s Hank Heywood, her ex-fiancé. Gloria tells Hank she still cares for him, but she’s pregnant and wants her husband back. Hank vows to do everything he can to bring Brad home. At the Perisphere, Robotman is feeling down because his lack of humanity has been highlighted by his condition, but Steel gives him a pep talk and replaces his legs. The two of them are surprised to see Liberty Belle coming out of Johnny Quick’s room, followed closely by Johnny. Obviously they spent the night together and everyone tries to pretend it isn’t totally awkward. Johnny mentions some newsreels he’s put together to catch Hourman up on what he missed while stuck on Earth-X and Belle invites the others to join them. Tarantula and Firebrand turn up for the show and Hourman finally arrives, having been to Bannerman Chemicals to make sure he still has a job as Rex Tyler. They watch the newsreels which show the attack on Pearl Harbor, the progress of the war, and some of the All-Stars’ exploits. Hawkman and Green Lantern show up and fill the others in on their recent adventure with the Marvels (which we saw last issue) and Hawkman brings out some more newsreel footage, this time from the home front. This story is about race riots in Detroit that started when white racists tried to block black people from moving into some new houses. (This story is based on actual race riots in Detroit in 1942, although all the superheroics are obviously added.) The footage shows a black man being grabbed by a mob and tied to a cross by members of the Phantom Empire, which is some kind of Klan knock-off. The man is doused in gasoline and lit on fire, but he turns his body to steel , breaks loose, and takes off. The All-Stars recognize him as Will Everett (aka Amazing Man) and decide they’d better head to Detroit to stop anyone else from getting hurt. They’d better hurry, as we see the phantom Empire in Detroit has a new hero, a racist asshole in a jingoistic costume calling himself Real American.
- The All-Star Squadron’s jet plane (a modified Curtiss XP-55 Ascender) makes its debut in this story.
This one starts with Ultra-Humanite gloating over his imminent triumph and helpfully recapping the last few issues. He goes over his scheme to expose a number of JSA members to the Koehaha, the Waters of Ruthlessness, which has turned them into assholes: Superman is trying to destroy Metropolis, with only Power Girl to stand against him; Huntress was forced to take Robin down to keep him from killing Boss Zucco; Wonder Woman and Hawkman are heading for a confrontation with their respective offspring; and Ultra-Humanite himself buried Star-Spangled Kid and Brainwave Jr. in an avalanche. Ultra-Humanite worries that the original Brainwave might be able to stop him, but he’s trapped in Limbo, so he’s not really a threat. In Metropolis (which is still encased in the indestructible bubble Superman put over it), Power Girl tries to stop Superman from wrecking the city, but his strength and experience are too much for her. He beats the shit out of her and she decides she’d better get out before he kills her. Power Girl takes off, leaving the Army to try and stop the deranged Superman … good luck. In Washington, Fury drops by her parents’ townhouse, but nobody’s home. While reminiscing, she’s interrupted by Silver Scarab and Northwind, who couldn’t find Shiera Hall (Hawkwoman) either. Scarab mentions a new Egyptian exhibit (all about Horus) at the Metropolitan Museum in New York and figures Shiera might’ve gone there to look for Hawkman, since he’s a part-time archaeologist. Fury finds her father’s gun missing and a crumpled up newspaper clipping about the Horus exhibit, so the three of them head for New York. At the Metropolitan museum, Hawkman and Wonder Woman (both crazed from the Koehaha’s waters) bust in looking for Horus’s artifacts. Wonder Woman thinks they may contain the secret to immortality (which she gave up when she married Steve Trevor), while Hawkman is interested in the entire Horus exhibit, since he believes himself to be a reincarnation of an Egyptian priest. But the Waters of Ruthlessness make cooperation impossible among these former friends. Hawkman slaps handcuffs coated with Ninth Metal on Wonder Woman’s wrists, rendering her helpless and sending her flying up into the sky. Silver Scarab and Northwind rescue her and she fakes hem into getting the cuffs off her. Fury confronts Hawkman and he starts pounding her, but before he can finish her, Silver Scarab melts his mace. Wonder Woman shows her true colours and attacks Hawkman. Northwind tries to toss a net over her, but she busts out and hefts a statue of Horus. Before she can throw it, Steve comes in and startles her, causing her to drop the statue right in front of Steve. A piece of it hits him and Wonder Woman freaks out, admitting she didn’t want immortality for herself, but for Steve. Unfortunately, it looks as though she may have killed him instead.