Tuesday, February 9, 2010

500 Posts So ... Back Issue Box: Action Comics #500

Sometime last week I broke 500 posts on this blog. Who knew I had so much to talk about?

It's hard for me to believe it's true. I can't deny the numbers.

500 posts feels like a milestone of some sort so I figured I'd celebrate a little by reviewing Action Comics #500.

Written by Marty Pasko and drawn by Superman legend Curt Swan, the issue reads like a primer of Superman lore touching on all the most relevant pieces of the Superman mythos.

As a kid I loved this cover, drawn by Ross Andru and inked by Dick Giordano. For one, the pink background is actually reprints of some of the more famous Action Comics covers including aniversary issues #100, #200, #300, and #400. It also includes one my favorite Supergirl covers, Action Comics #285. I was 9 when this comic came out, long before there was an easy way to see old covers, so I thought it was nifty to peek into the past this way. I also liked how the cover is one of those 'never ending covers' ... Lois Lane and Supergirl holding up a copy of the issue which shows them holding up the issue which then shows them holding up the issue and so on.

The title of the story is appropriate. This issue truly is 'The Life Story of Superman'.

The framework story has Superman arriving at the grand opening of a new Superman Museum in Metropolis. Superman arrives and 'cuts the ribbon' by heat visioning through an iron girder. The lucky crowd there is allowed to walk through the museum with Superman as a personal tour guide, filling in details of his youth and origins. Included in the crowd are all of Superman's friends: Lois, Lana, Perry White, etc.

Of course, the tour starts with the Krypton room with Superman literally reliving his early days. He is convinced by the museums benefactor Mr. Arngrim to wear a Kryptonian 'mind prober ray helmet' so that the crowd can get a near eyewitness recollection of the young Kal-El's last days on his home planet.

We hear about Jor-El's research, the Science Council's ignorance, the Krypto test rocket, and finally the fateful day when Kal is placed in a rocket and fired towards Earth.

But nothing can be as simple as a museum tour.

For while Superman shares his memories, something nefarious is happening in the museum's basement. A mysterious figure with an even more mysterious tube of green gas seems to be feeding off of Superman's memories.

Leaving the Krypton room, the group heads to the Smallville room. There Superman silently remembers all about his early years. He recalls the rocket crashing, the Kents dropping him off at an orphanage only to return a couple of days later to pick him up.

We see the creation of the super-suit able to withstand the wild energy of a super-toddler. We see a young Clark wrestle a bull, discover his x-ray vision, and fly for the first time.

While Superman never mentions the Kents, he does tell the basis of the stories to the crowd.

Meanwhile, the nature of the gas tube becomes more apparent. It seems as Superman walks the patrons through his life, a clone is growing at an alarming rate. Here is the super-toddler, nicely grown as Superman talks about those early years.

And here is the clone now grown to Superboy age. Freed from the gas tube, the clone now is wearing an electronic skull cap, Superman's memories being fed directly into it's brains.

Superman remembers the creation of his glasses, the re-invention of Clark Kent as a slouched klutz, and the beginnings of his super adventures.

All these are important parts of the Superman history, but I liked this one too much not to post.

I love how the importance of having Krypto, a super-friend he could fly and explore with, is so evident here. We have seen this theme, the isolation of being a super-being, played out as recently as Superman Secret Origin when Clark enjoys the company of the Legionnaires. To hear that his dog helped him bear the pain of loneliness was sort of touching.

I had to chuckle when Lois and Lana call him on it, whispering that he can get choked up about his dog but never seems to show his emotions to them.

But those carefree days of Smallville come to a tragic end. The Kents succumb to an exotic tropical disease. Despite his great powers, Clark is unable to save his parents. It is a tragedy that moves him. Pa's dying words remind Clark that he was put here to help people. At their grave site, Clark promises them he will be all they wanted him to be.

And so the Metropolis part of his story begins. We hear about the discovery and eventual restoration of Kandor, the creation of the Fortress of Solitude, the many types of Kryptonite, and the beginnings of his rogues gallery.

And we hear about he isn't that alone after all.

Supergirl gets a nice splash page recapping her life and career. There are nice homages to the covers of Action Comics #252 and Action Comics #285. Superman proudly talks about how Supergirl is a hero in her own right.

As usual, Swan does a great job here.

But if Superman is now up to date on his life story, that means the clone must be adult aged as well!

The mysterious villain's plan has come to fruition. The floor below Superman drops out from under him and the clone is replaced in the museum. Superman, powerless, dazed from nearby Green Kryptonite, bathed in red sun rays, and placed on a floor mimicking Krypton' s heavy gravity, faces his greatest villain ...

That's right Lex Luthor is behind the whole thing. But you already guessed that, didn't you?

Turns out that Arngrim is also a clone and was able to grab a sample of Superman's when they shook hands at the museum's opening ceremonies. Using those cells, Lex grew his clone. And while he fed his clone Superman's pilfered memories, he altered them slightly so his Superman would listen and obey Lex. With a Superman slave clone at his beck and call, Lex would then kill the real Superman, replacing him.

Unfortunately, Lex decides to fall into the usual pitfall that many Silver Age villains do ... he becomes too elaborate. Instead of simply killing Superman, he sets up a complicated death trap. When one of the patrons leaves the museum, they will break an electric eye triggering a laser that will kill Superman and an explosion that will demolish the museum and kill all of Superman's friends.

Devious? Yes. Wicked? Yes.

But you would think Lex wouldn't take any chances even if the trap is poetically malevolent.

The clone is almost too well trained by Lex. He begins talking about Luthor to the crowd. But his words ring false as he call Luthor a humanitarian. Lois and Lana begin to wonder if something is wrong.

Thank goodness that Luthor has decided to make another amateurish mistake.

He leaves the keys to Superman's cell hanging on a nearby hook! I guess Luthor hasn't seen any old swashbuckler movies or episodes of Bonanza.

Superman takes advantage, using Clark's tie and his belt to get the keys. Then, sneaking out of the cage, he turns off the red sun and gravity plates, restoring his powers. He easily takes out Luthor, who is too thrilled with himself to notice Superman slinking around.

With Luthor out of the way, Superman needs to take out his super-powered clone. A variety of punches, kicks, and super-breath blows the clone into the museum's Kryptonite display filled with actual Kryptonite! Exposed to the Gold K, the clone's powers are immediately and irrevocably removed.

I can't believe they had real Kryptonite? Wouldn't this place be attacked by every super-villain hoping to get their hands on Kryptonite?

With Luthor and the clone captured, Superman realizes that adventures like these are the real story of his life.

After reading this issue again, I realize just what a great Cliff Notes version of the Silver Age Superman it is. Drawn lovingly by Swan, it still looks good. And even the silliness of Luthor reads as it should ... like the typical nonsense Silver Age villains always succumbed to.

This issue is usually in the $5 box at conventions and is a nice piece to have in a comic collection. And while not a Supergirl issue, it would be a good part of a Supergirl collection as well.

Overall grade: A (smothered in nostalgia)


Anonymous said...

I love everything about this issue, even Luthor's doomed clone conspiracy...Except the late Frank Chiaramonte's scratchy hasty looking inks! Curt Swan always had a lush line to his pencils, good emotional content and a flair for action executed in single panels...Chiaramonte's inks do their best to obliterate this IMHO.
Would much rather have seen Bob Oksner or even Kurt Schaffenberger do the honors on a critical issue like this...
Still it was a fun recap and Supergirl looks goo-od on the cover, like she was a key member of the franchise or something.
Go figure that!
John Feer

Diana_Fan said...

What a wonderful post! I wish I had this issue.

BTW, I posted a thread over at YABS on Comics Book Resources, touting your 500th post, and your blog in general.

I may not always agree with you, but you definitely do the Maid of Might a wonderful service, and I come here every day, mostly.

Anyways, congrats!

-- diana-fan

Anj said...

Still it was a fun recap and Supergirl looks goo-od on the cover, like she was a key member of the franchise or something.
Go figure that!

I know! I think it's great that Supergirl was on the cover!

Anj said...

BTW, I posted a thread over at YABS on Comics Book Resources, touting your 500th post, and your blog in general.

I may not always agree with you, but you definitely do the Maid of Might a wonderful service, and I come here every day, mostly.

Thanks so much for the post and glad you come around! I'm always open to hearing different opinions.

And thanks for the YABS post.

TalOs said...

Yet another blast from the past super gem dusted off and posted for us fans to enjoy, Anj. :D

Saranga said...

that is a really great recap issue of silver age supes - thanks for posting it!