Monday, January 16, 2023

Back Issue Box: Superman #312

When I do back issue reviews here I often try to tie them to some sort of theme or plot that is happening in books currently on the rack.

Sometimes I look at them because I do a deep dive in some aspect of Supergirl's history, like the recent look at Comet's origin.

So why I am I looking at Superman #312?

Is it the great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez cover, showing Superman and Supergirl teaming up to fight Amalak? Is it writer Marty Pasko's recognizing Supergirl's history or his deepening of Kryptonian lore? Is it the interesting if imperfect teaming of penciler Curt Swan with inker Frank Springer?

All of those would be good enough reasons. But they weren't THE reason. 

It is that recently I saw this picture of Mork reading the issue on an episode of Mork and Mindy.

This is a wild issue. It is a primer on Bronze Age story-telling, covering a lot of plot in a scant 17 pages. It is the second part of a four part story. (I suppose I should cover all of them here.) And while Supergirl is made a damsel in distress in the story, she also is treated with respect by Pasko who makes her act like Superman's colleague, not sidekick or mentee. 

On to the book.

As mentioned above, "Today the city ... tomorrow the world" was written by Marty Pasko with art by Curt Swan and Frank Springer.

I love this splash page, a grabber for sure You can see the anguish in Superman's face as we see the problems Superman is facing. The Flash and Lois are dying. And Superman has killed the one person who could save them. And it looks like he did it by dumping lava on the being. This would certainly get me interested.

Frank Springer's inks are an interesting overlay on Swan's pencils. You can make out this is Swan but it look much more like Springer's are than Swan's. Springer sort of overpowers here. 

In Central City, a disease has broken out at the World News Conference, afflicting all those attending with 'Journalists' Disease'. Superman is there to help, building a medical facility. But he is also in some anguish because Lois has been laid low.

Who shows up but Linda Danvers? She was a news reporter once. Now a guidance counselor, she is chaperoning a field trip of her students to the conference. 

She switches to Supergirl and wonders why Superman didn't use Nam-Ek's healing power to cure the dying journalists.

So much to love on this page. Supergirl is definitely mature here, acting more like a peer to Superman than she is usually portrayed. I love how Pasko alludes to her history as a news reporter, true in the latter half of her run headlining Adventure Comics. And I like that Supergirl recognizes the 'horned monster' Superman fought as Nam-Ek. After all, she was there to hear about Nam-Ek's first story.

This is a good page to illustrate Springer's inks. Look at those two close-ups of Linda and Kara. Those don't look like Swan faces.

Superman breaks down, an interesting show of vulnerability in front of his cousin and another sign that she is really his equal in this book. 

Superman fought Nam-Ek in the previous issue and defeated the half human/half rondor villain by pouring lava from an active volcano onto Nam-Ek, But somehow the immortal Kryptonian was incinerated by lava, presumably by Kryptonite in the lava.

I love how important the 'no kill' rule is hammered home by Pasko. Superman is so distraught over his belief he killed Nam-Ek that he says he has to quit being a hero. He asks Supergirl to join him as he goes to tell the JLA he is retiring.

On the satellite, Superman checks on the Flash who was decked by Nam-Ek in the prior issue. Thankfully, Green Lantern can use his ring to save the Scarlet Speedster. 

Moreover, Green Lantern discovered some interference when he rescued the Flash, a teleportation beam where Nam-Ek had been engulfed by the lava. Nam-Ek is alive.

Sure enough, the cousins can track the teleportation ray from the volcano to an orbiting ship. 

Love the first panel with the cousins giddy that Nam-Ek could be alive. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking Supergirl?" So casual and collegial. 

Inside the ship is Amalak, the Kryptonian Killer.

Amalak introduced the plague on Earth afflicting the journalists. And now he has convinced Nam-Ek to join him in his quest to kill the super-cousins. 

With two villains to fight, our heroes need a strategy. Supergirl instructs Superman to go after Nam-Ek. She hopes Superman can get Nam-Ek back to Earth where his healing touch can save the journalists.

But Nam-Ek is immortal, heals instantly, and now has the powers of a Kryptonian under a yellow sun. And he harbors a grudge on Superman for the battle they had in the previous issue. 

Nam-Ek is supposedly monstrous and reeks. He looks every bit the monster.

Again, it is cool that Supergirl is the one to guide the cousins efforts here. 

Meanwhile, Supergirl tries to battle Amalak only to be caught in battle against his 'electro-surrogate'. 

Using some decent fighting skills, Supergirl forces the creature to explode but it is a trap. The flash is as bright as a supernova, blinding Kara.

Nice action in that second panel And I like how Supergirl is trying to figure out Amalak's motives here. Pasko really treated her as an established and intelligent hero.

Blinded, Supergirl is helpless as Nam-Ek uses a Star Cannon, a gun that could actually kill a Kryptonian to stun her.

I have been singing the praises of Pasko's handling of Supergirl. But here she is clearly downgraded to a damsel in distress, a plot point to push Superman's story forward.

It gets even more ridiculous unfortunately. Superman defeats Nam-Ek by encasing the villain in quartz, refracting the yellow sun rays away from Nam-Ek, making him powerless.

But when Superman returns to the ship, Amalak has Supergirl tied to a chair with a gun to her head. That's a damsel.

I don't understand Amalak. He states that he hates Kryptonians so you think he'd just off Supergirl. But instead he tells Superman that he'll allow Kal to take Nam-Ek to Earth but only if he can keep Kara on board.

Superman assumes that Amalak will kill his cousin. But he knows he needs Nam-Ek to cure everyone. But if Amalak was going to kill Kara wouldn't he have done it already?

Superman makes his choice. He grabs Nam-Ek and flies off. 

Once out of sight, Amalak taunts Supergirl about how Superman won't find the cause of the plague. 

And with Superman gone, Amalak points to gun at Kara, the intent to kill. But why not just kill her before when he knocked her out?? 

Despite the ending and Supergirl being captured, I do love this issue. (Some of that might be because I remember how Supergirl responds next issue.) I love how Supergirl is treated before that, especially that scene as Linda. I love Supergirl deciding on the cousins's battle plan and how she handled the electro-surrogate. I love Pasko including Nam-Ek, a character he created. And I like this enriching of Krypton's history. So lots to love here in an issue featured on an ABC sit-com from the 80s.

Wondering if I should continue looking at this story!

Overall grade: B


William Ashley Vaughan said...

Please, do review the rest of the story. Martin Pasko's run on Superman was one of the best anyone has ever done and his Supergirl writing is always interesting.

H said...

I'd vote yes as well- Marty Pasko's not my favorite Superman writer of that era, but he did a good job with the material.

I feel like Amalek's characterization has lot to do with his biblical namesake. That one is one of the few people the Jewish people are actively encouraged to boo and hiss at (along with all the villains of later stories said to be his descendants) so it makes sense he'd be a mustache-twirling style bad guy. Come to think of it, I think Nam-Ek is a biblical reference too- Marty Pasko really leaned in on the characters that referenced Superman's creators' Jewish heritage, didn't he?

Kinofreak said...

Yes please

Anonymous said...

Yes, also please review.

Is that the same Amalak from Superman #195? Or no?

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Will do my best to review the rest soon (including part 1, issue #311)!

Anonymous said...

Yes its the same Amalek from way back in Superman #195 (an Issue where Supergirl is really "damseled" for the most part)...I like this four parter chiefly because it demonstrates that Supergirl can both dish it out and take it. She gets knocked around a lot but she picks herself up off the canvass every time to battle on. Thus creating yet another Bronze Age example of Supergirl really really shining in guest shots outside her own feature, it is an ongoing pattern for her in the 1970's.
Yeah review the whole damn thing, its a good solid read.


Martin Gray said...

What everyone says, Anj, review the whole story. It’s so weird to remember that Journalists’ Disease was a nod to the then-recent Legionnaires’ Disease. It’s the Most Seventies Thing in the Issue (he wrote, advising everyone to check out the Batman Family Reunion podcast). Nam-Ek was such a tragic character, while Amalak (a reference to Amalek? I never knew that, I thought it was a pun on Amtrak!) was a nice change from Luthor and co.

Those Frank Springer inks look so much worse than I remember, and I like Springer’s solo art.

H said...

Yeah, there were quite a few references to Judaism and biblical names in Silver and Bronze Age Superman. There are even a few books out there about it and some of the other Jewish references in comics.