Friday, February 3, 2023

Review: Superman #311

Last week, on a lark, I reviewed Superman #312, the second part of a 4 part story. The response was very positive with folks wanting to hear more about the story itself. Perhaps starting with part 2 wasn't the best choice.

So I am here today to catch you up! Today I cover Superman #311, by Marty Pasko, Curt Swan, and Frank Springer. The issue sports a delightful cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. If you are looking for a cover that screams ' buy me' from the spinner rack it is this one. Superman being manhandled by a horned unknown villain. People dying around him from plague! Guest starring the Flash! This one has it all true believer.

Pasko does a great job for an opening chapter, dropping us into the action scene immediately and then catching us up. There are a lot of mysteries here. Who is the villain in the scientist (revealed in #312)? Who is the newcomer in the trench coat? What is causing the new plague? And how can Superman recover from an philosophical crisis? Add to that a lot of supporting cast interactions, including the worst 'Steve Lombard is a jerk' scene on record, and you have a winner! And all that in 17 pages!

As I said in the prior review, Springer on Swan is a weird mix. But the action is brisk and beautiful. It is the more character driven scenes that seem to suffer here.

On to the book!

As I said, 'Plagie of the Antibiotic Man!' starts in the middle of the action.

We know this villain to be Nam-Ek. And here, he uses the Flash like a cudgel, batting Superman through the 'Welcome to Central City' roadside sign!

What the heck is going on!

The action continues!

The dialogue has Superman accusing Nam-Ek of starting the plague in Central City, something he denies.

The brawl continues until Nam-Ek punches the Flash right into orbit. 

The Flash should be dead. But Pasko plays a little loose with the capabilities of the Flash's protective aura. It somehow keeps his head attached and gives him enough warmth and oxygen to survive the rigors of space briefly. 

Keep that moment in mind. We'll get there!

But we turn back the clock. 

Outside Earth, a spaceship disguised as an asteroid arrives to Earth. The evil mastermind (we know is Amalak) has arrived with his plan to finally achieve peace.

Some things to point out. One, the fact the pet Jevik is so prominently featured and name should be noted. Details like that aren't usually mentioned unless the beast is going to be a feature in the story.

Second, we see that Amalak is focused in on a train. The train has Clark, Lois, and Steve Lombard all on their way to Central City for a journalist conference. Lombard is a complete jerk, telling his nephew Jamie  (who is joining Lombard) about how much of a wimp Clark is, and playing a prank on Clark like a bully.

In Central City, things start to unfold.

Jamie just happens to find a stray dog that he decides to keep. 

Hmmm ...

A being in a purple trench coat and large fedora seems to appear on the roof of the hotel where the conference is being held.

At the same time, two skiers get caught on the ski-lift. And when Superman and the Flash rescue them, they are found to be ill with a splotchy rash.

Welcome patients 0 and 1.

Here is one of my absolute favorite scenes in the book! Scenes like this add depth to supporting characters and make comic worlds feel three dimensional.

First off, at this time Lois is not working for the Planet. Interesting!

When Lois tries to inteview The Flash about the rescue, Iris West shows up. Iris basically accuses Lois of being a groupie. She thinks Lois is hitting on the Flash because Superman never committed. 

Now we know Iris is married to Barry but Lois must think this came out of nowhere. It sounds very personal.

What a fun little 3 panels giving us some depth to Iris!

But then more people collapse with the plague just as Superman discovers Nam-Ek skulking around. 

He and the Flash confront him, assuming that the plague arriving when Nam-Ek did is causation and not coincidence. We get right into the fight we opened with.

I love how in the middle of this book, Pasko must have realized he has thrown a lot at the reader! He gives us a recap panel! I loved it. 

And that dog is being mentioned way too much to be an innocent detail. Hmmm ...

Since there was no internet back in 1977, Pasko gives us a nice recap of Nam-Ek's tragic origin.

I covered the first appearance here!

Superman assumes that somehow over time, Nam-Ek's healing powers must have twisted to being a disease-causing aura. 

Since both are Kryptonian, Superman has to figure out a way to just slow down Nam-Ek.

In what has to be a moment that defies logic, he scoops up a nearby volcano like a bowl and dumps the lava on Nam-Ek!

One volcanoes don't really work like that. But who cares! Superman dumps a volcano on a villain! Amazing!

But it is also worth nothing that Superman says he is struggling to lift this thing.

When the dust settles, Nam-Ek is nowhere to be found! He must have been incinerated!

Superman's weakness is explained. There was Green K infused into the lava.

Superman has killed!

Look at the anguish on Superman's face. He has broken his most important vow. He has vowed not to kill and he has.

Any time we read something that says Superman should kill people, they should be shown his turmoil in this story over thinking he has killed.

But then, things get even worse for our hero.

More plague victims crop up. Lois become afflicted. 

It means Nam-Ek wasn't the cause of the plague. Even worse, he could have been the cure! But now, Superman's foolhardy move has both killed Nam-Ek and doomed the humans. 

What a story! What a cliffhanger!

Pasko knew how to bring it. In 17 pages, he has established plot, subplots, and conflicts. If only Springer's inks didn't muddy up Swan's pencils so much, this would be an easy A+!

But wait! There's more to come!

Overall grade: A


Anonymous said...

I forgot how thickly plotted this four part serial was, basically Amalak is continually gaslighting Superman by various means, when he isn’t just plain out to humiliate and kill Kal El. It is such a huge mess properly telegraphed by Pasko, that Supergirl has to fly in next ish and try to sort it all out. “Same Old, Same Old for Supergirl”…:)
I won’t go into the details here, but I like how Supergirl holds up against Amalak, she can dish it out and take it is the overall message, much better performance than in Superman #195 where she was plucky but ultimately jobbed and damseled out.
Anyway I’d love to see this one in a nice slender TPB, it’ll never happen but it’s nice to think about…

Tim Price said...

I never owned this issue, but somehow I read it as a kid. Maybe a classmate had it? Or the English teacher had it on the stack of random this game to read? Either way, punching Flash into space is burned in my memory as awesome and terrifying. I'll have to see about reading this 4 parter sometime just for the closure. Thanks Anj!

Maxo said...

What a great issue, the kind that made me fall in love with Superman in the first place.

Yikes, Iris, settle down. You're right, that's a suspiciously strong reaction, and I'd bet Lois would be wondering about that if she had the time. Leave it to Pasko to include intriguing little details: I've never seen Lois referred to as a "super-hero groupie" before, and I love Iris calling Metropolis "Metro." It makes total sense that there'd be slang like that.

Anonymous said...

I think I kind of love the fact that Lois is enough of a celebrity in the Bronze Age Super Verse to have her detractors and haytahs….I wish more had be done alone these lines back then.


H said...

Lois had a fan club in the Silver Age, so it makes sense that there'd be backlash among the other superhero love interests.

I'm with Maxo though- Iris had way too strong of a reaction there. I'd expect this sort of thing from Jean Loring but not Iris West! And if there was any brunette who could be accused of superhero groupie behavior in the Bronze Age, it's Black Canary. That's just how Denny O'Neil wrote her. Lois is a Supes girl through and through.

Marty Pasko did have a tendency to pick fights between superhero love interests, though. He was the one who put Clark and Lana together for a time, and that's why Lois isn't with the Planet in this story. It makes for good drama but I don't know if it really makes for good superhero stories.

Oh, and watch it with that 'true believer' stuff, Anj- that's more for Marvelites.

Anj said...

Thanks for the comments!

I am having fun reviewing this and it gets even nuttier!

I do like the focus on his 'no killing code' as a central theme.