Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day! Review: Action Comics #463

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Americans!

While I usually try to stick to relevant Supergirl issues when I head to the back issue box, I thought I would take a look at Action Comics #463, a perfectly patriotic story released way back in 1976, American's Bicentennial. It definitely taps into the general zaniness of the late Silver Age too!

Written by Superman great Cary Bates and drawn by legendary artist Curt Swan, this issue has Superman becoming involved in one of the most important events of American history. And while Supergirl isn't anywhere in this book, it seemed appropriate for me to share this story.

I mean what could be better than seeing Superman among the Founding Fathers as they sign the Declaration of Independence.

One of the things that I like in some of issues of this time period are the narrator boxes which sometimes speak directly to the reader. The opening lines are great. "Witness readers ... Superman had nothing to do with this historic document. Or did he?" I liked that stuff as a younger reader.

And the title is pretty mysterious and ominous. 'Die now ... live later!'

The story opens with Clark Kent going to work ... for Ben Franklin at the Pennsylvania Gazette. Kent is supposed to be present for the signing of the Declaration of Independence to report on it for the newspaper.

Now the interesting thing here is that Clark seems to think he belongs there. He doesn't realize he is out of his time ... or even that he is Superman. And everyone around him seem to know him. How could this all be?

After accepting his assignment, Clark runs into John Hancock!

It is a good thing that Clark is around though. Some horses nearby become spooked by something and go tearing down the street. Just as they are about to trample some young children, Clark runs them down and drags them to a stop. It is clear that even if he doesn't realize it, he has his super-powers. While people explain it away by the muddy conditions of the road, Clark realizes he has extraordinary strength.

Yes ... he has 'super-strength'.

I love this recap of questions in the 'Liberty Bell' panel. Again, here with the narrator speaking to me as a reader, it engaged me. Here are the mysteries I should be trying to solve.

And things get even more confusing.

Clark stumbles onto some British sympathizers plotting in a back alley. Fearing Clark has heard what they are planning, they attack him. With relative ease, Clark is able to deflect their attacks.

Looking in a discarded mirror, Clark sees himself in his Superman costume. Confused by this 'hallucination', he pauses allowing the plotters to escape. But he again has no idea how he has the strength to bend brass or why he would see himself in such a crazy outfit.

As readers, we are finally let in on some of the mystery.

In the present day of 1976, Superman battled a foe called Karb-Brak. This alien has a severe allergy to all beings with super-powers similar to Superman. His whole home world was populated with super-beings so he had to flee it simply to survive. Landing on Earth, Brak realized that the simple presence of Superman would eventually kill him. Karb-Brak is not evil. He simply wants to live. And the only way to survive is to send Superman away.

So he sent Superman into the past. And to keep him there, he used a psi-machine to implant a lifetime's worth of memories as a non-powered colonist into Superman's mind. And he also used the psi-machine to brainwash all the colonists into thinking that Clark had lived there all their lives.

Wow ... that is some crazy plot. And that is some powerful psi-machine. And I guess sending him to 1776 was just crazy or bad luck? Seems silly.

Back in 1776 though, Superman's inherent powers begin to manifest more and more. He suddenly manifests x-ray vision and super-hearing which reveal that the Tory spies from earlier have tunneled their way into Independence Hall. Their goal ... to steal the Declaration of Independence before it can be signed.

It is too much for Clark to bear. Instinctively he runs, tearing his clothes off and yelling 'This is a job for Su ... for Su ....' He still doesn't fully realize who he is.

Until he once again sees his reflection in a puddle, a reflection which shows him in his costume.

It turns out the psi-machine created a hypnotic suggestion that Clark was dressed in colonial garb when in actuality he was in his costume. Once he remembered he was Superman, the hypnotic spell was broken and he appears in his costume ... much to the surprise of the on-lookers.

Bursting into Independence Hall, Superman rounds up the spies and drops them off for some Revolutionary justice with George Washington! Man, Superman is meeting a lot of great Americans from that time period.

But he still has a job to do ... he needs to get the Declaration back to the signing table.

And he is able to bring it back just in time for the delegates to sign it signifying America's freedom.

With that historic event set right, Superman speeds back to present day.

Who knew that Superman played such a crucial role in America's birthday! Yes it is classic Silver Age silliness ... but sometimes that is okay.

But the ending of this issue is even more bizarre.

Superman flies straight to Karb-Brak, knowing that the proximity will only speed the alien's death from anaphylactic shock. Now why would Superman want to hasten his death?

Now I try not to question comic book medicine because it is usually preposterous as it is in this case.

Turns out Superman wants Karb-Brak to die so he can then revive him. He hopes this death, even for a few moments, will break the allergic fever thus curing Karb-Brak.

Now I am pretty sure that the pre-existing allergy should still be present even if Karb-Brak dies. So this is a rather crazy medical decision making.

But ... I suppose not surprisingly ... it works. Karb-Brak is resuscitated and 'cured' of his allergy to Superman.

And now the craziest twist of the story, Superman uses the psi-machine to erase Karb-Brak's memories and implants the memories of a construction worker. Apparently Karb-Brak also has the ability to change into a human form when he isn't dying.

Now why would Superman erase Karb-Brak's mind? Isn't this a pretty significant version of a mind-wipe? Karb-Brak only acted irrationally because he was dying. Cured of his malady, maybe he would be a hero, an ally, or at least appreciative of Superman's help. Instead, Superman brainwashes him, expunging his true identity for this mundane existence. That just doesn't sound like Superman to me.

So after saving America's birthday and being a great Revolutionary hero, Superman dabbles in the dark side a bit.

Still on this holiday, let's dwell on the fun parts, Superman stopping British sympathizers, meeting Franklin, Hancock and Washington, and saving the Declaration of Independence.

No grade here ... just summertime fun!


Martin Gray said...

Oh, I remember reading that one as a kid, but I thought that was a happy ending - 'Andrew Meda, ha ha' was likely my reaction. I'm trying to recall whether Karb-Brak (however did Julie Schwarz resist blurbing him as 'The Palindromic Villain'?) ever appeared again. I hope not, maybe he's happily married to an air hostess named Misty who finds it tough to recall why she gave birth to a superbaby as a teenager ...

Curt Swan and Tex Blaisdell produced some stonkingly nice work there, didn't they? And that cover is just gorgeous, composition and colour. Cardy?

Thanks for the review, and happy Independence Day to all.

Anonymous said...

I miss Curt Swan...

John Feer

Sean said...

I LOVED this storyline as a kid. And yes, he does appear again when his allergy is set off by Vartox who came to Earth to rekindle his powers. Anyway, I loved his design (I thought he looked like a zany Irishman with the red hair and colourful garb). Karb-Brak thought Steve Lombard was Superman, and also had people loving Clark Kent! A great 4 parter (I think it was 4)

Tom said...

This was my very first comic book.I have a page of the original art. Loved it as a kid