Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Back Issue Review: Action Comics #555

My copy of Action Comics #555, signed by Paul Kupperberg
In less than a week the Supergirl season two premiere will air on the CW. We have all seen the trailers and sneak peeks of Supergirl and Superman happily teaming up, working as allies and loving as family. It is refreshing! And exciting.

With that in sort of feeling in mind, I thought I would review Action Comics #555, an issue where Superman shows how much he appreciates and loves Supergirl. This isn't really a team-up but it is one of my favorite issues of the cousins. This is part one of a two part story (the second appearing in Supergirl (vol 2) #20) celebrating Supergirl's 25th anniversary.

Writer Paul Kupperberg was guiding Supergirl's stories at the times and penned this book. I am not surprised to see his name in the credits as he is a huge fan of Kara. Who better to write this celebration! The art  on the interiors is done by Curt Swan and David Hunt and really has a classic feel. But I love the cover by Eduardo Barreto and Bob Oksner of the two cousins playfully flying together while the menace of the Parasite looms over them. I love his sneering dialogue! "It'll be her last anniversary!" So much fun!

On to the story!

 "Reunion" reads like a Superman solo story but impacts Supergirl and is truly the first part of the story and so settle in. One thing that I love about this issue on this reread is that it totally reminds me of the formula for Superman books at the time. It also showcased some of the strengths of the book. People occasionally guffaw at the Bronze Age as a silly or creatively dead period. But read this issue and you'll see what has been missing from books recently.

We start out with a nice action sequence. Superman is flying through the city when he notices an emergency. A crane at a construction site crumples under its own weight. Streaking to the scene, Superman is not only able to save the construction worker plummeting to his death but also grab the crane before it can hit the ground.

These simple scenes, not tied to the main plot, just shows that Superman is here to help. It doesn't have to be Darkseid or Luthor to rouse him to action. It can be a simple, non-super emergency. Scenes like this informed me of Superman's selflessness and humanity as a kid.

Unfortunately Superman doesn't see a menacing figure in a trench coat and fedora who is biding his time.

Clark streaks to the Daily Planet for a meeting with his colleagues. Of course, he is slightly late.

But again, in a scene that doesn't impact the main plot, we see Clark interact with his supporting cast and we learn so much about them. Producer Josh Colby is popping antacids and complaining about his ulcer. Morgan Edge sneers about how he can make anyone a 'talent' and Kent being late might get him fired.

And there is Lana, telling Clark he is lucky that Edge hasn't killed him.

I think a supporting cast is crucial to a book. For Superman, I need to see his Clark side, the thing that ties him to Earth. These characters enrich a book. And supporting casts and character scenes like these seem to be missing from books these days.

As for the menacing unknown figure, he runs into a ruffian on the street. The thug talks about his martial arts prowess only to suddenly feel drained of his knowledge.

So a couple of things. One, this isn't a mystery! Parasite is on the freaking cover!

Second, do people like this exist? Parasite accidentally bumps into him on a crowded sidewalk and he immediately goes into attack mode. I suppose bullies are real.

Finally, with a second to take a breath, Clark calls his cousin and tells her he needs to meet her at Midvale. And she needs to be there at exactly 12:17.  Kara isn't sure why things need to be so exact. But she doesn't mind a little mystery.

How great to see Swan's version of Kara, especially in that costume!

And I love the easy conversation between the two cousins. They like hanging out and are looking forward to being together.

Still, Kara has super-memory. Can't she figure out what this is all about?

The phone conversation is cut a little short when Lana arrives with some milk for Clark.

 In this scene, she seems to be vamping with Clark. She tells Clark he is strong and brave and leans in close to tell him how she is impressed by his courage.

Was she trying to woo Clark at this time? Remember, she had been wholly shot down by Superman years earlier.

While in the Planet, Clark feels woozy only to find Parasite in the supply closet.

Very quickly, Parasite drains Clark dry. He is going to defeat Superman this day.

And yet, after knocking out Clark, he leaves. Why wouldn't he kill Superman when he had the chance? Maybe he has a bigger plot in mind?

Awakening in the arms of Lana, Clark says he tripped and needs to head home to lie down.

But then he switches to Superman to scour the city. But even Superman is confused why Parasite didn't just finish him off.

What follows is a ridiculous set of pages where Superman is again drained by the Parasite but continues to fight him while powerless. We even see Superman riding on Parasite's back while the villain flies through the streets. It is inane.

But Parasite keeps saying weird things about how he has a time when he needs Superman to die. 'In about a half an hour, you'll be dead!' he yells. Weird.

Powerless, Superman is flown into the sky and deposited in a floating 'coffin' the Parasite has made (after draining the knowledge from a STAR Labs employee).

The Parasite seals Superman in with just a few minutes of air so that Superman will die at noon, exactly on schedule! Unfortunately, we don't learn about why the timing needs to be so precise in this issue. That is revealed in the next part in Supergirl!

Parasite continues to monologue a bit and says something strange. He says that Superman still has his powers and could break out at any time if he tried. But since he is unaware, he will die. But I don't know how a powered Superman could suffocate. 

Confusing monologue aside, this looks like Superman is doomed.

Inside the coffin, Superman realizes that the lenses from his glasses are made from invulnerable Kryptonian glass. He pops the lens out and uses it as a blade to saw his way out.

And then, still not realizing he has power, he jumps off the platform, tackling Parasite and seeming falling to his death. Despite streaking to the Earth below, Superman calmly (and powerlessly?) hypnotizes Parasite to return his powers to him. Then he saves them both.

Okay. I officially have a headache.

Does he have his powers like Parasite says? Then why bluff using powers? Why fall like this? I suppose if he doesn't know he has powers he might not know to use them. But then how can the Parasite be hypnotized into giving back his powers.

And why would a powered Parasite fall like this?

And hypnotizing someone while falling from the sky?

Let it go Anj. Parasite is caught. Superman has powers.

Which means Superman still has time to fly to Midvale and meet Supergirl.

She says she was also fighting the Parasite (or a reasonable facsimile!). So obviously we'll get a related story in Supergirl #20.

And what is it he shows Supergirl that makes her say 'oohhmmygosh'??

So how can I grade this. I love the more peripheral parts of this issue. The opening rescue scene. The workplace scenes. The Lana intrigue. And these brief interactions with Supergirl.

The fight with the Parasite is actually confusing. Why does Superman need to die at noon? Is Superman powerless? Or not powerless? If Parasite didn't drain Superman, how can he have heat vision?? Maybe all these will be answered in the next chapter. But before rereading that, this is something of an enigma.

Still, for a Supergirl collection, I'd put this story (both issues) of high importance. This is celebration of her character. It shows how important she is to Superman. You can probably find it cheap as it's significance is probably there only for Kara fans. Kudos to Paul Kupperberg for giving us this!

Overall grade: B


Anonymous said...

I read Supergirl #20 several weeks ago and I also had a headache trying to figure out how the powers of Parasite worked there.

And seeing so many heroes celebrating Kara's arrival should be a happy time... but it felt sad because I couldn't help to remember what would happen a while later.

Anyway, very nice story, great art -it's Curt Swan!- especially the interactions between characters. Looking forward to your Supergirl #20 review.

Anonymous said...

I've read both Action #555 and Supergirl #20. I couldn't figure out what the heck was going on with Parasite either.

Anonymous said...

Curt Swan was saddled with a terrible inker in the late 1970's early eighties named Frank Chiarmonte (sp) who made his pencils look scratchy & rushed. Dave Hunt does the honors here and is better suited for Swan's trademark emotional content and careful figurework.
Yeah this is not Paul Kupperberg's best work, a second or third reading still doesn't explain The Parasite's timetable one bit. On the other hand, "The Parasite" is a MUST on the TV Show IMHO....and what the hell even a Supergirl cameo is welcome when Curt Swan does the pencils!


SG Fan said...

I read both of these myself off of Comixology Anj.

I'll chalk up all the stuff that doesn't make sense to...comics are weird lol. Seriously its not the best storytelling but the issue is still a lot of fun. Plus as we'll see with Supergirl 200 there is a duel nature to the tales.

Hope your looking at that one as well :)

Anj said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm glad I'm not the only one confused. My review of SG 20 is right around the corner. Maybe Paul Kupperberg. can explain it!

It always nice to se Swan's take on Kara.

Sean said...

I guess I know this in my head, but it is so weird for me to see this comic as "old". You see, this was around the time I stopped collecting Action Comics, so this is one of the "new" comics in my mind as compared to the ones in the 60s and 70s.

I actually like this issue even though I never read the Supergirl story that ties to this. It was good seeing Supes trick a villain and not just beat him with superstrength.