Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #366

The world is in the midst of a pandemic crisis with the COVID19 virus.

I continue to work in a busy emergency department but have been doing my best to socially distance myself as best as I can.

And as always, I try to think of interesting back issues to look at which either reflect current comic trends or even real life trends. With that in mind, I figured I could take a look at Action Comics #366, the end of the multi-part  Virus X storyline, which seemed somehow appropriate for the current times.

As this is a Supergirl site, the last chapter has the most Kara as well as standard bonkers Silver Age charm, so here we are.

To set the stage, Superman has contracted Virus X, a form of Kryptonian leprosy. Luthor got Clark to accidentally self-inoculate himself. It is unclear if the virus can be spread to humans (although we see Superman accidentally give it to a cat). So realizing he needs to get off Earth to save humanity from this plague, he rockets himself away. His plan is to cremate his dying body in the hottest sun in the universe.

This was a five part story by writer Leo Dorfman and artist Ross Andru, something relatively unheard of back in 1968. But Dorfman ramps up the drama during the story, having Superman avoiding loved ones, announcing his illness to the world, refusing to be sent into the Phantom Zone (for fear of infecting the criminals there), and looking back on his life.

Andru's pencils are solid throughout, especially on the 'melting face' afflicted Superman panels. And the whole arc comes with solid Neal Adams covers, including this one with Supergirl front and center.

On to the conclusion!

 We start out with a great, engaging splash page.

Supergirl is reading a newspaper with the headline Superman Lives!

But she is crying saying she knows Superman is dead. This is a substitute Superman.

I am definitely a sucker for newspaper headlines acting as exposition in comics. And Supergirl being so prominent in the opening page is a nice bonus! She really loves her cousin!

 As for Superman, his funereal rocket is heading into Flammbron, the universe's hottest sun. There he will be cremated. And Superman has set up a telescope so Earth can watch in real time his immolation. Weird.

He looks monstrous. He is definitely weakened. But he is still alive. Is this suicide? Euthanasia? Superman being in control of how he dies?

There is a lot to mull over in this decision.

Flammbron's denizens, beings of living flame, see Superman's rocket enter into the star and can't believe it.

They use modulators to surround Superman with a heat barrier.

They can't imagine that Superman wants to kill himself.

 They then teleport Superman away from the sun so he can survive.

On a crystal planet, Superman looks into a reflective surface and sees he has been cured.

Was this the doing of the Flammbrionians?

I love that last panel, with Superman rubbing his chin like he just got a clean,close shave.

 It turns out that in an earlier chapter, the Bizarros celebrated Superman's coffin trip by throwing all sorts of Kryptonite in his ship's path. One of those was a chunk of white Kryptonite. The Kryptonian Leprosy is caused by some sort of plant-like organism. And since white Kryptonite kills all plant life, it cures Superman.

So much to unravel here.

It is called Virus X. But it isn't really a virus.
It is caused by a form of plant life, like bacteria? Are bacteria plant-like?

I don't know medically how to wrap my head around this cure. But I suppose if I can deal with living flame beings who reside inside a sun, I should be able to deal with this.

Even crazier is that Superman would have died if it weren't for those Flammbronian shields. He was weakened before the cure manifested. Bananas!

 Turns out that in Superboy #115, Superboy saved a Flammbronian. So they felt they owed him a favor! Hooray continuity!

But the cured Superman is thrilled at his new lease on life. I love this lower panel with a giddy Superman flying through space. Joyous!

 Arriving on Earth, Superman assumes everyone will be mourning his death.

Instead he hears how Superman has continued to do heroic deeds. Superman has also started to shill for products and back politicians.

Even Clark's absence has been explained by Superman.

In the archives, Superman finds a story of how he survived Virus X but printed days before he returned. That is truly Fake News! As phony as a wax banana!

 To deepen the mystery, from a distance Superman begins watching the phony Superman's heroism.

We see Superman grab a falling crane, save a bunch of swimmers drowning in an undertow by dragging them to land with a net.

I do like how we see Supergirl pitching in too, even if her rescue of a sinking cruiser created the deadly undertow.

 Now completely intrigued, Superman heads to the Fortress to see if he can figure out what the heck is going on.

Kandor is in a media blackout, the screen to cut off all communications is up.

And the Phantom Zone villains just cackle in their evilness, holding out on divulging what is going on. I love how Jax-Ur just keeps saying 'squirm! squirm!'

I also love the liberal use of editor's notes. This might be the first time someone has read a comic. How are they to know what Kandor and the Phantom Zone is.

 Peeking in on more heroics, Superman sees one Superman shatter a glacier but without any sound.

Another Superman rescues a town from lava but seems to be avoiding the fire.

Hmmm ....

Superman thinks he has figured it all out and heads to a 'weird conclave' in a cave. (Conclave is definitely a word young Anj would have looked up in a dictionary. )

Supergirl asks which Superman will impersonate the Man of Steel that day.

Superman asks for the group to unmask.

 As he surmised, the 'Supermen' are his JLA pals in disguise.

 He then proves he is the real Superman and explains the cure.

I adore this panel of Supergirl overjoyed her cousin is alive, even throwing in a {sob}!

This is how the super-cousins should care about each other.

But what's with the Flash? 'Dry your tears doll!' Pretty mean.

 Then Supergirl tells her part of the story.

With Superman dead, she needed someone to pick up the mantle. And Kandor is the perfect place to find a replacement. The scientists there begin testing the citizens to see who is the best match.

Why Supergirl didn't think to simply pick up the mantle herself is an enigma. She was being trained to do exactly this.

 Moreover, even with 2 Superman lookalikes available, Kandor believes in democracy. The people will need to vote to see who will replace Superman. Until that vote, they go incommunicado.

Without a  Superman around, the criminals in Metropolis increase their activity. A Superman needs to be out there. So why not have the JLA sub in. Even Batman, armed with an anti-gravity belt, can chip in.

Even if she didn't pick up the mantle herself, I like how pro-active Supergirl was in protecting the legacy.

We then see how each of the substitute Supermen utilized their unique powers when acting as the Man of Steel. That is how Superman sussed it all out.

Anyways, Superman survived Kryptonian Leprosy. Let's all stay safe out there and do the right things to get through this COVID pandemic.

As for this issue in a Supergirl collection, it is of low importance. But any time Neal Adams drew her, even if just on the cover, it might be worth picking up.

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Fabulous review!

How brilliant that Dorfman called back to a 1964 Superboy story.

That's generally very strong art (don't look at that last panel in which J'onn has stripped off). I  love the swimmers especially, presumably it's Mike Esposito inking Andru, as was usual back them.

Silly Superman, not wondering why Kandor is blacked out.

Why would Kara want to pretend Superman was still alive, why not just introduce a Kandorian to be the Super-Chap with, as you say, a promotion for herself?

Oh, and if Coronavirus-X gets me, feel free to impersonate me, after winning a suitable vote.

Anonymous said...

Thankx much for this conclusion.

I have the original ACT#363 and 365, but never knew the ending,
as I somehow missed the rest. It's possible that Kara was only
in those (The landmark looters and The case of the campus crimes)?

Funny, I kinda knew the ending, as in #365, page 12, panel 1,
they showed the white K, and I remember 'PLANT LIFE'. Somehow,
I guess I knew this would kill the virus (I was a teen).

Anonymous said...

Hello from a french fan of supergirl,

Thanks you for this old story, she is happier than current stories.

I just finished the Justice League : Hell Arisen ... the "infected" are cured but Perpetua and Batman who Laug becames allies ... and Lex Luthor becomes humain again. We will have "Death Metal" and not Supergirl in sight.

It will be simpler to treat coronavirus than to bring dc comic towards the light.

Anonymous said...

Oh, look, a comic from way back when heroes were heroes and continuity made sense.

As usual for that age, the story is both dramatic and bonkers. In spite of all its flaws, though, it's more enjoyable than most of current-day tripe.

At the very least, Kara is no longer infected. But as it was to be expected, it wasn't because she managed to beat the virus. I forced myself to sit through "Hell Arisen"'s final issue because I wanted to know if Supergirl was back to normal, but it was like a bad fanfiction written by a teen Batman fanboy.

I'm sick of The Batman Who Laughs, Perpetua and all that crap, to the point I almost welcome a new reboot (as long as it doesn't erase Kara Zor-El again)

Anonymous said...

I dunno what it is, but Andru & Esposito always drew Supergirl with giant Anime' Eyes like she was Wonder Girl in a Blonde Wig, her hair was chopped and she looked about 13 years old. This is otherwise a fun five parter back when Mort Weisinger was occasionally experimenting with Marvel style serials my main complaint is Supergirl is pretty much jobbed out to Patriarchy (which happens to this day, just in a different fashion) unable to cope with a crime spike she is frantic to reestablish Male Super-Supremacy, her devotion to Kal El is touching but nobody escapes the assumptions of the era in this one.


H said...

Anon #1's comment reminded me of something funny. Superman #365 had Kara infected with Virus X, but as a distraction for the real threat. Superman managed to diagnose and treat her in about one page. Compared to this, that's pretty off-handed.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

It probably depends on how you read it, but I didn't necessarily see Flash's remark to Supergirl ("Dry your tears, doll!") as mean. It just didn't sound like something Flash would say- Metamorpho maybe, but not Flash.

Having the citizens of Kandor vote for a replacement Superman seems kind of odd. When Superman anticipated needing a replacement in Superman #172 ("The New Superman!", October 1964), he himself auditioned 3 candidates from Kandor, and chose Ar-Val. But Ar-Val turned out to be a bad choice, so maybe that's why the vote.

Offhand, I can think of 2 Silver Age stories in which Supergirl replaced Superman: "The Death of Superman!" in Superman #149, and "The Old Man Of Metropolis!" in Action Comics #270. The first was an imaginary story, and the other was a dream.

Neal Adams always draws a great Supergirl, it's too bad he hasn't drawn her more often. From the cover, it seems that Superman's replacement would come from the Superman Emergency Squad, but that isn't mentioned in the story.

By the way, Adams did four of the covers in this arc, but Andru and Esposito did the cover for #365.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Loved this story. Glad to see Dorfman writing Supergirl again. He was her best Silver Age writer so it's no surprise that she comes across as heroic and loving. Dorfman was one of the most underrated of the Silver Age writers. He wrote classic Superboy and Superman stories. When he died, he was doing the best work of his career along with the legendary Kurt Schaffenberger on Jimmy Olsen.