Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Back Issue Box: Superman #362

I figured it was time for me to take a break from my look at Kandor and switch to a different sort of topic on my mind these days! COVID-19!

I've covered a couple of back issues recently dealing with various viruses and Superman's afflictions and cures. So why not go back to the well and cover Superman #362 and #363, a two-parter dealing with a tropical plague.

Today I'll cover the first part, Superman #362.

I remember buying this issue off the rack at the time, intrigued by the cover. I didn't get the second part at the time. And I lost my original copy somewhere in the parental purge. I recently was lucky enough to get both parts and the disease story is apt for the time.

But ... spoiler alert ... White Kryptonite is not used to save the day. And that despite it being used frequently in continuity as a germ-cleanser and plant killer, like here, here, and even here!

So how does this plague get cured? We'll find out.

On to the book.

The creative team as a dandy, legendary Superman writer Cary Bates teamed up with legendary Superman artist Curt Swan.

And 'The Last Days of Lois and Lana' starts innocently enough with Superman speeding to a museum to be at the opening of one of Professor Lang's greatest archaelogical discoveries, a glass blowing site sunken in the canals of Venice.

Thankfully, Superman knows that both Lana and Lois will make up some excuse for Clark to explain his tardniess.

Inside the room, Lana is a bit clumsy and drops a sealed vial that was discovered at the site. There goes one precious historical artifact!

But worse than the physical loss, the vial was filled with a centuries old germ, one potent enough to instantly affect not only Lois and Lana but Clark as well. Using his xray vision, Clark can see that the microbe is so virulent it penetrated his skin.

Wow! Better break out the contact PPE gear! And maybe droplet/airborne as well.

What the world really doesn't need is a global pandemic.

So Clark takes the time to super-speed spin and cast his heat vision out at a low dose, vaporizing the microbe before it can escape and affect anyone else.

Say, if I ever got infected with COVID-19 I wonder if I could somehow inject myself with Superman's heat vision to cure myself.

Okay, enough political commentary.

It does mean we have three victims, Clark, Lois, and Lana.

Moments later, Superman remembers something tragic about the germ that just entered his system. It killed Ma and Pa Kent.

Flying back to the Kent Farm in Smallville, he broods at the table remembering how they passed.

He had sent his parents on a Caribbean vacation and the lucky Kents found a buried treasure chest of Pegleg Morgan.

I don't think I appreciated Curt Swan's work in my youth. But there is no denying the emotion he conveys in this issue. And that second panel is very effective, even if it is a small depiction of Superman. You can tell that he is weighed down by these memories.

The Kents are so intrigued by the chest that they have Clark take them back in time to witness Morgan bury it.

The problem is when you travel back in time hundreds of years, you encounter germs that have not been seen for hundreds of years.

Shortly after returning, the elderly Kents fall victim of a tropical fever plague that hasn't been seen since the time of Morgan. And there is no cure.

Well, so much for a benign little jaunt through time.

The disease only affects adults so Clark isn't carrying the germ as he is in the present.

And he tries everything he can to try an cure the Kents ... herbal medicines, experimental serums, even a straight up Kryptonian blood transfusion.

But that all fails. And given their advanced age, the Kents pass away rapidly.

You can imagine the guilt that must weigh on Clark. He arranged the vacation. He took them back in time where they caught the disease. He can't cure them.

Interesting though, we don't see the classic bedside death scene where Pa tells him to be a force for good.

Again, we get a nice page layout from Swan here.

We see Superman brooding at the table, the images of Ma and Pa sort of haunting him.

Their images fade, replaced by Lois and Lana.

And the images of Superman feeling angry and helpless complement the words he uses like 'snuffing out two more precious lives'. This is personal.

Superman heads off to the Fortress to do a bit of a self-examination. Along the way we get some mandatory action sequences - a train rescue and a criminal capture.

The germ did infect him but his super-immune system has neutralized its virulence. He doesn't have the infection.

But the fact it affected him at all means it is alien in origin, the product of some red sun system which somehow made it to Earth.

Nice determined look on Superman's face there.

And how quaint that we get an editor's note about red sun rays. After all, this might be someone's first comic!

Desperate for a cure, Superman sets up an elaborate algorithm with a sort of display of Lana and Lois. The more the pictures get blacked out, the less likely they are to survive.

It is clear that all the medical advances on Earth won't save them. And even the known alien technology that Superman is aware of is helpless.

Since Lois and Lana are younger than the Kents, they aren't debilitated. But there isn't enough time for Superman to go searching. Lois and Lana are dying.

(I wonder if he thought about a trip to the future to visit the Legion.)

It seems hopeless doesn't it!

In fact we get more angst and dismay from our hero who punches his fist into his hand so hard he shatters the statues of Lois and Lana, a sort of visual metaphor to what is happening.

I'll cover the second part very soon. But it is interesting to see this infection with no cure impacting Superman's life so much! Bates builds up the tension and emotion here nicely and Swan masterfully showcases all the emotion of this tale.

Have you figured out the solution to the problem?

Overall grade: B


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for some great memories, I’m appreciating the Bronze Age more each day... I think I really took these twisty-turny tales for granted at the time.

Am I misremembering The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent? I thought it wasn’t a time travel tale, more the bugs being in the old treasure chest Pa Kent dug up?

I’d never seen that heat vision 360° trick before, it looks brilliant... but how come he never burned everyone to death?

That kitchen table scene with the ghosts is brilliant.

Guess the solution? I should remember it? The LSH would have been my first port of call... Superman could get Brainiac 5 to take as long as he needs and then fly further forward to get it.

With Clark having become immune, will he have antibodies he could transplant into Lois and Lana?

Professor Feetlebaum said...

The classic bedside death scene where Pa Kent tells Clark to be force for good DOES appear in the original story in Superman #161 ("The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent!"). It's only alluded to on page 8 of Superman #362.

What does NOT appear in the original story is the blood transfusion scene. That was a modern day add-on. In the original story, Superboy tries to save his parents with the sap from a Brazilian orchid tree (he discovered this possible cure by researching at the Smallville library), and by projecting them into the Phantom Zone. Even Lex Luthor, hoping to be paroled, attempts to cure them with something called a "Vibro-Health Restorer". But in the end, nothing works, and the Kents pass away.

Martin. you're both wrong and right. Superboy DOES take his parents to the past, but he finds out later that they picked up the Fever Plague from handling the contents of the treasure chest in the present day.

Martin Gray said...

Thanks Professor! I’d completely forgotten Ma Kent wanted to tell the PTA about pirates!

Such good stories.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments and history lesson!

Part 2 next week!

Anonymous said...

When you need a lot of emotional content, you call Curt Swan, he does it so effortlessly that the characters never ever look off model,unrealistic or in any way exaggerated. If I recall Superman even tries to bargain once again with Lex Luthor to save both women...(this is the reoccurring them in the DCU, Superman tries to do just that in a Superman the Animated Series Comic when Supergirl comes over sick with an Argoan Virus)


Professor Feetlebaum said...

One story that might be worth reviewing sometime is "The Super Powers of Perry White!" in Action Comics #278 (reprinted in Superman #227 and Showcase Presents Superman volume 3). Briefly, a mind and body possessed Perry White fights Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. But it's Supergirl (Ta-Daaa!) who comes flying in to save the day. Superman is so impressed by his cousin's resourcefulness that he decides right then and there to......

Nobile said...

I always appreciated Swan's art when I was reading Superman back then, and somehow gave it for granted. The older I get, and the more I re-read this stuff, the more I am convinced we are facing an unspoken genius.
The fact he has been connected with Superman for so long and that his art has always been so "prone" to multiple inkers and been somehow obfuscated by his "Swanderson" alter-ego, probably has limited his true potential and let him underestimated by many. Also, he could easily get done at least two full-length comics a month, leaving some background details to the inkers, thus working sub-strandard. Less we forget he was out of his comfort zone, being war-comics his favourite genre. Sure, he had a very classic, anatomy-accurate style, but had he be let free to roam more between genres and characters (and ink himself!), he would be recognized as a master along with Alex Toth or Michael Allred, to name a few.

I miss you, Curt.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes "The Super Powers of Perry White" wherein Supergirl (still Kal El's "Secret Emergency Weapon") bluntly tells her Cousin "Sorry Superman, but for once I had to use my own Judgement!"
I heartily endorse re-reading and reviewing said story.


Anj said...

Great comments everyone. Love the combined knowledge in the community.

So will look to see if I have the perry issue. Definitely have it in the Showcase.

Martin Gray said...

Amen, Nobile. I’ve just come across a pretty brilliant looking blog piece assessing Swan’s inkers by... KL2965. Anyway, it’s well worth a look


Anonymous said...

I don't want to go on my annual rant about Frank Chairamonte's scratchy amateurish inks....but I do recall Curt Swan complaining to an interviewer about some of his inkers and their mania for detail. His point being, their job was to embellish the details HE put in there, not find new one's to ink.


Nobile said...

Thanks Martin, nice link, doubly so as it ranks Oksner, my personal fave, at 3rd place! Swan & Oksner's Lois was my Lois.

If you have a look at the rare self-inked pages, you will understand better what I meant about Swan. You know, most greatest artist have their emulators and heirs, Romita, Buscema, Kirby... have been copied and emulated with success. Even Neal Adams' anatomy shines in Claudio Castellini's (rare) work, but I still have to find an artist capable of imitating or recalling Curt Swan's style.

Professor Feetlebaum said...

It probably didn't help Curt Swan's reputation to be associated for so long with Mort Weisinger and his line of Superman titles. While big sellers in their day, the Weisinger books came to be looked on as simple and childish, despite a number of good stories by Jerry Siegel and Ed Hamilton and Otto Binder and others. Even in the early 60s, Weisinger edited titles never won Alley Awards, and were more or less ignored by the emerging comics fandom, that rallied around the books edited by Julius Schwartz and later around Stan Lee and Marvel.