Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Passing of Marty Pasko; Superman #332

I learned on Monday night that writer Marty Pasko had passed away.

Pasko was one of those names that I learned to recognize and associate with a good story even at a young age. I was heavily into DC even as a wee lad and people knew I loved Superman even back then. So the books that I cut my teeth on, the books that cemented my love of Superman and super-lore often had Pasko's name on them.

Whether it was Bizarro or the Atomic Skull or the Kryptonoid, Pasko always meant a happy reader. And I was lucky enough to meet him and thank him for his impact on me a few years back at Terrificon (here on the far right next to Keith Giffen and Paul Kupperberg).

Now you might think that Action Comics #500 would be my favorite Pasko story and it is close.

But I have to say that Mr. Pasko also wrote what might be my single favorite issue of all time, First Issue Special #9 starring Dr. Fate. That issue is brilliant.

But Pasko also taught be about dramatic turns and mature story telling in comics.

Here is the climax from Superman #329. In this story, Kryptonian microbots have fused with a Superman robot and a General who loathes Superman, blaming the Man of Steel for an accident which cost the General his arm. At the end, Superman points out that it was the robot the man fused with who was responsible for that accident. The resulting mental anguish incapacitates the Kryptonoid.

As a kid when I read this I was floored. I remember these panels vividly. But those aren't the only dramatic panels that are burned into my brain.

Whenever a hero of mine from the Bronze Age passes, I always grieve with good friend Mart Gray. We both have similar comic histories so we can commiserate and talk about shared stories and favorite issues.

When the news broke, Mart and I decided to honor the man by reviewing one of our favorite stories, Superman #331 and #332. Head here to read Mart's coverage of part one. Here is my cover to part 2, one of those Whitman pack variants!

For me, I am thrilled to review part two because the last panels in this issue taught me how powerful a medium comics can be, how the art can complement the story so well, and how tough topics like adults and romance could be covered in books aimed for kids.

Godspeed Mr. Pasko. Read on for more coverage of this issue.

Last issue, a man in a prison guards uniformed and powered with the abilities of the Parasite and the Atomic Skull kidnapped both Superman and Lana Lang.

In 'The Eternity Cage' by Pasko with art by Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte, we learn all the background story and what is fueling this villain.

But already you can see this man is delusional. It seems unlikely that you truly love Lana if you kidnapped her and have her encased in a glass display. Moreover, having Superman be trapped in a prison forever is not a good look.

Get ready to be creeped out because the villain here is a terrible example of a man who believes he is owed the devotion of a woman who doesn't love him.

You see how he calls her feisty and tells her that she will be with him for the rest of her life.

Mr. Draper had been the architect behind a super-villain prison built with power dampeners. He was getting all the credit when Superman put the prison on a rocket platform to make it even more escape-proof.

Now utilizing the power dampeners to give him powers, this jailer is going to make Superman's life miserable and show Lana why he deserves her love.

Superman awakens to see he is trapped. The only way out is through a mirrored maze in front of him. Draper promises him that the way out is on the other side of the mirror if Superman can get there.

But it isn't just a maze. Superman is powerless, drained by the Parasite modules which are all around the place. And other traps like sections which flood are everywhere.

Still, Superman has little choice.

More of Draper's madness seeps out as he continues to tell Lana why she should be with him.

Superman has never returned her love. But he has never discouraged it. Instead, according to Draper, Superman has strung Lana along, making it impossible for her to seek out other men. Men, of course, like Draper.

There is a lot of hate here. And even if he says he loves Lana, you can see he is angry at her for not returning or even knowing his love. He seems to be the template of a possessive abuser.

He finally tells Lana his back story.

She knew him back in Smallville when he was an awkward, overweight teen named 'Moosie' Draper who secretly pined for Lana. Once, a school trip got lost within a cave. Moosie on his own found a way out but by the time he returned to be the hero, Superboy had rescued everyone and seemed to have one Lana's love.

That both motivated 'Moosie' but also filled him with self-hate.

Suddenly he knew he needed to change himself, better himself, all so he could win women like Lana.

He hit the gym, got plastic surgery, excelled in architecture and locksmithing.

Still, being fueled by self-hatred is a consuming drive. Unless you can turn that hate outwards.

In some ways, this could have been a heroic story of someone learning to better himself and learn to love himself and get confidence. Instead, it is a villain's origin.

Moving through the maze, Superman reaches the center where a hungry panther stalks him. Even without his powers, Superman is able to neutralize the big cat without killing it.

This enrages Draper even more. He could have been a magician or an escape artist. But instead he decided to help humanity with his prison designs. But just like in Smallville, Superman stole the headline when he put the prison in orbit. Was what Draper's victory was just another defeat.

Remember, Draper is doing this to prove his love for Lana. But all that anger. Talk about red flags.

Even here, when he dons a super-villain's mask and talks about how he has been slighted, he keeps coming back to how he deserves Lana's affections and that the only reason she hasn't fallen in love with him is because of Superman. Chilling.

And thus was born the Master Jailer.

Amazingly, Superman makes it to the other side of the maze.

But then the eternity part of the trap is sprung. He is blasted by a module charged with Atomic Skull energy. The maze turns as if on a turntable, putting Superman back at the beginning of the maze.

And moreover ... and I am not sure why ... he has amnesia.

Not a bad brilliant evil misguided trap by a villain.

Trying to figure out who he is, Superman finds the compressed Clark clothes in his cape pocket.

Meanwhile, Draper ups the 'icky' factor by telling Lana he is 'confident' that she will learn to love him even if it is 'the hard way' and then forces a kiss on her.


Unfortunately, we still see this sort of toxic controlling behavior even today.

Luckily, while in his grasp, Lana is able to chuck his power modules into his prison control, destroying the whole thing.

With the Parasite dampeners off, Superman's powers return. And when he sees his reflection in the mirror (albeit when dressed in the Clark clothes) he remembers who he is.

He bashes into the Jailer's control room and takes him out easily. But how creepy that even as he falls unconscious he is still saying how much he loves Lana.

My skin crawls when I read this whole thing.

Back in Metropolis, Lana basically mirrors Draper's behavior.

She throws herself at Superman and talks about how he thought she would have to love him because he loved her. And yet that is just what Lana is thinking with Superman.

Look at Superman with his side eye and 'You're a fine one to talk.'

And then the panels that have stuck with me this whole time.

Superman calls Lana out on her misguided feelings and how she doesn't really love him. That first panel with the glass door between them is so similar to the glass case she was in with Draper. Moreover, it shows how Superman literally wants space from her.

And then those tall narrow panels of Lana banging against the glass until she lowers her head crestfallen.

I remember them vividly.

As a kid, I wondered why so much space was devoted to Lana. I pored over that ending trying to decipher the meaning knowing it must mean something. As a slightly older reader I loved how it silently showed Lana's self-realization of who she was and how she was acting.  As an old reader, I know it takes artistic courage to do something like this.

God speed Marty Pasko. You were a legend to this comic reader.


Anonymous said...

Marty Pasko was the master of two essentials of comic book writing, he could move the action along, and he was excellent at emotional content. Two things his essential artistic collaborator Curt Swan could consistently deliver in spades.
You have to read today's bombastic hacked up comics to realize how good Marty really was...
One of my favorite story arcs is the Superman 311-314 serial featuring the return of Amalak and a very strong supporting turn from Superman's Cousin & Partner, Supergirl. Kara is a real bruiser in this one she gets into a brawl in almost every issue and accounts herself well in all of them. Pasko's supreme stroke is saved until the end, Clark has been fitfully dating Lois and after she recovers from Amalak's evil pathogen, he impulsively ask's Lois to marry him. She responds with fateful gravity that she'll say yes IF he will admit he is Superman...Pasko/Swan render up an utterly stricken looking Clark Kent who walks away from her bedside an utterly defeated man having refused to divulge his secret.
That would be a challenging scene in a comic today, and a powerful scene indeed if adapted to film or television, the man had chops, I can pay him no higher compliments.


Martin Gray said...

Top write-up, the final scene with Lana was devastating, but the scenes that preceded it were pretty great too... especially the way powerless. Superman dealt with the big cat without getting too rough. I must say, Moosie must have had the quickest, most-efficient personality snap ever, within days of going from fighting his feelings for Lana he’s constructed an elaborate plan to ‘win’ her. I wonder if a part of him he didn’t know about was subconsciously plotting to bring him to Metropolis, to Lana - think the relationship between the original Cheetah and Priscilla Rich.

I’d love to one day hear your thoughts on Superman #334...

Professor Feetlebaum said...

This is sad news. I read about Marty Pasko's passing the day before yesterday. He was one of the best writers during the Bronze Age. If I remember right, he brought Winslow Schott back as Toyman and also wrote the first Titano story in several years.

But I remember when he was "Pesky" Pasko writing letters to Green Lantern and other Julius Schwartz edited books in the late 1960s and early 1970s. His first letter to Green Lantern appeared in GL #66. His letters were often critical (which is why Schwartz dubbed him "Pesky") but always well thought out.

By the way, I was skimming through some Green Lantern letter columns from around that time, and came across Green Lantern #75. It was the last GL written by John Broome. On the letters page editor Schwartz announces that the following issue would be the beginning of a BOLD NEW DIRECTION for the Emerald Crusader. Of course, it turned out to be the famous Green Lantern/Green Arrow #76. But I wonder if that was the first use of the term "Bold New Direction" to describe a big change in an ongoing series.

H said...

That Doctor Fate story is one of my favorites too. Looking back, he had a pretty diverse career. It's clear that no matter what he was writing, he put a good mix of fun and characterization in. A lot of people don't know this but he was the original story editor for Spider-Man: The Animated Series before they brought in John Semper to rework the show. He will be more than just missed.

Ward Hill Terry said...

Hi Anj, Your opinion of the last page of this story are the same as mine! I was buying Superman when this was published (always Superman first, then I'd select other comics). I was not a fan of Lana when she was introduced into the book as Clark's co-anchor. Obviously, she was being written to have an abrasive personality, especially vis-a-vis other Galaxy employees, but clearly that was all set up by Marty.for this story. I thought it was a very satisfactory conclusion, and, more importantly, a great opportunity for the character of Lana Lang to be more fully developed. IMHO, that character growth, like all of Martin Pasko's carefully built explorations of character growth in the Superman titles, was not allowed to continue, and was even ignored by future writers. I mean well before 1985. So , for me, this is part of my favorite run of Superman stories.

Martin Gray said...

Interesting thoughts from Marty in how he wrote Lana here, Terry... you may have read it.