Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #301

What can I say? With a lack of new material on the shelves to review and with a surprise find of a Comet the Super-Horse kid's book, I have been looking back at some of Comet's adventures. Earlier this week I reviewed Supergirl's Girl Friend Lois Lane #92 in which a nearby comet turned Biron from horse back to human.

I realized that the story turn of Comet turning human hasn't been officially reviewed here. So why not dust off 'The Secret Identity of Super-Horse' from Action Comics #301.

Written by Leo Dorfman with art by Jim Mooney, the story adds a new wrinkle to Comet's story. We know he wished to turn human because he was in love with Circe. He was turned into a horse by the vengeful Maldor and then banished. Kara's rocket freed him from his prison and he began a super-heroic career with her.

Now this issue begins two subplots which have made their relationship a little bit cringey. One, he gains the ability to turn human when a comet is near Earth. And second, it is clear he has developed strong feelings for Supergirl. For these things to happen, you need the same rapid fire plot twists that the Silver Age is known for. 

But a lot of Comet/Biron/Bill's love of Kara seems off from a 21st century view. He doesn't reveal either aspect to her.  As a human, he looks much older than our Maid of Might. And the hint of bestial love of some sort, even fantastical, is a bit odd. 

But here we are! Let's learn how Comet gains the ability to become a man at last! (Of note, scans are from the reprint of the story in Adventure Comics #390.)

The opening splash page of Biron in centaur form being captured by some bad guys trying to kidnap a trick pony is really a minor plot moment in the story, one so small that I don't even plan on showing any of the art.

So get ready to settle in because we go to Sorcerer's World and back, from rodeos to rustlers, and from kiss to kiss all in 12 pages. 

Superman has summoned Supergirl and Comet to the Fortress of Solitude. The Man of Steel's friend Prince Endor of the Sorcerer's World Zerox is in trouble. This is a mission specifically for Comet. Zerox is under a red sun so Supergirl will be helpless. And, as you'll see, a horse is truly needed for the job.

Not wanting her super-horse to go to a magical world alone, Kara begs to go as well. Luckily Superman has a space suit that will protect her while flying in the red sun system. 

I do like Supergirl's concern for her pet. But it truly is like a pet-owner more than a comrade.

It turns out Prince Endor needs to lead an annual parade while on a flying horse or he will be forced to abdicate his royal title. Endor's evil nephew Lord Nomed (get it ... demon spelled backwards) thinks Endor is a fool. He wants the throne. So he has poisoned the royal pegasus so that winged stallion can't fly.

But the rule only says a flying horse. So Comet arrives just in time to allow Endor to lead the procession in a way where he keeps his title.

Endor wants to thank Comet for the super-horse's aid. So he grants a boon. (How many boons will Comet get in his life??) Endor casts a spell that will turn Comet into a human. It will not last for long but at least for now Biron is human.

One thing I find interesting in all these stories has been that a time in centaur mode always seems to occur whenever someone goes from human to horse or vice-versa.

Like Maldor from the original Comet story. Nomed wants revenge. No one knows he is evil ... but he sure is.  So why not kill Supergirl. 

He plans to slip the powerless Supergirl a potion which will turn her to solid gold like the legend of Midas. Luckily Biron, also powerless but still in possession of his skills, uses a bow and arrow to knock the chalice out of Supergirl's hands. It is a nice callback to Biron's hitting the bottle of poison out of Maldor's hand in the first origin.

Turnabout is fair play. The potion splashes on Nomed turning him to gold. Overwhelmed that she almost died, Supergirl nearly faints.

There is Biron, unknown to our heroine, who swoops in lovingly. You can tell there is some romance in the air just by the positioning, the tender touch, the rainbow. 

Of course, Biron could have told her everything here but he doesn't, instead slinking away.

Sure enough, the spell wears off on Zerox and Biron returns to horse form.

But out the door, Endor adds a caveat. If a comet nears Earth, Comet will once again become a normal human being. 

His name is Comet. He has a comet shaped birth-mark on his body. And now he is linked to a comet. Interesting.

Back on Earth, a comet does approach turning Comet into a human once more. Luckily, he remembers an abandoned Luthor hideout in Metropolis where he can find some clothes.

Turns out he is Luthor's size. Things fit!

Also, it turns out a rodeo is in town. His time at being a horse makes him a natural when it comes to riding horses. As 'Bronco Bill', he is able to ride all the buckin' broncs with ease. He is suddenly a big deal in the show!

Supergirl is actually worried because she cannot find Comet. She doesn't know he has turned human. So she leans on her friend Lena Thorul to use her ESP powers to hone in on her horse. Lena traces the psychic presence of Comet to the rodeo so Supergirl is off to investigate.

Initially, she thinks a white trick horse is Comet but the lack of a comet birthmark shows she is wrong.

And then a bull goes out of control and busts into the bronco-riding pen. Supergirl has to fly in to rescue Bill. During the rescue, the shirt is torn revealing a comet birthmark is seen on Bill's flank. 

Not wanting to waste a publicity moment, the rodeo owner calls Supergirl and Bill the Queen and King of the show. The two kiss.

That kissing panel is heavy with portent. She knows this Bill looks like the archer who saved her on Zerox. Bill looks all too happy to oblige. 

Alas, the comet leaves the system which means Bill has to slink away and once again transform into Comet the Super-Horse. 

But before he goes full horse, he turns into a centaur.

In a completely zany plot, some kidnappers show up in a giant helicopter to nab the trick horse Supergirl thought was Comet. But when they spy a centaur, they give up that plan. A centaur is an even bigger prize.

But inside the helicopter, Comet reverts to fully powered super-horse and bashes through. 

Poor Comet, he once again is stuck in horse mode. 

Will he ever become human again? You know he does.

But this is where that turn of him becoming Bronco Bill come from. Seriously though, just think of everything that happens in this story in 12 pages! 

This stuff is bonkers. When you think it can't get weirder, it does. But somehow, despite the cringe, I love it. I love how human Biron rescuing Supergirl sort of mirrors his rescuing Circe, building on the romance angle. Things were more innocent then, or seemed more innocent. 

Lovely art by Mooney, of course.

Overall grade: B+


RicG said...

It is interesting that someone at DC liked this story enough they reused Zerox for the White Witch's origin four years later.

H said...

Why do you think it's called Zerox? It's a good place to reuse a story idea!

Seriously though, this is pretty great. Today, they'd make a 12 issue maxi-series out of what they did in 12 pages then. I don't mind all these boons and lucky coincidences- that's the sort of stuff comics universes are made of (especially in Superman stories). And it's not that creepy, looking at it now. Supergirl's kissed full-on werewolf Jimmy Olsen a few times (as well as various non-humanlike aliens) so a handsome cowboy that secretly is her super-horse isn't particularly outside of her experience.

William Ashley Vaughan said...

Supergirl's relationship with Biron/Bronco Bill is paractically wholesome compared to the the stories that have Superman making Supergirl pose as his love interest and falling in love with an alien superheroine who looks like Supergirl would as an adult.

Anonymous said...

Apropos of nothing, I think this is the only time in the silver age that Supergirl displayed that old sexist trope “fainting due to a sudden emotional shock”…