Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Back Issue Box: Superman #313

Superman #313 was released in 1977, the third part in an intriguing four part story with a central theme of Superman's code against killing. A four parter was a rarity back in those days. Folks weren't writing for the trade. The spinner rack was often hit-or-miss. Things were mostly one and done.

Writer Marty Pasko does a lot in this story, bringing in a little known Silver Age villain, bringing in his own Kryptonian creation Nam-Ek, touching on the real life 'Legionnaires disease' outbreak, and even ratcheting up some tension between Clark and Lois. Heck, even Supergirl has a role here. But the real meat is how important Superman's code against killing was back then (and should continue to be). Superman is brought to the brink of despair and madness as personal ethos is put to the test. 

The art is by Curt Swan, the de facto artist of Superman back in the day. But the inking is by Dan Adkins. It is a smoother Swan but feels off. There is almost a Kurt Schaffenberger feel to the art here. It gives Supergirl a familiar feel but it still feels somewhat off. Not as strange as Frank Springer's inks. But not what I picture in my mind when someone says Curt Swan. And such an interesting cover with Superman tossing an alien around, threatening to kill it. Quite the art duo on this captivating piece, Dick Dillin inked by Neal Adams!

So get ready to dive into part three of Amalak and his machinations. (You can read the reviews of part one and part two here.)

Amalak, the space pirate, has come to Earth to enact his revenge on all things Kryptonian. He has brought a plague to Earth. He has tried to fool Superman into thinking he killed Nam-Ek. And he believes he has Supergirl trapped and ready for execution.

But things are even crazier. We haven't seen this alien Superman is fighting in the splash page before. And now we have an opening text that someone is going to demand that Superman choose between killing them or saving the world.

"The Only Way You'll Save The Earth ... Is Over My Dead Body!" has already opened with a bang. 

Last issue, Superman made a choice. He would take the captured Nam-Ek to Earth to use the healing powers of Nam-Ek to save the victims of the 'Journalists' plague'. In return, he had to leave a 'helpless' Supergirl behind to be executed by Amalak and his Star Cannon.

I don't normally post whole pages but this one is too good, especially the bottom row. Amalak decides to monologue that his plan is to destroy Superman psychologically by making the Man of Steel kill.

With his plan divulged, it is time to kill Supergirl with the Star Cannon. 

But the gun jams.

Check out Supergirl at the bottom. I love that look on her face in the first panel. She then snaps the chains, much to Amalak's horror.

And then some old school smackdown. That is some right haymaker to the face. WHAM!

We then see that Superman didn't really abandon Supergirl to her fate. He uses his heat vision to melt the barrel. She knew she was fine. But she played along.

Pasko really treats Supergirl with some respect. She isn't only doing the physical dirty work. Her first thoughts after are about the plague and helping her cousin.

Still ... what is the cause of the plague?

At the very least, Superman can cure the current victims. He exposes them all to the healing ray from Nam-Ek's rondor horn.

I don't know if Nam-Ek is actually consenting to being used like this. But I suppose given the circumstances, I'll give him a pass.

But the battle on the satellite isn't over.

Amalak somehow recovers. As in last issue, he releases his 'energy nexus' to fight Kara. And he reveals he knows Superman's secret identity. This is how he arranged everything in Central City.

Amalak is a pretty interesting villain. He knows he can't defeat Superman physically. So instead, he goes for psychology. How great that the biggest thing to attack, the most important part of the ethics, is Superman's code against killing.

The fight goes on. 

But then the Star Cannon overheats and explodes. Just like that Amalak's ship is destroyed, supposedly killing both the villain and Supergirl.

I have to say, I wasn't expecting that. 

Flying back to Earth, Superman tries to solve the plague only to find this alien instead. We as omniscient readers know Jervik is Amalak's pet. 

Crazy design by the artists, the Black Bolt chest fins, fins on the boots, the stilted speech. All crazy.

In the midst of the fight, Superman loses sight of the alien.

Flying back to the convention center hotel, he finds Supergirl in his room. 

Well, maybe not Supergirl. Turns out Jervik seems to shape change. Whether alien or Supergirl, he can adopt the form of others. 

After a couple of more rounds, it becomes clear that Jervik is Jamie's dog. The tik-tik-tik is Clark's watch with the pooch ran off with. This is some Bronze Age wackiness but it is fun. We knew Amalak's pet and Jamie's dog had too much screen time to be nothing.

Know we know that this beast can shape change! Dog, alien pet, Supergirl, humanoid.

Then it turns out, it really can't shape change. It can hypnotize you into seeing him in any shape.

Quickly, Superman figures out everything. Jervik is the cause of the plague. Jervik works for Amalak. 

And so Superman decides he has to end it all. He is going to kill Jervik with one mighty punch. It feels a little too sudden and a little too extreme. So much for the 'no killing code'. 

I guess Amalak will win, psychologically breaking Superman and forcing him to forget his own creed. 

Can you imagine what would happen if Superman punched that little creature with his full force?

But before Jervik can be reduced to a smear on the wall, Jamie steps in and stops Superman's hand. 

He won't let Superman kill his pet. If Superman is going to kill Jervik, he'll have to kill him first. At last we know who spoke the title of this issue's story! Jamie Lombard!

Okay, that's a pretty solid cliffhanger, mostly because Superman this whole page seems quite intent on killing, something I hadn't seen before. Moreover, the young Jamie standing in the way is also a grabber. Some courage in that kid. 

Let's also take a step back. Think of how many plots, subplots, characters, and character reveals Pasko has put in this story. Pretty impressive. Nam-Ek is pretty much gone from this story. The plague storyline is still there! Are Amalak and Supergirl even alive?? There is a lot still out there to wrap up!

Swan and Adkin's art is smooth. Those Supergirl pages are pretty slick. 

Overall grade: B+


H said...

Ok, never read this storyline but I have a guess about where this is going. I won't say what it is because I very likely am wrong, but I'm curious about what's going to happen. Obviously everyone's going to survive and Superman's not really going to kill those guys but how the story gets there is the real trick.

Anonymous said...

A single panel, or sequence of panels that tell seamlessly an entire story without any recourse to dialogue or thought balloons, is a happy hallmark of Curt Swan’s pencils, he does it all the time. Supergirl’s smirk in close up would make a capital screen saver. Yeah I love Bronze Age Supergirl when goes goes “Full Bruiser”, she got few chances To loose physically , but when she did it was admirable.


Rob S. said...

The next issue, 314, was my first comic book ever, and this story is still a favorite. And with Pasko and Swan making Superman's code against killing so central to the story, it made it absolutely central to my understanding of the character.

I couldn't have asked for a better introduction -- even though, at 7 years old, there were SO many words I didn't know what they meant! Antibiotic -- is that a good thing or a bad thing? I knew "anti" was negative, but had to piece together the rest. Journalist's disease! Electro-surrogate! My head was swimming.

And Amalak, a one-off villain from Superman's past, joins Mazdan, a concurrent villain revival in the pages of the Flash from that era, as two villains I thought were a Much Bigger Deal than it turns out they were for anyone else.

Anj said...

Thanks for comments!

Review of 314 is coming soon!

I love the concept of 'Much Bigger Deal' ... I think we all have one. I read the issue where Zatanna joined the JLA and from that I thought the Warlock of Ys was a HUGGGGE deal. Turns out, not so much!

Martin Gray said...

I’m late with the comment, but thanks for a reminder of a great saga. I wish DC would reprint this, perhaps in a volume with ‘Who took the Super out of Superman?’. Two great four-parters full of plot twists, depth and action, showcasing the Man of Steel’s finest Bronze Age writers - Marty Pasko, Elliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates - and the unmatched art of Curt Swan.

Speaking of Swan, I rather like his occasional partnership with Dan Adkins - smooth!

Anj said...

Smooth is a great word for Adkins contribution!