Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Back Issue Box: Action Comics #549

Last week I was thrilled to review Action Comics #548, the first part of a two-part story that really dove into some Kryptonian history. This was a crazy story which had Vrangs hell-bent on revenge against the world that repelled them, heading to Earth to kill Superman and Supergirl. It has Phantom Zone villains escaping their prison after taking a sacred vow to the Colossus of Hadrad. And it had Clark, Lois, and Jimmy on the trail of some news stories which seemed unrelated.

Action Comics #549 was written by Cary Bates and is just as fun as part one. This one still has a lot of Kryptonian lore in it. We get an in-depth flashback of the Vrang invasion. We get the Phantom Zone villains and learn how they hate the Vrangs even more than the Els. It all ends in a battle in deep space that Superman has very little action in. For a Superman historian like me, this was a big win. 

Now I have to admit that to get to the meat of this story, the Vrang/Kryptonian battle, we have to take a few crazy story leaps. As I said before, this book seems to be padded to fill two issues. So some of the things the Phantom Zone villains do make little sense. But I won't complain.

The art is again by Alex Saviuk with inks by Vince Colletta. But the splash page is inked by Pablo Marcos making me wonder if this was an added page. In last issue's review, Isamu Yukinuri said this story was meant to be one big 46 page story for the European market. That means this second splash would definitely be new material. Saviuk is a fine artist but he feels very 'old school' for a time when people like Perez and Simonson were crushing it on other titles.

If there is one complaint about this story it is the complete lack of Supergirl. A story that hinged on Vrangs discovering Argo City and steeped in Kryptonian lore should have included Kara.

On to the book!

'Superman meets The Zod Squad' starts with a splash page recapping the plot through a clever exposition dump by Jax-Ur, Professor Va-Kox, and an unnamed female that has to be Shyla Kor-Onn!

Shyla is practically a Supergirl villain, harassing The Maid of Might back in Superman Family stories that ran in 1978, 5 years before this story hit the shelves!

I suppose there are a lot of characters in this story so adding Supergirl might have given Cary Bates too many characters to juggle.

Four Phantom Zone villains escaped last issue: General Zod, Faora Hu-ul, Tyb-Ol, and Murkk. 

In the beginning of the issue, Lois Lane uncovers that Faora has been leading Strike Back, a new women's self-defense class. Lois recognized the Kryptonian martial art techniques Faora was demostrating. Superman learns that General Zod has been organizing the White Wildcats, a sort of neighborhood watch. We also learn that Ty-Bol has been posing as a biker while Murkk has been living as a homeless person.

But now that Superman has unmasked Zod, a battle against Superman commences.

Nice panel by Saviuk showing how Superman has a definitive advantage being more accustomed to using super-powers.

Now in an odd twist, Faora shows up carrying Lois, drops her from high in the sky, only to have Zod save her. 

They needed to convince Superman that they are not on Earth to fight the Man of Steel. They aren't there to kill Superman's friends. They have a higher calling.

Surely there would be some better way to let Superman know they aren't there to fight. And how long have they been on Earth in hiding anyways?

Once more we hear how the four took a sacred oath not to do anything criminal until their vow have been fulfilled. 

Now it is one thing to say that you aren't on Earth to fight Superman.

But how crazy is it that they set up Earth identities, got jobs, and began to teach people how to organize and fight criminals? Surely there would be a better way to spend their time? 

Hang on.

They finally reveal to Superman that they are preparing to fight the Vrangs who are on their way to Earth. 

Now this makes their Earth identities even crazier. If they are preparing for a fight with the Vrangs, wouldn't it make more sense to learn how to use their powers better? Maybe set up a strategy to face the Vrangs? If they are readying for war, how is teaching martial arts and helping neighborhood watches time well spent?

In fact, if the vow was so binding, why not show up on Earth and just talk to Superman? Why not involve the Justice League? If the plan was to fight the Vrangs alone, why not find some remote part of Earth and spar and strategize? It makes little sense for a soldier like Zod to waste time.

Anyways, before too much can be said, Superman is hit by a Vrang beam and teleported away.

Superman awakens in the Vrang ship, bound by energy beams, helpless. 

It gives Superman the time to recap the original Vrang invasion. 

Remember, it was the words of truth by Val-Lor that inspired the people of Krypton to rise up against the Vrangs.

The Kryptonians drove off the Vrangs. 

Thus a longstanding blood feud between Kryptonians and Vrangs persisted. The Vrangs went to Earth because they hate Kryptonians. Zod isn't fighting Superman because he hates the Vrangs even more.

Thankfully, at least Supergirl is mentioned here. The Vrangs wish she wasn't off on a space mission so they could complete their revenge. 

There are plenty of Phantom Zone villains with back stories which made me wonder why Tyb-Ol and Murkk, villains without history, were included here. 

Now I know. They are vaporized by Vrang lasers, powerful enough to disintegrate even super-powered Kryptonians.

Thankfully Bates says the villains needed to be close to the ship for the Vrangs to use this weapon. If not, why wouldn't they kill Superman from long range instead of kidnapping him. 

Realizing they could die, Zod and Faora decide to use the explosive powers of the Jewel Kryptonite chunk they have to detonate and destroy the Vrang ship. At the last second, they'll also use their mental powers to shunt themselves into the Phantom Zone to survive the explosion. One last added bonus ... Superman will die too.

Now I thought that Jewel Kryptonite could detonate when those in the Phantom Zone could concentrate their mental powers onto it. As far as I know, outside the Zone, Kryptonians don't have the mental powers to activate it.

Maybe I'm wrong there. 

While Superman is basically paralyzed in the stasis rings, he can use his muscles to basically roll over. He ends up using his super-strength in this manner to have the Vrang ship spin on its axis. 

His tactic works, disabling much of what the Vrangs can do. The energy they use to stabilize the ship, weakens their immobilization rays allowing Superman to free himself.

That is some pretty slick thinking by Superman. And nice art by Saviuk to show the insanity of the spin, giving us panels at an angle to add to the disorientation.

Zod and Faora complete their mission, blowing up the Jewel Kryptonite and utterly destroying the Vrang ship.

That's right, they just offed a whole starship full of Vrangs and from the Phantom Zone, they are pretty chuffed by their results. No more Vrangs and no more Superman.

But wait ... Superman lived.

Get ready from some comic book science!

Superman somehow figured out what Zod was going to do, added his own mental energy to the link-up to send him to the Zone with the villains. But just before heading into the Zone, he grabbed a chunk of the Jewel K before it was turned to dust. And now, concentrating on the Jewel K within the Zone, he uses his mental energy to shunt himself back to reality.

Now there is almost too much here I don't get. He was able to link up his mental energy? He was able to grab some Jewel K while in the Vrang ship but before heading to the Zone? Jewel K within the Zone somehow maintains the properties it has in real space, unlike anything else that exists in the Zone? 

I guess I just have to accept some comic book science now and then. Everything is wrapped up.

I cannot help but love a story that has Vrangs, Jewel Kryptonite, and a Shyla Ko-Onn sighting. There is too much Silver and Bronze Age goodness to ignore. And what a bloody finish, the Vrangs vaporized in deep space!

It is just a pity Supergirl wasn't here to help! This is definitely worth scouring dollar boxes for!

Overall grade:


Martin Gray said...

Thanks for covering part two, what a wacky fable. You definitely spotted some holes in the script; post-Crisis we could perhaps say the Kryptonians were utilising torquasm-vo, the psychic mumbo jumbo accessible via the theta state.

What’s the Supergirl Comic Box Commentary equivalent of a No Prize, then?

Anj said...

Hmmm ... a no-prize will probably be some signed books in the Fall.