Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Ghost or an Alien?

During the Silver Age and Bronze Age, DC was fortunate to have a number of writers who understood how to simply have fun with a Superman story.
Cary Bates was one of those writers. He had a knack for coming up with plots that presented the Man of Steel with a real threat and forced him to use his powers in clever ways.  When backed up by Curt Swan's classic art, this pretty much always means the reader is going to have fun.

Action Comics 494 and 495 (April & May 1979) takes Clark Kent back to Smallville. Someone has anonymously mailed an early version of the Superman "S" to the Daily Planet, promising more secrets of Superman in the future. 

The envelope was mailed from Smallville, so Perry assigns Clark to travel to his old-home town and investigate. Lois comes along.

Once there, weird shenanigans ensue. Retired police chief Parker has been caretaker of the Kent home, but when Lois and Clark arrive, he's being threatened by the ghost of a Revolutionary War Minuteman. Soon after, the ghost of a World War II general threatens Lois. Finally, Superman is attacked by a physical (not ghostly) warrior---a seven-foot tale Dwalu, a member of a race of Kryptonian warriors that were wiped out millennia before that planet exploded.

Over the course of the two issues, Superman gradually figures it all out. Years ago, as Superboy, he saved an alien race from a dragon-like creature called a Gnmod. The monster
was supposedly destroyed, but actually its astral form hid in a trophy the aliens gave Superboy and its been gradually rebuilding its strength.

So it mind-controlled Chief Parker into mailing the "S" symbol in order to lure Superman back to Smallville. It drew on the minds of those around it to form itself into several different warriors until it was able to take solid form as a Dwalu.

So far, all this is great. There's a strong plot that makes perfect sense in a comic book universe and gives Swan opportunity to draw lots of awesome-lookin' stuff. But what rises this up to a solid 8.8 on the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale is the climatic battle between Supes and the Dwalu. 

The soldier is bigger and stronger than Superman, but the Man of Steel uses several clever tactics to give himself an edge. When the Dwalu throws him into the ground, for instance, Superman just goes with the flow, continuing to tunnel through the ground until he pops up behind his opponent.

But that's not as cool as how Superman wins the fight. He manages to use his cape to snatch away the Dwalu's sword, tossing the weapon far away. A moment later, the Dwalu has him in a deadly bear hug.

But Superman didn't throw the sword away. He throw is in a perfect arc that would take it around the world. At exactly the right moment, Superman reaches up, grabs the sword and uses the powers of the
weapon to subdue the Dwalu. Gee whiz, I love that.

Last week, I mentioned that recent DC Comics movies seemed to have lost the idea of simply having fun with superheroes. This was certainly true with last year's Man of Steel. I didn't hate it and there were some parts I enjoyed enormously. But the movie was a failure in my mind because it didn't have the sense of pure fun that this comic or the first two Christopher Reeve films had. If your Superman story doesn't include moments analogous to throwing your enemy's weapon around the world and then catching it at just the right moment to use against him, then you are doing something wrong.

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