Wednesday, May 1, 2019
Superman is Pretty Smart, Isn't He?
When I was a wee little one, my superhero reading was set largely within the Marvel Universe. I loved the DC war comics, Kamandi and a few other DC offerings, but I only occasionally picked up one of their hero books. I always enjoyed them when I did read them, but it was Spider Man and Captain America who regularly took my 20, 30 or 40 cents from me.
Superman the Movie changed that, with Christopher Reeve's spot-on portrayal of Clark/Superman giving me a better appreciation of the Man of Steel and bringing me more regularly into the DC Universe. So I have a particular soft spot in my heart for Action Comics #493 (March 1979), the first Superman comic I bought and read after seeing the movie.
If I look at the story objectively (or as objectively as I can), I think I can honestly say the story is a pretty good one. UFOs, protected by a light so intense that not even Supes' supervision can penetrate it, have been buzzing Metropolis. They always fly off very quickly and don't seem to be doing any harm, though.
But Clark is soon distracted from this when Jimmy Olsen keels over from a bad case of the flu. He'll be all right, but he needs Clark to fill in for him on an assignment--an interview with a reclusive millionaire named Corliss. Jimmy even gives Clark his Superman signal-watch in case Clark gets into trouble.
But it's Superman, not Clark, who meets Corliss first, saving the millionaire from an attack by an alien probe.
Superman wrecks the probe, then shows up as Clark to conduct the interview (intending to study the remnants of the probe later). But IT'S A TRAP! Corliss is an alien. His plan had been to lure Superman to him by holding Jimmy hostage, but having Superman come personally (Corliss is telepathic, so secret identies don't work with him) is much more convenient.
Corliss' TV is actually an interdimensional portal, which sucks Kalel into a reality in which he's unable to focus his thoughts coherently enough to escape.
Corliss then conveniently explains his mission. And its a mission that makes sense within the tenants of Comic Book Logic. He's an advance scout for an alien invasion fleet. The "UFOs" are actually coded messages he's sending back to the fleet, while the probe that had been "attacking" him was actually just delivering a return message. Now that Superman is out of the way, the fleet will be given orders to attack.
None of the other superheros who pretty much litter the landscape of the DC Universe are mentioned, but that's okay. Superman is on the top of the Most Powerful Hero heap, so getting rid of him would make things significantly easier. And maybe Corliss has a plot in the works to get rid of Supergirl, Wonder Woman and a few other super-powerful heroes. Remember that Power Girl and Captain Marvel lived in different dimensions at that time, so they wouldn't have been a concern.
But what makes scene unintentionally hilarious is that the well-used cliche of having the villain conveniently explain the plot to the apparently-doomed hero is taken to a new level. Corliss had apparently prepared visual aids in advance to help him explain precisely what he's up to. He actually had a picture of the UFO signals just sitting there waiting for this moment. Gee whiz.
Anyway, remembet that Superman was wearing Jimmy's signal-watch. This proves to be a life-saver, as he uses the sound to help him mentally focus long enough to escape the dimension. He captures Corliss, instantly memorizes the alien code being used to send messages, then reprograms the signal lights with his X-Ray vision to tell the invasion fleet to go away.
I like this ending, which reminds us that Superman is pretty darn smart and able to improvise a clever plan, using his powers in concert with his intelligence.
So, yes, the "villain explaining his plan" sequence is silly and I admit that my nostalgic attachment to this issue makes me like it more than I might otherwise. But it really is a pretty good story with some clever elements to the plot. Written by Cary Bates and drawn by Curt Swan, Action Comics #493 was a pleasant window for me to enter more regularly into the DC Universe.
Next week, it's back to the Wild West as we ride along with the Pony Express.