Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #491

Action Comics #491

Cover date: January 1979

"A Matter of Light and Death"

Writer: Cary Bates
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte

Cover: Ross Andru And Dick Giordano

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Thanks to the Krypton-Attacks forced onto him by Brainiac, Superman is on a collision course with the Justice League Satellite that is orbiting Earth. Only Hawkman is standing watch as the Man of Steel plows through the structure. With no hope of defeating him, Hawkman turns Superman's amazing strength against him and sends the Last Son of Krypton careening into a lead container in the supply hold. The box contains green Kryptonite used for experimental purposes. The dosage isn't enough to kill Superman, but it will leave the plummeting Kal-El too weak to launch another attack.

Hawkman is now having regrets about not helping Superman battle Brainiac. However, he remembers that the evil android will activate bombs hidden in various locations on Earth should the Justice League interfere with his challenge to Superman.

An unconscious Superman has landed in the woods of Northern Oregon. He's been found by Theodore J. Henkin and his robot companion Jerry. Henkin was the foremost expert in engineering and bionics until he was blinded while doing some last minute adjustments on Jerry. Some circuits in Jerry's neutronic power plant shorted out, and the flare from it had been so brilliant that thick cataracts had crystalized to the point where even the most advanced laser surgery could not remove them from his eyes. Henkin decided to live in seclusion because the noise of the city was too much for him after he had lost is sight.

Superman, who calls himself Kal in front of Henkin, has awakened, and Henkin tells him of how he became blind. The Man of Tomorrow then takes two pieces of coal from a bucket and crushes them into diamonds. He has an idea of how to help Henkin see again. He will use the diamonds to focus beams of his heat vision into the inventor's eyes. While Earth lasers may not be able to help Theodore's sight, Superman theorizes that his heat vision could easily burn the cataracts from the man's eyes.

Superman's plan to help Henkin also gives him a clue about his own visual troubles. The Krypton-Attacks are triggered by light. The first at the WGBS studios started after director Josh Coyle lit a cigarette, the Aurora Borealis caused the second, and the flashbulb from Jimmy Olsen's camera created the third one that made Superman attack the Justice League Satellite.

Superman has now put his plan into motion. Narrow beams of heat vision are focused through the two diamonds. The cataracts are being burned, and Theodore J. Henkin can see once again. However, Superman has left Henkin's cabin before the bionics expert can thank him. The Man of Steel now must stop his Krypton-Attacks and the evil Brainiac.

Brainiac is in his starship preparing a fourth Krypton-Attack for Superman. He is clearly disappointed by the results of the previous one. He had hoped to destroy both Superman and the Justice League with it.

Suddenly, something rams the spacecraft. It's Superman, and he's clearly trying to get Brainiac's attention despite the fact that nothing can penetrate the vessel's force-shields. The android with the 12th level intellect activates his ship's tractor beam.

Knowing that the beam attracts Kryptonian molecules, Superman finds it impossible to break free, but this is what he was counting on. The Man of Steel moves at tremendous speeds while pulling Brainiac's starship with him through space to a star that is going super-nova. Stretching Brainiac's tractor beam to its limits, Superman escapes directly into the heart of the super-nova.

Another Krypton-Attack has occurred within Superman. This time, the energy level in his body is very intense. He must expend it in the only way he can - by attacking Brainiac's ship. The Man of Tomorrow's powerful blows strike the force-shield over and over again until the impenetrable screens are eventually broken. Superman has smashed through the spacecraft's hull, captured Brainiac and learned the locations of the bombs that the evil automaton left on Earth. The Justice League will remove the explosives. Earth, the universe and Superman are now safe from Brainiac's malevolent plans.

5Story - 5: While I did expect to see more of the Justice League during my first reading of this issue, I found as I read it a second time that more JLA would have probably made the reader lose track of what's really going on in the story. Had Batman, Wonder Woman or any other league member been in this issue with Hawkman, this comic would have been ruined for me. However, that's not the case. This issue is perfect.

The story itself is written well. We have Superman in a difficult situation with the Krypton-Attacks, and in the process of helping a man see again, he resolves his own problem. The scenes with Theodore J. Henkin were not just placed to give us a break from the rest of the action in "A Matter of Light and Death." They were written to show who Superman really is. No matter what's troubling him, he wants to help others before taking care of himself.

One thing I noticed about Action Comics #491 and the two previous issues that comprise the Krypton-Attack story arc is that there is a smooth continuity that makes perfect sense. I wish I could say the same thing about some of the Superman comics of today. Reading the new stories after Infinite Crisis makes me miss Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin, Curt Swan and Julius Schwartz more. They really knew how to keep things straight in Superman's universe.

Overall, from start to finish, I was left with a tale I enjoyed immensely. It had a lot of what the comic's title promised - action. There's also a great scene of Superman's altruism and a spectacular ending to an amazingly incredible story arc. My sincerest complements go out to everyone on the creative team, wherever they may be.

5Art - 5: Every page of this comic has incredible art. I honestly don't know how Mister Swan pulled it off, but his art, by far, is the best in the Superman comics. There will never be another like him in my opinion. His style is sorely missed by this fan of the Man of Steel. Thank you, Curt Swan. You'll be remembered always.

Frank Chiaramonte's inks really work well with Swan's pencil art. Sometimes, you'll find an inking style doesn't seem to go well with the pencils. This was the case for my eyes when I saw how the Day of Doom mini-series was inked. However, Frank Chiaramonte's inks fit perfectly with Swan's artistic style. The artwork from the team of Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte is awesome and just leaps off the page. What more could a comic book fan ask for?

4Cover Art - 4: It's not as dramatic as the previous issue's cover, but it is better than the one used for issue #489. It's great to see a Brainiac image, but the main reason I knocked one point off is the fact that positioning seems off. Perhaps if Brainiac was looming over Hawkman and Superman in a menacing manner, it would have looked better. Still this cover is well done. It just doesn't grab the reader's attention like some others do.

Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews



  • Superman #76 (May/June 1952) - “The Mightiest Team in the World”
  • Superman #80 (January/February 1953) - “Superman's Lost Brother”
  • Superman 3D (1953) - “The Man Who Stole the Sun”, “Origin of Superman” and “The Man Who Bossed Superman”
  • Superman #87 (February 1954) - “The Prankster's Greatest Role”
  • Superman #88 (March 1954) - “The Terrible Trio”
  • Superman #89 (May 1954) - “Captain Kent the Terrible”, “Superman of Skid Row”, and “One Hour to Doom!”
  • Superman #91 (August 1954) - “The Superman Stamp” and “Great Caesar's Ghost”
  • World's Finest #88 (May/June 1957) - “Superman and Batman's Greatest Foes”
  • Superman #115 (August 1957) - “The Midget Superman!”
  • Superboy #65 (May/June 1958) - “The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse”
  • Action Comics #242 (July 1958) - “The Super-Duel in Space”
  • Superman #123 (August 1958) - “The Girl of Steel”
  • Superman #127 (February 1959) - “Titano the Super Ape”
  • Action Comics #252 (May 1959) - “The Menace of Metallo” and “The Supergirl From Krypton”
  • Superman #129 (May 1959) - “The Girl in Superman's Past”
  • Superman #130 (July 1959) - “The Curse of Kryptonite!”, “The Super-Servant of Crime!”, and “The Town that Hated Superman!”
  • Jimmy Olsen #40 (October 1959) - “Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl's Pal”




Compilation Volumes


Back to the Mild Mannered Reviews contents page.