Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Post-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #585 (1987)

Action Comics #585

Cover date: February 1987

Writer: John Byrne
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Dick Giordano

"And Graves Give Up Their Dead..."

Reviewed by: Christopher Evans

The Phantom Stranger invites the reader to follow him, as he tells us his tale...

Metropolis. Magical energy crackles above the city as on board her floating palace, Superman battles Arathaza, a beautiful sorceress who, 48 hours ago, was a secretary named Barb Kowaleski. Arathaza has drained the Man of Steel's life force. Realising that the more he struggles, the stronger his opponent gets, Superman feigns collapse, becoming completely passive. Gloating over her apparent victory, Arathaza is caught off guard as Supes snatches her staff, dashing it to pieces on the floor. Her 'tacked on' source of power destroyed, Arathaza reverts to plain ol' Barb Kowaleski. Her palace disintegrates and Superman is returned to his normal self, flying Kowaleski away. The Phantom Stranger watches as a dark jewel from the staff of Arathaza falls to the ground a hundred miles away, sinking into the earth of a graveyard.

Returning to his apartment, Superman finds the Phantom Stranger waiting for him. When asked why he was looking for Superman in Clark Kent's apartment, the Stranger tells Superman that a task awaits him. Supes suggests the Stranger finds someone else whose talents work against magic, as he is no more invulnerable to it than any other mortal, but finds himself transported to the graveyard we saw earlier. Where the jewel fell to earth, there is now a giant being - a monstrous, swirling vortex of dirt, rocks and crackling energy.

Overcoming his shock at the sight, Superman launches an attack. The monster merely swats him from the sky noting that its attacker must be punished. Shocked to discover that the monster has an intellect and is not just a mass of mystical forces, Superman confronts the Stranger, who assures him that the monster is not alive. There is no life within it, only the memory of life. Telling him to contain the monster, the Stranger launches himself into its mass, stepping across the dimensions and into the kingdom of the damned.

There, the dead souls of murderers have fashioned a mockery of a courtroom and accuse the Stranger of the crime of life; living whilst they are forbidden the rewards of the afterlife. They tell him that they now have a second opportunity to enter the kingdom of the living, where they will make all living things pay penance for their own 'suffering'.

Back in the kingdom of the living, the monster has doubled in size and is moving towards Metropolis like a tornado. Guessing that it can only assimilate loose soil and rocks, Superman blasts a channel in the monster's path, right down to the bedrock. His guess is on the money, as the monster is forced to halt its advance.

Sensing that Superman has temporarily contained the physical manifestation of the dead, the Phantom Stranger forces them to look upon the faces of their victims; murdered shopkeepers, teachers, children, policemen, innocent bystanders judges and scapegoats. The dead deny him, claiming that they are the victims. They once had money, beauty and power and took what they saw as theirs. The Stranger focuses his energies and reveals the source of their power; the 'Sherabite Stone' from Arathaza's staff. A focus for evil, yet powerless without the evil of man to feed it. As the dead storm the Stranger, howling that he will not take away their power, the images of their victims rise up against them and the Stranger mounts a counter attack.

Superman sees an image of the Stranger, telling him to break the monster's contact with the earth whilst its power is diverted. Diving into the ground the Man of Steel tears a huge mountain of earth free from the ground and lifts it up, up and away into orbit, giving it a shove towards the sun. The Phantom Stranger emerges from the mass of rock and soil and the two return to the outskirts of Metropolis.

There, the Stranger tells Superman that there are forces that can be stronger than death; love being one and hate another. It is hate that they fought and defeated today. Hatred that festered in the earth and was given release through the Sherabite Stone. Handed the stone by the stranger, Superman crushes it in his fist, telling him that he still hasn't really explained what happened. The Stranger merely replies that he has no intention of doing so - there are some things that man was not meant to know...

3Story - 3: Decent enough stuff, with quite a lot crammed into the 22 pages. The opening of the story felt a little like a James Bond movie to me, in that the story begins at a point that makes you feel like you've walked in three quarters of the way through events. The brief Arathaza section of the story told you pretty much everything you needed to know about what had been going on and set up the Sherabite Stone for later on in the story. I liked the way Superman asked the Phantom Stranger why he was waiting for him "in Clark Kent's apartment". Nice touch of the ol' secret identity gig there.

The way Superman takes one look at the swirling rock and dirt monster and then goes zooming in, fists flying, seems a little out of character for me. I'd have expected him to at least try and communicate and/or reason with the creature before resorting to fisticuffs. Still, I guess that can be forgiven remembering that the intent behind the Action Comics title at this time was to deliver action.

Good to see the Phantom Stranger acknowledging Superman's code to never take a life. Having this reinforced early in Byrne's run helped to make the events of Superman #22 (where he executes the Phantom Zone criminals!) all the more shocking.

The whole 'kingdom of the damned' angle could be seen as a little cheesy, what with the spirits of the murder victims rising up to help the Phantom Stranger defeat their murderers, but I think it fits with the whole supernatural good vs. evil theme of the Stranger himself (a character I've got to admit I don't know much about). I loved the whole "up, up and away" line as Superman heaves a mountain of dirt up into orbit; an impressive early display of the level of power our boy in blue is capable of.

Yeah, nothing bad about this issue for me, but at the same time, nothing outstanding, so I give it an average 3 out of 5.

3Art - 3: Byrne's art again looks rushed here, which as I've said before, may be due to the inking. The Phantom Stranger looks great though, and for me, nobody can draw rubble, rocks and dirt like John Byrne. Okay, okay, I know that sounds odd, but over the 20 or so years I've been enjoying his artwork, it's one thing I've noticed. Whenever superfolk are tearing up sections of the city and beating each other with them, Byrne's attention to detail on rubble and general mess is always good.

Impressive use of scale on the three panels that make up page 20, panning back to reveal just how huge the mountain of earth that Superman is lifting really is. Vaguely reminds me of when the Marvel heroes got a mountain dumped on top of them back in 'Secret Wars'.

Like the story, the art is...sufficient. Good but not great, so again 3 out of 5.

3Cover Art - 3: The first thing that strikes me about this cover is how brightly Superman's uniform (costume?) stands out against the soil and dirt flying up around him and the Phantom Stranger's dark colours. Quite appropriate for a symbol of truth, justice and general ol' fashioned good. On one hand, the cover is quite atmospheric, with a graveyard exploding up around our heroes and it does represent events in the story. On the other hand... Ohh, look, Superman and the Phantom Stranger are being menaced by... soil. H'mm. I think the rocks n' lightning vortex monster would have made for a more exciting cover, but like everything else about this issue, it stands up to some scrutiny and is firmly 'okay'. 3 out of 5 again.

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