Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #393

Action Comics #393

Cover date: October 1970

"Superman Meets Super-Houdini!"

Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Cover: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson

"The Day Superboy Became Superman!"

Writer: Geoff Brown
Penciller: Ross Andru
Inker: Mike Esposito

Reviewed by: Charlie Niemeyer

Click to enlarge

"Superman Meets Super-Houdini!"

At Metropolis Airport, Clark Kent and some fellow reporters are on hand to watch "Hairbreadth" Holahan perform his death dive act. When it looks like Holahan is too close to the ground to make his escape, Clark feigns fear and runs off to change to Superman. Meanwhile, on the ground, Holahan's son Dan says that his father still has 10 seconds to spare and clicks his stopwatch. Just as Superman is about to catch Holahan, the lock on his chain suddenly pops open and he's able to open his parachute. The crowd is in awe and Superman pretends to be stumped, but reveals in a thought bubble that Dan clicking his stop watch sent a hypersonic signal to the lock, causing it to unlock. Superman then invites Holahan to do some stunts with him at a museum fundraiser the next week.

The next day, at an underworld lair, two cons check out Holahan's poster and realize that he's actually Mace Larkin, another con. Seems he escaped from prison 15 years ago and got married. His wife died a few years ago, but not before giving birth to a son, presumably Dan. That night, the cons confront Holahan and blackmail him into helping them with a scheme.

A few days later, at the previously mentioned fundraiser, Superman uses his heat-vision to weld Holahan into a suit of armor. Moments later, Holahan mysteriously emerges from behind a curtain, much to the amazement of Superman. After Superman inspects the armor and sees that it is still intact, Holahan and Dan leave suddenly to prepare new stunts. Suddenly an alarm goes off in the museum and it is discovered that the Star of Asia has been stolen with the lock and glass staying intact. Superman figures that only Holahan could do that and with a quick blast of heat-vision, melts the tires of Holahan's car. After revealing that Holahan is really Larkin, Superman flies him to prison, where he is locked up in Maximum Security in a cell across from Stoney Croy, the cons' boss.

We learn that the jewel theft was a ruse to get Larkin into prison so he could then escape with Croy. Pulling out a fake molar, he uses the chemical inside to freeze the cell lock and kick the door open. Repeating the same trick on Croy's cell door, they then use old drain pipes and conduits to escape from the prison, before heading to the old state pen. Seems the cons have secretly bought it and turned it into an underworld resort. Once inside, Larkin recognizes the cons as being wanted by the FBI. This sets off Croy because Larkin wouldn't actually know who the FBI are looking for if he's really been "out of the rackets" for 15 years.

A shotgun blast to Larkins chest reveals that he's actually Superman in disguise. While explaining that Larkin told Superman about his visit from the cons, and that they switched identities so that Croy would show him the new hideout, he swiftly knocks all of the cons out. For his assistance in helping Superman round up the hoodlums, the Governor grants Larkin a full pardon. We end with Superman flying off wishing he had a son like Dan.

3Story - 3: Not bad, but this story still felt very Silver-Agey. This is the first issue of Action to be edited by Murray Boltinoff, but it just seems to continue the kind of story Weisinger did. Maybe he was just biding time until the BIG changes coming in a few months. I will admit that the story did have me fooled though, and my jaw dropped when it turned out that Superman and Larkin had switched identities. I did find it convenient that Croy would trust "Larkin" enough to take him to the hideout. Also, based on all of the mob movies and TV shows I have seen, I would have thought Croy would have tried to get info out of "Larkin" before shooting him. Also, I'm not sure I understand how Superman got out of that suit of armor. Nifty idea about building a secret hideout in an old prison. And it was nice to see Clark in one whole panel.

5Art - 5: The Swanderson team do a great job with the art. I actually think it looks a little better than it will later in their famous run with O'Neil on Superman as it is more Swan than Anderson. However, it does seem that Swan had to figure out how to squeeze this story into 13 pages. Something cool to see though was the way he drew in Superman's use of heat-vision when he was actually disguised as Larkin. Since we weren't supposed to know he was in costume, there were no beams drawn. It reminds me of the way John Byrne and Jerry Ordway would depict it post-Crisis.

"The Day Superboy Became Superman!"

One day, years ago, at Metropolis University a group of students discover that the Raiders, a gang from the slums, have broken in and are using the new college pool. Clark Kent, who just happens to be nearby, ducks behind a nearby hedge to change to Superboy. He then uses his super-breath to freeze the Raiders into a block of ice, then drop them off off-campus. When he returns, Marla Harvey, one of Clark's fellow students, chastises Superboy for ruining those poor kid's fun. The next day, the Raiders steal the food from the cafeteria and take it back to the slums where others join in the "banquet." Superboy then swoops in, retrieving the food. Later, Clark sees Marla leaving the school with luggage. Turns out she's leaving the college because the school arrested the Raiders for feeding the hungry.

A few weeks later, the Raiders "borrow" several books from the university library, and take them to their new teacher, Marla Harvey. She tells them they shouldn't have, then tells them to run when she sees Superboy arrive on the scene. She reveals that she is starting a school for the slum kids in a condemned building that a demolition company is letting her use temporarily. She then explains to Superboy what life is like in the slums and that instead of helping other planets, he should become a Superman and help these people. He then returns the books and heads off on a vital mission in space. When he returns to talk to Marla the next day, he sees that the demolition company are tearing down the "school." Suddenly, his X-ray vision reveals that Marla is still inside the building. He's too late to save her, but before she dies she makes Superboy promise that he will help the people in the slum. He starts to build a new school for the kids when he realizes what Marla really meant. He tells the watching crowd that he could build a new school and rebuild the entire slum area, but then they would be relying on him. He suggests that they go to their mayor or councilman and fight for their future.

Months later, when the new school is completed, the school is dedicated to Superman for inspiring the improvements to the slum. Superman declines and remolds the statue to look like Marla, saying that it was all because she inspired Superboy to become a Superman.

2Story - 2: Wow, can we say heavy-handed? Marla talking to Superboy reminded me of the black man asking Green Lantern why he doesn't help black people. I know Superboy was in Smallville for most of his life, but I find it hard to believe that a kid that can travel all over the world and beyond doesn't know about slums. Speaking of Superboy, considering the title of the story, we never do actually see him referred to as Superman in this story. Oh, and him saying that Americans do have a superpower in the right to vote seemed to be out of place in a story about the slums. Like it fell off a story about voting and wound up on the last page. Weird.

3Art - 3: I have never been a huge fan of the Andru/Esposito team on Superman. I've liked Andru on Spider-Man, and he's great with just about the whole DC pantheon when inked by someone like Dick Giordano - just look at most of DC's covers in the late 70s and early 80s. Espositio's inking on the other hand just doesn't work for me. His line is too thick for my taste, which makes the art look "muddy." Having said that, this is probably one of their better Superman jobs.

4Cover Art - 4: Meh. The artwork is great, but trying to create an exciting, attention grabbing cover based on an average story is difficult, but it worked on me. When I saw this issue, I just had to know what was going on and why some kid would not want Superman to save his dad.

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”




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