August 1, 2021

Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #458

Action Comics #458

Cover date: April 1976

"Make Me a Super-Hero!"/"Masquerade of the Nutty Kid!"

Cover Art: Bob Oksner

Michael Bailey Reviewed by: Michael Bailey



"Make Me a Super-Hero!"

Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Tex Blaisdell

Samuel Tanner, President of the United Broadcasting Company, is furious at the fact that his competitor, GBS, always has the exclusive stories on Superman. He doesn't buy the fact that Clark Kent and Lois Lane just "happen" to be on the spot when Superman saves the day and believes that Superman and GBS are colluding for the exclusive stories. Suddenly he gets an idea and goes to see Peter Silverstone, a man who works in UBC's research lab.

Across town at the GBS building Morgan Edge calls Clark Kent to his office. Once Kent arrives Edge informs him that he has been promoted to the position of Associate Producer of all of the news programs. Kent is hesitant to accept the position, but Edge won't take no for an answer. Edge's first assignment for Kent is to help build up WGBS's reporting staff to make up for the three reporters that had defected to UBC. Edge sends Kent on his way, leaving Clark wondering how much tougher the new position will be for him to become Superman in an emergency.

Back at the UBC building Tanner orders a befuddled Peter Silverstone to create a super-hero for UBC. Silverstone finds the project a challenge and sets to work. Eventually he creates a rod that will act like a TV-aerial that feeds into a costume to give the wearer powers like Superman's. Silverstone wonders who should wear the costume and decides there is only one person who fits the bill.

A few days later, thieves traveling in a giant vacuum cleaner attempt to rob a bank. Superman arrives on the scene quickly, but so does a new costumed figure. Superman attacks the man thinking him a villain, but the figure defends himself and is able to knock Superman back before hitting the Man of Steel with sound waves and radio broadcast from all over the Earth which bombards his brain. Superman disperses the waves with a convenient lightning bolt before flying back and grabbing the garbed figure. As the giant vacuum cleaner disappears the man becomes annoyed because he can't track it. Superman doesn't care and wants to know how the figure appeared out of nowhere. The newcomer explains that he is able to disperse his body into ionic particles and ride TV and radio waves wherever he wants. He then uses this ability to disappear, leaving behind an annoyed Superman.

Soon after Superman resumes his Clark Kent identity and tracks down Steve Lombard to get the sports reporter to renew his contract. Steve makes excuses as to why Clark couldn't get to him and tries to play it off that he was considering other offers. His secretary reveals that the other offers were not as much as GBS's and Steve, slightly annoyed, signs the contract. To recover his dignity he triggers the pen to spray out all of its ink onto Clark's suit.

Meanwhile, Tanner confronts Silverstone about the new weirdly dressed man that GBS is reporting on and wants to know if he is the hero that he had Silverstone create. Silverstone explains that someone stole the suit and knocked him out. Tanner is sympathetic and tells Silverstone that they will figure it out later. Silverstone muses how Tanner bought his story and how no one can know the real story, at least not yet.

Not long after, Superman, after some investigation, tracks the thieves who used the giant vacuum cleaner down through the parts they used. Superman confronts the creator of the machine and demands to know where the mysterious figure is. The villain doesn't know who Superman is talking about and throws up a force field to show he doesn't need anyone's help before teleporting the vacuum to Metropolis.

Elsewhere the giant vacuum cleaner materializes and attempts another bank robbery. The new hero, who had been tracking the machine, appears overhead. As Superman digs underground to get around the force field the costumed figure uses his wand to battle the vacuum cleaner. Both men prevail as the new hero causes the machine to reappear at the villain's lair while Superman bursts from the floor and knocks him out.

The new hero uses his powers to travel from the site of the attack to a UBC news van, much to the surprise of the reporter inside, Lola Barnett. She believes the distortion effect looks like a black rock, so the masked man takes that as his name. He gives Lola an exclusive interview, which pleases Tanner but infuriates Morgan Edge. Edge contacts Clark Kent, but Kent has no idea how to contact Blackrock. Across town, Tanner has a similar problem with Silverstone. Tanner orders Silverstone to keep him posted if Silverstone has any luck finding him. Similarly, Edge demands that if he sees Blackrock on television again it had better be on WGBS-TV. Kent muses privately how me has a terrible feeling that Blackrock will be back sooner than anyone expects.

4Story - 4: This was a pretty typical Superman story from the '70s. I haven't read a whole lot of them, but the ones I have read pretty much fall into this pattern. Elliot S! Maggin definitely had his views on Superman and how to handle the character and his supporting cast. I don't always find myself in agreement with that handling, but the fact of the matter is that, from what Maggin has told interviewers, when he and Cary Bates became the main writers for the Man of Steel not a whole heck of a lot of people wanted to write the character, so there is a certain amount of respect for a writer that took a job not many people wanted. You also have to consider the fact that Julius Schwartz probably had a hand in the stories and that, again according to Maggin, then publisher Carmine Infantino would make suggestions that made their way into the stories.

While it was fairly typical of a Maggin script that doesn't mean it was a bad one. Sure you had the typical Morgan Edge balling Clark out scene or the Steve Lombard humiliating Clark Kent gag, but the introduction of Blackrock was handled well. There was a sense of mystery to the whole story in that you didn't know who Blackrock was but that one of the characters did. I am not going to reveal who Blackrock turned out to be, because spoiler rules still apply to books that are nearly thirty years old, suffice to say that the Blackrock concept played itself out in a very interesting fashion, especially when you find out who the first Blackrock was.

One has to wonder if Samuel Tanner was influenced by media juggernaut Ted Turner. I am uncertain of the timeline, but since CNN is now twenty-five years old it is certainly a possibility. Comic writers, then and now, are influenced by events and people that exist around them, so it would make sense for Maggin to have based Tanner on Turner, especially with the similarities in names.

The pacing of the final fight scene was very well done. I liked the split page effect of Superman stopping the unnamed creator of the giant vacuum cleaner as Blackrock fought the man's creation. You'll notice that I am not mocking the concept of a giant vacuum cleaner. I will probably repeat this diatribe in all of the other reviews I write of comics from times past but I usually try to judge a book based on the quality of other comics published at the same time. At the moment I am going through my rather substantial collection and I am reading the books in chronological order. So I can say that, for the time, giant vacuum cleaners worked. It may seem kind of silly now, but it was a different time and place and comics were different.

(This doesn't change my opinion that most of the Silver-Age books I have read, especially JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, are pretty hard to read simply because the dialogue is so repetitive, but that is not to say that it is a bad comic when compared to what else was being published at the time.)

The one glaring problem I had with this story was the fact that Superman was so quick to attack Blackrock in his first appearance. Superman has gotten kind of a bad rap with the perception that he hits first and asks questions later. Anyone that needed an example of this could point to this issue and say, "See? I told you so." With all of the investigating Clark did in searching out the unnamed vacuum cleaner creator you would have figured that, hey, maybe he would have done investigating into who the masked man he attacked was. But he doesn't do this. Instead, he has Steve Lombard sign a contract.

Ugh.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this story and need to track down the next issue at some point to see how everything played out.

4Art - 4: Now here is where some of the reading audience will start calling for my head on a platter.

I am not the biggest fan of Curt Swan's artwork.

There, I said (or wrote) it. This does not mean that I don't have the highest respect for Curt Swan and think that all of his artwork was terrible. That could not be further from the truth. I respect Swan's work, I just think that it is kind of stiff and he usually made Superman look kind of old.

I'll give you all a moment to gather your torches and those rake thingies from the Frankenstein movies.

With this issue I thought that something was missing from Swan's artwork. The page layouts were fine, but there is a problem with the clarity of the work, which may have more to do with the printing process and the inker than Swan's pencils.

Despite this you have to admire the amount of story Swan could pack into a page. The montage of Silverstone creating the suit was a really nice piece and I liked the split screen effect in the final fight.



"Masquerade of the Nutty Kid!"

Writer: Elliot S! Maggin
Penciller: Mike Grell
Inker: Mike Grell

Green Arrow gets a report that the getaway copter that the kidnappers of famed comedian Danny Harris, the so called "Nutty Kid of Comedy", has landed in the vicinity of Looking Glass Hill. He demands the police officers he is riding with to speed up so they can bail out Black Canary, who was with the kidnappers, and catch the kidnappers themselves.

Meanwhile, Black Canary has discovered that the kidnappers were merely a cover and while they made everyone believe that they had captured Danny Harris they had, in reality, a disguised Lex Luthor. Luthor reveals that the ruse was a cover to engineer a situation where either she kills Green Arrow or Green Arrow kills her. He uses a device that not only hypnotizes her into killing Green Arrow, but also to not raise a hand to stop Luthor. Black Canary tries to break free but finds that she can't.

Luthor prattles on about how events will play out as Black Canary assumes an odd pose. Suddenly she attacks him, which confuses Luthor until he realizes that with her training in the martial arts she has hypnotized herself into thinking that Luthor was Green Arrow. She attacks again and again before Luthor finally pulls a disappearing act, hoping that his hypno-beam will still compel her to kill Green Arrow. But as he disappears so does the compulsion to kill him.

Suddenly Green Arrow arrives and as the two embrace she wonders whether their meeting will turn into catastrophe now or later. The two talk about where Luthor went as they search for Danny Harris. They finally find him tied up in a hidden compartment of the helicopter. He greets the heroes by telling them that a funny thing happened on the way to the studio.

3Story - 3: This one was hard to come into since I had not read any of the previous installments. So if I go back and read the previous issues the whole ending has been blown for me. It's not the end of the world, but these are the pitfalls of having a spotty early run of ACTION COMICS and reading them before filling in the holes.

Despite coming in right at the end this is a fun little story. Maggin's first comic book work was a Green Arrow story, so it's nice to see him come back to the character, even though he plays a very small part of the story.

I always enjoy reading comic book writers of the past dealing with the martial arts. Before the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER series and the rise in popularity of Hong Kong action films in the United States in the '80s and '90s the martial arts were not as prevalent in pop culture. (Yes, I know there were martial arts films shown and produced in the United States before the '70s and '80s, but go back and watch the US produced martial arts films from that time period and tell me that they had a good handle on it.)

In the '60s and '70s it seemed like comic book writers had this very odd view of how the marital arts worked and what some who was a "master" could and could not do. The crux of this story falls on the fact that Black Canary is such an adept in the marital arts that she could hypnotize herself into reversing the hypnosis Luthor put her under by making her think that Lex Luthor was Green Arrow.

Now I'm not an expert on the martial arts, but I have done some reading and talked to martial artists and know that there are some forms that, as you go through your training, put an emphasis on meditation and, when you think about it, a lot of the kicking and leaping and breaking of boards are as much physical as they are mental, but knowing what I know about Black Canary and her training I doubt she would be that powerful.

Then again this is a comic book and I could be just being picky. That is always a possibility with me.

Maggin obviously liked writing Luthor and it is interesting to note that his characterization of Luthor in 1976 (or so) falls nicely into how the character is being handled now. Sure there is more intensity and less camp, but with some changes in dialogue you could play the same scene off today and have it work.

On a personal note, I really kind of wish they would bring these back-up stories back. DETECTIVE COMICS is one of the few books on the market that has a back-up feature, but, in my opinion, they usually suck pretty hard. It would be nice to have at least one of the Superman books and DETECTIVE have back-up stories featuring some of the lesser used DC characters.

But that could just be me.

4Art - 4: This story featured some great early Mike Grell work. While I will always prefer his mid-to-late '80s work his early work was good as well.

While the first panel on page four was kind of weak I think he did a nice job with the fight scene. His page layouts were nice and I think that his sketchy style really made this story work.

3Cover Art - 3: I understand the artist was going for a very funky effect with this piece, but it doesn't play off well. Blackrock looks kind of silly as well, though I thought that the layout was nice.

However, there was enough on this cover to make a reader in 1976 grab this book off the stands. It may not look good, but it is compelling.

This cover gets an eight out of ten on the 1976 Edition of the Grab Me Meter.


Pre-Crisis Superman Comic Book Reviews

1938-1949

1950-1959

  • 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”

1960-1969

1970-1979

1980-1986

Compilation Volumes

Miscellaneous

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