Mild Mannered Reviews - Classic Pre-Crisis Superman Comics

Action Comics #494

Action Comics #494

Cover date: April 1979

"The Secret of the Super S"

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

Cover: Jose Luis Garcia Lopez

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Click to enlarge

Clark Kent has returned to the Daily Planet for a working vacation thanks to Morgan Edge, the head of Galaxy Broadcasting. Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen are welcoming him when a mysterious special delivery letter arrives. It contains an alternative S that could have been Superman's insignia during his days in Smallville, Kansas as Superboy had he not chosen the more iconic symbol he uses today. The note also promises to give the Daily Planet an exclusive on the unrevealed secrets of Superman. Since Clark grew up in Smallville, Perry sends him to investigate the story, and Lois decides to tag along.

A passenger train is crossing the mountains west of Metropolis. A rockslide has suddenly blocked the tracks near a blind curve. The locomotive cannot stop in time to prevent a crash. Miraculously, the vehicle passes through the stone barrier. The heat vision and strength of Superman help it continue its journey uninterrupted. The Man of Steel then returns inside the train as Clark Kent, where Lois Lane awaits him.

Lois and Clark have just arrived in Smallville. Police Chief Parker, who acts as unofficial caretaker of the Kent farm since Clark's parents passed away, has not arrived at the train station to pick them up. Feeling something might be wrong, Clark and Lois decide to go on to the house. At the same time, Chief Parker is confronted by a ghost-like figure in American Revolutionary War garb. The phantom's sword passes through Parker, and Lois and Clark enter the Kent home to find him unconscious. The chief later explains that the house is haunted. He's been using cameras and recording equipment used by parapsychologists to prove this.

Things are now more calm in the Kent home. Chief Parker is making his famous Parker Stew for dinner while Clark is in the basement searching for clues regarding the alternative Super S. He finds the emblem near the Prisma Jewels from Andromeda that were given to him as a reward by the inhabitants of the planet Zoltam. He recalls when Martha Kent made the other symbol from the same indestructible Kryptonian blankets from which his costume had been created. However, before Superboy places the S on his suit, Jonathan Kent shows Superboy the more familiar shield that he had done, and thus, the choice was made. Martha's S is then placed on one of Superboy's secret trophy shelves.

It is late at night in the Kent home. Chief Parker is hunting ghosts, and Lois has gone to sleep in what was once JonathanandMartha Kent's bedroom. Clark, on the other hand, has decided to patrol Smallville as Superman. He spots three motorcycle riding graffiti artists who call themselves the Scorpions. One of them has painted the alternate S on a wall. Superman turns the three young men's bikes into a sanitation machine for cleaning up the "artwork" before he questions the boysaboutthe symbol. The one who did it said that he got the idea to use the S as a logo for the Scorpions as they drove by Maple Street, where the Kent house is located.

A sudden scream from Lois Lane interrupts Superman's questioning of the Scorpions. She has been visited by a ghostly form dressed like a World War II general, who is about to shoot her. However, Chief Parker and Clark Kent, even with his superhuman eyes, do not see the soldier when they enter the bedroom. Clark's amazing vision does pick up something else in the meantime. Chief Parker's fingerprints on the doorknob match those on the Super S sent to Perry. Clark believes that whatever entity or entities Parker and Lois saw placed the alternative insignia in the minds of the police chief and the graffiti artist in order to force them to draw it as a possible effort to expose Clark's double identity.

Chief Parker, Lois and Clark are sitting down for breakfast when our hero begins to actually feel dizzy as if some of his power had been drained from him. Flying to a forest outside of Smallville, Superman clears his head by letting spring water shower over him. Meanwhile, Chief Parker tells Lois that he believes that the ghost haunting the Kent farm assumes the form of soldiers in the minds of those it visits. Parker is interested in the American Revolutionary War, and Lois' uncle was a general during World War II.

Superman has been suddenly knocked unconscious by a gigantic Kryptonian Dwalu, a seven-foot tall warrior whose kind died out during a civil war on the Man of Steel'shome world. The dormant Man of Tomorrow has just submerged into the water as the gargantuan soldier is now standing over the falls with his Xaka sword in hand.

5Story - 5: This issue was a breath of fresh air in many ways. As I said in the review for number 493, I like the fact that Clark is a TV Newscaster, but I missed seeing him in the city room of the Daily Planet. It was great to see Lois, Perry and Jimmy welcome him back. I'm also glad there was a flashback that didn't involve some unnoticed teenager pining for Lana Lang. I'd had enough of that in the first season of Smallville.

The rest of the story is pretty solidly written and very reader friendly. The latter aspect isn't done much in this day and age beyond "previously" blurb. However, Cary Bates makes everything feel familiar to new readers and old ones alike.

The whole haunting of the Kent home is interesting. I have a theory about what might be causing it, but I won't go into it now in case it ends up becoming a spoiler for the next issue. Suffice it to say, I had fun seeing the classic elements of a ghost story mixed into an adventure of our favorite Kryptonian.

Call me strange, but I love seeing Lois go to Smallville. One of the best episodes from season one of Lois & Clark, in my opinion, is "The Green, Green Glow of Home." There just seems to besomethingabout her spending time in Clark Kent's world that I can't exactly put my finger on. In every case, that is just one of the many parts of this comic book that made it one of the most entertaining stories I've ever read.

5Art - 5: I can't stress enough how much I miss seeing Curt Swan's art in the Superman comics. I like many of the people that draw/drew the Man of Steel after Swan left the books, but they don't have his magic and consistency. This could be, perhaps, because his was the first artwork I had seen when I discovered the Superman character. Anyway, from beginning to end, the images leap from the pages and give the story stunning visuals. The Dwalu looks particularly menacing in the last panel. I can't wait to see how both Curt Swan and Superman deal with him in the next issue.

5Cover Art - 5: As I was going through the monthly box of comics sent by my parents, this cover caught my eye. There's just something about the look of fear on Lois' face and Superman's reaction that makes one want to pick up this issue and read it. This image is truly incredible.

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.