Out of the Vault – Action Comics #402

Welcome to Out of the Vault featuring the same old graphic as the other blog! For our inaugural Hero Go Home edition, since I’m in the middle of a massive recap of all the theatrical Superman appearances (be here Monday for that), I thought I’d feature one of the oldest Superman comics I’ve got, Action Comics #402 cover-dated July 1971.

As usual, nasty creases on the cover=your guarantee of authenticity. I did not buy this as a collector. I bought this as an eight-year-old kid who wanted to read about Superman. Check out the price! Fifteen cents, baby. And since the sales tax in Oklahoma City was still 3 cents in 1971 (I think), you didn’t even need that extra penny to groove on the superness. One nickle, one dime, one superhero nirvana.

As the cover promises, there are two stories in this issue. What I didn’t realize until I went back and read this again a few nights ago was that the lead story in this issue actually bears a tenuous connection to my own life and secret origin as a superhero fan! But we’ll get to that at the end.

The first story is titled “This Hostage Must Die,” and is written by Leo Dorfman. Though the art in both stories is by the amazing team of Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, the writers (Leo Dorfman and Geoff Browne) are names I don’t recognize.

In the first story,Superman is being held hostage by an American Indian tribe called the Navarros, led by Red Hawk, who has another identity.

So as Superman is trying to figure out how Red Hawk stole his powers, Frank Haldane, head of the company that is building the rocket base, turns out to have a secret of his own. The silo they have installed contains not an ICBM, but a mechanical drill-ship, which drills a tunnel down below the mesa.

Meanwhile, Superman is not only forging a relationship with Red Hawk’s girlfriend Moon Flower, but also regaining partial use of his super-powers. He decides to call Red Hawk’s bluff and starts his own funeral pyre with his heat vision.

Exactly when Superman explained all this to Moon Flower is never made clear. But it turns out, Red Hawk was just bluffing. So Superman escapes and catches Haldane as he is plundering a massive golden treasure hoard under the mesa, which Superman then donates to the tribe, allowing them to build homes and buy medicine and so forth.

In the second story, “The Feud of the Titans,” Superman and Supergirl are fighting over the fact that she has divided the entire Fortress of Solitude into a “My Side/Your Side” deal. Superman remembers that they were using a unique pit of Kryptonian radioactive chemicals to dispose of dangerous banned weapons when…

Unfortunately, Superman’s hidden weapon doesn’t have the same clothes-shredding capability, more’s the pity. I must say, though, the costume Swan and Anderson have drawn for Supergirl here (this was during a period IIRC when she was changing costumes a lot, since a comic for girls had to have a strong fashion component to it) is probably about as sexy as you can get while covering nearly all the flesh on her body.

Superman decides to destroy all her trophies from the trophy hall (located on his side of the Fortress), which draws Supergirl out, and then she weakens and falls into the radioactive pit.

Superman then figures out that the interaction of the Kryptonian chemicals with the “hate gas” bomb they were destroying caused them to hate each other. They air out the Fortress and are best friends again.

The stories are short and not very detailed, easily understood by kids. And the art is decent, though boring. So what is the tenuous connection to my own family history?

Well, when I was growing up, I was told by my mother that I was descended from William Weatherford, the Creek chief. She had a photostat of a magazine article from True Western Stories or something that told of how he’d been Scottish-descended  socialite William Weatherford by day, and murderous war chief Red Eagle by night. He had fought Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Army while using his daytime social connections to avoid capture.

Reading the Wikipedia account, as well as others on the web, it appears that article was a bit sensationalized (imagine), but I must say it didn’t suck believing I was descended from a guy with a Zorro-style secret identity.

And I don’t know about you, but I find “Red Hawk,” respectable astrophysicist turned war chief, to be awfully close to “Red Eagle,” respected plantation owner turned war chief.

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