Out of the Vault – Action Comics #472

In honor of the climax of Superman: The Movie, here’s an issue of Action Comics just one year before the movie opened. The issue is Action Comics #472, June 1977. If you notice, the cover is now calling it Superman’s Action Comics, just in case you couldn’t tell whose face was getting kicked on the cover there. In the six years since last week’s issue, the price (which had temporarily dropped to 20 cents in between) has now risen to 35 cents.

And I know, the steady diet of Action from the 70’s is getting a little tiresome. I wish I also had my box of old Superman issues from the Vault as well, but they will have to wait. There’s some freaky stuff in those old Superman issues.

This issue is actually the continuation of an issue I don’t have, which is as close as DC came at the time to emulating the Marvel style. Instead of doing a continuous soap opera-style storyline, DC opted for self-contained single-issue stories so that readers could drop in at any time and not feel lost. But they would occasionally stretch a story over two or three issues to give a feeling of greater continuity.

So in the previous issue, Superman faced a super-criminal who had apparently escaped from the Phantom Zone. This issue’s story, “The Phantom Touch of Death,” is written by Cary Bates and, as usual, drawn by Curt Swan and… Tex Blaisdell? Was Murphy Anderson sick, or just taking a break to work on another project? I don’t know, but his polished inks are sorely missed.

A brief word about the Phantom Zone. It was introduced in the comics in 1961, and it works like this: criminals are exposed to a special ray, which causes them to dematerialize and exist in a separate dimension, able only to observe our world as phantoms without substance. Sounds an awful lot like the Empty Doom from the Atom Man serial, doesn’t it?

Superman is searching through the computer database at the Fortress of Solitude to figure who the escapee is, and comes up with a computer punch card with the information that she is Faora Hu-ul of Alezar.

Hard to tell if Bates in 1977 meant “man-hater” as code for lesbian or simply a women’s libber. The 14 year old me definitely understood it to be more on the women’s lib side, since the Equal Rights Amendment had been a big deal in the news during the past several years.

Superman can’t figure out how Faora has escaped, but can’t dwell on it, since he has some unspecified work to do in his day job as a TV news personality. Meanwhile, as he’s flying back to Metropolis, we see his next door neighbor, widower Jackson Porter, speaking to the ghost of his late wife, Katie. At Katie’s request, Jackson has stolen a special statue from Kent’s apartment, and we learn that “Katie” is actually the phantom form of Faora.

As Clark Kent is discovering that his statue is missing, Katie asks Jackson to rub the statue and wish her back into existence, which he does. She then yells a super-loud challenge to Superman. When Superman flies out to meet her, he gets an unpleasant surprise.

While the idea of a martial art that causes specific reflex actions from hitting specific pressure points is a neat idea, I wonder if it isn’t used here in part due to editorial pressure. After all, Superman by this time was such an idealized icon that he certainly couldn’t be shown to be screaming from, you know, pain. And especially not from being hit by a woman.

Superman uses his heat vision to vaporize the shards of glass before they can hit the street, which I’m sure is a great comfort to all the people inside the building who got a face-full of glass shrapnel. But as he’s otherwise occupied, Faora hits him in the ass-dimple, which causes his legs to vibrate out of control, and he burrows into the ground.

When he emerges again, Faora hits him in the ribs, which causes him to double up and float in the upside-down fetal position, which looks a lot like the helpless pose he assumed against Terra Man, the space cowboy, in 1972 (I really need to dig those old Superman issues out of the Vault). While he’s helpless, Faora gloats about how she was able to use her phantom telepathy to read Jackson’s mind and imitate his wife, so that he would bring her out of the Phantom Zone with the power of his love and a special power source made of the rare space element Paskorium (a reference to Marty Pasko, who had just taken over as the regular writer on Superman in April 1977).

And now that Superman’s helpless, she readies her ultimate attack, the Kryptonian version of Dim Mak, the “death touch.”

I like how she has to “load” her hand to get ready to deliver the blow.  Also how she plans to deliver a “pinpoint” strike with “precise” pressure using the broad, blunt, cushioned side of her palm, which would not seem conducive to either.

Anyway, by the time she finally moves in to deliver the blow, all her yackety-yak has allowed Superman to recover from the paralysis of her previous blow, and he kicks her away. Then while she’s distracted, he flies away.

Faora isn’t worried. She’s got a master plan for Earth that not even Superman can hide from, she thinks. Ah, but that’s where she’s wrong. She has kicked Superman’s butt so thoroughly that decides not to hide out on Earth at all. In fact, he decides to flee the entire universe by projecting himself into the Phantom Zone!

“Brave, brave Sir Superman, he bravely ran away…” To be continued next issue (which I don’t have, so you’ll never find out how the story ends, although I’ll bet Superman wins somehow).

There’s also a short back-up story in which Clark Kent’s boorish co-worker, sportscaster Steve Lombard (who?), is visited by his doppelganger, a mirror image who claims to be his conscience and whom no one else can see. Turns out it was just an April Fool’s Day gag Clark set up with his co-workers, with Batman(!) playing the part of the other Steve. That Superman! What a card!

(ETA: Now that I think of it, this would have worked a lot better next week, when the film would actually feature Phantom Zone escapees–oh well…)

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