Out of the Vault – Superman #243

So last week, we discussed the Sand Superman, an alien entity that came to Earth and stole much of Superman’s power in 1970, leaving him weakened. The storyline ran for eight issues (interrupted by a couple of reprint Giants), and ended with Superman supposedly losing a third of his power forever.

This happened during a period that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, but haven’t due to still not having all the relevant books out of the Vault (and some may have been sold or lost long ago). DC took the costumes and/or powers away from several of their superheroes during this time period, from 1968 to 1973 or so. The Metal Men disguised themselves as humans, the Teen Titans gave up their costumes and powers  to help inner-city youth and stuff, and even Wonder Woman ditched her powers and costume to become an Emma Peel-styled secret agent and martial artist. That last is significant, because Diana Prince and her mentor, I Ching, helped Superman resolve the problem of the sand creature once and for all.

But though the end of the story seemed to indicate that Superman had been permanently reduced in power like so many of his peers, it conveniently ignored the fact that 2/3 of infinity still equals infinity. And so, in the very next issue after the resolution of the sand creature storyline, Superman is once again seen flying between worlds and surviving a super-nova just as he would have before the supposed depowering.

The story is “The Starry-Eyed Siren of Space!” by Cary Bates (who had been the writer on Superman before Denny O’Neil’s run), and re-reading it now, it’s pretty apparent what Cary Bates was watching on TV at the time.

So Superman is caught in the shock-wave from a super-nova and flung through space out of control until he arrives near a strange planet he has never seen before. He feels a strange compulsion to fly down to the planet, and once there, to tunnel down below the surface until he reaches a strange subterranean chamber, where he meets…

The alien mind-creature, Kond, who lives in a glass pyramid and bears a strange resemblance to…

The Providers, from “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” an episode of the original Star Trek. Kond’s mate Rija has gotten bored with being a brain under glass and abs-Konded, making herself a physical body so she too can experience the carnal pleasures of the flesh, as the disembodied egos did in the Star Trek episode “Return to Tomorrow” (among others). Kond believes Rija is making a horrible mistake; as a flesh being, she will not only age and die, but also lose her incredible mental powers. Kond begs Superman to find her and convince her to come back.

So Superman flies back up to the planet’s surface, where he sees a woman being chased by a T-rex skeleton (slightly modified to look “alien”). Superman bashes the monster to pieces, but the bones reform into a new shape.

That’s pretty badass. I mean, what’s cooler than a dinosaur skeleton? A dinosaur skeleton Transformer.

Superman realizes he can’t beat the thing in a fistfight, so he grabs it by the tail and flings it into space. Then he meets the woman he has saved, who is obviously Rija. And she looks familiar.

And maybe it’s just me, but I see a real resemblance here to Nancy Kovack from the Star Trek episode, “A Private Little War.”

Besides looking like one Star Trek babe, Rija also has the same power as Elaan from the episode “Elaan of Troyius,” whose tears have the power to make men their love-slaves. Rija asks Superman to take her away with him, and hypnotizes him into kissing her.

Of course, Kond is mentally watching the entire thing, and the kiss pisses him off. So he decides to take drastic action.

Kond disables Superman with his mental powers and goes to confront Rija. Rija, not realizing that this is not the same Superman, has been trying to call Kond in his glass pyramid, but getting no answer. So she tearily confesses to Superman that her seduction of him was all a ploy to make Kond jealous, but now it looks as if she has lost him forever. She wants to die.

Which is when a strange energy creature appears and attacks the duo. Kond tries to fight it, but…

The monsters continue to multiply with each attack as Superman watches helplessly from a distance. Finally, Kond’s concentration is so broken that Superman can move, so he uses his super-breath to create a vacuum around Rija’s head and kill her. The monsters disappear (since they were monsters created from Rija’s subconscious by her death wish, which is totally not fair–monsters from the id is Forbidden Planet, not Star Trek), but before Superman can revive Rija, Kond does it himself.

Kond and Rija decide to keep their fleshy bodies, and before Superman leaves, Kond gives him four magic potions, which will eliminate all disease, pollution, crime and starvation on Earth. Superman leaves Kond and Rija to their blissful love story. Hope it doesn’t turn out to be titled “Kond of Steel, Rija of Kleenex.”

Superman returns to Earth, only to find it’s not where it’s supposed to be. Turns out the super-nova hurled Superman back in time (just like the Enterprise being hurled back in time after an accidental encounter with a black star in the episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday”). He uses his super-powers to return to the present day, only to find out that the “stresses of time travel” have reduced the potions to dust. Mankind must do without a magical cure to all the world’s problems.

So yeah, I’m pretty sure Cary Bates was watching a lot of Star Trek reruns right about the time this was written. And before I discuss the back-up features, one other small observation: drawing a monthly comic book is not an easy job, especially if you’re constantly having to design new aliens and monsters. There are limits to imagination, which may explain why the next issue of Superman, “The Electronic Ghost of Metropolis,” featured this monster…

Which looks an awful lot like the energy creatures from the story we just looked at.

Anyway, on to the backup features. Yes, plural, because if you remember last week’s Vault, Superman #238, with just one back-up story, cost just 15 cents. But notice the cover above bears a price of 25 cents. DC upped the price, but also padded the book to more pages by adding reprints.

The first back-up is a new World of Krypton story, about a scientist in Krypton’s primitive times who invents some neat mechanized wings that allow him to fly. But the exhaust forms permanent, instantly deadly trails through the sky. Unfortunately, a thief steals the wings, planning a crime spree. The scientist must defeat the thief and then destroy the wings, because scientific discoveries are dangerous, y’all.

This is followed by a back-up story from Superman’s early days, featuring an early appearance by Superman’s greatest enemy, Lex Luthor.

The story isn’t very good, but does give you an idea of the brutal simplicity of Joe Schuster’s art. Look at Clark Kent’s face here: slashes for eyes and mouth, a blob to model the shadow under his nose.

The story in brief: Luthor has created an atomic ray that melts and softens things. Lois and Clark run across the area where he tested it, full of bendy trees and melted blobs of rock. Lois and Clark escape Luthor’s thugs, so Luthor attacks the Daily Planet with the melting beam, to keep them from publicizing the story until he has perfected the beam and profited from it.

Superman saves the building from collapsing, then goes after Luthor. Luthor zaps him with the beam, and Superman falls onto a power station. The shock from the transformer wakes him up, so he goes after Luthor again. And this time…

That’s the Golden Age. Look at all the stuff that happens in four panels. Luthor has an atomic grenade! Atomic grenade is useless! Luthor’s down for the count, and between one sentence and another, Superman has transported him to prison (conveniently skipping over the idea of a trial)!

Next week, another bizarre Superman storyline from later in the 70’s.

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One Response to Out of the Vault – Superman #243

  1. Pingback: Into the Bronze Age: October 1971 (Part 3) « The Greylands

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