Another issue of SUPERMAN, and another cover with some crude and chunky inking on it. For the next couple of years, this would be the look of DC covers, a transition from the clean compositions of Carmine Infantino and the expert draftsmanship of Nick Cardy.
This was a sort of average issue of SUPERMAN, not especially memorable, not completely terrible. About as middle-of-the-road a comic book as there is. Writer Jim Shooter did his usual solid job in running the bases on a Julie Schwartz-style gimmick plot, and he was able to find some small moments for cleverness and fun. So it’s a pleasant tale, but also an unremarkable one.
The story opens with Superman taking some precise solar readings for the Geophysical Institute by remaining absolutely motionless while scanning the sun. As this transpires, we meet Sam Stern, a Metropolis street-sweeper with a reputation as a practical joker. Sam’s also the wearer of a hearing aid, and it’s through this device that he hears the plans of some concealed criminals: with Superman motionless, they are bathing him in a specific band of Red Sun Radiation that will, some hours later, remove his invulnerability for a short window, enabling them to kill the Man of Steel.
Concerned, Sam tries to warn Superman about the plot against him, but his past reputation makes this appear like the set-up for one of his practical jokes. In any case, Superman has to speed off to deal with a crisis: a school bus caught in a localized anti-gravity field. Superman rescues the bus and sets up a cordon around the area, but has no idea what is causing this weightlessness.
It’s all the work of Mister Coram, a criminal scientist Superman has contended with before. Sam continues to attempt to warn the Man of Steel about the danger, breaking in on Clark Kent’s evening news broadcast, but nobody believes him, and he loses his job as a result. Undaunted, and determined to save the Metropolis Marvel, Sam dresses up in a Superman costume he once used for a prank, and hurls himself into one of the anti-gravity beams, banking that Superman will appear to save him.
Superman does appear to rescue Sam, doing so even though his invulnerability has been compromised and he is thus vulnerable to the chilling conditions of flying at super-speed. A grateful Sam gives Superman the run-down on what he overheard, but nevertheless, the next day Superman appears to complete his readings of the sun. As he does so, he’s struck in the back of teh head by a pre-timed laser beam from a nearby building.
But Superman is not dead, of course–he’s used Sam’s lifelike Superman mask as a lead-lined shield to protect him from the laser beam. (Fortunately for Superman, they didn’t use anything as common as a bullet, or he really would have been out of luck.) Locating Mr Coram in the crowd, Superman feeds him into one of his own anti-gravity zones to coerce Coram into revealing the location of the anti-grav transmitter. And then, everything is wrapped up neatly, as Superman pledges to assist Sam in getting his job back.
The back-up is a rarity, a second short Superman story that I suspect may have been intended for some other use, and then burned off here when that other need fell through. It concerns Mr Mxyzptlk creating a zone of Babel throughout Metropolis, resulting in people not being able to communicate with one another or to read any writing.
This includes Mxyzptlk himself, which prevents him from being able to speak his name backwards. But Superman causes Mxy to lose his cool as different passers-by refer to him by different names in their different dialect (I suspect these may all be actual names used for the character in overseas editions) until eventually he can slip the imp a business card with his name reversed on it and send him back to the fifth dimension again.