It had been a while since I’d picked up an issue of ACTION COMICS, but for whatever reason, after passing up the previous few issues, this one made the trip home. Might have been as simple as there being slim pickings on the rack that week in terms of new super hero comics of the type I knew I liked. It’s got a very nice cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, an artist’s artist who would go on to do tons of DC licensing artwork through the next decade, here inked by Bob Oksner, a combination I can’t recall seeing again.
Looking at this splash page, it may have been the call-out here for the Flash and Green Lantern that made the difference, as they were my two favorite heroes of the era. Also, it ran below my personal ten-year-old radar, but after a long and bitter public struggle, the creator byline for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had been restored to all Superman stories, and appears here for the first time in my own chronology. I don’t know that I took any special note of it.
So what was going on in the life of the Man of Steel? Well, this was the conclusion to a multi-part story begun in the previous two pages. After the opening, a flashback let me know that Superman had seemingly been killed in battle with his recurring enemy, the space cowboy Terra Man. Superman wasn’t truly dead, in fact, but that didn’t stop him from tossing away his uniform Peter Parker-style. Or has he? The text informs the reader that the figure throwing his Superman costume into the sea on the splash page is neither Clark Kent nor Superman. Wha?? Meanwhile, a mysterious threadworn bum is also wandering around Metropolis in a fashion that makes it clear he’ll be important later.
Terra Man has cut off Metropolis from the rest of the world behind an impenetrable force-field–but that field isn’t so impenetrable that certain friends of the deceased Man of Steel cannot penetrate it. So it is that the Flash makes his entry into the story, ambushing Terra Man in the middle of Metropolis in the name of the fallen Superman. Flash puts up a good fight, but is suddenly and inexplicably blown out away from the fight. The culprit? Terra Man himself–who we learn is actually Superman himself, his appearance having been changed during his supposed demise to match that of his foe. Rather than trying to explain to the Flash what the truth is, the Man of Tomorrow used his super-breath to propel the Scarlet Speedster away from their conflict. But Superman himself has more questions than answers.
Recouping, Flash finds himself joined by his fellow JLA member Green Lantern, whose Power Ring was also able to get him within the force-field. But before the two super-friends can coordinate an attack on Terra Man, a flying saucer appears in the skies over Metropolis (having had no trouble getting in.) Flash and Green Lantern go to check it out, but are swiftly taken out of action by its advanced weapons. From afar, Super Terra Man has been watching, and his friends’ distress calls him back into the action.
The inhabitant of the spacecraft turns out to be the brother of the alien who, a hundred years ago, turned Terra Man from an orphaned child into a space cowboy–and he’s come back to take his revenge on the man who killed his brother. He pledges to hunt Super Terra Man down through Metropolis and destroy him. Meanwhile, the man who threw his Superman costume into the sea is revealed to be Gregory Reed, an actor from several previous Superman adventures who typically portrays the Man of Steel on film . With Superman dead, he felt there was no point in hanging onto his costume. But he can’t help but wonder what it must feel like to be the Man of Tomorrow…
Things race to a climax as the citizens of Metropolis are heartened to see a familiar red and blue streak in the sky: Superman lives! He attacks the flying saucer and defeats the alien, only to be ambushed himself by Terra Man. The appearance of Terra Man is enough to make the cop who harangued the ragged bum we saw earlier drop his disguise, revealing himself to be the true Terra Man. This is all part of the plan, though, since the fake Terra Man is, as we know, really Superman, and he kayos his enemy. The Superman who defeated the alien was Gregory Reed, his super-feats actually performed by Flash and Green Lantern incognito (Superman did get around to explaining his situation to them.). Now, with both Terra Man and the alien hunter neutralized and Superman’s features restored to their proper form, the story reaches its finale.