Now that is a cover. You really have to wonder what the folks in charge of some of the comic books of this era were thinking when they commissioned such a piece. It’s certainly attention-getting, but only because it’s so downright weird. I picked up this issue of ACTION COMICS having already purchased and read the subsequent one, which made the story a bit perfunctory for me. This also indicates that I got it at some infrequent outlet that still had some older comics on the racks, something that would happen routinely in certain venues.
As I mentioned earlier, I had already seen the resolution to this story play out, so the amount of excitement in this issue was pretty low. Which is why I assume my choices must have been limited at whatever store I picked it up at. But if nothing else, it still contained the solid craftsmanship of a Julie Schwartz comic book, with Julie’s mainstay creators writer Cary Bates and illustrator Curt Swan turning in their customary refined work. Inking here was by Tex Blaisdell, who did irregular work for DC during this period, and whose ink style always seemed blotchy to me. It certainly wasn’t as polished as a Bob Oksner job,
So what’s going on with the Man of Steel? Well, turns out this is really Part 2 of what was a 3-part story, and it opens with everybody in Metropolis being compelled to watch a broadcast in which Terra-Man and Superman do battle, with the Man of Steel getting the upper hand at the faux-cliffhanger. This is all a put-on, though, as Terra-Man has Superman under his thumb, having planted Cosmonite Bombs all throughout the city that he’ll detonate of the Kryptonian Champion doesn’t do his bidding. The news is out that Superman is colluding with his arch-nemesis Terra-Man, and even Gregory Reed’s in-production Superman film is put on hold thanks to the controversy.
Superman, of course, is simply biding his time until he can locate and disarm the deadly explosive charges, but even though he is urged by the citizens of metropolis not to show up for the next night’s broadcast unless he truly intends to take Terra-Man down, the Man of Steel has no choice but to resume his play-acting the following night in order to safeguard the city. Taking advantage of his upper hand, Terra-Man uses the opportunity to kick Superman around for a bit.
With all of Metropolis forced to watch the broadcast, Terra-Man batters and humiliates Superman again and again, before finally tiring of the exhibition and gunning him down, burying his lifeless body in a boot hill grave. And that’s where this installment leaves off in a To Be Continued–but from my earlier reading, I knew that Superman would rise again, his form transformed into a duplicate of Terra-Man’s, so that an alien seeking vengeance on Terra-Man would instead kill Superman. With that information, this whole scenario seems like an awful lot of back-flipping to go through. Why not just transform Superman into Terra’s carbon copy and be done with it? I don’t know, I assume the real reason was to fill story pages.
The back-up was an installment of the Private Life of Clark Kent. An argument can certainly be made that these Superman-less tales of the trials and travails of Kent’s existence hardly belonged in a publication called Action Comics. But they did help to give some emotional depth to the character, in both of his identities, so even if they weren’t what the audience might have wanted per se, they might have been what it needed. In this particular installment, Clark is feeling depressed around the holidays as the WGBS staff finishes up their Christmas Party and everybody heads home to family and friends. But Clark’s parents are dead, and he doesn’t really have anywhere to go on Christmas.
So Clark heads back to Smallville anyway, and bums around his family’s now-empty house, feeling sad and lonely. But when he ventures out into town, he finds himself at the Smallville Orphanage–his home for a very brief time before Ma and Pa Kent officially adopted him–and he is inspired to make the holidays happy for these other forgotten orphans.
The issue closes out with this full-page ad for the then-forthcoming Black Lightning series. I wouldn’t see a copy for several issues, but this and similar ads that ran through the DC comics of the period made me want to.