I picked up these two issues of ACTION COMICS at the same time, from the same rack–I must have been flush with cash, possibly the change from a haircut (my Dad would give my a few bucks and send me off to our barber down in the center of town) as I know they were bought at the little candy store operation in that area that had a tiny selection of comics. It wasn’t well-maintained, so you could occasionally find older issues racked there along with the current one. So I’m going to combine them into a single long post.
The lead story in both issues comprised the first two chapters of a three-parter that introduced the Kryptonian Phantom Zone villainess Faora Hu-ul, a notorious man-hater whom I have always assumed was the template for Sarah Douglas’ Ursa in the SUPERMAN films. That said, given that the first movie had to be underway in terms of preparation at the point when this story first appeared, her genesis may very well have gone the other way.
Returning to his apartment after battling a hurricane into submission, Superman is surprised to discover a prowler in Clark Kent’s abode. Unable to confront him directly without raising questions about why Superman would be zipping into Kent’s place unannounced, the Man of Steel resumes his secret identity, and learns that his hapless intruder is actually his new next-door-neighbor, Jackson Porter. He had come over to borrow a hammer, and let himself in–or so he says. But we’ve seen that he’s actually being guided by a disembodied spirit.
Kent is surprised to learn from his doorman that Porter is a widower, as the elderly gentleman had told him the day before that his wife was a big fan of the newscaster. At the same time, a phantom female figure causes mischief all around the area of Clark’s apartment, eventually drawing out Superman to intercede. But Superman’s attempts to stop the phantom foe are ineffective, and it reveals itself to be a female Kryptonian, one whom Superman recognizes as a criminal from the Phantom Zone.
As you’ve no doubt already worked out, the Phantom Zoner is also posing as the spirit of Porter’s dead wife, and using him in some way to be able to manifest in the real world. We’ll learn more about this next issue. But after swearing to destroy Superman, the phantom vanishes, returning to the side of the emotional Porter.
Each of these two issues of ACTION COMICS included a short back-up feature along with the main Superman story. They’re both charming, simple tales, although I would argue whether either one really belongs in a magazine called ACTION COMICS. In this first one, an entry in the Private Life of Clark Kent series, Clark is so bored with inactivity over a three-day vacation that when a Private Investigator mistakes him for the man he’s been searching for, the inheritor of a million dollar inheritance, Kent at first goes along with the charade, and then tracks the true inheritor down to where he’s withdrawn from society, convincing him to return and claim his millions, and use them to improve the lot of his fellow destitute miners. it packs a lot of story into a few pages, albeit a relatively inconsequential one.
This first issue also included our old friend the Statement of Ownership on the letters page, revealing that ACTION had in the preceding year been selling 142,827 copies on a print run of 410,497, resulting in an efficiency of just under 35%–sales were falling on the title during this time. Fortunately, the first SUPERMAN movie would help to turn that trend around.
In the second issue, Superman consults his files on the convicts incarcerated in the Phantom Zone, identifying the phantom menace imperiling Metropolis as Faora Hu-Ul, who was sentenced to 300 years imprisonment in the zone after she’d killed 23 Kryptonian men in her own private concentration camp. Now, she’s found a breach in the Zone that’s allowed her to make contact with Jackson Porter, appearing before him in the guise of his dead wife and compelling him to steal an alien sculpture made of Paskorium (no doubt named in honor of DC writer Marty Pasko) hidden in Clark Kent’s apartment. The sculpture is the key to securing her release from the Zone.
Jackson’s intense concentration using the statue as an antenna allows Faora to manifest physically in the material world. Superman shows up to subdue her, but it turns out that she’s a master of Horu-Kanu, the deadliest of the Kryptonian martial arts–and thus a way better trained fighter than Superman himself, whom she proceeds to kick around with impunity.
The merciless Faora intends to finish off the Man of Steel with Dyr-Ynn, the dreaded “Phantom Touch of Death”–and if this all sounds like the kind of faux martial arts that you’d read about in comic book advertised correspondence courses, I’d say that’s rather the point. Having no defense against Faora’s superior skills, to say nothing of her death-blow, Superman flees, racing to his Fortress of Solitude, where he projects himself into the Phantom Zone. This is painted here as a cowardly act, but it’s so obviously part of a stratagem on the part of the Metropolis Marvel tat I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least until the next issue came out.
The back-up feature this time was another Sporting Life of Steve Lombard. I hadn’t remembered them doing more than one of these–it’s an incredibly oddball choice for a recurring series. In this one, inveterate prankster Steve is plagued by a look-alike whom nobody else seems able to see or hear, but who appears like his conscience to foil his practical jokes and teach him a lesson. It’s all a put-on by Clark Kent and Lombard’s co-workers, who’ve had enough of his bad behavior–but the kicker is that the person posing as the mysterious Lombard phantom is actually Batman. I guess it was another slow day in Gotham City if the Caped Crusader could spend such a frivolous day helping out his buddy Superman in this fashion, as he’d occasionally do.