BHOC: SUPERMAN #313

Part three of this formative four-part story by writer Marty Pasko dropped next in the pages of SUPERMAN, and I dutifully picked it up, wanting to find out what would happen wit the mysterious plague, Amalak, Supergirl and all of the hanging business from the preceding issues. I quite enjoyed Pasko’s tenure as the regular SUPERMAN writer, at least partly because his stories were as grounded in emotion as they were in derring-do or pyrotechnics. They were all about how Superman felt, which is the secret to most of the best Superman stories. And I hadn’t realized until looking back at it that Neal Adams had inked this Dick Dillin cover.

For this particular installment, Dan Adkins inked the always-reliable Curt Swan, rather than the stalwart and ever-welcome Bob Oksner. I don’t think it was an improvement. Adkins inks tended towards the clinical to my eye–his line lacked some intangible element of life. 

There’s enough going on here that following the symbolic splash page introducing the story, there’s a two-page recap of all of the essential events. While necessary, in this era of diminishing page counts, this severely curtailed the amount of forward movement we were going to be able to experience in this chapter.

But eventually, we do get back to Amalak and Supergirl. Amalak tells the foredoomed Girl of Steel that, having realized that he can’t beat Superman physically, he intends to crush him psychologically by forcing him into a situation where he has to take a life. Then Amalak moves to execute Supergirl–and his Star-Cannon doesn’t respond. Before taking off with Nam-Ek last issue, Superman surreptitiously used his heat vision to seal its firing chamber. No longer under the gun, it takes Supergirl thirty seconds to knock the Kryptonian Killer out.

Meanwhile, Superman takes Nam-Ek back with him to Central City, where Nam-Ek’s healing horn can aid those stricken with the mysterious plague. While he’s doing that, though, Supergirl grows overconfident, allowing Amalak to get back up and get to his controls, activating an energy warrior to combat her and keep her out of his stringy hair. But as Amalak tells Supergirl that Superman is about to encounter his secret agent in Central City, the one who’s been infecting the populace with the plague (including Lois Lane) and that this will trigger the endgame of his plan, his fused-shut Star-Cannon explodes, detonating the entire ship they’re in.

Having dropped off Nam-Ek, Superman needs to put in an appearance at the Reporter’s Convention again as Clark Kent. But as he encounters young Jamie, more people in the crowd begin to experience symptoms of the virus. Clark once again uses Jamie’s dog as a distraction so that he can get away and become Superman–and then he’s attacked in mid-air by a mysterious flying orange-skinned foe.

The creature introduces itself in spotty English as Jevik, and tells the Man of Steel that he’s only doing what he’s been told to do. The two superhumans battle it out across the resort where the Convention is being held. At one point, Superman loses sight of Jevik, and is then surprised to see Supergirl waiting for him in the hotel lobby. Sucker! It’s really Jevik, who can change his shape and appearance, and he cold-cocks Superman.

As they battle, Superman discovers that Jevik has the watch that Jamie Lombard’s dog stole from Clark Kent earlier. That means that Jevik has been posing as the dog–and he’s Patient Zero for the spread of the virus! Unfortunately for Superman, just before he can demolish Jevik, Jamie comes upon them and Jevik resumes his dog form–and the confused boy doesn’t understand why Superman is trying to kill his pet, and gets between the Man of Steel and his prey. And at that relatively-passive stand-off point, we To Be Continued out of the issue, with a big blurb promising that next issue, Superman is going to have to kill somebody!

In the back of the issue, after the letters page, there’s a particularly bizarre installment of publisher Jenette Khan’s regular column, in which she seems confused about whether or not the DC books were going to be taking a price hike (they had, shortly before). It certainly feels like it was written in one draft, stream-of-consciousness, without any editing–it’s a messy mess. But she does remember to plug her Dollar Comics initiative some more, so there’s that.(To say nothing about touting how much Gerry Conway and Paul Levitz are adding to and improving Jack Kirby’s NEW GODS saga in the newly-returned series. Spoiler: they didn’t.)

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