BHOC: SUPERMAN #298

I’m not 100% certain where I got this issue of SUPERMAN, apart from the fact that wherever it was had marked it down to only a quarter, and that it wasn’t one of my typical haunts. Like the issue of DETECTIVE COMICS we talked about last time, this could have been picked up at some store that my family didn’t usually frequent, or it could have been a lone or almost-lone outlier in some outlet that didn’t typically stock comics. Either way, I got it at about this time.

This was the third chapter of the massive four-issue saga in which Superman found himself bereft of his super-powers while in his Clark Kent identity. Chalking this up to being caused by the stressed of leading a double life, Superman decided to spend a week exclusively as Clark Kent, and then a week exclusively as Superman, to determine which of his two identities to abandon. I had already read the climax to this sequence in SUPERMAN #299 several months earlier, but it was still a big deal to me. The DC books of this period almost never ran a story that was four parts long, so this represented a rare epic.

The issue opened with a great satiric sequence, in which Clark Kent and Lois Lane enjoy a stroll through Metropolis, heedless of the crashing planes, daylight robberies and gangland rub-outs taking place right in front of him. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be a dream on the part of Superman, feeling guilty for having neglected his heroic persona for a week. But now, the moment has come for the tables to flip, and even the arrival of a Lois Lane who is now feeling more amorous towards Clark Kent isn’t enough to persuade the Man of Steel to stay.

For the week, Superman will be operating exclusively out of his Fortress of Solitude, where the super-computers can alert him to situations requiring a Superman’s intervention. The first such intervention, a huge solar flare that is disrupting communications all across the world, is also stymieing a wold-be super-villain named Solarman, whose power suit harnesses the rays of the sun, converting them into strength and power (not unlike what Superman’s Kryptonian cells do naturally.)  Once Superman has broken up the solar flare, Solarman finds his powers restored,and prepares to embark on his life of crime.

Also, Clark Kent is due to testify against Intergang bigwig Max Danner, so his disappearance threatens to let the crime mogul off the hook and has his friends at WGBS concerned for his welfare. Superman does prevent an Intergang heist in progress, but Solarman shows up to make off with the loot himself. Meanwhile, an Intergang hit-man sent to kill Clark Kent at his apartment is himself disintegrated by Kent’s long-time neighbor, the mysterious Mister Xavier. Xavier was a long-running plotline in the SUPERMAN titles of the 1970s, and this four-parter was the wrap-up of his storyline. He’s actually the agent of an alien power, and he’s engineered the loss of Superman’s powers while in his Clark Kent form so as to distract the Man of Steel while he arranges for the Earth’s destruction. But that all really comes to a head in the next issue.

Superman is in fact super-active during these seven days, unceasingly saving people, preventing disasters and helping out wherever and whenever he can. But it’s wearing on the poor guy. And when he turns to his friends for emotional support, they give him grief for not having taken down Solarman. Without the release valve of Clark Kent to allow him time to unwind and relax and not be on call 24 hours a day, Superman is sad and depressed–everybody expects so much of him, and won’t give him enough time for himself.

But enough self-pity: it’s time for action! And Solarman has called out the Man of Tomorrow right in the center of Metropolis. The two solar-powered champions give battle, and Solarman spends much of the fight kicking the crap out of the Man of Steel–with that disruptive solar flare gone, he’s feeling increasingly more powerful!

Sucker! The increase in Solarman’s strength is being caused by a constant bombardment by Superman’s heat vision, which eventually overloads his suit’s systems and leaves him just a run-of-the-mill thug is a smoking, flaming outfit. It’s no challenge for Superman to apprehend him now. What’s more these past seven days have led Superman to draw an important conclusion about which of his two roles is more important, and the one he’ll have to remain as. But that’s SUPERMAN #299′s story to tell–and as I mentioned earlier, I’d already read that book, so there wasn’t any particular suspense for me.

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