BHOC: ACTION COMICS #476

I bought this issue of ACTION COMICS at my usual 7-11. In fact, this was the summer where, now being allowed to travel to the 7-11 on my own, I buckled down and spent a week determining when the new comics would arrive each week. Rather than simply asking somebody, I instead made a pilgrimage to the 7-11 every day for a week and a half, long enough to determine definitively that new comic books arrived on Thursdays. So the 7-11 (and later a Hallmark store that proved to carry a better and more consistent selection of titles) became my regular Thursday afternoon destination each week, armed with whatever money I was able to wrangle.

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This particular issue of ACTION COMICS finished up the storyline begun in the previous issue, one that crossed over and combined characters from two sets of previous stories; Karb-Brak, the alien who had an extreme allergy to Superman’s super-powers, and Vartox, the champion of another world who befriended the Man of Steel and behaved as a kind of mentor to him. The clean, inviting artwork of Kurt Schaffenberger, a real workhorse on the various Superman titles over the years was here only partially blunted by the indifferent inking of Vince Colletta.

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Last time, we saw that Karb-Brak had experienced a flare-up of his super-power allergy, one that broke the spell of amnesia that Superman had woven around him and which drove him to attack anchorman Clark Kent live during Kent’s news broadcast. Thinking quickly, Superman propels himself and his foe out of teh wall of the studio, using his super-breath to cloak them both in smoke pulled from a nearby smokestack, until he can divest himself of Kent’s tattered attire. But he’s got no idea where Karb-Brak came from or why he’s being attacked.

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Superman and Karb-Brak knock each other around for a while until the latter’s fever-induced rage subsides and he passes into a coma. Superman takes the alien back to his Fortress of Solitude, intent on curing him once more. But a check-in with the Justice League shows that no other super-powered being was in the area who could have set off Karb-Brak’s allergy, and now the alien’s life force fades and he perishes, despite Superman’s best efforts to save him.

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Or so it seems for a page-turn. Thereafter, Karb-Brak gets up off of his death-slab, his fever broken and his sanity completely restored. And he tells Superman that the alien hero responsible for his relapse is the Man of Steel’s old friend Vartox. Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane search in the news copter for any sign of Clark Kent, who was last seen hurtling through the studio wall with Karb-Brak. In a weird fluke, a parachutist comes down almost atop the helicopter, entangling its rotor and causing the craft to plummet towards the ground. Fortunately for all concerned, Vartox is in the area, and he uses his miraculous powers to effect a rescue. But Lois is a bit unnerved by the alien champion (possibly because he runs around virtually shirtless.)

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Superman calls out to his old friend Vartox, and the two heroes alight on the WGBS rooftop where Karb-Brak awaits them. Vartox begins to tell the tale of an alien hero, the champion of hsi people, who found his super-powers waning and the only cure lying within te spores that cause Karb-Brak’s allergy. However, so full of guilt about his actions is he, having endangered Karb-Brak’s life for his own selfish ends, that Vartox has convinced himself that it was actually Superman who was the wrong-doer here, responsible for Karb-Brak’s relapse. He even uses his mental powers to make Karb-Brak go along with the deception. Superman can’t allow this slur on his honor to go unchallenged.

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This issue of ACTION COMICS also included an ad for a new Treasury Edition that would soon be coming out, titled THE BEST OF DC. And as the ad clearly showed, it would be featuring a classic Flash story within its pages. Sadly, I never got a copy of this Treasury edition. My next door neighbor Johnny Rantinella did, but I was never successfully able to convince him to trade or sell it to me. 

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Vartox has convinced himself that he is Earth’s hero and demands that Superman leave the planet. When he later finds Superman still flying around Metroplois, the two heroes begin a super-brawl, with Vartox projecting his own guilt over his actions onto the Man of Steel. Unfortunately for Superman, Vartox is both more powerful than he is and also more experienced–it’s all that he can do to stay in the fight, especially because he doesn’t really want to hurt the unbalanced Vartox. But their battle is halted when a female voice rings out, calling for Superman.

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The voice belongs to Vartox’s nameless wife, who died some time ago. She calls out to Superman to return with her to their homeworld. And Superman, seemingly free of his confusion about his place in the universe, agrees to go along. This charade snaps Vartox out of his delusion, and he is forced to admit to himself that he was responsible for Karb-Brak’s relapse. Vartox’s dead wife is actually Lois Lane in disguise, recruited by Superman in the hopes of bringing his old friend back to his senses–and it worked. As the story ends, Vartox heads for home, promising to drop the now-cured Karb-Brak back at his own planet on the way.

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