BHOC: SUPERMAN FAMILY #188

This issue of SUPERMAN FAMILY introduced one of my legitimately favorite obscure and forgotten DC heroes, so it’s a noteworthy release to me. But we’ll get to that in a little while. It’s got a very nice, dynamic Jose Luis Garcia Lopez cover as well–JLGL was making some waves with is work in fandom circles, but still being largely outside of those, he mostly flew under my radar in these days. I enjoyed his work, but didn’t take any particular note of it, as I was starting to do with my favorite artists.

Like most of DC’d Dollar Comics releases, SUPERMAN FAMILY suffered from a profound sense of inconsequentialness. It featured well-crafted stories that were designed to entertain and then essentially be forgotten. This was very much against the grain in terms of the way comic books were moving in the late 1970s, though–it aimed the title squarely as casual consumers as opposed to hardcore fans. Nothing wrong with that, except that it meant that the core fandom largely ignored the book as well. One way editor E. Nelson Bridwell tried to combat that feeling in this issue was to have three of the six stories within its pages connect, forming a larger epic. In the lead-off story written by a pre-Marvel Tom DeFalco, Superman and Jimmy Olsen are compelled to once more don their Kandorian guises as Nightwing and Flamebird when their replacements are coerced into aiding some terrorists. Kurt Schaffenberger here delivers his usual delightful-if-lightweight artwork.

This is followed up with the first part of a continued Superman story–it’s a little bit weird to read this after the cliffhanger at the end of the Jimmy Olsen tale, as the two unresolved endings conflict with one another. But somehow, we didn’t really worry about that sort of thing back in 1977. Here, Superman is recruited by a duplicitous alien to help save his civilization, and the Man of Steel is bedeviled by Red Kryptonite along the way, which turns him into a giant. Ironically, the end of the Jimmy Olsen story has the Kandorian terrorist transforming themselves into giants as well, so this was maybe not the best example of editorial thinking on display. At the very least, put this story later on in the book, further away from that climax.

Next up was the highlight of the issue as far as I was concerned. It’s a Lois Lane story that introduces a wonderful, forgotten character, the Human Cannonball! The Cannonball was a great idea by writer Tom DeFalco–he was a would-be super hero, a bit of a lunkhead who came from the circus and who had a jetpack and a helmet. And because he lived in metropolis, he figured that the best way to hit the super hero big time was to follow Lois Lane around and bail her out of trouble so that she’d write about his exploits the way she does Superman’s. This was terrific in that it suddenly turned the tables around and gave Lois somebody she had to save, or somebody who might mess things up and make a situation worse. But Cannonball was also earnest and well-intentioned, so it was impossible to truly dislike him. (His weird thigh-high magenta boots, on the other hand…) Cannonball didn’t last long–only until DeFalco stopped writing the Lois Lane strip in a few issues. But throughout that period, he was a great addition!

This was followed by yet another Krypto solo story. I’m as amazed as you are that Krypto was able to headline a series for this long, but it was the era of Benji, so dog heroes were a thing again. He and his human friend Detective Ed Lavy are still on the trail of Lacy’s nephew, wanted for murder, and they bum a ride on train to do so. They get involved with the main hobo on the boxcar and wind up saving the train–there really isn’t much more to this story than that, for all that it has a low-key charm to it. Lacy did help to bring a small bit of diversity to what was almost always a very white-centric comic book.

We finally get back to that opening story cliffhanger at this point for the Nightwing & Flamebird story in the issue. Nightwing and Jimmy Olsen are captured by the giant separatists, leaving Superman and Flamebird as an uncomfortable team having to work together to rescue them. The artwork here is a bit more haphazard than in the lead–artist Ken Landgraf seemed to like oddly-shaped panels with angled borders, and so there’s a lack of stability in his work–you can read it, but often the shot you’re looking at is weirdly composed, in order to fit it into some strangely shaped panel caused by creating odd borders for the panels around it. This is really the concluding chapter of a two-parter, but a brief coda is tacked on at the end in order to link it up with the Supergirl story that’s about to begin.

And in that Supergirl story, which closes out the issue, Supergirl is summoned back to Kandor and arrested pending trial. The charge: returning a criminal to the Phantom Zone after they had served out their allotted sentence. It’s a story that picks up on a bunch of continuity from Supergirl’s old back-up strip in ACTION COMICS in the early 1960s, but it really doesn’t do a great job of explaining that–and so certain events are a bit mystifying to a reader who doesn’t have a working knowledge of fifteen-year-old stories. Editor Bridwell was usually better about citing sources, but in this instance he let it all slip past. In the end, condemned by a mento-tape from Lex Luthor, Supergirl is herself sentenced to serve time in the Phantom Zone. And this story, like the earlier Superman entry, is To Be Continued!

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