Another regular issue of SUPERMAN that I bought at my regular 7-11. That’s a pretty strong, pretty violent cover for this time period, and it represents the first time in my memory where Superman’s heat vision was used as an offensive weapon. Before this, it had typically been used as a tool, for effect against inanimate objects. It would still be a number of years before this became a regular thing that Superman did–Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were really the ones who made it cool and memorable in their SUPERMAN ANNUAL years later. I seem to recall this cover unsettling me a little bit when I picked it up–this wasn’t the kind, trustworthy Superman I was used to. Fortunately, he was still in evidence in the issue itself.
Story-wise we were still in the middle of the ongoing series in which Superman contended with the Parasite. It had been running for four issues at this point, a positive eternity for a DC title of the era–though writer Marty Pasko did segregate this into a pair of two-part installments to help conceal that fact. I enjoyed Pasko’s run on the title quite a bit, as he brought in a more modern sensibility while still adhering to editor Julie Schwartz’s theories about story construction. The result was stories that, while occasionally silly from a 21st Century perspective, held more emotionalism and thus carried more impact than a lot of what had been done with the character immediately prior.
Okay, the situation here at the opening is a bit complicated. Previously, the Parasite had used his powers in reverse, to amplify Superman’s abilities, giving him an excess of strength that made him drunk with power, angry and unstable. In order to right this, Superman coated himself with a super-sunscreen to block out most of the yellow sun rays reaching him, and thus reduce his powers to their normal level. Once the Parasite realized this, however, he changed his tactics, draining the Man of steel once again and sending him plummeting towards the ground. In the opening pages of this issue, Superman escapes death by realizing that he hadn’t bothered to sunscreen his feet beneath his boots. He takes them off in mid-fall and they become strong enough and invulnerable enough to take the impact. Now, the physics of this still really don’t work, of course. But hey, roll with it.
Superman returns to Clark Kent’s apartment and takes a shower, thus removing the debilitation sunscreen. He’s still only at half-strength since the Parasite drained him of the rest. In order to monitor his power situation, he heads for his Fortress where be bodges together a device that will monitor the amount of energy in his body. Now, the Parasite has been blackmailing the Nation, threatening to fire their new orbital defense laser weapon ground-ward at Metropolis–and his deadline is up. Superman by this point has soaked in enough additional yellow sunlight so that he’s at 3/4 strength–and he uses that power to–I’m not making this up–physically push the Earth out of its orbit far enough that the laser strike on Metropolis fires into empty space. That doesn’t seem like the simplest way to attack that problem, to be honest, nor is it remotely plausible. But we’re in a story where super-feet were enough to survive a fatal flaw, so once again, we have to just roll with it.
As you’d imagine, the Parasite is none too happy about this turn of events. And things get worse for him when Superman zips in, pulling the Parasite out of his helicopter and swiping the power prism that allowed his foe to drain his powers from a distance. Superman crushes the gem, so now the Parasite can only drain Superman through direct physical contact. But he’s still got half of Superman’s power stores up, so a battle begins. And the Parasite is still not a foe to be taken lightly, as he proves by swiftly wrapping Superman up in a chain link fence–yeah, that’s going to be a problem for a guy that just got finished moving the Earth…
And this is the point in the story where we get the cover scene, and it’s a colossal cheat. It’s just one panel, and Superman and Parasite are miles out at sea, not anywhere near Metropolis. So their fight is a decent one, but doesn’t really involve fatal discharges of laser-vision or anything. Ultimately, the battle does wind up back in Metropolis, as Pasko needs to tie up one more loose story thread here. At a critical moment, the Parasite attacks Superman–but it’s not Superman at all, it’s the Earth-One Solomon Grundy whom Superman had in an earlier story left with one of his capes. Grundy savagely lays the Parasite low, as his friend the flying man had asked him to. For his part, Superman relocates Grundy to a nearby planet with lighter than Earth gravity, allowing him to fly in the same manner that Superman does, and also leaving him far removed from any people he might harm.
For the wrap-up, the one-armed General who was overseeing the laser defense program is still pissed off that Superman found out about it–and he swears vengeance for some unspecified reason. In the meantime, Superman closes out the issue by making a booty call to Lois Lane’s apartment, where he presents her with a Kryptonian Ring which reveals her thoughts (maybe not the sort of jewelry the average woman is looking for) and the two decide to have dinner. And that’s it for this storyline. There’s no two ways about it, this is one of the most absurd issues of SUPERMAN I had read so far. And yet, I went along with all of it for some reason. Maybe I was just a dumb young comic book reader, but all of this stuff was presented so matter-of-factly that I didn’t question any of it. It all seemed cool to me. It’s only today that I can look back at it and wonder just how some of these moments were considered to be a good idea to execute. Ah, well, there’d be another issue along in a month.