BHOC: SUPERMAN FAMILY #189

I bought this issue of SUPERMAN FAMILY at my regular 7-11 haunt. Not quite sure why I kept up with the title, to be honest–I had bought two earlier issues because the Superman of Earth-2 was a guest star in one of the stories and I was a sucker for Earth-2. But I had no particular great love for Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen or Supergirl. Could be that it was simply inertia and habit, a trait I would repeat often in my comic book buying days. It could also be that by this point I had enough money on hand regularly where I could begin to spread out my buying a little bit more. I’m not entirely certain when I started my Pennysaver paper route, delivering circulars twice a week and assembling them on the preceding two evenings. But from that point on, I was constantly liquid enough to buy not only any new comics that I wanted, but a steady stream of back issues as well. Also, that’s a great cover by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez. I’m not certain who colored it, but the decision to leave Lois’s face stark white with those bullseye-like blue eyes was a master stroke. It’s a bit encumbered by cover copy and stuff, but it’s still plenty effective. If I remember correctly, my brother later bought himself a copy of this same issue as well.

When I think back on SUPERMAN FAMILY, the word that comes to mind is “pleasant.” The stories were always entertaining and competently done. But they only rarely had any effect on anything beyond their page lengths. They were disposable adventures, a few minutes’ worth of entertainment, nothing more. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But as I came more and more under the spell of the new Marvel books I was investigating, I became more concerned about the big picture, about the tapestry of the fictional continuum in which all of these characters operated. And I began to mentally divide series into which stories “mattered” and which stories didn’t. Typical 11 year old reader stuff. The book opened with a Jimmy Olsen story written by eventual Marvel EIC Tom DeFalco, and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. Schffenberger was a perfect artist for tales like this one, as his open, expressive artwork was always inviting and also capable of making the silliest situations seem plausible, Here, Jimmy contends with the villainous King Cougar, who wears either short pants or thigh-high boots, I’m not quite sure which. It also featured a one-panel cameo from Black Lightning, which I thought was a nice bit of continuity considering he was Metropolis’ other major super hero.

Schaffenberger’s work is all over this issue, He also illustrates the next story, a Superman solo adventure, the second part of a story that had begun last month. In it, Superman uses White Kryptonite to save the inhabitants of an alien world from a plague that’s ravaging their land, a plague whose bacteria is plantlike enough so as to not be harmed as the White-K destroys all plant life. Hopefully, these aliens don’t breathe oxygen or they’re going to be in trouble again really soon–to say nothing of the environmental damage Superman has just done. But he saved a ton of lives, so that has to count for something. And these stories were at best only quasi-realistic to begin with. You can nitpick almost any of them to death if you’re of a mind to.

I’m giving this next story a bit of an additional spotlight here, as it features one of my favorite obscure DC super heroes, the Human Cannonball. As I’ve mentioned previously, the Cannonball was a wanna-be hero who tailed around with Lois Lane, figuring that was the best way to find danger and to get headlines. In his way, he was the forerunner to later characters such as Booster Gold. And here, Schaffenberger depicts him very agreeably. The story itself is a bit of nonsense, with an alien intelligence born in the heart of a dying star coming to Earth and falling in love spontaneously with Lois Lane (as everybody did in those days.) Ultimately, neither Superman nor Cannonball can do anything to break this Starseed’s hold over Lois, but Lois is able to reject its overtures herself, and in the end it retreats back into the loneliness of space, never to be heard from again.

The next story breaks Schaffenberger’s streak on this issue, as Juan Ortiz steps up to the plate. It’s another Krypto solo story, as the dog of steel continues to help his human friend Detective Ed Lacy search for his missing nephew. It’s a nice enough entry, and really feels like the model for a 1970s weekly television series, though because of that there isn’t a whole lot of dram a in it, for all that it’s well told. And Krypto gets to throw a race to an egotistical racedog because he needs to protect his secret identity for some reason. At the end, Krypto disappears–into, we are told, the following issue’s full length spectacular. But I wouldn’t read that for another month.

Next came an adventure of Nightwing and Flamebird, the Batman and Robin of the Bottle City of Kandor. I always had a liking for Nightwing and Flamebird, though I’m now perplexed to tell you why. Maybe it was just that they were super heroes in a magazine that featured a lot of human reporters and dogs. Either way, I thought the pairing was cool, a quasi sci-fi Batman. In this particular entry, the Dynamic Duo of Kandor battle a hidden crime lord in the Bottle City, one whose target, the Sun-Stone, was also the cause of Flamebird’s incarceration in the Phantom Zone back when he was a juvenile offender. It’s nice enough work, but hardly memorable.

Finally, the issue closes out with a Supergirl adventure. I liked the idea of Supergirl just fine, but I found that most of her stories were just ehh. I kept waiting for somebody to come along and turn that around–but it never really happened, and so when Kara perished during CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS I wasn’t too broken up about it. This story is the second part of an adventure begun last issue, with Supergirl herself projected into the Phantom Zone after being accused of crimes. There’s also a thread with former JLA mascot Snapper Carr coming to work for Supergirl’s adoptive parents and having some secret plan. I expect this thread reached a conclusion of some sort and wasn’t just dropped, but I don’t recall after so much time what it was. So we’ll find out together in the weeks ahead. Anyway, Supergirl is able to prove her innocence by taping the memories of Mon-El, who was at this point himself trapped in the Zone and who had witnessed the events in question.

The issue also included a two-page letters page, which also squeezed in that year’s Statement of Ownership. So we can work out just how well the new Dollar Comics format had been performing. According to the information, the book had been selling 95,109 copies on a print run of 307,522, which gave the title an efficiency of just under 31%. That’s a way lower percentage than most of the books we’ve been looking at, which seems to indicate that the Dollar Comics were meeting with some consumer resistance. That said, the profit margin on a Dollar Comic had to be greater than a normal book, which may have been while the series was able to hold on for so long. Fewer copies sold but more money made per copy.

There was also an update on the then-filming Superman movie, which at that time didn’t quite seem like a real thing to me. At 11 years of age, I didn’t know who Marlon Brando was or why I should care that he was playing Jor-El, and the grainy, gloopy photographs of both he and Margot Kidder did nothing to interest me in the project

2 thoughts on “BHOC: SUPERMAN FAMILY #189

  1. Thank you for this. I’ve been trying to track down this one-panel appearance of Black Lightning for years. I need it for the Black Lightning checklist I’m compiling and my Black Lightning archives. The latter is particularly important because, when I’m no longer with us, my Black Lightning stuff will be donated to a college or library. Preferably one of the historically Black colleges.

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  2. Agreed about the cover. It’s a really striking piece by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. I am always perplexed as to why he is not more well-regarded. Perhaps because he never had a lengthy run on any particular series? Or because a lot of his work was on uncredited licensing art? Whatever the reasons, it’s regrettable.

    Supergirl by Jack Abel & Frank Giacoia also looks nice, and Kurt Schaffenberger’s stuff was always fun. One of the regrettable things about Curt Swan penciling nearly ever issue of both Action Comics and Superman during the bronze Age is that Schaffenberger did not have more opportunities to draw the Man of Steel.

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