Here was another regular issue of SUPERMAN that I bought during one of my weekly Thursday 7-11 new comics drop-ins. It’s not a wonderfully drawn cover, for all that the purple background does help it to pop. But for some reason, the reproduction on a lot of DC’s covers in this period was muddy, with the linework becoming kind of dull and blobby. I’m sure that must have had to do with using more cut-rate printing, but it didn’t help the DC books to look more attractive on the racks. The lettering here, though, is really nice, of all things. A good range of hand-generated typography and nothing that seems like it was simply traced from a template. A shame the Comics Code symbol clips Titano’s head.
This was the second part of the Atomic Skull storyline that had begun last month after running in the background as a subplot for several issues. We were also nearing the end of writer Marty Pasko’s time on the Man of Steel, not that I knew that at the moment. I was very much enamored of Pasko’s SUPERMAN work–I found it to be superior to the corresponding issues of ACTION COMICS and other recent runs, for all that it still contained a lot of the silliness of the bronze Age period. It felt somehow just a hair more emotionally sophisticated and worldly. The bar was set a little bit differently back in 1978 you have to understand–I wouldn’t read an Alan Moore story for another four years.
We pick up where we left off last time: the leader of the SKULL organization has been revealed to be the Atomic Skull, who has been using his underground “kryptonite pipeline” to gather together enough surviving kryptonite to carry out his revenge against Superman. Last issue the Skull fired a missile towards the ionosphere that contained all of his amassed kryptonite. When the missile explodes, it will scatter kryptonite dust throughout the atmosphere, eliminating Superman’s super-powers forever. And to keep the Man of Tomorrow busy in the meantime, the Atomic Skull had imported Titano, the giant ape with kryptonite vision, from his home on another planet. Superman is able to block off Titano’s deadly eyes with a bit of lead piping, but he still has to stop the missile and defeat the Skull.
The Atomic Skull proves not that difficult to dispatch–Superman is able to reflect the discharge from one of his devastating electrical seizures back at him with his cape. For the kryptonite missile, while Superman can’t physically approach it himself without being weakened, he’s got an appropriately daffy plan as well. He races to construct a second missile, this one with a lead warhead, which he’s able to hurl up so that it detonates at the same time as the SKULL missile. And somehow, the lead dust in Superman’s missile envelopes and neutralizes the kyrptonite dust in the enemy missile. This doesn’t really work at all, and it does suggest the question of whether Superman has just given the world a slow case of lead poisoning. But that aspect of the story is concluded at least.
Unfortunately, while the Atomic Skull has been captured, he’s still got mental influence over Titano, and he’s able to make the giant ape remove the lead covering his eyes and sends him out to kill Superman. What’s worse is that Superman’s gambit with the missile was only partially successful, and so he’s feeling a bit less powerful than usual, giving Titano the advantage. He also doesn’t really want to harm the big ape, whom he knows is only a pawn in this game. Elsewhere, Lanan Lang heads out from WGBS determined to scoop rival Lois Lane on the story. Lois had been instrumental in Titano’s origin story, she was the only one the ape trusted since before he became a kryptonite-empowered giant, so Lana knows that her competitor has every advantage again here, just as she has in their romantic war over the affections of the Man of Steel. But she’s not about to concede without giving it her all.
And this involves disguising herself as Lois and trying to calm Titano down, to give Superman a breather and maybe resolve the problem. But a rainstorm was called for this evening, and the sudden downpour washes away Lana’s makeup, putting her directly into harm’s way with a now-furious Titano. Superman, of course, comes to her rescue–but he doesn’t even have any words of thanks for her attempt as he rockets off to take care of the problem. He first knocks the Atomic Skull unconscious so that he can no longer remotely prompt Titano, then he constructs a giant puppet of a cameraman, recalling that Titano had been trained when he was just a tiny chimpanzee to do tricks in front of the camera. Using the puppet, he goads Titano into a nearby cage that he has fashioned. What was it I was saying about these stories seeming more sophisticated and worldly?
Finally, in a bit of cross-promotional continuity, Superman pulls the recently-introduced Supermobile out of mothballs and uses it s lead lining to protect himself from the kryptonite in the atmosphere while he sucks it all up using his super-breath. But as the Supermobile enters the atmosphere, the latest in a string of shadowy figures watches the Metropolis Marvel’s descent and predicts that in a few instances, the effects of his sonic synapse disruptor will make Superman into his slave. Who is this ne’er-do-well? I’d need to wait another month until I would find out.