This issue of ACTION COMICS was heavily advertised in DC house ads in the weeks leading up to its release, and so I was prepared for it to show up on the spinner rack at my local 7-11. And as you’d expect, it was being promoted as the for-real, no-fooling story of Superman marrying Lois Lane. But I was keen-eyed enough that even with it reduced in size for those ads, I was able to spot the telltale clue on this cover that revealed what this story was actually going to be about. Do you see it? It’s a pretty great cover image by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Dick Giordano–I loved the fact that it included the cover to ACTION COMICS #1 as an inset as well. This sort of comic book history-reflection was very much right in my wheelhouse. It’s difficult to realize from the point of view of 2021 that this 40th Anniversary Issue itself came out more than 40 years ago–which means that all of the Superman comics that I was around for as a reader represent more than 50% of the character’s entire lifespan.
The story was written by Cary Bates, one of my favorite writers at the time, who could always be counted upon to deliver the goods, in particular on a story like this one. The art was provided by the always-reliable Curt Swan, here inked in somewhat-subdued fashion by Joe Giella. Giella was a favorite of editor Julie Schwartz, his involvement in Schwartz’s books going back to before the start of the Silver Age. As opposed to some, I actually liked his finishes over Carmine Infantino on THE FLASH. But here, working atop Curt Swan, he tended to accentuate all of the softest elements of Swan’s work. It still looked nice, but whatever power Swan might have brought to the pencils was subtly sapped away.
Okay, it’s time to let you in on the big twist of this story. Yes, it features Superman marrying Lois Lane, but not the Superman you would usually find in the pages of ACTION COMICS, the one from Earth-1. Rather, this is the Superman of the parallel world of Earth-2, the home of the Justice Society of America, where all of DC’s earliest super heroes resided. That Superman is a good twenty-to-thirty years older than the regular version, so this tale is set in the 1950s, at the tail end of his published career, when the Superman stories being published had painlessly shifted over to telling tales that were considered to have happened on Earth-1. Writer Cary Bates also assumes that this is the Superman of the 1950s Adventures of Superman television show, and he cribs that series’ entire opening narration for his introductory page. Similarly, he also peppers these pages with references to Superman’s adventures on the radio and in animation–these Mechanical Marauders that Superman takes down at the start of the tale are strongly influenced by the similar criminal robots in the 1941 Fleisher Superman cartoon The Mechanical Monsters. That fact went right over my head at the time, though I recognized the connection to the TV series, given that it was still playing in reruns and I watched it faithfully every afternoon still.
The robots Superman destroys are the agents of Colonel Future, an underworld figure based around the persona of Science Fiction writer (and longtime friend of editor Schwartz) Edmond Hamilton, who had also spent several years writing stories for DC. He was also the creator and primary architect of the pulp magazine character Captain Future–so you can see the connection here. Colonel Future is irked that his criminal endeavors are always blitzed by the Man of Steel, and so he vows to rid himself of the troublesome Kryptonian. Realizing that there is little the Metropolis Marvel is vulnerable to, Colonel Future conscripts the help of the Wizard, the JSA foe who in the present was leading the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Future gives the Wizard the Glastonbury Wand that the sorcerer has been after, in exchange for him using it to rid the world of the Man of Tomorrow.
And strike Superman down he does. The Man of Steel finds himself transported mid-fight to the center of a mystic sigil shaped like his own insignia by the wicked magician, who proceeds to wipe him out of existence. But so powerful is Superman’s will to live, that in the hours that follow, he returns from the ground in which he was buried as simply Clark Kent, with no memory of is other now-dead self. This Clark Kent, though, has no need to appear meek and mild–he’s a journalistic dynamo who goes on a one-man crusade to bring Colonel Future down. In doing so, he also earns the affections of Lois Lane. This version of Clark is cast very much in the style of George Reeves’ performance in the aforementioned Adventures of Superman television series–his Clark Kent wasn’t especially clumsy or awkward, and especially in the earliest seasons he was a crack journalist.
With Superman out of the picture and Clark Kent acting like a macho man, it’s only a matter of time before he and Lois Lane get married. But on their honeymoon, Kent is targeted for a rubout by Colonel Future’s men–yet, he doesn’t even seem to feel the machine gun fire that riddles his back. Lois sees it all, though, and is mystified–she’s always suspected that Clark was really Superman, but now she realizes that at the moment, even he seems to be unaware of this fact. She’s a crack reporter as well, and so it’s only a matter of time before she’s able to locate the Wizard, now down and out and living on the street. You would think he’d be ascendant having eliminated the Man of Steel–but so many other villains popped up to claim credit for the deed once it became clear that Superman was missing that he couldn’t get anybody to take his claims seriously. But lois believes, and she provides him with the opportunity to prove his claim to the world. Even though it means sacrificing her own marital happiness, Superman must live again!
And live he does! At a press conference organized by the daily Star (where Clark and Lois work on Earth-2–the appearance of the Daily Star building on the cover was the tip-off clue that alerted me in advance that this would be an Earth-2 tale) and before the eyes of Metropolis, the Wizard reverses his spell, and Superman bursts free from the mystic sigil, restored! His reputation restored, the Wizard is knocked cold by Superman in two panels, and watching the broadcast, the unpunished Colonel Future fumes. But of more immediate concern is Lois Lane. When Superman arrives home, he finds his wife tearfully packing her things, intending to move out. But despite the fact that he married her unknowingly, Superman assures Lois that he truly does want her to be his wife, and so the pair renew their vows in a Kryptoninan ceremony that takes place in Superman’s Secret Citadel, the Earth-2 hero’s version of the Fortress of Solitude. This is all by way of set-up for a new ongoing series that would begin shortly in SUPERMAN FAMILY called Mr and Mrs Superman–and I enjoyed this story, to say nothing of Earth-2 in general, enough that I was looking forward to following it.
As a bit of a help to those readers who might have felt cheated by the bait-and-switch to Earth-2, Associate Editor E. Nelson Bridwell provided a handy cheat sheet in this very issue illuminating the difference between the Earth-1 Superman and his older Earth-2 counterpart. There wasn’t much of anything on this handy chart that I didn’t know by this point, but I liked the fact that it was included anyway. Bridwell makes the case that, given that the Earth-2 Superman was the version who first appeared in ACTION COMICS #1 in 1938, it was appropriate that he be the star of this 40th Anniversary story. And I kind of bought that.