Once again, my weekly sojourn to my local 7-11 on Thursday resulted in a small haul of new comic book issues. Among those books I purchased this week was the latest outing of SUPERMAN, a title that I had been following with regularity for a year or two. Unbeknownst to me, this would be the beginning of writer Marty Pasko’s swan song on the series. I really enjoyed Pasko’s approach to the character–he was something of a stand-out for me at the age of 11, and the book wouldn’t be quite so appealing in my eyes once he’d departed its pages.
The artwork, as usual, was delivered by Curt Swan, truly the iron man of Superman stories throughout the 1970s. It was rare to find an issue of either SUPERMAN or ACTION COMICS that he didn’t produce, and he was also in evidence elsewhere throughout the line, on occasional stories in WORLD’S FINEST COMICS or SUPERMAN FAMILY or completely non-Superman titles. His work was always clean and appealing, though it was also a bit sedate. Swan wasn’t really an action artist, he was more like the Norman Rockwell of comic books. As such, as energy and excitement and battle became more and more of the heart of why consumers bought comics, his work tended to be characterized by some fans as dull and stodgy. There’s a kernel of truth to that, but only a kernel, and the reality is that Swan’s strengths offset any deficits his work may have possessed. (The end result was also somewhat dependent upon which of the wide spectrum of inkers finished his pages–that last contribution affected the final pages greatly, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.) For me, while he wasn’t such a favorite that I would seek his stories out specifically, I always enjoyed what he did and had no complaints about any of it.
This was the third storyline to feature the villain Blackrock, a television-empowered character connected to the UBC Broadcasting Company. I wasn’t worldly enough in 1978 to understand the reference–that Blackrock was named after NBC’s famous 30 Rockefeller Plaza office building, and that he had been created at the behest of a fictionalized version of Fred Silverman. So to me, he was simply a character with a shtick (and an ever-changing identity–a different individual was inside the Blackrock costume each time he battled the Man of Steel. UBC had created Blackrock as a counterpart to Superman, whom they felt was clearly being financed by Morgan Edge’s WGBS given how often stories and footage of the Man of Steel’s exploits wound up in the hands of GBS reporters such as Clark Kent and Lois Lane. But as this story opens, the situation is far different.
At the beginning of this issue, the people of Metropolis are stunned by the announcement that Superman has signed a contract with their network. Particularly confused by this turn of events are Superman’s friends such as Lois Lane, who tells rival Lana Lang that it was against Superman’s principles to equate himself with any particular network, or to profit from his endeavors. But the Man of Steel flies off before Lois can speak with him–and from there, we setter into an extended flashback, picking up where the prior story left off. There, Superman had just undone the Atomic Skull’s trap of poisoning the atmosphere with Kryptonite particles, thus eliminating the Metropolis Marvel’s powers–but as he raced back to pick up Dr. Jenet Klyburn and dismantle the SKULL base the Atomic Skull had been operating under, Superman realizes that he’s been having blackouts–he’s got minutes of time unaccounted for.
But before he can get to the bottom of his own problems, he first needs to complete his rescue of Dr. Klyburn and polish off the remainder of the Skull forces. which he does for the most part–the Atomic Skull himself eludes capture when Superman suddenly stiffens and is compelled to carve some graffiti into the ground excoriating WGBS for its ethical practices. This continues to happen repeatedly–Superman blacks out, creates some anti-WGBS message, then wakes up a little while later none the wiser. The Last Son of Krypton is increasingly worried about his erratic behavior–but not so worried that investigating it can’t wait until after Clark Kent’s evening broadcast. Which seems like a spurious decision, but there you go.
One of the key stories in the broadcast concerns Superman’s anti-WGBS graffiti spree, the details of which allow Clark to fill in some of the gaps in his memory. But not all of them. And he’s as shocked as anybody when Jimmy Olsen races into the newsroom declaring that has just heard that Superman has signed an exclusive contract with UBC. Clark thinks this may be the break he needed, and so that evening he makes his way into the UBC headquarters in full-on Superman stealth mode to locate the contract he supposedly signed. And his signature there is genuine–but before he can do anything with that knowledge, he’s jumped by the disembodied particle form of Blackrock.
It turns out that Peter Silverstone, the creator of the Blackrock technology, has been behind the Man of Steel’s fugue states and his graffiti spree the whole time. And now he’s got a firm enough command over the Krypton Kid that he can escalate his plan to the next level. And so we flash back to where we came in this month, at Superman’s announcement of his new deal with UBC–where he tells those in attendance that the first thing he’s going to do is to reveal his true, secret identity live on UBC during his first broadcast. To Be Continued! There was a weird structure to this issue, one seemingly designed to hide the fact that most of it was clean-up and dangling threat tie-up from the prior Atomic Skull adventure.
This time around, the letters page includes a missive from Cat Yronwode, who was then on the cusp of being hired on both at Kitchen Sink as associate editor on their reprints of Will Eisner’s THE SPIRIT, and also Eclipse, where she’d be a key editorial voice for the duration of the 1980s. She also authored a long-running column in the pages of the Comics Buyers’ Guide weekly industry newspaper.