Another book that I picked up brand new was the next issue of SUPERMAN FAMILY. I followed this series right up until its demise, though I really couldn’t tell you quite why. I wasn’t especially enamored of any of teh characters who had solo strips within its pages, so it must simply be the allure of the Man of Steel himself, and his world, that kept me coming back. That and inertia, which was always a factor in my comic book buying. Once I committed to a title it would take something to shake me off of continuing to follow it. SUPERMAN FAMILY was a more costly investment, though, as it was still running in the Dollar Comics format, and thus cost almost as much as three regular sized books.
In this particular issue, editor E. Nelson Bridwell contrived to do something that in retrospect makes a lot of sense: making a single unified story out of all of teh individual features running in the magazine. This wasn’t the first time this had been done in the Dollar Comics format, but it was the first time it was attempted in SUPERMAN FAMILY. The result, honestly, is something of a mixed bag, as certain of the chapters are only tertiarily connected to the overall story given their subject matter. But it was a fun attempt to go beyond and to take things to the next level.
The architect of the story was primarily Tom DeFalco, who was then writing the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane portions of the comic. Tom was a veteran of Archie Comics who had branched out and started freelancing for other companies. He fell into writing the two series for Nelson almost by accident. Tom did once tell me that he wrote Jimmy Olsen for Nelson so that he could write Lois Lane for himself–Nelson was a fiend for DC continuity, and worked together with Tom to connect teh dots on a number of DC universe innovations in the Jimmy Olsen strip. So in this story, there’s a moment where the Newsboy Legion show up looking for Jimmy’s help in tracking down the Teen Titans, in particular Mal, who has adopted the heroic identity of their mentor, the Guardian. But most of teh story concerns a group of alien Preservers from another dimension who steal the town in which Jimmy’s father lives. The reporter investigates teh disappearance, sneaking across the dimensional boundary, only to be captured. But before he goes down, he throws his activated Superman signal watch back through the dimensional breach as a last ditch call for help.
The second chapter stars Superman himself and is written by Gerry Conway. Like the opening, this segment is drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, a delightful craftsman who made his bones illustrating the original Captain Marvel back in the 1940s and 1950s. There was always a pleasant, open quality to Schaffenberger’s efforts, and while he wasn’t what you might call a super-popular favorite among the hardcore fans, he had plenty of admirers both inside and outside the business. In this story, Superman responds to Jimmy’s urgent summons, forcing his way into teh rapidly closing dimensional rift. But the Preservers have reset it to carry the Man of Steel into a series of different preserves that they’ve already snatched up in their Museum of Eternity. As Superman copes with one peril after another, the Preservers take the opportunity to add the Bottle City of Kandor to their menagerie–and ultimately wind up imprisoning Superman within it, where its red sun neutralizes his super-powers.
Tom DeFalco is back up for the next chapter, supported on the art side by Win Mortimer, a veteran comic book artist. In the Superman installment, we saw that Liis Lane had entered the Bottle City of Kandor in order to get an interview with TNT, the golden age super hero that Bridwell had brought back in a recent SUPER-FRIENDS story, and who was now so dangerously radioactive that he had to remain in a lead-lined room in Kandor for everyone’s safety. This is all just an excuse, really, to get Lois into Kandor so she can be roped into this story when it is purloined by the Preservers. Speaking of the Preservers, they detect that there’s a human being in their Kryptonian exhibit and send in a robot to pull Lois out of there. Despite the assistance of Nightwing and Flamebird, Kandor’s dynamic duo, Lois is taken and imprisoned alongside Jimmy Olsen. But the pair are resourceful and are able to escape captivity, learning more about the Preservers and their plans in the process. But as they plot out their next move, the head Preserver announces that if they don’t surrender themselves, he’s going to have no choice but to blow up the Earth.
The next chapter is one that’s shoehorned in a bit more awkwardly, as Krypto suddenly finds himself captured by the Preservers and added to the Kandor exhibit. This entry is written by Bob Toomey, who had regularly been writing Krypto stories, and drawn by Juan Ortiz. There’s a bit in this story that establishes that the fact that Krypto has been under a yellow sun for so long is the reason why his intelligence is so much higher than other Kryptonian animals–a question that I can’t recall ever coming up, but certainly the sort of thing that Nelson worried about. Nightwing and Superman are able to break Krypto out of the energy-cage the Preservers brought him in, and they soon discover that the barrier which keeps them all in Kandor is mental in function, and doesn’t affect teh Dog of Steel. They then equip Krypto with one of Flamebird’s flying belts and dispatch him through the barrier in search of a way to bring it down and release a few thousand angry Kryptonians upon the Preservers. Krypto engages in a search, but instead locates Lois and Jimmy. The chapter ends with the Dog of Steel escorting the Daily Planet reporters back to Kandor.
Back in Kandor, things are beginning to pop off, under the auspices of writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Ken Landgraf. It turns out that the Preservers are gathering up all of teh known survivors of Krypton for their preserve, and this includes the assorted Phantom Zone criminals. Deposited in Kandor, these villains don’t possess any super-powers per se, but they’re a ruthless band of killers and marauders who intend to run roughshod over the city. Nightwing, Flamebird and a powerless Superman try to stop them, but they are overwhelmed by the villains’ superior numbers. Nightwing makes an appeal to the Zone criminals for unity in the face of their common foe, the Preservers, but they’re not willing to consider it until Flamebird proposes a one-on-one throwdown between himself and the Zoners’ champion, who turns out to be Jax-Ur. Flamebird himself was a former convict and Phantom Zone prisoner who had reformed, so there’s a bunch of bad blood here. But not only does Flamebird knock Jax-Ur around, he also makes the villain understand that it’s the Preservers who need to be grappled with. So everybody ultimately falls into line. As the chapter ends, Superman realizes that the only Kryptonians that aren’t present are Supergirl and her parents. This is one of those installments that feels like a detour in the story in order to give Nightwing and Flamebird their adventure for the issue.
And now it’s time for the wrap-up in the closing Supergirl chapter, courtesy of Jack C. Harris and Jack Abel, and they have their work cut out for them. In the space of only 12 pages, they have Supergirl discover that Kandor is missing, contacted by president Jimmy Carter about the missing town, locating the dimensional rift that Jimmy and Superman went into, entering it herself, linking up with Krypto, Lois and Jimmy, learning that the Earth will be destroyed shortly of Lois and Jimmy don’t’ surrender, sending Krypto back into Kandor to get Superman, physically pulling first Superman and then all of the other heroes and villains through the rift despite the mental block that prevents them from leaving (thus justifying the cover image) , trashing the Preservers’ plans for Earth and dismantling their menagerie, sending all of the assorted exhibits home, putting the Phantom Zone criminals back into limbo before they can cause trouble, and getting everybody else back to their proper places on Earth. Whew! It’s a bit of a crammed, cramped chapter, without a lot of space for Supergirl to individually shine. But it does get the job done, if a bit too perfunctorily.
The final editorial page of the issue contained another in a series of ongoing reports about the development and filming of the then-upcoming Superman movie. This one focused exclusively on Christopher Reeve, the actor selected to portray Clark Kent and his alter ego. I can’t say that these updates did much to get me excited–in all honesty, I’m not sure that I was even truly aware that there was a Superman movie in the works (despite all of the promotion for it in the DC books) nor what it would mean. Some of that was simply the limits of the printing technology of the time, which turned photographs such as these into hard to see grey blobs on a comic book page. I can’t swear that this was my first glimpse at Reeve in his Superman costume, but it’s likely that it was one of the first–and it made no impression on me whatsoever. Superman the Movie wouldn’t be a real thing to me until commercials for it started popping up on television.
4 thoughts on “BHOC: SUPERMAN FAMILY #190”
Reminds me how much I enjoyed the continuity in the Superman Family stories in this era. Plus the tie-in with Super-Friends was a nice touch.
I can pretty much guarantee that when Tom DeFalco’s script said the costumed bandits kicked in the doors to the bank, this is not what he was picturing.
Tom, Sorry to point this out but your pieces are typically full of ‘the’ being spelled as ‘teh.’ Have you noticed? Regards, Paul
I loved the Batman an Superman Family books a lot and I honestly can’t tell you why either! I liked Batman back then because he wasn’t psychotic yet but I follow Superman when I like the creators. Thinking of it now, it was probably Bridwell’s way of using continuity. It wasn’t ham fisted like Roy Thomas and additive to the stories rather than coming up with a whole issue to explain a simple costume change.