This issue was another comic that I picked up in a plastic bag of cover-stripped return books sold illicitly through my local drug store outlet. I was happy to get it, as it represented the beginning of Marty Pasko’s stint as writer of the series. I had only begun following SUPERMAN regularly again with the following issue, and while going back and picking up the actual start wasn’t 100% necessary, it was nice to be able to see the ground floor. I of course didn’t get to experience this impactful cover by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Bob Oksner, which is a shame. DC was making some strides to improve the look of their covers, though they were still often shoddily printed. This is a nice piece, but it looks to my eye like some of the linework is gumming up–a difficulty that plagued much of the DC line throughout the mid-1970s.
Pasko had been a long-time letter writer to editor Julie Schwartz’s titles, enough so that he came to be known on those pages as “Pesky” Pasko, thanks to his strong and strongly-worded opinions. At a certain point, Pasko made the leap from fan to pro, and could then put into practice what he had been preaching in terms of the storytelling in the Schwartz titles. Judging by interviews and what’s been written about him, Pasko had an uncomfortable relationship with a lot of his own work, and even with the business in general. Still, he remained involved with DC for several decades until his unfortunate passing just last year. As a young reader, I found his work to typically be of interest, and I particularly enjoyed this run on SUPERMAN, where he was able to develop some ongoing plotlines and change up the inter-personal dynamics between Clark, Lois, Lana and the rest of the cast a bit.
The issue opens with Superman interfering in a burglary taking place at STAR Labs, the scientific consortium that’s been an ongoing part of the series. The criminals are agents of Skull, an underworld organization that would be a constant thorn in Superman’s side during Pasko’s tenure. As he attempts to stop the Skull operatives, who are armed with high-tech weaponry, Superman’s efforts are interfered with by Dr. Albert Michaels, who works for STAR. Michaels would go on to become the Atomic Skull in future issues and was connected with Skull even here. During the skirmish, a bystander is crushed by debris, and while Superman is able to get him medical aid, he wasn’t able to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Resuming his guise as Clark Kent and checking in at WGBS, Superman is surprised to learn from loudmouth Steve Lombard that Lois Lane is planning to relocate to the midwest. She’s had enough of pining away for Superman and treating Clark Kent like a consolation prize at best anda doormat at worst. While Clark goes to speak to Lois about this, Lombard, meanwhile, has made off with a camera intending to get to the bottom of the insider at STAR Labs who may be passing intel on to Skull, so as to show his true journalistic chops. This goes about as well as you’d expect, and Steve winds up being captured by Skull at the Sports Arena he followed their men to. Becoming aware of Steve’s plight thanks to his still-transmitting camera, Clark locks Lois in the bathroom and becomes Superman, intending to race to the rescue then return before Lois can extricate herself.
Superman, though, is feeling way too cocky about his chances. For, arriving at the stadium, he finds himself confronted by the man whose body was crushed earlier, who introduces himself as Roger Corben. What’s more, he’s the brother of one of the Man of Steel’s most dangerous and deceased villains, the cyborg Metallo. But now Corben, who wants revenge on the Metropolis Marvel for his role in his brother’s death has been turned into a similar cyborg by Skull, powered by a synthetic Kryptonite heart which steadily weakens Superman. This was the first appearance of Metallo in many years. The character had perished in the late 1950s, and apart from some flashbacks and references and appearances in imaginary stories, he hadn’t been heard from since. But Superman needed more foes with whom he could contend physically, so Pasko and Schwartz’s decision to introduce a new Metallo made sense. He’d continue as a regular part of Superman’s Rogue’s Gallery from this point on.
Corben’s transformation into Metallo wasn’t an accident at all, but a part of Skull’s plan from the get-go. They were responsible for him being caught beneath that falling debris, and they had his cyborg body all ready to go, the synthetic Kryptonite that powers it created using the components they were able to heist from STAR Labs earlier thanks to the aid of Dr. Michaels. Superman goes a few rounds with Metallo, steadily losing his powers and grounded by the ambient K-radiation. But he also notices that the effect of Metallo’s kryptonite heart on him lessens whenever Metallo exerts himself–his body draw on its power, thus lessening its radiations. He figures that if he can just get Metallo to exert himself enough, the cyborg will suffer what amounts to a heart attack and be put out of action.
This works like a charm, and Metallo goes down, seemingly dead. Superman mops up the remaining Skull goons and would like to follow up on their “inside man”, but there’s still the issue of Lois being locked in the bathroom. She’s furious when Clark finally lets her out after six hours. (It looks to my eye like the first portion of Clark’s balloon in Panel 5 has been rewritten, leaving large empty areas. Wonder what it may have said originally.) Elsewhere, in the morgue, Metallo rises, not quite as dead as he may have seemed, and poised to become a returning problem for the Man of Steel. Pasko would use him again in short order, completing his transformation from disgruntled brother to full-out super-villain.
The Metropolis Mailbag letters page this time around included a lengthy note from Fred Hembeck, a fan cartoonist who would not long after crack into the mainstream with a strip that would run on the Daily Bugle promotional page. He’s probably best remembered as the guiding force behind the Fantastic Four Roast, and for both Destroying and Selling the Marvel Universe in separate one-shots and a running strip in the promotional MARVEL AGE series. The collections of his Dateline: #@$% strip were my first real encounter with comic book archaeology, and I became a massive fan of his work. He’s done a few different stories for me over the years.