BHOC: ACTION COMICS #486

Another Thursday, another opportunity to ride my bike down into the center of town to our 7-11 after school to pick up the new comics. The conveyance and the distance has changed, and even the day of the week, but the process remains the same even today. There isn’t much overt to say about picking up this issue of ACTION COMICS. I was following the series regularly, so assuming that I could afford it at the time when it came out, a new issue came home with me. More and more, this was becoming the case, though I’d still check out anything new when it crossed my path and I had the coins to spare.

I can’t swear that the lead story in this issue was intended for somewhere else originally, but it felt like that to me, even then. In part, this is simply because, rather than being illustrated by Curt Swan, who had been omnipresent on the Superman titles since I started following comics, this issue’s lead was drawn by George Tuska, who I knew mainly from doing IRON MAN at Marvel. Now, this could simply have been an instance where a fill-in art job was called for, that’s been known to happen a lot. But given the odd length of the piece, my intuition was always that it had been started for some other use, and wound up in ACTION when that need changed or went away. No idea where that might have been, though.

It’s also kind of a dumb story. Superman has a few hours to kill before Clark Kent’s news broadcast, and things in the world are quiet. So rather than simply enjoying the peace and quiet (how must it feel to have the pressure of the entire world on your shoulders every second of every day?) Superman instead decided to take a random jaunt into the far future, where he can blow the couple of hours he’s got available to exploring. He hurls himself forward in time randomly, and the big dope comes out at a point in the future where Earth’s sun has aged and turned red, thus depriving the Man of Steel of his powers–not to mention any way to get back to his proper time. Oops.

The powerless Superman finds himself in the middle of a conflict between Rigellians who had migrated to Earth and interbred with human beings, and their Halfling offspring, the product of unions between Humans and Rigellians. The Halflings realized that their own powers would grow were they to exist on a world with a red sun, so they sent up satellites to ring the Sun and accelerate its aging process. With their newfound might, the Halflings became the dominant life form on Earth, and the original Rigellians and Humans live in scattered pockets of resistance. Superman realizes that the structure they’re standing in is one of the original ships that brought the refugees to Earth, and some quick investigation shows that al systems are workable but for the fact that they don’t have computer control. Fortunately, the Rigellians have been getting their knowledge from a small hand-held computer that was left in a Time Capsule in 1978 that they call the Oracle–and Superman is able to get the thing to connect to the ship’s systems.

Flying out to the Sun, Superman and the Rigellians aboard ship are able to destroy the satellites surrounding it, returning the solar radiation to yellow. Now, the refugees are the equal of the Halflings physically and can fight back on even terms. But more importantly to Superman, his powers are back, at least enough to carry him back to the present. For no good reason other than to set up the ending, he chooses to take the Oracle with him when he returns to the present–and in no time at all, he comes across the Time Capsule being sealed up. But there is no Oracle within it, so Superman wings the thing into the sealing Capsule just in time–then ponders the Bootstrap Paradox concerning where the Oracle computer actually came from.

Since this was the month before the DC Explosion was scheduled to take place, advertising for it was hot and heavy throughout this issue, including this peek at a few upcoming covers that I found tantalizing. Ultimately, this period would make an Implosion rather than an Explosion, but nobody involved could have predicted that.

ACTION COMICS was often still showing its roots as an anthology title, and so it tended to run a back-up story positioned behind the Superman lead. In this instance, it’s a short Lex Luthor story–an odd choice for a feature, maybe, but no more so than some of the others that had run earlier. Given that this story was written by Elizabeth M. Smith, who has no other comic book credits that I’m aware of, and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, I wonder if it wasn’t intended for SUPERMAN FAMILY and was shifted over here to balance out the page count of the Superman lead.

It’s a fun bit of fluff, in which Lex Luthor breaks jail so that he can deliver a birthday gift to his nephew Val–a gift that oddly turns out to be a replica Superman cape. Luthor wasn’t at all menacing in this tale, if anything, he came across as a bit of a putz for all his supposed intellect. And he’s an old softee all throughout this tale, which was typical for the treatment of Luthor in this period. For years, in part because of worries about the Comics Code and in wanting to not put anything in the Superman titles that would upset the youngest readers, Luthor’s villainy was more often talked about than depicted. He was often called the worst villain in the world, but his crimes were mostly bloodless–nobody really got hurt along the way.

8 thoughts on “BHOC: ACTION COMICS #486

  1. Thanks, Tom. Cool to see George Tuska’s version of Superman. I don’t mind the economical inks of Vince Colletta here, either. Adds some grit. Superman’s good looks take on a rugged finish. And it was likely on deadline. 😉 I’d have bought more Tuska drawn Superman stories in “Action Comics” or “Superman”.

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    1. I’d forgotten this Tuska treat. I’ve only remembered his World’s Finest work. Tuska was sadly never a big star but you could always count on a sense of fun, excellent storytelling, and his unique style made you take notice!

      As to Luthor, I like dwhat Byrne did with him but I still miss the ‘secret’ family he had.

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      1. I’ll have to Google that. It’s always fun to see how the longtime artists developed. Kane and Kubert were two I enjoye doing that with years ago.

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  2. This felt like a fill-in issue to me, too, but that wasn’t precisely what it was. In 1976 and 1977, Julie Schwartz dropped the Atom and Green Lantern/Black Canary back-ups (the latter briefly expected to get a 1st Issue Special tryout) in favor of shorts featuring Superman cast members. The last two episodes (starring Lori Lemaris and Clark Kent) ran in Action #475 and #477 and were written by Elizabeth Smith. By that point, the Nelson Bridwell-edited Superman Family had cornered the market on shorts like this so Julie ended the back-ups. (In 1977, he only 17 story pages in total so one full-length tale was better anyway.) The back-ups (now starring Air-Wave and the Atom) were slated to resume with Action #487 when the story pages briefly expanded to 25. Before that happened, Julie wanted to get his final unpublished Liz Smith story (completed circa Action #478) into print. Consequently, he assigned Gerry Conway to come up with a Superman script to fill the balance of the pages. The fact that Julie assigned the art to Tuska and Colletta makes me think there was a gap in their schedule as they geared up for the World’s Greatest Superheroes comic strip (which was already running by the time Action #486 appeared). Whew! Sorry for rambling.

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