It would have been at about this time that I read the Pete Hamill column in the New York Daily News that is reproduced at the link below, which had a huge impact on me. As I describe in that piece, while Hamill’s writing about his friend Casey was intended to underscore the emptiness and loneliness of his life as a collector of comic books, I took the opposite lesson from it–that it was possible to live a grown-up life and still be an avid comic book reader. I clipped and saved this piece in a scrapbook along with other comic book-related newspaper articles, but it eventually vanished as all such things tend to do.
Anyway, the connection to this issue of SUPERMAN was simply timing, as I would have gotten it (and yesterday’s MARVEL SUPER-HEROES) at around when I read the article in question.
The big draw of this story is that it featured Superman battling Kobra, a villainous character created by Jack Kirby and Steve Sherman who had headlined his own series for seven issues. After the book failed, the storyline did away with the sinister serpent’s Corsican Brother good guy sibling and transitioned him into being a nemesis across the nascent DC Universe. He’d battled Batman and then Aquaman in stories that I had already read, and now he was going after DC’s big gun, the Man of Steel. It was another issue produced by a creative team that I liked, writer Marty Pasko and artist Curt Swan.
In the previous issue, Superman had captured an extraterrestrial teleporting weapon from agents of SKULL, hiding it temporarily at Clark Kent’s apartment. This turns out to have been a lousy idea, because it’s a device that Kobra is after–and following its trail to Kent’s abode has not only given him the weapon but the knowledge of Superman’s civilian identity. Ina rare turn for one of these stories, Kobra would get to exit the story with that information still in hand, making him a particular threat to Clark Kent’s well-being, although I can’t recall the two of them squaring off again any time soon after this. Anyway, Kobra ambushes Superman as Kent at his apartment, but the first round in their battle goes to Superman, though Kobra and his men ail evade capture by teleporting away.
A short time later, Kobra reappears, with a colossal flying craft that sucks up sand from the bottom of the ocean and inundates Metropolis with it. When Superman moves to intervene, Kobra reveals that he’s used his stolen teleporter to capture Superman’s earthly parents Jonathan and Martha Kent a week before their deaths–and that if superman moves against him, he will slay them, thus disrupting the Man of Tomorrow’s personal timeline. (the fact that doing this could have unforeseen consequences for Kobra himself and all of Earth doesn’t appear to be a worry to the snake-clad crime-lord.) Possessing the upper hand, he coerces Superman into cleaning up all of the scattered sand and returning it to Kobra. Superman’s not quite sure what the villain is up to, but he knows he’s got to throw a monkey wrench into his plans.
Working out that what Kobra is doing is using the sand to gather up the residue from a deadly nerve toxin that had been sprayed across the city, Superman befouls his intake machine by using his heat vision to superheat some of the sand, causing the whole contraption to explode. He’s already moved quickly enough to rescue Ma and Pa Kent, leaving a dummy in place which Kobra attempts to annihilate. But despite having foiled Kobra’s plan, the master fiend is still able to battle the Man of Steel to a standstill and make his escape–still aware that Superman is Kent, a problem for another day. What’s more, Superman now has the sad duty of returning his immobilized parents to their proper time in the past, where they are fated to die. So the story ends on a bit of a sad note.
As this was the first issue of SUPERMAN to be published in the new DC Explosion format, like all of the titles in the line, it required a back-up series. The series selected was an expansion on an issue of ACTION COMICS that had seen print not long before. That issue detailed how the Superman of Earth-2 eventually got married to his Lois Lane. The whole thing was presented as a fake-out to make readers think it was the “real” Earth-1 Superman who was getting married, but the story must have worked and must have sold, because this MR. AND MRS SUPERMAN feature would carry on for several years, eventually migrating to SUPERMAN FAMILY after the DC Explosion had run its course.
The story involved a group of criminals targeting reporter Clark Kent for elimination thanks to some exposes he was writing, unaware that he was secretly the Man of Steel. Given its vaguely 1950s setting and the manner in which inker Joe Giella embellished artist Kurt Schaffenberger’s pencils, it was easy to imagine this as the George Reeves and Noel Neill incarnations of the characters from the still-running-in-syndication ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN television series.