I was into picking up this next issue of ACTION COMICS thanks both to the impending showdown between Superman and Microwave Man–a costumed villain from the past who’d spend decades off in space–and the start of the Air-Wave back-up series. I knew Air-Wave from over in GREEN LANTERN and had liked him a bunch as a young would-be super hero in training. So the whole package worked for me–though it wasn’t as though I hadn’t been following the title for several months anyway.
ACTION COMICS editor Julie Schwartz had a regular stable of writers and artists with whom he routinely worked, and that gave his titles a remarkable consistency. My favorite at the time was writer Cary Bates, whom I had come to know from his long run on THE FLASH. Cary was a solid professional, able to make even the most outlandish story-twist seem to make sense. And Curt Swan was the go-to artist for all things Superman during this period. I know that, to some, his work in the 1970s was a bit too quiet and laconic for then-modern tastes–it was a common refrain once John Byrne took over the series in the mid-1980s for fans to express that his was the kind of Superman they had been waiting for in the post-Marvel age. But all that said, I liked Swan’s work a lot, it had an effortless charm to it that was very appealing, and a matter-of-face way of depicting all of Superman’s absurd stunts.
Last month, we were introduced to Microwave Man, a costumed criminal who was active in Metropolis in the days before Superman, when Perry White was still just a regular reporter. Microwave Man had gone on a crime spree some forty years ago, then vanished without a trace. But we learned that he’d contacted an alien spacecraft with his microwave apparatus, and spent the next four decades roaming the stars. Now back on Earth to retire, Microwave Man is intrigued with the possibility of challenging Superman. There’s a lot more microwave radiation in use in 1978 than there was back in the past, and so he’s potentially mightier than ever. But his old and feeble body can’t stand up to the strain of exercising his great powers. Undaunted, he contacts his alien friends, who agree to restore his lost youth to him in exchange for conditions not revealed to we readers. And so the stage is set for a super-bout.
To issue his challenge to his opponent, Microwave Man uses his powers to black out every television and radio station in Metropolis, including WGBS where co-New anchors Clark Kent and Lana Lang are attempting to broadcast from. Switching into his working clothes, the Man of Steel wastes no time in locating the source of the disruption, following the trail of microwave emissions to a secluded spot at the edge of the city. And the battle is joined–with Microwave Man reveling in the fight and feeling truly challenged by his powerful Kryptonian opponent. For the most part, Superman takes his lumps during this portion of the fight, as Microwave man is drawing upon extraordinary quantities of ambient microwave radiation in the ether.
Realizing what the source of Microwave Man’s strength is, Superman prepares to rush him and fly him into the past, where there will be less microwave radiation to strengthen his foe. But before he can do so, he receives a telepathic message from the villain’s alien benefactors. So instead, Superman drops to the surface and grapples with Microwave Man, being pushed to his knees and conceding defeat. With his victory confirmed, Microwave Man lets go, and is disintegrated by his own powers, the ultimate cost of his rejuvenation. We learn too that Superman threw the fight, of course, to allow his enemy his last moments of happiness and pride. Which is pretty cool when you come right down to it. This sort of sense of self-sacrifice was something that was often on display in Superman stories (and, indeed, other super hero strips) and made the hero all the more impressive.
The back-up series, as mentioned earlier, was Air-Wave, an import from the pages of GREEN LANTERN. The strip was written by another one of Julie Schwartz’s young literary proteges, Bob Rozakis, and illustrated by promising newcomer Alex Saviuk. In just a few months, Saviuk would wind up replacing Irv Novick as the regular artist on THE FLASH as the title left Julie’s hands. His work was clean and straightforward. As for Rozakis, while he never became a huge fan favorite, I enjoyed all of his stories, particularly those featuring younger characters such as Robin, Batgirl and the Teen Titans. So Air-Wave was very much up his alley.
In this story, young almost-16-year-old Hal Jordan AKA Air-Wave (he’s the cousin of Green Lantern, with the same civilian name) relocates to Texas from Coast City to stay with Hal’s brother Jack and his family. Along the way, he has two opportunities to go into action as Air-Wave: the first to foil some would-be airplane hijackers and the second to defeat a weird nameless train-themed criminal who manages to escape from him. He also sets up a supporting cast for himself, spends time remembering different pointers on how to be a super hero that he’s received from Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Black Canary, and blown his secret identity to his possible love interest. All in all, it was like a lightweight, low-stakes version of the early Spider-Man, and I enjoyed it. It probably didn’t hurt that Air-Wave was a second-generation super hero, his father was the Air-Wave of the Golden Age, a genuine 1940s character.
This issue also includes the latest DC Publishorial, which in this instance is actually a biographical spotlight on new DC Publisher Jenette Kahn. It’s a thoroughly laudatory piece, as you’d expect, but it did provide a few more details about this person who had been writing columns for a while now. I was interested to learn that she had created DYNAMITE Magazine, a publication that I had seen and read in school through the Scholastic Book Club.
5 thoughts on “BHOC: ACTION COMICS #488”
I really liked the concept behind Microwave Man, and wanted to use it for a modernized spin on the character (though maybe with a different name). My gripe about the character, though, even back then, was that while he had a great-looking costume, it’s very modern-looking, and doesn’t give a hint of the idea that this is a villain from the 1940s.
It also doesn’t look like a Swan design, making me wonder whether someone else designed it — maybe José Luis García-López, who drew it so well on the cover — and they simply weren’t given much information on who the character was.
It’s always amused me that Microwave Man and Air-Wave have virtually the same insignia.
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Wonder Man could’ve continued the trend. WM. Symbols that look like EGK displays. I’m glad Wonder Man didn’t.
I feel like no one can catch a break in terms of inkers in the late 1970s, particularly the old-timers like Swan, Novick and Dillin. Hard to believe the ’70s start out with inkers like Anderson and Giordano, who add so much dynamism and by the end of the decade it’s the hackier end of the spectrum Chiarmonte, Colletta and McLaughlin just blanding it up.
MM’s real name is an Easter Egg:
“Lewis Padgett was the joint pseudonym of the science-fiction authors and spouses Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore”
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