Daily Archives: January 1, 2020

DC Reviews: Action Comics #503

“A Save in Time!”

Script: Cary Bates
Pencils: Curt Swan
Inks: Frank Chiaramonte
Colors: Gene D’Angelo
Letters: Milt Snapinn
Cover price: 40¢
Cover art: Ross Andru (pencils), Dick Giordano (inks), Tatjana Wood (colors)

Synopsis: Superman saves a man’s life, but then learns from a mysterious entity from the future that he has doomed the future by doing so. He then has to figure out how to put things back to normal in less than 48 hours or else “past, present and future will be obliterated!” So, you know, no pressure.

Prime Cut Panels: Oh, Superman, you’re such a cut-up. Some days, I almost expect him to remind us to tip our waitress. The cover says January 1980, but this book would have been out on the stands in late October 1979. Either way, you can see the influence that 1978’s Superman film had on the Superman comics at the time: he’s still dealing with weird space thingies (as seen elsewhere in this story), but that doesn’t mean he can’t make time for saving average Metropolis folk with a clever zinger.

Also, not to get all deGrasse Tyson up in here, but I don’t think the suit-wearing bad guys would be saying “UHHHH!” and “EGHHH!” if their speeding car decelerated so suddenly it completed crumpled the front end. More like “SQUISH!” and “OW, I’M DEAD!” if you ask me. But that’s Superman for you, always standing up for truth, justice and a flexible understanding of Newton’s first law of motion.

Great Moments in Advertising: OhgodohgodohgodohgodYES I wanted these toy vehicles — “dinkies” where I grew up — so bad when I was a kid. Where I grew up, we didn’t have much of anything except dirt, which we put to good use making tiny towns with little dirt houses, stick trees, and intricate roadways for our dinkies to drive on — each one of them making the “VROOOM!” sound, of course. Good times.

When you think about it, though, this ad demonstrates a central problem with merchandising a character who famously flies under his own power: why would Superman need a van? So I have to give credit to the toy designers for coming up with some plausible Superman-related vehicles. The newspaper delivery truck reminds us of his place of employment, the police car is a symbol of his friendly relationship with the boys and girls in blue, and the helicopter is a nice  shout-out to that classic “Who’s got you?” scene from the first Superman film. And yes, even if I thought it was a silly idea even back then, the Super-mobile was a thing that happened. The only toy that feels like an afterthought is the van with the Superman logo airbrushed on the side; I’m picturing some Metropolis lowlife driving it around town and scamming people by pretending to be Superman’s official caterer, or something.

Huh. All these years since I first saw this ad, and I’m only now figuring out how weird it is that the Daily Planet truck has a billboard-sized picture of Clark changing into Superman plastered on the side. I bet he was really pissed when he saw that.

That’s Why They Called It the (Almost) ’80s Dept.: While Superman is saving jaywalkers and conversing with a future entity that looks a lot more like a talking vacuum cleaner than I care to admit, intrepid reporter Lana Lang is interviewing “The Astounding Kolzer,” a third-person-referring psychic who resorts to cheap parlor tricks to impress Ms. Lang with his mental abilities.

His name and appearance are similar to that of George Joseph Kresge, AKA “The Amazing Kreskin,” a mentalist who gained fame in the 1970s from appearances on The Tonight Show, as well as his own TV show from 1970-75. (To his credit, Kreskin never claimed to have clairvoyant powers or — as far as I know — try to mack on red-headed reporters.)

Random Thoughts: You know, it never occurred to me before just how trusting Superman can be. After everything he’s seen and everywhere he’s been, he just goes along with whatever any vaguely magical being says to him, no questions asked. “So this floating Hoover thing says I have to find a random guy I saved in a city of millions and un-save him or all of existence will be destroyed? Sounds legit.” Not that I need a super-cynical Superman patrolling the skies; a little incredulity now and then would be nice, is all.

The cover is a nice throwback to the Silver Age days when the writers came up with a cockamamie scene first and then worked backward to find the plot that would lead up to that scene. “Kidnapping by rainbow” isn’t something you see every day, and questions surrounding this image abound. How is this rainbow abducting Lana?  Why did it target her? Who made it, and why? And why does Superman appear powerless to save Lana from seemingly fading away to nothing? It’s an A-plus example of grabbing the reader’s attention, for sure.

The story inside, on the other hand… is fine. Bates is never less than competent at setting up little self-contained stories with little ironic twists, but all too often this era’s Superman is set up as a passive protagonist. Granted, his act of saving a life sets the story’s events in motion, but then he spends the entire middle of the book listening to space ghosts and be-bopping around Metropolis looking for this one guy he’s supposed to find (and not using his reporter skills to track him down, just flying around and hoping to eyeball the guy). Even the big reveal at the end has him only saving the day by accident, with the guy he’s been searching for conveniently croaking in a way that keeps Superman from having to make any ethically dicey decisions.

(And that’s another thing: while an older reader might cotton on to what this space ghost is telling Superman he has to do in order to fix the space-time continuum, not once in the story does Superman have a soul-searching moment in which he wonders if he can actually do what needs to be done once he finds the man. Somehow, he seems to just assume everything will work out fine if he just finds the person he’s looking for. And then it does, when he finds him by complete chance. It’s a bit of an anti-climax considering all that past-present-future-doom talk from the space thingie we never see again.)

All in all, this was an average Superman story of the time, and probably not the best way for the Man of Steel to start a new decade. But as we’ll soon see, things got better.


The challenge: Can I review a month’s worth of DC books from January 1980 in under a month?