“The Last Days of Metropolis!”
|Script: Denny O’Neil
Pencils: Curt Swan
Inks: Frank Chiaramonte
Colors: Glynis Wein
Letters: Ben Oda
|Cover price: 40¢
Cover art: Ross Andru (pencils), Dick Giordano (inks)
Synopsis: In 79 AD, a Pompeii magician named Moximus conjures up visions of a flying man who “carries with him the aura of disaster!” Closer to home, he also sees visions of “fire and death erupting from Mount Vesuvius,” but in a sad parallel to Jor-El’s plight his warnings are laughed off by the local rulers. He makes preparations to protect his city, but he’s too late — as the volcano buries Pompeii, his magic places him in suspended animation until he’s dug up by Lana father’s, Professor Lang. Now awake in the modern world, Moximus uses his magic to get the lay of the land and, mistaking Superman as an agent of evil, vows to not let a second great city falling under ash. After realizing his mistake, Moximus whisks himself away to a strange planet far from Earth, where he conjures another image of an “evil” figure, one whose garb “makes him resemble a bat”…
Prime Cut Panels: In the spirit of “the best part of our time together is saying goodbye,” here’s the final page of the story, where Moximus — after committing acts of magic that nearly doom the entire city of Metropolis to a horrific death — says “Whoopsie!” and blinks out of existence while Superman is left grabbing air. “He’s vanished! — To where, I wonder? Welp, no point obsessing about it, an easily fooled all-powerful magician who nearly incinerated my hometown says he needs to go do some more studying, that’s fine by me. UP UP AND AWAAAAAAAY!”
Wait a second. “NEXT ISSUE: SUPERMAN BATTLES DRACULA AND THE FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER! ON SALE NOV. 8! IT’S A DATE!” We’re seriously resorting to the same movie monster guest-star gimmickry that kept Abbott and Costello employed way past their sell date? For the guy who has claim to be the greatest superhero of all time? Oy.
That’s Why They Called It the (Almost) ’80s Dept.: That’s right, people. Jimmy Olsen, the original hepcat himself in hang-glider lapels and sporting a snazzy gold medallion — while still wearing that ugly-ass plaid green jacket he’s been sporting since Pat Boone ruled the charts.
And because he isn’t enough of an irresistible chick magnet in that get-up, he’s practising card tricks at the office. (“He got a magic book for his birthday!”) Oh, Jimmy…
Random Thoughts: To quote TV legend Krusty the Clown: “What the hell was that?”
Maybe it was a case of nobody at DC really wanting to take the reins. Maybe it was because the Superman movie did so well that no one thought the comic titles starring the Man of Steel needed any attention. Maybe no one wanted to sit down with Julius Schwartz and the other editors to have a frank discussion about new directions for their flagship characters. Whatever it was, there’s no denying this was a dire time for Superman’s comic fans, and the mid-’80s revamp couldn’t come soon enough.
Take this issue, which had me silently screaming “Why??” every time I flipped the page. This Moximus fellow is powerful enough to conjure up images of the future, but somehow he can’t put together a show to convince Pompeii’s elders to save their city. (Why?) We learn at the end of the story he has the power to teleport himself to a distant planet, but when Vesuvius erupts he decides to make a magic cocoon for himself. (Why?) And then when he wakes up, his “pent up” mystical powers runs wild endangering the ship that he’s on, and despite being a “good guy” he does nothing to contain them. (Why?) He insists on seeing Superman as an “evil one” even after witnessing Superman save a ship from dangers that Moximus himself caused and continues to see him that way throughout the story despite clearly not knowing how things work in the 20th century. (Why?) He’s from the first century AD and yet somehow he knows enough about rockets and outer space to set a trap for Superman. (Why?) When he leaves Superman in his death trap, he zips to the Daily Planet to tell Lois and Jimmy that he has defeated the “caped demon” despite the story saing nothing about how Moximus knows anything about the Daily Planet or its staff. (Why?) And when Superman saves the city from certain doom and proves his good-guy cred, Moximus — instead of sticking around and accepting Superman’s offer to learn more about 20th-century society — zaps himself to a far planet where he spies on ANOTHER hero whom he’s decided is another “evil” figure. (WHY?????)
I swear, the only thing missing from this hackneyed ending is the sitcom audience laugh track and someone to say “Here we go again!” The caption tells us that Moximus may return “if the world is very, very unlucky” — considering this was the one and only appearance he’s made so far, I’d count that as very lucky for all of us (if not in the way DC meant).
A few issues later, DC published a few letters from a few fans praising the story and the new hero/villain introduced in it. And I’m all for everyone liking what they like without judgment, but I thought it was interesting that the connective thread running through the positive letters was nostalgia: “I thought I had picked up a back issue from 1964″… “I felt a wave of nostalgia flow through me”… “brought up a bit of nostalgic feeling right from the start”… “reminds me of similar situations when I was a twelve-years-younger fan.”
It’s ironic that, on the cusp of a new decade, a hero often referred to as the Man of Tomorrow felt so firmly rooted in the glory days of his past. Change the size of Jimmy’s shirt collar and this story could have run anywhere between 1953 and 1985 — which is fine if nostalgia is your bag, but I can see how the Man of Steel might have looked a little rusty sitting next to some of the more forward-looking comics of that time.