Saturday, February 3, 2018

Action Comics #434 (1974)


Action Comics #434 (April, 1974)
"The Krypton Connection!"
"Zatanna's Double-Identity!"
Writers - Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin
Pencillers - Curt Swan & Dick Dillin
Inkers - Vince Coletta & Frank McLaughlin
Editor - Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20

Being a comics collector who has no thoughts of ever "striking it rich" by selling my collection, it's sometimes fun to come across books that have a "story".  Sometimes it's an issue with a mail-away that's been filled out by kid in the 1960's... other times, it might just have the owner's name written on it somewhere.

Hell, I've got some oldies where the newsstand proprietor (I assume) crossed out the cover price and wrote in their own!  I'd imagine for "pristine" collectors, this would be mind-bogglingly frustrating... but for a fella like me, I think it adds a bit of character to the book.  You can tell it's "been around".  You can imagine that it's been on various newsstands... in various collections... it's just an interesting thing to think about (or maybe it's not... and I'm just a lunatic).

Another bit of "character" I don't mind seeing is... the old subscription crease.  The book we're discussing today has one (though, it's pretty slight).  I think this is so cool... this copy was actually mailed out to someone who might've been anxiously awaiting their next issue of Action Comics.  I'm probably just projecting... but, it's still pretty cool to consider!

Anyhoo... let's get to it!

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We open with Superman returning from rather a busy hour indeed... he's been all over the world saving lives and, ya know, Super-ing.  Upon return, he runs into a garbage truck that has transformed into a crazy tank that attempts to rob a bank (rhyme!).  Worth noting, it's very apparent that Superman is being watched by a pair of folks who know about his dual-identity.  In fact, they've planted a trap for him in the form of a gift at his office at the Galaxy Building!


Superman takes on the tank... which is said to be armed with an "ultimate weapon" specifically made to, well... kill Superman.  Before Superman can land his first blow, however, the "weapon" is atomized by an unseen Super-ally.  Superman's just as confused as we are.


He deposits the tank-guy into the back seat of a nearby police cruiser before heading back to his office.  It's confirmed that the pair of observers were responsible for taking out the "ultimate weapon" because, had they not... it would have very likely killed Superman.  Yeah, right.


Back at the Galaxy Building, Clark Kent enters his office to find two odd items on his desk.  The first is a rifle... the other, an innocent-looking box of chocolates.  Clark picks up the rifle first, which sets off a psychedelic light show!  We (and he) soon learn that this was a gag gift from Steve Lombard... a toy rifle that is triggered by body heat.  Uh-huh.


With Lombard gone, Clark begins chowing down on his chocolates... the first bite, however, gives him a terrible toothache!  Lois overhears his agony and insists he visit the dentist.


Luckily, her dentist is in the next building over.  While Clark is being tended to, Lois realizes that the receptionist is the very same girl who delivered the box of chocolates!  Realizing she knows too much, the gal zaps Lois with a forget-me-pen thing... there's definitely something sinister at play here!


Lois returns to the Galaxy Building... insisting that she hasn't seen Clark all day... despite Jimmy Olsen having seen them just leave the building together.


Back at the dentist office, it's revealed that the pair at play were Dr. Xadu and Zeda... Phantom Zone criminals!  We get a bit of their quick and dirty origin, including their first run-in with Superman... as a boy, where he left them on a Red Sun Planet or somesuch.


Superman is told all of this while under the gas... and warned that they'll next strike when he least expects it.  Clark wakes up grabbing the dentist by the collar... and it's a totally different dude!  It's as though Dr. Xadu was never there at all.


Clark apologizes (good thing he didn't unwittingly kill the doc!) and heads back to his office.  He sits at his desk and thinks about an upcoming project... one in which, he begins destroying the world!!!


That's not all folks... we've got some Action-Plus to take care of.  We join Ollie and Dinah in the former's office as Zatanna strolls in and plants a big kiss on the Emerald Archer.


As you might imagine, this doesn't quite sit well with the Pretty Bird... and so, she storms out.  Before she leaves she insists Ollie "sort this out"... and so, he decides to take Zee out on the very date he and Dinah were preparing for.  This will hopefully give him enough time to figure out how to break whatever "spell" Zatanna is currently under.


The date was to view a demonstration for a burglar-proof bank... which, naturally, draws the attention of some would-be burglars.  Green Arrow and Zatanna spring into action... with Zee accidentally transforming one of the nogoodniks into a wolf.  Before resorting to her magics, however, Zatanna was acting very much like Black Canary... using Judo and whatnot.


After the dust settles, we learn that this whole thing was a giant mistake.  Earlier, Zatanna was fighting off some criminals... and used her magic to give her Black Canary's Judo skills... only problem there is, her spell was "Zatanna become Black Canary".  This gave her not only Dinah's Martial Arts skill... but her attraction to Oliver Queen as well!  Oops.


We wrap up back at Ollie's where Dinah has kicked in his door looking for the home-wrecking Zatanna.  Ollie explains everything... and it's apologies all around.  Wakka wakka wakka.


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Man, we sure get a lot of story for two thin dimes, don't we?

I gotta admit, when I saw this cover... I wasn't expecting the story that we get here.  I figured it would be a silly story (which, I mean... there is some silliness here), and very low stakes.  What we get instead is Superman implanted with a post-hypnotic suggestion to destroy the world!

The way they go about this is... again, silly... but at the same time, kinda genius!  The Phantom Zoners already have Superman off his game by inflicting him with a kind of pain he'd never experienced before.  You gotta wonder what might've been running through his head... were his powers going away?  Was there Kryptonite in the candy?  I mean, I'm glad we didn't actually see all of that play out... because this would've been stretched into a six-part story, but it's neat to let your mind wander a bit.

The opening bit with the tank was a bit "ehh", but it does give the issue a bit of action.  Seems like they always tried to make sure readers got at least a little bit of action every issue... can't really fault'em for that.  I think we let this tank driver off a bit easy though... if his "ultimate weapon" was really strong enough to kill Superman, that probably should be investigated further, no?  On the subject of "weapons", though of the far less "ultimate" variety... Steve Lombard's amazing technicolor rifle was a cute (and dumb) bit.

Overall, a fun opening story... with a pretty killer cliffhanger.  Which brings me to my usual complaint about books with back-up features... they totally take the impact away from the cliffhanger that comes before it.  By the time I was done reading about Ollie's night out, I'd all but forgotten that Superman is about to attempt to destroy the Earth.  I mean, that might just be an indictment on the strength of the cliffhanger to begin with... but, I still think it would have had greater impact if the book just ended there.

Not that I have a problem with getting more bang for my buck (or dime)... but, maybe pick a month where we don't have such a big cliffhanger to pop a wacky Three's Company back-up behind the feature.

Now that isn't to say that the Green Arrow story was bad... because it was pretty fun!  The action bits were a bit "ehh", but the interactions between Ollie, Dinah and Zee more than made up for it.  Worth reading, to be sure... but I'm still a bit bugged that it took away from the impact of the lead-off story.

In the shell of a nut, an issue worthy of any fan's Bronze-Age library.  A relatively rare for the time "to be continued" story... and one that I'm really looking forward to continuing.  It doesn't look like this bugger's been collected nor been made available digitally just yet.  The back-up, however was collected a decade or so back in the (likely out-of-print, but not impossible to find) Green Arrow/Black Canary: For Better or Worse trade paperback.

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2 comments:

  1. Great review Chris. You may know, Dr Xadu turned up in the Supergirl comic recently.

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  2. That cover was a terrifying one for me as a kid when it came out. More than any horror or monster comic book cover I had ever seen. I was so scared of dentists and seeing the invulnerable Superman in obvious excruciating pain made quite an impession on me.

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