Action Comics #429 (November, 1973)
“The Man Who Wrote Superman’s Obituary!”
Story – Elliot S! Maggin
Art – Curt Swan & Bob Oksner
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20
One of the best parts of obsessively trawling the cheap-o bins is that sometimes you come across a wacky oddity like the one I’ll be discussing today. It’s fairly non-characteristic of me to really seek out many Pre-Crisis Superman books, as the character to me is better depicted from Man of Steel and beyond… Also, I know that I will never own a complete Action Comics collection making seeking out random issues a touch less satisfying to me.
That having been said, anytime I come across a Pre-Crisis issue in a “buck or below” bin, I will very likely snag it just to add a bit of flavor to my library. How much flavor can a random early-seventies issue of Action Comics bring? Let’s find out…
We join Superman as he uncovers an ancient city on a tiny volcanic island in the mid-Pacific. This civilization had been buried for ages, and in a matter of moments Superman is able to excavate it. Realizing he is running dangerously close to being late for work at the Galaxy Building, Superman cuts across the globe and arrives in time.
Clark is doing research for a televised special on Burt Kennycut, an explorer. He visits the Daily Planet archives (or the Daily Planets’s morgue, according to the archivist, Ryan). While digging through the corridor of filing cabinets, Clark decides to employ his x-ray vision to see if there is anything interesting in the “Clark Kent file”.
Much to Clark’s surprise, he finds his own obituary… written in Kryptonese… which details his dual life as Superman. Thinking he is the victim of an irresponsible prank, Superman decides to visit the four individuals who, at this time, are aware of his secret… Supergirl, Flash, Batman, and Green Lantern. What is most interesting about this is Hal’s suggesting to Superman that he just give up being a superhero and stick to being a reporter. This is a side of Hal that took me a bit by surprise.
|Thanks for nothing, Hal!|
Superman returns to the Fortress of Solitude and begins writing in his diary. His diary-writing apparatus is a wonderfully silly sight. It is controlled by two panels, and a scattering of dials. A piece that looks like a part of a hydraulic crane or picker extends from the desk and holds an etching chisel. He journals in Kryptonian. As he writes, he is unaware that it is also being somehow transmitted to the archivist at the Daily Planet… who has, as luck would have it, taught himself how to translate Kryptonese.
With all of the information in the Clark Kent obituary, Superman begins to think that somehow his diary-writing may be responsible. To test his theory, Superman decides to have a little fun with the archivist.
|Who needs Magneto and Dr. Doom when you can have… Ozymaxias.|
Superman tells a story of his return to the sub-volcanic city. This time, however, he is not alone. He runs into Ozymaxias, the “Ruler of the World’s Greatest Nation”. He writes about their introduction, their island-wide battle, how he managed to defeat (or outlast) his foe, and the measures he took to turn the volcano crater into a greenhouse.
Superman rushes back to the Galaxy building, and utilizes his super-ventriloquism to shout “Fire!” in his native tongue. He observes Ryan begin to panic. Superman now knows that the archivist understands Kryptonese.
The two discuss how Ryan came to know Kryptonese, and just how much of Superman/Clark’s secret he is aware of. Supeman finds that the Oxymaxias affair is contained in his file, and informs Ryan that that story was in fact an “imaginary story”. Written to test if there was any connection between his Fortress diary and the Clark Kent obituary.
Superman asks Ryan what he should do now that his secret identity is known by somebody outside of his normal circle of trust. Ryan tells Superman that he shouldn’t do anything… after all, he’s known the secret for a long time and never blabbed… and, as a journalist he would never tell any privileged information. Superman decides this is good enough for him, and the two men shake hands.
|Here’s an archivist whose getting a big Christmas tip this year…|
Well… these seventies stories sure are something.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this was a fun little tale… and great as a one-off, however, I could not imagine reading stories like this month after month. We must keep in consideration that this was a time where comics were more aimed at children, and were viewed as things that are, heaven forbid, “grown out of”. With that in mind, there is nothing wrong with this issue.
|Love that key!|
The writing, is very good, if not a touch hokey. Again, sign of the times… Not for a dude in his mid-thirties to fully appreciate. Curt Swan’s art is very nice, though, almost a bit too house-style, if that makes any sense. Like, very clean… but, perhaps… too clean. This is the kind of storytelling I used to imagine when I thought of “DC Comics” rather than Marvel. Almost sterile art, and stories that can be read in almost any order without fear of missing any continuity.
It is interesting to see how willy-nilly Superman is with his secret identity in this issue. With how easily he decides to trust Ryan the archivist, I have to wonder how many other people were entrusted with his secret throughout the Silver and Bronze ages. Seeing the classic Fortress of Solitude (giant key included) was a fun treat, as was seeing Superman (briefly) interact with his superhero circle of friends.
|This postage-free coupon can STILL change your life.
CIE is still kicking, and still in the same location.
|When I think “Bowlful of Happiness” it’s usually Hobo Soup or Sicilian Chicken Noodle…
Sea Monkeys’ll work as well, I suppose.
|How much does it hurt seeing these subscription rate?
$3 for FIFTEEN issues… Yeesh.
Forget everything I said about these books being aimed at kids…
Wonder if we beat the Japanese to the love pillow market?
USA! USA! USA!
UPDATE 5/7/23 – “Remastered” for WordPress!