Action Comics #560 (October, 1984)
“Meet John Doe”
Writers – Paul Kupperberg & Robert Loren Fleming
Pencillers – Alex Saviuk & Keith Giffen
Inkers – Dave Hunt & Bob Oksner
Colorists – Gene D’Angelo & Anthony Tollin
Letterers – Ben Oda & John Costanza
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75
Here’s one I’ve been meaning to look at for awhile now. Semi-recently my buddy Mike Carlyle put together a great piece on Ambush Bug for DC in the 80s, and I was hoping to discuss this issue then… only, I couldn’t find it. I had it, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t in any of my Action Comics boxes… I didn’t really look too hard for it, after all, there’s a ton of stuff I want to discuss here… and I figured it’d eventually get its due.
Did a bit of digging through boxes today… looking for an unrelated book, and wouldn’tcha know it… I found this issue among a mish mash of other DC books. Figure, now’s as good a time as any to give this one a peek.
Our first story opens with a prisoner escaping from prison. He claims to have been “in” for 22 years, and has been planning to bust out for quite a while… loosening some bolts one turn a day for a month… now that’s dedication.
From here, we shift scenes to Superman approaching the Fortress of Solitude. I gotta say, he seems to hit the Fortress in just about every pre-Crisis issue I’ve looked at lately. I never knew it was so ever-present during this era. Anyways… he’s returned with a rock sample to add to his collection. He places it right next to his (prominently shown) sample of Anmesium… hmm….
Shortly, Clark Kent arrives for his gig at WGBS-TV. Upon arrival, he’s informed that there’s some goings-down at the Police Station in Carroll County, concerning a costumed villain. That’s all Clark needs to hear, once his boss (?) Josh Coyle turns his back, he’s out of his civvies and has taken to the skies.
Seconds later, he arrives in the ‘burbs… and confronts the apparently super-powered John Doe. The villain’s super-powered weapon seems really counter-intuitive… he appears to get his seismic power from a pair of cuffs he wears on his wrists… not like bracelets, mind you… like actual handcuffs. This dude just got outta prison, he’s really gonna pursue a criminal career while wearing seismic handcuffs?
He tries to throw Superman off the chase by dropping some explosive charges on the crowd below… which, is also kind of odd… you’d figure the police (seeing as though this is occurring at the Police Station) would have maybe… cleared the area? It’s a moot point, as Superman quickly catches the charges and crushes them in his hands… unfortunately, in the time it took him to do so, John Doe levels the station into a mass of rubble.
Doe turns his attention toward Superman, and suddenly Supes forgets how to fly! He plummets and smashes into the ground. He’s not harmed, as he’s still invulnerable… but for the moment, he’s forgotten how to fly! It’s almost as though he’s got amnesia…
The moment is short-lived, as Superman remembers he can fly… he heads off in chase of John Doe… who is currently holed up in a cruddy warehouse talking to somebody he refers to as Monitor… wait… what year is this? Is this the Monitor? Like, Crisis on… holy cow, it is. Why in the world would the Monitor be wasting his time with a geek like John Doe? Wow… anyhoo… we learn that the Monitor is responsible for Doe’s gimmicks.
The next day, Clark has a meeting with Perry White at the Daily. Planet. This is during a time in which Perry is separated from his wife. Following the meeting, Clark returns to his office and appears to forget his Clark Kent persona… he tears off his civvies and hits the sky.
That evening he runs into John Doe who is attempting to tear up the Metropolis Courthouse. During their brief skirmish, Superman forgets that he’s invulnerable to Doe’s attacks. In an insane scene, we watch Superman tuck his tail and run… get this, he seeks refuge under a nearby parked van. Friggin’ nuts!
Moments later, he regains his memory… and tosses a manhole cover at Doe… damaging his vibro-cuffs. Doe flees, and Superman briefly forgets his Superman persona… and wonders why Clark Kent would be wearing such an outlandish outfit.
The next morning, John Doe is attempting to break back into prison (yeah, John Doe is the guy from the beginning…) in order to trash the place. Superman is there waiting for him, claiming that his recent appearances telegraphed where he would go next. Superman grabs Doe by the wrists and literally crushes the vibro-cuffs. The day is saved… but the mystery isn’t quite solved!
Later Superman returns back to the Fortress… and uses his super-vision to notice a hairline crack in his rock collection case… the case that held the, say it with me… Amnesium. Wah wah wahhhh….
Now, with that out of the way… on to the main event.
Clark Kent enters A. Bug Enterprises, a detective agency in a bad part of town. Inside, he finds Ambush Bug mopping the floor. He thinks to himself how odd it is that Arkham Asylum would ever let this “fruit fly” out.
Ambush Bug dramatically gets into his detective gear… trench coat, fedora, and cigarette! He hops onto his side of the desk… and notices something. There’s something sorta familiar about this Clark Kent. He bears a striking resemblance to… nah, couldn’t be.
Following up on his hunch, he walks behind Clark and gives him the cape approximation of a wedgie… still uncertain, he licks his finger and adjusts Clark’s spit curl. The jig is most definitely up. The Bug laughs at the feeble civilian disguise (perhaps some meta-commentary?) and Superman beats a hasty retreat.
We are then treated to Ambush Bug’s secret origin. Irwin Schwab was just a normal man who was raised by television… it all gets twisted when he visits the Metropolis Library for the first time. He discovers that “real life” is just like a “movie of the week”… and vows to rid the world of social problems.
The next morning, Clark Kent wakes up from an Ambush Bug dream filled night… he just can’t shake the Bug out of his head!
We shift scenes to Arkham Asy… State Hospital. Inside, Schwab’s former clinician (Derwood) is lamenting the release of his most high profile client. Bud Lipschitz, the Director of Arkham promises him some very early 80’s replacement clients to make up for it.
Later that day we watch as Ambush Bug takes the law into his own hands when he “arrests” a Buick whose meters had run out. The day is saved!
We wrap up with Bug visiting Clark at the Galaxy Building while dressed as a Samurai… Clark plays the perfect straight-man here for all of A.B.’s nuttiness. It’s alluded that this is the Bug’s “first episode” and he promises to commit hara-kiri at the end of his sixth.
Well… the first story was kind of a slog. Not all that great, and the plot twist (as it were) was telegraphed a mile away. From the moment Superman dropped off that chunk of rock right next to his sample of Amnesium, it was pretty clear the way this story would go. The John Doe character was a decent enough villain of the month… but not a whole lot more. Him being connected with The Monitor of all people… that was quite interesting! I had to read those panels a few times… I thought there was no way that this was that Monitor. Like the Crisis on Infinite Earths Monitor… crazy stuff!
The back-up story… which, let’s face it… was the selling point for this issue, was pretty neat. It’s amazing to see a character not unlike the contemporary Deadpool in 1980’s DC Comics. I like the idea of Ambush Bug being something of a comedic foil for Superman… I’m not used to seeing Superman (especially of this era) being so bothered/rubbed wrong by somebody. Seeing him in the position of the “straight” in a comedy duo was really a lot of fun.
I’m hoping that maybe Ambush Bug gets some love in the post-Rebirth DC Universe… The last thing I remember him being in was the Convergence: Supergirl/Matrix mini-series, which was decent if I recall correctly… and before that his stint as a news reporter for the Channel 52 bits that used to clog the back pages of the early New-52 era books. What’s really sad is, if he were to come back… fans today would see him as nothing more than a Deadpool-ripoff.