Superman #372 (June, 1982)
“Superman’s History-Changing Mission!”
“Kidnappers in ths Sky!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Bob Rozakis
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Gil Kane
Inker – Frank Chiaramonte
Colorists – Anthony Tollin & Tom Ziuko
Letterers – Todd Klein & Ben Oda
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.60
Ooooh, a Phantom Superman! That’s scary, right? Okay, not really…
It’s a beautiful afternoon in Metropolis as we join the airborne traffic chopper on its PM-Drive patrol. All’s well until they almost collide with a strange black mass! They veer off course to avoid contact just as Superman hits the scene. The black mass is on the move, and Superman has to get in front of it to ensure it doesn’t slam into the Melsley Building. Luckily, it’s set to hit it at the 12th floor… which is only used for maintenance!
Superman deduces that the mass is made of antimatter, and should it collide with anything… even a super-Kryptonian… it would make the unwitting target cease to exist! Superman follows it for awhile, when it changes course… flying straight up into orbit. We get a super-hearing exhibition as Superman tracks a strong radio signal back to Earth…
… all the way to a small tropical island. The home of a solitary man who is lounged out with a cute little glass of lemonade. He isn’t surprised to see Superman, in fact… he expected him! He introduces himself as astrophysicist, Mason Strath and takes credit for that crazy ball of anti-matter.
Ya see, he’s got a proposition for the Man of Steel. He wants Superman to go back in time to August 23rd (presumably of 1981) to stop his young children from being swept away to their deaths by a massive tidal wave. If Superman refuses… that anti-matter mass will transform into a black hole that will swallow the Earth. If Superman chooses not to act quickly enough… well, that anti-matter mass will transform into a black hole that will swallow the Earth. Superman pleads with Strath, claiming that not even he can change the past (hmm… I think we’re getting fast and loose with the laws of Super-time-travel here, but we’ll go with it).
Left without much of a choice, Superman takes the gig. He creates a special bubble with which to carry a (randomly mustache-less) Mason Strath back in time with him. Upon arrival on August 23, Superman demonstrates that he is nothing more than a phantom out of time… he is unable to stop the tidal wave nor sweep the children out of its path. Knowing that the fate of his children is sealed, Strath buries his head in his hands and sobs.
Not content to just return to the present with the poor fella, Superman flies them to Metropolis where they watch the Superman of that time repairing a falling skyscraper. This proves that there can only be one Superman in a given time… keeping in mind that this is pre-Crisis, ya gotta chuckle a bit here, right?
Now finally, Superman and Mason return to the present… only to find that the console that controls the anti-matter suffered a short circuit… the black holing is about to commence. Strath falls to the ground… he admits that the entire affair was meant to be nothing more than a bluff… and now there’s nothing he can do to save the world. Luckily, Superman can go some super-stuff…
… Like travel through time! He flies up to the burgeoning black hole, and takes it with him to a time in which the Milky Way galaxy has moved… letting it detonate well out of harm’s way.
Returning back to Earth, Superman reveals that when he went back to August 23rd, he only heard one heartbeat… Mason Strath’s. His children didn’t have any. He claims to have used his x-ray vision to learn that the children were, in actuality, androids. Wha–? That’s pretty convenient, no? Plus… if he was just a phantom, would his vision powers even work?
Now knowing that the kids were dupes, Superman heads of to Washington D.C. to check in with his C.I.A. contact, Cory Renwald. Ol’ Cory spills the beans. Strath was sent to the island as he’d become radioactive during a lab accident… only thing is, nobody told Strath. He thinks he was sent to the island to continue his research in complete privacy. His kids were replaced with androids as to not catch the radioactivity. Superman’s all “screw that”, and offers to bring Strath’s real children for a visit… using some nebulous form of superpower to keep them from catchin’ the crud. He then vows to find a permanent cure for Mason… who, I doubt we ever hear from again.
Now… after that wacky romp through the past, let’s visit the far-flung future of 2021! Five-whole-years from now! Did you know… that in five years, we will be living in floating cities? That we will be driving aircars? That we will get our news on-demand through a scrawl that appears on the dome of our floating cities? Man, I can’t wait!
Anyhoo… we join the head of the Universe New System, James Bartholomew Olsen. He mentions that Perry White is now dead, and laments that it’s not so fun to tease a computer. Before he can get too deep in thought, a bald goon with a gun shows his face. He demands Jimmy insert an item into the day’s financial news. Jimmy, being the virtuous sort we all know he is, refuses. Baldy then reveals that the Olsen twins have been kidnapped! Not those Olsen twins, but Jimmy’s grandkids… Lois and Clark. And honestly, I don’t know if they’re twins… just wanted to make the gag, and they really do look alike.
Jimmy agrees, but triggers a switch that mimics the effects of his old Superman signal watch. The Superman we know and love appears to be AWOL, however, his grandson Jon Hudson is here, and hears the SOS. We get some super-ventriloquism, where Jon tells Jimmy he’s on his way.
He makes a half-hearted excuse to his gal pal and Supes’ up. He rescues the tots with the quickness… and gives “Uncle” Jimmy the “all clear”. Jimmy then socks the creep, the kids are returned… and everybody has ice cream.
Hmm, I thought phantoms were supposed to be scary! Guess not always…
Let’s start with the opener. This was a weird story that really played with the rules of time travel in the DC Universe in ways that were awfully convenient. Having Superman be a phantom “out of time” when he goes swimmin’ in the time stream makes sense… but it’s seems to only be a rule for this story. I’m pretty sure there have been stories where Superman (or another hero) traveled through time and was able to make contact with others, or change outcomes.
Also, I touched on this briefly during the synopsis… I get that Superman can still fly when he’s in the past… and can technically use his powers… but, if his heat vision didn’t work on the tidal wave… how did his x-ray vision (and super-hearing, while we’re at it) work on the Strath kidroids? Seems like we should never sell short the power of super-convenience!
The back-up feature was equally forgettable. Just a silly vignette where Superman 2021 gets a distress call… and saves the day. No fuss, no muss.
Overall, I’d have to say this a bit of a stinker. The art is nice… at least in the main feature… in the back-up, Jimmy’s grandkids look like maniacal puppets whenever they’re featured. Really off-putting. Almost like a demonic red-haired Sugar & Spike! If you’ve got a hankering for some fun pre-Crisis Man o’ Steel, there’s far better stories out there… that are more worthy of your time.