Action Comics #500 (October, 1979)
“The Life Story of Superman”
Writer – Martin Pasko
Penciller – Curt Swan
Inker – Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer – Gaspar Saladino
Colorist – Adrienne Roy
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $1.00
Welcome everyone to our Five-Hundredth Daily Discussion here at Chris is on Infinite Earths. That’s a long time, ain’t it?
I put a lot of thought into which book I wanted to discuss today… and when it came down to it, I knew it had to be a Five-Hundredth issue. That left me with four (or five, I suppose) choices… Action Comics, Detective Comics, Superman, or Batman (also, Adventure Comics, if I wanted to cover a skatey-eight hundred page digest). It’s odd to consider that there have been so few #500’s for DC… seems like every Marvel “legacy” title has broken five-hundred… hell, six and seven hundred, even!
I decided to go with Action Comics for a few reasons. First, it was released in 1979… the same year I was! Second, we’re less than a year away from this being the halfway point in the history of the title. Third, it’s the Story of Superman’s life… and for the past year and a half, this blog has been one of the stories of mine.
It’s a long one, so let’s get right to it.
Welcome to Metropolis! Today is a most special day in which the Superman Pavilion of the Metropolis World’s Fair is being opened… by none other than the man himself! Superman arrives to give the guided tour… and trip down memory lane. He is alongside the famous entrepreneur who owns the pavilion, J. Robert Arngrim… which I swear has gotta be an anagram, but I can’t figure it out. Anyhoo, it should be no surprise that this event is being covered by the media… and certain members of the media in particular.
Superman “cuts” the “ribbon”, which consists of him using his heat vision on a six-inch thick metal beam, before leading the patrons into the first exhibit… the Krypton Exhibit! I probably ought to mention that Arngrim slipped away there for a moment… that’ll come back around, doncha worry.
Superman mentions that he doesn’t remember everything about growing up on Krypton, to which, a child asks him about his Super-Memory… his “total recall”. We learn here that his exposure to Kryptonite over the years has caused gaps in his memory. Arngrim has the great… and not suspicious at all… idea that Superman take a seat in the Kryptonian Mind-Prober Ray in order to attempt memory retrieval… and wouldn’tcha know it, Superman takes a load off in the chair.
Elsewhere, a man is pleased to know that Superman is sitting under the Mind Prober ray. Behind him is a smoke-filled pod. Any guesses as to who this mystery man might be?
From here we enter Chapter 1: Planet on the Edge of Oblivion, in which we join a baby Kal-El and his parents in the Kryptonian capital of Kryptonopolis… ay yai yai. That would be like some of us living in Earthopolis! Anyhoo, we know how this goes… no one on the Science Council cares to hear Jor-El’s apocalyptic warnings. They turn down his proposal to commission a fleet of ships, with which the Kryptonians can all move to another… less doomed, planet. The Council would prefer to put their faith in a clock that tells them they’ve got billions of years left.
Jor-El decides at this point that he’s going to start building spaceships anyway. The test launch scene is particularly heartbreaking, as Jor loads Kal’s puppy Krypto into a ship… and sending it out to who knows where. Krypto’s craft is struck by a meteor right out of the gate. Whoops.
Back in the present, in that “elsewhere” from earlier… the cloud of smoke in the pod separates enough for us to see its inhabitant… it’s a child!
Back on Krypton, the planet is about to go boom. Jor-El pleads with Lara to accompany Kal in their last test rocket. She refuses, choosing to die alongside her husband. Kal, however, is loaded in… and launched into space.
In the present, this is too much for Superman to take. He pulls himself away from the mind-prober ray and sobs. Lois immediately runs to his side to check on him. After a moment, Superman is ready to resume the tour… next stop, the Superboy Room!
Thus starts Chapter 2: A Legend is Born! in which we accompany Kal-El’s rocket during its trip to Earth. From here, we jump into full-blown flashback mode… this isn’t a story that Superman is actually sharing with the crowd, for obvious reasons. He recalls landing and being thrown from his crashed craft. Moments later, the Kents happen on by, and I gotta say, their down-home vernacular is pretty wild. Anyhoo, they wrap the (undamaged) tot up in some blankets and attempt to decide their next move. After all, how would they be able to explain this to their friends? Well… get this, they decide to leave him on the porch of an orphanage… then come back a few days later to adopt him. Wow… that could’ve went bad pretty quick.
In the years that followed, the Kents kept track of all of Clark’s super-feats… by keeping a handwritten list of them! It’s really quite adorable.
Speaking of adorable… the Kent farm was struck by lightning… well, that’s not the adorable part. The attic of the farm catches fire, burning everything the family had stored… except for the blankets from Clark’s rocket! Now, here’s the adorable part… to test the durability of the blankets, the Kents try poking the yellow blanket with a pitchfork… fire a shotgun blast into the red one… and, get this… explode friggin’ dynamite under the blue one! All this to say, the blankets are invulnerable.
Some time passes, and Clark enters pre-adolescence. He decides he wants to use his powers to be a “Super-powered police-man”. Pa thinks it’s a splendid idea, and even helps him design his “Stylized S”, which at this juncture isn’t a Kryptonian symbol but actually stands for Superboy.
As Superman continues his internal monologue, we can see the pod-child from earlier… now a full-blown teen-ager. He is dressed as Superboy… and is even strolling through a full-scale mock up of Smallville!
Back in flashback… Clark is still preparing to make his Super-debut. He’s tied to a bunch of balloons to help him learn to control his flight, which is pretty funny. He even changes the way he carries himself as Clark Kent to keep people off the scent. He slouches, making himself look shorter, and wears glasses… which he immediately melts with his heat vision… it’s a pretty horrifying scene, lemme tell ya! From here, we see him use some rounded shards of “plexiglass” from his Kryptonian ship to use as lenses. We next move into Superboy’s career… and all’a them robots he used to build.
A patron interrupts Superman’s train of thought asking what the chunk of glowing green rock in a display case is. Really, kid? You don’t know what Kryptonite is? What are you even doing at the Superman Pavilion if you don’t know what Kryptonite is? Anyhoo, at least this allows us to get the quick ‘n dirty on Kryptonite. It’s chunks of the exploded planet of Krypton which followed baby Kal’s ship through the warp.
Our next artifact is the Phantom Zone Ray Projector… which is such a cruel thing, ain’t it? Imagine living forever as a phantom… yikes. Superman seems quite proud of it… after all, his using it doesn’t make him a killer or anything. If your ask me… death is a better fate.
Up next, Superman explains the origin of his super powers. Yellow Sun, gravitational pull… you already know all’at.
The subject of Krypto comes up again, and Superman expresses his fondness for his pooch. He made him feel less alone in the world, and he considers him his closest friend. Lana Lang doesn’t quite get it… but Lois seems to understand. It’s funny, Lana asks where Krypto is now, and Superman’s all “Ya got me… out in space, probably…”
The final Smallvillian loose end has to do with Clark’s adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha. Superman recalls Ma and Pa drinking from a sort of fountain of youth… which, ya know, restored their youth. They now appeared to be in their mid-thirties rather than their late-fifties. After a trip to the Caribbean, Ma and Pa were stricken with a rare tropical disease… at the very same time, their rejuvenation wears off. Before Pa breathes his last breath, he informs his Son that he is no longer Superboy… he’s now Superman.
Clark buries his parents, and decides it’s time for him to leave Smallville. There’s a giant “Farewell Superboy” gala… at the very same time that Clark leaves town… which is only a little bit suspicious, right? Anyhoo, Clark hops a bus to Metropolis, which takes us to…
Chapter 3: Call Me Superman. This chapter begins with Clark’s attending and graduating from Metropolis University. He graduates with the same honors I did… Magna Cum Laude, though his degree is a B.A. in Journalism. His first stop after graduation is editor Perry White’s office at the Daily Planet. Perry more or less tells him to beat it.
Clark levels with the Chief, and asks for some time to come up with a scoop that’ll knock his socks off… and, well… we know where this is headed. Clark turns in the Superman story of the century… which not only gets him the gig, but rubs his new associate Lois Lane quite the wrong way.
Superman thinks about his Clark Kent digs… in which he keeps his Superman costumes… and more robots. Anytime I see Superman with robots, I kinda chuckle. Not sure why, it just seems so ridiculous. Anyhoo, from here he decides to build the Fortress of Solitude… and we get one’a them awesome cross-section images to show us what’s what.
With the Fortress explained, he next shares the story of Supergirl! His cousin Kara from Krypton’s Argo City. The girl who, when she first arrived on Earth was… dropped into an orphanage. Oofta, only in the Silver Age could a story like that happen.
Some of the patrons are surprised to learn that Supergirl is Superman’s cousin… and not his girlfriend! Boy, that would be awkward. This leads to another girl asking if Superman has ever had a girlfriend…. to which he replies “it’s personal”. We, of course, can read his thoughts… and see that when asked, he recaLLs three very speciaLL LLadies… Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, and Lois Lane. The latter of which, Superman would love to marry… if not for the danger that would put her in. Eh, you’ll get over it pal.
Next stop is the Hall of Villains… which seems like a strange, though I suppose necessary, thing to have here. We see Toyman, Parasite, Luthor, and Brainiac… and we can’t mention Brainiac without touching on the Bottle City of Kandor.
Superman shares the story of Brainiac miniaturizing and collecting cities throughout the universe. Superman was able to grab it, and kept it at the Fortress while trying to figure out a way to return it to its proper size. When he finally does develop this plan, he learns that it only worked on the organic matter… so, the folks. The buildings all crumble… the Kandorians decide to head to a new world, which passes into and out of our dimension from time to time.
I hope you’re ready for Kryptonite 101… or, maybe it’s 102… either way, it’s time to talk Kryptonite… all colors of K. Now, I’m a post-Crisis kinda dude, so much of this ain’t really my thing. Anyhoo, Superman describes the kinds they have on hand (behinded leaded glass, of course). Green’s our basic model, Red’s unpredictable, White messes with plant life, and Gold permanently removes a Kryptonian’s superpowers. I really dig that there’s a mention here of the time when all Kryptonite on Earth was changed to iron in the classic, Kryptonite Nevermore. It’s explained that since then more Kryptonite has landed on Earth… which is fair enough as an excuse.
Superman thinks about the changes made to his professional life of late. The arrival of Morgan Edge, Galaxy Communications’ acquisition of the Daily Planet, and Clark Kent’s move from newspaper reporter to evening news anchor.
As Superman is about to lead the parade toward the exit, Mr. Arngrim pushes a button… which causes a Kryptonite Ray to shoot Superman, and a trap door to trigger. Superman falls to the level below, but is replaced by… another Superman? It’s down in the underground lab that Superman sees today’s baddie…
Oh, c’mon… you know who it is… it’s Lex Luthor… and before him lay a lesser-powered Superman. Lex calmly takes off his lab coat before proceeding to beat the hell out of the Man of Steel. It’s really quite a scene.
As Lex pounds away, he goes all Bond-villain… and explains his entire plan. Ya see, at the start when Superman shook Mr. Arngrim’s hand, he didn’t know that he was wearing a joy-buzzer sized piece of Kryptonian metal in his palm. Remember, he kinda wandered off at the start? Anyhoo, this metal allowed him to take a sample of Superman’s normally invulnerable skin… which he delivered to Lex, so he might clone him! So, that would mean the boy in the tube is… Superman’s clone! Holy Cadmus that’s a frightening thought!
Lex continues… when Superman sat in the Mind-Prober Ray… or stood in a few choice locations at the pavilion, all of his thoughts were beamed into the clone! Oh, and the Arngrim who escorted Superman was also a clone… the real deal is locked up elsewhere. Lex pummels Superman a bit more before tossing him in a cage… which has a Red Sun lamp in its roof… and artificial amplified gravity in the floor.
Lex just… won’t shut up. He continues describing his dastardly plan. When the pavilion guests leave… they will trigger a laser beam, which will cause two things to happen. First, it will activate a high-intensity beam to kill Superman… second, it will cause the pavilion itself to explode… killing everyone Superman cares about! The Super-clone will save Luthor and remain a hero, even down to taking Superman’s alter ego… which, thankfully (and obviously) Lex doesn’t yet know.
Speaking of the clone… he’s now running the show. He returns to the Lex Luthor exhibit and comments that… ya know what, Lex ain’t all’at bad a dude. He’s just misunderstood, is all. Lana and Lois think he’s lost it. Super-Clone shares… a version… of the origin of Lex’s bald dome. The way he describes it, it was all a result of Superboy’s irresponsibility… and everything that Lex had done in the years that followed was justified.
Back in the lab, Lex has made the mistake of… ya know, not keeping the key… to the cell… that holds Superman, somewhere on his person. Instead, it’s hanging on the wall just a few feet away from the man himself. Superman reaches into the hidden pouch in his cape to retrieve his Clark Kent tie… and attaches it to his belt. From there, it’s academic… Superman easily frees himself.
Out of the glow of the Red Sun lamp, Superman’s powers have returned. He gives Luthor a good flick to the forehead to put him out of commission. He then flies through the ceiling to stop Lois Lane just a step before she trips the electrical eye laser.
Superman now turns his attention to the clone… and wallops him with a right. The pair fight atop the pavilion… and are quite equally matched in strength. The only way the Real Steel Deal can win is to outsmart his doppelganger. He does so by blasting the ground below him… sending the clone falling into the Kryptonite display. Remember, that display includes the most dread Gold-K, which permanently depowers supertypes.
Superman blows all the Kryptonite dust away so it doesn’t wind up harming him, before descending to nab the clone Arngrim… and then hurl him into the clone Superman. These ain’t robots, so I guess we gotta figure they’re still in the world somewhere, right? Anyhoo… thus wraps this anniversary issue, which was, in every sense of the word… the story of Superman’s life.
The way I see it, when you’re celebrating an anniversary… you either do so by celebrating the past, or embracing the future. Neither is any wronger or righter than the other, it just kinda “is”. Action Comics #500 was definitely a celebration of the past, and provides us with perhaps the definitive pre-Crisis Superman origin and life history. Not being a pre-Crisis kinda dude, I feel like I got more out of this than folks with more familiarity with the subject matter.
For the most part, I enjoyed it. I liked taking a visual tour of Superman’s “life story”… and framing the whole shebang with the Superman Pavilion was pretty neat as well. It really helped to organically (for the most part) facilitate discussion and knowledge-dropping. I was a bit disappointed though, that outside of a brief cameo in the form of mannequins, we didn’t get any Legion of Super-Heroes here. I was really expecting (and hoping for) them to play a bigger role in the “Life Story”.
The Lex Luthor bits here were interesting… it’s not often we see him actually hold his own in a physical confrontation with Superman. It was such a weird sight… weird, and welcome. His “master plan” was silly and pretty lame, but at least the fisticuffs were neat.
And, not a whole lot more to say… it was an enjoyable story, and the art was consistent all throughout this over-sized 64 page/no-ads issue. It’s just that not a whole lot happened outside of flashback. If you were to hand me this issue when I was a kid, I’m not really sure how I’d receive it. It just feels, like much of pre-Crisis DC (to me), as being of little consequence. Even with that said, this is worth tracking down.
Now, like I said… anniversaries… celebrate the past, or embrace the future. It kinda comes back around to my time on this blog. I normally use these “milestone” pieces to celebrate the past. Maybe drop a few references to earlier discussions… maybe share a list of older articles that popped in my head for whatever reason. Today’s is no different.
For me, it’s more about what I have done with this silly little blog, and not as much about what I’m going to do… because, to be honest, I very seldom know what I’m going to discuss from day to day. Sometimes an issue will pop into my head, sometimes I’ll come across a book in the wild that I’ll discuss here the very same day. Not really sure what my point is with this… I promise it all made sense in my head. I suppose it’s all to say… I don’t know where we go from here.
Before I go… I wanna do that thing I do every milestone, and perhaps should just every day… I wanted to thank everyone who comes by every now and again to see what I’m up to. I wanna thank folks who read, like, share, follow, reach out, all that good stuff… it really helps keep me motivated. I hesitate to name-names, because I’m terrified that I’ll accidentally leave someone out. I’ve said it several times now, and likely will several more… blogging is a pretty lonely endeavor. It’s very… I dunno… “static”… The idea that people come and visit this silly site and read my sillier words really means the world to me.
A month ago we passed 100,000 views, a personal milestone that I didn’t think was worth sharing… because, honestly… if we take out all the spambots and doohickey-trackers, I can probably slash a zero or three off that number. Still kinda cool though, if I don’t think too hard on it.
Anyhoo… this one’s weighing in at a whole lotta words, so I’ll wrap it up with a final THANK YOU… and a statement… I can’t say for sure where we go from here… but, I ain’t planning on stopping any time soon. Famous last words, heh.
(Not the) Letters Page:
I usually end these Milestone posts with a fair amount of self-indulgence… and this time around will be no different. Instead of listing off stories I enjoyed, or posts with the most hits, I’m just going to list off earlier “Milestone Posts”. We just read the Life Story of Superman (with a back cover cover-ed with Milestone covers… cover cover) so, why not do the same for the humble blog? These are the posts that, had I the power, would be coated in chromium and holographic stickers. Some of ’em are “double-sized” though, I guess that’ll do!
If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been resharing these posts as part of my #CountdownTo500 over the past ten or so days. I’ve seen an uptick in traffic on them, so I’d have to assume folks have been popping in.
Anyhoo, let’s get on with it. You’ll probably be able to tell immediately that I put thought into the “hundreds”, while the “fifties” just kinda happen.
Day Fifty – March 20, 2016
Fury of Firestorm #1 (1982)
I didn’t even realize this was my fiftieth post until after I published it. Not that I wouldn’t have chosen to cover this had I noticed its “milestone” numbering. At this point… actually as soon as I surpassed one solid month of posting, I was fixated on going 100 Days straight.
Day 100 – May 9, 2016
Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man (1976)
Here’s the day I was beginning to think would never come. I knew that Day 100 would have to be something special… a “big” issue. Well, what’s bigger than a Treasury Edition, right? This was the point where I thought I’d satisfied my self-imposed “100 Days” mandate… and was actually planning to drop weekends off my schedule, taking the blog to only five-times a week. Well, if you’re reading this far, you know that wasn’t to be…
Day 150 – June 28, 2016
Detective Comics #605 (1989)
Another “fiftieth” that I didn’t even realize until I was compiling this list. As luck would have it, this issue was part of the wonderful Mud Pack storyline running through Detective Comics. If I were better at planning, or keeping track of my post-numbering, I’d have tried to at least make 150 the first part of the story… this one is Part Two.
Day 200 – August 17, 2016
Watchmen #1 (1986)
Another Hundred… and I knew it had to be another biggie. Watchmen is one of those “evergreen” stories, however due to DC Rebirth found itself an all-new level of… I dunno, hyper-relevance? I knew I wanted to discuss Watchmen at some point, and couldn’t think of a better time than during a “milestone” post. This was another time in which I had thoughts of dropping weekends off my schedule.
Day 250 – October 6, 2016
Blackest Night: Titans #3 (2009)
And… another poorly-planned fiftieth. This was part of my October-long #boohauntedblog push, where we discussed books with horror or Halloween themes all month.
Day 300 – November 25, 2016
52 Week One (2006)
It was with Post #300 that I decided that… yeah, I could probably do a year straight. So, there were zero thoughts about dropping weekends off the schedule here. As I saw it, the only obstacle I might run into at this point was the pending busy Holiday season. I knew if I could “weather” that, it’d be smooth sailing into the new year.
Day 350 – January 14, 2017
Batman #436 (1989)
Another fiftieth… another 1989 Batman story? At least this was a Part One… I guess. I know I’ve been saying I paid very little attention to the fiftieths… but this time was different… I actually had my eyes on another prize…
Day 366 – January 31, 2017
Secret Origins #1 (1986)
Here it is… one full (leap) year of blogging, posting, reviewing… whatever the hell it is I do here. It was during this piece that I shared my own “Secret Origin”. I… very briefly… considered taking a break here, but c’mon… at this point I was only about a month away from #400! It should be clear at this point that I might have some obsessive qualities.
Day 400 – March 5, 2017
DC Universe Rebirth #1 (2016)
With Day #400, I wanted to discuss a landmark book that had been released since I started blogging. I could think of no better book than DC Universe Rebirth. It’s a story that never fails to move me in some way. With this post I decided to solicit reader requests (which is still a thing, if anyone’s interested) and I also on this day, I went ahead and bought the domain chrisisoninfiniteearths(dot)com.
Day 450 – April 24, 2017
New Teen Titans (vol.2) #47 (1988)
And we finish our trip down memory lane with… a bang? It’s here we meet the most charismatic character this side of Terry Long… Danny Chase! It should be pretty clear I didn’t realize this was my 450th… and in looking back over this entire list… I probably shouldn’t have included any of the “fifties”… but whattayagonnado?