Action Comics #419 (December, 1972)
“The Most Dangerous Man on Earth!”
“The Assassin-Express Contract!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Len Wein
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Carmine Infantino
Inkers – Murphy Anderson & Dick Giordano
Technical Assistance – Pete Simmons
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.20
Here’s another from the “covers I want blown up to hang on my wall” collection!
Can the stories inside even hope to be worthy of such an amazing cover? Let’s find out.
We open with Clark Kent… in space! He’s on the job for WGBS, reporting on the LST (that’s large space telescope, if you’re nasty). Seems like a hell of a trip just to report a news story, but we’ll allow it. The jist of it is, the LST is being placed in fixed orbit above Metropolis… may as well call it Chekhov’s Telescope. I gotta wonder why WGBS never tried to hire Superman as a foreign/interplanetary correspondent… the whole world trusts him, and think of the money they can save on jet fuel! Anyhoo, at that same time, we meet the two-bit crook (and from the looks of it, hobo) Moe Malloy as he fishes in (the stinkin’) Metropolis River. What he finds is… a pair of irradiated cleats and a glowing gun. Go figure! He slips on his new shoes and aims the gun before blasting the Metropolis Electric Company building. They don’t mention the lights going out anywhere during this story… so, we’ll assume the damage was cosmetic only.
Across town at Metropolis’ own NASA space-port, Clark and the Colonel touch down. No sooner do CK’s feet touch the ground than the field is overtaken by glowing bubbles… that pop with the force of grenades! Clark convinces the Colonel to load him into the gantry lift… which, might be the unsafest thing in the world at this point… so he can change clothes. In an interesting bit, he “starches” his civvies with his super-breath to make it appear (from the ground, at least) that Clark is still there.
Now properly attired, Superman swoops down to save the space-port. One popping bomb-bubble causes a missile to ignite… which begs the question, what in the hell is a live missile doing out in the open? I mean, Metropolis is a big city, right? That can’t be a good idea. He also manages to save a multi-million-dollar experimental craft. Funny thing here is… while Superman is off the ground, the bomb-bubbles are gone!
After “saving” Clark Kent, Superman flies outta sight to test a theory. Wouldn’tcha know it… every time he touches down, the bubbles return. He realizes now that until he can get to the bottom of this, he’s stuck being airborne… even when he’s Clark Kent!
The following morning we rejoin Moe Malloy… as he robs the Metro Savings Bank with his weird-o ray gun. Like, it literally disintegrates a wall of the building… so, the bankers inside know ol’ Moe means business. He vaporizes a police car on the way out for good measure.
Now for something completely different… Clark Kent trying on clothes! A zoot suit, if we’re being specific. What’s a zoot suit? Well, Julius Schwartz is glad you asked, because (I’m assuming) he wrote a handy-dandy editorial note revealing the secret origin of the outfit. It has something to do with jittery bugs, or something… which is probably what happens when a fly lands in your coffee. Anyhoo, Clark’s lookin’ snappy… and is still in hover mode, by the grace of the constant stream of compressed air he’s blowing out his nose. That could get ugly real quick if he’s not careful!
Back with Malloy as he plans his next heist. He learns that an amateur astronomer named Vincent Appleton has been hoarding “priceless” space rocks… and so, ol’ Moe’s gonna pay him a visit! By the way, the astronomer lives at 344 Clinton Street… which sounds familiar, don’t it?
Malloy pistol-whips the poor stargazer and sets about using his glow-gun to shoot the lock off the box’a rocks. In so doing, he also shoots through the floor to the apartment below… which just so happens to be Apartment 3-D… where Clark Kent is sorta-kinda lounging while trying to enjoy a tall glass of water… or milk… I dunno, it changes colors.
And so, it’s not long before Superman is on the job. He immediately notices the glowing green cleats and gun… and we learn that they are (thankfully) not Kryptonite-infused. He uses his super-breath to push Malloy back… and into the air… where his gun sorta just fizzles out. Superman deduces that Malloy must be “grounded” in order to use his glow-gun… as the cleats are drawing “some fantastic energy” out of the Earth. And so, he hangs ol’ Moe out to dry.
While helping Appleton to his feet, Superman realizes that all of his bubble-bomb troubles are due to the Earth changing… not himself! He flies up to the fixed orbital telescope and checks the lens. It looks as though the unit passed through a cloud of cosmic dust… which, somehow caused a that mysterious energy o’er Metropolis. Oof. Anyhoo, he cleans the lens and returns home in time to cut a rug with lady Lois.
Out back-up feature begins with Christopher Chance being just the coolest guy ever. Think James Bond if he were on a regimen of GNC shark cartilage pills. He’s drinking a glass of Mouton Rothschild… which I’m assuming is impressive, I don’t drink. It gets shot out of his hand… so, he nonchalantly fires back… killing his would be assassin, before pouring himself another glass. I mean, the story could end right here and I’d be perfectly satisfied.
But alas, that’s just our introduction page. The story proper begins while… good God, Chance is practicing his knife-throwing. I swear, they’re about three panels away from bringing in an alligator for him to wrestle! Anyhoo, he is visited upon by a man named Smithers who has a job for him. He got mixed up with some bad dudes while on his way to the top of the corporate ladder. T.C. Newman is the President of Horizon Chemical… a position (I assume) he wants for himself. He arranged with these baddies for Newman to take a fall… which they took to mean, ya know… offed, so rather than sending a spy to trail him… they sent a hitman. According to Smithers, that was never his intention. Yeah, likely story, pal.
Chance considers the offer… and ultimately decides to take the contract. We see a bit of his “method” here, as he checks out the most recent picture of Newman… noting that he’s wearing an eye patch, to ensure his disguise is spot-on.
Next we see Chance, he has become a new man… er, become Newman, that is… T.C. Newman. He’s decked out in some dazzling duds while boarding a train. After tripping and nearly breaking his neck, he is directed to his berth. This is a cool scene because it shows how deeply he is paying attention to his surroundings… while neglecting his own two feet, or… so it would appear, you’ll notice his hand went right into the train’s emergency brake mechanism… more on that in a bit.
While on board, a man with his right arm in a cast enters Chance’s berth unannounced. Our man gets the drop on him and cinches in a hammerlock. The fella swears he just entered the wrong berth. This allows us to see more of the Chance method… he judges the man’s face and eyes… and deduces he is telling the truth. And so, he lets him go.
Time passes, and Chance is joined by the conductor he almost tripped over while boarding. They share an awkward apology session… and some light chatter. Chance asks when the next stop will be, to which the conductor says 5:47. Chance notes that the conductor didn’t peer at his pocket watch like he did the last time somebody asked him about stops (scroll up two images to see!)… and he gets a sneaking suspicion that something’s about to go down!
Chance ransacks the berth until he procures the pocket watch… which, at this point, is ticking loudly. He busts out a window with his briefcase and tosses the watch before it goes BLAM!
Looks like the “conductor” is really our hitman! Chase gives chance… er, Chance gives chase, that is… and when he has the baddie cornered, presses a button on his watch, which triggers the emergency brake… and sends the hitman a’flyin! I’m picturing the sound Goofy would make in an old cartoon while trying to ski… but instead, falling into a bottomless pit.
After ahem, “scraping up” the hitman, the train arrives at the station. Chance is met by Smithers who is pleased to see him, but is wondering where Newman is. Well, ya see, real-Newman is standing right there… in a different disguise, in fact… he’s who our man tripped over to set up the train-brake scenario. Smithers is fired for being a jerk-ass, and we are out.
That didn’t quite go the way I was expecting it to. I had assumed going in that I was really going to dig the Superman story and just tolerate the Human Target… and it was the complete opposite! The Superman story was just sorta “there” while I found myself really enjoying Human Target!
I’ve tried getting into the Human Target every now and again… I believe his last couple of launches came out through Vertigo, and I’m mentally-associating Peter Milligan with like all of them… maybe he wrote one, I don’t recall. All I know is that it never really captured me, and I’m pretty sure I never went back for a second issue. This short story here was more engrossing to me than any of the Vertigo stuff.
Let’s stick with Human Target for a bit. I swear, that introduction just oozed stereotypical masculinity… to the point where if it had been written today, it would immediately be dismissed as parody. I really thought he’d be wrestling alligators before retiring to a bed-full of beauties before this was all said and done. Let’s not get it twisted, I thought he was cool… but, this might’ve veered a bit into the realm of cartoon-silly.
The Target story, while I really dug it, left me with a few questions. When Chance boarded the train and “tripped” our narrative caption made it seem like it was an accident. We later learn it was all part of the plan… but why would he hide the plan from “us”? Like, the narrative bits are his own thoughts… why would he lie in his own thoughts? He doesn’t know we’re reading them! It kinda took away from the story, because I had assumed that he was just so focused on his surroundings that he kinda lost himself in them… and goofed!
Also, the ending was a bit outta nowhere. The real Newman (which, ya gotta figure is a play on “new man” for this Human Target introductory adventure, right?), is also on board… but disguised as another fella. Smithers should know that, right? I mean, he knew Newman was going to be on the train, surely there wasn’t going to be real Newman and Chance-as-Newman on board at the same time, right? And, wasn’t the point of this to keep Newman safe? Of course he’s going to be disguised! Not sure why Newman waited until he arrived to fire Smithers either. Oh well… only so much you can do with the pages afforded by an Action-Plus backup.
Now, the opener… it was, ya know, okay. Nothing I feel I’d need to read again… and definitely a bit of a downer when you consider the amazing cover this issue has… but not so bad that I’d advise against reading it. It’s all very convenient… which seems to just be “the way the sausage is made” for Silver/Bronze-Age Superman, so it’s not something I can really hold against it. It was neat to see Clark doing everything he can to keep hovering… and it was silly seeing him jitterbugging.
Overall… I can’t say not to grab this one. The cover makes the entire thing worthwhile… and the Human Target ain’t nothin’ to scoff at. Despite my gripes, that was some engaging, quality storytelling. The Superman story, I can take or leave… it really just comes across as filler. It doesn’t look like this one has been made available digitally just yet. If you’re looking for just the Human Target story, it was reprinted in Best of DC Digest #30 (1982).
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