Action Comics #766 (June, 2000)
Writer – Joe Kelly
Penciller – Card Nord
Inker – Jason Baumgartner
Colors – WildStormFX
Letters – Comicraft
Assistant Editor – Maureen McTigue
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Cover Price: $1.99
When I first decided to collect DC Comics in earnest, I had a list of characters/titles that I gave special priority to. Mainly shorter-run series that would be the easiest to complete… your Blue Devils, Suicide Squads, Mister Miracles, etc. There were also some pie-in-the-sky collector goals… like Superman’s entire output since Crisis on Infinite Earths.
I mean, that’s three to five ongoing titles, one-shots, annuals… and also, Action Comics went weekly for almost a year! I was looking at a long road of collecting… and although Superman comics are among the easiest to procure from the cheap-o bins, this was still going to set me back a few bucks.
Over the past decade or so, I’ve made quite the dent. As it currently stands, I only need ten or so comics to complete the run. When I peruse the covers of the books I still need… something stands out… Batman (or a Bat-villain) is usually somewhere on the cover. Yesterday I was raiding the bins at a semi-nearby shop when I came across this issue… and it was marked a fair amount higher than others from the run. And so, I did something I almost never do… I paid the Batman Tax. Only reason I did so is it was the only thing standing in the way of my Action Comics run being complete going back to before Crisis. Completionism (obsession, and insanity) will do it every time!
Superman’s been infected with radiation poisoning! Lois has been abducted, and replaced by Parasite (eww)! There’s only one man Superman can turn to in this, his time of need. Well, if the cover (and my preamble) didn’t spoil it, we are of course talking about Batman. Much/all of the narration done in this issue is from Batman’s point of view… and is written in a very antiseptic and procedural way. Something I like… and dislike at the same time, but we’ll get there. Superman promises his full cooperation if Batman helps him find Lois… dead or alive. The pair head out to follow up on a potential lead. During the car ride, Batman continually refers to Lois as “Victim”… something that Superman does not appreciate in the slightest, and he lets him know it.
The World’s Finest arrive at a seedy backwoods Roadhouse bar, and Batman enters to rattle a few cages. He approaches a cliche hillbilly tough guy who isn’t keen on answering any questions… and so, Batman takes him out in just-one-pu… er, flick to the forehead. Whew, just barely sidestepped a trope there!
Turns out, one regular patron to the bar named Mike was abducted just like Lois… but, the geeks are being a bit tight lipped about the whole thing. That is, until a green glowing Superman ambles into the doorway. At which time, everyone becomes rather cooperative. This vexes Bruce a bit… he can’t wrap his head around the fact that, even seeping radiation, folks still love (and don’t fear) Superman.
Their next stop is another interrogation spot. Superman agrees to wait in the car, however, when he realizes Bruce has been gone a bit too long for his liking finds out that his partner locked him in. Batman’s forensic narration refers to Superman only as “complainant”. Again, like/dislike that… but we’ll get there. Superman manages to escape the Batmobile and rejoins Batman… who is surrounded by a bunch of kayoed fools. When Superman insists they take them to a hospital, Batman refuses. Superman is adamant, and reminds him that “they’re still people”. Now, here comes the hook that the entire rest of this issue is bent around… Batman doesn’t see these folks as “people”. He can’t… otherwise, he would become too emotional to be effective. He can begin thinking of them as “people” again once the case is closed.
After receiving one hell of a lecture, Batman asks Clark to make himself useful and use his supervision to check for clues. He is able to locate five grains of red clay. Batman runs the data, and discovers the origin of the red clay is Harpur State Preserve outside of Metropolis. So, next stop… there. I should mention that Superman’s health is becoming progressively worse by the page. Nice attention to detail, that.
Once they arrive, Batman once again refers to Lois as victim… which sets Superman off on sharing some Lois facts. He says she roots for the Dodgers, hates her feet… stuff like that. Batman wants to keep this as impersonal as possible, but Superman will not allow that. Batman will view Lois as a person… even if the worst is to come.
Later that night they arrive at the cave the clay led them to. They enter… and discover that it’s being used as a sort of burial ground for the civilians who had been “touched” by Parasite. Turns out that for Parasite to become a proxy, he absorbs both a victim’s energy as well as their physical and mental makeup… the longer he proxies… the more essence and energy he steals. Superman gets a funny feeling from one of the bodies and rushes over to check it out.
It turns out to be… a blonde woman, not Lois. Batman, who has been doing his research, says the victim’s name… but Superman stops him before he can finish. He’s beginning to understand how making things personal might cloud one’s judgment in situations such as this. For now, he’s okay with referring to Mikalia Shepard as just a blonde victim.
In the silence of the somber moment, Superman begins to hear… breathing. He notices a boulder lodged up against a wall of the cave, and proceeds to push it out of the way. In his weakened state it takes quite a bit out of him. Behind the boulder is… Lois! Alive!
After a touching reunion, the radiation in Superman’s body becomes too much for him to bear… and, he dies! Should go without saying that this sucker is… [to be continued]! Worth mentioning, they use a radioactive version of the Death of Superman era “Bleeding S” for the To Be Continued bumper… which is pretty cool!
I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would.
I think, if you’re a comic creator, you’ve got that list of scenes you really wanna write/draw. Just those tropes that have been done dozens of times before. If you’re on the X-Men, you wanna do the next great baseball game. If you’re on Spider-Man, you wanna do a scene at “that bridge”. If you’re on Aquaman, you wanna have some schmuck make a “talks to fish” observation. And, if you’re writing a (post-Crisis) Superman and Batman story… you want to explore the differences in their approaches to heroism. Nothing wrong with that at all… and very well executed here, it’s just we’re not really blazing any trails.
Not every story needs to blaze trails though, but worth mentioning that so many (post-Crisis) Superman and Batman stories are so focused on the differences between them, that the actual story sometimes falls to the background. Here though, Joe Kelly was able to tie the dueling methodologies in with the main story, so that wasn’t a problem in the slightest.
I think my main problem is Batman behaving like a detective robot. His narration here, and I know what they were going for, was… I dunno, kind of annoying. Regardless of how “on the case” he is, I don’t see him ever referring to Superman as “complainant”. I mean, if we were reading his post-mortem documentation of the case, sure… but actually during the story? Just seems a bit try-hard. We know Batman’s “all business”, this only made him seem clownishly so.
The art here was a bit mixed for my liking. I think Nord knocked it out of the park with everything… except Superman….’s face. I dunno, I guess maybe I have a sort of precise idea of what Superman’s face ought to look like… and this really wasn’t it. Not fair of me to hold it against any artist for taking me outside my comfort zone, but I’ll still mention it. Sometimes Superman artists who I start off disliking become a favorite… Doug Mahnke, for example. Perhaps Nord’s take would/will grow on me. Who knows?
Overall, had a far better time with this than I thought. Was it worth paying the Batman Tax. Well, for someone like me… yeah. That is to say, a completionist idiot. For folks not as wrapped up in their collections as me? Maybe. It’s worth mentioning that this was collected as part of Superman: Critical Condition. These were the “numbered” trades that collected the “Berganza” era. Fans not as stringent in their “gotta catch’em all” mentality might get more out of the trade paperback. It is also available digitally.