Action Comics #445 (March, 1975)
“Count Ten Superman–and Die!”
“Find Black Canary, Dead… or Alive!”
Writers – Cary Bates, Elliot S! Maggin & Mike Grell
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Mike Grell
Inker – Kurt Schaffenberger
Editors – Julius Schwartz & E. Nelson Bridwell
Cover Price: $0.25
Well, there’s an eye-catching cover…
I, like many of us I’d assume, am a sucker for any of those “Flash of Two Worlds”-esque… especially when they come from an era before “homage covers” were a fashionable thing… and of course, from an era where every book didn’t come with (at least) two covers.
And who knew Nick Cardy drew such a striking Lois? I only wish he was doing the interiors here too!
We open with Superman helping out a demolition crew by bursting a tunnel through a mountain. He doesn’t hang around long to soak in their appreciation, however, as he needs to return to Metropolis tout suite for Clark Kent to attend a lecture, to be delivered by… Superman?! Well, yes and no. This fella giving the speech is actually Gregory Reed, an actor who portrays Superman in TV and movies. He shares the story of an accident which left him terribly disfigured… and how (the real) Superman was able to use some “super surgery” to give him back his movie star good looks.
After the lecture, there is a little meet and greet in the courtyard, and Lois attempts to get an interview with Mr. Reed. Everything seems to be going well… until Reed is blasted by an invisible ray, which knocks him into a fountain. This might just be a job for (the real) Superman!
We shift scenes to an alien craft hovering far above the Earth. Inside a trio of geeks from the Superman Revenge Squad celebrate blasting the Man of Steel with their magic ray. Until they realize that they got the wrong guy. Ya see… this is the Bronze Age, which means the Superman Revenge Squad knows… the secret! Yes folks, they know Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same. It’s starting to feel like the the “investigative reporters” from Daily Planet were the only ones who didn’t know!
Back on Earth, Superman (the real one) “arrives” at the fountain to help Gregory Reed. While he is scooping him out of the drink, he too is hit by the invisible ray!
So now, what in the hell is this “ray” all about? Well, get ready for this, because it’s pretty dumb. The ray filled him with a “Puls-Flow”, which would grow stronger and stronger with every “super feat” he performs. Upon completing his tenth “super feat”, the Puls-Flow would poison the Man of Steel… killing him. Makes perfect sense, don’t you think?
We jump ahead a little while, and Superman saves a trio of skydivers who, unbeknownst to them, had their gloves glued together so they couldn’t pull their ripcords (It’s just a prank, bro!). Superman yanks their cords (not like that) and their day is saved. Going by the Superman Revenge Squad count, this is his fourth “super-feat”.
We next join Lois as she is visiting a recovering Gregory Reed. Much to her surprise, Clark Kent is already at his bedside… and boy howdy does this seem to be “getting” to him. Clark is a blubbering mess… which we soon learn is due to the growing Puls-Flow inside him. Guess it really messes with ones emotions before killing them!
Time for more “super-feats”… including dancing (I sure hope that’s dancing) with a shark, putting out fires, and saving a crashing airplane.
Then we come to probably my favorite scene in the book. Clark is getting ready to leave work for the night, when Steve Lombard (with date) passes by… and he starts riding our man for being “Mr. Square”. Due to his heightened (and fragile) emotional state… Clark starts sobbing! Lombard ain’t sure what to make of it… and gets all apologetic. Meanwhile, his date pulls away from him for being a jerk-ass.
Then… another day and all the super-feats that come with it. Just as it looks like Superman completes his tenth (saving a little boy), he stumbles and falls to the ground.
The Superman Revenge Squad celebrates, but they aren’t aware of… the rest of the story. Ya see, Superman gave Gregory Reed a super-power pill (yeah… really) which allowed him to perform half of the super-feats… so, the Real Steel Deal is still a-okay.
Well, okay… that’s all well and good, but how could Superman know that he needed a “stunt double” to perform five of his ten final feats? Well, duh… he totally saw the Superman Revenge Squad in the reflection from the fountain earlier! From there, he delivered a Superman mannequin to the hospital as to not tip the baddies off. Oh, and also… in the time it took for Superman to explain all of this… the Puls-Flow (somehow) left his body. Perhaps it’s best not to ask questions.
We wrap up with the Superman Revenge Squad Goons being shot down by their own base for their folly. That be one darker-than-expected ending, I tell you what…
But… We’re not done, folks! We have some Green Arrow-flavored “Action-Plus” waiting for us. I get the feeling that these would be much more fulfilling reads if they weren’t squished into six-pages… you’re about to see why. This one opens with Ollie meeting up with a woman named Cherry Noler. He needs her help because Black Canary has been kidnapped… and very well may have been killed. That’s actually three of the six pages right there… half of this back-up is recap!
Anyhoo… Ollie asks Cherry to enter a gambling den and cause a distraction so he might sneak in and check things out. She gets inside and calls him with the “all clear”… only, it’s not! Upon entry, Ollie is attacked by a man wielding a 2×4… maybe it’s a 2×2… either way, it’s a big ol’ plank of wood.
Ollie fights his way downstairs, throwing goons all along the way… perhaps even killing a couple! They do fall quite a distance. He busts into an office to find… Dinah, still alive!
He then pins the “Big Enchilada” Max Lucker to his seat with arrows and demands answers. Turns out Lucker’s just a middle man… who answers to, well wouldja lookit that… it’s Cherry!
This issue is a pretty good example of my enjoying a story in spite of it being full of some undesirable (at least to me) tropes.
First… the threat here is… just some aliens. Sure, they’re part of the “Superman Revenge Squad”, but really… they’re just fodder of no real significance. Superman may as well have been facing a lizard-man or a living daffodil. I’ve said it before, despite the excellent cast of villains the DC Universe has, it was because of “threats” such as this that I stayed away for so long. I mean, even Marvel’s Z-list villains had more “character” than “rando-alien-trio”.
Also… there’s that whole thing about everybody knowing that Superman and Clark Kent are the same guy. Why were so many stories in the Bronze Age so focused on that? Weren’t there other stories to be told? I mean, it’s fun from time to time… but, it just seems like every time we discuss a Bronze Age Superman book here… somebody knows or learns “the secret”!
Then… there’s the ending. Everything’s okay, because Superman says so. “Oh, that plague I was injected with? It’s gone now.” Well, thanks very much… that was a thrilling conclusion that made total sense!
Then, there’s the back-up. I’m really not a fan of these Action-Plus stories.. because they never feel like they have enough time to “breathe”. I mean, we get six pages here… and three of ’em are recap! I couldn’t imagine following this story month to month… it must’ve been maddening. Despite its brevity, it wasn’t half-bad, and it was damn sure pretty to look at!
Now… in spite of the past several paragraphs of complaints… I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this! It was silly… and ultimately pointless, but there was a lot of fun to be had here! Clark crying when Lombard was bullying him? Awesome! Superman working his way through the feats (including a very risque shot with a shark)? Great!
Overall, I’d recommend this for the cover alone… the fun story within is just gravy. It doesn’t appear to have been collected… nor is it yet available via DC Digital… no matter though, I think if you want this one, the single-issue (not floppy) format is best… just for that Cardy cover!