Superman #356 (1981)

Superman #356 (February, 1981)
“Battle of the Super-Hyper Powers!”
“The Exile from Krypton”
Writers – Cary Bates & Paul S. Newman
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Jose Delbo
Inkers – Frank Chiaramonte & Kim DeMulder
Letterers – Ben Oda & & Shelly Leferman
Colorists – Adrienne Roy & Jerry Serpe
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.50

If you’ve been following along, first… thanks!  Second, you’ll know that I’ve been away the past few days… which is why we had those kinda weird pieces here at the blog since Wednesday.

Well, since I don’t really have a personal blog… and am not completely sure how Facebook works (I think I posted a photo from my phone at some point during my travels), I’ll be a little self-indulgent and write a bit about it here… and it’ll actually (kinda) connect with the book we’re going to discuss today!

For our tenth wedding anniversary, the wife and I decided to do something special… and rare, actually leave the house.  We weren’t sure where to go… until during our skatey-eight hundredth rewatch of Twin Peaks, one of us suggested maybe visiting the great North West.  We knew many of the places featured on the show were real locations (or based on real locations), but weren’t sure just how “accessible” they’d be.

We did a little bit of research, and realized that the “Great Northern Hotel” (the Salish Lodge) as well as the Double-R Diner (Twede’s Cafe) were less than an hour east of Seattle… and figured, we’ve driven farther for less in Phoenix, so why not just do it?

One nearly-missed flight (and TSA pat-down) later, we landed in Seattle… where I was pretty shocked by just how crowded it was.  I guess the “city” of Phoenix has really affected my perception of what a “city” really is.  Luckily, we weren’t there long… we grabbed our rental and headed east.  A little over an hour later (traffic was pretty intense for 11 am) we arrived at the Falls.  Our check-in wasn’t for a few more hours, so we just explored the area.

The Falls were really amazing.  Never really saw myself as a “one with nature” kinda guy… but, for a brief bit everything just seemed perfect.  We even took the half-mile hike to the bottom… which was all downhill.  Sounds pretty cool until you realize you gotta go back the way you came!  Still, it was a beautiful walk.

Next we headed into town to see what all the cherry pie hoopla was all about at the Double-R…

… and I gotta say, it was among the weirder sensations opening the door to that place and walking in.  It really felt like we were stepping into Twin Peaks.

The pie was actually some of the best I’d ever had.  I guess when that’s what you’re known for… ya gotta really “bring it”.  We even stopped for a second slice to-go on our way out of town the following day.

I was afraid the folks at the Salish Lodge would kinda roll their eyes at us when we told them we discovered them via Twin Peaks… and was delighted when they then handed us a map to the “real” Twin Peaks… which featured directions on how to visit many of the sites from the show!

I was really surprised at how much they embrace their connection to the show… I mean, even their gift-shop is full of nods to it.

We stopped by the old Sheriff Station… which is now a racing school.  We weren’t expecting much, but as we turned into the parking lot… we caught a glimpse of this:

I could go on spamming pictures… but, I think I’ve gone on long enough.  Maybe (if I figure out how) I’ll put ’em on Facebook or something.

Anyhoo… we spent the next day and change in Seattle proper… and while there, learned quite a bit about myself.  I realized that either I’m not cut out to be a tourist… or, I’ve just gotten really old.  Maybe both!  I mean, everything had a line… definitely not for me.  I did manage to drink a lot of pretty good coffee though.  Then a delayed flight and yet another TSA pat-down later, we made it home.

Anyhoo… sorry for droning on there… let’s get to the comic… which I promise sorta-kinda ties in!

We open with Clark, Lana, and Steve Lombard about to hit the slopes.  Clark, of course, is playing up his clumsiness… and winds up getting pushed down the hill by that rascally sportscaster.  At that moment, a jet whizzes by… nearly nosediving into the mountain.  The pilot manages to pull out of it… causing a sonic-boom… which then causes an avalanche!  Also worth noting… a man-shaped blur also whizzes by.

On the slopes as the avalanche approaches, Clark notes that Lombard is staying close by out of concern for his ill-experienced self.  Clark repays this kindness by using his super-breath to deliver Steve to safety.

With Lombard outta sight… Clark “supes” up and melts all of the falling snow before it can cause too much damage, death, and destruction.

At that very moment, Lana Lang waits wistfully atop the hill… but, by the wave of a hand… vanishes!

Why, it’s the manliest man who ever manned (as if the cover didn’t spoil it)… Vartox!  He has come to wish Lana goodbye for the final time.  Ya see, he’s now the champion of another planet… and will never return to Earth again.  Oh, he also freezes Lombard with his “hyper-powers”, and makes sure to gaze longingly into Clark Kent’s eyes during the visit.

Lana explains everything Vartox told her to Clark… he’s now, after slaying a giant beast, the champion of the planet Tynola.  Lana leaves Clark to watch Lombard thaw out, because at this time, she’d like to be alone.  Very dramatic.

The next morning, Steve and Lana wake up to find a note from Clark.  In it, he claims he’s not cut out for fun in the snow… and decided to head back into the city.  In reality… he’s headed for Tynola.  Ya see, when Vartox gazed into his eyes the day before, he was flashing a secret mathematical code with his “hyper-beams”.

Turns out, Vartox isn’t so much the champion of Tynola… but a pawn in their game.  The Tynolans are actually creating all of the giant beasts that Vartox has to fight… but why?

Anyhoo… Superman approaches Tynola… and the Tynolans ain’t too happy about it.  They are, however, mighty interested in how Vartox might handle the alien interloper though.  Turns out… they fight!  Just as the cover promised… Superman does get tied up in his own cape.  What’s next, Vartox… a hyper-wedgie?

Superman regains the advantage and locks Vartox in some sort of crossface chickenwing… until he “power charges” out of it using his hyper-energy.  This kayos Superman but good.  Of course, this is all a plan between the two champions… but, why?

We close out with the Tynolans praying to an unseen entity… which is (maybe) revealed to be… some sort of space-ring of glop?  It’s like a melting gummy LifeSaver.

Our back-up is an “untold story” from the Fabulous World of Krypton.  Not usually my cup’a tea… but this is the one that (sorta-kinda) ties this whole mess of a post together.  In the city of Erkol on Krypton… at their fabled Twin Peaks, a man named Lok-Nor suggests a shake-up in the leadership of his tribe.

The tribe puts it to a vote… and Lok is voted down.  Later, Krypton is invaded by some blue-skinned aliens… who approach Lok with a proposition.  If he helps them, they will ensure he becomes the Chief Leader of Erkol.  They wish to use Erkol as a supply-base… and do not wish to take it by force.  They prefer peaceful means.  We’ve heard that one before…

Later, Lok-Nor presents the case to his fellow Kryptonians.  As he does so, he’s wearing a ridiculous helmet gifted to him by the aliens.  He convinces the current Chief Leader Sen-Tal to leave with the invaders… in exchange for five of their own men.  In the interim, Lok-Nor will be acting Leader of Erk(h)ol.

Immediately, Lok-Nor… influenced by that ridiculous helmet, natch… attempts to turn his fellow Kryptonians into slaves.  The blue-skinned “hostages” help him to enforce his rule.

Then… get this… Lok-Nor’s son asks if he can wear the ridiculous helmet… to which, Lok says “sure”.  He finds it rather a challenge to remove it… however, when he finally does… he realizes that he had been controlled.

And then… a battle rages!  The Kryptonians are victorious, however Lok-Nor decides to exile himself from the planet until e can pay the price of his betrayal.  His fellow Kryptonians don’t see him as a traitor… but as their savior.  He just ain’t feeling it though.

From that point on, folks would watch the Twin Peaks each night to see if Lok-Nar would be returning.  It wasn’t until several generations later, where… Lok notices a Yion-Cloud approaching his home planet… which would destroy all of its breathable air.  He’s able to wipe it out before it does any damage.

We wrap up with Lok-Nar… who now saved the people of Krypton twice, finally returning right between the Twin Peaks of Erk(h)ol to rejoin his family and friends.

As long-winded as I might’ve made the synopsis… there really isn’t all that much “meat” on these bones.  It’s a couple of sorta-silly pre-Crisis stories… which really didn’t “move my needle” either way.  They’re not bad… they’re not great.  They’re pretty much exactly what I always imagined these late Bronze Age Superman stories to be when I was less familiar with DC Comics.

I’ve said it before… and will very likely say it again, but what kept me away from DC Comics growing up was how little I could “get into” many of the villains.  So many are one-off’s, and are just a man-mixed-with-animal type of baddie (lizardmen, fishmen… etc.) or are just differently colored aliens.  Couldn’t imagine being all that engaged by this at the time… and even now, looking at it simply as something from a bygone era, it’s hard to really “get into”.

I dug the sorta-softening of Steve Lombard here.  Wouldn’t expect him to try and protect Clark from the rumbling avalanche… so that was pretty cool to see.  Then again, it was also cool to see Vartox turn said Lombard into a Popsicle a few pages later as well.  The Lana/Vartox relationship has always kinda boggled my mind… actually, Vartox in and of himself kinda confuses me.  I’ve heard that he was created as sort of a Sean Connery stand-in… and he was pushed really hard in these latter years of the pre-Crisis Universe.  Maybe I’m just a bit “ehh” on him because of how seldom he was used post-Crisis.  I think he’s only shown up a handful of times… and is usually depicted as a joke in the years since.

The back-up… well, that was my flimsy way of tying this post together… but, was it a good story?  I guess it was alright.  A man is duped into turning against his own people with the promise of power.  Said fella figures it out, and feels the need to punish himself for doing what he did.  Once he atones, he returns.  If only he could’ve been “in exile” on the day Krypton went boom… maybe his vantage point could’ve afforded him the means to do something about it!

Overall… a pretty forgettable issue, which I probably wouldn’t have ever discussed if not for the Twin Peaks mention.  If you’re a Vartox completionist, I suppose this is one you’re going to need in your collection… otherwise, I don’t know that this is one you need to break your back tracking down.

Thanks to anyone who read this wildly self-indulgent post… I think I’ve got it all out of my system… for now!

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