Action Comics #475 (September, 1977)
“The Super-Hero Who Refused to Hang Up His Boots!”
“The Weak Link!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Elizabeth M. Smith
Pencillers – Curt Swan & Win Mortimer
Inkers – Francisco Chiaramonte
Colors – Jerry Serpe
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.35
I can hear it, can you?
There’s a hum coming over the horizon… and with every step we take closer to it, it becomes more clear.
Hold your breath for a moment, and really tune in to that hum…
Yes… that’s it.
It’s saying… More Vartox.
After an introduction page that spoils just about everything we’re about to see, we hop over to Valeron where a pair of wiseguys try and rob a family. They are really lame. Before they can escape… Vartox arrives on the scene to give them the what-for. Only, he’s not prepared to received a wallop of a blast to the belly via one of the nogoodniks’ “Z-Charge” guns.
Vartox does his best to absorb the blow, and responds by… hanging the bad guys upside down via his “hyper-static beam”. Okay, well… whatever works. The Enforcers (Valeron’s Finest) come to collect the crooks, however, by then Vartox has shuffled away. Ya see, he’s still in great pain from the Z-Charge, and doesn’t want anyone to see him that way.
He worries about his age catching up with him… and his powers deteriorating more and more by the day. He knows if this were to get out, would-be Valeron criminals might become a bit more froggy. He decides to check in with his Kryptonian Comrade, Superman to see if he might have some advice. He tunes in on his Scanscope Beam and watches Superman in action.
Superman is busy stopping an out of control wrecking ball at a Metropolis construction site. That’s some good timing… it’s not like the wrecking ball threatened to break loose a few moments before actually doing so. Anyhoo, he is thanked by his buddy Andrew Meda… yeah… we know this guy. He was Karb-Brak back in that Bicentennial issue. One of the ugliest character designs of the 1970’s.
Now… it seems here that Vartox’s Scanscope might be able to read minds here? Because, what we get is, perhaps the longest and most awkward handshake between Superman and Andy… all the while Superman recounts his last battle with him as Karb-Brak. Upon seeing/hearing this, Vartox is smacked with inspiration… the Andromedan Karb-Brak might be the answer to all of his problems!
That night, Clark Kent does performs his gig as evening news anchor for WGBS. After sending it over to noodnik Steve Lombard, he excuses himself to go have a gargle. What he’s actually doing is checking in on the piece of news he just reported… there’s a crazy phone booth in Metropolis just brimming with atomic energy! Why there are no police or emergency personnel currently swarming the thing, I haven’t the foggiest!
Out of it pops… you guessed it (or maybe you didn’t) Karb-Brak! Brak is back in his more bestial form… a result of his “allergy” to being around super folks. Superman wraps him up in his cape and tries to consider just who triggered the transformation.
Superman winds up taking quite the walloping… and Karb-Brak gets away. Moments later, Superman must “Kent down” and return to the news desk… Lombard’s sports report is just about over.
The next news segment is interrupted by… hey, lookit that, Karb-Brak! He attacks Clark, live on the air! We wrap up with the arrival of the main man, Vartox… and he hopes Superman can forgive him for what he had to do.
We’re not done yet though, folks! We’ve got… a back-up. Not just any back-up though… one starring, Lori friggin Lemaris. This is bound to be excellent. As we open, she is caught… oh boy, in a fishing net. She’s nyoinked out of the drink by a group of Russians illegally fishing inside the United States’ 200-mile fishing limit. International intrigue at its finest!
She tries to telepathically call out for help… but Superman and Aquaman are out of reach. During some casual conversation, one of the fishermen says something about a “weak link” (hey, that’s the title of this story!) and it gets her to thinking… she might be able to telepathically control one of these numskulls… and that’s exactly what she does.
Fueled by suspicion, the Russians fight among themselves long enough for Lori to… uh, telepathically use their radio to call the authorities.
Then she calls her friends of the sea… and they take care of business. I mean, really… if you could summon a giant octopus, a sperm whale, and swordfish (by name!)… wouldn’t you just lead with that? Why all this “weak link” nonsense?
We wrap up with the arrival of the United Nations Security Force… and they arrest the baddies. They ask Lori to come on board too… to which, she reveals that (Holy Mackerel) she is part fish.
So… Vartox is still quite the tragic character, isn’t he? The first time he met Superman was right after his wife died… and now, his powers are waning. Certainly not what I was expecting… I assumed this was going to be a “funny, ha-ha”… but it’s more sad than anything! It’s hard not to feel bad for the guy!
That said, this story was pretty ridiculous. Not sure what the Scanscope is capable of doing… is it just a way for Vartox to view things… or can it also read the minds of everyone in the shot? Could it see through Andrew Meta’s human guise? Can Vart tune in to some smooth 70’s soft rock with the thing? Who knows?
The idea of an atomic phone booth not being surrounded by caution tape and traffic cones kinda tickles me. There were just regular civilians walking around it… all the while, it’s lit up like a Christmas tree.
Also, it wouldn’t be a Bronze Age Superman story if the secret identity wasn’t put at risk… and it sure was here, live on television! In front of an audience of over a million folks. Thankfully, these are the same folks who didn’t think twice about the affects of hanging around a radioactive phone booth… so, they’re clearly not the sharpest bulbs in the drawer.
The back-up? Woof. I mean, it wasn’t like it was poorly written or anything… but, it really didn’t require so many pages. After a couple of pages, it started to feel like a Dagwood sandwich… just so many unnecessary layers.
Find the weak link! Radio authorities! Call sea-pals! Certainly didn’t need all three… especially not the one the story was named for! Why get the Russians to argue? Lori’s a telepath… she could radio the UN anytime she wants! Or, better yet… just telepathically contact them! The Russians wouldn’t have a clue until it was too late… and by then, Shamu would’ve capsized the boat anyway!
Overall… unless you’re a Superman (or Vartox) completionist (and I am both), you probably don’t need this one at the ready. It’s fun and silly… but by no means essential. It’s not yet available digitally… so, this’ll be a bin dive… but it shouldn’t be a terribly spendy one.