Action Comics #476 (1977)
“The Attack of the Anti-Super-Hero”
Writer – Cary Bates
Penciller – Kurt Schaffenberger
Inker – Vince Colletta
Letterer – Milt Snapinn
Colorist – Jerry Serpe
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.35
Vartox “Week” rolls on… with the conclusion of the two-parter we started yesterday, in which we’ll finally see just how Vartox got his groove back!
Picking up right where we left off last issue, Clark Kent is being attacked by, one of the ugliest character designs of the 1970’s, Karb-Brak as he delivers the evening news report on WGBS. Clark uses a thin beam of heat vision to turn out the lights so he can make a hasty escape.
In the darkness, the two Supers burst through a wall… with Clark guiding them toward a nearby smokestack… which looks like it’s seen better days. Man, mid/late-70’s Metropolis must’a been super smoggy!
Anyhoo, inside the dank-looking smoke-cloud, Clark “supes” up, so by the time they land on, he’s mostly dressed in his superhero duds… though, for a panel, he’s still wearing his specs.
They fight in the sky for a bit, before Karb-Brak faints away… looks like his super-allergy-induced-fever has passed. Superman is able to swoop down and snatch him before he goes splat.
Superman hauls Brak to the Fortress of Solitude to conduct some tests. As he wonders what triggered this latest “fever”, Karb begins to seize… then just flops onto the observation table, seemingly dead. Superman laments his failure… but, only a moment later, Karb-Brak sits up, and calmly explains the entire thing to him! Ya see, he was affected… and then cured by… well, you know.
Meanwhile in the skies above Metropolis, Lois and Jimmy are in a news chopper attempting to track down Superman and Karb-Brak. Suddenly a… skydiver… yeah, a skydiver… gets into the chopper’s path… and his parachute gets all gummed up in its blades. Since Superman’s all the way at the Fortress, it looks like the helicopter, the skydiver, and all of the poor humans below are doomed! Well, not so fast, kemosabe… there’s another life-saver on the beat.
Vartox sets everybody down safely… hell, he even repairs and folds the idiot skydiver’s parachute! He introduces himself to Jimmy and Lois, and refers to them as “friends”. Lois gets a chill from meeting him… which an editor’s note explains away as being, somewhat residual of the time Vartox viewed that “what if?” scenario that ended with her death. Yeah, nice try.
The Manliest Man then bids the WGBS crew adieu, and takes to the skies… just as Superman is returning from the Fortress. The two hop over to the roof of the WGBS building to “catch-up”. Upon landing, they are greeted by Karb-Brak… and Superman suggests Vartox ‘splain everything that’s gone down… and, boy howdy, he does!
Vartox recounts his story… only, in it, it isn’t his powers that were deteriorating, but Superman’s! The way he sees it, Superman arrived on Earth in hopes of using Karb-Brak to get his groove back. What’s more, Vartox actually seems to believe this! Ya see, the, ahem, “energy toxins” he’d absorbed from Karb-Brak to regain his powers, also muddled his mind. Sure… why not?
And, he’s not alone in believing this either… looks like Vart’s got Karb-Brak’s vote too! Karb tells Superman he understands… and forgives him for what he’d done, but strongly suggests the Man of Steel go back from whence he came. Superman knows better than to argue with a couple of crazy men, so he leaves to consider his options.
It isn’t long before Superman comes up with a plan… however, he’s got some heartburn over it. He only hopes Vartox will forgive him for what he’s about to do. The following morning, the pair of supers face off in the skies…
It’s an even match to start… until Vartox manifests a bolt of lightning, which he can apparently use as a rope of sorts. He ties Superman up in it… and it looks as though he’s going to win the day, until…
He sees his long-dead wife stood atop a nearby building! Superman, pretending Vartox’s story is true… and he’s the real interloper, rushes off to her, and they embrace. This is enough to shock Vartox back to reality. His “wife” is, of course, Lois Lane in a blonde wig and uncanny mask… but, it’s enough. Back in his right mind, Vartox collects Karb-Brak, and the pair leave Earth… forever? Yeah, not likely.
This poor dude!
Man, I wasn’t expecting that this trip into the “funny, ha-ha” story of Vartox would be such a bummer! First he loses his wife… then he loses his powers… then, in attempt to get his powers back… he loses his marbles?! And… and… AND… the only way to snap him back to reality, is to taunt him with his long-dead beloved wife?! Yeesh… bummer days, man.
Speaking of Vartox’s unnamed bride… by this point, that was all established three years ago in a one-off story. Gotta wonder just how many Super-fans of the day actually read/recalled it! I mean, there were editor’s notes… but, it’s not like back-issue bins were that big’a phenomenon back then!
I’m still unclear as to how “energy toxins” enabled Vartox to get his groove back… but, then again… applying logic to this sort of situation is a recipe for disinterest. We’ll just give it the ol’ “thumbs up” and move on… after all, this just means there’s more Vartox in our future… and that’s never a bad thing!
There’s some suitably Bronze-Age silliness here (outside of the main conflict, of course). First… a skydiver… skydiving in the middle of freaking Metropolis? Even on the best of days, that’s a bad idea. Also, flying through the smokestack… like, what’s the point? Can’t Superman change clothes in a fraction of a second? I mean, Jon Byrne would likely approve of this. Finally… Lois in an uncanny mask, wig, and genie-pants… I guess it got the job done… but, that’s some wacky stuff. There’s also the question of how Superman knew what Vart’s wife even looked like to begin with! Don’t get it twisted or anything, I didn’t dislike any of the silliness (the Bronze Age has been growing on me for a long while now), I’m just pointing some of the elements that stood out to me.
Overall… not essential, but fun. If you’re a Vartox-completionist, well… you’re gonna need this one. Not available digitally… which makes me wonder why DC’s trying to bury the Manliest Man Who Ever Manned’s Bronze-Age glory… I suppose that might be a mystery for another day.
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