Superman #374 (1982)

Superman #374 (August, 1982)
“Love is Deadlier… the Second Time Around!”
“Pete Ross’ Crowning Achievement!”
Writers – Cart Bates & Bob Rozakis
Pencils – Curt Swan & Kurt Schaffenberger
Inks – Dan Adkins & Dave Hunt
Letters – Todd Klein & John Costanza
Colors – Tony Tollin & Tom Ziuko
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.60

Welcome to Day Eight of Vartox Week!  I know what you’re thinking, “Chris you handsome idiot, there are only seven days in a week!”, to which I’d say… Vartox scoffs at only being celebrated for a mere “Earth week”.

We pick up right where we left off yesterday… Vartox has just spied his betrothed Lana Lang kissing Clark Kent.  Of course, we readers know that this was just a “goodbye” kiss, but… ya see, Vartox is a bit of a paranoid dude.  Also, he’s being sorta-kinda controlled by an odd blonde woman (who they don’t even bother to show us here).  Speaking of blonde women, we zip over to Lana’s apartment where she and Lois are watching the Lola Barnett show!  Lola is breaking the news that Lana fell in love with an alien… and will be leaving Earth behind.  Whatta feline witch!

As Lana and Lois say their goodbyes, Clark Kent is hanging out in his old backyard in Smallville reminiscing.  He glances over at a tree that he and Lana had carved their initials into… and just then, Vartox!  Ol’ Var destroys the tree and threatens the “cursed Kryptonian”!

Clark uses the dust-cover to “supe up”, then quickly snaps Vartox out of his vengeful rage.  Unfortunately, by this point his “hyper landing” had already triggered an underground tank Lex Luthor had planted back in the long ago.

Superman and a hyper-apologetic Vartox tag-team the tank… ultimately turning it two-dimensional and hurling it into space.  Superman excuses Vartox’s earlier odd behavior as nothing more than jitters about his pending nuptials to Ms. Lang… which, uh… sure.  Anyhoo, as they fly a way, we see a pair of feminine hands in the fore.

Those hands are attached to… that blonde woman we didn’t see during the open.  She monologues to herself for a bit, and he learn that it was she who covered Lana in clear pudding (duh).  She did so for two reasons… So Vartox could take her back to Tynola, and also… a reason she doesn’t share with us just yet.

That night, Lana gives her final news report for WGBS… and almost manages to make it through without crying.  She says goodbye to Metropolis and to her director Josh, before breaking off to spend the night with the “Out of this World Hunk” Vartox.

After a romantic dinner, Vartox joins Superman for his nightly global patrol.  As they work, Vartox confides some things in him.  Remember yesterday where Vartox said he only loved one other woman as much as Lana?  Well, she… and I assumed he was talking about his dead wife (who finally gets a name here… Elyra).  In actuality, he was talking about another woman… one called Syreena.

Turns out, Syreena… was a terrorist!  What’s more, she gifted Vartox a big clunky “love pendant” (which finished off his 1970’s ensemble nicely!) which was actually a way for her to siphon his hyper-powers  so she could pull her terroristic feats!  Vartox had no choice but to turn her over to the authorities… and wouldn’tcha know it, just a little while after that… their planet of Valeron exploded.

After the patrol, Superman goes to head off to Lana’s final going away party (how many times are we gonna say goodbye to this gal?) over at Disco 53.  Vartox decides to stay behind… not wanting to cramp anyone’s style… also, he probably doesn’t want to show anybody up on the dance floor… because, you just know Var can bring it.

We wrap up with Vartox being haunted by that blonde woman again… I’m pretty sure we can assume that she’s Syreena.  She convinces him that Superman will make a last ditch proposal to Lana Lang.  Vartox, being just about the easiest fella to push off the precipice, freaks out… and heads toward Metropolis with one goal… to kill Superman!  Yes, again.

But… we’re not done yet!  Time for a story from Superman’s “In-Between Years”.  These are stories from Clark Kent’s college days… so, sorta “in-between” Superboy and man, ya dig?  This one opens with Pete Ross on board a train headed to Metropolis to visit his buddy Clark.  Also on board is Lana’s pop, Professor Lang.

The two Smallvillians talk about their travel plans.  It turns out that Lang is set to give a lecture at the University about an Incan Crown he’d dug up.  He goes to show it to Pete… buuuut, it’s missing!

They search for it… but it doesn’t turn up.  Pete suggests asking Superboy for help (at this point Pete knows about Clark’s double-identity… but Clark doesn’t know he knows… or so he acts).  Professor Lang ain’t hip to that jive, because if the secret gets out… South America will implode… or something.

We jump ahead to the University, and Lang gives his presentation… using a phony (but identical) crown.  This place must have one helluva prop department!  Anyhoo, during the presentation… one member of the audience gets up and runs off.  Pete’s got his man!

Pete gives chase, bumping right into his pal Clark Kent… who he pretends not to know.  It’s silly.  Then, just as he’s about to catch up with the likely thief… dude jumps out of an alleyway and holds a knife to his… ear.

Then… Superboy!  Goes without saying that the good guys win the day, doesn’t it?

Superboy then uses his x-ray vision to get a good look at the nogoodnik’s ID card… finds out his dorm room… then finds the Incan Crown.

Everything’s hunky-dory… Professor Lang gets his crown back… and Pete and Clark have their visit.

Well… I sure called that one wrong, didn’t I?

I was sure the woman would be revealed as some sort of manifestation of Vartox’s guilt over moving on after his wife… really wasn’t expecting the “terroristic true love” angle!

Not much more to this main feature though… it really just served for Vartox to deliver enough exposition to carry us into next issue’s conclusion.  The “story” is just an extended take on the end of last issue.  Lana saying goodbye… still!  What’s more, we end exactly where we started… a paranoid Vartox wanting to kill Superman.  Truly, if not for the 2-3 pages of exposition-dump, there’s very little reason to read this one at all.

The back-up… just another page-filler.  Not as much fun as a “Private Life of Clark Kent” but more fun than a “Lost Story of Krypton”.  It was very convenient… but, I mean… it’s going to be.  Can’t really up the stakes in an “In-Between Years” story.  Also, these gotta be kept as non-intrusive as possible, so as not to affect the current day.  It’s not as though the next time Clark and Pete hang out they’re going to discuss the time they saved Professor Lang’s Incan Crown, right?

Anyhoo… not an entirely skippable issue, since we do get the story of Vartox’s terrorist ex-lover.  However, if next issue opens with a rehashing of the entire thing (which I have a sneaking suspicion that it will), this issue will be rendered completely pointless.  Worth a look if you come across it on the cheap… or, if you are a Vartox enthusiast (and really, you should be)!

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