Superman #390 (1983)

Superman #390 (December, 1983)
“Lost on a Comet!”
Plot – Cary Bates
Words – Elliot S! Maggin
Pencils – Curt Swan
Inks – Dave Hunt
Letters – Milt Snapinn
Colors – Tony Tollin
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75

Vartox Week creeps ever closer to the tail end of the pre-Crisis era.  Clark and Lana are currently a couple… gotta wonder what the Man of the Hour thinks about all’a that!

Let’s find out together!

We open with… Vartox, who looks to have gotten himself some Tynolan hair-plugs since last we had the pleasure!  He is slumbering in the head of a comet… which just so happens to be heading directly for a transport craft!  There is a massive collision which finally manages to rouse Var from his slumber.

Seeing the horrible damage he did… and realizing that the ship is full of living creatures, Vartox snaps into action and uses his awesome hyper-powers (which are now just being called “super” powers for whatever reason), seals the hole he made in the craft.

Meanwhile in Metropolis, we visit with Clark Kent and Lana Lang… since our last walk through Vartox-ville, some things have changed… for instance, Lana and Clark are now dating!  Clark gets beeped by Perry White, and heads off to use the phone.

No sooner does Clark head inside that a purple-clad prowler crawls into the scene!  He claims that he’s not there to hurt Lana… he just wants… uh, something.  He doesn’t get to explain, ya see… Lana manages to kick the creep right over the balcony!  At that moment, Clark rushes off to do super-things, per the call from Perry.  The Prowler is able to land on a balcony below, and busts through an old lady’s apartment.  Worth noting, he is exceptionally polite during this ordeal.

Back with Superman… it’s suddenly daytime!  Well, the sky is yellow… so I can only assume it is.  Could’a sworn it was evening… unless Lana and Clark were having morning cocktails… and the Prowler was scaling the building in broad daylight… ehh, who knows?  Anyhoo, Superman arrives at a construction site (his second favorite place to be!) just as a crane begins to fall.  Before he can catch it, however, it is turned into molten slag.  Superman is able to wrangle it all up before it hits the ground… then looks skyward to see what might’ve been responsible… I’ll give ya three guesses.

Elsewhere… we get a strange (and unexpected) scene.  It’s the ramshackle home of, uh… a really big Lana Lang fan.  Like, really big.  Okay, okay… it’s almost certainly a stalker.  Dude kisses the television screen when Lana’s delivering the news… his room is covered with pictures of her… and Clark.  This dude seems like bad news.

Shifting over to Superman and Vartox… the latter tells the former everything that has gone done (minus how he managed to reverse his male-pattern baldness).  In fairness though, it seems like, since his comet-ride, Vartox has a bit of (selective) amnesia.  During their chat, the pair of heroes manage to save a few skiers from an avalanche, giving us a nice background to the exposition dump.  

Oh, and perhaps most importantly… this happens.

Speakin’a her, back in Metropolis, Lana Lang receives a box of chocolates… only, it’s not chocolates.  When she opens the box, a heart-shaped balloon inflates.  It also includes a note from her “secret admirer”.  Jimmy appears to be kinda tickled by all this.

Superman and Vartox arrive at the Fortress of Solitude… and talk about, ya know “missed opportunities”.  Vartox is bummed, but understands that Lana moved on.  They shake hands over the uncomfortable situation, but then… Vartox backhands Superman!  A fight is on… punctuated by Var employing Blanka’s rolling attack from Street Fighter II (hell, probably all the other Street Fighter games too)!

Then… Vartox heats up his hands, and blasts Superman into cinder!

Only… not so much.  This was just a delusion in ol’ Vartox’s head.  Still crazy after all these months!  Anyhoo, they part company (Clark has to attend the TVA Broadcast Journalism Banquet with Lana).  Vartox falls to his knees… lamenting his (ongoing) mental instability.

Later, at the Banquet… a shadowy man informs a security guard that he is… Clark Kent.  Only thing is, Clark’s already checked in!  The guard gives chase… and hurls the impostor out of the building.

We wrap up with yet another uninvited arrival… Vartox!  And he’s got no time for a simple security guard.

Another Vartox story… another brush with psychopathy.  Dude’s surely losin’ it, right?

Let’s do some “Chris’ hot take” here.  If I were a betting man (which I’m not… I am a “guessing man” though)… I’d guess that the Clark Kent inside the Banquet is the impostor, and the real deal was the one who got chucked out of the building.

From what we know of Vartox… he does have a “hyper-body”, right?  Could it be that the Prowler/Stalker/Creep is actually Vartox’s hyper-body?  Could his appearing as Clark Kent (if the first part of my “hot take” is right) be the result of a “hyper-hypnotic illusion”?  See, we’ve read all the pre-reqs… we might be ahead of the game here!  I’m almost proud of us!  Keeping in mind, my last “hot take” was completely off the mark.  Maybe this one will fare better.

Let’s talk about a few key points from the issue.  The Stalker scene managed to be both horrifyingly creepy… and also, sorta humorous!  Dude kissing Lana (via television set) then freaking out when it switched to a chicken commercial… that’s sorta funny, right?  The Prowler (assuming it’s the same guy?) being all polite to the old lady while he was stomping through her pad… also, kinda funny.  Jimmy not being completely skeeved out by Lana’s secret admirer?  Sorta funny… but also, a bit tragic due to Jimmy’s sheer stupidity.

Probably the biggest bit from this issue though… Vartox’s hairline!  I wonder if they just chucked the whole Connery-connection at this point… or, if they just wanted him to look a bit younger.  Either way, I gotta say… it’s a better look for him!

Overall… I’m intrigued!  Vartox slipping in and out of vengeful madness is certainly getting a bit old, but… I guess that’s just his character at this point.  Still though, it feels quite a bit fresher than the last time.  The added element of the Clark/Lana romance raises the stakes… and, I’m actually a bit excited to see how this one plays out.  Worth checking out… but, since DC won’t make any of these pre-Crisis Vartox stories available digitally… you’re going to be digging through the trenches for it!

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