Superman #391 (1984)

Superman #391 (January, 1984)
“Who Stole the Newswoman of the Year!”
Writers – Cary Bates & Elliot S! Maggin
Pencils – Curt Swan
Inks – Dave Hunt
Letters – Ben Oda
Colors – Tony Tollin
Editor – Julius Schwartz
Cover Price: $0.75

Happy Left-Hander’s Day (those who celebrate)!  I am, in fact, a left-hander… though you could probably tell that from all of the digital ink and lead I smear across this blog.

If you’re a lefty… have a great one!  Try and curse a little bit less today while you’re using all of those items in your house that were clearly made for people of the other paw-persuasion!

Ya know who most likely ain’t a lefty?  Vartox.

Picking up right where we left off last issue, Lana and Clark are at the TVA Banquet… and the former has just been called up to the podium to accept her 1984 Newsperson of the Year Award!  Just then, Vartox storms in… causes a scene, and hoists Clark Kent over his head.  He refers to him as “Superman”, however Clark’s uh, “super-suction” saw to it that nobody heard it!  Worth noting that the entire crowd did hear Vartox mention a “pot-bellied Kryptonian harlequin” (a great go-to insult if ever I heard one) though.

Var then strikes that “Al Bundy” pose and hurls Clark through the window just as the police arrive… something the main man finds rather amusing.

As he “plummets” Clark finagles his way into being rolled up in the TVA banner with “body English”… ya know, as to explain why he won’t wind up street pizza.  The banner will wind up landing in a tree.  Inside, after dealing with the officers, Vartox storms the stage.

He hoists Lana aloft… and the pair vanish just as Superman arrives!

Unexpectedly, Vartox has left a parting shot at the TVA Banquet… in the form of an ever-expanding star full of photon energy!  Superman grabs it… but it continues to grow and grow.  He winds up taking it into space and depositing it there.  He returns to the tree where the Clark Kent banner burrito would be discovered just in the nick of time.

We shift scenes to Lana’s creepy stalker.  He’s watching the WGBS Evening News… and is surprised (and annoyed) to see Clark Kent going solo.  When it’s reported that Lana has been kidnapped by her former fiance Vartox… the stalker hurls a pillow at the set.

He then heads into the next room over, where we find… Lana Lang?!  Okay, it’s very clearly a dummy.

Later on, Clark dines with Lois, Jimmy, and some dude who asked for “the Jericho” at the salon earlier that day.  Lois is going on about how for Superman to allow Lana to be taken, he’s surely “lost a step”.  This triggers some introspection for Clark… could it be, Lois is right?!

Back with Vartox, he’s headed to the Fortress of Solitude so he can fully study Superman… his history, his powers, all that jazz.  Ya know, stuff we were pretty sure he’d already know!

After filling his head full of knowledge, he returns to the… uh, active volcano where he left Lana Lang.  Good thing he does too!  Lana’s just about to take her final dip in the molten drink!  It’s here that Lana notices that Vartox isn’t just acting erratically and begins to smell a rat.

Back to the creep.  He’s reading a newspaper from his vast collection of newspapers… one with the headline reading “Vartox-Lana Lang Marriage Off”.  He wonders how he might measure up against Vartox… then kisses his Lana dummy and leaves the room.  Um, that right there pal… if you really wanna pursue Lana, you might wanna deep-six the love-doll.

The next morning, the creepy stalker walks past a bank… head full of thoughts and dreams of besting Vartox and claiming Lana.  He doesn’t even realize that the bank is currently being robbed!  What’s more, he doesn’t even realize that he’s walked into the path of the getaway car!

Lucky for him… despite what one Lois Lane might think, Superman hasn’t actually “lost a step”.

Then, the creepy stalker, whose life Superman just saved… lays into him for not rescuing Lana Lang!  He just goes on and on… with even Superman realizing what a knob this dude is.

Back at the volcano, Lana continues to yell at Vartox… when he begins to vanish!  She assumes it’s a brand new (hyper) power, and sarcastically congratulates him.  Then, by the odd way Vartox continues to refer to himself, she deduces that… this probably ain’t Vartox at all!

We shift scenes to Superman’s arrival at the Fortress of Solitude.  He finds the mess Vartox had made there… and uses his x-ray vision to scan the damage.  He finds a pattern amid the carnage and discovers that Vartox had been busy trying to learn everything he could about the Pot-Bellied Kryptonian Harlequin.  This strikes him as odd… because, ya know… by this point, Superman and Vartox are old pals… and Vartox really ought to already know all of this stuff!

Later still, an alien Law Enforcement Agent from the Sixth Western Cluster Precinct arrives on Earth.  He is greeted by Superman, and after showing his credentials, begins to explain that a dangerous Dybbuk alien known as Srakka has broken out of confinement and has fled toward Earth.

The Agent (Goopel) then informs Superman that Srakka can take possession of super-humans… and I’ll give ya three guesses who he’s believed to have taken over!  “Superman” then shifts into his Vartox form… and lunges for the agent!

And fries him!  Knowing that the Vartox “husk” won’t last much longer… Srakka-tox heads off in search of a new host… Superman!

Welp… I really gotta quit it with the “hot takes” because I’m not sure I could’ve called this one more wrong if I tried!  I suppose I’m prone to overthinking things… and neglectful that so often these stories (especially of an earlier vintage) normally resort to what we might call Comics Occam’s Razor.  That’s not a term I use often… as most times I see it online, it’s being used by someone who wants to appear more intelligent than they are.  It’s like the “Schrodinger’s Cat” and “Schadenfreude” of the 2010’s!

But… there’s really no other way I can describe this one.  It turned out to be the simplest solution… with a comic book twist.  It was Clark at the banquet… it was “Vartox” storming in… there were no callbacks to once-mentioned “hyper-powers”.  It’s just a possession story.  Now, that’s not a bad thing… it’s just (clearly) not what I was expecting.

For what it is… it’s not half bad.  I appreciate both Superman and Lana having to peel back the layers of Srakka’s “cover”… noting mannerisms, behaviors, and even vocal tics as a means of deducing that this fella likely ain’t the same Vartox they (and we) know and love.

The creepy stalker scenes were… well, just that… creepy.  We saw dude’s shrine to Lana last issue… and now we come to find that he has a life-size doll of her… that he speaks to… and kisses… and Lord knows what else!  I’m going to assume that he was the “Clark Kent” who got the boot from the TVA Banquet last issue.

What I wasn’t so keen on… and this is no fault of the story, just my own personal preference, stemming from where my fandom began… Lois being so quick to dismiss Superman as either having “lost a step” or just “getting bored” in his role.  That really doesn’t sound like Lois to me.  This late-Bronze Age Lois is a toughie for me… she’s so disconnected and aloof.  I haven’t seen any of the Superman films, I can only wonder/assume this might be a take on that?

Overall… I’m not as compelled as I was yesterday, but I’m still really digging this.  Definitely worth a look… and a bin-dive.

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