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Thursday, 30 November 2017

DC Comics Presents 24 - Superman has no idea he is teaming up with Deadman

Len Wein and Garcia-Lopez turn in a great story in DC Comics Presents 24 (Aug 80), which serves as an epilogue to Deadman's run in Adventure Comics.

This story even has a number of panels that flash back to Deadman's final tale, in which he tried to help an old man whose son was working for gangsters. It's a great, very sad piece, which concludes with the old man getting killed. Deadman is still traumatized by his part in it, and wants to give up the ghost, so to speak, and just be allowed to be dead. Rama Kushna has no intention of allowing that, and moves Deadman around, getting him involved in Superman's latest case.

It has to do with a scientist who is dying, and who tried to preserve his life by linking his heart with the core of the Earth. But instead of extending his life, he is now giving the entire planet a heart attack. The guy has a daughter, who has a skeezy boyfriend, who has mob links. The mob boss gets involved, thinking the process could give him immortality.

Superman never actually realizes that he is working with Deadman on this case, even though the ghost possesses him at one point, as seen on the cover. There is enough chaos going on for Superman to deal with. The mob boss dies, but by that point it looks like the whole planet is about to be destroyed as well.

Superman flies down into the Earth's core to stabilize it, while Deadman enters the body of the dying scientist, and by fighting death, keeps him alive. Great art by Garcia-Lopez throughout this tale, which ends with Deadman back to accepting his eternal mission for Rama Kushna.

Deadman returns the following year in Detective 500.

DC Comics Presents 23 - Superman and Dr Fate fight a pirate

O'Neil, Staton and Vince Colletta share a dimension hopping tale in DC Comics Presents 23 (July 1980), bringing together Superman and Dr Fate.

The story opens on Earth-2, as Kent Nelson becomes Dr Fate in order to aid his wife, Inza, whose face is transforming, the result of a curse on one of her ancestors, a pirate. The pirate disappeared from history, but the only way Fate can undo the curse on his wife is to find the pirate and remove the curse from him.

Meanwhile, on Earth-1, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are interviewing a scientist who is working on a way to prove that matter is sentient. He doesn't prove that, but he does wind up breaching the barrier to Earth-2, and brings through Inza's pirate ancestor and his ship.

Superman goes into action against the flying pirate ship, but it turns out that the captain, Hawkins, has been given a mystical aura, which nullifies Superman's powers. Superman winds up turned into a galley slave.

Dr Fate follows the mystical trail to Captain Hawkins, and while crossing the barrier between the dimensions encounters El Muchacho, and evil imp, and the one who placed both the curse on the captain, and the magical aura as well. 

But once Fate makes it through the Earth-1 the resolution proves fairly simple. Fate is able to remove the aura, and then Superman has no trouble defeating the captain. Fate catches El Muchacho as well, and removes the curse on Inza.

It's not a bad story, but also not a stand out one. Dr Fate had last been seen a few months earlier in the Brave and the Bold, and returns a few months down the road in the yearly JLA/JSA crossover.

DC Comics Presents 22 - Superman cures Captain Comet

I recall being so excited by DC Comics Presents 22 (June 1980) when I saw it on the newsstand. Captain Comet had not appeared since the cancellation of Secret Society of Super-Villains, and the Garcia-Lopez cover promised a great return story. To be honest, the Mike W Barr, Dick Dillin and Frank McLaughlin story isn't bad, but it also didn't live up to my expectations.

The set up is similar to that from the previous issue. Captain Comet finds himself turning into an actual comet, and turns to Superman for help. He explains how he was born while a comet passed overhead. This story attributes Captain Comet's powers to that, rather than to his mutant birth. Comet needs to be exposed to the comet once again to stabilize his situation.

But there is another man they must face, Starstriker. He was born at the exact same time as Captain Comet, but the comet did not pass over his birth place. Now he wants to gain the powers that Comet has, but use them to conquer the world.

Superman loses his powers after Starstriker gains his, but he cannot figure out how this was done. It turns out that Captain Comet could have been doing the same thing all along, as Starstriker is using the mental abilities he gained to block Superman's brain from accessing his powers. Comet is able to undo the block, and together they prevent Starstriker from attacking the Earth with comets. Captain Comet then takes the villain down. He had been using all his mental powers for attack, leaving him defenseless. The best thing about this tale is that it shows just how powerful a hero Captain Comet could be. But it seems not to have sparked anyone's interest, as Comet is not seen again until Crisis on Infinite Earths.

DC Comics Presents 21 - Superman cures the Elongated Man

Superman teams up with his Justice League buddy the Elongated Man in a Conway, Staton and Chiaramonte tale in DC Comics Presents 21 (May 1980).

The story begins as a plague stricken Elongated Man shows up at the Daily Planet. Clark Kent switches to Superman and zips the Elongated Man off to the Fortress of Solitude. They have a brief tussle there, as seen on the cover, as the Elongated Man writhes in pain.

Superman finds a cure for his friend, and then Ralph Dibny explains how he and his wife Sue entered a New England town on their travels, the place where the plague is spreading from. Sue has fallen victim to it as well.

The neatest thing in the story is that the plague is actually an invasion. Aliens working for "the masters" infect those on a planet they wish to conquer. The disease transforms its victims into the aliens, and makes them slaves of the masters. Superman cures everyone, and then sets out to find the masters. The closing caption implies that this will play out in the next issue, although that is not the case.

DC Comics Presents 20 - Superman and Green Arrow and the burning water

Garcia-Lopez and Joe Giella join O'Neil for the Superman/Green Arrow team up in DC Comics Presents 20 (April 1980).

Garcia-Lopez slightly redesigns Green Arrow's costume in this issue, although Dinah Lance gets the credit for doing so. The new costume will continue to appear in Green Arrow's strip in World's Finest Comics. Green Arrow stops a murder, and investigating the crime leads him to a Texas millionaire.

The man has discovered that a geyser on his land emits water which is flammable, and which could be used as fuel. O'Neil seems to want to be making some comment on our reliance on oil, but exactly what the commentary is is far from clear. The one thing that makes this tale entertaining is the art.

Superman gets onto the case late, giving Green Arrow most of the action, though he does show up in time to save his friend from the geyser, as seen on the cover. In the end Green Arrow defeats the killer millionaire. The geyser gets all used up during the course of the story, so there is none of the special water left at the end.

DC Comics Presents 19 - Superman and Batgirl in a haunted house

The O'Neil, Staton and Chiaramonte story from DC Comics Presents 19 (March 1980) would never have been my favourite story, but it would have been more enjoyable had the cover not shown the big ending.

The story centres around an old mansion that appears mysteriously in the desert. An old man happens to be wandering by at the time this takes place, and he moves in.

News media come to report on the strange house, supposedly haunted. That explains Clark Kent's presence. Barbara Gordon's is a bit harder to explain. Mention is made of her no longer being in Congress, as per recent events in her series in Detective Comics, but this is tossed off as a vacation she is taking. There is lots of spooky stuff, and all the guests wind up turning on each other and trying to kill each other. Batgirl spends her part of the tale preventing this.

Superman winds up entering another realm, and conversing with Doctor Horus, the hawk-headed scientist (who used to look human), who sent the house into the other realm for a century, before bringing it back to Earth. The crux of the tale depends on figuring out where Horus is. The strange obelisk in the centre of the house probably would have been an easy guess, even if the cover had not given it away.

But for me the most disappointing element of the tale is that it does not pick up at all on the romance plot from Superman's first team up with Batgirl, back in the early 70s. Kept hoping for that to return, but it never did.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

DC Comics Presents 18 - Superman gains Zatanna's magic

Conway, Dillin and Chiaramonte bring together Superman and Zatanna in DC Comics Presents 18 (Feb 80).

Superman and Zatanna are separately pursuing different goals at the top of the story. Superman is in his Fortress of Solitude, trying to find a way to immunize himself against magic. Zatanna, and her father Zatara, are working on accessing a mystical realm that exists parallel to Earth. Superman's machine interacts with Zatanna's spell, and both suffer a major backlash. Zatanna winds up losing her powers, while Superman gains magical abilities, which he is unable to control.

All the magic is being drained from the mystical dimension, threatening the lives of the inhabitants. It is winding up on Earth, and running wild. A failed stage magician makes the most of the situation, wielding the magic with more confidence than others.

With Zatanna guiding him, Superman is able to use his magic to reverse the situation, sending the magic back to the mystical dimension, and removing the power from the stage magician. This also returns Zatanna's powers.

Not bad, but not stand out either. Zatara is not seen again until Crisis on Infinite Earths.

DC Comics Presents 17 - Superman and Firestorm vs Killer Frost

After a few mediocre issues, DC Comics Presents 17 (Jan 80) kicks back into high gear, as Gerry Conway, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Steve Mitchell bring back Firestorm, and force him to fight Superman.

Conway had created Firestorm, and scripted his brief solo run, so it's hardly surprising that this story does a very creditable job bringing the hero back. Superman joins some scientists from STAR Labs, who want to autopsy Killer Frost. Martin Stein, who we learn has lost his job and is now widely considered a crackpot, begs them not to revive Frost, but no one listens to him. Superman uses his heat vision to thaw out Killer Frost, who immediately kills the scientists, and uses her cold-kiss to take control of Superman's mind.

Stein sees all of this happen, and begins to freak out. Ronnie Raymond, in the middle of a basketball game, feels Stein's dismay through his connection with the man. Ronnie's girlfriend, Doreen Day, and rival, Cliff Carmichael, get cameos as Ronnie runs off and merges with Stein, once again becoming Firestorm.

Firestorm has his hands full trying to take on Superman. All he can really do is stay alive. Martin Stein's consciousness tells Firestorm to dive down into the Earth's core. Superman follows, but the intense heat melts through Killer Frost's effect, and frees Superman from her control. Then its a fairly simple process to freeze Killer Frost again, using a combination of Superman's cold breath and Firestorm creating a chamber to keep her sealed up.

In the epilogue, Superman asks Firestorm why he disappeared for a while. I really like that the abrupt cancellation of his book is handled as the hero going into retirement. Ronnie explains that he wasn't sure he was really cut out to be Firestorm, although he does not tell Superman about his two identities, and the problems Martin Stein is facing, which probably had something to do with it as well. Superman is so impressed with the hero, and his answer, that he asks Firestorm if he wants to become a member of the Justice League.

Before this issue came out I thought we would never likely see Firestorm again, his book had had such a short run. I was so excited to see him back in this story, and crazy thrilled about the Justice League membership, even though it would take about six months before Firestorm actually shows up in JLA. Killer Frost makes her next appearance in that book as well, two years down the road, as a member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains.

DC Comics Presents 16 - Superman aids Black Lightning

Denny O'Neil scripts the Staton and Chiaramonte story from DC Comics Presents 16 (Dec 79), which I also do not care much for. In general, I prefer the stories in which Superman needs the help of the other hero in the team up. In this tale, Black Lightning, who at this time had his own series in World's Finest Comics, needs Superman's help. When that happens, Superman just tends to take over the story.

The story begins simply enough, with Black Lightning stopping a mugging on a subway train. A girl gets shot during the melee, and the train winds up going off the track. Superman saves the car, so already Black Lightning is winding up second string.

The girl who got shot had a boyfriend, a student of Jefferson Pierce. Switching to his normal identity, Black Lightning goes to check on the boy, but finds the kid has turned into a caveman type creature, who attacks Lightning.

The boy changes to a giant pterodactyl, and then into an energy being. Black Lightning has no idea how to deal with this creature, so calls on Superman for help. From that point on, this may as well just be a Superman story.

The shape changing boy turns out to be an alien life form trapped on Earth by gravity, who is all enraged now that the girl he loves is dead. Superman brings the creature back into space, where he is able to travel back home.

Even though he really didn't do anything that impressive in this outing, shortly after this tale Black Lightning gets offered membership in the Justice League of America, as seen in that book.

DC Comics Presents 15 - Superman helps the Atom

Cary Bates, Joe Staton and Frank Chiaramonte turn in the Superman/Atom team-up in DC Comics Presents 15 (Nov 79), a real let down after the past couple of issues.

The Atom comes up to the Justice League satellite, but as his Ray Palmer self. He explains to Superman that he has had nightmares about being crushed when shrinking to become the Atom, and as a result is no longer able to take on his superhero identity. Ray's wife, Jean Loring, seems fine with him ending his career, but Superman is sure he can help the hero. He calls Batman in to do monitor duty, and brings Ray to his Fortress of Solitude.

At the Fortress Superman runs some tests on the Atom, who gets into costume. A mysterious blast sends them hurtling out into the Arctic, and then they have to deal with some alien invaders. The aliens put an aura around Superman, blocking him from absorbing sunlight, to weaken him.

So the Atom has to take the lead in fighting the aliens. Along the way, the Atom also figures out that Superman secretly used his shrink ray on both of them, and the Atom has been operating at his smaller size all along. This was Superman's plan, to make the Atom confident in using his powers. Superman even exaggerated his own weakness so that the Atom could save the day.

DC Comics Presents 14 - Superman vs Superboy

Levitz, Dillin and Giordano continue with the Pete Ross storyline in DC Comics Presents 14 (Oct 79), as Superman winds up fighting against his younger self.

The story begins with Clark Kent and Lois Lane covering a trial when Superboy bursts in, attacking Clark. Clark quick changes to Superman to fight himself off. Even though he is facing his younger self, Superman can tell that Superboy is not acting like himself. There is some nice quick change stuff to cover his identity, while Superboy takes off.

Superboy returns to capture Superman in kryptonite chains, and also kidnaps his friends, Lois, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and Steve Lombard. Superboy is really Pete Ross, having used an old mind transfer machine Superboy invented, after pulling the younger version of the hero forward in time. Pete, in Superboy's body, makes his case to Superman's friends about the abduction of his son Jon. He wants Superman's friends to agree that Superman should be punished for this, but they refuse to go along with Pete. That's not much of a surprise, but it infuriates the man, who decides to kill them all.

And what about the real Superboy? Well, he is stuck in Pete Ross' body. He rummages through his childhood home, now abandoned, and finds his old dog whistle.

So it turns out to be Krypto who gets to save the day, summoned by the real Superboy, Krypto can tell that the Superboy he is seeing is not the right one, and attacks Pete. Despite all the powers he has in Superboy's body, Pete proves to be a pretty poor fighter.

Superman forces Pete to undergo the mind transfer again, and returns Superboy to his own era. It is not clear exactly what happens to Pete at the end of this story, but a few months down the road we will find out that he gets put into an asylum. In spite of his behaviour in this story, by the end I feel more sorrow for Pete than I did at the end of the last issue.