Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things That Make Me Smile--Superman #330

Mom, can I have more allowence? The Spellbinder is back!!This is my favorite Superman comic of all time.

OK, OK, it isn't. And it's not even a particularly good comic, at that. Horrendous cover, lame villain, the odd '70s DC pseudo-science, and talky, talky talky.

But the thing is, this issue represented a small step forward for DC, albeit a baby one. You see, people speak about the "Silver Age" and "Bronze Age" as if they were monolithic eras that applied to all comics, or even all comic companies, uniformly.

But Marvel was Bronze-aging it long before DC was; DC had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 1970s (with some obvious exceptions, such as Green Lantern/Green Arrow). For most of their books, the DC editorial staff's sole concession to being more "modern" was merely to be less completely batshit insane than the '60s, without actually improving the subject matter, and thus, becoming more boring.

But this Superman story showed a glimmer of self-awareness, some ability to look at itself in a meta and self-referential way, that DC hadn't often shown before. Hence, I LOVE this story (even if it is boring as all hell).

What's the first thing that every hack comedian, movie critic, or wise-ass says about Superman? "How come nobody recognizes him as Clark Kent? It's just a pair of glasses!!" Yes, it is a valid point (although no more valid than wondering how a domino mask would hide Robin or Green Lantern's identity). But DC never chose to acknowledge the objection. Until this issue!!

Clark finally realizes his Smallville disguise doesn't play uptownIn this script by Marty Pasko ("based on a story concept by Al Schroeder III"!!), we start with Clark asking himself the same damned question!! Wait a minute? A DC hero in 1978 questioning his status quo?? After 40 years?? In a Julie Schwartz book?!?! Wha...?!?

Clark ponders this conundrum as Metropolis is menaced by the Spellbinder, a re-tread one-shot Batman villain from a decade earlier. He's hypnotizing Metropolis citizens into committing crimes for him. So Kal-El takes to the airwaves with gaint-flying TV sets, and uses his powers of super-hypnosis to make them able to resist the villain.

Wow, how exactly did that belt buckle get so polished, Kal?

Metroplois--bored by Superman's schtickLater, while he's changing back to Clark Kent, he's caught dressing:

Jokes about Clark being 'caught red handed' are suspended in the holiday spiritStrangely enough, though, it doesn't go as you'd expect:

Insane in the membrane, Clark

Lana Lang turns BritishWTF? Well, in 19,567 expository panels, we learn that people actually physically see Clark Kent differently than the Man of Steel. He gets the Planet court artist to whip up some sketches:

Clark had better get on the Rogaine programWhich inevitably leads to the conclusion:

Ummm, OKBut that couldn't work, except:

zzzzzzzAs you may recall, Clark had to make his glasses from the window of the Kryptonian rocket that took him to Earth, because simple Earth glasses always melted when he used his heat vision. So, ipso facto:

You're repeating yourself, ClarkAnd so when Superman super-hypnotized everyone to resist hypnosis, he inadvertently ended (albeit temporarily) the effect that made his Clark Kent disguise work!! Brilliant!!

Now, I shouldn't oversell this story: it's not as if Jimmy Olsen started using heroine or Lois Lane died. But back in the halcyon days of 1978, it was quite the revelation to see DC actually analyze any of their set-ups "realistically," or to seriously answer fan questions rather than dismissing them in a glib letter column response. I mean, the Al Schroeder III who submitted the story concept must have been a fan submitting a story or suggesting one in a letter, right? Actually, yes--here's his homepage, where he's doing online comics these days, and describing himself as a "letterhack" who "met his wife on Julius Schwatrz' Superman letter column!" Damn, I love the internet!

Anyhoo, I don't know that this story was ever mentioned again, or if they picked up the concept post-Crisis. But next time you hear some idiot roll out the hackneyed "How can glasses disguise Superman?" line, just smack 'em down with, "They answered that 30 years ago, schmuck--get some new material!!"


Michael May said...

Wow, I'd forgotten all about that comic, but I read it as a kid. Thanks for the nostalgia!

Unknown said...

This is so cool.

Al Schroeder said...

Thanks for the kind words about my idea! (And thanks to the departed Julie, to Marty, and the departed Curt for taking a chance on that idea.)