Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tales From the Vault: ACTION COMICS #313

Hey, kids! It's time for another installment of Tales Form the Vault, the feature where I dip into my stash of back issues and read them for you. It's just like holding the comic in your hands -- only over the internet! Magic.

Today's entry is the ironically titled Action Comics #313, featuring not one but two Silver Age DC "classics." Let's go to the tape!

Details: This bit of timeless nostalgia comes to us from June of 1964. It's really startling to read DC superhero comics from this era, because they are so placid and stale that you really gain an understanding of how Marvel became a cultural phenomenon so quickly. By the time this rote pair of formulaic stories came out, Marvel had already introduced pretty much all of their classic characters and was in the process of weaving them together into a revolutionary shared unvierse that looks even more vibrant when compared to this.

First Story Synopsis: First up we have a tale with art from Al Plastino and a script from... a mystery man. Probably someone trying to protect their reputation by leaving their name off the finished product, which is called "The End of Clark Kent's Secret Identity!" Technically, shouldn't that be "The End of Superman's Secret Identity"? I mean, that's what it says on the cover, so... huh?

Regardless, the story begins with one of those symbolic pages that encapsulates the story within, which begins thusly: Supergirl shows up at the Daily Planet and tells Perry White that Clark is Superman. Clark is aghast and she immediately apologizes, saying she doesn't know what came over her, but Perry agrees to cover for him anyway.

Next, Superman sees Batman (hey, Batman is in this issue, that's cool) sitting inside an armored car protecting some stuff. He flies over and clocks a bunch of thugs waiting to ambush the car, then shows Batman that the car was actually made of balsa wood, making him a sitting duck. Somehow the World's Greatest Detective didn't pick up on the fact that his car was made of wood. Don't these people realize that he's the goddamn Batman?

Anyway, next thing you know, Batman has told Lois Lane that Superman is Clark. Again, like Supergirl, Batman can't believe what he's done, but Lois is pretty much unfazed and also says she'll keep the secret. That's big of her. Two plus decades of trying to prove Clark is Superman and not so much as a blink.

Next up is Jimmy Olsen, who flies with Clark to the Arctic to investigate pirate attacks. That['s where all the best treasure is, after all: the Arctic. Superman finds the pirates' secret lair and defeats them, but suddenly the mermaid Lori Lemaris shows up and reveals Superman's identity to Jimmy. You know, that is one thing Silver Age Superman totally had all over today's version: one of his primary love interests was a mermaid. The post-Crisis version of Lori was just lame.

Back in the story, Superman is shocked at these betrayals, and wonders if his friends are brainwashed. He decides that if they aren't, they should be, so he corrals Jimmy, Lois and Perry and says that he's going to hypnotize them and make them forget about his secret identity. Hey Supes, just ask Dr. Strange to cast a spell over the Earth, that always works for me. Or better yet, get Zatanna to do it. She's pro.

Turns out he should have done one or the other, because not only does the hypnosis not work, but now his friends decide to blackmail him. Instead of giving in, however, he grabs them and heaves them all into the ocean! Wow, we've all wanted to do that to Superman's supporting cast, but I never expected Supes to actually do it himself.

At this point, a flying saucer shows up (naturally) and retrieves Superman's friends and we discover that they are all androids, created by The Android Master, who is working with The Superman Revenge Squad. That's a really cool name for a bunch of really, really lame villains. Superman, of course, had already deduced that all of his friends, including the traitorous ones who had revealed his identity, were androids. He quickly mops up the Revenge Squad and revives Batman from the suspended animation he was in, then makes it look like Clark was among those captured. Once again, his identity is saved!


Second Story Synopsis:
Next up is a Supergirl story called "Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess!" It's pretty illogical and convoluted, meaning it's just like the first story only with twice as much Supergirl, so I'm going to just boil it down to brass tacks. Lena Thorul is a psychic friend of Supergirl's who is trying to get into the FBI. Naturally. As a test assignment they send her to interview Lex Luthor. Unbeknownst to Lena, Lex Luthor is actually... HER BROTHER! Not only that, he's been hiding their connection for years because he loves her and doesn't want her to be shamed by their connection. Okay, didn't see either of those developments coming.

However, being psychic, she discovers this fact by reading his mind during their interview. She goes into shock and develops amnesia. All she knows is something horrible has happened and she has to flee. So she buys a plane ticket to Africa, having apparently just seen Almost Famous. Upon arrival, she grabs the wrong suitcase, which happens to be filled with props for an African jungle movie; the only thing she has to wear is a white zebra skin one-piece bathing suit.

Donning this outfit, she discovers that she can control animals with her psychic powers, so she becomes the Jungle Princess and starts driving off poachers and stuff. During one fight, she is grazed by a bullet and her memory returns. She decides to return to Metropolis but remain in the identity of Jungle Princess so that people won't find out she's Lex Luthor's sister.

Back in the big city, she becomes a circus sensation, drawing huge crowds with her animal tricks. But she freaks out because of the Lex thing, so Supergirl takes her place in the show. Suddenly, Lex breaks out of jail (having earlier been supplied gardening equipment by Supergirl -- just go with it) by genetically engineering a plant to grow into a huge vine for him to climb down. He rushes to the show and presents Lena with a genetically modified plant which emits a gas that causes amnesia. No explanation as to how Luthor could have developed this without developing amnesia himself.

Luckily, if someone gets amnesia when they already have amnesia, it becomes squared; so, once again, then, Lena has no idea of her connection to Luthor but is otherwise her normal self, so Supergirl returns him to jail and Lena joins the FBI.


Extras: Okay, a couple things jump out immediately, but they involve attempting to apply logic to Silver Age DC. And that's just a recipe for madness. Still, you have to winder why the Superman Revenge Squad needs to come up with such a convoluted plan to get their revenge if they already know his secret identity. I mean, i can come up with a dozen better ways to use that knowledge and I'm not even a professional super-villain. They don't have to go all Dr. Light, but surely they can come up with something.

Also, that Supergirl story; just, wow.

My Grades: Overall this gets a B for being an interesting look at the comics world of 1964 and how DC compared (or didn;t compare) to Marvel's rising tide. The actual stories, though, kind of suck; the Superman one gets a C- and the Supergirl one gets a B+ because it sucks in a much more entertaining way.

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