I’m going to start with a shameless plug for my show as this, after all is America. On my podcast I’m often referred to as the “Comics Curmudgeon”. Why? I like to think I’m soft, cuddly and ooze positive vibes but when it comes to reviews, I do tend to hand out more clown shoes than crowns. So, it’s a moniker I begrudgingly accept.
On our most recent episode we reviewed the long forgotten Action Comics #565 from DC. Cover dated March 1985. This issue got me giddy (remember, this is a rarity) while my co-host would rather endured torture than read it ever again. I think some stories truly fit the old adage “It’s so bad it’s good” and deserve some respect. I intend to make my case to you, the fine folk reading this back issue review…eventually.
“Ambush Bug is poised to please, off to a good start!”
Action Comics is a Superman title, but this book has the added benefit of an Ambush Bug back up tale. So we are graced with a Keith Giffen rendition of DC’s Trinity with A.B. rocking some vaudevillian garb. Not sure if it’s to imply the humorous nature of the character or to distract us from Batman’s seemingly sentient cape. I love Giffen’s style as much as the next guy but I can’t imagine where that idea came from.
The main story is entitled “The Wizard City Warrior”, written by Mort Todd with art by Kurt Schaffenberger. Throughout this review we will be weaving in and out of some serious cheese, so it’s a little unexpected how accomplished both these creators are.
We’ll start with Schaffenberger who lent his artistic talents to many DC golden and silver aged titles including “Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane” and worked for the company for 30 years. Briefly leaving after organizing protests over treatment of artists by the publisher. That my friends is some serious badassery. People recall the Image founders fighting for their right to party but talents like Schaffenberger were demanding better working conditions when rocking a pair of nipple high Hounds Tooth was the cat’s meow.
“I said HIGHER WAGES not high hem you bastards!”
Mort Todd has written for all the big boys, was the EIC of Cracked Magazine in the 80’s, launched the Marvel Music line, has worked in Film, Television and owns media companies ComicFix and Station A. I can only assume the man sleeps with is eyes open as his resume is more jam packed than Clark Griswold’s Christmas lights.
The beginning of this yarn starts like many other classics as we open on a couple of “prison escapees” named Dexter and Vedders who are creeping around the jungles of a fictional African nation named “Kurtiswana”. They are are in search of the ruins of the Magic City, which despite ominous amounts rain, thunder and lightning isn’t hard to find as it is located on the 4th panel. Let’s leave our villains behind for a bit as I want to discuss some of Superman’s odd behavior displayed right out of the gate.
Superman has no regards for human life. Yes, it’s true. The Blue Boy Scout is often depicted doing whatever it takes to protect the denizens of his adopted home world. That is unless, your a window washer. I have a feeling this is one of the more dangerous professions to have in the DCU with a bevy of costumed crusaders whizzing by and only having a squeegee to defend yourself. In this case, Supes was in a rush to give his pal Jimmy Olsen some memorabilia for his fan club. A trinket that looks like something Superman received for cashing in his tickets after a Skee-Ball marathon at the Metropolis Arcade. This leads me to believe Kal-El is a Kryptonian name that translates to “self absorbed dick”.
“3-D Vidmovies were all the rage at the 1985 Frannes Film Festival”
We then come to find Jimmy is furious with editor Perry White over his assignment to cover a “Lost City” in Kurtiswana rather than the Cann…er…I mean “Frannes” Film Festival because you know the readers of the Daily Planet demand articles about myths and legends rather than what’s actually taking place in the world.
Jimmy is still hot over this news and discovers Clark chilling at his desk. Clark proves to be just as inconsiderate as his alter ego cancelling his lunch plans with Jimmy and his dad, retired Archeologist Mark Olsen last minute. Although, who can blame him as Mark looks exactly like his son with a beard. Hard not to be annoyed by all those freckles while enjoying a Cobb salad.
“Yes, I’m your dad AND your twin from an alternate dimension. Banjo anyone?”
Don’t just sit there thinking this story is all fluff. It tackles an important issue that affects us all, Pollution. The poisons in our soil and the air we breathe is some serious stuff and as human beings should strive to clean up the Earth. Luckily for Superman, he’s not human. Sure, he has the technology to solve the problem but feels our race isn’t ready for his jelly. Sorry, all this smog is making me sneeze…Ah…Ahhh…Asshole!
“I blow out miniature versions of myself to help spread my bullshit. How’s that for pollution!”
What good is an old fashioned story without a bank robbery? None, I tell ya! Because I demanded it 32 years in the future, we have a baddie that looks like a bootleg Shogun Warriors action figure (Hey, we are talking about a book from the 80’s here!) doing just that. While Supes could give a damn about our environment, how fucking dare you melt a bank vault door in MY city! We get the obligatory battle but much to his surprise Superman is getting his ass handed to him. Well deserved if you ask me or the window washer.
“Knuckle Rays for days Sucka!”
Ever the egomaniac, our hero is left wondering how could he have taken a pounding by such a foolishly garbed foe? The only conclusion he can muster is “I’ve been fighting another survivor of my native planet!” Yeah that place that blew up despite having all that glorious tech us feeble earthlings can’t handle.
Let’s not forget Jimmy Olsen who made his way to Kurtiswana only to be promptly welcomed by a rock slide. Missing for several days, his doppelganger/Dad, Mark becomes worried. Rather than alert the authorities of his son’s disappearance, he decides to chat up Clark Kent revealing that Kurtiswana is the home to (insert dramatic music) The Magic City! Strangely, Clark realizes he had forgotten all the details about the Magic City despite it being an exiled chunk of Krypton and a nifty flashback sequence of his escapades there from a previous issue. This also proves to be an opportune time to connect Vedders from the opening sequence as the antagonist from his past exploits. It’s actually an armory full of powerful weapons..blah blah, you get the drill. Cue Superman swooping out of an open window.
As with any good plot or even in traces of bad ones such as this, it turns out there’s more to our scoundrel with no sense of style. He’s revealed to be Dexter, the other weirdo that was wandering around the rainy jungle with Vedders. Like a scene ripped from the movie Scarface, he shows up at his estranged Mothers house with cash in hand looking to make good for being a crummy son. I wonder though if she’s truly to blame for the man being a miscreant as she decides chasing him off with a hot iron is a good idea. Let that sink in, a HOT iron. Imagine how your life may have turned out if every time you misbehaved your cheeks resembled a crisp Panini sandwich.
“I got your starch right here, ya little weasel!”
Keeping with the theme of sweet duds, Superman decided to stop off at the Fortress of Solitude to snag a “Lead-Glass” suit as to counter the Kryptonite that serves as the Magic City’s bedrock. He also reflects on how the planet was destroyed thanks to “It’s technological heritage” being used for “selfish and destructive purposes”. Here we go again with this guy. Just give us the “Protect the Ozone laser thingy majiggy” and shaddup already!
Upon entering the armory he finds Jimmy strung up and Vedder unconscious under a pile of debris. In another move, typical of his personality in this script, he decides that Jimmy is more deserving of rescue.
“Bro’s before Ho’s..and crushed internal organs.”
Of course this proves to be a trap. The “Spectrum Beams” are harmless to humans but devastating to Ol’ Curly Cue Hairdo. What do you expect from a hero who comes prepared with a Kryptonite proof outfit but insists underwear on the outside of your pajamas is where it’s at.
The Man of Steel turns to The Man of Mush and gets pummeled yet again. It’s cool though as a true star emerges. We learn that Jimmy is strong enough to dead lift Supes like a newlywed carrying his bride across the threshold of a love nest.
“Superman located his long lost Cat, Mr.Snugglepumps”
And what pray tell is Superman pointing at? What can save his life? It’s ok, I’ll give you a minute to think about it… If your answer wasn’t a Catapult, your obviously a fool as nothing is more rejuvenating than being flung into the air at high speeds. Remember that next time you have the flu. Screw medicine, just hop on the Teacup ride at your local Carnival.
“Hey there bystanders, umm..don’t run or nothing. Just admire the grenade belt.”
Ding! Ding! Time for Round Three fight fans! No shocker here as the Metropolis Marvel wins the day but how he does it is the deft part. While Dexter reveals his nefarious plot to blow up the world, Supes overhears Lana Lang say “A plan better crystallize in his mind or we are all doomed!” during her news broadcast. Crystallize! Oh, Mort Todd, you sly dog! I didn’t give you enough credit. That holographic trinket we saw at the jump was worth more than it’s weight in skee-ball tokens after all. It projected an image of wrestlers! The Beatles once sang “All you need is Love” but obviously when dealing with an armored atrocity all you need is a figure four leg lock.
“If only Koko B. Ware lived in Metropolis, we never would have had this problem.”
So all’s well that end’s well. The world is saved, Superman is free to go back and be a douche nozzle soaring the skies. No better way to end an awe-inspiring adventure. Well, unless you include a sad old lady ironing her few remaining days away.
“We come full circle as Superman buries his filthy non biodegradable city in OUR planet.”
The back up story is an Ambush Bug ditty by Keith Giffen. It’s only eight pages and is a teaser for the mini series but people tend to forget something about the creator that deserves some due. A lot of folks like anti- heroes such as Deadpool for cracking wise and breaking down the fourth wall. During his career Giffen has been at the forefront of highly entertaining and humorous comics. Without him, other writers wouldn’t have had the blue print on doing it successfully. Hats off for that.
Now that I’ve summarized this bad boy, I promised I would make my case. I just pooped all over the comic yet I’m here to defend it. How can this be possible?
Easy. Look at when it was released. Pre-Crisis, early ’85.This wasn’t for adults. I’m not saying there weren’t mature books available but DC really got their gritty on in ’86. Regardless of it’s cover date, this definitely has the look and feel of silver age feature.
Action Comics #565 was a perfectly scripted Saturday morning cartoon for the time period. Some of you whippersnappers don’t recall the days of spinner racks or newsstand comics. I’m not trying to get all “Get off my lawn” with you but I’d be lying if this doesn’t bring back some great memories.
Prior to family road trips or just to keep me quiet in a restaurant, my mother would grab a MAD mag or random comic book to entertain my young mind. It got me into reading and helped my imagination blossom. Had this been one of the stories she handed me, I would have considered it two staple gold. No doubt about it.
This one it had it all. Throw downs, ridiculous scenarios galore and what kid didn’t want to see Superman triumphant over a gaudy goon in four color fashion! Here’s a story you we could show our kids today, all these years later and it’s still going to have a cool factor. Despite all the birdcages that were lined with this issue, it’s timeless.
Hell, even as an adult, while impossible to take seriously, It’s a nostalgic nugget. Give it a shot, It may bring back some fond sentiments for you as well. Worse case scenario, you will get a chuckle or two out of it.
So “Comics Curmudgeon” or no, I still got a soft spot for the oldies…and Superman will always be a jerk.
David Schultz is the creator and co-host of the Parlipod Podcast. You can harass him on Twitter by following @parlipod. To listen to the show, visit www.soundcloud.com/parlipod or on the GWW Network at thegww.com
*Information on the talents behind the story were found on Wikipedia as I’ve never had the pleasure of sharing a cold one with them. All images used in this article are rights DC Comics or their respective owners*