Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Superman, Cain and Quasimodo! Random oddities from the comics of late 1968.

Action #368 and 369 by Otto Binder and Curt Swan reminded me how some of Otto Binder’s Superman Family work resembles his Captain Marvel days. Scenes of cops sitting around the station with nothing to do but count the money that criminals are returning? That feels like a Big Red Cheese Moment. So does Clark having nothing to report on but the winner of a tiddlywinks tournament.

In #368, the Man of Steel returns from space and discovers he’s “The Unemployed Superman” — humanity has reformed and given up evil, even his rogue’s gallery. Natural disasters have stopped. There’s nothing for him to do. Finally he meets the ones responsible, the crystalline alien machines known as the Sentinels. They convince Superman he’s a disruptive force and convince him to self-deport to a red sun world so he can’t ever return home. The thought of retiring and settling down with Lois doesn’t occur to him.

In #369 Superman begins to suspect this is all some kind of trick. He finds a way off the planet, heads home and has it out with the Sentinels. Oops — after he destroys them (not for the first time his No Killing code turns out to have an exemption for intelligent robots) Superman discovers they were on the level; they were even going to restore Kandor to full-size. Earth could have been perfect — and he ruined it!

I get a kick out of the splash page reproducing the cover and debating how it will be explained; I’d have bet on the image being a false flag, as it usually was in those days. Instead, he really did screw up — but only because he and the Sentinels both throw the idiot ball around so much. Why not try talking to Superman (I’ve made this complaint before)? Or sending him to wherever they came from so he can check their bonafides? Why, other than plot convenience, would Superman go ahead and exile himself?

#370 by Cary Bates and Swan was a continuity implant DC abandoned almost immediately: it was that unpopular. I’ve heard such things referred to as Mopee stories — changes so disliked and stupid they’re dropped like a hot potato. In “100 Years, Lost, Strayed or Stolen” Superman discovers the rocket that brought him from Krypton is 100 years old — how is that possible? It turns out he landed in another dimension, grew up there and raised a family, then indirectly triggered a nuclear war. Fortunately his son realizes that de-aging Dad and sending him back into Earth-One’s dimension will rewind time, crisising out the war and letting society re-develop without Superman’s influence.

It makes the story worse to see Stonn (as he’s known there) witness his family thrown into prison by a dictatorship and do nothing to help. That’s a lot more Not My Superman (even conceding he’s non-powered and, so to speak, a different person) than ruining utopia in the previous two issues.

Over at House of Mystery we’re still getting a mix of reprints and new material. In #177, we get a reprint of “Son of the Montross Monster” from #130, with art by Mort Meskin. I can’t help thinking that Joe Orlando’s using Cain’s introduction to mock the vague middle European settings so many of Jack Schiff’s HOM stories took place in.

Not that the new story, “The Curse of the Cat,” is much of an improvement.

Jumping over to Marvel, Captain Mar-Vell’s battle with Quasimodo in Captain Marvel #7 has me scratching my head. The sentient super-computer debuted in Fantastic Four Annual #4, apparently shutting down at the end. Instead the Silver Surfer made him a living being in a later story, discovered the living computer was homicidal and turned him into a statue. When Quasimodo showed up in X-Men #48 at the end, I looked forward to finally learning how he broke the statue effect (I’ve wondered, though not enough to research it).

Too bad the Arnold Drake/Don Heck story, “Die, Town Die” doesn’t tell us.That backstory doesn’t even mention the Surfer, making Quasimodo sound more like DC’s later Construct. As the villain’s doing a soliloquy it’s not like he has anyone to lie to, either. As Heck worked on both stories I wonder if he chose to use Quasimodo (and while I’m not a Heck fan, I dig the crazy big machines in the scene above) and Drake, reading the original story, just made up his own origin. But that’s only a guess.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, Neal Adams, Mort Meskin, John Romita, then Heck.



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