Saturday 3 April 2010

Action Comics #440. Of Superman and Superdog.

Action Comics #440, Superman, Nick CardyMany and varied are the powers of Superman but clearly his greatest is the ability to make you believe you think the opposite of what you actually do think.

My memory is that, as a kid, I never had much time for the Kryptonian clobberer. The big blue cheese was, after all, a bit square, a bit dull, a bit 2D and had far too many powers for the good of dramatic tension.

The odd thing is that, as I've started to rebuild the comic collection I had back then, what's struck me is how many Superman comics I had. I must've had more Superman issues than comics featuring any other hero.

Such a mystery needs reinvestigation. After all, If I was buying them in industrial quantities, there must've been something about them that grabbed me.

But what?

The obvious first answer is the covers. Just as I had a blind spot to my love of Supes, I seem to have had a blind spot to the existence of Nick Cardy. Until I started re-buying these old issues I'd somehow never heard of him.

I had, however, seen his covers.

And you know what?

They were fantastic.

I knew they were fantastic at the time but I never knew they were all by the same man. Now, it seems incredible to me that one artist could have done so many covers to so many comics to so high a standard. I definitely have to put together a post of my Nick Cardy favourites at some point.

But that's for the future.

For now, we'll have to settle for this one, the cover to Action Comics #440. Has there ever been a more potent cover to a comic book? You can practically feel the weight of the world on Superman's shoulders.

But it takes more than just a pretty picture on the front to make you love a comic. What about the contents?

Well, clearly this is the key to it all. It can't have been easy writing Superman in the 1970s. How do you come up with interesting stories about a hero who can basically do anything but whose tales have to be kept fairly light?

As the likes of Cary Bates and Elliot S! Maggin knew, mostly you do it by confronting Superman with a puzzle or mystery that has to be solved and have him think his way to a solution. It's an irony that the way to get the best out of the world's most physically adept super-hero is to get him dealing with problems primarily with his mind.

This issue is a perfect example as Elliot S! Maggin gives us a bunch of crooks who try to get rid of Superman by convincing him the ghosts of his parents are disappointed in him for having gone native and adopting too many Earth customs. All but disowning him, the "ghosts" order him to go and live on another planet. Needless to say, Superman quickly sees through this ruse and turns the villains' own plot against them.

This elegance, I think, is the clue to the strip's appeal. There's no peril here, no danger, just a slight conundrum. It's such a contrast to the ramped-up drama of the average comic book that it can't help but grab you. It's the super-hero equivalent of sitting on the front lawn, on a sunny day, drinking Earl Grey and nibbling cucumber sandwiches.

Meanwhile, in the back-up strip, the Green Lantern and Black Canary stumble across a super-intelligent stray dog with superpowers. Although we're never told it in this story, it doesn't take a genius to work out it's Krypto, Superboy's old dog. But where's he been and why's he lost his memory?

Come to think of it, why hasn't Superman noticed he's missing and gone looking for him? I always felt Kal-El was somewhat neglectful of his cousin Supergirl - putting her in an orphanage the moment she got to Earth - now he's abandoned his dog? maybe it's time the social services had a word with him.

I'm fairly sure this tale features as back-up strip in another issue of Action Comics from around the same time, although, off the top of my head, I'm not sure which one. Was it a mistake? Were they so proud of it they were determined to reprint it? Was there a deadline problem that meant they had to grab the first story at hand and hope no one noticed?

But who cares, these things happen and it's a cute tale beautifully drawn by the mighty Mike Grell who, for a relative novice, seemed to have been given a fair old workload at the time.


Duy Tano said...

I have to say, that is one awesome cover by Cardy.

Steve Does Comics said...

Hi, Duy, it really is, and credit to DC for realising it and leaving the comic's masthead as clear as possible, so we get the full benefit of it.

dbutler16 said...

I agree, that's a pretty powerful cover.