I had a different column in mind for today, but real life intervened.
Yesterday I had an emergency root canal for a cracked molar. It was pretty horrific.
Even pumped full of local anesthetic it still hurt, and there's something terrifying on a visceral level about seeing your dentist reaching in there with pliers and hearing your tooth snap. I will spare you further details except to say that my lifelong phobia about dentists amplified the horror of the experience all the way to eleven. Certainly it's better than the original pain of the cracked tooth, and no shame to Dr. Irene and her able staff, they did great, but ...dentists scare the hell out of me. I'm getting the shakes just typing this.
Today the left side of my face feels like someone stuffed a softball into my cheek and I am forbidden to eat anything more challenging than applesauce. Plus I am full of painkillers, so everything feels like it's on satellite delay.
All this is by way of saying the big long column gets pushed back a week.
But I hate to miss a Friday, so I thought I'd steal a riff from Brian and do a quick Top Five instead. I'm playing through the pain, people!
And speaking of that very thing, these are my personal top five "play through the pain" injured-list superhero stories.
Superman #164: "The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman!"
Today when Superman gets the crap beaten out of him, it's almost routine. But in the Weisinger era, it was something really unheard-of, which is why this story has stuck in my head for thirty-plus years. Luthor baits Superman into facing him "man-to-man" on a red sun planet, stomps him bloody -- seriously, it's a whuppin' -- and then leaves him to die in the desert. Who knew a mad scientist could be so ripped? (Clearly, like many convicts, Luthor's been lifting weights in prison.) The only reason the big guy makes it out alive is because it turns out Luthor needs Superman's help to save the native population of the planet, so Lex grits his teeth and rescues him. Luthor becomes a hero to the planet's citizens and they name the place Lexor in his honor.
This story stuck with me because it's one of the very few I read when I was a kid where it felt like Superman was in real danger. I first read it in an 80-page Giant but you'll find it reprinted in the collection Superman vs. Lex Luthor.
Daredevil #180, "The Damned."
This issue was part of the long sprawling Elektra-DD-Kingpin saga, but it works just fine as a nice little stand-alone story too. Despite an injury to his ankle from the previous issue's bear-trap that's left him on crutches, Daredevil suits up and ventures into the New York sewers to try to find the Kingpin's amnesiac wife, Vanessa. Whereupon he finds a whole underground civilization ruled by a nasty homeless Kingpin-analogue who isn't giving the lady up without a fight. This has been reprinted a bunch of places but the only place it's not abridged is, I think, Daredevil Visionaries - Frank Miller (volume 2.)
Brave and the Bold #100, "Warrior in a Wheelchair."
Batman is gunned down on the street, and with the sniper's bullet lodged next to his heart, Batman has no choice but to remain immobilized in the hospital until a surgical specialist can be flown in. Still, he is determined to bust a big-time heroin dealer, so he calls in not only Robin but the hard-traveling heroes Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary, all of whom have deeply important things to say about youth's need for answers and the poisoning of our city streets. (Bob Haney's scripting here feels like he's trying his best for a Denny O'Neil impression, but it's still got that lunatic Haney vibe. It's a hoot.) And a great art job by Jim Aparo in his prime. A 'relevance'-era classic. You can find it in Showcase Presents Brave and the Bold (volume two.)
The Dark Knight #2, "The Dark Knight Triumphant."
Batman vs. the "Mutants" street gang. Batman's broken arm slows him down for a day or so but in the end, he still hands the Mutant leader the beating of his life. This has been riffed on and imitated so much that it's easy to forget how revolutionary it was. I was reluctant to include two different Frank Miller pieces but you know, I can't help it. He's really good at this kind of story. And when you talk about 'playing through the pain,' you pretty much have to include a Miller Daredevil and a Miller Batman at some point. The collected edition trade-paperback has never been out of print, and I believe there's an Absolute Edition as well.
And finally, my favorite:
Amazing Spider-Man #44 and #45, "Where Crawls the Lizard!" and "Spidey Smashes Out!"
This was, again, a really extraordinary story for its time. Superheroes never had to deal with serious injuries like broken bones or anything like that, I think, until Stan Lee and Johnny Romita showed up with this classic. The Lizard throws Spider-Man off a building and he racks up his arm and shoulder. Spidey limps home, and realizes that not only does he still have to find the Lizard, but now all his friends are going to put it together that both Spider-Man and Peter Parker are wearing an arm sling.
Of course ol' Webhead works it all out the next issue, but #44's ending is one of the best "everything looks so hopeless!" Spidey cliffhangers ever. When I was a kid I was blown out of my chair by this story, and it still holds up pretty well today. It's available in Essential Spider-Man volume three -- leads off the book, in fact -- but I shelled out for the Marvel Masterworks edition because this story was such a favorite of my youth.
So there you have it. Those are my top five injured-hero stories. Feel free to add your own.
As for me, I'm going back to bed, and I'll see you all next week. Hopefully I'll be in better shape by then.