This is the Great Comic Book Detectives, where readers send in requests for the names of comic books that they remembered reading years ago and I try to find them for them! Send any future requests to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Reader Bob T. wrote in with his request:
I am haunted by an image — Superman, unconscious, being held by his cape by a villain in purple (with a sword?) in front of a waterfall? Though I can not remember if this was the front comic cover or the interior splash page?
It would be from one of the very first Superman comics I ever bought off the new stand as a very young child (mid 1970s) and it left such a strong impression on me, that to this very day, I still search comic bins in every comic shop I visit trying to find it.
But I do not remember if it was in Action Comics or Superman or even the name of the villain (was he Kryptonian???) All I recall is the alway amazing Curt Swan art, and the plot involves adult Clark Kent returning to Smallville. Chief Parker is in the story. And the story’s climax! It blew me away as a little kid. It looks like Superman is defeated, and he turns tail to fly away, except he really flies around the Earth in seconds and hits the villain from behind!!! At least that is how my inner child remembers it.
Your memory mostly served you well, Bob!
The comic in question is 1979's "Action Comics" #495, by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte. Here is the splash page of the issue, just as you remembered it...
The story is the second part of a two-part story where Clark Kent and Lois Lane travel to Smallville to investigate a mysterious package sent from Smallvile of an alternate version of Superman's S (in a clever bit, Bates has used the way Superman's chest S originally looked in "Action Comics" #1 as an alternate S that Ma Kent came up with but decided not to use). While there, they met up with Clark's old friend, Chief Parker....
Parker and Lois are both visited by a ghost (Parker of a Civil War general and Lois of a World War II general). It is clear that something is appearing as military people to the residents of the house. It turns out that it was a psychic entity that was trying to draw Superman there because of an old grudge from back when Superman was still Superboy, when he destroyed some bad guy who has taken this long to rematerialize, and he has taken on the form of an ancient Kryptonian warrior!
The warrior was really handing it to Superman, but Superman came up with a plan...
He then forces it to surrender using the sword (as a Kryptonian warrior always had to surrender when threatened with his/her own sword). You slightly misremebered this part, Bob, as it was Superman throwing the sword around the world, not himself. Very close, though!
Okay, that's another case solved! Thanks for the request, Bob! If anyone else has a comic book from their youth that they can't recall now, drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll see if we can find out the comic you're missing!