An interesting criticism I’ve seen levied at Mark Waid’s Daredevil is that, while it is good, it is essentially “just” an old school superhero comic book and therefore the praise given to the title is more a matter of it being compared against worse comic books nowadays and that if it were around back in the old days, it wouldn’t stand out as much. My issue here is that I think people are either underrated Waid’s Daredevil or overrating your average old school superhero comic book when they make that argument. It seems like folks are thinking that books like Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ Batman were the average superhero comic book back in the day when they were very much the exception. So I thought it’d be interesting to compare the last five issues of Daredevil against the equivalent five issues of what were ACTUALLY the “average” superhero comic book titles at Marvel and DC forty years ago. I had some ideas of which books would be considered the “average” from each company, but I didn’t want to risk any selection bias on my part, so I instead asked a fellow whose opinion I respect and who is more than well versed in the comics of that era to name the average superhero comic of 1973. That fellow was Mark Waid. Mark’s choices were the Superman titles for DC and Daredevil, Fantastic Four and Iron Man foe Marvel. The Waid Daredevil issues I’m looking at are #25-29, the June 2013 issue through the September issues (the last two issues double-shipped). Back in 1973, the cover dates on comics were three months ahead of time instead of two, so I went with the July 1973-November 1973 issues of each of the titles (I had to go to November to make it an even match, numbers-wise, because of Daredevil double-shipping the last month).
Let’s start with Action Comics. We’re dealing with issues #425-429.
First off, the art for all of these issues is done by Curt Swan. Now I happen to be a huge Curt Swan fan, but even as a huge Curt Swan fan I have to say that by the 1970s I do not believe that Curt Swan (still doing BOTH Superman titles every month) was at the same level that he was during his heyday of the early 1960s. Swan was far too great of an artist for the work to be BAD but at the same time Swan was not exactly being innovative or dynamic with his storytelling. You were getting steady results and none of the stories were being hurt by the art, but nor were they being particularly HELPED by the art either. 53-year-old Curt Swan drawing two Superman comics a month and seemingly never missing an issue? What more could you really expect?
Anyhow, the first issue is Action Comics #425, written by Cary Bates with art by Swan and Frank Giacoia, “The Last Moa On Earth!”.
In it, a hunter happens upon perhaps the world’s last living Moa bird. He then accidentally kills it…
The egg hatches a new Moa bird, the last of its species. However, it was exposed to some exotic gases before it was born so that when it was hatched, it had SUPERPOWERS! In addition, it is somehow linked with the hunter’s life force. The longer the Moa is on the loose, the sicker the hunter gets…
Superman then fights the super-powered Moa for a few pages before returning it to its habitat (which is all it wanted – when it got back it released its hold on the hunter and he got better).
This was not a very good story, although I guess the sight of Superman fighting a giant bird IS kind of cool.
Next we have Action Comics #426 by Bates, Swan and Murphy Anderson, “Master of the Moon Rocks!”
The conceit of the story is that the Anti-Lunar League has stolen some moon rocks and plan on destroying them.
Yes, that’s right. The Anti-Lunar League. But who is manipulating them?!
Yes, that’s right. Terra-Man. The dreaded desperado himself.
He and Superman fight and it is pretty uneventful, although I do like this one bit where Superman kicks his boot at Terra-Man.
So far, this has not been a very good run of Action Comics issues. While not bad, this was about as by-the-books as a super-villain encounter as you could get.
Luckily, Bates, Swan and Anderson make up for the previous two issues with a strong issue in #427, “The Man Who Never Lived!”
The issue opens with a trip to the future where a young man awaits his fate as an assassin…
He goes back in time to where a prisoner, Wade Bartox, is being released from prison…
Bartox suddenly transforms into a green monster and battles against Superman. The monster was something that Bartox had drawn as a child. His prison therapist, who was clearly digging him, is now a bit scared of him.
Bartox and Superman battle in outer space where Bartox reveals that he is from the future and that he took control of Bartox’s body for a bit…
Superman defeats him and Bartox reverts to his normal self. Did the future man’s plan work?
That is some messed up stuff right there. But a really powerful story by Bates.
The next issue, Bates, Swan and Anderson ask “Whatever Happened to Superman?”
A crook is up to no good with a satellite in outer space…
And soon, no one on Earth can see Superman. They believe he has been gone for ten years. No matter what he does, no one can see him. Everything he does gets explained by something else, like if he puts out a fire everyone instead sees a cloud show up out of nowhere and rain on the fire.
Clark Kent needs to get away to investigate, so we see one of the earliest examples of Clark messing with Steve Lombard by pretending to be killed…
It continues, even with OLD stories, so Superman figures it must be Lex Luthor…
Superman seems to doubt himself…
But in reality it was all a plot to make Luthor believe that the device had been used on LUTHOR, as well!
While not as good as the previous issue, this story was a step up from #425 and 426. I always love it when Superman has a convoluted plan involving disguises.
Action Comics #429 was written by Elliot S! Maggin with art by Swan and Bob Oksner. It is a weird one called “The Man Who Wrote Superman’s Obituary!”
Superman is in the section of the Daily Planet where all of their background information is kept and he discovers Superman’s obituary (newspapers obviously have to prepare obituaries for famous people ahead of time in case they suddenly die) and it not only has all of his secret identity information but it is even written in Kryptonian!
Superman naturally freaks out…
I love Green Lantern’s pissy answer.
Superman goes back to his Fortress of Solitude and decides to go write in his giant Super Diary.
His latest adventure is really cheesy…
However, we discover that it was SUPPOSED to be cheesy!
As it turns out, it was all a trap to see if writing in his diary would cause the information to end up in the Daily Planet’s files…
Now, on the one hand, I love the sort of meta-fictional element of Superman intentionally telling a cheesy battle against an alien creature. On the other hand, an “electronic fluke” connects Superman’s diary to the Daily Planet’s file room? And the ending where apparently just some random dude knows Superman’s secrets and can speak Kryptonian? That’s pretty weird. On the whole, though, I think it was a good story.
On the next page, we take a look at Superman #265-269!
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