Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Classics - Action Comics #304

If I may be forgiven an "oldtimer" moment, I have to say that, when I was a kid, comic books were everywhere.

And I don't just mean at stores like drug stores, variety stores and grocery stores - you could find them at almost every home.

My friends and relatives all had comics at their houses - and it was always fun to sift through their collections to find a treasure to read.

It wasn't unusual to read a comic once at someone's house and never see it again - perhaps they'd trade it away, lose it or it would just get tossed by a mom who was blissfully unaware that it was a treasured item.

Which brings us (the long way around) to this issue of Action Comics (cover dated September 1963), which probably isn't the earliest Superman comic book I read, since he and Batman were the two heroes who showed up in everyone's collection, but it's one of the earliest and it's one that stayed with me.

If memory serves, I read this at my cousin Blaine's house, and didn't see it again until I picked up this copy a few years ago at a comics convention. But the main story was clear in my mind, which is more than I can say about most of my life at the age of seven.

Actually, only half the book is memorable. The second half is a Supergirl adventure titled "The Maid of Menace," which features wonderful (and uncredited) Jim Mooney art but an improbable story pitting Supergirl against a mysterious opponent who might be her own descendant from the future.

The first half of the book is given over to an unusual Superman adventure. The Man of Steel is transported to an alien world along with Lana Lang and is invited to take part in the Interplanetary Olympics. Urged on by Lana (who's hoping for an exclusive story), Superman agrees to square off against two powerhouses - Borko of Gorn and Boscar of Krag.

The contests are feats of strength and skill that would seem easy for our hero, but for mysterious reasons, he keeps failing. This was something of a running theme for Superman at the time - for him to find himself in an embarrassing situation, only to reveal at the end the real reason behind his woes.

The twist in this story was clever and the reveal of the secrets handled with great skill, due in no small part to the outstanding artwork by the (also uncredited) Curt Swan, who was "the" Superman artist for many longtime fans (including me).

His settings were imaginative, his heroes were, well, heroic in stature, his women were beautiful, his action scenes were dynamic and his characters were much more expressive than the DC norm.

One of the reasons this issue stayed with me was the surprising concept of a hero deliberately losing a series of contests - even though it made him look bad - because it was the right thing to do.

It was an exhibition of the kind of character a hero should possess, and it made an impression on my young mind.

If I wanted to be a true old fogey, I'd worry about what kind of impression modern comics are making on today's kids - but I'm not quite that far gone yet.

(Just give me time - I'm getting there.)

Grade: B+

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