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Superman’s flagship title is hijacked by a plot so stupid you’ll want to punch it right in its ugly face – Action Comics #336

April 6, 2012

Hey, is Supergirl’s word balloon up there an early ancestor of the “All your base are belong to us” internet meme?

There are times when a story is so wonderful, so delightful, you want to roll up your sleeves and dig into it. To pick it apart piece by piece, to really get in there and see what made the thing tick, what made it sing to you. Those are wonderful moments, when you’re fired by a desire to see something wonderful from the inside out.

Then there are times like this. This is more like the scene in Jurassic Park when Laura Dern, trying to figure out what was making a Stegosaurus sick, plunged elbows deep into a heaping pile of Stego-dung. Lesson: sometimes you have to squint, scrunch up you nose and wade into the muck and mire to get to the bottom of things.

Yes, this edition of Action Comics is the equivalent of dinosaur feces. IN MY HUMBLE OPINION.

It’s a double shame because there’s a wonderful Curt Swan pencilled Phantom Zone story in the other half of the double feature, but it’s eclipsed by the awfulness of the cover tale (Swan and inker George Klein handled said cover). There are roughly 142 things wrong with it, but we’ll only focus on a few, because I frankly don’t want to turn this into a post of Proustian length. I have neither the time nor the patience, and neither do the fine people who frequent or browse through these parts. Nor do I want to castigate scripter Otto Binder or artist Jim Mooney too severely, as comic folks lay an egg now and again, just like every great golfer sometimes falls apart on a hole and posts a quadruple bogey, a snowman (8) on a par 4. This isn’t a raking over the coals of their professional reputations, and they did good work both together and on their own. It’s simply that this steaming pile needs to be aired out in the light of day.

And it’s not even Superman that’s the fulcrum of this Silver Age abomination, but Supergirl. I few weeks ago I posted another story that didn’t exactly paint Supergirl/Linda Danvers in a positive light, as she jealously pouted while her Super-Friend pals got all the attention. This could be seen as piling on with a, well, pile. But we gotta do what we gotta do.

Brace yourselves. Take a deep breath, like you’re about to go into the airplane lavatory after the fat guy.

Things get off on the wrong foot when we come upon Supergirl in an intergalactic beauty pageant — beauty pageants are inherently stupid and deserve nothing but our everlasting contempt, after all:

What was the big prize for this colossal waste of time? Well, that photon torpedo that Supergirl is about to doze off in is actually a gas chamber, one that renders its occupants as ugly as the horrifically scarred pageant sponsor, Prince Jak-Thal (what you see above is a mask) and the prior winners you see in the second panel. Supergirl beats a hasty retreat, but she received a strong enough dose of the ugly gas to render her thoroughly hideous the next day. We’re talking a short step away from Rocky Dennis. ACK. Her first stop for help? Her cousin and his Fortress of Solitude, where Superman makes a complete hash of things:

Hey, in the upper right panel, is that a kind of Red Kryptonite that cures baldness or causes baldness? Because if it’s the former, MY SHAVED CUE-BALL COULD SURE USE SOME.

Whatever. Thank God for the handy mask rack. Sometimes the low-tech solutions are the best you can do.

The masked Girl of Steel still has good deeds to do, and she helps out part-time nurse Lois Lane (You didn’t know Lois was a volunteer nurse? I forgot/never knew — she was indeed in a number of stories though.) with a wounded soldier’s facial reconstruction, a procedure that OH THE HUMANITY WOUNDS SUPERGIRL SO DEEPLY:

She goes back home to change into her Linda Danvers guise and cry and wallow in front of her frilly mirror, but is interrupted by a rocket that drops in her backyard like a wayward baseball:

She thinks this is just more taunting from the disfigured Prince, and tosses the Miss Cosmos crown aside. She does have duties, after all, including going off to save Bizarro World from a collision with another planet and the resultant high-stepping chaos:

As you might guess, the Bizarros are quite taken by Supergirl’s “beauty”, and want to make a duplicate of her. Not realizing that their device makes imperfect copies like them, it actually makes a perfect imperfect perfect imperfect (I think you can take this to infinity) duplicate. The beautiful imperfect duplicate is immediately shunned by the revolted Bizarros, and Supergirl, not wanting to further depress her, destroys a mirror and uses a Benny Hill/Looney Tunes puerile ruse to trick her into thinking that she’s ugly/hot:

Are you wanting to kill this story yet? Put out a Gregg Williams bounty on it? No? LET’S KEEP GOING.

The duplicate Supergirl then goes to do a good deed for Superman because the Bizarros hate him and this would get her in their good graces. (If they hate him, wouldn’t they say that they like him? And wouldn’t that mean that they would want to do a good deed, but mean a bad deed? I HATE THE BIZARROS.) Her good deed includes using poor Comet the Super-Horse to help bar Superman from the Fortress, as seen on the cover:

I like to imagine that Comet thinks in a Mr. Ed voice. “Wilbur…” and the like. That, my friends, is the only thing keeping me sane right now.

“Good” deed done, imperfect Supergirl departs. And after that narrative cul-de-sac, Linda Danvers is visited by a boyfriend (Dick Malverne) she’s refused to see because of her disfigurement. He begs her for one last picture of her in her Miss Universe crown (Wait, I thought Supergirl won the Earth pageant. You know, whatever. If the story doesn’t care, why should I?), but she accidentally puts on the Miss Cosmos version. And:

Yes, the evil, disfigured Prince, now rotting in an outer space hoosegow (I wonder if it’s dragon-shaped like the outer space graveyard), saw Supergirl help the disfigured soldier on a “prison space monitor.” He subsequently realized the error of his ways and sent the crown with a radiation cure via special rocketship delivery. And Linda/Supergirl? SHE HASN’T LEARNED ANY LIFE LESSONS AT ALL IN THIS EXPERIENCE:

Yeah, all that matters is you’re pretty again. Being pretty is the key to happiness. Bitch. Lack of Moral Theater.

[Clenches and unclenches fists.]

Outer space pageants. Ugly gas. Red Kryptonite cures. Ready-made masks. Nurse Lois. A rocket gently landing in a backyard. Bizarros. An imperfect perfect imperfect perfect ad infinitum duplicate. Mirror tricks. GODDAMN BIZARROS. “Prison space monitor.” Radiated Miss Cosmos crown. Linda Danvers not learning a thing about inner beauty or anything, because she got her Miss Universe looks (yeah, right) back.

None of these things on their own sink a comic. Indeed, singly they can form a part of any perfectly harmless and charming Silver Age story. But together, they’re deadly poison. This is a terrible story, one that makes your head hurt, and not just from trying to parse the bewildering logic of the Bizarros. The Superman-iverse can be easily susceptible to tomfoolery (see: Sword of Superman), but this takes, if not the whole cake, at least a big heaping slice of it.

You’ll notice that I didn’t list Comet amongst the litany. The Super-Pets, as preposterous as they are, are actually one of the more charming features of Superman’s Silver Age. Krypto, Comet, Beppo the Supermonkey, and yes, Streaky the Supercat, have their charm. Even with poor Comet’s appearance in this dud, he retains his version of dignity.

Let me be clear: One of the dumbest things of this comic book era was one of the least dumb things on display in Action #336.

Once again, no disrespect intended for Binder and Mooney. Seriously. Since it’s Masters weekend, I might as well go back to the golf metaphor to make this clear. Phil Mickelson, a two-time Masters champion and one of the premier golfers of his generation, is a man known for taking risks. He’ll blast the ball around a tight corner, daring hanging branches or sand traps or water hazards to try to stop him. While he has enough talent to pull of these daring gambits, just as often they’ve come back to bite him in the ass, and he’s suffered charges of being reckless and careless on the course with championships in the balance. But he’s an all-time great golfer, and none of the flubs can take that away from him.

With this comic, Binder and Mooney tried to hook a ball around a dog leg turn, and wound up plopping the ball into a lake. They tried to dodge around about a dozen hazards too many. In the grand scheme of things, no big deal. No shame. Take a drop, eat the strokes, and move on to the next hole.

Nevertheless, this is a stupid miasma of a story, and ain’t no Miss Cosmos. Beware.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. m lewis redford permalink
    April 8, 2012 7:07 pm

    excellent laugh

  2. Diane Miller permalink
    March 5, 2015 5:26 pm

    Thank you for this. This story was actually the second of a two-part story. I had the first part back in the day but I missed the second and never knew how it came out. I’ve wondered for almost 50 years.

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