Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Count Ten, Superman--and Die!

After the marathon Halloween Countdown, I needed to take some time off of the blog to regroup, plus I had a couple of professional writing gigs that came due, but now I'm back and preparing for the 100th page of the 100-Page Super Spectacular, coming in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, I've been digging deep into my collection to bring you one of the craziest tales of Super-D-Bag-ination ever put on paper, from Action Comics 445 (1975):

(Super-D-Bag-ination copyright and tm Dr. K, and is not to be confused with any other product or concept)

(Editor Julius Schwartz: never met a good cover concept that he didn't drive into the ground.)

Not since Sister Mary Elizabeth tried to teach me my numbers in Kindergarten by applying a ruler to my backside has counting seemed so ominous and threatening!

While much focus in the comic blogosphere is given to the crazy comic stories produced by the likes of Bob Kanigher and Bob Haney, little credit is given to Cary Bates for writing equally insane stories during his long run on Superman titles in the 70s, and "Count Ten, Superman--and Die!" is no exception.

The story opens in typical Cary Bates fashion with a conceit that is immediately mindblowing in its sheer impossibility. Here, Clark Kent goes to Metropolis Civic Center to hear a lecture by Superman. Even the comic's narrator is completely confused, yet he also takes the time to calm the reader down in order to pay attention to the explanation.

So, just to be clear here: the actor who plays Superman in the DC Universe is horribly disfigured in an accident on the set of the show. Superman, then, in a supreme act of Super-D-Bag-ination (tm), performed some non-AMA approved medical techniques in order to reconstruct the actor's face to look just like Superman. Meanwhile, millions of young children in the DC Universe are horribly disfigured in fires, and do we ever see Superman performing his miracle plastic surgery on them? Not if they don't want Superman's face, I guess.

Man. Even Dr. Christian Troy thinks that's egotistical.

Now, let's get this straight. Superman constantly goes through time-consuming contortions to keep his Superman and Clark Kent identities separate, especially from Lois Lane, and there is a guy living in Metropolis all along who looks and sounds exactly like Superman? WTF?

To make the Super-D-Bag-ination even worse, the actor Greg Reed reveals that Superman can provide him with a pill that gives him powers for 12 hours. And does Superman give him the pill to help fight crime or to stop natural disasters while Superman is away on an emergency? No. Instead, Superman pimps the guy out to children's parties, and he has no problem lying to a dying little girl.

What a d-bag.

Immediately after telling Lois this story, fake-Superman is struck down my an interstellar blast, and Clark quickly ducks out to change into the real Superman.

Meanwhile, the source of the blast is revealed, and it comes from the intergalactic "Superman Revenge Squad."

It's good to see that pimp-slapping is an activity that transcends Earth cultures.

Once the slappies are done, the Revenge Squad quickly correct their mistake and send the "Puls-Bolt" to the desired target: Superman. Revenge Squad member Basil Exposition then reveals the plan:

I would take issue, however, with the designation of "flying the actor to the hospital" as a "Super-Feat." If that were the case, then any instance of Superman flying should count toward the ten feats, and it clearly doesn't happen that way.

So, what other "Super-Feats" does Superman perform?

For one, he simultaneously pulls the ripcords on three skydivers who have been superglued together by a jealous colleague:

Also, he dry-humps a shark.

Apparently, this technique is fine for keeping sharks out of Metropolis, but for some reason, Superman doesn't use it on, say, Brainiac. However, I don't have any quibbles characterizing shark-humping as a "Super-Feat."

Another side-effect of the puls-bolt is that, for no apparent reason, it makes Superman extra-emotional. Here, Clark Kent gets some of the usual ribbing from his colleague Steve Lombard, which causes Clark to start crying.

I'd just like to note here that, in William Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition, "Lombard" is an acronym that stands for "Lots of Money, but a Real Dick." Steve Lombard is, without question, a real dick.

After ten feats, Superman suddenly collapses, and the Revenge Squad begins to celebrate their victory. However, anyone paying even the smallest amount of attention to the story probably is not at all surprised by what comes next:

In a further example of Super-D-Bag-ination, Superman explains how he created this unnecessarily complicated plot, which included Clark's fake emotional jags, in order to defeat the Revenge Squad. Honestly, this story should have been three panels: Superman notices the bad guys, flies into space after them, and then wrecks their shit. The End. Instead, he goes through all this ridiculous crap in order, it seems, to entertain himself.

And notice that Superman seems pretty nonplussed about his attackers getting killed by their fellow Revengers. What a douche.

Credits: Action Comics 445 (March 1975). Story by Cary Bates, art by Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger.


Chris Sims said...

It's nice to know that even in a story like this, Steve Lombard manages to totally out-douche Superman.

Richard said...

Ordinarily I'm all about the mid-Seventies Superman of Maggin and Bates, and ordinarily I love the offbeat sort of story with baroque plot flourishes, but...um, this is, um, really weird.