Thursday, December 4, 2014

Scanned Thoughts: Action Comics #37

I find it remarkable at how as we get older, the shit that used to scare the piss out of us stops being scary. Forget the monster under the bed or the psycho-killer in the hockey mask watching horny teens fuck. Odin help us if the rent check bounces, the IRS audits our income, or the doctor finds a strange lump during a routine checkup. That's real horror right there. I imagine Superman has never had to get all that scared. Hell, a hockey mask and a machete would only mildly annoy him. This is a guy who can crush diamonds with his eyelids. There can't be too much outside the IRS that scares him.

But if Superman does have one major fear, it's protecting the people who are vulnerable. That vulnerability was exploited like a corporate tax loophole during the Doomsday arc. But even after he returned and started helping his hometown, Smallville, rebuild from the damage, more horror finds a way to fuck with him. It's not exactly the most novel kind of horror. It involves zombies and evil aliens that turn people into zombies, including Lana Lang's parents. It sounds like a rejected script from the Walking Dead, but it puts Superman in a difficult situations in Action Comics #37. And seeing him overcome these difficult situations has been entertaining since 1938 so why stop now?

A big part of Superman's ability to overcome these situations is his ability to get help from his friends. And remarkably, not all his friends are super sexy female scientists, reporters, or warriors. One is actually an obscenely rich Japanese kid with a robot toy fetish. It's not as creepy as it sounds. Toymaster is actually remarkably sane, even by Japanese standards. He's also utilizing his billions of dollars and arsenal of Japanese gadgets that only a teenage boy could conjure to help him with the strange Stephen King style mist that has fallen over Smallville. The problem is he hasn't yet figured out that it's a good idea to avoid the mist. It's like a cute, big-breasted blonde avoiding an abandoned meat factory in a horror movie. It's just common sense.

Superman is able to save Toymaster before he suffers the same fate every slutty woman in every slasher movie suffers. He gets him to the other side of the cloud before the mist turns him into a Walking Dead cosplayer permanently. But, true to form, Superman does this while exposing himself to the mist again. It fucked him and his friends up in the previous issue. Not surprisingly, it fucks him up again this time. It's like a guy that's hung over getting food poisoning. It's just adding insult to injury at this point. Something is attacking him, but it's not the typical giant monkey or alien robot. This is Smallville, Kansas. Not downtown Metropolis or the Batcave. So when a couple of typical, salt-of-the-Earth Smallville types approach with Children of the Corn style eyes, it feels genuinely creepy even for Superman.

This leads into a flashback that at first seems out of place for a story about a town being taken over by an alien monster, but it actually provides some meaningful context for Superman in terms of his relationship with Smallville. It takes us to a time when Superman is still just a prepubescent Clark Kent. It's a special time, taking place before he goes through the Kryptonian equivalent of puberty and learns why X-ray vision next to the girls' locker room is the best power ever. He's just a kid, but he still has the same traits that make him Superman.

One day during recess, Clark finds a burning field across town. Being way more compassionate than a typical kid his age, who is usually reluctant to share his juice box, he rushes to the scene. There are four people in danger, but one of them is stuck in the flames. He has to find a way to save that person without turning them into a walking pot roast. He decides to employ his superbreath. It does the trick, but it doesn't exactly help the guy he's trying to save.

It's a powerful moment for a young Superman. It shows that while he still has a knack for helping people, he wasn't always that good at it. In the past, he has screwed up. Yes, Superman can screw up, especially when he's a kid. And this is in his hometown no less. It adds some emotional weight to his desire to save Smallville. This isn't just his home. This is where he learned to be Superman and fucked up a little along the way. Something about that should give the non-trolling population of fans a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

When Superman wakes up from this flashback, the score is officially Creepy Alien Mist 1 and Superman 0. He wasn't able to fight his way through without getting excessively hung over. Steel and Lana Lang have gotten Superman to a bed where he can rest and awaken. Sure, he has a massive headache and for a guy who can bitch-slap a black hole, that's saying something. But he's still in one piece, minus a sliver of his dignity. It's actually an intriguing notion, Superman having a headache after a battle. Now he knows how Batman must feel every 15 minutes of his life.

But as intriguing it might be, the details get a little fucked up here. There's no explanation for how Steel and Lana Lang retrieved him from the migraine-inducing mist in the first place. And when Superman steps outside, he finds out that he's still in the mist and nobody else in Smallville is all that terrified. In fact, they're still going about their business as though being shrouded in an alien mist is as minor as a shaving cut. I guess in the DCU it is to some extent, but it's still creepy as fuck. It would be like a team of sexy nudist cheerleaders casually taking a stroll through a graveyard full of serial killers. And maybe that's the point. It's meant to be creepy and it succeeds a little too well.

This doesn't stop Superman from being Superman. Even though the folks of Smallville are just going about their day, assuming Superman will triumph over whatever creepy force is behind this mist, he urges them to return to their homes and wait for the punching to stop. And being such nice, polite folk despite probably having voted for Mitt Romney, they listen to him. They all seem to trust him completely. It's one of those other great superpowers that can only come from not being an occasional douche-bag. By being the kind of hero that inspires others, people are a bit more willing to listen to Superman out of choice and not fear. The Batmans and Iron Mans would do well to remember this.

With Steel and Lana at his side, Superman ventures back into the mist, assured that the people will be safe while he beats the living shit out of whatever is giving him such a headache. They eventually make their way back to the graveyard where this all began, complete with a miniature zombie attack. Along the way, Superman notes that this was where he fought Doomsday and that fight left more than a few wrinkles in the Phantom Zone, which offers at least a partial explanation of where this crazy Stephen King reject came from. But in this age of infinite Earths and inversion spells, a partial explanation is sometimes the best we can hope for.

With or without this explanation, Superman is able to find this creature, who looks like a bastardized version of Cthullu and a Power Rangers monster. That monster even managed to capture Toymaster, giving Superman even more reasons to beat it in ways that every Japanese school girl in anime porn probably wishes they could. There's just one minor complication and it has nothing to do with panties for once. Remember all those people who were so unconcerned and cooperative with Superman? Well if it sounded too good to be true, I'm sorry to say that like all emails from a Nigerian prince, it was.

The mist still has a hold on them. It hasn't turned them into zombies, but it has turned them into a group of brainwashed people capable of mind-fucking whoever this creepy alien creature finds annoying. So once again, Superman learns how much headaches suck. It's another powerful moment. This creature isn't actually the one hurting him most. It's the people he's trying to save. It's the kind of irony that would make Alanis Morissette extremely horny. They don't just attack him either. They also attack Lana and Steel. So once again, Superman is in a situation where he can't just punch his way to victory. At this point, anyone would have a headache.

This is where Superman takes those lessons he learned in that flashback and applies them. Unlike many adults I know, he actually learned from his mistakes as a kid. He's able to use the same superbreath that once ruined so many perfectly innocent birthday cakes to make the citizens of Smallville cold and uncomfortable enough to stop attacking him. He doesn't hurt them. He doesn't kill them. He just makes them as uncomfortable as someone walking outside on a cold winter day without a jacket. Let's face it, there are way worse things these people could endure. Hell, this isn't even as painful as cutting their internet connection or running out of bacon.

It's not just a display of Superman's compassion. It shows that as powerful as he is, he's actually smart when it comes to applying that power. He never applies more than necessary. Compare that to the SWAT team raids on homes that are suspected to have a couple marijuana cigarettes. The DEA could learn a lot from Superman's approach. Maybe if the anti-drug folks in the government didn't use excessive force the same way a compulsive masturbator uses lube, the pot smokers wouldn't be gaining so much support. But that's not going to happen. That might actually make sense.

By saving the people and breaking the hold the mist has on them, Superman is now able to focus on the monster. Sure, it means all the civilians no longer under its control are terrified as fuck and probably shitting themselves as they're running away. But if soiled pants is the worst they have to deal with, then they should consider themselves lucky. I'll take shit-stains over being mind-fucked any day of the week. It finally puts Superman, Steel, and Lana in a position to solve this problem with the excessive violence and punching that is so overdue at this point. It might have been tedious, but it made the end result all the more satisfying.

On paper, the concept of putting Superman in a horror movie type plot sounds as laughable as putting OJ Simpson in a family friendly Disney movie. It really shouldn't work, but it still somehow finds a way to be interesting. It puts Superman in a conflict that he can't just punch his way out of like the Hulks of the comic book world would prefer. It even attempts to humanize him, giving him a headache and to go along with this "I'm too old for this shit" type struggle. Throwing in Lana Lang and a few flashbacks and there's some emotional weight as well. It turns what could've been a story with the depth of a B-rated horror movie in the 1950s to a fairly well-balanced story. It's still not a story that has enough "Oh shit!" type moments. It's also lacking in memorable dialog in the sense that it uses the word "No" more times than an obese kid before a fitness test.

But these shortcomings aren't extreme to the point where the story descends to Adam Sandler caliber absurdity. For that reason, I give Action Comics #37 a 7 out of 10. This comic is proof that Superman can make even basic horror stories awesome. It's also further proof that the man can rock a beard like few others. I guess it was just too sexy for the women of the DCU to keep. Nuff said!

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