Superman II 2.10: Meanwhile, in 1981

And meanwhile, on the newsstands, Superman fights for truth and justice against the forces of evil, including Adolf Hitler, asshole aliens, millionaire date-rapists, his own clone, and the tendency of young women to fall out of windows.

Here’s a rundown of what was happening in Action Comics in 1981, while Superman was battling Kryptonian criminals on the big screen…

Action Comics #515  (Jan 1981)
“This Is My World, and You’re Welcome to It!”
Marv Wolfman / Curt Swan

“Well, whatever they’re planning, they’ll have to make do with one less tank — and five fewer dolts!”

“This is our Earth, that is our Superman, and this is not an imaginary story of any kind!” says the caption, which might be going a little far.

Superman’s foiling another attack by the rebel underground, smashing Jimmy Olsen’s yellow saucer tanks in the name of his Emperor, the wrathful Vandal Savage. Superman’s lady companion, Major Lane, reports to the Emperor that there’s a spy in their midst. Jimmy and his rebel crew attack the palace with a bunch of giant bronze robots, which shoot Superman with red-sun radiation. I don’t know where you’d get ahold of a pack of giant bronze robots, but if you want any, don’t count on borrowing them from Jimmy, because Superman crushes them all.

Superman, to Lois: “You’re nothing but a lying rebel — pretending to love me, trying to turn me against my master!” Superman, to Lois, two pages later: “Count me in, friends! Superman now fights for the people!” The Emperor shoots Lois with a disintegration gun, and she disintegrates.

Action Comics #516  (Feb 1981)
“Time and Time Again!”
Marv Wolfman / Curt Swan

“Adolf Hitler does not haf friends!”

Professor Luthor, the Emperor’s chief scientist, tells Superman that Vandal Savage has fled into the past. “By flying counter-clockwise to the Earth’s rotation,” Superman surmises, “I should be able to break through the time barrier!” Apparently somebody’s been watching the ABC Sunday Night Movie.

Vandal Savage time-teleports to 1944 Germany, and tells Adolf HItler that he’ll destroy the Allied ships storming the beaches of Normandy if Hitler makes him vice-chancellor of Nazi Germany. Then Superman sets off a bomb somehow, and Savage says great, my ride’s here, and he shoots Hitler, so I guess he didn’t really want to be vice-chancellor anyway.

Professor Luthor tells Jimmy that Savage is immortal and he used to be the King of ancient Sumer, and now he’s sucking up Superman’s heat energy to blow up his time-bombs and change the history of Earth. I know I’m running through this quickly, but it doesn’t make any more sense if I say it slow.

So they slip backwards through time and mess things up for Columbus and Nero and Alexander the Great, and finally Savage tries to attack Superman with dinosaurs, which doesn’t work.

Eventually, Superman returns to modern-day Metropolis which is fine again, and I swear to God as soon as he gets there, he sees Lois Lane falling out of a window.

“Superman?” she says, plummeting. “I — I was trying to open a window… lost my balance…” Somebody needs to teach Lois how to operate architecture properly; we can’t have this happening every five minutes.

Action Comics #517  (March 1981)
“The War for Peace!”
wr Gerry Conway / art Curt Swan

“That harpoon-like head must have some kind of independent guidance system!”

Superman finds a bunch of white kids having a rumble, in front of a synagogue. Turns out the Christian kids are mad at the Jewish kids, who are wearing yarmulkes and running movie studios. Superman explains that Christmas is for everybody, including Jews. He flies away to fix an alien’s space car, and the main Jewish kid invites the Christian kids over to his house. “My folks’re serving fruit punch and cookies,” the Jewish kid says, as if this just happens to be the night of the big fruit punch and cookie party over at the Weissman’s.

Action Comics #518  (April 1981)
“Treasure Hunt on a Small Planet!”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“But where are you? You’re not inside this computer terminal!”

Another asshole alien comes to Earth in order to steal random technological wonders, including the world’s first experimental solar rectenna. You heard me.

The alien introduces himself to Superman by saying, “This is not the proper temporal locus for dissembling, Superman! I know your identity, disguised as you may be to the eyes of your fellow Tellurians, though to my oculars, you are clearly the same being!” He stops talking like that pretty quick, because even asshole aliens have their limits.

Action Comics #519  (May 1981)
“Where the Space-Winds Blow!”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“My only interest is to destroy him who is my adversary!”

Another month, another asshole alien talking fancy space talk. This one is tall, yellow and muscular, with flowing hair and the dress sense of Adam Ant. He meets a lady astrophysicist named Mandy Monroe, and tells her, “I sense he nears… May the locator-spheres find him and lead him to me!” If you’re worried that the astrophysicist isn’t going to bang this alien at the end of the story, then you don’t know Mandy Monroe. She understands the assignment.

Meanwhile, Superman finds an enormous lizard monster at the Grand Canyon, and thinks, “That makes three space-connected events in twenty-four hours!”

Action Comics #520  (June 1981)
“Superman’s Arch-Rival for Lois Lane!”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“Martha, dear, isn’t that Lois Lane dancing with that young man?”

Superman can’t go on a date with Lois because he has to take care of a burning oil tanker, so she gets scooped up by a millionaire stalker named Eric Burton, who looks like a white Erik Estrada from CHiPs. Eric spends the night dancing with Lois at a charity ball, and he keeps Superman away with his magic remote control that makes any nearby TV start squawking about distracting disasters, like freak sandstorms and train derailments.

“You know the answer, Lois!” Eric says, having followed her upstairs to her apartment. “You cannot love him the way I can make you love me!”

“My sofa!” she screams. “It’s on fire!”

Action Comics #521  (July 1981)
“The Deadly Rampage of the Lady Fox”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“Those elephants aren’t really rogues — they’re just frightened!”

“Featuring the dynamic debut of the VIXEN created by Gerry Conway!”

DC Database informs me that Vixen is an actual DC Comics character who was a member of Justice League Detroit in the mid-80s, along with Aquaman, Elongated Man, Martian Manhunter, Gypsy, Steel, Vibe and Zatanna, and if there’s a Justice League lineup with a less inspiring cast than that, then I don’t want to hear about it.

Vixen is a mostly-naked African fashion model with a magic totem that gives her animal powers. “What’s happening to my invulnerability?” Superman wonders, as she scratches him with her claws. “How can this slim young woman do what hardly anyone has ever managed to do?” Emphasis Superman’s.

Action Comics #522  (Aug 1981)
“The Time-Tornado of the Clockwork Man!”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“That led to computer engineering, to a job at S.T.A.R. — but I never stopped dreaming of Oz!”

“Oh no!” Lois Lane thinks, plummeting. “I ducked back to avoid that waiter with the flaming skewers… but now I’ve crashed through the glass retaining wall!” It’s only been six months since the last time she fell out a window.

Action Comics #523  (Sept 1981)
“Steve Lombard’s Double Life!”
Gerry Conway / Curt Swan

“Okay, Superman, tell this joker he’s got the wrong jock!”

Clark Kent is playing left field for the WGBS softball team, and as the story opens, Superman is flying back to the field after rescuing a falling construction worker. “I’ve been gone for exactly 1/800th of a second,” he thinks. “No one’s had time to miss me — I hope! I’ve been gone so briefly, Clark Kent’s uniform hasn’t had a chance to drop to the ground!” Whatever.

The game is interrupted by the appearance of a huge swirling oval of light, and then a giant six-eyed tentacled space monster comes through, claiming to be sports reporter Steve Lombard’s long-lost brother. They do a blood test on his parents, and they don’t have the same blood type as he does, which means that he’s a changeling from another world.

It turns out it’s a scam; this is just another asshole alien trying to steal the nucleic energy from Steve’s cells, so he can compete in the alien olympics. The alien explains, “Without the Games to provide a distraction from the crushing monotony of our daily lives, my race would die of boredom!” Clearly they haven’t been reading Superman comics, because this shit is crazy.

Action Comics #524  (Oct 1981)
“If I Can’t Be Clark Kent… Nobody Can!”
Martin Pasko / Curt Swan

“Surprised I’ve got my pseudo-super-powers back, Superman?”

Clark Kent doesn’t seem to have any superpowers today, so he happily sits in his office and writes obituaries, until he realizes that he’s a clone that Lex Luthor created during the Metropolis World’s Fair. Batman tells Superman that if the clone knows his secret identity, then he needs to banish him to the Phantom Zone forever.

Superman doesn’t want to do that, so he knocks the clone unconscious and takes him to a secret army hospital, where government surgeons hypnotize the clone and secretly reconstruct his face so that he can take the place of a WGBS news anchorman, who’s recently died in a plane crash. Superman can’t explain why he wants them to participate in this madness, but the President and the CIA trust Superman enough not to ask any embarrassing questions. This is an actual comic book story that I am not making up or exaggerating in any way.

Action Comics #525  (Nov 1981)
“Neutron Nightmare!”
Marv Wolfman / Joe Staton

“Yes, sir — I see it now: Superman, Reagan, and me!”

Lex Luthor turns a hapless henchman with severe radiation poisoning into a nuclear man, six years early. Neutron the Human Bomb smashes into Metropolis Prison: KRAKAKAKAKAKA. Policemen shoot at him: BLAM! POW! POW! Neutron punches Superman in the chops: BARROOM! Then he destroys the prison with one blow of his mighty nuclear fists: SKABLAMM!

Later, Superman tangles with Neutron again on the streets of Metropolis. Neutron punches Superman again: BAROOOMM! Then he throws Superman into a truck: KRAKOOOM! Then he punches him again: SPA-BLAMM! Then he throws Superman through some townhouses that are conveniently marked Condemned, so we don’t have to worry about the people who live there: KRASHHHH! Then he punches Superman in the face one more time: KRAKA-BOOM!

Then Neutron walks away, and Superman goes to the studio for the evening news broadcast.

Action Comics #526  (Dec 1981)
“The Man Who Murdered Metropolis!”
Marv Wolfman / Joe Staton

“Celebrate, you dolts — but that light signals the end of Metropolis!”

President Reagan visits Metropolis for a reception celebrating the return of the Daily Planet globe at the top of the Galaxy Building. “Great thunder!” says the President. “Even DeMille couldn’t have done it better!”

Neutron the Human Bomb crashes the party and tangles with Superman, who punches him so hard that it turns him into pure energy. Neutron inexplicably transforms into an impenetrable neutron dome over the entire city, but he’s still able to shit-talk just as well as he did when he was a person. “What is it that makes these men tick?” Superman wonders. “What is it they’re trying to prove?”

While Superman is hunting for a bomb, a little girl named Angela gets excited and falls out the window. “There you go, safe and sound,” Superman says. “But next time listen to your mom, okay? Never lean out of windows — because little girls can’t fly, only Superman!” But if you do happen to fall out of a window, then Superman will come by and catch you, is the clear message of 1981 Action Comics.

The Phantom Zoners make first contact in
2.11: Kill the Moon

Movie list

— Danny Horn

28 thoughts on “Superman II 2.10: Meanwhile, in 1981

  1. OMG, Danny! I want you to summarize EVERY Bronze-Age comic! I don’t even know where to begin, other than asking if anyone else had the same thought about what “Steve Lombard’s Double Life” could be?

    And please tell me that the Christian/Jewish kid rumble was from a PSA and not the actual story.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Really loving these deep dives into the weirdness in the comics. My most prized Superman extended family possession is an issue of Lois Lane from the seventies. Lois and Supes go on a boating date in Central Park Lake, come across a message in a bottle begging for help, and take off into the future with Lois wrapped in Supes’ cape like she’s rolled up in a rug. There’s an amazing second act where they trip balls on some ginchy space acid and become druggies, it’s fantastic. Lots of hot pants and sweating, eye-rolling delirium. The best thing ever.

        I’m crossing fingers that you might talk about Supergirl’s weird pets when you get to her? Streaky was one thing, but that horse of hers was something other than else! Poor Comet. “Alas, as far as Kara’s concerned, I’m just a Super-Pet!”

        Liked by 3 people

  2. You call the Justice League Detroit lineup uninspiring, but that’s putting it lightly. It’s a legendarily terrible comic, so bad that the only DC could course-correct was to let Giffen & DeMatteis turn the JL book into a workplace sitcom (keeping only Martian Manhunter, the best character from the previous incarnation.

    But you know what’s bananas?

    One of the wildest things about the glut of live-action superhero media these days: The CW Arrowverse shows have introduced versions of all the core Justice League Detroit characters.

    Over the past decade, actual human beings have been paid money to regularly appear on TV as Martian Manhunter (on Supergirl), Elongated Man (Flash), Vibe (Flash), Gypsy (Flash), Vixen (Arrow), and Steel (Legends of Tomorrow). Four different long-running TV shows just to contain the raw power of JL Detroit!

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Gerry Conway’s entire tenure at DC was spent trying to recreate successful ideas from Marvel, because he was really a Marvel guy at heart. He knew Marvel had been able to make The Avengers work with a lineup of 2nd and 3rd rate characters (Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, etc.) so he figured he could pull off the same trick with the Justice League. He couldn’t.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Your choices of 2nd and 3rd rate is a matter of wording, right? One would argue that the characters like Clint, Wanda, and Hank would rate higher than Vibes and Gypsy.


    1. DC had a ton of great characters floating around with no permanent home, and they decided to devote a backup feature to friggin’ AIR WAVE. That tells you all you need to know about DC in this era.


    2. Poor Aquaman–wedged in there so hopefully with BONUS! over his head and then dropped like a week old flounder. He’s the Charlie Brown of this gang.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. I’d given up on Superman comics at this point- DC’s obsession with continuity (“Not an imaginary story!”) had choked all the fun out of him, and indeed out of most of their characters. I stuck with The Brave and the Bold, the Batman team-up comic that had famously refused to knuckle under to the tyranny of the interconnected storylines when it was written by the great Bob Haney, but when that title ceased publication in 1983, I stopped reading comic books altogether for thirty years.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. When you mentioned Adolf, I thought you were going to mention Supes’ exploits in ALL STAR SQUADRON#1-4, where on December 7-8 1941 he spends the first three issues unconscious, then in the fourth he gets hit by Pearl Harbor missiles and gets temporarily brainwashed on entering Axis Japan territory (thanks to the Holy Grail).

    524 is a sequel to AC#500 which told the story of Superman at the Museum while Luthor secretly creates a clone. I think it was Superman who did the Hypnotism part.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. 1 Absolutely love your summaries, Danny!

    2 These wacky writers be crazy.

    3 I’d never guess these all had the same artist. So many different styles and character looks from Curt Swan! I’d have thought each cover was from a different illustrator.

    4 World’s easiest, most overpaid job: window lock installer in Metropolis.

    5 That June cover with the angle on the crowd watching Supes fly up diagonally, and the skyline diagonally behind, looks GREAT! Would love to see that particular shot in a Donner-quality superhero movie! With or without the clinging dame.

    6 Every one of these stories could use a scherzo, maybe around page 15 or so.


    1. “3 I’d never guess these all had the same artist. So many different styles and character looks from Curt Swan! I’d have thought each cover was from a different illustrator.”
      Curt Swan was the *interior* artist on (most of) the comics. The covers are by either Rich Buckler or Ross Andru on pencils, and inked by Dick Giordano.


  6. Wow.
    It certainly puts the movie in perspective. Nothing Lester came up with competes with those stories. I’m thankful for only lame sight gags and a few new powers. We could have ended up with fruit punch and cookies.
    Or a crossover with the Wizard of Oz which in a way sounds really inevitable since Dorothy and Clark were both from Kansas and not that far apart in age based on their respective movies. We’re there any other stories besides the Clockwork Man? (A Supernatural/Wizard of Oz/Superman fan-fic would be awesome!)
    I only know Vandal Savage from the Legends of Tomorrow tv series which I started watching because Arthur Darvill, Victor Garber, Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell were on it. None are on it anymore. I had no idea Savage had a history with Superman!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. And what is this silly retcon in your last panel where Superman thinks “I’ve never actually traveled into the past before”? He traveled into the past a LOT in the Silver Age! As I mentioned before, they expressed it by his flying through a series of multicoloured rings!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just re-read that particular issue today, so I’ll explain. In the story, the world has been altered by Vandal Savage’s “time-bombs” (which alter history), so that he has been ruler of Earth for decades and that’s the way everyone remembers it. Superman, in this altered reality, has been a loyal servant of Savage from the time he arrived on Earth (the Kents found him, but turned over to Savage when they discovered the baby Supes had powers). So in this alternate reality, Superman had never traveled through time before, and he does so here in order to attempt to restore reality to what it was before. Which, of course, he does.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. For silly stories, it’s hard to beat the “Defenders” arc (written by Gerber) in which everyone is running around with naked brains sloshing in bowls. Or anything in the first run of “Howard the Duck” (also by Gerber], which included a rambling mass of text to fill an issue that wasn’t ready.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mary: “It certainly puts the movie in perspective. Nothing Lester came up with competes with those stories.”

    Maybe we’ve got it all wrong! Maybe Donnor was the one who misinterpreted Superman, with all his added Gravitas and Verisimilitude. Maybe Lester was the one who was true to what the spirit of the comics had become by then!


  10. 1981. Those were the days when it was perfectly fine and acceptable to shout “Please John Byrne! Come and rescue this book and make it good!”


  11. “Great Krypton! Why would those aliens want to steal a huge dam?” Because they are assholes, Clark, because they are assholes.
    Precisely how much of a fight could Superman have with a bunch of lame-os with guns? Even before Vixen turned up? I realize those nogudniks are terrifying, I mean one’s got an eyepatch while Larry Blackmon there is wearing sunglasses after dark.
    It’s amazing that these are DC comic books from 1981, the covers are so absurd they could be from 1951! No wonder Byrne was allowed to revamp the titles post-Crisis on Infinite Earths.
    Regarding the comment on Steve Gerber’s Defenders and Howard the Duck, those fantastic issues were knowingly bonkers, witty, imaginative, and satirical. Silly doesn’t do them justice, they were too smart for that. “We are all bozos!”
    Oh boy, Justice League Detroit. Awful. Gerry Conway strikes again. The Martian Manhunter and Zatanna were good but the newbies stunk (oh, and Aquaman as always smelt of fish). It is a WEIRD world when those crappy characters were used for TV’s “Arrowverse” while the genuinely excellent and hilarious Justice League International characters have been either bastardised (Maxwell Lord turned into a homicidal loony with a personality transplant in the comics and characterless eurotrash weasel in Wonder Woman 1984. Thanks for that, Geoff Johns!) or ignored on-screen.


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