Superman II 2.31: War of the Wordles

Meanwhile, on the newsstand, Superman is busy battling a monthly parade of aliens and snake gods and audiologists and science-fiction writers. Here’s what was happening in the Superman comics of 1981…

Superman #355  (Jan 1981)
“Momentus, Master of the Moon!”
Cary Bates / Curt Swan

“Needless to say, the serious scientific community has always regarded such moon-myths as sheer bunk!”

At a book-signing, Jimmy Olsen asks prolific science writer Isaac Asimov for an autograph. Concerned that Olsen is trying to investigate him, Asimov uses the boundless powers of somehow to kidnap Jimmy and keep him in a steel cage for two weeks, without the benefit of a change of clothes or toilet facilities. Then Asimov turns himself into a gravity sponge, and goes out into the night to steal dinosaur skeletons. I swear to you that this is true.

Superman #356  (Feb 1981)
“Battle of the Super-Hyper Powers!”
Bates / Swan

“You may be able to dominate other worlds with your Kryptonian powers… but your terroristic tactics will not be tolerated on Tynola!”

Superman’s hyper-powered pal Vartox has gotten mixed up with some extremely co-dependent people on the alien world of Tynola, who consider him their miraculous champion, and constantly invent crises and invasions so that he’ll keep paying attention to them. I’ve had a bunch of friends in a situation like this. Eventually you just have to pull the plug on the relationship, through the medium of hiring a U-Haul and moving all your stuff out of the shared apartment while your partner’s at work. There are probably more mature ways of dealing with that problem, but I don’t know any.

Superman #357  (March 1981)
“Food for a God!”
Bates / Swan

“Without Moxumbra’s divine radiation to shine over us, we would lose our wondrous power of the chant!”

It turns out the Tynolans didn’t really need saving from all those monsters; they were just trying to keep Vartox occupied until they could feed him to their cosmic snake god, Moxumbra. Superman helps out by coating himself in mosmic energy-charge and giving the energy snake thing a stomachache. Now that Vartox understands why the Tynolans lied to him and tried to kill him, he feels sorry for them, so he decides to stay on Tynola after all. Now Superman has to return the U-Haul. This kind of thing is probably happening in outer space all the time, and we just don’t hear about it.

Superman #358  (Apr 1981)
“Father Nature’s Folly!”
Bates / Swan

“Do you suppose you could find a way to keep them occupied till the lights go back on?”

So, you know how Earth was just a loser ball of molten minerals and seething gases — a lot of potential, but no real game — until some alien came along and guided the natural forces which would shape and mold it, from the very first one-celled protozoa spawned in the sea to the first amphibious creature that ventured from its watery etcetera? Yeah, it’s one of those.

In this instance, it was an ethereal lady named Nutra who guided the evolution of life, using a power-prong, which looks like a big metal sword with a fork on it. Now her boyfriend Cron has shown up, somehow, and he wants to use his own power-prong to guide the evolution of life but in a different direction.

Cron starts out looking like a big orange guy wearing some kind of Ninja Turtles muscle suit, but after a while he admits that really he’s just a big lavender cloud. Superman tells him not to worry, it happens to guys all the time and they can just cuddle.

Superman #359  (May 1981)
“Today Superman… Tomorrow the World!”
Bates / Swan

“They’re themselves again — apparently with no memory of their rampages as psychokinetics!”

A bunch of future people make an omni-kinesis machine, but a trionic short-circuit triggers an energy discharge so intense, a violent rift is torn in the space-time continuum that hurls the machine thousands of years into the past. It lands in a small desert town and basically makes everyone lose their minds, and become psychokinetic sociopaths. Superman tries to find out what’s going on, and the residents attack him with energy waves.

During an attack, Superman carefully chooses strategic mid-air points so that two blasts come at him from different directions, and then — gauging the degrees of brain-static he picked up — he’s able to use trigonometry to pinpoint where in the sky the radiation is coming from. Then he smashes something, and everything’s fine. The technobabble is strong with this one.

Superman #360  (June 1981)
“Is Superman Going… Going… Gone?”
Bates / Swan

“Your computerized brains can’t fully comprehend what a true obsession is, robots!”

Intergalactic jerks named Ylmad and Mozrm use a scission beam on Superman, which splits him into his two personas — when he’s Superman, he forgets that he’s also Clark Kent, and vice versa. This is supposed to help them fight the Krydds somehow. The plan works perfectly, until Superman breaks into Clark’s apartment and sees a picture of his mom. Zaang is not pleased.

Superman #361  (July 1981)
“Stowaway from the Stars!”
Bates / Swan

“That’s no pterodactyl — it’s an extinct creature from Superman’s exploded planet, Krypton!”

Okay, so back in 1973, Cary Bates wanted to see what would happen if Superman met Popeye, so he created “Captain Strong” as a takeoff on the spinach-eating sailor. Captain Horatio Strong gains amazing powers by eating an alien seaweed called sauncha, but if he eats too much, he loses control and becomes violent and irrational.

In this issue, Clark and Lois run into Horatio and his wife Olivia, who are vacationing on a luxury cruise ship. He’s given up eating sauncha, although he keeps a little stash in a pouch around his neck, just in case Olivia is in danger and he needs to bulk up quickly.

This is all very chummy and cute, but then they introduce yet another asshole alien, this time named Drxla, for fuck’s sake, who changes into imaginary animals and attacks Horatio and Superman. When they finally wrestle her to a draw, she reveals her backstory and the perfectly reasonable explanation for her ridiculous behavior. These aliens need to learn to use their words.

Superman #362  (Aug 1981)
“The Last Days of Lois and Lana!”
Bates / Swan

“According to my super-computer’s visi-indicator, the odds are 99,998 to one Lois and Lana would both perish!”

The run of asshole alien stories finally breaks, with a super-emo issue that starts tragic and stays that way. Remember that 1963 story about Ma and Pa Kent dying from pirate fever? Well, Superman realizes that Lois and Lana are infected with the same plague, and he looks desperately for a cure, but he can’t find one. Then he just sits down and cries.

Superman #363  (Sept 1981)
“The Dying Day of Lois & Lana!”
Bates / Swan

“Our prosmo-drone took the liberty of probing your mind while it escorted you here!”

And then, without warning, the comic delivers an issue that breaks me out of my sarcastic summary mode. This issue has a structure that we’ve seen before, in similar heart-tugging soap opera spectaculars that they’ve done over the years: Superman knows that Lois and Lana are dying, so he consults with all the big players like the Phantom Zone crooks, Lex Luthor and some eggheads from the far future, to no avail. He takes Lana out for a charming evening as Clark, and then whisks Lois away for a romantic time-travel visit to Paris in the 1890s. Then they start getting sick and feverish, and he’s just standing there helpless in the Fortress of Solitude, as his loved ones are dying right in front of him, with no possibility of a cure. And he is scared and alone and there is literally nobody on Earth or in space or in the future who will help him in any way.

Superman #364  (Oct 1981)
“The Sounds That Menaced Metropolis!”
Bates / Rich Buckler

“Marilyn, that’s it! You’ve just told me the common link! I owe you a kiss for that!”

Here’s another story about an innocent Metropolis rando who inexplicably turns into an all-powerful mystery monster every once in a while. This time, it’s an audiologist with tinnitis who develops a pair of special noise-cancelling headphones… which turn him into a violent super-powered energy blur whenever he hears a loud noise. It’s a good thing Superman’s around to deal with stuff like this; I wouldn’t have any idea how to subdue a rampaging audiologist.

Superman #365  (Nov 1981)
“When Kryptonians Clash!”
Bates / Swan

“Success is only a few Earth-hours away!”

Ugh, now there’s another one; this one’s name is Blymm. Seriously, why can’t aliens just stay on their own stupid planet, instead of coming to ours and hitting people with meta-beams?

This year, we’ve had Blymm, Drxla, Nutra, Ylmad, Morzm and Zaang — and hey, they all have five-letter names. This is clearly an invasion from the planet Wordle. I keep telling people that Wordle is dangerous, and nobody listens. Wake up!

Superman #366  (Dec 1981)
“Revenge, Superman-Style”
Bates / Swan

“The constant Superman stimuli keep our mass hatred tuned to fever pitch!”

Superman goes out into space undercover as a lizard creature named Vlatuu, in order to infiltrate the Superman Revenge Squad, which is basically a decentralized autonomous organization for all the losers that Superman’s beaten in the past. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that they’re the biggest Superman fans of all time. They’ve got Superman statues all over the place, to remind themselves of how much they hate him, and they’re constantly one-upping each other about how prepared they are to defeat Superman the next time they see him. I think the Revenge Squad needs to learn that the best revenge is just to move on with your life.

Lara kicks her son out of the house in
2.32: Mama Don’t Preach

Movie list

— Danny Horn

19 thoughts on “Superman II 2.31: War of the Wordles

    1. Maybe no one could recognize Superman in 2020, because he wore a mask all the time.

      These stories sound great! I would have loved them when I was ten or eleven. I must have given up on Superman just before they escaped from the Steve Lombard-Morgan Edge era, too bad I didn’t stick around for these.

      Liked by 4 people

  1. “At a book-signing, Jimmy Olsen asks prolific science writer Isaac Asimov for an autograph. Concerned that Olsen is trying to investigate him…”

    Wonder what old Isaac had to hide? We’re all groping for answers…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. (Oops. Hit the wrong button.) If they like him or really hate him since (spoilers) he “overloaded himself out of existence.”
        It’s odd that they change his name but use his likeness.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Isaac Asimov as a Superman villain? I’m wondering why Mr. Asimov would have agreed to that? I guess he’s a good sport – maybe DC Comics paid him? I’m guessing in the story that he was possessed by some alien and turned back into his normal prolific-writer self by the end of that story.
    Back in the late 70’s, when I was 16, I wrote a short story and sent it in to Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. They sent it back with the most amazing personally typed rejection note I had ever seen – a detailed note on the writing and how I could improve the story! (I wish I had kept it.) I remember my story ended on a down-note – they told me that Asimov’s magazine only wanted stories with positive endings. At least that’s what I remember some 44 years later…
    My dreams of being a writer are slowly being rekindled – and I just did a google search. Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine is still going strong! Who knew? I’m going to carefully read through their writer’s guidelines and submit another story very soon.
    I was in a Shakespeare play in college, and I have always appreciated “Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare,” one of his many books.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m not sure if Asimov knew about it beforehand or not. The character is called Asa Ezaak but the drawings are quite definitely of Asimov. Superman calls him a genius and Jimmy Olsen is a big fan. I can’t tell if it’s friendly ribbing or if they really think he’s a know-it-all blowhard who really isn’t the science authority he thinks he is. He injects himself with a formula that transforms him. I guess they said a few nice things and scrambled his name so Asimov wouldn’t sue?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Superman editor Julius Schwartz was active in the early science fiction community as both a fan and an agent. He and Asimov would certainly have known each other so this is probably some kind of in-joke.

        Liked by 4 people

    2. Go for it, Tim! When you submit your new version, include a copy of your first draft and their original letter. Point out that you might write slowly, but you are responsive to helpful editorial notes!


    1. Superman sure seems to wind up with a lot of foes who were dressed for a day at the beach, doesn’t he?


  3. Now that’s exactly the kind of B.S. we want from our comic book stories!

    If I wanted grim news about socioracial injustices, I could take a bus ride across L.A. any day. I don’t need an art story book or a zany supervillians film to tell me how bad it can get.

    But if I want to let my mind escape from all the economic and pandemic and military calamities for the day, there’s nowhere but comic book stories for me to see hypnotic monsters, evolution redirectors, trigonometric technobabble, Angry Birds Lex, LutherTRON, Elderly Kryptonian Elders and all the rest!

    P.S. Do I see a tribble collection in #356’s version of Krypton?


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