Superman III 4.30: As the World Turns

“Whoa, Dwight, slow down!” urges Morgan Edge, president of Galaxy Communications, to a high-school age visitor that he is inexplicably responsible for. “Kent may be smooth-as-vanilla on the air, but off-camera he’s no electric thrill!”

Dwight Decker is a member of his school’s journalism club, who’s traveled sixty miles to Metropolis for an interview with Clark Kent. He hasn’t tried to contact Clark before this; he just showed up at WGBS in the hope of grabbing a few minutes with his news idol.

“Mr. Kent — you and I need to rap!” Dwight cries, sighting his prey down the hall. But when he turns the corner, Mr. Kent has vanished, still unrapped. In the next issue, Dwight tries hanging around outside Clark’s apartment building, but is disappointed once again.

You may be wondering what role Dwight has to play in the ongoing saga of Superman’s comic book adventures. The answer is: none at all.

But that appears to be par for the course in the Superman comic in 1983, which specializes in tiny, barely-serialized scraps of human interest on the fringes of Superman’s endless mid-air fistfights.

Of the two current Superman titles, Action Comics is the one with the important plot developments, like the period when Superman was split by evil wizards into two half-powered twins, which dragged on for eight months and ended nowhere. Superman, on the other hand, is the title that handles all of the character-based drama, which also tends to drag on for months and end nowhere.

This year in Superman, Lois blames Lana for stealing an interview and physically assaults her in front of a roomful of reporters, Perry White has vague marital issues, Lana is painlessly stalked by a faceless admirer who turns out to be nobody in particular, and a curly-haired cub reporter named Justin starts working at the Daily Planet and contributes nothing to the mythos.

Let’s start there, actually, as an example of Cary Bates’ approach to world-building in 1983.

Justin Moore, as seen above, is introduced to Lana and the reader in May, where she thinks for a moment that he’s the “secret admirer” who’s been sending her creepy presents. (He isn’t.) The next month, Jimmy gives a similar intro to Clark, who shakes Justin’s hand and then immediately walks away to do something more interesting.

In August, Justin gets some feedback from Clark on an article, and says, “Looks like Mrs. Moore’s son Justin still has lots to learn,” just to make sure everybody remembers his name. Then Lex Luthor shows up and pushes him out of the way.

They’re still trying to introduce him in October’s issue. First, Clark tells Lois, “I’d like to introduce someone to you. This is the Planet’s new cub reporter in training — Justin…” but she’s distracted and just walks by. Later, Jimmy tries again: “Lois! As long as you’re here, I’d like to introduce our new cub reporter, Justin Mo —” and she passes by again.

Finally, at the end of the book, Justin tries to introduce himself to Lois for the third time, and she walks away without noticing him.

In the last panel, Justin reflects: “On the other hand, nothing turns me on more than a woman who plays hard-to-get! You may think you’re unattainable now, Lois Lane… but be forwarned — that will change!

Except it doesn’t. Justin makes scattered appearances — seven more times, over the next two years — and does nothing of consequence. All the way in August 1984, there’s a panel where Perry looks at Justin and asks who he is, and Jimmy says, “Dontcha recognize your own cub reporter, Justin Moore, chief?” Stop trying to make Justin Moore happen.

In December 1984, more than a year after Justin resolves to win Lois’ heart, he takes her to a play. He gets fresh with her, she tells him to keep his hands to himself, end of story. Then in 1985 there’s a Crisis on Infinite Earths, and Justin Moore is no longer a priority.

Naturally, things are a bit more consequential over in the Lois/Lana plotline. At this point in the book, they’ve decided that Lois is dating Superman and Lana is dating Clark, a situation that he doesn’t appear to have a single problem with.

“Ever since Lana started taking a romantic interest in Clark Kent,” Superman muses, “she’s been in my proverbial hair a lot more than before! But I have to admit I don’t really mind the extra complications she’s bringing to my double-life! Maybe because I feel a definite warming trend in my feeling toward her!” Okay.

Of course, the warming trend doesn’t get that warm; it’s mostly off-screen dinner dates. In December, we see Clark over at Lana’s place, sitting with her on the balcony and clinking glasses.

“Mmm!” says Clark. “What’d you put in that, Lana? It’s good!” The answer: “It’s just soda water and lime juice… the same sophisticated mixture my mom used to make for my parties in high school.” Talk about an electric thrill.

But Lois comes to a big decision in May: Superman will never be able to focus on her because he’ll always have a random emergency to take care of, so she breaks up with him. The breakup itself happens in Action Comics, because it’s a momentous event that needs to be in the flagship book, but the emotional aftermath is in the Superman title.

For the next four months, Lois goes to her parents’ farm to get her head together and think about the future, and if you didn’t realize that Lois’ parents had a farm then now you know.

In August, Lex Luthor shows up at Lois’ parent’s place in his silly plastic warsuit, in order to harass her. He wants to use her in his latest silly plan to harm Superman, but she tells Luthor that she just broke up with Superman, so go away and leave her alone, which he does.

And then, in the one truly beautiful moment in 1983 Superman comics, Luthor monologues to one of his henchpeople:

“I chose to abort Lane’s obliteration, because at present her death would not have maximum effect! Apparently, Superman and Lois Lane have lost each other these days — as romantic lovers, at any rate. Lane divulged the two of them are definitely on the outs!

“I suppose I could marshal my awesome brilliance and vast resources on getting the two of them back together… and after I’ve oh-so-carefully guided the star-crossed lovers to new heights of unbridled passion — then I could strike!

Unfortunately, then Luthor turns his attention back to his planet-cracking neutrarod or whatever, and we don’t get to see the story of Lex Luthor secretly manipulating Superman and Lois to new heights of unbridled passion. This is one of the great missed opportunities in literature.

There’s also a Lois/Lana catfight that’s several months in the making. In the late spring, Lois unintentionally bails on an important Middle East interview that she thought was cancelled. Lana does the interview during the summer, and in October, Lois finally returns to the Daily Planet and gets angry about Lana stealing her story.

At a newsroom party for Lana’s big scoop, Lois throws punch in Lana’s face, and they start a physical brawl in front of everybody. Lana dunks Lois’ head in the punchbowl, Lois shoves Lana to the ground and starts hitting her, and they both end up crying and comforting each other. It’s a pretty spectacular couple of pages, which unfortunately resets everything to factory settings.

Now, focusing on the character moments like this — pulled out of the context of the actual comic book stories, which are mostly about Superman hitting and blowing on things — these little subplots probably sound more coherent and interesting than they are.

I would say there are maybe four or five of these little arcs in play at any given time — Lois breaking up with Superman, Lana being stalked, Lana stealing Lois’ interview, Lana dating Clark, Perry’s marriage troubles, Steve Lombard gets fired, the Dwight Decker thing, the insistent re-introduction of Justin every five minutes — and they just bubble under the surface most of the time, getting a few panels every couple issues before we hurry back to the main story.

I think Perry’s story is the most baffling of the year, because it happens in tiny little chunks spread out over a year and a half, and doesn’t resolve in any meaningful way. Here’s how it plays out:

#383 (May 1983): Superman notices that Perry is in the storeroom, apparently upset. “It’s not my job to pry!” thinks our hero. “Whatever the trouble, Perry must prefer to keep it to himself!” (3 panels)

#384 (June 1983): Perry is told by his secretary that Alice is on the phone. He tells her to say he’s in a budget meeting. “This is tearing me apart!” Perry thinks. “How much more of this can I take? I don’t know who this is hurting the most any more — her or me?” No information on what the problem is. (3 panels)

#385 (July 1983): Once again, the secretary says that Alice is on the phone; once again, he’s in a make-believe budget meeting. He puts his face in his hands. (3 panels)

#386 (August 1983): “Life is falling apart day by day,” Perry thinks as he walks out of the Planet building. He goes to a marriage counselor, and asks if he can have an appointment without telling his wife. “You’ve made the most important first step, Mr. White,” the psychologist reassures him, “acknowledging the problem exists.” No further information is provided. (5 panels)

#387-388 (Sept-Oct 1983): Not mentioned.

#389 (Nov 1983): Perry tells Lana that he’s going to patch everything up with his wife at a fancy dinner. Later, we see him at the restaurant, but Alice doesn’t show up. (7 panels)

#390 (Dec 1983): Not mentioned.

Action Comics #551: (Jan 1984): Clark notices that Alice’s picture is in Perry’s trash can. (1 panel)

#391-393 (Jan-March 1984): Not mentioned.

#394 (April 1984): Perry has lunch with an old journalist friend. The friend asks about Alice, and Perry says, “Alice and I have, er — sort of split up for a while! She wants to ‘find herself’! Sixty-three years old and looking for herself!” (4 panels)

#395 (May 1984): Clark goes to Perry’s place, and Alice is there. “Alice!?” says Clark. “Are you two… no longer separated?” Alice responds, “Seperated! I only wish we were! Who can afford to be separated the way things are now?” (2 panels)

Rest of the year: Not mentioned.

Action Comics #562 (Dec 1984): Clark tells Lana, “Looks like Perry and Alice are patching things up!”

And that’s it, that’s the whole story. We see Alice and Perry in that December ’84 issue, and they’re absolutely fine, calling each other “dear” and “sweetheart”.

You wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, but there are readers on the letters page who got all worked up about it. Here’s a letter from November 1983, by a J. Peckham from Kansas State University:

I object to the marital problems of the Whites. I remain unalterably opposed to the divorce that you have been promising for later this year. “But we’re trying to make the supporting cast into real people,” you have said. That’s fine, but do it without a divorce.

Continue the marital problems between them because it is important to show younger readers that every marriage is not completely blissful and tranquil and, yes, even happy. But I don’t want to see them get a divorce. (Maybe counseling down the road, or Perry relinquishing some of his editorial duties in order to save the marriage. But no divorce!!!!)

In the same issue, J. Wells of Batavia, Indiana writes:

I may be able to forgive you for blowing up Lexor, but I refuse to condone your sad treatment of Perry and Alice White.

In the editor’s response to these letters, you can see their resolve cracking in real time.

Whether the Whites will (or should) get a divorce at some point in the future has not yet been decided. In fact, it’s one of the more hotly debated points in our offices, with everyone who hears about it taking a side. All we can say at this point is that you’ll have to keep watching these pages!

Now, I absolutely understand that people get attached to fictional characters that they’ve known for a long time — that’s the point of long-running serialized narrative — so it makes sense that readers feel protective, and they don’t want to see the characters unhappy.

The weird thing about the Perry/Alice storyline is that it doesn’t have any impact on anything else in the comic, including Perry’s plot-relevant actions and decisions. It gets briefly acknowledged once every couple of months, but not explored or even explained.

But the comic is vaguely gesturing towards becoming more like a soap opera, which is the correct answer. The soap opera model — following multiple overlapping storylines that impact the characters personally, and persist from one episode to the next — is going to become the default way that serialized narrative works.

It even applies to film franchises now; that’s the reason why people want to see a coherent Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe. People enjoy following multiple overlapping storylines across a couple dozen films, which is why people grumble about the quality of Marvel movies and then go and watch them anyway.

And here in 1983, we can see the Superman readership starting to express their interest in that kind of storytelling, even if the comic hardly invests any time in these storylines. Here’s a reader in October ’83, who’s exploding with anxiety:

Upheaval seems to be the best word to describe what’s happening to the people who have surrounded Superman for years. Steve Lombard nearly gets heaved off the Planet. Lois Lane wants to forget about Superman altogether. Perry White’s marriage is on the rocks. In fact, the only people who are doing okay are Lana Lang and Jimmy Olsen, but they may be in for it too.

All this is enough to make a Superman fan unsure about what’s going to happen next time he or she opens an issue of Superman or Action. I feel so queasy that I nearly explode with anxiety waiting for each issue. I can hardly wait to see what happens. (Now I know what fans of General Hospital must go through.)

S. Walsh
N. Hollywood, CA

PS. Superman Peant Butter is pretty cool, too!

4.31: The Other Worst Scene


One more weird moment in 1983 Superman: Dwight Decker, the high-school kid who wanted to interview Clark, is a reference to an actual comics fan/critic named Dwight Decker. He made some fanzines, and contributed to Amazing Heroes at one point. I’m not sure what he was doing in the early ’80s to inspire a two-issue cameo like this.

There’s a passive-aggressive letter published in issue #383 from the real Dwight Decker, where he suggests that Dwight should get a book of his own. Then he says:

All seriousness aside, aren’t you bending that line in the indicia a little bit? The one that says, “No actual persons, living or dead, are intended or should be inferred.”

Mr. Bates seemed to be making little Dwight a mite too uncharacteristically rude and obnoxious in gathering news and conducting interviews. Perhaps Mr. Bates has me confused with my former employees, with whom I am no longer connected. [Note from Danny: I have no idea what he’s referring to here.]

But be of good cheer. I’m not calling my lawyer. At least, not until we start negotiating about the trademark rights for Dwight Decker Underoos!

Reading the letters page in old Superman comics turns out to be more rewarding than you’d imagine.

3.41: The Other Worst Scene


— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Superman III 4.30: As the World Turns

  1. I read Lex’s “I chose to abort Lane’s obliteration” speech out loud. With all my laughing, it took about five minutes. It takes a special talent to write two short paragraphs that display so many forms of verbal awkwardness.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. It’s like finding out Max von Sydow was a devotee of Days of our Lives and passionate beyond all reason about whether Patch and Kayla are finally going to get together (why yes, that WAS my soap in high school, why do you ask?)

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The amazing ability of the writers to conjure page after page of dialogue that no human or alien anywhere in the universe would ever say out loud or even mentally is astounding.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That last panel of Lana slapping Superman’s passionless refrigerator of a face and then yelling in pain while Superman continues talking is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in a Superman comic.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Amazing Heroes was published by the same company that put out The Comics Journal. Publisher Gary Groth had a contentious relationship with the Powers That Be at the Big Two. If the former employers Dwight Decker is referring to are Groth and the Fantagraphics/TCJ/Amazing Heroes crowd, his comment may make sense in an Inside Baseball way.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. The idea that young readers would have been unaware that “not completely blissful and tranquil and, yes, even happy” marriages existed had they not read about it in a comic book made me laugh. It’s also funny that they included dating two women at the same time and drowning your rival in a punch bowl but drew the line at divorce.
    A lot of this just sounds like padding to reach the required page count. Justin isn’t a real romantic rival or a potential villain or even much of a reporter. Only a panel filler.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Part of me wonders if the writers were pulling some kind of inside joke with Justin Moore that was really amusing to them personally even if no one else got it.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Divorce was so bizarrely treated by society both in real life and pop culture–it was totally fine, as you say, for people to rampage across entire galaxies but not to go, this isn’t working out and I need an attorney.

      And it’s not like there were no divorces even before no-fault laws; they were harder to get, and the majority of the time were granted for desertion (one or the other of the partners just up and left, and after a while it was simply legally acknowledging a fait accompli,) but they certainly happened. The reaction of readers to the idea that a middle aged couple might simply have come to the end of the road with such vim and wailing shows how devoted we were as a society to they myth of Marriage Is Forever.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. He looks like he’s wearing the same ‘Mister Macho’ wig that Les Nessman wore in the ‘A Date With Jennifer’ episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Here we see one of the tragedies of modern life, where we form stronger relationships with manufactured characters than with the real people around us. Granted, real people rarely have the same patience, predictability, or time for us. That says more about our culture than about us.

    Danny’s always saying a new character needs to make a friend, a plot point, and a joke, if they’re going to stick (must have run out of time today). Justin Moore does none of those things, and he gets sent back to Central Casting. Good-bye, Justin, nobody likes you. Not the cast, not the readers, not the editors, not even the writer. How sad that he can’t even succeed as a fake person–but we hold them to higher standards, don’t we?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The late 70s/early 80s have to be my absolutely least-favorite era of Big Two Superhero comics. They’re trying to be “realistic,” like you say, but they’re still just as wordy as Silver Age Comics were. The dialogue is just duller and therefore harder to read.

    That started to change when people like Moore and Morrison came in and started writing actual dialogue that people could plausibly say (or at least that flows like movie dialogue).

    I love that Golden/Silver Age verbose nonsense, and the newer style from the past 35-ish years, but this middle ground. Ugh. I can’t stand it.


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