Action #385, "The Immortal Superman!"

ACTION COMICS #385; February 1970; DC Comics; Mort Weisinger, editor; E. 
Nelson Bridwell, assistant editor; cover-featuring "The Immortal  Superman!"  On
the cover which looks like a Swan/Murphy Anderson  collaboration, Superman--
gray-haired, but otherwise muscular, hale and hearty--  stands before a panel
of futuristic doctors observing him as he breaks a set of  green glowing
chains.  "I'm 100,000 years old... and mightier than  ever!  Even KRYPTONITE CHAINS
can't hold me anymore!  EVERYONE I've  ever known or loved is long dead!  WHEN
WILL I DIE?"  The doctors have  bad news, but it's the reverse of the usual
bad news a doctor has to deliver;  "NEVER!  Our tests show you CAN'T die,

Review by Bill  Henley

A few days ago there was some comment on the list about how,  towards the end
of his long Silver Age reign, editor Mort Weisinger seemed to be  trying to
adapt to changing times with a series of more serious and thoughtful  Superman
stories than his usual wont.  That reminded me of this story--  actually the
first of a three-part trilogy-- which made some impression on me  when it was
first published.  Some time back I reviewed an earlier issue of  ACTION (the
review can still be found on the Silver Age Reviews Yahoo site) that  involved
Superman being turned into an old man.  That story was in more  typical early
Weisinger fashion, with Superman being prematurely aged by  recklessly drinking
an untested potion (apparently he'd been hanging out with  Jimmy Olsen too
much) and the ramifications of his aging were mostly played for  humor.  Here,
the concept of Superman's possible aging and mortality-- or  lack of it-- is
dealt with with greater thoughtfulness and pathos (though I  don't imaging it
will be a SPOILER for anyone to say that the ultimate ending  will be a reset
button).  I believe the uncredited story was scripted by  Cary Bates;  Curt Swan
is definitely the penciller but I'm not sure of the  inker, possibly Jack
Abel.  On the splash page, Superman hovers in the air  near his Fortress of
Solitude, now a crumbling ruin visited by long lines of  curiosity seekers. 
"*CHOKE* My Fortress has crumbled away from age... now  it's just a TOURIST
ATTRACTION!  I'm over 100,000 years old...standed here  in the year 101,970 with NO
HOPE of ever returning to my own time-era!"   Says the opening caption,
"SUPERMAN is the most powerful being on Earth...but  does that mean he will live
longer than normal humans?  Will he die after a  HUNDRED years?  A THOUSAND?  NO! 
The mighty Man of Steel will  still be going strong a HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS
from now....but will an eternal  life, with no fear of death, be a BLESSING or

We begin with a meeting in the Oval Office between "two of the  most
important men on Earth-- the President of the U.S.-- and Superman..."   The Prez,
whose face is discreetly shadowed (though the silhouetted features of  Richard
Nixon are vaguely discrernible) has a special request for Supes; not to  make any
time-travel journeys for the next 24 hours because "the success of the 
Army's top-secret Vortex Experiment depends on the space-time continuum  remaining
undisturbed!"  "That's no problem, Mr. President!  I didn't  intend to crash
the time-barrier this week, anyway!"  Don't speak too soon,  Supes.... he is
urgently summoned away from the White House by a signal  indicating a possible
intruder at the Fortress of Solitude.  Ariving there,  he finds a giant
floating robotic hand has inscribed on his Fortress door a  message, "SUPERMAN-- YOUR
HELP URGENTLY NEEDED IN YEAR 101.970  But how to  answer this "urgent" call
promptly, when he has just promised to leave the  time-barrier alone for 24
hours?  (Here is a logical inconsistency that  often comes up in comic-book time
travel stories.  How can you have a  time-urgent situation where time travel
is involved?  Why can't Superman  just wait the allotted 24 hours, travel
through time, and still arrive at the  appointed time and place in 101,970? )

Not stopping to worry about the  above question, Superman comes up with a
solution to the problem, albeit a  reckless one.  In his Fortress is a time
bubble, the time-traveling device  used by Legion of Super-Heroes members to visit
the 20th century and return to  the 30th.  This one is marked, "OPERABLE BUT
DEFECTIVE--SHOULD NOT BE  USED!"  "I wouldn't take a chance with it NORMALLY--
but this is an  EMERGENCY!", Superman decides.  The Time Bubble, he assures
us, won't  disrupt the time-space continuum in the same way he himself would
breaking the  time-barrier under his own power.  And so, he sets out on his
time-journey,  concluding that the Time Bubble is working OK after all when it
deposits him  exactly where and when the coordinates were set-- though the
destination is in  deep space rather than on Earth.  But the men of the future are
startled  and skeptical when Superman steps from the bubble, his face initially
in  shadow.  Can this be the real Superman?  Our hero soon discovers the 
reason for their confusion-- his hair has gone grey, his face deeply lined with 
age.  "GREAT KRYPTON!  Now I know the Time Bubble's defect!   While
transporting me to the future-- it caused me to AGE EVERY YEAR along the  way!  I'm over
100,000 YEARS OLD!"  Does this mean his mission to the  future will be a
failure, since he is a Supergeezer with only a remnant of his  former powers (as in
that earlier"Super-Old-Man" story I reviewed)?  Not  so; in this case, the
effects of his hyper-aging seem little more than cosmetic,  as not only are his
"super-thought-waves" at full strength, identifying him as  the true Superman,
but he succeeds in beating the "Strength-Defier", a device  held together by
"Cosma-Magnetism", the mightiest force in the Universe!"  

And so, at last, Superman learns what mission has called him to the far 
future and may exact such a personal price.  It seems he has been called to  the
future equivalent of Fort Knox, the "monetary reserve chamber" where massive 
amounts of cash from every known planet are locked up under heavy guard.   Yet
somehow a "Mystery Thief" has been entering the vault during the 12-hour 
period every "night" when it is supposed to be completely inaccessible thanks to 
its "Pulsato-Energy fence".  Doesn't this time era have any superheroes of 
its own to guard the vault?  Yes, it does-- but Superman is shown how at  least
three of them (shown but not identified by name) volunteered to spend the 
night in the vault and were found the next day in irreversible comas.  
Nonetheless, Superman agrees to take a turn sitting in the vault and waiting for  the
Mystery Thief to show up-- though as the hours roll by uneventfully, he  begins
to regret his decision; "Maybe the slippery safecracker has decided not  to
show this time!  I wish I were back patrolling Metropolis in the 20th 
century-- it was never BORING!"   But the Man of Steel's ennui is  relieved as
suddenly a monstrous creature coalsesces out of the radiation of the  "pulsato-energy
fence".  "So THAT's the answer!  The culprit is some  sort of SYNTHETIC BEING
spawned by the radiations of Pulsato-Energy!  It  camouflages itself in the
energy-fence whenever the chamber is unlocked!"   But what does an energy
creature want with money!  It doesn't want to spend  the cash, Superman discovers--
it wants to eat it!  And how did it  immobilize the other heroes?  By its
ability to give ou devastating shocks  that can even threaten Superman.  But
after leading the creature on a  circular chase, our hero finds shelter within the
energy-fence itself, though at  the cost of suffering "stinging pain---but it
beats being zapped into a TRANCE  by that sizzling NIGHTMARE!"  Once released
from the vault after 12 hours,  Superman explains to the future men what has
been happening and calls for a  weapon to use against the energy creature-- a
simple "Paint-Atomizer" which he  uses to change the color of some of the
stored cash.  The next night,  Superman returns to the vault, but the creature
ignores him, having decided he  is both harmless and inedible.  But when it
resumes it's feeding, it  suddenly has a massive attack of heartburn and dissolves
back into lifeless  energy.  It seems Superman noticed that it "ate" only
forms of currency  that were red, yellow or orange-- "warm" colors-- and concluded
it might be  allergic to "cooler" colors.  So "I sprayed YELLOW paint on
several types  of BLUE coins!"-- and caused the creature to poison itself.  (This
seems to  be playing fast and loose with Supes's vow never to kill any kind of
living  creature, even if this living creature is "synthetic" and

With the future crisis resolved (and, frankly, a safecracker seems like  a
fairly trival threat to summon history's greatest hero across 100,000 years 
for) Superman prepares to return to 1970 in his Time Bubble, optimistically 
expecting that the machine's defect will reverse itself and restore his youth as 
he returns.  But his expectations are thwarted when the Bubble bounces off  an
impenetrable barrier in the time-stream.  Nor does he have any greater 
success when he tries to break through the barrier under his own power.  A  shadowy
figure is behind the barrier-- the Time-Trapper, a foe Superman once  fought
alongside the Legion of Super-Heroes.  "My temporal force-barrier  will keep
the PAST off-limits until the day you die-- no matter how many  thousands of
years it takes!"  Meanwhile, Superman flies to Earth, only to  discover that he
has moved evern further into the future; the shape of the  Earth's continents
is now changed, and the surface of the planet is covered with  a dangerous
radioactive mist caused by "centuries of atomic fallout".   Humanity still
survives, though, living in cities built on platforms above the  radioactive air. 
Flying amidst the five-mile-high skyscrapers of the  future Metropolis, Supes
is puzzled when he is greeted by ray-blasts-- until he  sees a Wantd poster
callling for the arrest of the members of the notorious  "Superman Gang":,
criminals who for some reason wear a version of Superman's  uniform.  The real
Superman takes refuge in the "Metro-Museum of Ancient  History", where he is
pursued by angry police vowing "He and his buddies should  be PSYCHO-PARALYZED for
dishonoring the honored Superman uniform!"-- but escapes  their notice by
donning his Clark Kent clothes and standing amidst dummies of  typical 20th century

Suddenly the Clark Kent clothes  dissolve and Superman is confronted by three
beings who identify themselves as  the "Multiple Men", futuristic superheroes
with 25 super-powers each.  They  have recognized the true Superman and want
to honor him with a "gift".  But  it seems like a strange sort of "gift"-- a
greenish mist that makes Superman  feel weak and groggy.  "Am I dying?  I'd
just as soon die as be stuck the future... since all my best friends
are long  dead....uhhhh..."  But premonitions of Superman's death prove
exaggerated,  as his comatose form is picked up by a robotic ambulance and taken for 
observation by doctors.  And when he awakens, what they have to tell him is 
a complete surprise.  One of the physicians throws a Kryptonite chain over 
Superman's shoulders, but he breaks it with ease.  Likewise, a culture of 
deadly Kryptonian Virus X is harmless to him, and even a "witch-dog" that should 
be able to cast a magic spell of terror over him has no effect.  The "gift"  of
the Multiple Men was to grant him immunity to all his remaining weaknesses-- 
Kryptonite, Virus X, magic, and red sun radiation-- and the temporary
weakness  was only his "super-metabolism" adapting to the new immunity.  But still, 
Superman is not necessarily appreciative of this "gift", for "This means I can
NEVER die....No force in the universe can harm me!  My friends...Lois, 
Jimmy, Perry, Lana Batman.... all dead ages ago!  But I CAN" die!   I'll live
FOREVER.... and I can NEVER.... go....HOME!"    "So the  aged Man of Steel is
stranded in the future...immune to injury, disease and  death....but not to
loneliness and heartbreak!  For the next chaper of  Superman's time-odyssey, get the
March issue of ACTION!"

Also in this  issue is a Legion of Super-Heroes story, "The Fallen
Starboy!"(this was the  period when the Legion was bumped out of ADVENTURE COMICS by
Supergirl and  shoehorned into the back pages of ACTION.).  Though I originally
bought  these issues of ACTION for the Legion stories, I'll cover this one in
limited  detail.  Story I think is by E. Nelson Bridwell (or maybe Cary Bates);
art  by Win Mortimer and Jack Abel. The Legion sends Star Boy to his own home
planet,  Xanthu on a mission, along with Saturn Girl and Colossal Boy.  The
mission  is to catch a hijacking gang that always seems to be prepared in
advance for any  plan the Xanthu police use to catch them.  Perhaps the Legion can
do  better?  Only partly....for when the gang strikes next, they are wearing 
anti-telepathy helmets which foil Saturn Girl's power, and they make their
escae  into a section of the city filled with elevated streets and monorails that
leave  Colossal Boy no room to maneuver.  However, Star Boy does manage to
save  their intended loot-- a shipment of valuable statues-- by making it too
heavy  for the gang's grappler device to lift.  Later, thinking about his 
girlfriend Dream Girl, Star Boy realizes the secret of the gang-- they must be 
Naltorians and share her power to foresee the future, so that they knew how the 
police and the Legion would come after them.  But why didn't they foresee 
Star Boy's presence?  We learn that it is because the leader of the gang  wants
to lure Star Boy into a trap, since he has a grudge against the Xanthuan 
Legionnaire.  He is the brother of Kenz Nuhor, a man Star Boy once killed  in
self-defense.  (As it happens, I previously reviewed that story in which  this
happened, from ADVENTURE #342, and again the review can still be found on  the
Silver Age Reviews site.) 

The next day the hijacking gang  strikes again, and the Legionnaires find
they are now using a teleport-beam to  snatch away their loot without carrying
it.  Then they snatch Star Boy as  well, and he finds himself on a spaceship in
free fall with no artificial  gravity, where his weight-increasing power has
no effect.  Yark Althu, the  brother of Kenz Nuhor, is determined to kill Star
Boy with the same kind of  ray-gun SB used to kill his brother years before. 
But Star Boy dodges  Yark's ray-blasts by skillful use of his flight ring, and
then realizes his  power is not useless after all.  Though he cannot increase
Yark's weight,  he can still increase his mass, and he makes the villain's
ray-gun so massive he  is unable to squeeze its trigger.  Yark directs the rest
of his gang to  blast Star Boy, figuring he can't use his power on all of them
at once.   "At times like this I wish I could be Invisible Kid and just
DISAPPEAR!"   But at that opportune moment Colossal Boy and Saturn Girl arrive to
the rescue,  as SG has been led to the location by Star Boy's brain waves.  SB
taunts  his vengeful foe, "For a prophetic Naltorian, you sure were defeated
by a lot of  UNFORESEEN things!" 

If there's interest, I'll continue with  reviews of the other two
installments in the "Immortal Superman" story (along  with the accompanying Legion