Action #387, "Even A Superman Dies!"

ACTION COMICS #387; April 1970; DC Comics; Mort Weisinger, editor, E.  Nelson
Bridwell, assistant editor; in which "Even A Superman Dies!"  Or  does he? 
It looks like it on the cover by Swan and Anderson, on which a  super-aged
Superman lies on a table being examined by a medical robot which  declares, "It's
no use...I cannot revive Superman!  He is over ONE MILLION  YEARS
minutes he'll turn to dust!"  A couple of human bystanders  conclude, "If the
Healer failed,  NO ONE can save him!"

Review by  Bill Henley

In the previous two issues of ACTION and my previous two  reviews, we saw how
Superman made a trip into the future in a defective Time  Bubble and found
himself physically aging but nonetheless seemingly immortal and  (thanks to the
evil Time Trapper) unable to travel backwards in time to his home  era of 1970
A.D.  Last issue, he was relegated to a "Home for Old  Super-Heroes" and led
its inmates in a mission to save future Metropolis, but  kept traveling into
the future in an attempt to find some purpose in his  seemingly eternal life. 
On the splash page of this story (by Cary Bates,  Curt Swan, and an inker I
can't quite pin down, though it might be Jack Abel),  he has found a purpose
indeed, as he singlehandedly splits a dried-out, dead  Earth like an orange.  "I
lived on after my home world Krypton exploded,  and now I'm still alive when
Earth is a lifeless sphere!  I've outlived TWO  PLANETS!  So I'll perform my
LAST super-deed....and my GREATEST...."  

It is the year 801,970 A.D., and "Deep within the Milky Way galaxy", 
Superman, flying through space, finds a string of five astronauts floating  frozen in
icy spheres.  He deduces that the spheres are serving as  lifeboats after a
space crash, and rescues the spacefarers by pulling them  towards a freak
"rainbow sun" which thaws them out.  But our hero gets  little satisfaction from
his feat; "This would have thrilled me ONCE, an  eternity ago!  Now, even the
most spectacular feats don't give me a  charge!  I'm just too tired of DOING MY
THING!"  After being freed  from their "preservo-spheres", the astronauts (who
are mere spring chickens by  comparison, having been in the deep freeze only
5,000 years) pelt the Man of  Steel with questions, but the grouchy old
Supercurmudgeon flies off without  answering; "The ANSWERS are too painful for me to
talk about!  I can only  MOVE ON!"  But despite the pain, Superman remembers
(and fills in new  readers on) how he got in this situation, moving endlessly
forward in time  looking for some kind of fulfillment, unable to return
backwards, as the  gloating Time Trapper looks on. 

Arriving at a time a full million  years after his origin, Superman checks
out how Earth is doing and is shocked to  discover that "After a million years
of pollution, war, and untold abuses from  MAN....Earth has been simply USED
UP!  It's just a contaminated globe of  WASTE MATERIAL now!"  Worse yet, a
couple of gigantic planet-sized robots  approach Man's old homeworld; "Dead Planet
446 directly ahead!"  The robots  are helpfully marked (in 20th century
English script), "Galactic Sanitation  Dept."  But jaded though he may be, Superman
will have none of this;  "Contaminated or not, Earth is still MY planet, and
I'm not going to see it  DEMOLISHED for some 'Keep Space Beautiful' campaign!" 
The robots are too  large for even Superman to halt by brute force, so he
does an inside job,  entering one of the robots' innards and using its components
to create an  "ultra-battery" and creates a "super-positive charge" from
Supes' heat-vision  energy.  Then he enters the other robot and does the same
thing, creating  another "super-positive charge".  The result, since like charges
repel each  other, is that both robots are hurled far into space in opposite 
directions.  With Earth saved from the immediate threat of the cosmic 
trashcan, "Now to see if I can't give Earth some NEW LIFE-- and a NEW  LOOK!" 
Superman drills through the Earth thousands of times until it  splits in half as per
the splash page.  Why?  Because though the  Earth's internal fires have died
out, the minerals at the Earth's core are  "fresh and uncontaminated".  Fusing
the two half-spheres together at one  edge, Superman creates a weird looking
planet (even weirder than the square  Bizarro World) but one with a vast
expanse of two circular flat surfaces which  can be made habitable for life again. 
"Scouring a dozen planets in mere  minutes", Superman finds one with the
right type of atmosphere for his New Earth  and sucks it up to get the job done;
"It's a bit of a strain, but my lungs are  strong enough to suck in this entire
cloud and compress it under  SUPER-PRESSURE!"  After supplying his new world
with air, Supes travels to  still more worlds to collect water, plant life,
and finally animal life; "I'll  have to restore the BALANCE OF NATURE on Earth! 
I must choose only species  of ALIEN ANIMALS that can exist and multiply in
the environment I've  created.  (The story doesn't specify how long this whole
process takes, but  I wouldn't be surprised if it was six days....)  Finally,
visiting a "young  planet still in its prehistoric age", our hero finds it
inhabited by humanoids  similar to primitive Earth-humans, and abducts a young
couple to become the  progenitors of his new world.  "Now, like ADAM and EVE,
that primitive  couple will start another human race!  I've given Earth a second
chance to  flourish and prosper!"

(Maybe the Earth will, Supes, but I don't know  about your new humans.  The
Book of Genesis notwithstanding, two people  isn't much of a gene pool to
repopulate a planet with.  The children of  your Adam and Eve are going to have to
resort to incest in order to "be fruitful  and multiply", and any recessive
genes will run riot.  I think you've gone  senile after a million years, Supes,
if you think this plan to "repopulate the  Earth" will work.  And I don't even
want to think about the gravitational  and orbital effects of that
sliced-apple Earth of yours.) 

But as  far as Superman is concerned, a brief satisfaction with his work is
quickly  replaced by renewed despair; "There's NOTHING left for me to do now! 
I've  just performed the ULTIMATE feat of my super-career!  All I can look 
forward to now is an eternity of BOREDOM!"  Perhaps not,  for as he  flies
dispiritedly through space a small purple spacecraft shaped like a  grappling hook
comes up behind our hero; "SUPERMAN!  We've searched a  million years and
countless worlds for this moment!  Now is the time for  the KILL!"  And the
spacecraft fires a blast of radiation through  Superman's chest, leaving him
floating inert in space.  "What is this  strange, pint-size spacecraft?  How could it
doom the immortal champion who  was so invulnerable he apparently COULDN'T
die?"  The answer lies in the  distant past of the year 2000, where we find an
aged Lex Luthor visiting a  "shrine" to Superman (probably the same Superman
museum that Perry White  runs).  Though the rest of the world has presumed
Superman dead for three  decades, Luthor is convinced the Man of Steel still lives
somewhere in space or  somewhen in time.  And Luthor is still determined to be
the one to end  Superman's life, even if he himself has to die before he
accomplishes  this.  When Luthor does die, shortly afterward, his "evil
psyche-energy" is  drawn from his corpse to power his last invention, the "killer drone"
spacecraft  which sets off across space on its million-year-long search for
Superman.   Along the way, the drone powers itself by picking up additional
"evil  psyche-force" from other bad hats such as executed criminals.  (I guess 
even Eveready batteries aren't enough to keep the drone going a million 
years.)  And it is this drone which has apparently blasted Superman to  death-- not
realizing that, from the hero's point of view, it has done Superman  a
tremendous favor rather than fulfilling Luthor's ancient vengeance.

But  there's always someone around to gum up the works.... A spacegoing
robotic  healeer detects a faint heartbeat in Superman's floating body, takes him
aboard  its space station and struggles to fan the embers of life before
Superman can  truly die and crumble to dust.  The cover scene turns out to be a
cheat, as  the robot healert actually succeeds in reviving Superman, but gets no
thanks  from him.  "I saved your life!"  "WHAT?  Why did you do a fool  thing
like that?  I'm over a million years old....I've outlived everything  and
everybody I cared about.... I WANTED to die!"  In "blind fury",  Superman streaks
away from the space station in pursuit of a deadly  "magnor-comet" which will
"disintegrate EVERYTHING in its path-- even  YOU1"  "That'll suit me FINE!" 
(And so Superman sets out to literally  commit suicide-- not just welcome a
natural death, or take on a super-foe hoping  to die in battle, as Karate Kid of
the Legion once did.)  As Superman flies  toward the comet the killer drone
zeroes in on him again, but both are caught up  in the backwash of the comet, and
while the drone is destroyed, Superman remains  intact but is swept
irresistibly forward in time.  'I've traveled through  the time-barrier before....but
nothing like this!  I can't stop!  I'll  keep going until the END OF TIME!" 
Superman blacks out, and when he  regains consciousness he awakens to a most
unexpected sight....his Kryptonian  mother Lara reaching out to him, with his
fathe Jor-El at her side.  But  when he tries to speak the words that come out
are those of the toddler Kal-El,  begging to play with the puppy Krypto rather
than be put down for a nap.   The plea is to no avail, and when little Kal
drifts off the sleep, he reawakens  years later reliving the life of Superboy in
Smallville.  Another blackout,  and now young man Clark Kent is applying to
Perry White for a Daily Planet  job.  And so, the Man of Steel relives his life
until he reaches Jan. 12,  1970, the date on which he left on his ill-fated
time trip.  "Will I have  to do that AGAIN?"  No, for he finds that the defective
Time-Bubble has  already disappeared into the future.  "Many scientists
believe that time  CURVES BACK on itself-- that somewhere the past and future MEET!
I've just  proved it!  I went so far into the FUTURE, I reached my own PAST!
And  I got a SECOND CHANCE, just as I gave Earth a second chance in the 

This storyline combined considerable pathos and vast  historical sweep with a
fair bit of good old Weisingerian silliness.  I  wonder if Weisinger
consciously saw it as symbolizing time and change with his  own impending retirement
and the passing of the Superman comics on into other  hands.  Anyway, the story
raises a lot of questions that aren't really  answered.  Does Superman go on
living the rest of his life while still  remembering his million-year-long
existence as an "immortal"?  Considering  all the time he spent being lonely and
mourning his old friends, especially Lois  Lane, wouldn't you think he'd have
done something to develop a warmer  relationship with her?  Does his
experience mean that even without  traveling forward in time, he is doomed to be
immortal and outlive his  friends? 

Also in this issue of ACTION is a Legion of Super-Heroes  story which was
also intended as an ending of sorts, though it didn't turn out  to be a permanent
one.  The story is "One Hero Too Many!", and as I recall  without digging out
my Legion index volume it was written by E. Nelson Bridwell  and drawn by Win
Mortimer and Jack Abel.  On the splash panel, a monitor  board shows the
entire membership of the Legion at that point-- 26 members--  with a heading, "One
of these members will leave the Legion-- TODAY!"  As  the story opens, the
Legion is gifted with an experimental   "warp-transport" device which enables
Karate Kid, the current Legion leader, to  step onto a world a million
light-years away as if he were stepping into another  room.  But when he returns, the
most ominous, menacing figure imaginable  appears with him.  No, not an alien
monster from the faraway world.... not  one of the Legion's old foes like
Mordru or Tharok or the Time Trapper....  something much worse than any of those. 
He is recognized as "Wayland  Banning, head of Earth's Bureau of  Revenue and
Taxation", and he announces  he has come to make sure the Legion is able to
pay the taxes on their new  "warp-transport" gift before they accept it.  Taxes?
What  taxes?  "But the Legion is a tax-free organization!" Karate Kid 
protests.  Not any more, for the current Legion totals 26 members, and  "according
to Earth's law, all private clubs with more than 25 active members  must pay
taxes!"  And the Legion's status as a deputized "law-enforcement"  group makes
no difference.  The generous taxman gives the Legion 24 hours  to either drop
on member and get down to the 25-member limit, or pay all its  back taxes. (By
the way, the warp-transport device must have had some bugs in  it-- I don't
think we ever saw it again, and the Legion continued to use tried  but true
space cruisers when they went on missions to faraway  worlds.)

And so, not having billions in back tax money to spare, the  Legion is left
with the choice of which member to blackball.  Timber Wolf  nobly volunteers to
leave, on the grounds that he is the most recent member to  join, but is
challenged by Chemical King (remember him?) who notes that he and  TW joined at
the same time.  The aggressive Wolf wrestles CK and juggles  him in the air to
prove that he, Wolf, should have the right to quit, and then  Bouncing Boy
bounces in declaring that his bouncing power is the "least useful"  in the Legion
and he should go.  Duo Damsel declares, "My power to split  into two girls
isn't so hot!"  (I think she has a point there) and  volunteers to go.  At this
point Karate Kid gets cheesed off and smashes  the leader's rostrum with a
karate chop.  "So you all want to be noble and  hand in your resignations, eh? 
Well, they're NOT ACCEPTED!  If I let  you all quit, we'[ll lose too much of our
strength at once!"  BB suggests  that as leader Karate Kid should be the one
to choose a member to  drop, but KK refuses the responsibility, proposing to
leave the decision to  chance.  He invites all the members who are willing to
quit to write out  their resignations and put them in a jar so that the choice
can be made by  lot.  But when KK tries to pull a paper out of the jar, the
slips are  consumed in "rainbow fire".  The only surviving resignation is that
of  Dream Girl, who says she didn't resign, since she saw a vision of herself
on a  Legion mission in the future.  Several Legionnaires claim to have been 
responsible for the rainbow flames and demand the right to resign.  

Brainiac 5 proposes a new method of choosing who goes; his  super-computer
will determine which Legionnaire performed the fewest super-feats  in the past
year.  The answer is Brainiac 5 himself, but the other members  refuse to
accept his resignation; "You may not do many great feats, but the  Legion depends
on your planning and inventions!"  Supergirl, making a rare  appearance at a
Legion meeting, proposes that by the standard of absenteeism she  should be the
one to resign.  Brainy is crushed by this idea, since he has  a crush on
Supergirl, but she tells him, "We belong to different  worlds...different eras! 
Goodbye!"  Suddenly, however, the Legion of  Super-Pets (!) show up, and they
warn that if Supergirl leaves the human-type  Legion, both Streaky the Supercat
and Comet the Superhorse will quit the Pet  Legion as well, since they are
Supergirl's pets.  "See, Supergirl?  If  you walk out, we lose TWO out of the
FIVE members of the Super-Pets!  We  can't let that happen!"  Brainy proposes
that he reprogram his computer to  determine which Legionnaire is "least helpful"
to the group.  But when he  tries to get an answer, a bolt of Kryptonite
energy from the computer's defense  mechanism strikes Superboy.  The Boy of Steel
confesses that he is the one  who sabotaged the other resignation attempts,
because he wants to be the one to  quit.... and when he hands in his
resignation, Karate Kid reluctantly accepts  it.  Superboy refuses to explain his reasons
for leaving to the group, but  when Duo Damsel meets him on the way out, he
admits to her that he felt  expendable because Mon-El has all his powers
without his Kryptonite weakness,  and also because "I don't belong in this century!"
The same applies to  Supergirl, of course, but Superboy didn't want her to
leave because of  Brainiac's attraction to her.  And so Superboy leaves for the
20th century  for good, after giving Duo Damsel (who has a crush of her own
on him) a parting  hug and kiss.  The remaining Legionnaires create a golden
statue of  Superboy, "the greatest super-hero," and when Brainy is asked who the
computer  picked as the "least helpful Legionnaire", he says, "I cut it off
BEFORE it made  its decision!  Now, I don't WANT to know!"  (My money's still
on Duo  Damsel.  Or maybe Chemical King, if only because nobody, including the 
writers, ever understood how his power worked.)

Presumably the editorial  thinking here was that since the Legion had been
demoted to backup status behind  Superman in ACTION, there was no longer any
need to have Superboy as a regular  Legionnaire in order to help the Legion carry
its own title.  Superboy's  resignation turned out to be relatively
short-lived, however.  A few issues  of ACTION later, new editor Murray Boltinoff
dropped the Legion from ACTION  altogether-- but then moved the strip into the
SUPERBOY title itself, and by  1973 the Legion took over SUPERBOY.  It would have
looked odd for Superboy  not to appear at all in the title that was still
nominally his own, and so he  rejoined the Legion.