etragedy's Superman #164 - The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman! review

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Could Have Been Epic

(This review is of the longer two part cover story only)

Here's a story that could have been one of the greatest Superman stories ever. It had a great setup - Luthor escapes from prison, and challenges Superman on TV to a fight without superpowers (cleverly breaking into shows like a western where the sheriff removes his badge to fight an outlaw man-to-man, and a heavyweight boxing match between two evenly matched fighters - a nice detail). It also has a great ending that reveals real growth on the part of Luthor. But sadly, those are the few pages at the beginning and the end.

Why is it so bad? Well for one thing, we have Superman trusting Luthor in a way that can only be described as naive - even for Superman.Then we have Luthor acting inconsistently throughout - is he a dishonorable cur who will kick a man when he's down? Or is he an honorable but bitter opponent to Superman? Part of this is what the story is all about, but even within the framework, they never seem to treat Luthor consistently, resulting in a fairly schizophrenic character.

Next, the planet they go to seems to have evolved exactly the same as Earth and/or Krypton at various times, complete with indigenous flora and fauna and humans. Including some animals that seem to exist only to be drinking glasses for a parched Superman. No explanation for it. Then of course, Luthor brought along all the right gadgets for the job, like plant growth powder (how did he know there would be plants there - never mind how silly the effects are), and when he and/or Superman don't have the gadget they need, they whip one up in seconds, resulting in a battle of deus-ex-machina vs. deus-ex-machina for about a half dozen pages.

There are plenty of other things like alien technology, and alien language presenting no problem for either character, and Luthor just giving away his advantage by letting Superman learn the alien language and technology (or is this in character for him? Keeping the fight fair? I really wish some consistency in the character of Luthor would be enforced).

Of course the ultimate groan moment is when we get to the scene foreshadowed in the splash page, where Luthor uses an "automaton bloodhound devised by ancient-scientists for trailing law-breakers" that he happened to find and fix on this world of similarly evolved humans, who evidently also had bloodhounds and then made robot versions of them. What the Hell?!?

All-in-all, a sad waste of the hotshot new artist Curt Swan, who was fast becoming the definitive Superman artist of all time.

5 Comments
Posted by kfhrfdu_89_76k

You really don`t like alot of things about Silver age Superman-comics.

Posted by etragedy

@kfhrfdu_89_76k: It's true; I'm not a huge fan of Silver Age comics in general. I find both Golden Age and Bronze Age comics to be superior. The Silver Age was particularly bad for DC, Marvel was doing much better comics at that time. I have a list of Silver Age comics I like (and one issue of Superman does make the list) here.

Posted by Mourgos

I see your point, but most of the Silver Age DC comics were written that way. They're fun, they're goofy and make for some fun kid's entertainment. Look at the book from the view of a company catering to kids who have only a black & white TV to watch where Nixon and Johnson are talking about Vietnam, Kennedy was just assassinated a couple of years before, and the Cold War and the Beatles are in full swing. It's just escapist fun.

You did not mention about the secondary story, the superstitious Phantom Zone criminal and how Jimmy Olsen teams up with Superman to beat him. Hilarious.

Posted by etragedy

@Mourgos:

I hear what you're saying and agree with it a little - there's a reason I didn't give it less than 2 stars.

But too often 'writing for kids' has meant 'talking down to kids'. Hell, I grew up during the Bronze Age, and I felt talked down to by comics many times when I was a kid - and those Vietnam era comics were way more sophisticated.

The fact is that DC Comics were actually better in the Golden Age than they were in the Silver Age. Even though Jerry Siegel's grasp of science was fairly loose (and science itself was much less advanced - no space race yet), but he at least made the attempt, ya know? Actually a lot of the Siegel/Shuster stuff holds up pretty well today, despite its age.

Edmond Hamilton on the other hand was a much more established SF writer before coming to comics... and he was writing in a, post-Hiroshima, post-Sputnik age - he could have written this a lot better. He must have either had DC editorial breathing down his neck to dumb it down, or he was just being lazy... in either case I just can't in good conscience give him a pass on execution, regardless of how cool the idea itself is.

Most comics historians and many former DC employes themselves will admit Marvel was putting out better product during the 60s, and this issue typifies why. The Marvel books of this era at least had consistent characterization. If only Luthor had been written that way in the first story of this issue. As I said at the top, it could have been epic.

You're right, I'm not sure why I omitted the review or the second story. I'm going to amend my review to point that out. Thanks.

Posted by Mourgos

@etragedy: That's fine, I see what you mean. I guess I just trip on the impossibility of the goofy Silver Age comics. I mean we had Batman fighting aliens!

The Marvel ones were better: I still collect the old ones, but am gravitating towards the Bronze Age, with DC's 100 pagers and the Amazing Spiderman issues. Thanks for the comments.

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