RETRO REVIEW: Action Comics #507 (May 1980)

by

Or – “The Father Who Makes Us All A Little Jealous…”

I haven’t seen this new ‘Man Of Steel’ movie, but from the advertising, I suspect that it might have something to do with Superman.  Having read a few comics with Big Blue in them over the years, I had been thinking about one to cover this weekend when I was suddenly reminded that it was also Father’s Day.  Given those two parameters, there was one clear winner, but I’ll warn you in advance:  I had to bust out my handkerchief, and you might as well, when you hear about “The Secret World of Jonathan Kent.”  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!

SUMMARY

Pros
Curt.  Swan.  Full stop.
It’ll break your heart.
Cons

Nobody remembers this one.
It’ll really break your heart, man…

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

READER RATING!

[ratings]

ACTION COMICS #507  ActionComics507Cover
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Colorist: Gene D’Angelo
Letterer: Milt Snapinn
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 40 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00/$14.00

Previously in Action Comics:  In the years before the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Superman grew up in Smallville, but lost his parents to a mysterious fever disease not long before moving to Metropolis and starting his career as a reporter.  At this point in the Superman mythos, Jonathan and Martha Kent have been dead for over a decade (over 4 decades of real time.)  Last issue, Clark discovered his father alive and well, visiting his grown son in Metropolis.  His super-senses swear to him that this man IS his long-lost father, and the Man of Steel’s super-brain races to figure out the hows and whys of his daddy’s resurrection.  Meanwhile, Jonathan has asked that his super-son take him to visit the grave of his late wife…

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Notice that the grave that Jonathan had lain in no longer exists, and last issue Superman even discovered years upon years of letters that he himself wrote to his dad, filled with information that no one else could have falsified!  Accepting that, somehow, his father is back, Clark is a bit bemused when Jonathan starts prodding him about the status of his super-love life, teasing him about his childhood love of Lana Lang.  Returning to Clark’s home in Metropolis, Papa and Junior Kent find that there’s more strangeness afoot than just a mysterious return from the great beyond…

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Pa Kent’s mysterious thought bubbles (I do so miss thought bubbles) hint at the greater mystery behind his “visit,” while Superman heads out to find out what in Rao’s name is going on with the people of his city…

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It’s better than a force-field, it’s…  a crazy hippie wackaloon who calls himself Starshine!  Last issue, Starshine reared his head, robbing  a bank without injury or threat using his strange abilities, what he calls his “Please Power.”  The Man of Tomorrow quickly discovers that even HE is not immune to whatever powers Starshine (probably the power of patchouli and hemp.)

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ALIENS!!!  I SEEN ‘EM!  They come down, and they give m’cousin Elwood and me some Chiclets!  Of course, they gave Pa Kent a bit more than that, in a kind of clever way.  Back in the 80s, Superman had a couple of monthly solo titles, but he also had a monthly SuperBOY book, which was eternally set “ten years ago.”  In the previous month’s issue of Superboy, a much younger Pa Kent had encountered these selfsame aliens, and saved them from harm.  In return, they promised him that they would fulfill his greatest desire, a plot thread that wasn’t picked up in the next issue of Superboy, but instead continued here!  It was a neat little bit of crossover madness, but Jonathan’s boon came with a price: Starshine was accidentally empowered by the same energies that brought him to the future!  Worse still, should he try to interfere on Superman’s behalf, their “wishes” would cancel each other out.  Rushing to find Clark, Jonathan finds him convalescing after Starshine compelled him to beat himself senseless with his super-strength, but in so doing makes a tiny little blunder:  HE REVEALS TO LOIS LANE THAT CLARK KENT IS SUPERMAN.

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Three things I love about this interaction:  First, Jonathan just brushes past any potential awkwardness, and quickly starts playing matchmaker.  Second, Swan’s rendition of a poleaxed and annoyed Superman is simply amazing, with Clark looking irritated, hopeful and unsure in turn.  And third, Lois’ ploy of “Maybe I knew already!” is something that I read as a clear sign that she absolutely DID know, but wasn’t about to let her boyfriend know until he was ready to tell her, something that puts Lois in a new light (and also makes his constant attempts to trick/taunt her about his secret identity throughout the Silver Age a little less mean-spirited.)  Given a moment to plan and prepare, Superman quickly takes out Sunshine with a hastily constructed muzzle and some super-hypnotism, then returns to work to try to puzzle out what to do about his suddenly changed status quo.  Can he get used to life with a living parent and Lois in on his secret?

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After reading the note, Clark is startled to see it fade away into nothingness, as the events of the day fade from his memory…  As the universe resets its timestream, there’s only one untied loose end:  The Secret Of Jonathan Kent.

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Awww…  His greatest desire wasn’t to avoid his own death or live forever, but just to get a chance to see the man his son grew up to be.  It’s a sweet tale, one that is clever enough to ALMOST escape concerns about the reset button and the aversion of the promising Lois subplot.  Modern readers probably don’t realize it, but it was kind of a big deal to have Lois learn his secret, especially after 45-odd years of dancing around it.  Still, even with the obvious “Gilligan can’t leave the island!” moments, the heart of this story is that of a father and son, and even the super-hippie, the alien scientists and the ridiculousness of Steve Lombard’s toupee can’t completely undermine it, especially with Swan penciling.  Action Comics #507 is a lost gem of a pretty fallow period of comics, not perfect but pretty to look at and touching to read, plus my grandma wore that same green pants-suit back in the day, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I really don’t know whether ‘Man Of Steel’ is good or not yet, but if Kevin Costner can pull off even half the emotion seen here, I think they have a shot at success…

Rating: ★★★½☆