Retro Review: Action Comics #593 (October 1987)

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BECAUSE STEPHEN DEMANDED IT!  Sometimes an issue gains notoriety for obvious reasons, others for reasons that are obscure or inexplicable.  Then, there’s stuff like Superman’s porno debut with a very married Big Barda…  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Action Comics #593 awaits!

Action593CoverACTION COMICS #593
Writer: John Byrne
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: John Byrne
Colorist: Tom Ziuko
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Michael Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00
Previously in Action Comics:  Rocketed to Earth as an infant from the dead planet Krypton, Kal-El grew up in the heartland of America, eventually realizing that his powers made him important enough to create another identity, a Superman.  In 1986, after decades of stories featuring the character and his extended family, DC Comics rebooted their entire publishing universe for the first time, leaving us with a more vulnerable, more human Superman coming to terms with being a fish out of water in the big city, regardless of his alien might.  Thanks to comics superstar John Byrne (whose star was probably at its apogee during 1987), the hero who once cleaned his cape by flying through the sun had become a less-powerful, but in many ways more interesting, character.

But none of that is why we’re here.  No, Faithful Spoilerites, we’re here to take a look at the infamous “Superman makes a porn movie with the Apokaliptian god of filth” issue…  Last time ’round, in issue #592, Big Barda, former female fury of Apokalips, was captured by a rogue Apokaliptian called Sleez, and as the issue closed, she had overpowered the Man of Steel as well.  Now, Barda’s husband, Mister Miracle (aka Scott Free, son of the Highfather of New Genesis) returns home…

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…to find that his beloved Barda isn’t there, but his sorta-kinda adoptive dad Darkseid is!  The first of many oh-so goofy images in this issue comes early, as Darkseid sits comfortably in Scott’s Archie-Bunker-armchair with a snifter of brandy in his hand, like a stone-faced Orson Welles shilling Martini & Rossi Intergalactic Merlot.  It’s the kind of image you’d only ever see in a Bronze Age DC comic, and probably only one by Byrne at that.  The Lord of Apokalips explains that he comes in piece, and rather than attacking, hands Mister Miracle a videotape (!!), informing him that his wife is in danger partly because of Darkseid’s own actions.  But even the scion of New Genesis isn’t ready for what he sees when Oberon plays the tape…

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Let’s step back for just a moment here.  Big Barda was last seen in the sleazy part of Metropolis, an area that resembled New York’s Times Square back in the days of vice and pervery.  Whatever is on the tape (Yes, I’m fully aware that it’s implied to be pornography) is shocking enough to upset Mister Miracle enough to have him get all up in the face of the most powerful creature in this part of the universe.  Also, Darkseid has “agents” who hang out in sleazy porn shops.  Let that sink in for just a moment…

While Mister Miracle comes to grips (you should excuse the expression) with all of this, Sleez has brought his newest prize to the offices of Grossman Pictures (Purveyors of fine stag films and filth since 1972!) with the intention of making some serious bank on his new star talent: The Last Son of Krypton.  Grossman doesn’t believe that Sleez has the real Superman, until Sleez instructs his pawn to demonstrate his power…

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That is one…  detailed… picture of Barda in her space-bikini there.  As lovely as Byrne’s art can be, that just makes me uncomfortable for many reasons.  Also (and this is important): Please note that WHATEVER is on the tape Mister Miracle just viewed, it cannot be Superman having sex with his wife, as Superman has not yet made any movies for Sleez at a point AFTER Barda’s tape has been on sale.  I mention this only because there are those who will tell you that Superman banged Mister Miracle’s wife and got away with it in this issue, and that is a misconception that might make people actually buy the thing.  (Frankly, I just won’t be a party to that.)  As for Scott Free, he tracks Sleez down (thanks to Darkseid, who I once again remind you sends out his Hunger Dogs to procure porn for reasons best left unexplored), but finds that Superman and Barda aren’t the creature’s only slaves…

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Mummified, chained, welded into a dumpster and dropped into the bay?  That’s clearly the end of Mister Miracle, the world’s greatest escape arti–  Oh.  Right.  Bygones…  Back at Grossman Studios (All gross, all the time, since the Nixon Administration!), Sleez’s latest magnum opus is underway, but even his powers of mental chicanery can’t make All-American Boy Clark Kent into the next Ron Jeremy, as the embers of Superman’s will continue to burn, resisting his control…

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Just look at Superman’s “lemon face” in panel one, there.  That is clearly the expression of a man resisting the mental control of someone who wants him to give into his basest instincts.  Or, at least someone who caught a snootful of Sleez’s clearly powerful aroma.  (I’m just sayin’, that coat has more DNA evidence on it that five seasons of Law & Order: SVU, and not even the stone cold foxiness of Miss Teenage Apokalips 1984 can overcome that sort of funk.)  Once again, for those in the “Superman totally banged another man’s wife on panel and it’s totally canon, you guys!” camp, please note that Mister Miracle busts through the skylight (World Greatest Escape Artist, DUH-HOY?) and stops the “film” before Superman can get his flagrante anywhere near Barda’s delicto…

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I really dislike the way John Byrne draws Mister Miracle’s mask, for some reason.  It reminds me of noseless Wolverine from his turn on the ‘Horsemen of Apocalypse’ carousel a few years later, and it certainly doesn’t look as cool as Kirby’s rendition of Mister Miracle (although Byrne is one of the few guys who gets Mister M’s intricate “braided” belt thing to look right.)  Sleez flees (I’m a poet, and I didn’t realize!), and Supes troops… after… him?

Sorry, I tried too hard, and flew too close to the metaphorical sun on that one.  Mea culpa.  Suffice to say Supey’s in the sewers, chasing down the little green pervert, until Sleez turns the table by lighting a match…

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“Never considered using a sewer to rid myself of sewage before.  Obvious, really.”  — Rorschach, after reading this issue.

Once again,  we find that Byrne’s Superman has an utterly ludicrous expression in that final panel, one worthy of the goofiest fifties Wayne Boring issue, which undermines some of the drama that this story was trying to create.  As things wrap up, Barda and Superman actually have to handwave away the storytelling inconsistencies of this two-issue arc with nearly a page of “Suuure, that’s probably what happened here”, ending with a moment that is pretty awkward for all involved…

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Barda’s insistence that they never again speak of whatever may have occurred off-panel aside, there seems to be little way (save for lost time that isn’t apparent in the story) that Clark and Barda had any kind of meaningful sexual congress, seeing as he was still fully clothed in his uniform when Mister Miracle busted in.  It IS possible that it wasn’t the first movie being filmed with our intrepid duo, but Sleez’s dialogue is pretty clear in its insistence that he hadn’t yet broken the Man Of Steel’s will enough to “corrupt one as pure and noble” as the Big Red S.  Plus, Superman still had his underwear on, and since he wore it outside his pants in ’87, I think we’re safe in saying that, while Big Barda may have been the comic-book equivalent of Amber Waves, her Dirk Diggler was likely somebody other than Superman…

I’m gonna be honest, folks: Kiiiinda hate this comic.  Even I was once quite an aficionado of Byrne’s post-Crisis Superman work and really liked several of the revamped adventures (especially the one that re-introduced Mxyzptlk), I never had any use for the two-part clusterschmozz of “story” that wraps up in this issue.  Even as a teenager I found the forced “realism” laughable and awkward, leaving Action Comics #593 with an ill-advised and uncomfortable 1.5 out of 5 stars overall.  (Just remember: Superman didn’t quite do porn, even if Big Barda did…)