Retro review: Superman #316

In the absence of new comics starring the Man of Steel, it’s back to the Bronze Age for a battle with the Man with the Kryptonite Heart. And I have to say, re-reading this issue, at the suggestion of Anj of Supergirl Comic Box Commentary, was a massive pleasure.

Metallo had been around since the early Silver Age, debuting in the same issue of Action Comics as Supergirl, although this guy, Roger Corben, was the brother of the original, John Corben.

But that’s not important right now. Not when you see his leg-wear. Anyone for a chorus of Kinky Boots to honour the just-departed Honor Blackman?

Despite being an investigative reporter in his secret ID, Superman doesn’t ask about the leather leggings when he encounters Metallo. He’s more interested in whether the bad guy is behind the implantation of fake green Kryptonite hearts into the chest cavities of dead agents of criminal organisation SKULL.

This is something we learn in flashback. The issue opens, unusually for the time, in media res, at the Metropolis Museum of Natural History, with Superman and Metallo in combat.

Maybe take out the flying lawnmower, Clark?

Metallo escapes and Superman’s thoughts flash back to his meeting earlier that day with Star Labs scientist Dr Jenet Klyburn, and the mysteries just keep on coming.

Superman’s so busy at WGBS he apparently doesn’t read his own paper

Flying out of the flashback, Superman catches up with Metallo as he swoops into the road tunnel that takes vehicles below Metropolis Bay. Hero and villain seem well matched.

Metallo escapes yet again and a meeting Clark Kent has scheduled with WGBS boss Morgan Edge means Superman can’t pursue the glowing goon.

Let’s hope that’s not an undercover Swamp Thing

After the surprisingly positive meeting – Edge tells the newscaster he’s getting a pay rise – Clark heads for lunch with now ex-girlfriend Lois Lane…

Boeuf Bourguignon was pretty much code for sex when this pair were dating, so you can understand her disappointment

Battle number three with Metallo takes place in the local caverns, where the villain demands every piece of ore collected by tourists. He’s discovered that the area is a hotspot for Kryptonite remnants, of which he needs a constant supply to keep his body functioning.

Penciller Curt Swan never got enough credit for his ability to compose and pace an action sequence

Finally, Superman gets the upper hand – but not for long.

Letterhack turned writer Martin Pasko certainly fitted a lot into the mid-Seventies 17pp story length – three fight scenes and three sequences advancing sub-plots. One of these was setting up the coming of the Atomic Skull, the other the return of Lana Lang to Metropolis after several years away. There’s also the arrival of a new WGBS staffer who acts mysteriously and, surprise surprise, turns out, in the following issue’s conclusion, to be Metallo… Pasko plays fair by having the villain mention, at the start of this issue, having a new face.

I bought this comic as a kid and remember being puzzled as to why Morgan Edge thought Clark would have a problem working with Lana. I did know her arrival was likely influenced by the career of real-life US journalist Barbara Walters, and today Google tells me her co-anchor used to insist he’d open and close their show and, when they were interviewing jointly, he’d get the first three questions. So perhaps Pasko’s Edge thought Clark, too, would be a sexist git. Anyway, when Lana does turn up, their working relationship is fine.

I also remember loving the fact that the story started in media res, whereas today, due to the device being overused in comics and on TV, I’m totally sick of it. Good on Pasko for his pioneering ways… he moved into TV writing, it’s probably all his fault!

I’m guessing about Walters but there’s a definite timestamp amid the chaos of the tunnel conflict, as a lorry driver chatters away in CB radio slang. That sequence was unusual given how seldom Superman comics featured action ‘on the road’. While there’s a fair bit of unnecessary ‘tell’ in the captions, it’s an effective scene overall.

The ‘show’ is provided by veteran Superman artist Curt Swan, who defined the Action Ace’s world for decades. As well as his facility with a fight he could do humour, characterisation, natural-looking people… Swan was the master. Here he’s inked by the brilliant Dan Adkins, who had a too-short run fully illustrating Doctor Strange but is best known as an inker. And for good reason, just look at the lushness of his finish.

These panels are non-consecutive, don’t go bonkers trying to work things out!

Then there’s the cover by José Luis García-López, who had only recently begun contributing to DC Comics. I’d be amazed if any Superman fan with 35c in their pocket could resist this fantastic image.

Mind, the boots still look silly.

4 thoughts on “Retro review: Superman #316

  1. Thanks for covering!

    Love this time in Superman’s history. I wonder if there were letters guessing the mysterious woman was in fact Lana. adding Lana to the mix certainly spiced things up. And the Atomic Skull plot was also nicely drawn out if I recall.

    Metallo always befuddles me as a villain. Couldn’t Superman do things from faraway with his heat vision to incapacitate him? Why all this up close battle?

    And laughed at Superman being surprised by a Planet headline!


  2. This is one of the first issues of Superman — and therefore one of the first comics — I ever read. I distinctly remember buying this at a 7-11 and then sitting in the car, reading this comic book while my mom stopped into another store to run some errands.

    I remember the in-media-res opening as being a little complex, and the whole STAR Labs storyline that ran throughout these issues seemed a little subtler and more mature than I expected. There were definitely bad guys and good guys in this book, but some people’s motivations were a little more murky. This was mature stuff I was reading!

    And to me, this is what Metallo should always look like, kinky boots and all.

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Mart!


    1. You’re very welcome, I had a fun time with it. And I did get a little lost at one point as to how the flashbacks fitted together.

      I’ve been listening to the new Who’s Who in the DC Universe, and I’d forgotten how daft the post-Crisis version looked.


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