Monday, June 11, 2018

ACTION COMICS #592 & #593

Story, Pencils, & Figure Inks: John Byrne | Background Inks: Keith Williams
Lettering: John Costanza | Coloring: Tom Ziuko | Editing: Michael Carlin & Andrew Helfer

The Plot: (issue 592) Big Barda, former agent of Darkseid now living on Earth, is captured by a creature from Apokolips called Sleez, who uses her purloined mega-rod and his own power of suggestion to take mental control of her.

Meanwhile, Clark Kent visits a hospital in Suicide Slum, where he learns that a number of patients have lived well past the average life expectancy. Noticing unusual radiation on the patients with his super-vision, Clark changes to Superman and heads out to investigate. The radiation leads the Man of Steel to Sleez’s sewer lair, but a misunderstanding leads to a brief skirmish between Barda and Superman, allowing Sleez to drop them both down a trap door.

(issue 593) Mister Miracle and his assistant, Oberon, return to their home to find Miracle’s wife, Barda, missing, and Darkseid lounging in the living room. Darkseid shows Miracle a salacious videotape starring Barda, and explains that it was purchased in Suicide Slum. Meanwhile, Sleez visits a pornographer named Grossman, selling him on the idea of a sex video starring Superman and Big Barda.

Mister Miracle evades Sleez’s gang of street thugs and arrives at Grossman’s office just as shooting begins on the super-porno. He breaks in, disrupting Sleez’s control over Barda and Superman. While Barda rescues Miracle from an Apokoliptic creature called an Ash-Crawler, Superman chases Sleez back into the sewers. But the villain chooses apparent death over capture, striking a match and causing a massive natural gas explosion.

Later, Clark visits the hospital once more, having deduced that Sleez “fed on human misery… but somehow… gave off the excess energy as pure life force,” which is what had kept the elderly patients alive. Expecting them to all be dead now that Sleez is gone, Clark is surprised and troubled to find that the radiation still exists in their bodies, and that Sleez must therefore remain alive and at large.

Sub-Plots & Continuity Notes: Clark notes that he tried to “clean up” Suicide Slum when he first came to Metropolis, but not even he could manage it. Notably, I think this is the first time John Byrne has acknowledged the Slum’s existence, though Marv Wolfman has of course used it more than once at this point.

Sleez explains his backstory to Barda:

Later, Mister Miracle explains his history as well, which is several pages long and thus not screen-capped here: he was Scott Free, a young trainee under Granny Goodness on Apokolips, but he eventually escaped with Barda to Earth. We’re told that there was an original Mister Miracle, whose mantle Scott adopted after he was murdered. This is totally new information to me, as is the fact that Oberon is apparently an Earthling — I had always thought he was from Apokolips too!

John Byrne — or at least, porn peddler Grossman — apparently subscribes to the "Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex" theory that I noted not long ago I disagree with.

Superman notes that he has other super-senses besides X-ray vision, including his well-known super-hearing and his much less mentioned (to the point that I’d never realized it was a thing) super-smell.

My Thoughts: Okay, so this issue has been known to me for years as “Superman and Barda make a porno while under mind control”. That’s not exactly the case. Now don’t get me wrong; there’s horrible, awful, despicable stuff going on here — but, if for no other reason than to keep Byrne’s confirmed crimes separate from hearsay, it should be noted that it’s pretty clear Superman and Barda do not have sex while under Sleez’ control. They kiss, but their clothes never come off.

Now that that’s out of the way, this is a truly reprehensible story. This isn’t “sleazy photographer snaps topless photos of She-Hulk and she has a comical little adventure trying to shut him down”. That story was about an invasion of privacy. This story is about a violation of the mind and body. Sleez has Barda captive for two days before also getting his hands on Superman. In that time he forces her to perform some kind of graphic sex act on video. Then, when we catch up with them, he’s forcing her to dance naked for him, and it’s implied when he moves toward her and she pleads, “Please, not again,” that he’s raped her as well. It’s sickening and makes my skin crawl as I recall reading it (so I've reproduced it here, because if I have to feel unclean, so do you).

Plenty of people have written about this story. It’s got to be second only to THE MAN OF STEEL when it comes to commentary on Byrne’s Superman run — and the criticism is well deserved. Byrne professes to idolize Jack Kirby, and his treatment of characters like Darkseid and Mister Miracle in these pages speaks to that fondness. Even his little jokey bit with Dan Turpin putting random words in quotation marks feels like an honest, affectionate poke at Kirby.

But this — well, like I said, this story has been covered in many quarters, so none of these ideas are original — but taking a character who, as I understand, Kirby based in part on his beloved wife, and who was always depicted as one of DC’s strongest, most capable female characters, and subjecting her to humiliation and rape… well, it’s hard to condone something like that under any circumstances, but especially not under these. Add to this the fact that Byrne was making huge stacks of money for his work on Superman while at the very same time, Kirby was in a bitter battle with Marvel over possession of his artwork, and that just feels like salt in the wound.

I’d like to end on some kind of positive note, though, so I’ll note that 1) Byrne gives us a great Mister Miracle escape sequence in part two, and 2) he draws a heck of a Big Barda! It almost feels like his work with She-Hulk in FANTASTIC FOUR was a warm-up for the statuesque Barda here. Too bad he couldn’t have found something less loathsome to do with the character.

Next Week: The mystery of Superman’s haywire powers is revealed in SUPERMAN #10.


  1. I've read both issues online and most definitely found the latter issue to be more interesting.

  2. I'm going to preface this as saying I am a massive fan of Jack Kirby, to the extent that unabashed fan boy is an accurate and embraced status. I didn't much get Kirby as a kid, especially during his 70's return to Marvel-which in fairness, wasn't really his best work-but as I grew older I got him and realized how far ahead of his time Kirby was. In some ways, we've not yet caught him.

    And that's why I've had to discard several attempts at commenting on this post, because they kept descending into sheer rage and disgust at what Byrne does here with Big Barda. I'll instead reserve my vitriol at Mike Carlin and Andrew Helfer, who in a just world would have looked at Byrne when he sent this story in and just said "No."

    1. Jack, I admit that I didn't really "get" Kirby either when I was younger. To this day, I still don't get him as an artist. A creator, yes. He's easily the most creative person ever to work in the comic book field -- but his artwork has always struck me as kind of aesthetically unappealing. I feel very similarly about Steve Ditko. I love everything he created for Spider-Man's universe (including Spidey himself); I just don't much like his artwork.

      But yeah -- Byrne really does a number of Kirby here, and the fact that DC and its editors didn't stop him is astounding. I can't help feeling if he'd ever tried anything similar at Marvel, Jim Shooter would've shut it down in an instant.

    2. His artwork took the longest for me to get into, and I understand why someone wouldn't be into it-it's kind of weird looking even to me, and I love Kirby. He seems to be someone you either eventually get, or you don't, but his creativity can't be denied.

      Ditko I can't get into at all, and I've tried, but even his 60s Marvel work just doesn't work for me. Plus his writing is's certainly a thing!

  3. This was my last Action Comics story I bought from the Byrne run, with the exception of #600 (which I had to have, it was the 50th anniversary!). I didn't stop out of any moral objection to the story, I was just whittling down my reading list and the done-in-one team-ups fell by the wayside.

    As for the story, the one thing that I remember most clearly was the Big Barda splash you posted, that burned into my teen brain. You'd think my teen brain would've similarly approved of where the plot headed, but I think I just found the whole Sleaze/movie thing weird. I didn't get offended by stories in those days, but I did get struck by yet another scenario (like the over-the-top killing from earlier issues) that just seemed out-of-sync with what Superman's about.

    It's funny this review comes right after the "900-mile" post, where you wrote that its tale of the subtle, psychological abuse of a woman allegedly made Mr. Byrne feel like "a real writer". Gotta wonder what he was feeling churning out this one!

    -david p.

    1. I understand; I probably wouldn't have had a moral objection to this either if I'd read it as a kid; I would've just found it weird. But, naturally, taste evolves and opinions change as you get older.

      And I love that page 1 splash of Barda too. Like I said, Byrne draws a great interpretation of the character; I just don't get why he chose to do this to her.

      "Metropolis 900 Mi." is different because, like you say, it's subtle. While Luthor acts like a creep, nothing creepy actually happens in the story. Here, however, even though Byrne keeps all the disturbing material off-panel, it's still pretty overt about what's happening and how disgusting all of it is.