If I’ve proven anything over the past few years at the ISB, it’s that I’m not willing to concede much, but I do occasionaly realize that my opinions are not the objectve standards by which everything is judged that I might like them to be.
That said, if you can see a cover where Silver Age Superman is squaring off to fight a gang of “The Toughest Kids in the World,” complete with Fonzie-style biker grear and grapefruit-sized chunks of Kryptonite and not think that it looks totally awesome…
…then there’s a pretty good chance that we can never be friends.
Hitting stands in December of 1967, right at the height of Silver Age madness, Action Comics #357 is without question one of the craziest comics I have ever read, and considering that I’ve got a couple thousand pages worth of Bob Haney within ten feet of me right now, that’s saying something. It’s one of those rare issues that every time you think you’ve hit the height of crazy, you turn the page and it just gets crazier.
To start with, we have the main story, a Leo Dofrman/Wayne Boring classic that opens with what is clearly one of the greatest splash pages ever produced:
For those of you who can’t make it all out, here’s what’s awesome about this page:
1. Abraham Lincoln.
2. Nitro Knuckles
3. “The TNTeen Terror.”
4. This is all on one page.
The story is actually a continuation from the previous issue, where a man called The Annihilator was giving Superman some trouble thanks to his own “Nitro Knuckles,” an explosive punch that he got by drinking Kryptonian chemicals, because that’s how science was done back then. Superman is able to handle things, of course, but not before The Annihilator adopts a young thug-in-training called Pocketbook Pete.
Yes, Pocketbook Pete. The reason given for this name is that he’s a purse-snatcher of some renown, but still. In any case, Pete doses himself with the Kryptonian chemicals, and thus The Annihilator, Jr. is born!
In addition to co-opting the Americanized name of Luchador superstar El Hijo del Annihilatoro, The Annihilator Jr. quickly sets about taking over by threatening to blow up the entire world, which, while not exactly a sound plan of action, is pretty much what international politics were based around in 1967 anyway:
With The Annihilator Jr.’s powers strong enough to affect even Superman, President Johnson goes into hiding and pretty much abdicates the White House, spending his time hassling the Man of Steel into setting things right. The Annihilator, Senior, meanwhile, discovers that the Kryptonian chemicals have had the somewhat unforseen side-effect of damaging his heart, but when he tries to dose Junior with an antidote, the younger suspects treachery and throws the old man out.
Still, even an enterprising youngster with an H-Bomb punch can’t run the country by himself, so Pete decides it’s time to form a new cabinet with the members of his old delinquent motorcycle gang:
Creep, of course, is installed as Defense Secretary, and to be honest, this was where I was expecting The Annihilator, Jr.’s plan to fall apart. As it turns out, however, national defense is handled in pretty much exactly the same way as working the counter at McDonald’s:
As a quick sidenote: ICBMs? Okay. Bio-Warfare Missiles, Nerve-Gas, and Undersea Hydrogen Bombs?! Who was running this place in ’67, Ernst Stavro Blofeld?
In any case, as always happens with teenagers, boredom quickly wins out over any sense of self-preservation and The Annihilator, Jr. and his gang just cold start dropping atomic bombs all over the place. And that’s when the craziness starts, as we learn that in the event of nuclear armageddon, Superman’s job…
…is to rip up the Statue of Liberty and Mt. Rushmore and put them into orbit to keep them safe.
I love Silver Age Superman so much I can barely stand it.
While Superman’s slapping the Jefferson Memorial is safely in geosynchronous orbit, The Annihilator the Lesser’s bomber ends up crashing, and when Superman shows up to investigate, he finds himself in the ambush described on the cover, Creep and Specs having looted the government’s surprisingly huge (even for the Silver Age) supply of Kryptonite.
The reason? The Annihilator 2: Annihilate Harder’s powers have worn off and he wants Superman to go mix him up a new batch. The problem here is that the chemicals were Kryptonian, but Superman claims he can find them on other planets and gives his word to return them in exchange for not being murdered on Bikini Atoll by a bunch of high school dropouts.
In other words, Superman goes out like a punk.
But this is not the end of the craziness, as what comes next ramps things right up: Superman returns with the chemicals and The Annihilator Reloaded chugs ’em right down, as he will drink virtually anything anyone gives to him. And that’s why he promptly turns into a toddler.
But how could this be?! Superman promised to bring The Annihilator, Jr. the chemicals that turned him into the Human H-Bomb! Could it be that–>choke<--Superman lied?!
No. Of course not.
It was actually The Annihilator, Sr. who gave The Annihliator, Jr. the chemicals! And while Superman did bring them back from space, and they are the exact same chemicals, the fact that they’re not from Krypton means that drinking them will turn you into a baby.
Because that’s how science worked back then.