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The ’70s Revisited: Action Comics #500

actioncomics0500The Life Story of Superman

Writer: Martin Pasko
Artists: Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino
Colorist: Adrienne Roy
Editor: Julius Schwartz
Published by: DC Comics
Cover Date: October 1979
Cover Price: $1.00

This is one of the older comics I’ve read in awhile, particularly as a single issue. With the October 1979 cover date, that places this at just over a year older than ME myself, as well as only just BARELY prior to “The ’80s.” While in some ways 500 isn’t that big a deal nowadays–a number of other US titles crossed the threshold in the ’90s and early 2000s–at the same time it’s a huge milestone given it will be a long,long time before any title hits such a number again “naturally.”

While a product of its time, the issue is extra-sized for “only” $1–something like this would absolutely be $7.99-$9.99 present-day.

The story is a bit hokey and clich├ęd–Superman is leading a tour through a newly-opening museum in his own honor (that he’s serving as a guest tour-guide raises money for his favorite charity, though). As they visit different displays, we as readers are given information of the various parts of his life to that point, as it stood in 1979. The means of this context being shared includes a memory device that allows Superman better access to his own subconscious memories as well as to share those with others…and thanks to a secret villain, the memories are also fed into a clone’s memory. Eventually the villain stands revealed as Lex Luthor, which is fitting enough given this anniversary issue and touching on major elements of Superman’s life. Overall, we’re shown a bit of the final days of Krypton and why Jor-El only saved his son; We’re seen how baby Kal-El arrived on Earth and came to be adopted by the Kents; that he operated as Superboy; that he had adventures while in college, joined the Daily Planet, etc.

It’s somewhat odd for me, reading this. This Superman feels very familiar in a nostalgic sort of way…this is (largely) the Superman I recall from reading Grandpa’s old comics as a kid. It doesn’t seem NEARLY as hokey as I thought I’d remembered–I credit that to this being “bronze age” Superman rather than “early Silver Age”–as it takes stuff relatively seriously, and definitely suggests a “continuity” of the time, that plays into stuff I do actually recall while reading (but might not recall off the top of my head with zero context)–such as the Kents’ ages.

I don’t recognize Pasko‘s name and certainly wouldn’t be able to–at present–tell his writing from anyone else I’m unfamiliar with…but the story works, and I didn’t have any significant problems with anything. I enjoyed the art for the issue…regardless of what continuity elements I do or don’t recall from reading as a kid…Swan‘s Superman is absolutely familiar, and while there’s something to this version that I don’t care for (behind Byrne and Jurgens‘ Superman), he’s visually iconic as the Superman from this period, which is something I definitely appreciate. I can’t quite explain it as of this typing, but there’s also something about seeing Julius Schwartz as the editor that made me smile a bit. Perhaps due to having come to learn well after the fact that he was editor on so many of the comics I’d read as a kid, and I retroactively associate his name with a certain tone.

This issue itself caught my attention as an anniversary issue, as #500…the “next” anniversary issue for the title going backward, for me (as I already have #s 600, 700, 800, and 900). The price–25 cents (4 for $1) was also most excellent and appealing. Though my copy isn’t in wonderful condition, it was quite readable, and I enjoyed it well enough. All in all I’m quite glad I bought the issue and made the point of reading it fairly immediately. It’s also raised my interest in other Super-books of the late-’70s/early-’80s.

If you’re a fan of “classic” Superman or just curious, this issue is certainly worth a few dollars…I don’t know a “guide value” for it, but I’d’ve certainly found it worth $4 (the price of most current new comics) if not $5 (it IS a vintage comic, after all).

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