Thursday, March 22, 2012

You may find that blood is not enough

I didn't appreciate them at the time (not surprising, considering I'm only six years old), but the early 1980s Pre-Crisis DC Universe comics are a lot of fun. They have a friendly, earnest goofiness which, when it's done well, shows us the distinct difference between Marvel and DC of the time. Very soon after this period, worlds would live, and worlds would die, and the DC Universe was never the same again. But this is a period of outrageous team-ups (Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes!), weird continuity (Pete Ross's son is kidnapped away from Earth to become a cosmic warrior!) and those big, overstuffed Dollar Comics: 80 to 100 pages of comics, frequently all-new, like this issue of Superman Family #214 (January 1982). Your standard ish of Supes Fam allowed the writers to focus on supporting cast members in the Super-Squad...a running Supergirl serial (from the period when she was a soap opera star!), and features on Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen (highlighting their smarts and go-get-'em capabilities to let them solve the mystery without Big Blue. There's even a regular "Mr. & Mrs. Superman" feature spotlighting the married Clark and Lois from Earth-2: amusing and often clever stories featuring the couple teaming up. Clearly this feature had to everybody knows today, you can't tell a good story about a married superhero, right? Right? Um, never mind.

One of my fave features in Superman Family is "The Private Life of Clark Kent," which features Clark having adventures. Clark babysits a disappearing infant! Clark looks for a mynah bird that knows he's Superman! Well, maybe all of them aren't absolute winners. But I'm quite fond of the CK story in Superman Family #214, in which Clark is encouraged by Lana, to, in the words of Pete Townshend, "Give Blood!"

Panel from "Clark Gives Blood...Superman Saves Lives..." in Superman Family #214 (January 1982), script by Bob Rozakis, research by Laurie Rozakis, pencils by John Calnan, inks by Joe Giella, colors by Jerry Serpe, letters by Milt Snapinn

By the way: do you know the reason why Clark Kent always seems to be wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and red tie? Don't know? Didn't care? There's actually a canon reason for it: when changing to Superman, Clark would compress his civilian clothing into small cubes that would fit, along with his glasses, into a pouch underneath his cape! It's canon, kids! (Don't ask me where he put his belt or shoes.) The material that could be compressed so completely was developed by Superman in his Fortress of Solitude, but it would only take either red or blue dye! (Other colors wouldn't stick.) Supposedly this means Clark coulda worn a red suit and white tie, but even old square pre-Crisis Clark isn't that out of it!

Anyway, my point...and there's one around here that if you know your DC Universe, you know that nothing short of an atomic bombshell can penetrate Clark's invulnerable skin. So how is he gonna be able to give blood? Needles won't pierce his skin! I suppose we could have Doomsday over in the blood clinic to beat Supes up until he bled, but that wouldn't happen for another ten years. (Consider this: it's been twice as long since Superman died until now than it was from that story to the death of Superman. My, how time flies!)

Of course Clark is going to try to weasel get out of the blood drive...once that needle snaps on his skin, it'll prove everything Lois Lane has suspected for years! (Say, how come she never just jabbed him with a pin?) He's got plenty of excuses...

Yes, folks, it's true: Clark Kent whimpers like a dog. Lana is thinking "Yeah, and that's why I didn't marry you."

Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths means one of DC's favorite tropes...characters whose names are anagrams of something else. It's not quite the same as naming the Rainbow Raider "Roy G. Bivolo." It is similar to giving Lex Luthor's sister the false last name of "Thorul." I imagien she got a lot of questioning looks when she had to spell her name. "Thorul? Is that Polish?" It's names like that which make me look carefully at real names like Nel Yomtov in suspicion that it's a non de plume for Steve Ditko. (Which it isn't.)

What's this? Clark Kent being jabbed with a needle right through the skin?!? Inconceivable! I like that smirk in the lower right panel...Clarkie knows something but we don't yet. Me, I'm guessing it will be answered with a Flash Fact (Example: "Turtles traveling at more than the speed of sound will turn into soup. It's a Flash Fact, Wally!").

And again...a second needle in Clark's arm! It's only moderately less painful than having the self-rightous Jimmy "Mr. Action" lying on the cot next to him. I think Jimmy actually accidentally wandered into the clinic in search of his trademark green checked jacket.

Well, that solves the Mystery of Superman's Punctured Skin. Wait, no, it doesn't? So how did Clark give blood? Match wits with Ellery Queen Clark Kent and see if you can find out...howdunnit?

Let's get the obvious guesses out of the way first: that actually is Kal-El/Superman/Clark Kent lying there getting pierced with a surgical needle, not Batman with a rubber mask or a Superman Robot hastily topped full of blood or Mr. Mxyzptlk's blood-giving cousin Mr. Bldgyhm. Get it yet? All the clues you need are in the comic...and for that matter, in the panels I've posted above.

Later, Superman stops by the blood clinic, but the usual and expected reaction to poking Supes with a pointy stick occurs.

Knowing the answer depends on how well you know your DC Universe: Superman enlisted an accomplice to help him give blood...and she did it right in our full's the nurse!

But who was that nurse? Why, none other than DC's favorite mistress of magic...the zelightful Zatanna! During her "I've got a bug on my head" years. Ah, that makes sense: as Superman, Clark is vulnerable to magic! But how did Zatanna disguised as a nurse slip that past everyone, including us...right in front of our eyes?

Well, remember what Zee the Nurse told Clark at the clinic?

Buried in the middle of all that...and remember that Zatanna's magic works when she speaks words this command to Kal-El:

Magic! In plain sight! Now that's the charm of the Pre-Crisis era. What do you have to say to that, Earth-2 Superman?

Play us off, Pete Townshend! But please: don't smash our guitars.


Delta said...

That's great! Now, when this came up in the Hulk comic (Countdown storyline), he just punched himself in the face.

Blue Gargantua said...

I feel like Clark would be a lot more worried about the effects of giving a Kryptonian blood transfusion to a human.

Also, I like the idea that Clark wasn't entirely faking his fear. Usually, if he can see his blood, something's gone terribly, terribly wrong.

Dave said...

Oh, Bully;

"Mrs. and Mrs. Superman" took place on Earth-2, not Earth-1.

SallyP said...

First off, I groaned at the reveal. And know, that's actually rather...clever. I love old comics.

Bully said...

Dave: Thanks! I always get those mixed up. After all, Earth-2 came first!