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Action Comics 402
"This Hostage Must Die"


Story: Leo Dorfman Art: Curt Swan And Murphy Anderson

(Originally Reviewed On 06/05/02)

On the cover, The Man of Steel is startled to find himself powerless and bound to a stake, as Native Americans place him near the flames!

In the canyon country of the southwest, a messenger arrives and the elders are summoned, for it is a familiar symbol... the red "S" and several villages are alerted, for The Mighty One's ordeal is to begin, as wood is gathered for the fire, aind in a remote valley, Moon Flower asks Red Hawk if the captive will be harmed, and he assures how that they will only do what is necessary!

Their prisoner is quite helpless beneath the magic of Red Hawk's sand painting, while Superman wonders how he could fall prey to primitive witchcraft?

Don Hawks is one of the nation's great astro-physicists, but his indian name is Red Hawk, who have come back to his people, The Navarros, to regain their lost land. Montezuma's Castle, the plateau which is a sacred memory to the emperor Montezuma, who is regarded as The Indian Superman, has vowed to return to save his people one day! The land is now being used as a rocket base, and this is why The Man of Steel has been taken captive, for he is the guardian of Earth, and most important to the planet, serving as a super-hostage so that Montezuma's Castle will be returned to The Navarros or else Superman will die!

Earlier, The Man of Steel spoke with Frank Haldane, the head of the rocket company constructing the base, but he regards it as the perfect rocket site. When he gave the news to Red Hawk, The Navarro used his magic sand painting to make Superman powerless, and now, the bound Man of Steel watches as The Navarros send smoke signals to tell their demands!

At the base, a rocket is being placed within the concrete silo, for the launch tomorrow, while the workers note that Haldane is a real slave-driver, making them work night and day! They see the smoke signals and one of the workers who was a boy scout translates the message. At the gate, a Navarro leaves Superman's cape as proof of him being a prisoner, but Haldane figures that it's a fake! He tells the workers to go back to work, for their nation's security is at stake!

In his private office, Haldane tries to burn the cape, but it is indestructible, and he knows that Superman would never surrender it willingly! Haldane wonders if it's a trick and tunes in the radio to listen for emergencies, such as an erupting volcano, a stranded ship, and a news report that The Man of Steel hasn't been seen for twenty-four hours, and Supergirl is away on a space mission! Haldane dons a space uniform and heads for the rocket silo, carrying an old parchment, which will enable his rocket to carry a most special payload!

The rocket heads downward through the earth, for it is a mechanical mole rather than a missile, and Haldane believes he has made fools of The Navarros, the government, and Superman. Helicopters go in search of the missing Superman, passing over a forest of cactus, but below, The Man of Steel wonders why the helicopters don't see him out in the open? Lacking his telescopic-vision, he can only wonder why the pilots are deserting him.

Concentrating, he can see a blurred image of the confused pilots, while Red Hawk arrives and shows him a device which as an astro-physicist, he made a mirage projector, which conceals their valley with the image of a cactus forest! Moon Flower arrives, carrying an injured boy on a stretcher, and asks him to take the youth to a hospital, but Red Hawk doesn't want him to go, for the authorities are on the lookout for Navarros, and the boy may reveal their secret!

Superman uses the remains of his x-ray vision and sees that the boy only has a dislocated shoulder. Moon Flower is impressed by his heroism, for even though he is their captive, The Man of Steel will help those in need. Since one of their people is a former army medic, the boy will be taken care of. Moon Flower brings a canteen of water for Superman, while he sees that she is as beautiful as she is kind, but Red Hawk bristles as she pours water into a cup, and threatens his magic sand painting, while Superman sees the reason for its "magic!" Red Hawk watches in silence as Superman drinks from Moon Flower's cup, and wonders if she has forgotten her responsibility to her own people. Red Hawk tells them that since he is now mortal, Superman will be begging for mercy before The Navarros are through with him.

Although his powers may be gone, he still has his courage, and Superman asks Moon Flower to pile some firewood around him. When she asks why, he gives her the answer, and moments later, he uses his heat-vision to ignite the pyre! Red Hawk doesn't want The Man of Steel dead and rushes to extinguish the fire, while Moon Flower is grateful that he changed his mind. When the smoke clears, Superman has disappeared, and Red Hawk wonders how he escaped the magic, but Moon Flower knows the truth, for The Man of Steel used his x-ray vision to spot the jewel, which was a jeweled lens which drew the rays of a faraway red sun to weaken him! The fire created enough smoke to deflect the rays while he regained his abilites and escape!

Red Hawk believes that by helping Superman, Moon Flower has betrayed her people, and they'll never get Montezuma's Castle, as well as suffering The Man of Steel's revenge, but Superman flies to Haldane, determined to make a final appeal for the land, and his x-ray vision doesn't find him anywhere on the base. His x-ray vision reveals a sight he can scarcely believe! The workers watch as Superman arrives on the scene, then plows into the base of the cliff... WHAM! KAPOW! An irresistable force meets an immovable object, and The Man of Steel will not give!

Within the earth, he uncovers the tunnel, and hurtles through the passageway, where he finds an underground cavern, filled with the treasure of the Aztecs, no doubt worth billions!

Haldane figures that his being prisoner of the Navarros was all a plan to catch him, but The Man of Steel tells him that crooks alway trap themselves, having learned why the rocket base was established on the Navarro's land, where he knew the treasure was buried. Haldane had found an Aztec record in an abandoned Mexican monastery. The treasure of Montezuma, which even the Conquistadores sought, but never found, and Superman begins to tear through the rocket's skin like a banana. When Haldane tells Superman that he'll share the wealth with him, The Man of Steel carries him upwards, and tells him that the wealth of worlds are at his command, while Haldane will need no money where he's going. Red Hawk is in disbelief after learning that Superman won't press charges and gives him the scroll left by Montezuma for his people.

Months pass, and now the valley of the Navarros have schools, hospitals, and farms, thanks to Montezuma's treasure, and Superman arrives to make his own contribution by carving the cavern into a museum where the Navarros can share the Aztec treasures with their fellow Americans, and tourists are already lining up for the grand opening. Red Hawk shakes Superman's hand for the excellent tribute to their ancient Superman... Montezuma, while Moon Flower's tribute to The Man of Steel is a kiss on the cheek, showing that the Navarros regard him as their new super-hero. Not the type to go for hero-worship, Superman is nonetheless impressed by Moon Flower's tribute, and thinks that he should make an exception.

An impressive cover by Neal Adams,with the reader wondering how Superman got into this mess, and how he'll get out of it.

The cover reminds me of the Mad Magazine joke sold by E. Nelson Bridwell, the line being spoken by Tonto to The Lone Ranger... "What do you mean 'we', Kemosabe?"

Outside of the pages of Tomahawk, not to mention Superman, it would seem that one would find The Man of Steel either in space or in Metropolis. Nice to have a little variety now and then.

The emergencies had people calling on the radio for Superman. What, Krypto and The JLA were busy?

Unlike Lois Lane, Moon Flower is impressed by Superman's courage and willingness to help those in need. Not having met Clark Kent, she's not trying to unmask him, and I'm sure that the Man of Steel finds this change refreshing.

Even without his powers, Superman has his courage and his wits, and perhaps this is what makes him pre-eminent among Earth's heroes.

It was good to see Moon Flower aid in Superman's escape, and it's nice to see Supes confide in someone, as well as being thrown for a loop when he discovers what lurks beneath the rocket base!

The Swanderson Superman is a most impressive character, plowing through a cliff, then hurtling through an underground passageway like an express train, while using his x-ray vision (which are like spotlights from his eyes rather than the Visine red-eye look that Byrne went with) which proves that there are other art styles than Manga for the Man of Steel. (Or my own petty, selfish reaction of "Manga? We don't need no steenkin' Manga!" Dragonball Z , Speed Racer, Kimba, Starblazers, and Sailor Moon excepted, of course.)

Red Hawk grudgingly gave Superman his respect after all The Man of Steel's been through, showing that you don't tug on Superman's cape, and while Superman is invulnerable, he can appreciate a kiss from Moon Flower, and no doubt his face would blush as red as that selfsame cape. Treatment, no doubt, that Jim Croce would have approved of.

In the letterspage, Richard H. Morrissey of Framingham, Mass. writes: "Neal Adams's cover for Action #398 was good, and free of the disproportion of his figures on too many of his recent covers. But the subject matter was disappointing -- isn't Superman a hero? Not if the covers of Action issues of the past two years are any indication! Superman has been depicted as a coward, a robber, a saboteur, an invalid, a murderer, and now as a vandal. Only once (#393) is he even trying to do anything heroic, and then he's being held back by a 15-year old boy! I don't mind such a cover once in a while, but enough is enough!

Although "The Piped Piper of Steel" was pretty formulated, it was enjoyable. As it marked the first appearance of Clark Kent in this magazine since the "New Look," Leo Dorfman had to intrdouce Morgan Edge and the Galaxy Broadcasting System. He handled them very well, and even introduced a few good touches of his own, such as The Rolling Newsroom and the removal of The Daily Planet Globe. (After all these years... kind of gets ya right here.)

The rest of the "Piper" was a bit padded but quite entertaining. I especially liked that scene on page 13 where the mob turned on Horkin. I couldn't help but chuckle at Superman lending the musical accompaniment to the destruction of Horkin's evil plans."

The editor replies: "In the past two years, we've also shown Superman on covers as a father, an old man and a magician. We've shown him dying and unable to die. And he's been in plenty of puzzling situations. that's the real idea -- to get you interested so you'll buy the mag to find out what's going on in the cover scene."

Steve sez: "Gee, this is probably why I'm not picking up as many Super-books as I useta, and instead, made a swan-dive into the back issue bins for some prime Dorfman/Swanderson Superman after figuring out that The Man of Steel wasn't exposed to some Red Kryptonite which turned him into a Manga cartoon, as well as messing with time, and causing his never-ending battle to continue into the other S-books."

Thanks, Rich!

Steve Chung
"This Hostage Must Review"