Bizarro Back Issues: Hey Kids! Smoking Gives You Super-Powers! (1982) (Note: Smoking Does Not Give You Super-Powers)
For a character who's so definitively aspirational, Superman sure has given us a whole lot of dubious messages over the years. I mean, yes, he represents the best that we can be and reminds us that if we do good to each other, every man can be a Superman, but there's also stuff like the regrettable wartime propaganda. And, y'know, that time in the early '80s where there was a story that was all about how cigars can give you super-powers.
Okay, okay, not you. The person who actually gets the super-powers is Perry White, because it turns out that the best thing for you when you're in the hospital is to light up a cigar --- but only if Superman gives it to you.
That, at least, is the general summary of Superman #376's "The Ozone-Master Comes Calling," a truly bizarre tale by Elliot S. Maggin and Curt Swan that was brought to my attention by CA's own Charlotte Finn.
And before we go any further, I just want to point out that Maggin and Swan are without question two of the best creators to ever work on Superman. Swan is probably the definitive artist for the character with a career drawing him that spanned five decades, and Maggin --- the most exciting writer in the history of comics, as indicated by the exclamation point behind his middle initial --- wrote Miracle Monday. If that was the only thing he'd ever done, it would've been enough to cement him as one of the all-time greats.
This, however, is not their best work.
I mean, even right there on page one, we're opening on a robbery at "the most exclusive glassware shop in town," and while that's the kind of thing that kind of sounds like it should be impressive, it's definitely not.
When you're assuring readers that everything's insured, you've kind of already lost the suspense here. It's worth noting, however, that when Superman actually turns his attention to the crooks, we're greeted with the best part of the story, an awesome layout with a built-in spot for Maggin's beautifully over-the-top prose:
But that's just the opening scene, and while your attention was drawn to that reasonably O'Keefeian sculpture being saved from an untimely smashing on the floor, it's also worth noting that these thugs have some kind of strange energy weapons that are capable of stopping even Superman --- albeit only momentarily. The thing is, once the robbers are tied up and the weapons are confiscated, they turn out to be hollow shells, with nothing inside that could produce such a blast.
We (and Superman) learn that from Perry White, the least of Superman's Pals, who has invited Clark Kent over for dinner for what appears to be the sole purpose of bragging about how the Daily Planet's photographer got to the scene and snapped a few pictures before the cops arrived. But when Clark finally makes an exit to resume his duties as Superman, the Whites are left vulnerable to an attack from... The Ozone-Master!
Who, it turns out, is actually an extremely polite sort of supervillain. I'd say he'd go far in this business, but unfortunately, the only thing more embarrassing than being named "Ozone-Master" is admitting that it is a rank that you have conferred upon yourself.
Using strange force beams that look an awful lot like the ones shot out of those hollow guns (hmmmm), he zaps the Whites and makes off with the photos. And then comes the origin recap, where we find out that he's actually a test pilot named Frank Lightside who flew into space and gained super-powers that also drove him mad with power. You know, as one does.
The only thing that can stop his hot pink rays is silver, and while most of the family was just held in place with a force-field, however, Perry himself took a direct hit, and ends up in the hospital on the verge of death, providing us with another truly fantastic scene:
If I was in the hospital and I looked over and saw Superman, I honestly don't think I'd be that startled. I certainly don't think I'd be alarmed, and if anything, I think I'd probably feel like everything was going to work out okay. If, however, I looked over and saw a doctor wearing a lab coat over spandex pants and knee-high red boots, well, that seems like the kind of thing that would be a little surprising. Anyway.
Since he's definitely 100% dying, Perry makes one last request of Superman: A cigar hidden in a locked safe behind his third --- yes, third --- Pulitzer Prize.
Lighting it with the heat vision was a nice touch, although the most amazing thing about this entire comic is that Perry is smoking a lit cigar in a hospital while hooked up to oxygen.
Rather than exploding a good chunk of Metropolis General, though, the cigar ends up giving Perry miraculous powers, on par with Superman, to the point where he flies out of the window without bothering to put on pants. Why? Because these are special cigars left over, of course, from "The Super-Cigars of Perry White," another Maggin/Swan joint from 1974. And in a nice bit of leaving the door open for a sequel, Perry makes sure to mention that it's his second-to-last cigar, too.
Not only does it give him the ability to fly and the invulnerability that you'd expect, it also lets him home in on Ozone-Master, leading the two journalistic heroes to a Quonset hut out in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, Ozone-Master's in there, charging up some more weaponry with his force beams, which obviously means that Perry, who is strong enough to hurt Superman, needs a weapon of his own.
So he makes a broadsword out of a rock.
Again: As one does.
The fight starts off a little iffy, since Ozone-Master has been filling up all these weapons with doses of his force beams that can then be shot out at will, but eventually Superman and Perry realize that the beams aren't destroying the walls, so the Quonset hut itself must be made of silver.
It's a silver Quonset hut. Building a silver Quonset hut might not be more of a baller move than riding around in a vehicle shaped like your own head, but I'll be darned if it ain't close.
But style, my friends, comes at a price, and for Ozone-Master, it's handing his enemies the means of his own defeat. After figuring out the content of the walls, Perry does his level best to stab the supervillain with a sword while Superman basically fashions a gigantic dunce cap to contain him.
And that, as they say, is that. Ozone-Master is presumably carted off to the world's most expensive jail cell, and Perry has been cured through the magic of smoking! It's a happy ending for everyone. Well. Except Perry's lungs.
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