Reign of the Supermen #503: Super-Specters

Source: Action Comics #418 (1972)
Type: Transformation
The great Nick Cardy died earlier this week, and I didn't get a chance to pay proper tribute, in part because I felt other blogs had done a better job of it, and that I'd discovered Cardy's work relatively late in life, through Aquaman and Teen Titans Showcase Presents. So this is why I picked this particular permutation of Superman for this week's Reign, on the sole basis of the cool Nick Cardy cover. Great artist, love his work, have lots more to discover yet, and I'm thankful for that.

Now moving to the Curt Swan interiors... This is a story that picks up from events in Action 417 with Superman at the U.N. signing a peace treaty with Luthor, Brainiac and a couple of lesser lights from alien worlds, Grax and the Marauder. Finally, the United Nations have a purpose.
But WHY? This is a question the narrator asks again and again until we find out, so no one thought of telling the story teller before he started writing the comic, apparently. Maybe that's why we're the red herring of Clark Kent being the only TV journalist not present (for obvious reasons) and Morgan Edge punishing him by demoting him to "personal assistant". I guess Galaxy Communications isn't unionized. Damn you, Intergang! Then this stuff happens:
Phantom Supermen destroying stuff. WHY?! (Ok, narrator, settle down.) Superman shows up, but so do his four new allies, and they warn him away, reminding him that he can't use his powers lest things get worse. They drive off the destructive ghosts with minimal help from Supes, and then have a chat about how we get to this point.
See, last issue of Action Comics, Superman went to "the phantom planet" where he evidently was affected by something, because on his very next mission, each use of his powers created a phantom duplicate that, after he'd left, destroyed the twin planets. They prove it by having Superman look into a three-fold mirror where he sees three (more?) "specters" detach themselves from him and race off to cause havoc. Because these things are such a big threat, the villains want to ally with Superman to defeat them, of course enforcing limits on his power use so that he doesn't create any more. If you think this smells like a set-up, it's because it is, but 1972 Superman is consumed by what his fans might think of him now that he's not answering every distress call, and feeling ashamed about not quite trusting his new partners that he would take them to the Fortress of Solitude. When he refuses this last request, they invite him to their version, a smoking volcano with an air hangar on the side. There, it looks like the Marauder has had enough of the charade because he shows Superman how his three-fold mirror actually created the duplicates.
The phantoms are just playing along, these aren't three NEW phantoms, confusingly. Marauder then uses his fancy helmet to command the ghosts into grabbing their daddy and then manacles the Man of Steel to the wall with red sun energy, also from the helmet. (So the phantoms were necessary... why?) So then it's all mouahaha, we're gonna take over the world. Except...
...the aliens totally screw over Luthor and trap him in a forcefield while they gamble for which parts of the world they'll get.
But they forget that while Superman is immobilized, he can still use his vision powers, so he heat-scrambles the helmet's circuits, the phantoms go crazy and smash everything, and Lex and Kal are freed. The three alien villains flee, Superman grabs the helmet, and uses it to absorb his evil selves back into his Kryptonian matrix.
When you put a word in all-caps and add an exclamation mark, it makes nonsense acceptable. Have you noticed? Simply a preface to my saying: SCIENCE! See? Of course, I could also have used POLITICS! and CONTRACTS! and PLOT! over the course of this article.

The Bronze Age: The Silver Age was just yesterday.

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