Tuesday, January 02, 2018

I was expecting more of an origin, but that's not how Vartox rolls.

Here's an issue I didn't expect to stumble across: the first appearance of Vartox, from 1974's Superman #281, "Mystery Mission to Metropolis!" Written by Cary Bates, pencils by Curt Swan, inks by Bob Oksner.

In Metropolis, a young woman is shot dead during an armed robbery; simultaneously, "trillions of light-years away," the woman's double dies as well. The double had been the wife of Vartox, the superhero of his world, who leaves no stone unturned in searching for her cause of death; which is explained as due to the death of her "bionic twin." (The word bionic isn't used in the traditional way here, but would've been big due to the Six Million Dollar Man TV show. This isn't the first time we've seen the Superman titles use it!) Combining advanced science with his own "hyper-powers," Vartox is able to see the murder, as well as that earth had it's own protector: Superman.

Although he gives Superman a heads-up "inter-galactic gram" out of courtesy, Vartox isn't going to let Supes stop him. Grabbing the murderer, Sykes, from an interview with Lois Lane, Vartox is interrupted by Superman, then Lois is killed by a deflected blast! Or at least that's what would've happened if Vartox had gone through his initial plan. Instead, he's forced to go with a more circuitous scheme, approaching Sykes after he's released on a technicality. Vartox convinces Sykes that he has super-powers, that he only needed someone like Vartox to unlock them. Vartox then tricks Sykes into a jewelry robbery--to steal a gem he had previously planted--to 'fence' on Vartox's homeworld. Superman tries to stop Sykes after catching him with the stolen goods, but is instead drilled through an apartment building like a "human corkscrew!"

Vartox and Sykes teleport back to Vartox's world, but on the way a chunk of "white dwarf star" nearly interrupts their trip: Superman saves them, although Vartox doesn't know why he didn't stop them. On Vartox's world, Sykes is now under his jurisdiction (Vartox seemingly argues against entrapment, saying Sykes came of his own choice) and Sykes is aged sixty years as sentence for his murders. Superman takes home the now-decrepit Sykes, noting he escaped justice on one world, but not two...

Doing a little research, I saw a page that described Vartox as "more of a late Silver Age character" despite debuting in the seventies--and despite his obvious inspiration from Sean Connery in Zardoz! I wonder if he was only intended to appear here, or if they always planned on his coming back. He made a good rival/foil for Supes, especially since his powers were pretty much whatever they needed to be. Also, I was mildly surprised to see, per the GCD, this has only been reprinted once in the states, in the digest the Best of DC #32.


Dale Bagwell said...

OMG is he EVER clearly inspired by Zardoz!!!! All he's missing is a ponytail, a blaster and a Scottish accent, and he's Sean Connery's twin.

I noticed he popped up a year or so back during Amanda Conner's run on Power Girl.

SallyP said...

Oh God, I love Vartox. He is just so...hairy or something. And you gotta love those kicky boots.