As we move towards Valentine’s Day, our thoughts here at ComicsAlliance naturally turn to Superman. He has, after all, been at the center of one of the greatest romances in the history of comics. His love for Lois Lane is beautiful on so many levels, centered on the idea that that the most powerful person in the universe falls in love with someone defined by her wit and determination. Even at the height of the Silver Age, when Lois’s romantic pursuits could charitably be referred to as “obsessive,” there’s still a genuine sweetness to it.
And then there was the time that Superman starred in a porn movie with someone else’s wife.
It all goes down — so to speak — in the pages of Action Comics #592 and 593, and even 25 years later it’s probably still the most (in)famous issue of John Byrne’s run on the Superman titles, and not without reason.
At the time, Action was a Superman team-up title that reintroduced the Man of Steel to the recently rebuilt DC Universe in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths. In this case, the special guest stars were Big Barda and Mister Miracle, two characters that have a pretty good shot at being the single greatest romance in the history of DC Comics. Their origins in Jack Kirby’s epic Fourth World Saga are a little complicated, but all you really need to know is that Mr. Miracle was imprisoned on the purely evil planet of Apokolips, and Barda was trained from birth to be an unquestioning soldier in that planet’s army, but they fell in love, and escaped to Earth, and beat everybody that tried to come between them.
At one point, they’re talking about Granny Goodness and Barda says “We’ll go down that old shark’s mouth together!! — then I’ll beat her to death from the inside!!” It is literally the most romantic thing I have ever read.
Unfortunately, there was one thing their relationship wasn’t prepared for: The Eighties. So when Barda takes a wrong turn while she’s out and about in the big city of Metropolis, she ends up on a side of town so wrong that it looks like a deleted scene from the Warriors. Presumably it was too soon after the reboot for Superman to have cleaned up the entire town, so it has a whole double-page spread of hookers, hobos, a pimp with an honest-to-New-Gods oversized hat with a feather in it, and one purse snatcher who makes the incredibly poor life choice of stealing Barda’s handbag.
She gives chase, but unfortunately for her, she ends up running right into the sewer domain of the villain of the piece, Sleez, a little green dude in a trenchcoat with the power summon fleshy tentacles from (mercifully) unknown locations.
According to the origin story that comes through in this issue, Sleez was exiled from Apokolips for having tastes so depraved that even a guy who keeps a dedicated immortal torturer on staff thought he was too creepy. To that end, he has the power to psychically corrupt people, bending their will to his own skeevy purposes.
Which, in Barda’s case, involves heavy makeup, a boombox, and an outfit that somehow manages to be over 99% tassel.
But as we find out in the next issue, there was one more element to the scene.
I’m not gonna lie, folks: Action Comics #593 has one of the single greatest opening sequences of all time. For one thing, it starts out with the the idea that Scott Free, the greatest escape artist in the universe, doesn’t use a key to open his door. Instead, he has a lock that’ll blow him up if he can’t bypass a grid of lasers to solve it in ten seconds. It’s a pretty amazing bit of character, and it only gets better once he solves it, and enters his own home to find Darkseid himself sitting in his armchair.
Byrne wasn’t the first person to pull the trick of having the embodiment of evil kicking it in a purple La-Z-Boy in someone else’s apartment — in fact, it’s a tribute to a similar scene Kirby did with Orion way back in New Gods #2 — but he did add the truly hilarious brandy snifter and the satisfied smirk of a guy who is about to absolutely ruin somebody else’s day.
Which is exactly what he does. See, the part of Sleez’s plan that I left out earlier? It was a video camera.
That’s right, everybody: Sleez has been videotaping and selling Barda’s sexy sewer dance. In fact, it’s topping the charts in Metropolis’s surprisingly thriving porn community. And to make matters even worse, with Superman also succumbing to Sleez’s control, it looks like her next video isn’t going to be a solo act.
As creepy as that setup might be, it’s also exactly what I love about Darkseid. He’s pure evil, in a way that’s both grand and insidious that goes far beyond just showing up and punching super-heroes, blasting eye-lasers and frowning. He’s a guy that will go to your house, sit in your chair, drink your liquor, hand you a VHS tape with your wife in a porn movie filmed in a sewer, tell you you should probably do something about that, and then go back to plotting to conquer the galaxy. That’s evil.
On the bright side, Superman isn’t exactly thriving in the world of adult films:
Thanks to his “Strong Moral Fibre,” he’s able to resist Sleez’s psychic urging to get it on, probably because Sleez didn’t even bother to offer him a t-shirt first.
At this point, the story has become Mister Miracle in a rage against time. Or at least a race against Superman’s repressed horniness and Barda’s battle bikini being used for the power of smut. Either way, Mr. Miracle drops down into Suicide Slum, and despite the fact that Mother Box (a portable living supercomputer from the planet New Genesis) assures him that there’s no immediate danger, he’s immediately set upon by one of my all-time favorite phrases, “a gang of crazed hobos.”
They club him over the head, stuff him in a mail sack and chain it up, but it doesn’t stop there:
My absolute favorite part of this entire story is that the crazed hobos have a blowtorch on standby for just such an occasion. Because of course they do. That’s just how you roll in the City of Tomorrow.
Despite the fact that it’s pretty low-tech, it is a pretty serious deathtrap, only made more threatening by the fact that Byrne slams it into his story in only two pages, adding another layer to it in every single panel. But then, with Mr. Miracle beaten unconscious, stuffed in a sack, chained up, covered in garbage, welded into a dumpster and pushed into a river, this is the very next page:
The Greatest Escape Artist in the Universe, everybody. The lesson here is that Mr. Miracle is awesome.
So awesome, in fact, that he’s able to find the porn set almost immediately, and just as it looks like the Man of Steel might be rounding third base, he decides this has gone quite far enough, thank you:
I’d say it’s the climax of the story, but, well, that’s exactly what Mister Miracle’s trying to prevent. Thank you, I’ll be here all week.
With Scott on the scene, Sleez’s mental control over Barda and Superman is broken, but they’re not out of the woods yet. Superman takes off after Sleez bolts, leaving Mister Miracle and Barda to deal with exactly the thing you’d expect a guy like Sleez to have laying around his porn studio: A giant pink tentacle monster.
Seriously, those things were everywhere in the ’80s.
Before Mister Miracle goes through a firsthand re-enactment of La Blue Girl, however, Barda saves him by dragging the tentacle monster off and shoving her fist down its throat until she gets to the right spot to kill it. And for those of you wondering, it’s right about here where I start to wonder if Mr. Miracle’s line about how there was no point in being subtle was actually Byrne’s warning to the readers.
In the end, Sleez blows himself (wait for it) up in an explosion in the sewer, leaving Superman to come back alone and try to explain the whole thing to a very disgruntled Mister Miracle. Needless to say, his explanation is basically “Sorry I almost banged your wife, bro, but to be fair, I am Superman.”
So while he came perilously close to capturing Best Male Newcomer at the 1987 AVN Awards, Superman didn’t actually end up starring in a porn video. But considering that the camera was rolling for the entire time, and that Sleez’s human partner who directed the video isn’t apprehended, presumably that footage made it out.
It’s never really brought up again, but if there’s one thing I believe with every fiber of my being, it is this: In the DC Universe, “Superman’s Makeout Fail” was definitely the first video uploaded to YouTube.