Moa vs Superman: Poignant extinction lessons via a 1970s comic

Moa vs Superman: Poignant extinction lessons via a 1970s comic

‘This Superman story is actually a great portrayal of an extinct species and its tragic fate at the hands of humankind.’

Lots of us can list a handful of Superman’s foes – Lex Luthor, General Zod, Doomsday – but few know of the time that Superman fought a giant moa. That’s right, New Zealand’s own moa! Science researcher Rodrigo Salvador tells us more.

The last moa on Earth!

Superman vs moa happened back in 1973, on Action Comics #425. The story is called ‘The last moa on Earth!’

Action_Comics_425
Cover of Action Comics no. 425 (July 1973), published by National Periodical Publications Inc. (now DC Comics).

In short, the hunter Jon Halaway was surprised in the bush by a giant bird, so he shoots and kills it.

After talking the dead bird to a scientist in Hawera (Taranaki), he discovers the bird’s identity is Dinornis maximus.

Dinornis maximus is the old name for the South Island giant moa, now known as Dinornis robustus. This is strange, because Halaway had been hunting on the North Island, and the North Island species is called Dinornis novaezealandiae.

Action Comics 425 - excerpt page 2
Halaway and the scientist. (Excerpt from The Last Moa on Earth!, Action Comics 425, July 1973).

In any event, Halaway regrets ‘killing the last moa on earth’ and devotes himself to finding a moa egg.

He finds one being incubated by strange hot fumes, which of course would give the baby moa superpowers – it’s a comic book after all.

He takes the egg to Metropolis so scientists can use the egg to produce more moa.

While he’s been interviewed by Clark Kent, the baby moa hatches and escapes.

Superman goes after it, discovering it has superpowers, starting with the ability to fly.

Superman and moa in a fight
The flying moa. (Excerpt from The Last Moa on Earth!, Action Comics 425, July 1973).

The supermoa could also regenerate lost limbs extremely quick and even attack with a barrage of arrow-like feathers.

Action Comics 425 - excerpt page 7
Giant Moa uses Feather Barrage. It’s not very effective… (Excerpt from The Last Moa on Earth!, Action Comics 425, July 1973).

But the meta-moa was no villain – all it wanted was to go back home.

‘The world owes the moa another chance for survival

Superman takes the bird back to New Zealand and establishes a moa reserve. He does that by setting up a fence and ignoring the fact that this moa could fly.

Anyway, it’s the intention that counts, I suppose. 

The story ends with Halaway saying that ‘the world owes the moa another chance for survival’.

If you ignore the superpowers and the comic book stuff, this Superman story is actually a nice portrayal of an extinct species and its tragic fate on the hands of humankind.

If nothing else, I hope it has inspired a reader, somewhere, to become a scientist – or to fight to preserve other endangered animals.

Learn more about moa

Maybe superman’s story has inspired you to know more about amazing moa? Te Papas new Te Taiao | Nature exhibition, has so much moa goodness – you can find out:

  • which species of moa you weigh the closest too
  • how big a moa egg is – and see a real one
  • why they became extinct
  • and how they compare to the Supermoa!
Visitors look at moa skeletons
Visitors in the Te Taiao | Nature exhibition, 2019. Te Papa

Also, to learn more about moa, take a look at this article on the Journal of Geek Studies and at Extinct Birds of New Zealand, an amazing book from Te Papa Press authored by our Curator of Vertebrates Alan Tennyson.

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