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These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Mort Weisinger.
The Story of Superman's Life (1961). Writer: Otto Binder. This is a biography of Superman, focusing on his birth on Krypton, his arrival on Earth and his career as Superboy. It is clearly written to educate new readers into the whole background of the Superman family of comic books. It is also an unexpectedly absorbing story in its own right. It proceeds with step by step, methodical deliberation through every element of the Weisinger world. Each frame introduces some new key element in the saga, or often several of them together. Each individual point will play a role in some story or stories in the years to come. One frame categorizes Superman's powers, listing each one, and explaining its origin from either the Earth's low gravity or yellow sun. Another architecturally documents the hidden rooms in Superboy's house. Such diagrammatic or non-naturalistic drawings occasionally occur throughout the whole Superman family of comic books; they add a multimedia quality to the series, and take advantage of the comic book medium. The story has a high density of plot points. It forms a sort of logical backbone to the Superman series as a whole. It also can function as a mandala, allowing a contemplation of much of the plot patterns in the series. This story is written by Otto Binder, who had much to do with the creation of the Superman mythos in the early Silver Age.
The Night of March 31st (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This is a strange story that turns the entire Superman family mythos topsy-turvy. In some ways it is the exact opposite of "The Story of Superman's Life" (1961). That story provides a profoundly detailed look at the Superman universe; this story looks at everything exactly wrong, through a jester's eyes. This tale is best read after one has read many Superman family tales, in order to appreciate its strange scrambling of reality, the reality of the Superman mythos.
Superman Under the Green Sun; The Blind Superman (1962). Writer: Bill Finger. This two part story was one of the best in the series. It told how Superman helped a planet of people forced into slave labor. The story has much admirable social commentary. It echoes the Biblical book of Exodus, with Superman following in the footsteps of Moses to deliver a people from slavery. A letter in issue 157 also aptly compared the story to the concentration camps of World War II, a comparison clearly intended by the authors: the dictator in the story is drawn to look like Hitler. The story is quite emotionally involving, and inspirational in showing a Superman who has been stripped of his powers trying to find the resources to help other people. The tale also has some imaginative science fiction elements, and some mystery twists. The blinding in the tale recalls John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids.
The evils of Totalitarianism were much on the mind of the public of the 1960's, and they appear with regularity in the popular culture of the period. Dr. Seuss' Yertle the Turtle offered a satirical attack on dictators, as did the memorable Mr. Big segments of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. The Superman family of comics was particularly concerned with the evils of slave labor. After all, Castro's slave labor camps were just 80 miles from the US in Cuba in this period, the Soviet Union and Communist China maintained a vast array of slave labor camps, and the concentration camps of World War II were just 15 years in the past. Attacks on slavery appear in such works as "Lois Lane, Slave Girl" (1962), by Robert Bernstein, and "The Three Ages of Superboy" (1963), written by Edmund Hamilton. "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (1963) offers a direct protest against Cuba's prison camps, and looks at a future time when they have been shut down, and their prisoners released.
Other persistent themes in the Superman family include the vow by Superman that he would never take life. This vow was also taken by the Legion of Super-Heroes. This gives a pacifist and non-violent approach to the series, and echoes Gandhi's doctrine of ahisma, or reverence for life. This vow ran through the entire series, and plays a role even in such a light hearted and delightful tale as "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire". The search on Krypton for a non-violent way of dealing with criminals, a basic theme in the Phantom Zone series of stories, is related to this; as is the Earth-set "The Murder of Lana Lang" in which Lois Lane and Lana Lang set out to attack capital punishment. "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960) also contains a scene set on the ocean floor of another planet; it shows all the weapons of the planet's nations lying there junked, after war was outlawed. "Supergirl's First Romance" (1960) shows her destroying the forbidden weapons of Atlantis. "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (1963) zeroes in on Soviet militarism, and the Soviet refusal to allow disarmament with inspection, seen by the writers as a key obstacle to world peace. Such a sustained look at serious themes belies the belief that comics only offered their readers escapism.
Superman's Return to Krypton (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Dick Sprang. A magic totem causes Superman to travel back in time to old Krypton, where he meets and befriends his parents Jor-El and Lara. Haunting story that is one of Binder's first tales of old Krypton. As in many subsequent Krypton tales, a sinister would be dictator is trying to overthrow Krypton's democratic government. The anti-Nazi symbolism is made especially clear in one panel of this tale, which shows the dictator's followers giving him a stiff armed salute in a room with a swastika on the wall. The secret identifying marks on the heroes' hands recall Isaac Asimov's Foundation. The Krypton zoo also appears in this tale; it will be a favorite location in later stories.
This story is the third part of a trilogy of linked tales about the magic totem; collectively the three stories make up a novel called "The Three Magic Wishes". This novel took up the entire issue of Superman #123. This third story is the best of the three tales.
The Jolly Jailhouse (1960). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Clark Kent goes undercover as a political prisoner in a notorious prison in a dictatorship; he uses his super-powers to disrupt the routine of the prison, and hound its sinister warden. Despite the dissimilarity in subject matter, this story bears some formal similarity to Coleman's "The Super-Key to Fort Superman" (1958). Both stories take place within a large, sealed off, enclosed space: the prison here, Superman's Fortress of Solitude in "Super-Key". In both stories, a mysterious figure disrupts the routine of the place: Superman here, the unknown stranger in the other tale. In both stories, the source of the disruption is unclear to the bedeviled central protagonist. Nor can he control the events. This story is also typical of Coleman, in that the plot events use a good deal of science.
Coleman's story is the least science fictional of all the Superman anti-dictatorship tales. Unlike most of them, it does not involve an alien planet; instead it is set in a dictatorship here on Earth. This story recalls Coleman's earlier negative look at totalitarianism "The Land of a Million Supermen" (Action #233, October 1957), which also takes place in a foreign dictatorship entered and subverted by Superman. Its little mystery plot is not as well crafted as Coleman's other mysteries, however, and the story is mainly notable as a precursor to "Jailhouse".
Krypton's First Superman (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A would be dictator on the planet Krypton appears in this story, in which Superman's father Jor-El offers a memorable bit of resistance.
Project Earth-Doom (1965).Writer: Leo Dorfman. Two aliens who look exactly alike, Rogg and Vikk, appear on Earth, and try to track down Superman's secret identity.
The anti-dictatorship stories were not the product of a single writer; instead nearly every major writer of the Superman family had a hand at creating one. Here it is Dorfman's turn. Dorfman looks at a militaristic planet that conquers and enslaves others. His story is a thorough condemnation of such societies. It is full of vivid imagery. Its finale conveys through terrible irony the upshot of such military dictatorships. Dorfman's emphasis is slightly different from the other stories. They were about how bad it was to live under a dictatorship; this one is about how bad such dictatorships are for their neighbors, who are always being militarily attacked by them. The dictator in the tale is clearly in the totalitarian mold of Hitler and Stalin.
Dorfman's tale shows a wealth of science fiction invention. It resembles such other 1965 Dorfman tales as "Jimmy Olsen's Day of Disgrace" (Jimmy Olsen #84, April 1965), and "Jimmy Olsen, Ape Man" (Jimmy Olsen #86, July 1965) which involve a rich stew of interacting sf ideas. Like "Day of Disgrace", this involves a whole alien planet with an original, unusual culture, and like "Ape Man", the tale involves unusual machines positioned in remote, exotic areas of the globe. The stream of sf ideas causes a beautiful storytelling experience. One feels as if one were in another world, experiencing something continuously original. The effect is delicate and pleasing.
The techniques of trying to penetrate Superman's secret identity recall those of previous episodes in the Superman family, such as Dorfman's "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" (Action #297, February 1963). In both tales, the investigators find a series of men, each of whom exactly fits Superman's measurements. All of these men tend to be in extremely macho professions.
Superman's Day of Truth (1965).Writer: Leo Dorfman. On a special day, all Kryptonians everywhere must tell the absolute truth. This tale combines several traditions of the Superman family, in different sections of the story. The opening is like the transformation tales: something has happened to Superman, causing him always to speak the full truth. As in many of the transformation tales, we see a wide variety of episodes which ingeniously exploit this new condition. Many of these are humorous.
Then we come to the explanation. The fact that it is a memorial performed by all Kryptonians recalls Siegel's "The One Minute of Doom" (1962). And the finale, which explains the events behind the day, is in the tradition of the anti-dictatorship tales.
The Old Man of Metropolis (Action #270, November 1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman dreams of his old age, when he has lost his powers and is retired. We also see the fate of most of the principal characters in the Superman family. This story fits into several trends in the Superman books. It is basically an Imaginary story. It is told in the form of a dream, however, so that at the end Superman can wake up, remember his dream, and learn lessons from the tale. In a pure Imaginary story, only the readers of the magazine know anything about the events of the story - none of the characters ever see it in the "real" world of the Superman mythos. This story also fits in with the "rejection" motif of many 1960 Superman family stories. These tales, often written by Jerry Siegel, deal with the rejection of the protagonist by everyone around him. Binder's treatment of this theme is less bitter than Siegel's, but it still packs quite a punch. The story develops considerable pathos.
If this tale fits in with existing trends in the Superman family, it also breaks new ground. It is the first tale in the Superman family books to look forward to a plausible future for Superman and the other Kryptonians. Many of the ideas in the story would recur in future imaginary tales in the comic books. Its treatment of the future of Kandor probably influenced such classic stories as Jerry Coleman's "The Super-Family From Krypton" (Superboy #95, March 1962) and Leo Dorfman's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue". Binder created Kandor, so it is appropriate that he was the one to map out its future.
The treatment of Luthor also influenced later Imaginary tales, such as Siegel's "The Death of Superman". Binder's depiction of Lois and Lana also helps characterize the two. Lois is once again shown to be far more idealistic and less selfish than Lana. Binder clearly liked and admired Lois Lane, and his treatments of her tend to be generous and sympathetic.
This story shares some imagery with Binder's parallel worlds /Bizarro tradition. For one thing, it suggests that Superman should marry: something at the heart of those stories. The story also reminds one of the Bizarro tales, in that it takes place in a world similar to ours, yet in which everything is defective. Superman here has lost his powers, and this world is a parody of the life he knew as a young man.
Superman in Kandor (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Kandor was an entire Kryptonian city that the villain Brainiac shrunk to microscopic size, and put in a bottle. The whole concept is wonderfully poetic. The Superman family of comics developed a series of stories about Kandor. This 3-part story is one of the key ones. In it, Superman and Jimmy Olsen adopt secret identities in Kandor, as Nightwing and Flamebird; these are modeled on Batman and Robin. Their costumes are especially cool looking. The red of Jimmy's costume, and the black of Superman's, echoes the color of their hair, always an important characteristic of comic book heroes. Here Hamilton pursues a favorite theme: characters taking on roles and locations belonging to others. Superman and Jimmy take on the careers of Batman and Robin, while also moving to the unfamiliar landscape of Kandor.
The story show the complex politics that often operates in Kryptonian society. Oddly enough, the Superman comics rarely showed political activity on Earth, regarding this as propagandistic, according to the letter columns of the magazines, but often included political events on Krypton. These political events are somewhat in the tradition of the civics lessons that were so popular in all media in the 1950's, but are a bit more subtle and complex. Here Superman is subject to the lynch hysteria that often gripped crowds in 1950's works. (See the article on Charlotte Armstrong for more discussion of this.) However, Krypton is an advanced society, and it is deeply civilized, even in the grip of political fevers. The scene in which the Kandorian leader describes his view of relations between Kandorians and Earthlings is especially humane, and especially poignant for it.
The Dynamic Duo of Kandor (Jimmy Olsen #69, June 1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. A mysterious masked thief is looting relics of Ancient Krypton in Kandor; Nightwing and Flamebird try to stop him. The origin of Nighthound. This sequel appeared in Jimmy Olsen, and like the original, was written by Edmond Hamilton and drawn by Curt Swan. It reuses the science fiction elements of the previous tale, but does not continue its political themes. Hamilton once again shows his interest in evolution, with depiction of ancient, now extinct Kryptonian animals, like the dinosaurs of Earth.
Like many Hamilton sf comic book stories, it contains several discrete episodes, each with its own science fictional basis, the whole making up an anthology of different sf mini-tales. Hamilton regularly constructed his Chris KL-99 and his Legion stories with such sf mini-interludes. Here the episodes have much material about Kryptonian traditions, some of which is quite imaginative, especially the section about the mineral men. This episode is one of Hamilton's more audacious employments of one of his structural ideas: the taking on by one group of people the identities and roles of others. Here, the mineral men have the role of another group of people in the Superman mythos. In addition, Hamilton has structured this role for the mineral men so that it also creates a recursive quality. The whole is ingenious and startling.
Hamilton wrote many "mysteries of identity", in which the reader is challenged to guess the hidden identity of a villain. Hamilton once again makes the identity of the criminal here part of his surprise solution.
The utility belts worn by Nightwing and Flamebird are spectacular looking. They seem to be rigidly metallic, and joined together through nuts and bolts. The many raised knobs and rectangular regions, recall the surfaces of Curt Swan's spaceships in other tales.
The Feud Between Batman and Superman (World's Finest #143, August 1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superman and Jimmy Olsen return to Kandor as Nightwing and Flamebird, this time accompanied by Batman and Robin. Since Batman and Robin were the original models for Nightwing and Flamebird, it makes delightful sense to have them get into the series. The story also allows Batman to see Kandor, apparently for the very first time, and to learn Kryptonese, which he is partly taught by Jimmy Olsen, an old hand at Kandor and the language. Like other Hamilton stories set in Kandor, this one tries to explore Kryptonian traditions. Here Hamilton has flashbacks depicting detective work on old Krypton.
Batman is morose throughout this tale, and the feud that develops between him and Superman is not much fun. However, the treatment of Kryptonian animals here is terrific. Dogs had appeared in both earlier tales in this series. Here they return, in ways that are both logical and surprising. Hamilton has thought deeply about the logical implications of their nature in the earlier stories, and come up with a novel use of them. The Kandorian dogs, their abilities, and one particular animal, Nighthound, are now incorporated in the Superman mythos. Such logical developments are typical of the Superman mythos. It shows a deep internal consistency, with its logical possibilities fully realized. The mythos is always undergoing development, like an unfolding piece of classical music.
The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Curt Swan. The Superman family also contained some more purely sf works. This 3 part story tells of a future time when Superman accidentally gets split into twin selves, who call themselves the Superman-Red and Superman-Blue of the title. They put their doubled brain power to work to solve all of the Earth's problems. This is the best Utopian story I have ever read. It describes sweeping, positive change coming to Earth. It is genuinely inspiring, and it is great that it has been reprinted so that today's generation of kids can read it, in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (1987).
The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman; The Super-Duel (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. On a red sun planet where Superman has no super-powers, Luthor and Superman have a major contest. This two part story took place on a world in which once civilized humans had declined into a primitive life style. This theme shows up in several places in the Superman family; this is one of the best treatments. This theme has its origin in prose fiction in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895). However, there are important differences between Wells' and Weisinger's treatment. Wells ascribed the decline to class conflict; the pacifist oriented Superman family instead makes warfare on the planet responsible for the decline. It is one of a number of serious warnings about the danger of warfare in the magazines.
Luthor shows a good side in this tale. On a new planet where everyone admires him, Luthor is lured by events into being better than he has ever been in the past. Hamilton shows the seductive side of goodness. The tale embodies an optimistic view of human nature, showing decency's powerful appeal to humans. There are elements of comedy here under the surface, with a paradoxical look at moral reform's pull.
Luthor -- Super-Hero (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Luthor and Superman return to planet Lexor, where Luthor now gets super-powers. This sequel to "The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman; The Super-Duel" develops a complete role reversal between Luthor and Superman. Here it is Luthor who has super-powers, and Superman who is treated as an outlaw. The role reversal elements are quite elaborate, and show wit and invention on Hamilton's part. Hamilton liked stories in which characters took on other characters' roles. The tale also embodies Hamilton's belief in progress, showing how much more advanced the residents of Lexor have become since Superman's first visit. They now live in mighty cities, whose futuristic architecture recalls that of Krypton.
The cover of the issue points out the "irony" of the role reversals in the tale. Words like "irony" and "coincidence" were frequently employed by the writers of the Superman family. They explicitly underscore the plot parallels, correspondences and reversals in the tales. Unlike most prose literature, coincidence was not seen as a bad thing in Superman. This is because it was employed in a different way here. Bad prose writers frequently used coincidence to get out of story traps, or to ignore logical development in their plots. Coincidence was a form of cheating. By contrast, coincidences in Superman are a form of ingenuity. They show up for their own sake, for the readers to enjoy and admire.
If Luthor Were Superman's Father; The Wedding of Lara and Luthor (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Luthor time travels to old Krypton, where he poses as "Luthor the Hero", and romances Superman's future mother Lara. Lara often shows an independent mind in Siegel's tales: see his "Life on Krypton" (Superboy #79, March 1960). This story praises her for her intelligence. This tale also shows Siegel's interest in media, in this case television. We see a large TV camera, looking not dissimilar to Earth ones, and Luthor fakes "tapes", which seem a lot like today's videotapes. After all, videotape had been used within the TV industry itself since around 1950, I believe.
Siegel includes scenes of Luthor warning Krypton about the future kidnapping of Kandor. These scenes anticipate those in Robert Bernstein's "Olsen's Time Trip to Save Krypton" (Jimmy Olsen #101, April 1967). Siegel has a slightly tongue in cheek quality here. He is gently spoofing the mythos of Kandor. He also mocks Luthor and the way he always loses at the end of tales. Luthor's thought balloons throughout the story have the biting, sarcastic quality Siegel imparted to his villains. Luthor is pretending to be a good guy here, and on another planet. This is related to but different from Hamilton's stories of Lexor, where another planet's influence allows Luthor to show a genuinely good side.
This tale has some beautiful art by Curt Swan. We see Krypton from space, forming a map of the planet (p4). There is an Art Deco look at Kandor, before it shrank. There is much horizontal streamlining, with parallel straight lines marked out on the buildings, and numerous towers. Swan's version of the Jewel Mountains is good as well - these are always a high point of any journey to Krypton. Luthor's one man space ship looks like a fancy car of the period, such as a Cadillac convertible, with fins and cylinders.
The Death of Superman (#149, November 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This three part Imaginary Tale chronicles what might happen if Superman died. I do not like it: it seems morbid and downbeat. Siegel often had a too gloomy imagination. However, this tale made a huge impression on the public. In the 1980's, a group of comics experts voted it one of the best Superman stories of all time. Judging from the letters in the 1960's, it made an equally strong impression then. Particularly disturbing was a Marine who wrote that the tale upset him more than his combat experiences. Jerry Siegel was the original creator of Superman; it is eerie to see him contemplating the death of his most famous character. The tale also centers on Lex Luthor, another character created by Siegel and Shuster in the 1940's.
The most important part of the story: the depiction of the mourners filing past Superman's body. The tale emphasizes that they are people of all races and nationalities. It sends a strong Civil Rights message. The next panel shows that not only all humans are mourning Superman, but so are many alien beings. This is in the tradition of Silver Age science fiction stories, in which the decent treatment of alien beings was allegorically made to stand for equality between real life human races.
The One Minute of Doom (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. About the Krypton Memorial Day, during which all survivors of the exploded planet Krypton observe a minute of silence. This story shows real feeling in its depiction of the memorial observation. People tend to think about the destruction of Krypton in terms of ancient mythology. It recalls the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, and the loss of a Golden Age in Roman tradition. These allusions are certainly valid. But other interpretations are also valid. For the Jewish writers of the Superman family, it would inevitably recall the Holocaust. The deep outpouring of feeling in this tale, in which the living mourn the dead, is certainly derived from this real life experience.
The Secret of the Superman Stamp (1962). Writer: Edmond Hamilton, probably. This story is about government officials from Burma visiting the US, and showing off their new stamp in honor of Superman. The tale is cheery and upbeat, but it is included here because it continues the tradition of celebrating all the races of the world begun in "The Death of Superman".
The Last Days of Superman (1962). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. This three part story depicts a death watch over Superman, who appears to be dying. It is not an Imaginary Tale, but it is definitely inspired by "The Death of Superman" (1961). The story is much cheerier than the earlier tale, but less original or significant. The storytelling is inventively detailed. I especially liked the involvement of Mon-El and Saturn Girl at the end. The tale also has two small mystery sub-plots that are nicely done.
This story contains the seeds of some of Hamilton's later works. Like "The New Superman" (1964), it opens with the arrival of a green object from space that saps Superman's powers, and both stories flash back to Krypton for explanations of these objects' power. As in "Clark Kent's Brother" (1965), most of the emotional mourning is done by the women characters. This tale concentrates on new activities for Superman's super-powered associates, whereas "Clark Kent's Brother" will look at Superman's non-super-powered friends. The tale also indicates Hamilton's fascination with Brainiac 5, and his feeling that that this character has at least a potentially sinister or at least mysterious side, something that will be explored deeper in such Hamilton stories as "The Team of Luthor and Brainiac" (#167, February 1964) and the Legion tale "The Weddings That Wrecked the Legion" (Adventure #337, October 1965). The tale also has Utopian qualities, with Superman looking forward to performing great deeds. Such an approach anticipates Leo Dorfman's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (1963). Most of the super-deeds here involve transformations of Earth on an astronomical scale. These recall the Cosmic stories which Edmond Hamilton and Otto Binder wrote for Mystery in Space.
The School for Superman Assassins (1966). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A group of sinister interplanetary raiders sets up a school to train would-be assassins of Superman.
This story is a complex sf saga, with many twists and turns. It has little to do with the Superman mythos, as it had been built up over the last decade. Instead, it launches Binder on an sf extravaganza about a new planet and its denizens. The plot reminds one somewhat of the sf tales that had appeared in Mystery in Space in the 1950's. Like them, this planet has both war mongering dictators, and a democratic peace party. The story comes to a finale that both dramatizes democratic elections, and which underscores the importance of books in maintaining civilization. These sections are clearly intended to be didactic, and teach readers important ideas. They are well dramatized. Binder manages to embed his ideas in an interesting plot. The book sections depict several different media in which text can be stored. They anticipate today's world, in which a multitude of new high tech devices contain text. Binder's "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960) also includes new media for books.
The story has other elements that are a throwback to the late 1950's. Like earlier Binder tales, such as "The Super-Gorilla From Krypton" (Action #238, March 1958) and "Superboy's Last Day" (Adventure #251, August 1958), it is unusually specific about exactly how Kryptonite poisoning works, with considerable medical details.
The metal suits worn by the peace party here recall the lead suits worn by Superman, in such earlier Binder works as "The Boy of Steel versus the Thing of Steel" (Superboy #68, October 1958), "The Kryptonite Man" (Action #249, February 1959), "Titano the Super-Ape" and "The Son of Bizarro" (1960) trilogy in Superman.
Lois Lane, the Super-Maid of Krypton (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. In this Imaginary tale, Lois Lane is sent to Krypton when Earth explodes, and becomes a noble super-powered heroine there. A later story in Superman that recalls "Superman's Other Life" (1959). It too is a 3 part imaginary tale set largely on Krypton, and there are other plot echoes as well. While not as key a work as "Superman's Other Life", it offers good storytelling, and some interesting feminist commentary too. Hamilton's stories often focus on the challenge of people taking on professions and locations that usually belong to other people. Here, he looks at what might happen if Lois Lane took on Superman's super-hero job, and went to live on his home planet, Krypton.
Beauty and the Super-Beast; Circe's Super-Slave (1963). Writer: Robert Bernstein. This two part Superman tale starts out with a vivid look at a program for women astronauts. Here Lois Lane becomes involved with NASA space flights for women. Such women astronauts existed in the pages of Superman long before they were allowed to occur in real life. The story makes a powerful case for including women in the space program, both in words and deeds. After its opening NASA scenes, this richly plotted tale moves on to a look at the magician Circe, and her power over men in general and Superman in particular. This continues the theme of "woman power". These later sections have little political import. Instead, they are one of the ingeniously plotted tales in which the Superman family magazines excelled. An earlier story, Otto Binder's "The Supergirl of Two Worlds" (1961) had also promoted the idea of women astronauts.
The Girl Who Was Supergirl's Double (Action #296, January 1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. At a costume party, thieves dress up like astronauts. This story is mainly interesting for artist Jim Mooney's depiction of astronaut space suits. It shows the Superman family's continuing fascination with the astronauts.
The Green Sun Supergirl (Action #337, May 1966). Writer: Otto Binder. As late as 1966 the Superman family was still promoting the idea of women astronauts. Here Supergirl assists with a NASA test flight. Jim Mooney's art in this tale is also vivid; he shows a special flair for depicting the astronauts at the start of the tale. As in the earlier Circe tales, here the women in space theme is a prologue to a science fiction adventure tale. When Superman visited a planet with a green sun, he lost his superpowers; the same thing happens to Supergirl in this story. This story is structured as a journey through another planet, in which the heroine meets many unusual kinds of alien beings. Such a construction is associated with the great 1930's writer of prose science fiction, Stanley G. Weinbaum. The Superman family of writers would be familiar with his works; DC editor Julius Schwartz was in fact Weinbaum's agent. SF historian Sam Moskowitz tells a moving story of how Schwartz was attending services in temple, when he received a telegram announcing Weinbaum's early death. Schwartz burst into tears, realizing what a great loss this was to the world.
Binder's story shows considerable ingenuity with its many different kinds of aliens. All the pieces of the story dovetail into each other. Binder had a flair for different kinds of aliens and their unusual powers and behaviors. Often times these stories are about alien "animals"; many of the alien creatures in these tales are not the main intelligent species on their planet, but are at the intermediate level of Earth animals. His earlier Supergirl story, "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" (1960), takes us into Superman's interplanetary zoo in the Fortress of Solitude, and utilizes their strange behaviors in its plot. Another Binder tale with creative alien animals: "The Mystery of Monster X' (Adventure #245, February 1958).
The Revenge of the Super-Pets (1965).Writer: Leo Dorfman?. Superman and the Legion of Super-Pets time travel to 1866 Metropolis, where they turn the tables on a man who is cruel to animals. The story looks at the birth of the movement for humane treatment for animals. This is a well done time travel story. Superman gets to assume a new identity in this tale, different from either of his two modern ones. This is always interesting: it is like a revelation of his personality. He has often had to do this when traveling to Krypton or other planets. The story is also unusual in that it goes to the Metropolis of the past. Most of his time travel assignments have taken him to more exotic regions. Here he is on his own home turf, as the story points out. The fact that he is traveling with the Super-Pets also gives this story a familial, at-home feel.
Curt Swan's art for the real life character Henry Bergh is interesting. Bergh is dressed to the teeth and very impressive looking. He is a bit like an 1866 version of the handsome, imposing looking mobsters that Swan often drew. However, Bergh is a 100% good guy. He is even more formally dressed than Superman. Superman's clothes have a more comic feel, including a green suit and a large bowler hat. He looks like someone who is celebrating in a saloon, and is a bit of a sport. His clothes are glad rags, and convey a sense of party and celebration. The whole story is like a vacation lark for Superman. Several of Dorfman's tales let Superman let his hair down, and just be a guy: see "Jimmy Olsen, Freak" (Jimmy Olsen #59, March 1962).
I have always enjoyed the Super-Pets, both here, in Siegel's "The Battle of the Super-Pets" (Action #277, June 1961) and in such Legion tales as Hamilton's "The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets" (Adventure #322, July 1964). Readers of the time clearly loved them too, according to the mail columns. However, there are several slighting references to the Super-Pets in accounts of the Weisinger era, as an example of excessive mythos building. I confess I just don't see it. I love animals, and think these tales are fun. Also, the various powers of the pets are interesting. So are their individual personalities.
This story has some formal similarities to Dorfman's "The Fantastic Army of General Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #60, April 1962). In that tale, human Jimmy Olsen led a group of friendly, non-aggressive aliens against a vicious attacker. Here human Superman leads a group of innocent animals against someone victimizing them.
This story recalls in its imagery Dorfman's earlier "Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor". In that tale, Superman also time travels to an old time urban era, in this case San Francisco. He also gets dressed in a period suit, without his glasses; also, he works as an old time entertainer-athlete again, this time as a boxer, and once again, his colorful super-suit forms his athletic costume. There is even a cat and a horse in this tale, reminding one of the Super-Pets. Dorfman's tales sometimes seem to be built around a series of visual images. These two time travel tales share a similar base of images. It is as if the images came first, and the story is built around them. Many of Dorfman's tales of aliens, such as "Project Earth-Doom" (1965), also seem to involve a complex series of images, that are tied together to form a smoothly flowing plot. These images tend to be such things as pictures of unusual aliens, complex machines in remote locations of Earth, strange customs, and encounters between his hero and the aliens.
Superman had a series of fairly short tales, especially during 1962, that were light hearted, and essentially comic in tone. These stories had no political significance, but they did show good storytelling.
The Great Superman Hoax (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein, probably. A crooked scientist tries to persuade Lois Lane and Clark Kent that he is really the secret identity of Superman. Bernstein wrote several tales in which non-super-powered people try to assume the role of Superman. Pete Ross often did this for admirable reasons, as Superboy's friend. This tale is tricky in that the scientist does not actually impersonate Superman. Instead, he leaves clues that would indicate that he has just switched from the Superman identity. For example, after Superman rescues some coal miners, he makes sure he bears traces of coal dust. The whole story consists of him creating such fake "clues". Since Lois Lane has spent years trying to find such clues near Superman and Clark Kent, she has no trouble "reading" such clues now. Neither does the reader - we are all familiar with such trace clues after dozens of Superman tales.
This story is similar to many Jimmy Olsen tales, in which Jimmy goes undercover in a gang of crooks, and gradually rises to a higher and higher position within the gang. Here it is Superman who is the protagonist, not Jimmy.
The Super-Genie of Metropolis (1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. This story uses a common plot pattern in the Superman family comic books: it attempts to make people believe that someone without superpowers actually has them. Here Superman tries to convince people of the existence of a genie with magical powers. Various seemingly magical events are faked by him. In this tale, the reader is on to the faking from the start, sharing a point of the view with Superman. In other stories like this, the reader believes the fake superhero is real, and only learns at the end of the story that it is an ingenious hoax.
Many of the Superman family mysteries have a common basic approach. They involve sustaining a character in a role. For example, in several stories, a character without superpowers is made to look as if they had superpowers. It is all an ingenious hoax, as revealed at the end of the tale. Other stories involve a fictitious new character, such as an alien visitor to Earth, who turns out to be a hoax. In the Pete Ross stories, also written by Bernstein, Pete must aid Superboy, without his knowledge, in sustaining the character of his secret identity. Even stories that do not present themselves as mysteries, often have a surprise solution, in which such a hoaxed identity is revealed. The Superman family has rung an astonishing series of changes on this theme.
This theme of "sustaining a character in a role" is especially associated with writer Robert Bernstein. Bernstein did write stories where a hoaxed identity is revealed as a surprise solution at the end. But very often, as in "Super-Genie" and the Pete Ross tales, the reader is in on the secret, and sees all the effort and challenges of sustaining a new identity.
This tale involves Perry White. Perry was often Superman's ally in Superman. He was especially employed when Superman needed someone reliable to aid him in some serious scheme against crooks. Perry was a solid person of responsibility, in his professional life, and Superman seems to give him equally responsible work in his crime fighting tasks. Like Pa and Ma Kent in the Superboy stories, Perry could be counted on to faithfully and competently execute his tasks. He would not have an agenda of his own, like Lois Lane, or get involved in humorous complications, like Jimmy Olsen.
The Super-Clown of Metropolis (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. In order to benefit a charity, Superman tries to make sour billionaire Sad Sam Smith laugh for the first time in his life. This tale is one of several comic stories Siegel wrote about show business. The great comic who also tries to make Sam laugh is an affectionate portrait of a Borscht Belt comedian, in the tradition of Sid Caesar or Milton Berle or Phil Silvers. This story is virtually an anthology of old vaudeville comedy routines, all adapted to Superman. Siegel liked anthology pieces, although usually he collected bits and pieces of his old stories or the Superman mythos. This story also serves as a spoof of Superman himself. Siegel is mocking his own creation, as he will do again in "The Night of March 31st" (1961).
The Downfall of Superman (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This tale deals with wrestling, and guest stars a real life wrestler of the period, Anthony Rocca. Its complex plot employs one of the standard gambits of the Superman family comic books, impersonation. In the Superman stories, anybody could disguise themselves as anybody else, and frequently did so. The use of plastic face masks helped with this, as did Superman's powers. Siegel was especially fascinated with impersonation, and often used it as part of the surprise solutions to his mystery tales.
Sometimes two people would exchange identities, an interesting concept. These stories are not too believable, but they are fascinating. The recent film hit, John Woo's Face/Off (1997), shows that the public is still interested in this concept.
The Menace of Mr. Mxyzptlk (1959). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Superman attempts to get Mr. Mxyzptlk to say his name backward and return to the Fifth Dimension. This is the first modern Silver Age story to include Mr. Mxyzptlk. The spelling of his name was permanently changed here; pre-Silver age the p and the t were reversed. This story is basically a sequence of attempts by Superman to get the mischievous imp to say his name backward. It seems to be an archetypal Mxyzptlk story; virtually all future appearances will include such attempts as key plot elements. The first episode is a flashback to his last appearance; I do not know if this refers to an actual tale, or whether Coleman made it up for this story.
The story shows some personal Coleman traits: Mr. Mxyzptlk is in the Coleman tradition of powerful figures who menace and threaten Superman. Many Coleman tales involve puzzles that Superman must solve; here Superman is challenged to overcome Mxyzptlk's defenses, and get him to say his name in reverse. Some of Superman's ideas involve the science that Coleman frequently used in his tales.
The Underwater Pranks of Mr. Mxyzptlk (1962). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Mr. Mxyzptlk is an imp from the 5th Dimension; he starred in a series of comic tales in which he used his magic powers to play practical jokes on Superman and Metropolis. He is in a tradition of magical trickster characters found in Jewish folklore; a similar character turned up in Horace Gold's classic Unknown Worlds fantasy story, "Trouble With Water". These comic tricksters are endlessly troublesome and difficult to deal with, but they are not really malicious or evil. This story is an above average example of a Mr. Mxyzptlk tale; it has some nice satire in scenes where Mr. Mxyzptlk causes all the adults in Metropolis to revert to their second childhood. According to the letters column of Superman #142, his name is pronounced Mix-yez-pitel-ick. So does "The Cabinet from Krypton" (Jimmy Olsen #66, January 1963), written by Leo Dorfman. And the letters column of #163 states that when he says his name backward, it is pronounced Kel-tip-zay-xim.
The Bizarro Invasion of Earth (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. An army of Bizarros "invades" Earth, where they cause harmless mischief. This brief comic story clearly recalls Binder's "The Son of Bizarro" (1960), in which a Bizarro invasion was for real. Siegel shows his gift for media parody, this time of the fine arts. There are also sports spoofs here. A brief story like this is almost the plot equivalent of a haiku, a few broad strokes of the pen that make a satisfying whole.
The New Lives of Superman (1966). Writer: Jerry Siegel. In this two part story, when he has to pretend that Clark Kent was blinded in an explosion, Superman takes on two new secret identities: first as a wealthy jewel thief's butler, then as a disk jockey in England. Both of these tales are full of Siegel's comic touches. Parts of the first tale recall Siegel's spoofs of detective stories among the Bizarro World. The second tale is one of Siegel's media spoofs, this time of the world of English rock and roll. England was at the height of the mod Sixties when this story appeared, and its only natural that Siegel would want to add it to his gallery of spoofs. The name of Superman's disk jockey identity Clark the "K", is based on that of real life Murray the "K", as the story explicitly points out.
Even in a comic tale like this, Siegel includes political ideas. The tale opens with Superman trying to get the UN to outlaw a new weapon developed by a dictator. The Daily Planet also plans to campaign to get public opinion behind such a ban. The story is consistent with other arms control stories that the Superman family published over the years.
Clark Kent, Gangster (1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Curt Swan. Superman experiments with a new secret identity, as forger Pete the Penman. Playing a crook allows Superman to go undercover in criminal gangs. Dorfman had written a number of earlier Superman tales pitting him against criminal organizations, such as "The Outlaw Fort Knox" (1965).
This tale is influenced by Siegel's "The New Lives of Superman" (1966), earlier in the same year. Both deal with Superman temporarily trying out new secret identities. In a later letters column, Weisinger refers to this story as one of a series of new secret ID tales.
This story has an episode involving a quick change artist. In this it recalls Gardner Fox's "The Riddle of the Two-Faced Astronaut" (Atom #6, April-May 1963).
The story includes a brief depiction of a shut-down of the Daily Planet due to a strike. It is a serious, respectful treatment of such an event. It recalls an earlier look at the union aspects of working at the Planet, in Robert Bernstein's "The Human Octopus" (Jimmy Olsen #41, December 1959). Both of these tales have art by Curt Swan. He maintains a grave dignity and realism in his depiction of such events. The opening strike section is the most interesting part of the tale, more so than the later crime sections, which are much more familiar material. For all their sf elements, the Superman family stories usually took place against a realistic America. Weisinger and the writers took delight in including as many different aspects of American life as possible. These vignettes often interact with the more fantastic and sf material in the stories. Superman and the other characters rarely seem isolated in a world of their own; instead they are part of a complex modern society, teeming with people, institutions, and complex processes of life. The stories depict modern civilization as a whole. This sort of celebration of civilization is a deeply rooted attitude in the Superman family. It echoes the admiration expressed for the advanced civilization of Krypton, which also celebrates the possibilities of civilization.
Early in the story, Superman is envisioning new potential secret identities for himself. One panel shows him as a policeman. Such a panel is essentially a very small Imaginary Tale, showing a possible future for Superman. Curt Swan does an excellent job depicting Superman in a sharp policeman's uniform (p2). Swan also includes one of his spiffily dressed crooks, Kid Spade, who wears a pinstriped suit and hat.
Superman's Achilles Heel (#185, April 1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman? Art: Al Plastino. A movie actor turned gangster (who looks just like the real life Hollywood actor Edward G. Robinson) targets Superman when Red Kryptonite makes one area of his body vulnerable to attack. This is a minor tale, but it has charm. Gil Kane frequently used Hollywood stars as his models for characters, especially in The Atom, but the Superman family rarely did this. There is something definitely comic about seeing famed film gangster Robinson used as a model here.
The Grand Comics Database says this story might be by Leo Dorfman. This is possible: Dorfman frequently wrote stories in which Superman gets involved with organized crime. The story also has features that recall Robert Bernstein. Bernstein frequently wrote intricately plotted, off trail stories involving Red Kryptonite. Here, Red K has affected one part of Superman's body, but which one is a mystery. The story has a flashback which retells the myth of Achilles; Bernstein often included references to the classical world in his tales. Gangsters have Superman under surveillance here; Bernstein frequently wrote tales in which gangs (especially aliens) had the good characters under high tech surveillance, monitoring their actions and attempting to steal their secrets. Bernstein had made the suspect in "The Mystery of Skull Island" (Lois Lane #16, April 1960) be a Hollywood actor; this is consistent with the villain here.
Al Plastino has a good splash page, showing the roofs of Metropolis. We see numerous rooftops and windows on many different levels; it is a charming and ingenious cityscape. Plastino also has some good portraits, including a crew-cutted henchman (p4) and what seems to be Metropolis team football players wearing red uniforms with white stripes (p6). Such red with white trim uniforms were the most popular color combination for football uniforms in 1960's comics.
The End of the Planet! (1952). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. When a wealthy rival of the Daily Planet buys it up and shuts it down, the ex-staff gets together and puts out their own newspaper. Hamilton makes the proposed end of the Daily Planet seem genuinely mournful. Hamilton later wrote "The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City" (World's Finest #80, January-February 1956), which similarly deals with the near end of a second newspaper in Gotham City. The two stories' plots are developed in quite different directions, and the pair make an intriguing duo on the same theme.
The tale is quite sophisticated about business, in the mode of many of the pre-Silver Age Superman tales. The plot of the tale, with the employees banding together and putting out a newspaper as a collective, recalls that of Tay Garnett's movie Stand-In (1937), which similarly involves the employees of a film studio.
The title of this story is perhaps a bit of a pun. Science fiction writers have published thousands of stories about planets that nearly come to an end, and heroes who save the world - Hamilton himself often held the fates of palnets in the balance in his pulp fiction days. The title suggests that this story might be one of these. However, it is about the end of The Daily Planet, not an astronomical planet.
The 1,000 Lives of Superman (1955). Writer: ?. Lois Lane's rival reporter Mona Miles tries to find out Superman's secret identity; Superman comes up with a hoax to fool her. This is a logically constructed little story, with a good idea about Superman's secret ID.
Mona Miles shows nice symmetry with Lois Lane. Both are snoopy reporters, both work for rival papers, and are personal arch-rivals of each other. Both have alliterative names, with the same syllable pattern: two syllable first names, one syllable last names. The way that Mona and Lois are "doubles" in the tale for each other seems to echo the way Superman gets new secret identities in the story, which are doubles for him. This sort of plot construction makes a satisfying tale.
Superman bakes a giant cake for a group of orphans here. Throughout the series, both Superman and Superboy like to cook, especially for kids. It is a consistent part of their characterization.
Wayne Boring does a good job with Superman's new ID as construction worker Barney Wilson. It is interesting to see Superman as a blond. The Superman family had a fascination with steeplejacks, and they frequently show up in early Superman tales. It was considered a macho, dramatic profession, and probably also as one whose pictorial possibilities made it ideal for the comics.
The Million Dollar Question (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. In the Superman family of comics, there is never any awareness of television as a mass medium. Instead television broadcasts are treated literally, as a transfer of images from one point to another. This story from the December 1955 Jimmy Olsen #9, is a case in point. In it, gangsters have infiltrated one of the Quiz Shows of the era, complete with glass isolation booth. One of their gang is now a contestant, answering questions on Superman, and hoping to win the shows million dollar prize money. Meanwhile, at their hideout, they force a captive Jimmy Olsen to radio transmit the right answers to questions on Superman to their crooked contestant. Superman is also watching the show from another TV. The quiz show itself, the gangsters and Jimmy Olsen, and Superman are the only relevant characters in this drama. The fact the millions of other people are watching, or that a show might influence public opinion, is simply ignored. The TV broadcast is live, as it always is in the Superman family books, and events on it are simply part of a larger story. From one point of view, this is a naive approach to television. It is almost a science fictional point of view - what people might have envisioned TV to be like in 1930. From another point of view, it is liberating. When I was a kid, I learned to regard myself as a passive member of the TV audience, one whose only choices were to accept or ignore what television threw at me. So did most other people. The Superman characters have never accepted such a limited role. They see themselves as part of an interactive drama. The events happening in the studio, and the events at home where the viewer is watching them, have equal value. Both have an equal effect on the story and plot. In fact, since Jimmy Olsen is transmitting the right answers via radio to the crooked contestant, he is more important to the story than the broadcast itself. He has a more active role in the drama.
Superman For Sale (#102, January 1956). Writer: Bill Finger. Superman incorporates himself, and sells stock in the profits of his deeds. Some of the early tales of the mid 1950's involve Superman with real life business practices. The humorous "Muscles for Money" (Action #176, January 1953) has Superman performing his services for money, including the drawing up of contracts. In Superboy #26, June-July 1953, Superboy "Hires a Personal Manager". He coordinates Superboy's public appearances, organizes his work for charity, and helps interface with his fans. In real life, this would be a very good idea - Superboy and Superman's busy schedules would make something like this a necessity. All of these stories show a sophistication about business that will be lacking in the later 1960's work of the Superman family. The stock story also builds up Perry White, the Daily Planet editor, and an interesting continuing character in the series. It shows him to be far more interested in getting news stories than any personal gain or success. This is typical of his characterization throughout the series: he is genuinely idealistic, and although gruff and hard driving, he is genuinely devoted to just one thing, building a great newspaper. There is something comforting about this. Perry started out as a reporter himself, and a good one. Superman meets him as a teenager at the start of his career in the time travel story "Superman Meets Al Capone" (1961), written by Otto Binder.
Superman Joins the Army (1959). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Superman gets drafted. Superman had a series of stories in which Superman coped with the rules and regulations of various institutions: the Army here, the legal system and an insane asylum in later tales. All three stories are vaguely comic in tone. In all three tales Superman comes up against some petty authority figure who insists on him obeying all sorts of two bit regulations. The public spirited, law abiding Superman does so, but this always backfires on the authority figure. It is interesting to see that there is an anti-authoritarian streak in Superman. The martinet Captain Grimes who is Superman's nemesis in "Superman Joins the Army" is mustached, well groomed and distinguished looking. He looks a lot like the officer to whom the young Kal-El reports in "Superman's Other Life" (1959); this is how artist of both stories, Wayne Boring, saw military authority figures. Grimes gets completely mocked in his tale. These stories have the typical "serial" plotting of the Superman family, in which Superman deals with a series of challenges dealt him by the comic villains of the stories. Although the tone is comic, the plotting in the tales is treated seriously, with ingenuity expended on the challenges and solutions.
The Day Superman Broke the Law (1962). Writer: Bill Finger, probably. A small town entangles Superman in its legal system, charging him with violating several petty ordinances.
The Goofy Superman (1963). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Red Kryptonite temporarily makes Superman addled, and he winds up in an insane asylum. Both "Superman Joins the Army" and "The Goofy Superman" put an emphasis on Superman helping the other inmates of the institutions, and making their lives better. "The Goofy Superman" covers an unusually wide range of plot developments for a Superman story; the plot is less "centered" than in many Superman tales, and involves quite a few different approaches and subjects by the time the story is done. Such a "multi-centered" tale is typical of much of Bernstein's work.
One can discuss some Kryptonian customs. Men's names are hyphenated; the second part is the family name. Superman's Kryptonian name is Kal-El, and his father is Jor-El. The El part is their family name. Women seem to have a single name; Superman's mother is Lara, and Supergirl's Kryptonian name is Kara. This seems to be a personal name, without any family name. Although women do not take their husband's last names, the kids seem to have their father's last name, at least if they are boys. Similarly, Superman's cousin is Van-Zee; his father's name is Nim-Zee, according to "Superman's Greatest Secret" (#151, February 1962). Men's first names tend to have a single syllable, such as Kal or Jor, while female names tend to be two syllables long, such as Lara.
Men's clothes consist of a tunic and pants. These are brightly, brilliantly colored, like everything else on both Krypton and the Superman family of comics - comics were one of the first narrative art forms to make full use of color. The clothes tend to have a military look recalling Ruritanian kingdoms and Middle European uniforms of the 1900 era, especially in their high stiff collars. There are no armies on Krypton, however: war was abolished several centuries ago. The military look is especially strong in stories drawn by artist Wayne Boring. Other, later artists tend to make Kryptonian clothes a bit more super-hero like in feel. Men's clothes tend to have an emblem on their chest. Jor-El's show the Sun. Men seem to wear one fixed costume throughout their entire lives, although the artists sometimes made subtle modifications to it as the years went by. For example, Jor-El is always dressed the same. This makes him instantly recognizable as a character; the minute one sees his costume one knows that it is Jor-El. It is unclear why men always wear the same color pattern of clothes. Do Kryptonian men pick this costume themselves? Is it assigned to them by society? Don't they get bored always being dressed the same? Do the emblems have some ceremonial meaning? The clothes do seem to express their wearer's personalities. They also have plenty of macho and dash. These questions never seem to have been discussed in words in the series. But the form of dress seems artistically consistent throughout. In "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" (#134 January 1960), a Kryptonian inventor is shown working in his lab, with his tunic removed. He is wearing a white dress shirt with his Kryptonian pants, just like a 1960 American man. This means the tunic and pants function much like the suits American men wore in that era. However, when the tunic is on, the white dress shirt is completely covered and invisible, unlike the white shirts worn with suits on Earth. What about the superheroes of Earth? In "The Battle of the Power Rings" in Green Lantern #9 (November-December 1961), Green Lantern is shown wearing a white T shirt under his uniform, while in "Super Senor's Pal" from Jimmy Olsen #36 (April 1959), Superman lifts up his big S revealing his bare chest. So the superheroes are not consistent in what they are wearing underneath their costumes. This is consistent with the two heroes' sartorial approaches: if there ever was a superhero ready for the cover of GQ, it was Green Lantern, both in his sleek Green Lantern uniform or his well dressed Hal Jordan secret identity. By contrast, Superman displays a working class, Clark Gable like virility.
Women on Krypton tended to wear dresses that looked like the elegant evening gowns American women wore in the 1950's. This gave them a glamorous look. However, it was both less serious, and less science fictional than the men's clothes: today woman's lib would demand a more equal treatment. The men's clothes, which are an sf version of fancy uniforms, and the women's, which are ornate evening gowns, give the feel of Viennese aristocrats dressed up for a gala occasion in 1910. Since Krypton is an advanced society, like today's Earth, only much better, it makes sense that its denizens will always be dressed up.
The Second Superman (1958). Plot developments on Xenon showed up again in the Superman mythos. There are doubles on Xenon for both Superman and Jor-El; similarly, there will be doubles in Kandor for Superman, Lois Lane, and other series characters. The homesickness Superman experiences on Xenon will recur repeatedly, in stories set in Kandor, and during time traveling trips back to old Krypton itself.
Superman's First Exploit (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Sinister scientist Reese Kearns tries to find out everything he can about Superman's first super-deed. Superman is skeptical about his motives, and resists his search. When Superboy was a baby, his parents Jor-El and Lara sent him to Earth in a rocket, just before Krypton exploded. The journey itself was a space trip, something with sf possibilities, and the Superman family writers exploited it several times for plot ideas. This seems like one of the first such tales. Edmond Hamilton was a famed prose sf writer before joining the staff at DC as a comics scriptwriter, and it is appropriate that he should see some of the possibilities here. The story also some nice mystery elements, centering around scientist Reese Kearns.
This story is full of Hamilton's paradoxes. Sinister scientist Reese Kearns is in fact a seeker after truth, and Superman, normally the hero of the stories, tries to cover it up. This means that Kearns is structurally in the traditional role of the good guy: one who attempts to bring the truth to light, and Superman is in the traditional attitude of the villain, one who tries to conceal reality. As in many Hamilton tales, the reader is shown that dissenting points of view and action by people in a political minority in society are not necessarily harmful. Again and again in Hamilton stories, the reader is shown how important it is for all points of view, however unpopular and unconventional, to be pursued. The story gives a detailed look at what a search for truth is like, something that is at the center of the scientific process. While this story is short, just eight pages long, and unpretentious, it is unexpectedly profound.
"Superman's First Exploit" was reprinted in the Giant Superman Annual #1 (1960), as the first story in the collection. This was partly because it was a good story, but also probably because it was the closest thing to an Origin of Superman tale available at the time. The next year, Otto Binder would write "The Story of Superman's Life" (1961), a much more detailed origin story.
The Super-Brat From Krypton (#137, May 1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. While Kal-El's rocket it on its way to Earth, it accidentally gets duplicated by an alien space-ship; the duplicate superbaby is raised by a gangster and his wife, who train him to be a criminal. This story is notable mainly for Curt Swan's art. The gangster Wolf who rears the duplicate super-child is one of Swan's macho male crooks. He swaggers through the story in 1920's gangster pinstripe suits, and in a fancy dressing gown.
Curt Swan's art here contains one of his rare spaceships. Swan did not draw for the sf comics, such as Mystery in Space or Strange Adventures, so space ships appear infrequently in his tales. This one is large and extremely mysterious looking. It is full of curved, 3D biomorphic forms. The 3D quality of the ship is emphasized by the fact that the ship is shown from two different perspectives, in adjacent panels. The spaceship has a network of scientific devices on its surface, connected along a series of rods. The effect is something of a "connect up the dots" drawing. There are similar connected circular devices on Brainiac's head - an odd visual pun. Swan's cover for Action #242 presumably created Brainiac, visually. In any case, one of these devices shoots out rays that duplicate Superbaby's space capsule on the way to Earth. So these devices are important in the plot. Swan makes them look like high tech devices of a mysterious advanced civilization. The round window at the front of the ship also has an unusual visual feel. Presumably it is an observation window, but who or what is watching is never shown.
There is a previous Swan spaceship in "Clark Kent's New Mother and Father" (Action #189, February 1954), an otherwise minor if pleasant tale scripted by Edmond Hamilton. It shows features in common with this one, especially around the nose cone. This space ship too seems quite different from most of those we see in comics. Most of its surfaces are rounded in complex ways. Here Swan provides both side and top views. This spaceship is created by modern-day Americans, not people from outer space, but it is somewhat similarly designed. Both spaceships are fascinating, evocative works on which the viewer can meditate for a long time. They seem to convey rich moods, of unique, different experiences out of the ordinary.
Curt Swan's spaceships do not look much like those of other comic book artists. They do have a family resemblance to the ones the great science fiction illustrator Frank R. Paul painted for sf pulp magazine covers around 1940, although Swan's have their own unique feel.
An image in "The Super-Brat From Krypton" shows Superman riding a NASA rocket the way a cowboy rides a horse - something underlined by the cowboy dialogue Siegel gives Superman. Later, Adam Strange will ride the giant "Ray-Gun in the Sky" (Mystery in Space #77, August 1962). Both of these anticipate a somewhat similar image in Stanley Kubrick's film, Dr. Strangelove (1964).
One panel in the story recapitulates a previous story, Otto Binder's "Superbaby in Scotland Yard" (Superboy #73, June 1959). Siegel builds on this to create an episode in his own tale. The story treats the Scotland Yard visit just as a fact in Superboy's life. It does not cite it as a previous story; there is no footnote listing the magazine and title of the original work. It just says, "when Superbaby visited Scotland Yard" as if it were a memory of Superboy's.
How the Super-Family Came to Earth From Krypton (Giant Superman Annual #2, 1960). This charming one page panel illustrates the arrival of Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto and Beppo the Super-monkey from Krypton to Earth, showing their paths through space. It includes the events of "Superman's First Exploit" and "The Super-Brat From Krypton". It makes a useful summary, and probably helped many readers understand the Superman family mythos better.
The Non-Super Superman (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. A mind transfer machine causes Jimmy Olsen and Superman to switch bodies: Jimmy's mind is now in Superman's body, and vice versa. This sort of tale was popular in late Victorian times: see Conan Doyle's "The Great Keinplatz Experiment" (1884), or F. Anstey's Vice Versa (1882). Binder does an outstanding job with this theme. Jimmy gets to experience what it is like to be Superman, and Superman to feel like what it means to be an ordinary mortal. There are also clever ideas involving Jimmy suspecting Superman's secret identity. Binder tended to include such suspicions as running themes that weave in and out of his stories; Superman's grand scheme to preserve his secret identity would then serve as the finale of the tale. This is a common plot structure in some of Binder's 1950's Superman family work; one also sees it in such classic Binder tales as "Superman's Enemy" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959) and "One-Man Baseball Team" (Superboy #57, June 1957).
The Super-Sword (1958). Writer: Jerry Coleman, maybe. Superman encounters the Black Knight, a mysterious figure encased in armor whose powers of sorcery seem to be greater than Superman's own. This is an archetypal story of Superman versus a supernatural villain; its plot was recycled many times in subsequent Superman family stories. The Superman family did not accept or believe in the supernatural. It regarded it as superstition. It would accept stories involving magic or fantasy, especially if they were comic and tongue-in-cheek in tone. But it tended to reject all supernatural elements as fakes. Stories involving the apparent "supernatural" were usually explained away at the end as purely natural phenomena. Sometimes they would be hoaxes; other times they would reflect unusual scientific phenomena. This story is one of several "supernatural" tales of this era, all of which had solutions falling into the same category. Others included Otto Binder's "The Witch of Metropolis" (Lois Lane #1, March-April 1958), Robert Bernstein's "Lois Lane's Kiss of Death" (Lois Lane #7, February 1959) and Robert Bernstein's "MC of the Midnight Scare Theater" (Jimmy Olsen #38, July 1959). It is notable that many of these tales were not written by Otto Binder; it is one of the Superman family story types of the era to which he made the least contribution. Neither "The Super-Sword" nor any of the above tales wind up having any genuine science fictional elements. At the end of these tales, everything is explained naturally. This means that these tales are purely "realistic" stories of the lives of Daily Planet employees. This also makes them unusual in the 1958 - 1959 era of "mythos building" in the Superman family, which was largely dominated by Otto Binder's sf stories. These stories look ahead instead to the October 1959 - October 1960 period of the Superman family, which placed much more emphasis on realistic, non-science fiction tales of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen doing their jobs as reporters.
The Ghost of Lois Lane (1959). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Lois Lane apparently becomes a ghost after a lab explosion, and haunts Superman. This story is directly ancestral to the Phantom Zone tales. Lois is in the Fourth Dimension, not the Zone, but otherwise the ideas here are the same as in the first Zone story, "The Phantom Superboy" (Adventure #283, April 1961). The business with the electric typewriter is used in both stories. Oddly enough, while being present in both tales, nothing like it was ever used again. It in fact seems to be against the main Superman mythos for the inhabitants of the Phantom Zone to have any physical influence on the outside world. They can communicate telepathically with people, and sometimes influence their subconscious minds, but the sort of electrical influences present in these two tales became a no-no in later versions of the Phantom Zone. Other early Superman tales involve phantoms: in "Superman's Return to Krypton" (1958), Superman himself becomes a phantom, wandering the streets of old Krypton. In that tale his phantom status was caused by magic; here however, purely scientific explanations were invoked.
In addition to being a Phantom Zone precursor, this tale has some interesting elements of sf mystery. These concepts were not incorporated into subsequent stories, and give this tale some ingenuity all its own.
This tale has a construction site background, in part; the 1950's Superman tales seemed fascinated by these locations. Wayne Boring does a good job with two construction workers who comment on the action.
Superman's Black Magic (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Superman impersonates the Devil, in order to trap a gang of crooks. Siegel wrote a large series of stories, in which the protagonist's life is disrupted by a powerful figure; eventually, the protagonist discovers that the powerful figure is not who he seems to be, but is rather an imposter using his super-powers to enable the hoax. This tale more or less adheres to this paradigm, but with some variations. For one thing, the point of view character is not the hoaxed person here, but the creator of the hoax, Superman himself. Secondly, the hoaxed person is not a sympathetic character, but rather is a gang of cheap crooks. Finally, in most such Siegel tales, the hoax is a surprise revelation at the end of the tale; but here the reader is onto the hoax from the start. The effect is of an inside view of one of Siegel's hoaxes, seen from the perspective of the hoax perpetrator himself.
The tale opens with a masquerade party. Such costume parties were favorite locales of all the DC Silver Age comics. The various costumes have tremendous visual potential. They also offer opportunities for impersonations, switches on secret identities, and the like, and were important springboards for plots. The Superman-as-devil imagery here will return in Siegel's "The Helmet of Hate" (Jimmy Olsen #68, April 1963).
The Two Ghosts of Superman (1966). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman investigates a medium named Sir Seer, who seems to know where ancient treasures are buried. While this tale is not a classic, it is a nice "bread and butter" story, well constructed, and full of vivid detail.
The year before, Binder had published another tale exposing phony mediums, "Lois Lane's Great Houdini Trick" (Lois Lane #58, July 1965). This was part of the Superman family's consistent stand against superstition. The story also fits in with the Binder tradition of hoaxes about people who seem to have super powers. Another Binder tradition: a finale involving an ingenious attempt to preserve Superman's secret identity. Binder never seemed to run out of new ideas on this subject. Here Binder is trying to rationalize and explain away the revelation on Curt Swan's cover.
Binder tries to get as many of Superman's human friends into the tale as possible: Lois, Lana, Perry White, Batman. It also invokes Jor-El. At a time when the mythos aspects of Superman were going into a decline, this story preserves Silver Age traditions of the large cast of continuing mythos characters.
Several sections deal with historical events, such as pirate treasures. Such swashbuckling parts of the past make regular appearances in Binder tales. They have long been a staple of children's entertainment, especially in print books, and Binder and Weisinger clearly thought they would add color to Superman family tales.
Titano, the Super-Ape (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. A small, friendly chimpanzee is transformed into a huge but equally kind-hearted giant ape. Binder loved transformation stories. Usually their subjects are humans; this one is unusual in that an animal is involved. Usually too, the transformation is just temporary, and the character reverts back to his normal self at the end of the tale; here however Titano remains a giant ape at the finale, paving the way for Binder's future sequels. The fact that Titano becomes big is typical of Binder: he wrote many stories in which the transformation involves becoming giant sized.
DC in the late 1950's was full of giant ape tales. These undoubtedly had their roots in King Kong, and the ape's special affection for Lois Lane here reminds one of Kong. However, the DC apes were all far more friendly and often much more intelligent than Kong. The Titano story brings the King Kong plot into the Superman mythos, just as Binder's early Bizarro tales incorporated the Frankenstein legend.
This story is notable for the dignity with which it treats Lois Lane. She is shown as a courageous reporter, sticking to her job with true professionalism, and as a kind hearted person. This is the Lois Lane I know and love.
Titano the Super-Ape (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Titano returns, and runs amok in Metropolis. This second Titano story is even more like King Kong than the first (the similarity in name between the two stories is confusing). It is based on a cover showing Titano climbing the Daily Planet building, just as Kong climbed the Empire State. Binder introduces a small mystery plot in the story, which is satisfactorily if somewhat ordinarily resolved at the end. Boring's art shows his skill at large objects. A panel on page 3 shows Superman in front of two huge monitors: a big man with big screens. This whole effect is one of impressive size. Boring's depiction of time travel on page 9 shows the comic book convention of abstract art constructed of multi-colored circles.
Superman Meets Al Capone (1961). Writer: Otto Binder. Superman time travels back to 1920's Chicago, and infiltrates Al Capone's gang. This story also continues Binder's saga of Titano. A visit with him in the prehistoric past is used as a framing device for the time travel to the gangster era. This story is similar to many Jimmy Olsen tales, in which Jimmy goes undercover in a gang of crooks, and gradually rises to a higher and higher position within the gang. Here it is Superman who is the protagonist, not Jimmy.
Tales of Green Kryptonite: No. 1 (#173, November 1964). Writer: Otto Binder. A piece of Green Kryptonite tells his story: how he came to Earth and menaced Superboy. Binder's series marked his return to scripting Superman, after an absence of over three years. Unlike his earlier stories, these tales are short, almost miniatures. Their episodic quality adds to their miniaturist approach. The first two stories consist of a series of small vignettes, each detailing another encounter of Superman with the Green K. Binder marches through virtually the entire mythos of Superman in this series. This tale opens on Krypton, and retells Superman's origin. The best of the episodes: the one with Superbaby. It shows logic in how Green Kryptonite might have affected him and the Kents. Binder has not forgotten the events of his "Superboy's Last Day" (Adventure #251, August 1958), and he makes this story consistent with that.
Al Plastino's art shows his interest in abstract painting. In an early panel, Jor-El is shown with an invention called the Dimension Screen. Its monitor shows a series of colored polygons. These geometric figures make a highly effective piece of abstract art.
Tales of Green Kryptonite: No. 2 (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. The Green Kryptonite meteor continues his life story, telling how he affected Superman as an adult. This tale shows some interesting formal symmetry in its plotting.
Superman's Kryptonite Curse (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. The Green Kryptonite is turned to Red Kryptonite, and affects Superman. This story is that old favorite of Binder's, the transformation tale. Binder manages to come up with a new effect of Red K, after all these years, and a good one, at that. Like many Red K stories before it, the tale is relatively light hearted, upbeat, although not actually comic. As usual, the Red K's effects make it a challenge for Superman to preserve his secret identity. The story is one unified plot, not a series of vignettes, like the first two tales. Binder manages to include three panels, which summarize many of the effects of Red K on Superman and Superboy in the past. We also see Jimmy Olsen's apartment, the scene of so many early Binder stories centering on his Superman souvenirs.
Binder had a special interest in Kryptonese. His Krypton tales often featured it, notably "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman". It seems to erupt into the present, like a survival from a lost but magnificent civilization. One thinks of Yiddish, and the effort to preserve Yiddish culture in our own time. Also of the many Native American languages anthropologists and modern Native American groups are working to preserve.
The Menace of Gold Kryptonite (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. The meteor is turned to Gold Kryptonite; a young couple from Kandor tries to prevent it from destroying Superman's powers permanently.
This story is touching, in all the references it manages to work in to earlier Binder stories. Binder is revisiting many past elements of his career. Jimmy Olsen's brief visit recalls "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (Jimmy Olsen # 36, April 1959), the metal eater is from "Superman's Other Life", the lead suit from "The Kryptonite Man" (1959), and of course the whole mythos of Kandor is Binder's own. It is if Binder were revisiting his whole history in the Superman mythos. However, the tale is not all nostalgia. Binder breaks new ground with his treatment of the couple from Kandor. He is clearly setting up new elements of the Superman mythos here, to be used in future stories.
The Secret of the Space Souvenirs (1958). Art: Al Plastino. Superman is mysteriously compelled to collect a series of unusual objects from all over the Solar System. This is a nice little sf puzzle. Jerry Siegel used a somewhat similar approach later with his two-part Legion story "The Eight Impossible Missions; The Amazing Winner of the Great Proty Puzzle" (Adventure #323, August 1964). The tale also invokes the myth of Atlantis, but in a very different form than that in which it will later be incorporated into the Superman mythos.
Al Plastino shows some good alien landscapes of other planets. Uranus is a beautiful landscape, full of tall, jagged rocks. There are many moons and stars in the night sky above; the round thought bubbles of the dialogue balloon blend in with these to create a unified pattern. Saturn's moon Rhea is also beautiful: it is full of craters, like Earth's Moon.
The Bride of Futureman (1958). Writer: Jerry Coleman. A super hero from the future comes to 20th Century Metropolis, where he proceeds to romance Lois Lane. Futureman is gentlemanly and courtly, and this story has little of the violence than sometimes involves rival super heroes. Schaffenberger gives Futureman a spectacular yellow and black costume. Futureman is part of a Coleman tradition, the good hearted, powerful character who takes over Superman's life, shakes him up in ways that make Superman uncomfortable, and who does it for the sake of Superman's psychological well being. Often Batman has this role in other Coleman tales. The beings in these tales are Superman's social peers: heroic characters who have as much social status and prestige as Superman himself. They tend not to be authority figures; rather, they are Superman's social equals. These men think nothing of hoaxing Superman, and they tend to be very confident about what they are doing. The structure of the Superman mythos sets up Superman as an all powerful character. Superman probably needs something like this to keep him challenged, and to let him have growth experiences. The relationship is a little like that of Captain Kirk and Bones: Kirk needs Doctor McCoy to challenge him and give him advice.
The Make-Believe Superman (1959). An ordinary, honest Earthman who looks like Superman wears a Superman costume for an event at his son's school and gets involved in all sorts of misadventures. Ingenious story which shows all the clever changes the Superman family writers can ring on the secret identity theme. The futuristic museum, with its exhibits depicting many planets, is a well handled background for the story. It allows the plot to be about many sf subjects without leaving modern day Earth.
I don't know the author of this story, but the tale resembles the work of Robert Bernstein. First, the story has an introductory passage whose subject matter is different from the bulk of the tale, a typical Bernstein construction. Here the introduction is about the father never having performed any deeds of heroism, and his worry that this might be disappointing to his son. Secondly, the story resembles Bernstein's later Pete Ross tales, in that it involves two people doing an intricate dance around Superman's secret identity. Just as in many of the Pete Ross tales, here a friendly man has assumed Superman's role and identity, for benevolent, constructive purposes. And as in the Pete Ross stories, the independent and yet coordinated efforts of two different people, each working in his own direction and on his own agenda, helps preserve secret identities of Superman/Clark Kent. Also as in the Pete Ross tales, one of the men is secretly supporting the other, without his knowledge. As in the Pete Ross stories, one of the men in Superman himself; the other is an ordinary mortal Earthman without super powers, a man who is decent and honest in his actions, and one who ultimately takes on courageous measures to help save the day.
The Secret of Kryptonite (1960). Writer: Jerry Coleman. This Untold Tale is a sequel to Otto Binder's "Superboy's Last Day" (Adventure #251, August 1958); it includes a one panel recap of that tale. Binder's story showed how Superboy and the Kents first encountered Green Kryptonite; this tale shows how the world learned of its existence, and its ability to harm Superboy. The distinction between the two concepts shows admirable logic. It is typical of the careful thinking that went into all aspects of the plotting of the Superman family tales, and the building up of its mythos.
Like many of Coleman's tales, it deals with a threat hanging over Superman's head, and his ingenious attempts to deal with it. Often these threats deal with people exposing some secret of Superman's, in this story, the nature of Green Kryptonite. The story is also typical of Coleman, in that Superman ultimately bears no ill will to the person who is threatening him. The stories end with a magnanimous reconciliation between Superman and those who have threatened him.
There are other Coleman features to this story. There is a grown man / kid perspective, as Superman looks back to his youth as Superboy. And as often in Coleman, scientists play a key role in the tale; Coleman clearly admires scientists very much. They have an astonishing ability to learn things, and to guess secrets, that often discomforts Superman, however.
Superman's Other Life (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. This was a three part story, filling a whole issue of Superman. It shows what would have happened if Krypton had not exploded, and Superman had grown up there, instead of coming to Earth. It is a very fine story, and important for several reasons. For one thing, it takes place almost entirely on Krypton, and offers one of the most detailed looks at life on that advanced planet in the series. It is an early work in the cycle of Weisinger Superman stories we are considering here, and most later Krypton stories have this portrait to some degree in their background. It is the archetypal story of Krypton. The script of the Kryptonese language is shown here, and a partial fragment of a map of Krypton's solar system. Krypton's zoo, a location that will return in later Krypton tales, also appears here. A few months before, Binder also wrote "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (Jimmy Olsen # 36, April 1959), a tale also set on Krypton. It is much shorter, but it is of equally high quality, and forms a companion piece to the present tale.
For another thing, "Superman's Other Life" seems to be one of the first imaginary stories in the Superman series. The "imaginary story" is an innovative concept in fiction, that seems only to appear in the Weisinger edited books. Most of the Superman family stories represent a consistent history of Superman, and his friends. Every so often, however, the editors would present what was labeled as an "imaginary story". These represented "what if" kinds of questions. One series of imaginary tales showed what might happen if Superman married Lois Lane. This series showed the wedding, Superman and Lois coping with the press and public, raising a family, and so on. As the editor pointed out, this was a story set in a hypothetical realm, a story based on imagination about what might be. The imaginary tales opened a rich field for the writers. I have never seen anything like the imaginary story in works of prose fiction. It is a powerful device that could be heavily used by most authors of fiction. Instead, it seems to be completely obscure to most contemporary readers and authors.
This early imaginary story used a science fictional frame work device. The story was supposedly generated by an advanced computer built by Superman. Superman, Batman and Robin sit there watching the tale unfold, commenting on what they see. Later imaginary tales in the Superman family do not use such a device. They are simply presented as ordinary stories in the magazine, with a clear label on the first page that they are imaginary tales. They have no audience and no commentary. The writers of the Superman family clearly liked having a commenting audience watch a tale, however, and they used it in several later, non-imaginary tales in the series. For example, the "Life on Krypton" series in Superboy shows him remembering events on Krypton from his early childhood. Superboy, Ma and Pa Kent watch these events unfold, and offer a running commentary on them.
Otto Binder's work often contains the "Superman mythos as a whole" as a plot element. In the imaginary tales, the reader is constantly being asked to compare the events of the imaginary tale with the "reality" of the mythos itself. They either parallel or directly contrast to the "real" elements of the mythos. Similar are stories in which Superman encounters people on other planets whose life strangely matches his own: the best of these tales is "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960), which Binder also wrote. In these tales, the life of the other planet's superhero parallels events in the Superman mythos. It is a variation of the mythos, and the story only gains its meaning from a continuous comparison between the mythos and the parallel events on the other planet.
Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent (Lois Lane #19, August 1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. By next year, in Lois Lane, the Superman family was presenting tales in the full imaginary story paradigm. These were works without a framework device or audience, labeled as "imaginary stories" on their opening pages. This seems to be the first story in the Superman family magazines officially designated as an Imaginary Tale. It was the opening story in a series by Siegel, showing what would happen if Lois married Superman.
The "Superman-Lois" Hit Record (Lois Lane #45, November 1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. The Imaginary Story concept pops up in the Superman family in other ways. This is an interesting tale about a comedy record concerning Lois Lane's romantic pursuit of Superman. We meet the (fictional) creators of the (fictional) record in the story. After their first album becomes a hit, they put out a second album, dealing with what would happen, should Lois marry Superman. This second album is of course an Imaginary Tale, one whose subject is the same as the series in Lois Lane about the Superman-Lois marriage. Within the context of the Superman family, this all seems perfectly natural. In fact, I've read this story several times over the years without noticing anything unusual about the second album. Reflection, however, points up how unusual this is. I do not know of any real life comedy albums that deal with a "What If" premise. It seems to be something unique, dreamed up by the writers of the Superman family. One might also note how reflexive and recursive all this is: here is a story about writers, existing within a Superman family tale, who are themselves creating an Imaginary Tale.
The Big Superman Movie (Jimmy Olsen #42, January 1960). Another Superman family story with an unusual, recursive construction. This tale takes place on the set of a movie depicting a series of "real life" feats done by Superman and Jimmy Olsen. Instead of showing the "actual" outcome of these events, however, the script of the film depicts how they could have come out, had Jimmy Olsen been more ingenious at the time of the events. Each sequence of the film is in effect a little imaginary tale, showing a what-if variation on "real" events in the life of Jimmy Olsen. All of this movie making is set within a framework story, showing events on the set, the Hollywood actors playing the characters, and so on. It makes for a very unusual construction for a story. Once again, the "scriptwriter" of these stories within the story plays a role within the framework tale. The Superman family sometimes used this "sequence of stories within a framework" approach for other works, such as "The Story of Camp Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #48, October 1960), but that story has no what-if features.
Clark Kent's Brother; The Defeat of Superman; The Luthor-Superman (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Young Lex Luthor is adopted by the Kents, and becomes Superman's brother, in this book length tale. Hamilton manages to reweave the entire story of Superman's life, in this imaginary tale depicting an alternate unfolding of Superman's story. This tale is like "Superman's Other Life", in that it creates a whole alternative history for Superman, showing what his life might have been like if it had taken a very different course. It differs from many Imaginary tales in the Superman family, in that it does not present a possible future for the characters, but rather an alternative past and present. "Superman's Other Life" showed an alternative life for Superman on Krypton; here we see a reworking of Superman's life on Earth, concentrating on the non-superpowered humans he encountered in Smallville and Metropolis. This emphasis makes this one of the least sf oriented tales in Superman, just as "Superman's Other Life" was one of the most. However, both tales share a high level of imagination, looking at alternative lives for their hero. Some of the developments here involve Hamilton's personal theme of characters taking on roles and locations associated with others: for example, Lex Luthor becomes a member of the Kent family. This story is one of Hamilton's most imaginative and intricate embodiments of his role-assumption structure.
The Outlaw Fort Knox (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. The mob tries to coerce Superman into stealing and adding to the huge vault that contains their loot. Curt Swan's cover shows the vault; its many rooms are very interesting: a combination of architecture and plot. Swan also does a good job with the bad guys' uniforms. Dorfman had written other tales in which Superman faced up to these mobsters. They added a note of realism to the Superman magazine, being quite similar to the real life mob leaders we read about in the newspapers.
In this story Dorfman uses the "three challenge" construction familiar from the work of Otto Binder. Somewhat unusually, each challenge is given two answers: one a hypothetical response by Jimmy Olsen immediately after the challenge, and an actual response by Superman at the end of the tale. Jimmy Olsen's responses are a bit like small Imaginary Tales. They describe what could be about to happen in the story, not an actual event. Dorfman brings plenty of ingenuity to both kinds of responses. The overall construction of the tale shows how unusual narrative strategies in the Superman family often were. The concept of Imaginary tale often showed up in the series in unusual ways.
The Brat of Steel (1967). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. In this book length Imaginary tale, Clark Kent loses both his powers and his memory of ever having been Superman, and goes on to marry Lois Lane. Richly worked out tale. The story is good at conveying the human side of the events. It shows us what the characters might be thinking and feeling under these circumstances. It takes us inside their reflections and ideas. It has a quality of interiority, showing us the thoughts of Clark Kent, and other characters.
Binder has a nice episode here with the brief section late in the tale featuring Supergirl and Batman. This plays humorously but intelligently with the form of the Imaginary Tale. It is good to see Binder working with this sort of formal experimentation. Imaginary tales themselves are some of the most formally creative concepts in fiction, so such an episode extends the experimentation further.
Much is made here of a documentary film within the story. In Superman family tales, the mass media are often seen to have effects on individuals in the story, with television shows, for instance, created by single individuals, and impacting other single individuals watching them elsewhere. This story follows in this "individual effect" tradition. It ingeniously comes up with a whole new approach here in its specific plot ideas, however.
The cover shows Clark Kent's son being naughty. This scene is duly included in the tale, and gives rise to the title. The title and cover are misleading, however: in the actual story, Clark's son is generally a nice, well behaved kid, and not a brat at all.
This story has a minor sequel in the next issue, "The Death of Lois Lane". This uninspired sequel mainly consists of Lex Luthor manipulating the family in various ways. It does not continue the feel or emotional plot development of the original tale at all.
Superboy's Most Amazing Dream (Adventure #211, April 1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Al Plastino. Superboy has a dream depicting one possible future life he might have as a grown-up. Early story in which anticipates the Imaginary tales to come. The dream's details are constantly compared by the narrator to the reality of Superman's actual grown-up life. Sometimes the dream matches Superman's real life, sometimes it wildly varies from it. A similar comparison takes place in Binder's "Superman's Other Life". Both stories take place not in some imaginary future, but rather present an alternate reality for their characters, something that might have happened if their lives were different.
An odd note: the dream here presents Superman being hounded by a grown-up Lana Lang. The narrator states that this does not match reality. This was true in 1954: the grown-up Lana rarely if ever made appearances in the Superman family; rather we saw only the teen-age Lana in Superboy stories. But in the Silver Age to come, the adult Lana Lang was a regular character in the Superman stories. And she did hound Superman about his secret id. So this story was prophetic.
The characters in this story are mainly Superman, Lois and Lana. In fact, we see Clark Kent more in this tale than Superman. The action is restricted to the daily life of the characters in Metropolis. This is a very core region of Superman's life. It is a fitting subject for one of the earliest Imaginary stories. Like Binder's "The Old Man of Metropolis", this story stresses Superman's emotional needs. It worries about him becoming lonely, and it emphasizes that Superman must reach out to other people and build personal relationships. Binder was always very concerned about this in his tales.
Binder's narration also explores the information sources of Superboy's dream. This gives an extra dimension to the tale.
Mrs. Superman (Showcase #9, July-August 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by Al Plastino. Lois Lane has a dream about what it would be like to be married to Superman. This story is the most direct ancestor of the Imaginary stories to come in the Superman family. It shows in detail the ups and downs of Superman's marriage to Lois, and their raising of a super-infant together. Incidents in it directly anticipate the series Jerry Siegel would write in Lois Lane dealing with a Superman-Lois marriage. As in those stories, there is an emphasis on soap opera. Lois keeps experiencing the down sides of her relationship, but she nobly perseveres for the sake of her man.
Most of Binder's early Imaginary tales are based in dreams, like this one. It seems to be his standard mechanism for introducing "what-if" questions into the magazines. And he still used dreams years later in "The Old Man of Metropolis" (Action #270, November 1960), after official Imaginary stories started appearing in the magazines. In fact, Binder wrote few if any stories labeled pure and simply as Imaginary tales: instead he used dreams, hallucinations, and what-if computer programs as supports for his what-if tales. Binder liked to have outside observers watching his Imaginary stories, back in the real world. Here Superman is able to follow Lois' dream, as she talks in her sleep. Superman also influences Lois dream, by feeding her ideas for it. All of this adds complexity to the Imaginary format.
Al Plastino's cover shows details of Lois' home life after she has been married to Superman, including their super child. He deserves credit for introducing these perennial themes into the Superman saga. The cover does not show Lois dreaming this, or any other mechanism that "explains" this scene.
This story is one of the first in the Superman family to emphasize characters with initials LL - it contains a reporter named Lulu Lyons. Such LL characters would be a major craze during the Silver Age. Both Lois Lane and Lana Lang had been long time members of the saga, of course, but a whole group of new ones would emerge. Lulu Lyons is not the first female reporter rival of Lois Lane: "The 1,000 Lives of Superman" (1955) had contained Mona Miles. Neither of these women will be continuing characters. Instead, the niche of Lois' rival will be filled by the adult Lana Lang.
Superman's Future Wife (#131, August 1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. What sort of precedents does the "imaginary story" have, both within and outside the Superman series? Two stories written by Robert Bernstein come especially close to the Imaginary Tale paradigm. In the issue preceding "Superman's Other Life", Superman magazine contained "Superman's Future Wife". In this tale, Lois Lane has a vision of the future, in which she sees Superman marry a woman whose face is hidden from both Lois and the reader, and raise a family. This story has some similarities with "Superman's Other Life". Like them, it shows a series of non-current events, watched by an audience, in this case Lois Lane. However, this future marriage is supposed to be "true". It is something that will happen in the Superman series, in the future. It is not something hypothetical. It does not answer a "what if" question, such as, "what if Superman married a woman?" Instead it purports to show what will happen when Superman marries a woman in the future. The subject matter of the tale, a marriage by Superman, is one that the writers will return to in many subsequent imaginary tales over the years. However, the paradigm of the story is not quite right yet. The writers will find richer possibilities in showing what might happen in the imaginary tales, rather than this one time experiment showing what will happen. "Superman's Future Wife" can be a considered a step in the evolution of the imaginary tale.
The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen (Jimmy Olsen #21, June 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Other precedents to the imaginary story in the Superman family are the marriage dream stories in Jimmy Olsen. In "The Wedding of Jimmy Olsen" Jimmy has a brief dream, anticipating his marriage. Like "Superman's Other Life" this story was written by Otto Binder. The dream here seems mainly an excuse to get a wedding scene into the tale, something that does not occur in the "real" events of the story. The wedding scene was used as the cover of the issue, drawn by Curt Swan. It makes a powerful cover, and shows Jimmy in white tie and striped cutaway formal trousers.
Jimmy Olsen's Wedding (Jimmy Olsen #38, July 1959). Writer: Robert Bernstein. In this tale, two years later, there is a similar dream sequence, showing Jimmy Olsen's marriage to Lucy Lane, and their future life together. This dream sequence is much longer and more elaborate, however, taking up much of the story. It is very similar in feel to the later Imaginary tales in the Superman family, showing the whole future lives of Jimmy and Lucy, tracing their kid's life to adulthood, and showing many unforeseen, life changing consequences of their union. Like the later Imaginary Stories by Jerry Siegel showing Lois Lane's marriage to Clark Kent, this tale is quite soap opera like, depicting lots of suffering and anguish that awaits the characters. The emphasis is on the emotional relationships of the characters. The dream element in this story is used exclusively to examine "what-if" questions, just as in the Imaginary tales.
The Superman Book that Couldn't Be Finished (Jimmy Olsen #29, June 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy attempts to write a series of fictional books using Superman as a character, but he keeps running into plot problems that prevent him from completing the stories. The tales that Jimmy is writing are essentially Imaginary Tales. They are fictional variations on the Superman mythos. We see several of these tales in the story. They are pretty good. One wonders if they are in fact plot ideas Binder pitched to Weisinger, and which got abandoned for the reasons given in the story. One also notes that Jimmy, like Lois and Clark, is a professional writer. All three of the characters show considerable literary skill during the course of the Silver Age.
The Return of Jor-El and Lara; The Voyage to New Krypton; The Orphan of Steel (Superboy #74, July 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. In this three part story, Superboy's parents Jor-El and Lara show up in Smallville, having miraculously survived the explosion of Krypton. The tale turns out at the end to have been a hallucination or dream of Superboy's, brought on by an illness. This story has both similarities and differences from the Imaginary stories. A key difference: in Imaginary stories, the reader knows from the start that the events are not real, that they are a what-if experiment. Here the reader does not learn this until the end. There are similarities to the Imaginary tales as well: the story presents major life altering events affecting the Superman mythos, such as Superboy getting a new family, Superboy abandoning his secret identity after revealing it to the world, and so on, and it shows the long term effects of these changes on the lives of the characters. The biggest problem with this tale: it is just not very good. It lacks imagination, and is full of gloom. The same plot premise (Jor-El and Lara return) was later reused for another Superboy Imaginary tale, Jerry Coleman's "The Super-Family From Krypton" (1962), a much better story that develops a completely different set of consequences from this return.
Superman in the White House (Superman #122, July 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Jimmy Olsen falls asleep, and dreams of a future time when Superman is elected President of the United States. This dream story is similar to the later Imaginary stories in that it deals with "what-if" scenarios that might take place at some future date. There are some differences, however. The Imaginary stories all build on the Superman mythos with complete consistency. Here, Binder takes advantage of the dream basis of the story to present a twist that would be "impossible" within the Superman mythos. The narration of the tale consciously points this out; it is one of many explicit references to the Superman mythos concept itself within Binder's fiction. This twist involves Superman's selection of a Vice President. As the story points out here, the dream is consistent with what Jimmy Olsen thinks he knows about Superman, but not with what the reader knows to be the real truth. Binder is here extending the Superman mythos along the lines of one character's false perceptions, and not according to reality. This is a very ingenious approach, and the cleverest part of the story. As is often the case with Binder, the Superman mythos itself is one of the subjects of the story, a consciously cited building block out of which the story is extended. Binder's tales are often meta-fictions: stories whose subject is the structure of Binder's fictional universe itself.
The Imaginary tales written by Jerry Siegel showing the future married lives of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane tend to be in the tradition of Bernstein's stories, and Otto Binder's "Mrs. Superman" (1957). They take place in the future, and show long range sagas of the characters' future lives together. By contrast, several Superman family Imaginary stories are in the tradition of Binder's "Superman's Other Life". These stories take place in an "alternative present", a world in which some past event in the Superman saga was altered. leading to different lives for the characters. These tales are all closer to the prose science fiction tradition of the "worlds of if". Examples include Jerry Coleman's "The Super-Family From Krypton" (1962) in Superboy, in which Jor-El and Lara manage to survive the explosion of Krypton; and Edmond Hamilton's "Lois Lane, The Super-Maid of Krypton" (1963), in which Earth blows up instead of Krypton, as well as Hamilton's "Clark Kent's Brother" (1965), which shows how Superman's human friends might have interacted differently and Hamilton's "Superman and Batman -- Outlaws" (World's Finest #148, March 1965), which gives an alternative life history for Batman and Superman. A Superman family Imaginary tale that draws on both schools is Leo Dorfman's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (1963). It takes place in the future like the Bernstein and Siegel stories, and shows the married lives of its characters. But its plot events seem close to those shown in Jerry Coleman's "The Super-Family From Krypton".
Most of these tales in the Binder "alternative present" tradition are classics. Together with Dorfman's story, they are probably the best works to appear in Superman during the Silver Age, along with the anti-dictatorship tales.
An important ancestor of the imaginary story is the science fiction convention of the "worlds of if". These are stories that take place in alternate histories. A classic example is Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle (1962), which shows what would have happened in the Axis had won World War II, instead of the Allies. Many such sf stories have been written; the device seems to go back to Edward Everett Hale in the 19th Century, and his tale "Hands Off!". Stories like this tend to be based on altering some historical turning point. What if the South had won the American Civil War? What if the Industrial Revolution had happened much earlier? "Superman's Other Life" begins this way: it shows what would have happened if Krypton had not exploded. The computer even announces at this point that history is changing. However, "Superman's Other Life" has features not found in most science fictional "worlds of if" stories. Unlike them, it shows the altered lives of a series of characters we are already familiar with. The story goes on to stress both the similarities and differences between Superman's imaginary life on Krypton, and his real life on Earth. The two sets of lives are considered in parallel, and we see all the strange possibilities and coincidences between the two. Both this focus on individual characters, and the offering of a double vision of their lives, are features rarely found in the sf "worlds of if".
One can see some cinematic parallels too. Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is much closer to the imaginary tale as practiced in Superman. It has an extended sequence towards the end in which the hero sees how the lives of his friends would have been different without him.
There are occasional movies that contain "flash-forwards", brief sequences in which we are shown the character's imagination of what might be in the future. These have some similarity to the "imaginary story", at least that kind of imaginary tale that explores the characters' possible future lives. F. W. Murnau had included flash-forwards in Sunrise (1927), and Edgar G. Ulmer in Detour (1945). A later film with such glimpses is Alain Resnais' avant-garde La Guerre est finie (1966).
The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk (1944). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Sikelka. Mr. Mxyztplk, an obnoxious prankster with enormous fantastic powers, shows up in Metropolis and causes comic havoc. The origin of Mr. Mxyztplk. Siegel's tale creates nearly the whole basic paradigm of Mr. Mxyztplk. It shows his vast fantastic powers, his arrival on Earth from another dimension, his love of malicious pranks, and the way he will return to the other dimension when he says his name backwards - although the fact that the return word is his name spelled backwards is not explicitly noted in the story. Some other elements of the mythos are missing. The story does not suggest that he cannot return to Earth again for 90 days. More importantly, it does not establish that his powers are magical. His powers are awesome here, and are clearly very similar to those of later works, but their origin is left a bit obscure.
Jerry Siegel's stories of the 1940's are often awesomely fantastical. They create situations of remarkable transformation of daily life, and are filled with beings of extraordinary power. The tales show a fantastical imagination of great surrealism. Here Mr. Mxyztplk's goals usually involve both disrupting and transforming life in Metropolis.
The same imagination that created Superman also created Mr. Mxyztplk. Both are genuinely unusual characters.
The sf mystery tales that Siegel wrote in the 1960's usually centered on figures of great power, who showed up out of the blue, and made life very difficult for the hero, often transforming his world. Usually, these mysteries had a surprise ending, in which the figure was revealed to be very different from what he originally seemed. There is no surprise ending here in "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk", and no mystery plot. But otherwise, Mr. Mxyztplk is very similar to the powerful figures in later Siegel tales.
The Infernal Imp (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Superman's attempts to get Mr. Mxyzptlk to say his name backward are hindered by the fact that the imp has a dislocated jaw and can't speak! Superman sets up elaborate cons in this and other tales, to trick the imp. In some ways, these stories are like Siegel's mystery tales. Those stories are full of villains who impersonate other people; in the Mxyzptlk tales, it is Superman who is always impersonating others, and taking on new identities. Superman also sets up elaborate situations, just like the villains in Siegel's mysteries. However, the reader usually is at least partially informed of Superman's plans, unlike the mystery tales. Also, the tone of the Mxyzptlk tales is comic, unlike the more solemn mysteries.
The elaborate impersonation in this tale recalls the Challenge stories of 1964, such as "Hellene of Troy" (Lois Lane #48, April 1964). Impersonation was a persistent theme of the Superman family; Superman's ability to impersonate anyone was one of his key strategies.
Siegel was most responsible for the mythos of Mr. Mxyzptlk. He created the imp in the 1940's, in "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" (Superman #30, 1944). He showed his homeland in "The World of Mr. Mxyzptlk" (Action #273, February 1961), and wrote the Untold Tale showing the first encounter between Superboy and the young Mxyzptlk in "The Ghost of Jor-El" (Superboy #78, January 1960). This makes the whole mythology peculiarly his. Being comic and a fantasy it is essentially different from anything else in the Superman mythos.
The Triumph of Luthor and Brainiac (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. When Jimmy Olsen answers another planet's appeal for Superman, he finds himself trapped on a planet controlled by Luthor and Brainiac. This nutty story is in the tradition of Siegel's mystery tales. It also recalls the Challenge tales that appeared in Superboy and Lois Lane in 1964.
The New Superman; Clark Kent - Former Superman; The Struggle of the Two Supermen (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton?. In this book length story, when a green comet threatens to destroy his super-powers, Superman recruits a Kandorian named Ar-Val to be his replacement as Earth's Superman. Ar-Val takes on Superman's role, while Superman in turn takes on those of other people, in Hamilton's best role-switching manner.
This story combines a number of approaches of Hamilton's tales. Like "The Great Superboy Hoax" (Superboy #106, July 1963), it involves Superman's developing and testing a successor, in case his career comes to an end. In the earlier story, Pete Ross was Superboy's wholly admirable choice. Here, Superman finds a much less worthy follower, the egotistical, attention grabbing Ar-Val. And like "Superman in Kandor" (1963), this tale involves a Superman who has lost his powers in conflict with powerful super-beings from Kandor. In both tales, Superman becomes that archetypal Hamilton hero, the outsider who struggles to get a social authority figure to listen to and accept his views. Here Ar-Val constantly brushes off Superman's concerns that Lois and Lana are in danger from Lex Luthor. The story also invokes other aspects of "Superman in Kandor". In both tales, Jimmy is Superman's strong support. Many of Hamilton's outsiders, such as "The Legion of Substitute Heroes", draw support from their friends. And Nor Kann, the Kandorian scientist who first appeared in "Superman in Kandor", returns here for a visit.
This classic story is absorbing throughout. Hamilton explores every aspect of the central situation, from Superman's first encounters with the green comet, through every aspect of Ar-Val's training and his relationship with Superman. This full treatment is rich in well developed detail at every turn. It makes the whole saga come alive. Hamilton uses a standard approach common in the Superman family: tracing the story back to a prologue on Krypton. In the Silver Age, what was unique about Superman was not just his powers, but the fact that he was born on Krypton and came to Earth. Story after story will begin on Krypton and continue on Earth. This gives a unique flavor to Superman's tales. He was a man of two worlds, just as much as Adam Strange.
The cover contains an omnibus title for this issue, "The Tyrant Superman". This title nowhere appears in the inside magazine. It is appropriate for the cover, but it does not accurately describe the story that Hamilton wrote around the cover. Ar-Val, while obnoxious, pig-headed and a seeker after personal glory, is not a Tyrant of Earth. He is not a villain, in the traditional sense. Instead, he is something perhaps worse, in Hamilton's point of view: he is a social authority figure who tries to blockade important ideas.
When Superman Lost His Memory (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. When Kryptonite gives Superman amnesia, he tries to understand who he is, and what his relationship is to the "Superman" everyone keeps talking about. Ingeniously plotted tale that rings many changes on its central situation. This story is related to the "Superman successor" stories Edmond Hamilton was writing in this period. Here Superman deduces that he is a successor figure to the Superman he learns about, someone appointed to carry on his work. This is a logical, intelligent approach, even if it turns out to be wrong. Superman behaves with decency and courage in this situation, showing what a good successor to Superman would be like.
Dorfman's stories sometimes operate on two parallel tracks. In "The Romance of Superbaby and Baby Lois" (Lois Lane #42, July 1963), we follow parallel plot lines showing the shrinking of Superman, and Lois Lane. In "When Superman Lost His Memory", we see the story sometimes from its impact on Clark Kent's role, and sometimes on Superman's. These story lines are hardly separate. Instead we see constant interaction between the two. Clark and Superman's roles are closely linked, being secret identity's of each other. Similarly, everything that affects Superman in "The Romance" affects the position of Lois Lane, and vice versa. The two spend the story almost entirely together, and they share a complex, common situation. The interaction of the two story lines allows the creation of complex plots.
The Superman of 2965 (#181, November 1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. The first story about Superman's descendant Superman VI, who is the Superman protector of the Solar System 1,000 years from now. This minor tale does little more than set-up the future situation of Superman VI. It marks Hamilton's first appearance in the magazine since February, and his classic Imaginary tale "Clark Kent's Brother". Most of the intervening issues had apparently been written by either Leo Dorfman or Otto Binder. Such a future look continues Hamilton's life long interest in science fiction. The tale recalls Hamilton's "The New Superman" (1964), in that both stories look forward to a successor to Superman, after his career was finished. Here the successors are Superman's descendants. Both tales have interesting moments involving the passing on of Superman's indestructible super-suit.
The splash panel shows us Superman's grave. His dates are marked as 1920 - 197X, with the last digit being obscured by another marker. This is apparently the first and only set of dates given for Superman anywhere in the Silver Age Superman family. A birth date of 1920 would mean that Superman was 36 when the Silver Age opened in 1956, and he would be 45 by 1965, as the Silver Age was drawing to an end. It would also mean that the Superboy tales were set in the Smallville of roughly 1936 and 1937. This is consistent with the appearance of the stories: Smallville is set in an era before World War II started in 1939. The Smallville stories show the modest life style of an America still in the Depression, but not suffering the terrible effects of such early years as 1931 - 1933, when unemployment was at its worst. One also recalls that the Superbaby stories often have an atmosphere of gangsters and Prohibition; this makes sense, as they would take place around 1922 to 1925. I have no idea if the Silver Age Superman writers all consciously had such dates in mind, or whether this date for Superman was something made up by Hamilton or artist Curt Swan for this tale.
In the letters column of Adventure #256 (January 1959), Weisinger says the young Clark Kent is a junior in High School. This is consistent with his depiction in the art of the Superboy stories, but this is rarely spelled out in the tales.
The Last Headline (1974). Writer: Martin Pasko. Art: Curt Swan. Boss Morgan Edge tries to force Perry White into retirement; meanwhile, Edge assigns Clark Kent to do a documentary about Perry's last news story. Involving story with plenty of grit.