Superman in "Superman" comic book: Superman | Where to Start Reading | Politics and Social Commentary: Anti-Dictatorship Stories | Kandor and Utopia | Feminism | The Super-Duel: Lex Luthor and Planet Lexor | The Mourning Stories | Animals | Untold Tales of Red and Green Kryptonite | Otto Binder's Tales of Kryptonite | Comic Themes | Mr. Mxyzptlk and Others: Siegel Tales related to the Challenge Stories | Mr. Mxyzptlk tales not by Jerry Siegel | Titano the Super-Ape | Anti-Authority Spoofs | Kryptonian Customs | The Journey to Earth | "Supernatural" Tales | Mind Transfer | Pre-Silver Age Tales | Early Silver Age Tales | Work Tales | Imaginary Tales | Superman and his Successors
Superman in "Action Comics": The First Superman Stories | 1950's Pre-Silver Age Tales | Krypton on Earth | The Fortress of Solitude | Kandor | Bizarro | Transformation Tales | Science Fiction Stories in Action | Role Reversals | Red Kryptonite | Robots | The Team Stories | Superman's Rivals | Beings Stronger Than Superman | Perry White and Superman's Secret Identity | Thumb Gestures
Supergirl in "Action Comics": Supergirl: Origin | Early Supergirl Stories by Otto Binder | Jerry Siegel starts writing Supergirl | Streaky the Super-Cat | Supergirl Adoption Stories | Early Supergirl Stories by Jerry Siegel | Longer Story Arcs | Supergirl Goes Public | Comet the Super-Horse | Lena Thorul and Supergirl's Personal Life | Phony Suitors | Other Leo Dorfman Supergirl tales | Other Writers
Superman-Batman Team-Ups in "World's Finest Comics": The Superman - Batman Team: The 1950's | The Superman - Batman Team: 1964-1966 | Imaginary Tales
Writers: Jerry Siegel | Otto Binder | Robert Bernstein | Jerry Coleman | Edmond Hamilton
Classic Comics Home Page (with many articles on comics)
Most of these tales can be read by visiting the amazing MSU Library Comic Art Collection. It is part of Special Collections in the Library at Michigan State University, in East Lansing, Michigan, USA. See this article and another article.
World's Finest Comics
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Mort Weisinger, except for those in "World's Finest Comics" before 1964.
There are separate articles on:
Please also see my index to stories with political and social commentary.
It does not discuss the biographies of the creators, working conditions of how the stories were produced, or film, radio or television adaptations of Superman. The focus instead is relentlessly on the comic book tales themselves.
It tries to analyze every Superman tale which is good, or which at least has some positive aspect.
Far more stories were written about Superman during the Silver Age, than about any other comic book super-hero. At their peak, seven comic book magazines were turning out tales about Superman and related characters such as Superboy, Supergirl, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The sheer number of Superman tales is not often appreciated. It is the biggest body of work in Silver Age comic books.
It is my contention that the best Superman tales are important works of art. These critical analyses will document the complexity and significance of the Superman stories.
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 Story of Superman's Life" emphasizes the core values and goals that underlie Superman's work. It shows Superman preventing crime. But it makes it explicitly clear that this is a less important aspect of Superman's work than aiding the helpless and the poor (page 2). Superman is primarily a man devoted to the public good. This is more central to his work than being a crime-fighter. This point gains significance, by being an accurate description of the Superman stories as a whole, from 1938 to 1966. It is key to understanding Superman as a character.
Superman is described as being a champion of the poor. This liberal value is profoundly important. It is the direct opposite of the conservative movement that has been so powerful since the 1970's, which has always demonized the poor, and blamed them for their problems.
Superman's activities are shown as not especially violent. He uses his heat vision to prevent a robbery, rather than his fists or a weapon. He does smash a robot used by criminal Luthor. Superman's public service work is strictly nonviolent: rescuing a bus, building housing for the poor. Superman is far more often nonviolent in his activities and approaches, throughout the Superman stories as a whole, from 1938 to 1966.
Superman melts a crook's gun, and smashes Luthor's robot. The narration says that such smashing is typical of Superman's destruction of harmful machines. There is a hint of the interest in disarmament that runs through the Superman saga.
Other stories that will help readers new to the Silver Age Superman:
The Night of March 31st (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan.
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 and Politics
Please also see my index to stories with political and social commentary.
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 nonviolent approach to the series, and echoes Gandhi's doctrine of ahimsa, 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 nonviolent 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. The Krypton zoo appears in this tale; it will be a favorite location in later stories.
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.
SPOILERS. The secret identifying marks on the heroes' hands recall Isaac Asimov's Foundation.
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 Town that Hated Superman (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman visits an American city where he is unexpectedly outlawed and where the Mayor forbids Superman to be mentioned in speech or written about in newspapers.
The town Cyrusville is mainly owned and run by one rich man, Bruce Cyrus. He also serves as the town's Mayor. The story calls him a tyrant. This is an anti-dictator story. It differs from most other anti-dictator Superman tales in that it is not set in another country or another planet, but in a tyrant-run town in the contemporary United States. And it shows tyranny coming from a rich man.
The best parts of "The Town that Hated Superman" are an explicit look at Freedom of the Press. The Nazi burning of books is also mentioned and condemned, with the Mayor's censorship activities compared to them. These aspects form the mid-section of the story (pages 3-7).
This mid-section also shows Superman non-violently resisting arrest, for laws he considers unfair. In 1958, this would have brought to mind Civil Rights protestors arrested for breaking segregation laws.
Curt Swan's cover shows Superman being outlawed in the town. But it does not show the rich tyrant or mention Freedom of the Press. These were likely added by writer Otto Binder.
Some Binder tales examine men with ties to male social authority figures. Bruce Cyrus is an archetypal social authority figure, being both Mayor and the rich man who owns most of the town's businesses. But the only relationship men in town are shown having with Cyrus is that of subordinate. Far from benefitting from this, they are the targets of Cyrus' censorship and threatened punishment if they discuss Superman.
THE ENDING. While the Freedom of the Press elements of "The Town that Hated Superman" are impressive, the final sections of the story don't work that well. They are weak, both as a science fiction story, and in lack of relevance to the press freedom issues raised earlier in the tale.
Scenes where Superman takes the Mayor into the past to see events of his childhood, recall Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
The Menace of Cosmic Man (1959). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Cosmic Man shows up in Europe, claiming to be a new super-hero just arrived on Earth. While this story was published in the Silver Age, it does little to draw on the Superman mythos being created in the Silver Age (from 1958 on). Instead, it could easily have been published in the early 1950's, pre-Silver Age.
The setting Borkia is described as a "tiny European republic". The villain is a general, plotting a coup. While not emphasized, this pits what seems to be a democracy against a military takeover.
"The Menace of Cosmic Man" is also one of several stories about possible rivals to Supermen: super-beings who show up and try to take on a super-hero role on Earth. Bill Finger wrote some key early tales in this tradition: "The Alien Who Conquered Superman" (1952), "The Adventures of Mental Man" (1954).
HOAX. Bill Finger specialized in hoax tales. "The Menace of Cosmic Man" is a hoax tale of a pure sort: virtually the whole plot is the hoax surrounding alleged super-hero Cosmic Man. Like some other Finger hoaxes, this involves an imposing looking apparent good guy who preys on people's respect for heroes.
The hoax is highly detailed, and involves some interesting technology. The development about the relay station is especially good (start of p7). Ingenious technology is a recurrent feature in Finger tales.
The details of the hoax are gradually revealed throughout the story. Still, the fact that Cosmic Man is not what he seems is announced right at the beginning in the splash panel. This is far from being a tale when the revelation that a hoax is happening is reserved for a surprise ending.
METAL. Borkia has a shortage of steel, something that affects the technology in the tale. In a mild way, this recalls the planet without metals and its technological development in Finger's "The Menace of Planet Z" (1952).
ART: COSMIC MAN. Wayne Boring does a good job with Cosmic Man's appearance. He is incredibly stalwart looking, and seems like the last word in macho heroes. His main costume looks like chain mail, like a medieval knight. This seems oddly appropriate for the small European country where the action transpires. Max von Sydow had played a rugged knight in chain mail in the high-prestige art film The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957). Cosmic Man has a little bit of the same look.
Boring also gives Cosmic Man a sharp uniform that is a cross between a super-hero costume and a European dress uniform of the 1910 era (p5). It includes a Sam Browne belt, common in police and military dress uniforms, rare in super-hero costumes. Boring liked this sort of 1910-style European dress uniform, and their stylings influenced men's clothes on Krypton in Boring's illustrations. See his "Superman's Other Life" (1959), "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" (Superman #134, January 1960), "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #141, November 1960), plus his "Superman's Fortress of Solitude" (Action #261, February 1960), which showed them on Kryptonian men in Kandor. These men dress in science fiction versions of 1900 Viennese aristocrats' uniforms. They do not wear Sam Browne belts however, unlike Cosmic Man. The Kryptonians are even more dressed up and formal than Cosmic Man, whose uniform has a bit of an "officer at work" feel.
ART: NEWSCASTER. The television newscaster is nicely drawn (p8). He's both a "man of distinction" with graying temples, and a well-built athlete. He wears the sort of authoritative suit favored by TV anchormen. But the suit is filled out by bulging muscles.
Handsome leading man newscasters occasionally show up in Silver Age comic books:
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. Also politically notable: one of the political prisoners is a man who has been "disappeared" by the dictatorship, imprisoned in a way that causes him simply to mysteriously vanish from society.
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. "The Jolly Jailhouse" is a largely realistic look at totalitarian evils, on Earth in 1960. Its only science fictional aspect is Superman's super-powers, and even they are used modestly in the tale.
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".
"The Jolly Jailhouse" has some similarities to the much more light-hearted "anti-authority" spoofs Superman sometimes ran in this era. These spoofs often showed Superman entering some institution, such as the Army ("Superman Joins the Army") or mental hospital ("The Goofy Superman"), clashing with the man who runs it, and helping the other men who live there. All of these features are also found in "The Jolly Jailhouse", but used to far more serious ends.
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.
SPOILERS. The dictator is in the Siegel tradition of vastly powerful beings who show up - but who turn out to be different from what they appear. The difference here between appearance and reality is smaller than some such Siegel tales: this man is exactly who he says he is, in terms of his identity. Still, appearance and reality are ingeniously different: a hallmark of these imaginative Siegel tales.
Project Earth-Doom (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Al Plastino. 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.
Tales about alien planets run by dictators that want to invade other worlds such as Earth regularly appeared in the science fiction comic books Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Dorfman's Supergirl tale "The Maid of Doom" (1963) is also in this paradigm.
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. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. 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.
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 (p8). 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. This is far and away the best idea in "The Old Man of Metropolis". It is the main reason anyone might want to read this tale, which is otherwise maudlin and relentlessly downbeat.
The treatment of Luthor influenced later Imaginary tales, such as Siegel's "The Death of Superman".
Binder's depiction of Lois and Lana 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. Superman explores mysterious incidents with roots in Kandor. 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.
"Superman in Kandor" refers to characters and events in previous Superman tales about Kandor and Krypton. Hamilton has systematically attempted to include as many such characters and past happenings as possible. The story is thus closely based on the Superman mythos. And it extends the myths in some new directions.
The opening section is structured like a mystery: Thefts are occurring, and Superman has to figure out who is doing them, and why. However, the reader knows who is doing them, although not why: the cover and the splash panel both tell us readers where the culprits are coming from. This is a bit like an inverted detective story: the kind of crime tale in which the reader first sees the commission of a crime, then watches the detective figure it out. In such tales, the reader, but not the sleuth, knows all about the crime - the pleasure comes from watching the detective investigate and reason out the solution. Similarly, even though the reader in "Superman in Kandor" knows who done it, it makes for good story telling to see Superman investigate the case, logically and intelligently.
SPOILERS. In "Superman in Kandor", 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.
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.
SPOILERS. What is happening in Kandor at the start is something of a revolutionary movement. It is not overthrowing the government of Kandor - but it is a rebellion against Superman, who has always been unofficially in charge of Kandor. "Superman in Kandor" is a fairly full-scale portrait of a revolution. The story clearly depicts the revolutionaries as misguided, although sincere and idealistic. So this revolutionary movement is not being endorsed. Still, the individual men in it are often sympathetic. They are less so, when they refuse to give Superman a hearing. "Superman in Kandor" shows how easy it is to come to wrong conclusions - then act on these false ideas, disastrously. It cautions against rushing into either revolution or political action, without trying to hear both sides of an argument, and learning the truth. It definitely is a cautionary tale about how revolutions can be harmful, and based on false ideas.
At one point, the revolutionaries refer to each other as "comrade": an echo of the Russian and other revolutions. It is an unusual moment, that is not elaborated on.
COVER. The cover shows four men of Kandor. These are some of Curt Swan's "older virile men". They are really well-built, especially the third man. These guys are into male bonding: three of them are smiling delightedly at each other.
Their well-done clothes are less like uniforms, and more like super-hero or science fiction costumes. This marks a change from Wayne Boring's "military dress uniform" look at Kryptonians.
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. Please see the section on Edmond Hamilton for a list of his tales about evolution.
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 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. Based on a cover by Kurt Schaffenberger. 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).
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.
The gender role reversal has women taking on the roles of Superman and villain Lex Luthor. This has an unexpected feminist impact, showing us what a tale with women in prominent roles might be like.
The journalistic background of the "real" Superman story, the Daily Planet, is replaced here by a medical background. The best part of Hamilton's otherwise minor "The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner" (Superman #157, November 1962) deals with Kryptonian medicine (pages 2,3). Both stories shown medicine being linked to rays and radiation.
Hamilton shows his typical interest in Kryptonian animals in "Lois Lane, the Super-Maid of Krypton". So does the medical subplot in "The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner".
The medical work gives "Lois Lane, the Super-Maid of Krypton" a grounding in science and technology. So does the look at Krypton's space program. Both aspects show scientific progress being made. Science is seen as an on-going activity that advances.
The Superman comics showed an enthusiastic interest in the US space program and its astronauts. They play a part in many tales. SPOILERS. "Lois Lane, the Super-Maid of Krypton" does something unusual: it is an Imaginary tale that looks at a space program on another planet, run by aliens: the Kryptonians. Just as "Lois Lane, the Super-Maid of Krypton" as a whole transforms the lives of Lois and others into Kryptonian equivalents, so does it re-imagine the US space program as its Kryptonian equivalent. It is an imaginative concept, and one I do not recall seeing in any other story.
A cutaway image shows one old-fashioned looking building concealing drastically different, large high tech equipment inside it (page 2). This is striking. It recalls a similar, even more ingenious such structure in Hamilton's "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" (World's Finest Comics #94, May-June 1958).
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.
This opening functions as a Prologue, and has little to do with the rest of the tale. Robert Bernstein often used such a "Prologue unrelated to the main story" in his tales.
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.
This story feels a bit like a tale Bernstein might have conceived for Superboy, then transformed into a Superman story. We get such familiar Bernstein villains as the Superman Revenge Squad, used by him in Superboy tales. We also get at least one character familiar from the Superboy saga, now seen as an adult.
SPOILERS. The mystery plot in "Beauty and the Super-Beast" resembles a kind of mystery associated with Jerry Siegel: super-beings who affect the hero, but who turn out to be surprisingly different at the tale's end, from the way they first appear. Such plots are much less frequently used by Bernstein.
SPOILERS. The comments by Jimmy Olsen and Perry White at the end, that they too had solved the mystery (at least in part), have an unusual structure. They are like meta-comments, built on top of the tale. They place Jimmy and Perry in parallel to the reader of the story, trying to figure out its secrets. Also odd: the way that Jimmy and Perry have solved part but not all of the mystery.
BIG SPOILERS. Superman undergoes a change in this tale, due to actions of the villains. This recalls Red Kryptonite tales in which Superman is transformed. As in several Red K tales, here Superman has to conceal that such a change has taken place. These leads to a "series of ingenious schemes" by Superman: a familiar plot construction in the Superman family comic books. However, we only learn of Superman's ingenuity at the end of the tale, when the mystery is solved and Superman's actions are revealed.
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. Art: Jim Mooney. At a costume party, thieves dress up like astronauts. This story is interesting for artist Jim Mooney's depiction of astronaut space suits. It shows the Superman family's continuing fascination with the astronauts. Also, see this list of costume parties in comic books.
The Green Sun Supergirl (Action #337, May 1966). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Jim Mooney. 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 super-powers; 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).
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 under the surface, with a paradoxical look at moral reform's pull.
Several plot developments reflect Hamilton approaches:
The tale 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.
The Death of Luthor; The Condemned Superman (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman is put on trial for murder on the planet Lexor when Luthor accidentally dies during a fist-fight. This two part story appeared in successive issues of Action; both had covers by Curt Swan. Hamilton had previously created Lexor in "The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman; The Super-Duel" (Superman #164, October 1963) and "Luthor -- Super-Hero" (Superman #168, April 1964), and he was the main person who wrote stories about it.
Superman is the familiar Hamilton hero who is completely isolated in a society that does not want to listen to his ideas - it this case, his innocence of murder. Lexor is a civilized place, and its democratic institutions turn out to be the best guard for unpopular opinions in this tale. The right of every accused person to be defended by a lawyer gradually saves the day here. Hamilton does not make it look easy - he shows what a struggle both Superman and the lawyers go through against Lexor society. A tale like this shows why civilization is important. It guards people against their baser instincts, and raises them to a new level of behavior. Adora also emerges here as a genuine heroine - this is one of her finest hours. She too upholds the standards of civilization.
Curt Swan has some interesting futuristic architecture on Lexor. Unlike most Silver Age artists, his work is closer to Bauhaus style Modern architecture than to Art Deco. Swan does include large curved walls, which on rare occasion pop up in real life Bauhaus style buildings, e.g., the United Nations. There are also some fascinating spherical windows, something which is original to Swan. It is not part of either Modern or Art Deco traditions, either in comics or real life. People tend to underestimate comic book architecture. There are probably more Art Deco buildings in the comics than have been built in real life, for example. Many are larger and more unusual than many real world Deco structures. Comic book architecture forms a whole parallel world, an alternate world of architecture.
If Luthor Were Superman's Father; The Wedding of Lara and Luthor (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Luthor time travels to old Krypton, where he poses as "Luthor the Hero", and romances Superman's future mother Lara.
This is not a tale set on the planet Lexor - but it shows thematic links to the Lexor saga. Luthor is pretending to be a good guy, 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.
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 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.
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.
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, with Joe Shuster; 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 early 1940.
MEDICINE. The opening section includes an interesting look at medicine. SPOILERS. Superman offers a free medical gift to all humanity at the United Nations. There is clearly a subtext, although not an explicit one, about universal health care.
In another tale also by Siegel, "The Secret of the Time-Barrier", Supergirl provides all the needs of a village suffering from a medical crisis, including both food and medicine. This is similar to the way Superman provides a huge supply of the live-saving element for all of humanity in "The Death of Superman". "The Secret of the Time-Barrier" was published the month before "The Death of Superman".
FINALE: POLITICAL IDEAS. The final third of "The Death of Superman" is indeed impressive. It contains several worthwhile ideas.
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 Death of Superman" expresses the anti-dictator views that were so important in DC comics of the period. Luthor is criticized for wanting to be King of the Earth. And Superman is praised by an alien for not using his powers to become dictator of the universe, but to help people instead.
The trial of Luthor is explicitly compared to the real life trial of Adolph Eichmann, which was underway in Jerusalem while "The Death of Superman" was being written. An implication: Kandor is analogous to Israel. This comparison is not explicitly made by the story, but it is implicit throughout the trial section. Kandor is the main place where Kryptonians survive after the explosion of Krypton; Israel is a main gathering place of Jews who survived the Holocaust.
The choice after the trial by the Kandorians of justice over self-interest is impressive.
SUPERGIRL. Supergirl is the only one of the "good guy" characters of the Superman mythos who takes an active role; the other mythos characters are mourners and witnesses:
The fact that Supergirl was unknown to the public, with her existence a secret in this era, is drawn upon in the plot. Her unexpected existence throws a monkey wrench into Luthor's evil plans.
"The Death of Superman" shares imagery with a previous Supergirl tale written by Siegel, "Supergirl Gets Adopted " (1960). SPOILERS:
The One Minute of Doom (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. 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 story gives a synopsis of how all the various kinds of Kryptonians who survived the explosion, escaped. This material is not original: these are brief recaps of events from earlier tales. This serves as a summary of an important part of the Superman mythos, helpful to readers who missed some of these details in earlier stories. But this segment is gripping in its own right. It shows the details of Kryptonian Survival. Allegorically, it suggests the ways different Jews escaped the Holocaust, and their responsibility to preserve and extend threatened Jewish culture. It also allegorically suggests other groups, such as Native Americans and other aboriginal peoples, and their attempts to preserve their besieged cultural heritage.
This sequence shows the "anthology" construction used by Siegel in several tales, based on references to a series of past stories.
The finale shows the Superman comics enthusiasm for "environments": large scale constructions like World's Fairs and expos. It also shows Siegel's enthusiasm for models of cities and planets.
While presented by the story as upbeat, this finale has always seemed more creepy than likable to me.
The strange Kryptonian clock is a surreal piece of artwork, in the splash panel. Al Plastino had previously done "The Superman Calendar" (1956), which included a calendar showing Superman perform a feat for the twelve months of the year. Al Plastino seems interested in time measuring tools, and their artistic possibilities.
The Secret of the Superman Stamp (1962). Writer: Edmond Hamilton, probably. Art: Curt Swan. This story is about government officials from Burma visiting the US, and making a photograph to be used for 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".
This story is built around an odd puzzle or mystery. Like some other comic book mysteries, it takes advantage of the visual nature of the comics medium, to craft its mystery plot.
The Last Days of Superman (1962). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. 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.
The storytelling is inventively detailed. I especially liked the involvement of Mon-El and Saturn Girl at the end.
The tale 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.
Edmond Hamilton themes appear:
BIG SPOILERS. This second mystery has some broad similarities to the "minimalistic poisoning tales" Ellery Queen wrote. Similarities:
This story contains the seeds of some of Hamilton's later works:
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 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.
Siegel liked Kryptonian animals. He also wrote such Kryptonian animal tales as "The Scarlet Jungle of Krypton" (Superboy #87, March 1961) and "The Secret of Krypton's Scarlet Jungle" (Superboy #102, January 1963).
The center sections of the story deal with the flame dragon. It has a "series construction". Superman repeatedly tries to turn the dragon's dangerous behavior of breathing flames, so that it paradoxically helps humans with various tasks. This is a clever idea. Fairly similar premises are found in some other Superman stories: for example, in some transformation tales, the hero repeatedly tries to use his transformed self to benefit other people. The transformation is seen as negative - but it is used ingeniously in positive ways. In "Flame-Dragon From Krypton", the dragon's breathing flames is negative - but Superman uses it to help others.
The finale has Superman protecting his secret identity. The story also has an opening section, which also deals with Superman protecting his secrets. The opening section paves the way, establishing facts and issues that are used to help build the finale.
Superman's Greatest Secret (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. A flame dragon returns and Superman battles it. The title of this pleasant little story is over-blown: "Superman's Greatest Secret" is simply his secret identity, which Lois once again tries to discover.
This story is closely modeled on its predecessor "Flame-Dragon From Krypton". It has the same pair of subjects: the flame dragon, Superman protecting his secret identity from Lois. The specific details in the second story are new and fresh, however.
Both the first half of this tale, about the flame dragon, and the second half, with Lois trying to prove Clark is Superman, have some low key but enjoyable science fiction elements. Both halves are closely linked to the Superman mythos, especially Krypton.
The flame dragon is a nice Kryptonian creature. While big and potentially harmful, one suspects the creators are quite sympathetic to it. In both stories, the flame dragon, who looks so dangerous, actually winds up helping humans, without intending to. This takes place during a typical Superman story "series of events", each showing an ingenious way in which the dragon might benefit people. In the first tale, this helping of humans is the result of Superman's ingenious interventions. In this second tale, the helping occurs purely by chance.
The Monster from Krypton (Action Comics #303, August 1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. When Red Kryptonite turns Superman into a huge, dragon-like Kryptonian animal, he can't convince anyone he is really Superman. This is a simple but effective tale based on an ingenious central premise.
"The Monster from Krypton" recalls Siegel's tales about the "Flame-Dragon From Krypton"". Like them, it brings a huge, menacing Kryptonian animal to contemporary Earth, and combines them with monster-movie paradigms. Both tales have the animals laying eggs. However, the twist of Superman turning into such a beast is completely new in "The Monster from Krypton".
"The Monster from Krypton" is more horror-driven than the sweet Flame-Dragon stories: making me like it less. Also, the tale's emphasis on the military and weapons makes me uncomfortable.
"The Monster from Krypton" combines a number of Hamilton themes. As the monster, Superman becomes one of Hamilton's outsiders, valiantly struggling to show skeptical social authority figures that he has value. Here the struggle is in the simplest possible terms: everyone thinks that the dragon is simply a menace in the 1950's monster movie mode, attacking Metropolis in the Godzilla Vs Tokyo tradition. The dragon is subjected to a full range of 1950's movie style assaults from the armed forces. However, "The Monster from Krypton" is hardly a pure example of this Hamilton theme. Here, the rejection is based on a mistake: the authorities don't know the monster is really Superman. In the main Hamilton tales with this theme, the authorities have a correct understanding of a person, but they reject him anyway, regarding him as not good enough.
The tale shows the role swapping that is a main Hamilton story basis. Here Superman takes on the role of a 1950's movie monster.
Hamilton is interested in alien animals, especially Kryptonian animals. They run through a number of his tales.
Red Kryptonite shows up in an unusual way towards the start of the story.
A brief message about the good treatment of animals is offered at the end.
Army officers are drawn as some of Curt Swan's "tough, macho older men". They are really well-built, and look like bulls.
The Fugitive From the Phantom Zone (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. A Kryptonian criminal escapes from the Phantom Zone, but his adherence to superstitions of old Krypton helps Superman defeat him.
The Kryptonian superstitions are a highlight of the tale. There are four superstitions. Three of them get "explanations" of how they originated. Real-life Earth superstitions are often said to be rooted in someone practical, logical custom than then got exaggerated into a superstition. Siegel uses the same idea, in his explanations of how these (fictitious) Kryptonian superstitions came to be.
In addition, the fugitive's actions using two of the superstitions helps Superman track him down and capture him. This gives the superstitions quite a role in the plot:
"The Fugitive From the Phantom Zone" thus has a "serial construction", with the series of four superstitions. However, the material surrounding each superstition is unusually irregular for a Superman plot, with different superstitions evoking different aspects of the four story elements. And the tale does NOT have a "challenge and response" structure, with challenging circumstances calling forth an ingenious response by the hero.
Two of the superstitions involve Kryptonian animals, a third Krypton's "living jewels". The tale is thus one of Siegel's works that celebrate Krypton's biosphere. One might note that Siegel, and his artist partner Joe Shuster, invented the planet Krypton, as well as Superman! Siegel wrote quite a few stories about Krypton's wildlife and geography.
The concern shown for the Kryptonian birds certainly evinces a love of nature. It might also have a subtle ecological sub-text, although this is not explicit.
SPOILERS. "The Fugitive From the Phantom Zone" has a subplot, unrelated to the superstitions. This involves the balance of power between East and West. It is unusual: I don't recall anything like it. It gives an interesting political dimension to the story. It shows an odd, measured mix of attitudes. It satirizes Communism, and offers some warnings. But it is also a tale that advocates moderation, and suggests support for balance of powers. This is a "middle approach", one neither far left nor far right.
The Revenge of the Super-Pets (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman?. Art: Curt Swan. 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. Henry Bergh appears, the real-life founder in 1866 of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
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.
Bergh 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. Dorfman's "Lena Thorul, Jungle Princess" (Action #313, June 1964) has the title character telepathically leading a group of friendly animals in Africa.
This story recalls in its imagery Dorfman's earlier "Lex Luthor, Daily Planet Editor" (Superman #168, April 1964). 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.
THE MYTHOS. The main purpose of this tale seems to be to review for readers everything that is known about Green K, in a simple, clear, linear storytelling format. Many of the ideas in the tale's flashback are not new: they are reprisals of ideas and even specific events from previous Superman and Superboy stories.
The tale also helps provide a "standard" account of Green Kryptonite, and the facts about it in the Superman mythos. It is part of an effort in 1958-1961 to develop a clear, unified mythos on which all Superman stories would be based.
How good a story is "The Curse of Kryptonite"? It's an inoffensive tale. And it is logical and sound in its account of Kryptonite. It might help readers new to Superman understand the story of Kryptonite. But for long term readers of Superman, there is not much new in the story. And it is therefore none too interesting.
UNTOLD TALES. Later Superman stories sometimes had the words "An Untold Tale" on their splash panels, indicating they were backward looks at events in the Superman mythos that hadn't fully been told before. "The Curse of Kryptonite" lacks such a label. But the narration at the base of the story's final panel, tells readers to "watch for an untold tale about Red Kryptonite". Binder would indeed write "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" (1960) next year.
NOT SUPERNATURAL. The word "Curse" in the title is used in a loose sense, meaning that Kryptonite is a terrible tragedy that harms Superman's life. There is no "supernatural curse" in the story, and nothing supernatural in the tale at all. Like nearly all Superman tales, it is science fiction strictly grounded in the scientific world view.
KRYPTO. Apparently, before this tale the super-dog Krypto had mainly appeared in Superboy tales, where he was Superboy's loyal pet dog. "The Curse of Kryptonite" marks an entrance of Krypto into tales of the adult Superman. He will soon be a regular character in Superman tales.
"The Curse of Kryptonite" explains Krypto's absence from Superman stories by saying Krypto had been in outer space for the past few years. This is a logical explanation. However, "The Curse of Kryptonite" is the only story I can recall which mentions Krypto's absence from Superman. In most later Superman tales, Krypto is simply present as part of the mythos, with no mention of his earlier absence.
The Secret of Kryptonite (Superman #136, April 1960). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Art: Al Plastino. 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. Mainly downbeat tale that is too grim to be much fun. However, the tale does show careful thinking and logic.
As far as I can tell, the specific events of this story were never referred to again, in any other Superman family tale, and its characters do not reappear. On the other hand, nothing in future stories contradicted the events in "The Secret of Kryptonite", either. This story is thus the "official" version of how Green Kryptonite became known to the world - but its events don't play much role in the ongoing Superman 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.
The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Superman encounters a piece of Red Kryptonite while trying to rescue men in a bathyscaph; flashbacks recount his history with Red Kryptonite.
This story solidifies the concept of Red Kryptonite. It offers a definitive account of its origin and properties, how it affects Superman and other natives of the planet Krypton. From this point forward, nearly all Red Kryptonite tales in the Superman family comic books will adhere to the ideas about Red Kryptonite presented in this tale. There were many such Red Kryptonite tales throughout the 1960's, forming an important part of the Superman saga.
The main purpose of "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" is this solidification of the properties of Red Kryptonite. It is a "mythos building" tale: it adds an "official" version of Red Kryptonite to the Superman mythos.
Before this story, Red Kryptonite had been described in various tales in a bewildering number of ways. Many of these early approaches are drastically different from the "official" approach found in "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" and its many successors. One can find a history of these early approaches (from 1958 to 1960) in my article on Superboy. A few of these early tales are good - but most of them are not good, in my opinion. Their early ideas on Red Kryptonite are nowhere as interesting as the official view set forth in "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" and its successors.
Even this "official" version of Red K in "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" is lacking some features found in many later stories, which seem to be standard parts of the Superman mythos:
"The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" contains a series of flashbacks, showing Superman's earlier encounters with Red Kryptonite. Some of these refer to previously published tales:
By contrast, the rest of the flashbacks on pages 5, 6 and 7, seem to be newly created plot ideas for "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite". At least, I have not been able to find stories from which they derive. All of these flashbacks show Red K affecting the adult Superman, rather than Superboy.
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. Art: Curt Swan. 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 Unknown Super-Deeds (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Superboy performs three small super-deeds anonymously, and never learns the identities of those he helped. Charming low key tale with plenty of incident. The tale is unusual in that it is a Superboy story in the Superman comic book.
STORY STRUCTURE. The three super-deeds give the story the serial construction Binder often favored. The three deeds have many parallels, enhancing the serial structure:
LINEMEN. Al Plastino has loaded the splash with phallic symbols, directly linked to the linemen in the panel. These include electrical power towers, a wrench one lineman holds, and a hardhat with a huge erect visor. As in other Otto Binder tales with phallic symbols, the symbols are non-violent work tools and equipment. The two men are wearing matching gauntlets with star symbols on the cuffs, a neat touch. They also wear rope coils, and a belt used for climbing.
STUCK. A woman is trapped inside a lead face mask that won't come off. This echoes earlier Binder tales about men trapped inside metal casings: "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs" (Jimmy Olsen #5, May-June 1955), "The Robot Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959).
How Perry White Hired Clark Kent (1959). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. This Untold Tale recounts how Clark Kent first applied for and got his job as reporter at the Daily Planet.
The story has a serial construction: applicant Clark repeatedly has to pass a series of tests and assignments given to him by an unsympathetic Perry White.
Clark Kent in this story has the aspirational quality sometimes found in Siegel heroes: he is trying to get a job.
GORILLA. The assignment about the gorilla harks back to one of Siegel's earliest Superman tales "Superman, Football Star" (1938). In that tale Superman impersonates a failing young football player, and makes him a big public success. In "How Perry White Hired Clark Kent", Superman impersonates a gorilla at the zoo, and makes it look as if an aging rival gorilla of the impersonated gorilla is still a strong fighter.
"How Perry White Hired Clark Kent" shows great sympathy with the aging gorilla, who has lost his reputation as a fighter and is seen as a has-been. Superman goes all out to restore this reputation. One wonders if there is an autobiographical subtext: Siegel must have been seen by many people in 1959 as a has-been whose peak era was in the 1930's. His work on the Silver Age Superman of the late 1950's and early 1960's was a comeback attempt.
The gorillas engage in a fight that looks a lot like a human boxing match. In addition to "Superman, Football Star", Siegel had written a similar story about Superman impersonating a boxer, "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (Superman daily newspaper strip February 20 - March 18, 1939).
A structural difference: In "Superman, Football Star" and "The Comeback of Larry Trent", Superman impersonates a failing athlete to enhance that athlete's reputation. But in "How Perry White Hired Clark Kent" Superman impersonates the rival of a failing gorilla, in order to restore his reputation.
This is one of many Superman tales to feature a zoo.
HUNGER. Superman passes off his collapse due to Kryptonite, as Clark Kent being weak from hunger. While no message is explicitly drawn, "How Perry White Hired Clark Kent" implicitly recognizes that hunger among the poor is a problem. Both Lois Lane and Perry White react with concern, when they think they see a man collapsing from hunger.
When Lois First Suspected Clark Was Superman (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. This Untold Tale recounts how Lois Lane began to suspect that Superman's secret identity was Clark Kent. The feel of this story is a bit like a 1930's Hollywood screwball comedy, with Lois and Clark matching off against each other.
Normally, in tales of Lois suspecting Clark, the reactions of the characters is well-established: Lois suspects Clark, Clark tries to parry her suspicions. By flashing back to the days before this all started, "When Lois First Suspected Clark Was Superman" enables different reactions from the two leads. The story takes full advantage of this.
The Super-Clown of Metropolis (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. 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).
Superman creates robots to assist him in his comedy act. These are drastically unlike most robots in the Superman family: robots are usually staid, restrained, proper in their behavior and limited in personality. Their correct, limited behavior helps indicate their robot nature. By contrast, these robots in "The Super-Clown of Metropolis" are overflowing with show biz mannerisms, wise guy attitudes and apparent feelings. Al Plastino's art is full of vivid facial expressions. I have never seen anything like this anywhere. While "The Super-Clown of Metropolis" is a short, apparently unpretentious comic tale, Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino have done something original.
The robots seem like an eruption from somebody's subconscious. Since Superman is very much their creator, it suggests hidden sides in Superman himself.
Superman frequently creates elaborate hoaxes and illusions. "The Super-Clown of Metropolis" suggests some of the power and skill Superman could bring to bear on such deception.
"The Super-Clown of Metropolis" recalls Siegel's 1930's work:
Sad Sam has the the aspirational quality sometimes found in Siegel heroes: he wants to experience laughter, for the first time in his life.
The Great Superman Hoax (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein, maybe. Art: Curt Swan. A crooked scientist tries to persuade Lois Lane and Clark Kent that he is really the secret identity of Superman.
The Grand Comics Database says this story might be by Robert Bernstein. The story has features that recall Robert Bernstein:
The fake "clues" created by the scientist are varied in their approaches. Some are simple alleged traces of super-deeds, like the coal dust on his hands. Others are full fledged hoaxes, like the seeming super-deed with the fire hydrant. The variety of these clues, and their different underlying structures, are pleasantly imaginative.
Clark Kent/Superman figures out immediately that this man is a phony, and the reader learns this right away too, seeing the case through Superman's point of view. Both the tale's title and the splash panel also immediately establish the same basic point of the plot, that this man is a crook trying to give the impression he is Superman. "The Great Superman Hoax" is not one of those Superman tales in which the revelation of a hoax serves as a surprise finale. Instead, we see every detail of this crook's hoax through Superman's eyes, throughout the course of the story.
The tale's lack of surprise can be a bit dry. "The Great Superman Hoax" has a "procedural" feel, as we quietly follow the crook's actions and Superman's unravelling of the same. It is not one of the best Superman tales. But it makes for pleasant, interesting reading.
Lois Lane's Lucky Day (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel, maybe. Art: John Forte. Superman sabotages a carnival barker's crooked, fixed games. The Superman family and other DC comic books liked to run educational stories, informing their young readers about some subject. Sometimes these tales dealt with science, politics, or some other admirable subject. Other tales like this one, educated people about the dangers of scams. "Lois Lane's Lucky Day" gives a thorough look at the various kinds of crooked devices used to rig midway games in carnivals. The tale marches through a whole series of carnival games, explaining in turn how each one is fixed.
"Lois Lane's Lucky Day" has a "challenge and response" construction: a familiar sort of plot structure in the Superman family comics:
It looks as if the various ways the games are fixed are mostly standard real-life scams. They are not mainly made up for this story, apparently. Instead, they seem derived from real life. By contrast, the ways Superman uses his powers to sabotage these fixes are newly imagined for this story.
The Grand Comics Database speculates that this story is perhaps written by Jerry Siegel. Siegel liked "anthology" stories: tales made up of a series of references to earlier stories, or real-life ideas. "Lois Lane's Lucky Day" can be viewed as an "anthology" of real-life crooked scams fixing carnival games.
Both the fixes and Superman's responses often have a technological side. This gives the story a technological or scientific dimension.
SPOILERS. "Lois Lane's Lucky Day" ends with a startling joke. The joke has explicitly gay themes. This can be seen ambiguously as either positively as a piece of gay imagery, or negatively as old-fashioned comedy that exploits readers' anxiety about gayness. Or maybe both. In any case, John Forte's art underscores the positive gay aspects, making the visuals look as gay as possible.
The script has this whole situation as something that Superman has created. This suggests Superman is full of drives and impulses that are hidden beneath the surface. Such suggestions often are contained in various schemes Superman devises.
The Man who Trained Supermen (1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Curt Swan. A con man persuades customers at his gym that his training will give them powers as strong as Superman.
As the last panel points out, Superman functions as a con man himself, running a sting on the con man villain of the tale. Superman's con operation is on the side of good, designed to fight back against the villain. Such a "biter bit" story construction is sometimes found in the pulp magazine crime stories of Erle Stanley Gardner, such as his 1930's tales of Lester Leith, Paul Pry or Sidney Zoom.
Superman family stories frequently show hoaxes, designed to persuade people that they have super-powers, or that some device will give people super-powers. Such hoax stories are often constructed in series: three or more events, each of which ingeniously persuades someone that they do indeed have super-powers. "The Man who Trained Supermen" pushes this construction to extremes: it has no fewer than three series of hoaxes, each series made up of multiple ingenious events. A fourth series at the end shows people flying. Each series has a different purpose, designed to convince someone of a different false "fact" about super-powers. Individually, few of these events rise to the ingenious heights found in the best Superman tales. But what they might lack in quality, they make up in quantity. The steady progression of different purposes for each series, is also pleasantly imaginative.
Superman shows his skill at impersonating other people in "The Man who Trained Supermen". This is an ancient part of Superman's characterization, dating back to "Superman, Football Star" (1938).
Like many Bernstein tales, "The Man who Trained Supermen" opens with a sort of prologue differing in subject from the rest of the tale. Here, Superman rescues a trolley.
Villain Conrad Krugg is one of Curt Swan's tough, macho somewhat older men. He is wearing a sweatshirt, in his gym: the ubiquitous costume in the Superman comics worn by practicing athletes. Such sweatshirts instantly convey to the reader, that athletes are working out. Scenes of athletes in training were common in the Superman family comic books - at least as common as showing actual games. Perhaps this reflects the way Superman comics like dot show people at work.
Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: George Papp. Superbaby accidentally makes props designed for a science fiction movie look as if they actually work. The Superman family magazines liked stories, in which Superman made it look as if some non-super person really had super-powers. "Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang" has a related but different idea: it makes it look as if prop devices really have science fictional capabilities. It is prop machines that seem to get "powers", rather than a human. This is an original, pleasant idea for a story.
Also nice: the setting Nova City, a movie set that looks like a futuristic town, built for a film that was never made. DC comic books of the era liked elaborate "environments", such as outdoor museums, theme parks, Word's Fairs, expos, which showed the future, other planets or science. Many comic creators had been deeply impressed with the New York World's Fair of 1939, which portrayed the future. Such Fairs and expos echoed ever since through comics history. Such environments also make visually splendid backgrounds for comic tales.
SPOILER. Nova City gets destroyed at the tale's end. If it had survived, it would have had to been incorporated into the Superman mythos, and reappeared in further stories. This would not have been a bad idea. But its futuristic look would have clashed badly with the old, Depression era USA look of the Superboy tales.
"Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang" keeps to the Superman mythos, by showing future Smallville police Chief Parker as a rookie officer. Such looks at the early lives of mythos characters were a regular gambit. "Superman Meets Al Capone" (1961) showed Perry White as a youth.
George Papp's art makes Parker strikingly handsome in his old-fashioned, traditional police uniform. Parker is shown twirling his nightstick, which adds to his macho good looks. Nightsticks were associated with police uniforms from earlier eras, such as the 1920's setting of the Superbaby tales.
The three not-so-sinister crooks in this comic tale are also handsome, in good suits. Papp makes the three crooks easy to distinguish, giving one a regular tie, one a bow tie, and putting one in a turtleneck. With Parker in his uniform, everyone in the tale can be recognized at a glance by their distinctive clothes.
The Downfall of Superman (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. This tale deals with wrestling, and guest stars a popular real-life wrestler of the period, Antonino Rocca.
SPOILERS. 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 film hit, John Woo's Face/Off (1997), shows that the public is still interested in this concept.
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. 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.
Superman's Achilles Heel (#185, April 1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman? Art: Al Plastino (or maybe Pete Costanza). Based on a cover by Curt Swan. 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:
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.
"The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" recalls an earlier Siegel tale about The Spectre, "The World Within the Painting" (More Fun Comics #66, April 1941). In that tale, beings from a fantastic realm within a painting come to our Earth. "The World Within the Painting" leaves it completely non-specific and thus ambiguous as to the nature of that realm: is it based on science or magic or something else? "The Mysterious Mr. Mxyztplk" is similarly evasive and mysterious about the nature of the powers of Mr. Mxyztplk. It doesn't specify their source or nature. Readers might speculate that they are based on science or magic, but the story doesn't say.
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.
Tall, muscular, heroic Superman and short, comic, brainy and feisty Mr. Mxyztplk recall an earlier pair of Siegel heroes, private eye Slam Bradley and his assistant Shorty Morgan. Shorty Morgan looks much like Mr. Mxyztplk in this origin story.
In the opening sequence, as a bizarre prank Mr. Mxyztplk seems to die, then come back to life, understandably bewildering the on-lookers. Please see the section on Jerry Siegel for a list of his tales about resurrection.
The opening condemns speeding drivers who cause accidents. An early Siegel Federal Men tale "The Safety Patrol" (New Adventure Comics #26, May 1938) condemned drunk driving, and advocated for crossing guards at dangerous intersections for school children.
At the end of his first prank, Mr. Mxyztplk disappears in a burst of light and color. This links Mr. Mxyztplk to both abstract art and visionary experience.
Many of Mr. Mxyztplk's pranks in this tale are designed to attack the operation of Metropolis, damaging its infrastructure. The tale is explicitly set during wartime, and people worry that the war manufacturing production of the city will be hurt. All of this gives the pranks a significance and a negative social impact. A high tech gang led an assault on the US Capitol in Siegel's Federal Men tale "Attack on Washington" (New Comics #6, July 1936).
John Sikelka draws the ambulance interns and the pool lifeguards as muscular hunks. He does a good job. But one has to wonder: what are such specimens doing out of the Army during the war?
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.
MR. MXYZPTLK: BACKGROUND FACTS. Siegel was most responsible for the mythos of Mr. Mxyzptlk. Siegel:
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" (1939). These comic tricksters are endlessly troublesome and difficult to deal with, but they are not really malicious or evil.
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 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 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. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk figures that Superman can't trick him into saying his name backward, if he stays underwater where he can't speak at all. Funny story filled with zany happenings. This story is an above average example of a Mr. Mxyzptlk tale.
Several scenes of Superman trying to trick Mr. Mxyzptlk have Superman in elaborate disguises. These scenes are comic, but they also emphasize Superman's mastery of disguise.
SPOILERS. It has some nice satire in scenes where Mr. Mxyzptlk causes all the adults in Metropolis to revert to their second childhood. Stories in which characters take on other characters' roles are an Edmond Hamilton specialty. In this story, instead of the typical Hamilton premise of one individual taking on another individual's role, we get a whole group, the adults, taking on the role of another group, children. Other comedy developments can be seen as "ships and planes taking each other's roles" and "animals taking on the roles of humans".
The cover is funnier in color, when you can see how yellow the banana is, than in black-and-white reprint.
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. Titano is in fact compared to King Kong right on the cover of this story. 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. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Titano returns, and runs amok in Metropolis. This second Titano story is even more like King Kong than the first. 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. SPOILER. The mystery has a clue in an illustration, but the clue is not discussed in dialogue in the story until the solution at the end. This "clue in a picture" mystery plot structure is fairly widespread in comic books, and not just in the Superman family magazines. I am usually fooled by such mysteries, and find them hard to solve.
Non-mystery aspects of the plot include a series of rescues by Superman. These have the form of "challenge and response", a frequent plot structure in Binder. Titano's actions with round objects keep inadvertently putting people in danger: a challenge. Superman rescues the people: a response. This happens three times in the story. (There is a fourth time when Titano attacks a round object - the globe on top of the Daily Planet - but this attack does not put anyone in danger, or lead to any plot developments.)
Each rescue by Superman is a spectacular feat. These often involve dramatic forms of transportation. Such "rescues involving machines of transportation" appear in other Superman tales too: see Binder's "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite".
The alien machine early in the story, has the ability to manipulate the world about it. In this, it recalls the shrinking ray Brainiac used to shrink Kandor, and the duplicator ray in the Bizarro tales. All of these are Binder inventions.
ESCAPISM. "Titano the Super-Ape" has a plot, one with plentiful detail. But the plot is hardly outstanding, compared to many classic plots in Superman stories. Mainly, "Titano the Super-Ape" succeeds as light entertainment, because of all the fun events in the story: a giant ape running amok, dinosaurs, Superman rescues, giant skyscrapers, planes and ships, Superman's command center in the Fortress of Solitude. It is one big escapist daydream.
Comic books, especially super-hero comics like Superman, are often dismissed as wish-fulfillment fantasies. On the contrary, I've repeatedly argued that the best comic book tales show real merits, such as superb plotting, imaginative science fiction ideas, poetic moods, social commentary and beautiful art. However, "Titano the Super-Ape" really IS mainly a wish-fulfillment fantasy. It lacks substance, but works as a daydream.
ART. 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. Art: Wayne Boring. Superman time travels back to 1920's Chicago, and infiltrates Al Capone's gang. This tale was likely inspired by the huge popularity of the TV series The Untouchables (1959-1963), set in the 1920's with Capone as villain. The phrase "The Untouchables" is mentioned in the story. But the tale also likely reflects that Superman comics liked stories set in the 1920's: many of the Superbaby tales were set in that era, for example. Wayne Boring does a nice job with his Chicago street scene (p3), filled with clothes and cars of the period.
Comic books in the 1950's had been under attack for alleging glorifying gangsters. "Superman Meets Al Capone" is perhaps careful to avoid doing anything that might be construed as promoting gangsters. The gangsters are ugly, wear elaborate, expensive, loud but none-too-appealing suits, show no intelligence, ability or courage, and are depicted as mean as mud. Instead, the tale glorifies good-guy Superman. A briefly seen good-guy cop is also handsome (pp. 6,7), as are some innocent non-gangsters seen on the street (p3). (The two-bit hoods driving the truck are better looking than the other crooks, and get to wear some nice three-piece suits (p6).) Also, aside from re-life gangster Al Capone, none of the gangsters have Italian names: the prevalence of Italian mobsters on The Untouchables had drawn much criticism from Italian-Americans.
This story 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. The time travel aspect gets a simple but pleasant twist, giving a reason for Superman's visit to the Roaring Twenties (pp. 2,3). I don't recall seeing this science fiction idea in other stories, either within or without the Superman family magazines. Other small but nice plot points about time travel appear throughout the story. All of these do much to strengthen the plot aspects of the tale.
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.
Superman gets three tests given to him by Al Capone: if Superman succeeds at them, he can join the gang. This is the archetypal "challenge and response" plot structure, omnipresent in Silver Age Superman family tales. Superman is given three such challenges: three also being perhaps the most popular number for a series of challenges. However, the "challenge and response" segment takes up an unusually small percentage of the tale's pages.
The tale does a nice job with journalistic traditions. It opens with Perry White "fact checking": still a major part of journalism today.
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.
The Army doctor is shown as an intelligent, sensible figure, unlike Captain Grimes. This is typical of the Superman comics' respect for scientific workers.
LINKS TO THE WORK TALES. "Superman Joins the Army" is partly in the tradition of the "Clark Kent at Work" tales Otto Binder had previously written. In those, Clark Kent had temporarily joined some macho workplace, including the Army in "The Super-Sergeant" (1958). "Superman Joins the Army" differs from these "work tales" in that it is Superman who joins the Army, not Clark Kent.
The "work tales" often showed Superman/Clark Kent coming into conflict with some authority figure in his new workplace. Such a conflict is also key to "Superman Joins the Army".
However, Jerry Siegel's explicitly humorous approach in "Superman Joins the Army" is a contrast to the more serious tone of Binder's "work tales".
Another difference: the "work tales" often have Superman performing serious feats, such as putting out a fire or saving someone's life. "Superman Joins the Army" instead concentrates on the comic conflict of Superman and Captain Grimes.
Many of the "work tales" had shown editor Perry White having contacts with important government officials, with whom Perry arranges things. In "The Super-Sergeant" Perry White works with the Pentagon, in "Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" Perry arranges things with the Mayor. In those tales such government officials were offstage, not shown in the actual story. "Superman Joins the Army" goes further in actually showing the four star General who Perry knows. Such contacts help develop the characterization of Perry White.
A tale likely ancestral to all of these is "The Adventures of Private Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #23, September 1957). This was written by Otto Binder, like the "Clark Kent at Work" tales - but is earlier than any of them. In it the Daily Planet assigns reporter Jimmy Olsen to write a series on Army life. The Pentagon arranges for Jimmy to join the Army for a week, to get the inside story. Perry White is not mentioned until the end, when Jimmy delivers his story to Perry. As in most of these tales, Jimmy comes into conflict with an authority figure on the base, in this case Sergeant Blye, whose name recalls the tyrranical Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty. Unfortunately, "The Adventures of Private Olsen" mainly falls flat, lacking interest, and its humor didn't work for me (admittedly the sense of humor varies widely among readers). I did enjoy Jimmy's scene with Perry at the end.
PLOT STRUCTURE. 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. Art: Al Plastino. A small town entangles Superman in its legal system, charging him with violating several petty ordinances.
The Goofy Superman (#163, August 1963). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Al Plastino. 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.
"The Goofy Superman" is not a good story. Far too much of the tale is devoted to alleged comedy, first showing Superman as addled, then showing the delusional inmates of the asylum. This doesn't work, and lacks creativity. One might also question whether this is an appropriate portrayal of the mentally ill.
Last names tend to be phonetic versions of English letters: "El" is L, "En" is N, "Es" is S, "Ex" is X, "Zee" is Z. However, there are many exceptions, especially among the Phantom Zone prisoners.
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. (Another possibility: the shirt is worn instead of the tunic - it is not something underneath the tunic.) Jor-El also wears a shirt and trousers while doing scientific work in "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #141, November 1960). His shirt has what might be a lace-up collar though, making it a little less like a typical American man's dress shirt. It's also bright green! Both "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" and "Superman's Return to Krypton" have art by Wayne Boring. See my list of lace-up shirts in comic books.
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.
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.
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 contains one of his rare spaceships. Swan did not draw for the sf comics, such as Mystery in Space or Strange Adventures, so spaceships 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.
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:
"The Ghost of Lois Lane" 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. Art: Al Plastino. Superman impersonates the Devil, in order to trap a pair of crooks. There is no actual magic in this story: everything is a hoax by Superman.
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 impostor using his super-powers to enable the hoax. This tale more or less adheres to this paradigm, but with some variations:
The tale opens with a masquerade party. Such costume parties were favorite locales of all the DC Silver Age super-hero comics: see this list. Reasons:
The Superman-as-devil imagery here will return in Siegel's "The Helmet of Hate" (Jimmy Olsen #68, April 1963) and Leo Dorfman's "The Devil and Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #41, May 1963). Spectacular devil costumes play a role in some Golden Age comics: the Green Arrow "Doom Over Gayland" (More Fun Comics #77, March 1942), the Inspector Dayton "A wealthy oil man calls his young secretary" (Jumbo Comics #57, November 1943), the Dick Cole "Sully Meadows, a new cadet at Farr Military Academy" (Blue Bolt Comics #71 (Vol. 7, #5), October 1946). See also the classic pulp magazine crime short story "The Devil Suit" (1932) by Forrest Rosaire.
Al Plastino fills Superman's devil costume with phallic imagery. These include Superman's horns and pitchfork, used to hoist the crooks in one memorable image (p4). His phallic tail seems positively prehensile, in dramatic gestures always culminating in a barb.
Superman maybe enjoys playing sinister and/or villainous figures. Perhaps they allow him to express parts of his personality that are normally repressed.
The Super-Genie of Metropolis (#157, November 1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. 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. This story uses a common plot pattern in the Superman family comic books: it attempts to make people believe that someone without super-powers actually has them.
Many of the Superman family tales 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 "The Super-Genie of Metropolis" and the Pete Ross tales, the reader is in on the secret, and sees all the effort and challenges of sustaining a new identity.
"The Super-Genie of Metropolis" suffers from being derivative from an earlier work. In some ways, it is a reworking of "Superman's Black Magic", only with Superman pretending to be a genie rather than the devil. Both have Superman appearing in puff of smoke. However, beyond this basic premise, "The Super-Genie of Metropolis" is full of original plot detail.
"The Super-Genie of Metropolis" suffers too from all the military weapons that increasingly run through the tale. I am uncomfortable about this, and cannot recommend the story.
SPOILERS. 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 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.
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 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. My article on Ellery Queen lists some mystery writers of the era who wrote about cooperatives and worker-owned businesses.
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 planets 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.
Superboy's Last Day in Smallville (Superman #97, May 1955). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Art: Wayne Boring. Superman recalls the day when he said goodbye to Smallville as Superboy. Sentimental tale that has some good imagery.
Superboy bakes a giant cake for everyone in Smallville. Scenes of Superman or Superboy cooking, often giant food, recur in the comic books.
SPOILERS. The citizens of Smallville stand in a pattern that spells out a message when seen from the air. This recalls the credits of the silent film J'accuse (Abel Gance, 1919). Both works anticipate a similar shot in Run, Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998). Both this scene and the cake are included in Binder's "The Story of Superman's Life" (1961).
The 1,000 Lives of Superman (1955). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. 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. Bill Finger was good at hoaxes.
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. 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 (Jimmy Olsen #9, December 1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. 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 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 show's 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. Art: Wayne Boring. 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:
"Superman For Sale" 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.
The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past (Superman #113, May 1957). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Wayne Boring. Superman learns that his father Jor-el once gained super-powers and had an outer space adventure, making Jor-el a "Superman" too. This is reportedly the first 3-part, book-length story in Superman.
PREDECESSOR. The premise recalls "The First Superman of Krypton" (Action #223, December 1956) by Edmond Hamilton and Wayne Boring. In both tales:
The last two panels have Superman suggesting that he will find more mind-tapes to be read by the helmet, and learn more from them about Krypton. This implies that there would be more stories about these subjects. As best I can tell, this never happened. The helmet and the mind-tapes make no more appearances in the Superman Family comic books. In other words, the helmet and mind-tapes do NOT become part of the "Superman mythos" of continuing plot concepts in the stories.
There will indeed be much more about Krypton in future Superman tales: Krypton will be a major subject of the Silver Age (April 1958 - August 1966) to come. But these tales will not use the helmet, mind-tapes or other ideas from "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past".
CITYSCAPES. The tale is full of the skyscraper-filled cityscapes Wayne Boring liked.
The Second Superman (1958). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Xenon is a twin planet to Krypton. This is reportedly the second 3-part, book-length story in Superman. This tale has the only occurrence of Xenon. It was not incorporated in the Superman mythos.
However, plot developments on Xenon showed up again in the Superman mythos:
But one can also argue that in the Superman Family comic books, that the Silver Age begins in April 1958. That is when Superman stories start introducing concepts that will become permanent parts of the Superman mythos, to be referenced again and again in many later stories. By contrast, tales from before April 1958, like "The Second Superman" or "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past", have interesting ideas - but those ideas were never incorporated into the Superman mythos. We never see the planet Xenon again after "The Second Superman", or the helmet again after "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past". Xenon and the helmet are not part of the Superman mythos, in other words.
One can argue all day long whether one should start the Silver Age in 1955, 1956, or April 1958. But what is clear is that there was a major change in approach in Superman family comics in April 1958, and that stories before April 1958, like "The Second Superman" or "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past", reflect the earlier approaches.
The tale invokes the myth of Atlantis, but in a very different form than that in which it will later be incorporated into the Superman mythos.
SCIENCE FICTION, EDUCATION AND MYSTERY. The GCD is unsure about this tale's author, ascribing it to "Otto Binder?". It has similarities to Binder's other work:
It is not Superman who solves the puzzle: it is Lois Lane.
SCIENTIFIC METHOD. Lois' solution allows her to make accurate predictions about future events: a key way of testing whether an idea is true. Such tests-through-prediction are an important part of the Scientific Method. "The Secret of the Space Souvenirs" thus implicitly teaches its readers part of the Scientific Method.
The hero of Binder's "Space Taxi" similarly makes an accurate prediction about a future event. Both he and Lois are able to do this, after figuring out the mysterious pattern behind a series.
TIGER. Superman stops a runaway tiger, not by killing it, but by capturing it unharmed. Without saying so explicitly, this embodies the Superman family's commitment to non-violence. Taking life, including animal life, is anathema to this philosophy.
ART. 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 Make-Believe Superman (1959). Writer: Jerry Coleman (according to Showcase reprint). Art: Wayne Boring. 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.
MUSEUM. 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. It is also an example of the many museums and expos in comic books.
COSTUME PARTY. Men are supposed to wear costumes to this tale's school event. And a masquerade party in the past, is referenced in the plot. See this list of costume parties in comic books.
WHO WROTE THIS?. The Showcase reprint ascribes this to Jerry Coleman. For years before, the GCD did not have an writer for this tale. (The art is very clearly by Wayne Boring.)
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.
ART. The man dressed as a deep-sea diver is one of Wayne Boring's macho men (pages 1, 8). He is shown three times, on the splash, at the tale's start and at its end. The geometry of his spherical helmet attracts attention.
Superman Versus the Futuremen; The Secret of the Futuremen (Superman #128, April 1959). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman is hunted by government agents of the future, who accuse him of being a criminal.
Both Finger and Boring do everything they can to glamorize these futuristic government agents. The two men wear uniforms, proclaiming their membership in the Earth Bureau of Investigation, a futuristic successor to the FBI. The two uniforms are much like Superman's costume, or, especially, the clothes worn by men of Krypton. They include a cape, tights, boots and chest insignia, a triangle with the letters EBI inscribed in it. This chest logo is cool looking. These futuristic clothes are combined with military stylings, such as epaulettes, a stripe on the side of the trousers, erect military collars with insignia, huge holsters worn on a belt, and hard rounded caps with visors and erect flanges sticking up stiffly in front. The flanges, holsters and triangular insignia are phallic symbols; so is the box of Red Kryptonite one man holds out in front of him (page 6). The fact that these are uniforms is emphasized by the fact that the two men's uniforms are precisely alike, except for the marks of rank on their sleeve ends. Both are some of Boring's huge muscle men, impressive and macho.
Both of these hard men expresses limitless self-confidence in the correctness of his ideas about Superman being a criminal, and in their own authority. Both materialize right over the heads of today's FBI agents at their headquarters, and proceed to establish a sense of authority and command over them.
Superman's father Jor-El had sometimes worn a triangular emblem on his chest: see "The First Superman of Krypton" (Action #223, December 1956), "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past" (Superman #113, May 1957), which also have art by Wayne Boring. Jor-El's triangle is smaller than the insignia of the Futuremen. However Jor-El's triangle is perhaps even more phallic than the Futuremen's, because it is on top of a vertical line. Artist Kurt Schaffenberger has Kandorians wear such triangles in "The Super-Family of Steel" (Lois Lane #15, February 1960). They are even more phallic because of two vertical lines on the belt below.
The not-very-good Red Kryptonite aspects of this tale are discussed in the article on Superboy.
The time machine follows a long DC comics tradition in being spherical. However it is not transparent, unlike most DC time machines. Its lack of transparency is intimidating: people watching it arrive have no idea what's inside.
Otto Binder wrote a series of tales of Superman at work. None are great classics or innovative. But they are pleasant "bread and butter", typical tales of Superman. All of the tales:
Even earlier is Binder's "The Adventures of Private Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #23, September 1957). This has reporter Jimmy Olsen temporarily made a G.I. and stationed at an Army camp, so he can get a story about "typical" Army life. Unfortunately, I think this is a dull story. In many Binder "work tales" Perry White arranges the job through his contacts. But in "Private Olsen" it is Superman's who's friendly with Army Colonel Otis, and sets things up for Jimmy. Jimmy can hardly wait to get into uniform, at the start of this tale.
LIEUTENANT LOIS LANE. After Binder, other authors and characters got into the act and produced such tales. Bill Finger's "Lieutenant Lois Lane, U.S. Army" (Lois Lane #6, January 1959) starts out like one of the Binder tales. Perry White arranges with a high-ranking Army officer for Lois and Clark to enlist for just one month, to write a story on Army life. But at this point Finger's tale diverges from Binder's approaches.
The sharply uniformed officer Colonel Parkins in "Lieutenant Lois Lane" is one of artist Kurt Schaffenberger's glamorized leading men. His aggressively buzz-cutted hair recalls the bridegroom in the formal cutaway in the previous issue. Both men seem to be enjoying their combination of macho haircut and fancy clothes. See also the surgeon with the buzz-cut and complex medical uniform on the cover of "No Cure for Love" (Young Love #39, September - October 1963): art by John Romita. In any case, Colonel Parkins is a contrast to the staid-but-dignified Colonel Otis in "The Adventures of Private Olsen".
Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Clark Kent works as a firefighter for a week to research a news story.
LINKS TO "The Steeplejack of Steel". In "The Steeplejack of Steel", Superman is working for a crooked building contractor, who keeps trying to get Superman either killed or thrown off the job. This makes sense: the crook is scared Superman will expose him. In "Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" works for an honest-but-obnoxious fireman who also keeps trying to get Clark off the job, for no reason other than a hatred of outsiders. This makes less sense.
LINKS TO "The Super-Luck of Badge 77". "Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" was soon followed by a sequel "The Super-Luck of Badge 77".
The events of "Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" are cited at the beginning of its sequel "The Super-Luck of Badge 77". Perry White makes it clear that Clark working as a firefighter in "Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" inspired his assignment as a police officer in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77".
"Clark Kent, Fireman of Steel" is subtly different in approach from "The Super-Luck of Badge 77":
The Super-Luck of Badge 77 (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Clark Kent works as a policeman for three days to research a news story, but the assignment keeps interfering with his work as Superman. This story appeared in the same issue as "Superman Joins the Army", and perhaps reflects a common idea: Superman joining a uniformed force. However in "Superman Joins the Army" it is Superman who is openly serving, while in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" it is Clark Kent who dons the police uniform.
CREATING AN ILLUSION. Superman comic books regularly ran stories in which Superman (or some other good guy or bad guy) makes it appear that an ordinary person has super-powers. Such hoax tales were staples of the series. "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" offers a variation on this. Instead of making it look like a person has super-powers, Superman makes it appear that Badge 77 has magical powers of good luck.
Superman does this for a practical reason. While trapped in his police uniform as Clark Kent and under the eyes of other police, Superman cannot use his powers openly without revealing his secret identity. So he ingeniously makes it seem as if the Superman powers he is clandestinely using are actually the result of the magical good luck of Badge 77.
As is typical of such stories of "hoax powers", there is a whole series of such events, where Superman has to come up with ingenious ways to create such hoaxes. Such "serial construction" is in fact widespread in Silver Age Superman tales, involving not just "hoax powers" tales, but many other kinds of subject matter.
Silver Age Superman tales were relentless in condemning superstition. There is no actual luck in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77", just a hoax created by Superman. And implicitly, one can infer that the way the Police Chief believes in the lucky badge, marks him as credulous and gullible.
GENDER. Otto Binder wrote a few stories which symbolically explore male social position. These feature two key kinds of imagery, which symbolize male patriarchy and sexuality:
"The Super-Luck of Badge 77" also makes clear that Clark did not join the police voluntarily, but was forced into this by his boss Perry White.
One of Binder's Supergirl tales which similarly explores male social position, "Supergirl's Darkest Day", contrasts a male Johnny with links to male social authority figures with Supergirl, who operates entirely on her own, without any social support. Supergirl winds up doing much better than this male, despite her social isolation. There is a feminist subtext in "Supergirl's Darkest Day", showing a woman doing better than the organized male patriarchy.
However, in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" it is Superman who operates outside of male social networks - and who also does much better than the police, despite their organized links to male social authority. Superman thus has the same outsider role as the feminist Supergirl.
In "Supergirl's Darkest Day" the male Johnny crashes his spaceship, while Supergirl repairs it. This phallic ship symbolizes male sexuality. The male is not capable of handling this phallic symbol, and has to be enabled by Supergirl's repair. Similarly, in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" Police Chief Smith accidentally destroys a gun needed as evidence in a trial, and Superman comes to his rescue by repairing the shattered gun. Once again, the outsider hero makes a phallic symbol operate properly, while the insider male with connections to the patriarchy fails to control it and wrecks it.
While Superman is distanced from the patriarchy in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77", he is shown as linked to the phallic symbols. In fact, he actively revels in one, the motorcycle.
COMPLEXITY. In "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" the two main subjects, creating the illusion about the badge's luck, and the look at patriarchy/gender, largely operate independently of each other. They are separate parts of the story, with each little bit of the plot falling into one subject or the other. They represent a large amount of material packed into a compact tale.
MOTORCYCLE. Stories about motorcyclists are rare in the Superman family comic books. "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" has a brief episode about police motorcyclists. Please see my list of stories with political and social commentary, and search for "motorcyclist" for other comic book tales about motorcyclists.
Binder also wrote "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (Jimmy Olsen #20, April 1957), in which Jimmy test rides a newly invented jet motor bicycle. That story avoids using the term "motorcycle". Both tales have sympathetic heroes riding motorcycles: Jimmy Olsen, Superman in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77".
Otto Binder loved flying cars in futuristic civilizations. See this list. Superman's aerial stunt with the motorcycle in "The Super-Luck of Badge 77" might be somewhat related to these flying cars.
Private Kent, the Fighting Marine (Superman #179, August 1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Clark Kent temporarily joins the U.S. Marine Corps as a private to report on boot camp. Many years after the main series of "work tales", Binder returns to the subject. As in the earlier tales, Clark works for a tough authority figure who gives Clark problems. Here it is his Drill Sergeant Buck Brewster.
And as before, Clark faces a series of challenges which he solves by using his super-powers. This comic tale keeps the challenges light-hearted: they are all seemingly impossible assignments Sgt. Brewster gives Clark during boot camp training.
Unlike some of the earlier work tales, Clark is not faced with challenges of guarding his secret identity as Superman. The boot camp assignments and their solutions in "Private Kent, the Fighting Marine" mainly seem simpler that the challenges in the earlier tales.
The dance hall is one of the pieces of odd architecture sometimes found in Curt Swan.
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 imaginary 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. Both tales differ from many other Imaginary tales in the Superman family, in that they 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-super-powered 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. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. 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.
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.
Swan's cover does a good job with the bad guys' uniforms.
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.
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. Art: Kurt Schaffenberger. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. 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.
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".
This story has some similarities with "Superman's Other Life". Like it, "Superman's Future Wife" 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:
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).
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.
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.
A series of tales by various authors had shown Superman in conflict with various rivals, who show up in Metropolis and who try to take Supermen's place. This story is a bit in that tradition. However, here Superman has deliberately created a successor, rather than being rivaled unexpectedly by a competitor. Also, Superman knows exactly who Ar-Val is, and where he comes from, whereas some of the rivals are of mysterious origin.
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 shows Ar-Val as blond. Superman had always had black hair: in part a rebuke to the ideas of Aryan Supremacy behind the blond Flash Gordon. So there is something disturbing to see a blond man wearing Superman's costume. "Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis" (1963), a rival super-hero to Superman, had also been drawn by Swan as blond. Both super-heroes are some of Swan's tough-looking older men.
When Superman Lost His Memory (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. 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.
See also the discussion of "contrapuntal" constructions in Supergirl tales Dorfman wrote: "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" (1963), "The Girl With the X-Ray Mind" (1962), "The Great Supergirl Double-Cross" (1964). They are related to the above "parallel" constructions.
The Superman of 2965 (#181, November 1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. 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. 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.
This 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.
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 cover portrays Superman VI as distinctly tough looking. He recalls Swan's tough, macho older men. However, he is just a bit younger looking than the typical such Swan older tough guy. The cover emphasizes his hulking musculature, too. This is definitely a guy you don't want to meet in a dark alley. He is less classically heroic-looking than Superman.
The cover shows Superman VI flying over a city of the future. It is full of towers that seem like stylized phallic symbols.
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.
POLITICS: ANTI-WAR. This story is profoundly anti-war. It is one of the major political stories in Golden Age comics. It seems to be the first story published by Siegel and Shuster with substantial political content. After this, the floodgates opened, and Siegel and Shuster wrote many more political stories, both for Superman and their other series.
In this tale, Superman takes on vicious munitions manufacturers, who trigger wars in distant countries. This is not the first comic book story with such a theme. The year before, writer-artist Will Ely published "The Brain" (More Fun Comics #20-25, April-September 1937), a six part serial about a sinister conspiracy of arms manufacturers, part of the Sandra of the Secret Service series. Siegel and Shuster's Radio Squad tales appeared in More Fun Comics along side Sandra, and they almost certainly had read this story.
KRYPTON AND SCIENCE FICTION. This story establishes that Superman arrived on Earth from the planet Krypton, which exploded. It does not go into much detail about this, but it does establish the key facts of Superman's origin. Siegel and Shuster would soon create the first elaborate version of the Krypton saga, in "Superman Comes to Earth" (January 16 - January 28, 1939), the first episode of the Superman daily newspaper strip.
Siegel and Shuster differed from most Golden Age comic creators in their interest in science fiction. They regularly published elaborate sf tales set on other planets, or in the far future. The fact that Superman has a science fictional origin on another planet is nearly unique in the Golden Age. Although countless heroes were created in imitation of Superman and his powers, most were ordinary Earthmen who got super-powers, not people from other planets.
Krypton would play its biggest role in the Superman saga during the Silver Age of the 1950's and 1960's, rather than in the Golden Age of comics of the 1930's and 1940's. In general, the basic paradigm for Golden Age comics was the detective story, in which a hero, super-powered or not, used his skills to track down and capture criminals; while the paradigm for Silver Age stories in the comics was the science fiction tale. This is a generalization, with many exceptions, and it is undoubtedly too broad and oversimplified. Yet there is a core of truth to it. Krypton was a key factor in the science fictionalization of comic books during the Silver Age. It allowed the Superman saga to be the basis for an immense number of complex science fiction tales.
ANTECEDENTS OF SUPERMAN. Superman has a number of antecedents, as a being with super-powers:
The Blakely Mine Disaster (1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Superman goes after a rich mine owner, whose neglect of safety causes disaster for his miners. This story has a similar architecture as its immediate predecessor, "Revolution in San Monte". In both, Superman forces a callous industrialist to see the errors of his criminally irresponsible ways.
Superman, Football Star (1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Superman impersonates a less than successful college football player, and makes him a star.
Superman showed the ability in his early tales to dominate and control other men. In the previous stories, these were corrupt members of the establishment, that Superman forced to live through the miserable lives of ordinary people. Usually they reformed, and changed their ways. Here, however, Superman applies his skills to an ordinary, morally decent person.
Superman is just as dominating here, but in a new way. He impersonates the player, while he physically coerced the older men into new roles. There is a whole blueprint showing Superman take over his identity. It is quite ferocious, and done against the will of the young player.
When Siegel and Shuster later wrote a similar story about Superman impersonating a boxer, they softened this aspect of the story. In the boxer tale, the impersonation is done with the boxer's full consent and cooperation. They also made the boxer older, roughly the same age as Superman himself, thus creating more of a relation of equality between the two men. The boxer story appeared in the Superman daily newspaper strip, "The Comeback of Larry Trent" (February 20 - March 18, 1939).
During the Silver Age, Siegel would write many mystery tales for the Superman family. Frequently, these would involve some kind of impersonation. Often a super-being would use his skills to depict himself as a drastically different character from what he really was. "Superman, Football Star" is not a mystery. But it does show an early example of such an impersonation, with Superman passing himself off as a college football player.
Superman and the Dam (#5, October 1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. Superman intervenes when a dam bursts.
This story is mainly notable for having Lois Lane fall in love with Superman for the first time. Superman's origin story "Revolution in San Monte" had established Clark Kent as Superman's meek alter ego, and shown Lois despising Clark for his timidity. This story completes the triangle, by having Lois fall in love with Superman. She also tells Superman all about her feelings, in no uncertain terms. The bizarre Superman-Lois-Clark love triangle has always been one of the odder features of the Superman saga, and it is not any more appealing in its first appearance here.
Superman's Phony Manager (1938). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Joe Shuster. A man who falsely claims to be Superman's manager starts licensing his adventures in advertising and multiple media, such as radio and the movies. Exuberant comedy spoof by Siegel, setting forth with gusto and well thought through detail what the media exploitation of Superman might be like. This story is only partly tongue in cheek. It also shows what Siegel and Shuster seriously thought about the marketing potential of their new creation, Superman. Most of the ideas in this tale would actually come to pass within the next few years. Other early Siegel and Shuster tales had depicted their heroes' success in show business: see the Radio Squad tale, "Harry Owens Makes the Grade" (More Fun Comics #24, September 1937) and the Slam Bradley tale, "The Broadway Bandit" (Detective Comics #16, June 1938). This was clearly a big dream of Siegel and Shuster.
This story is also the first use of what would become a major plot gambit in later Superman tales: the impersonation of Superman by a crook, to aid in some nefarious scheme. All kinds of impersonation would play a big role in Superman family tales hereafter.
The Menace of Planet Z (1952). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. Superman goes to the planet Zor, where he adopts a new secret identity and works to solve a mystery involving giant beasts.
This nicely done story is an early example of a kind that will be popular later in the Silver Age (1958 - 1964): a visit to another time/planet/dimension, where the characters parallel those we are familiar with on modern Earth. Here Superman encounters a snoopy woman reporter named Lura Lajos, who bears a strong resemblance to Lois Lane, for example. This story is also an early instance of the popularity of characters with the initials LL.
This tale also resembles the Adam Strange tales to come (1958 - 1964). We have an Earth hero who goes to another planet; he encounters a scientific puzzle - why are giant beasts running amok; he has adventures, during which he solves the puzzle and captures the bad guy; and he encounters a lot of interesting alien customs along the way. All of this resembles Adam Strange. Adam encountered a number of situations in which robots went out of control; these stories especially resemble "Planet Z". The villain here also resembles those in Adam Strange: a behind the scenes schemer, sabotaging things so that he can gain illicit power.
The emphasis on alien animals is a little more specifically Superman-ish, however. Superman often encountered alien beasts in his stories, and the two most familiar settings on Krypton were Jor-El's lab and the Krypton Zoo.
The lying hoax by the villain, designed to make someone else look bad, is a favorite Finger plot device.
Zor lacks metals; the Zorians have developed a civilization based on plastics, without heavy machinery. Such looks at other planets' technological history and development anticipate non-series sf stories in the comic books, such as Otto Binder's "The Man Who Discovered the 'Earth'" (Mystery in Space #51, May 1959).
The New Superman (1953). Writer: ?. Art: Wayne Boring. Superman's powers mysteriously change: he stops being vulnerable to Kryptonite, but diamonds hurt him. Boring's cover shows a hood aiming a harmful ray at Superman out of his diamond ring. It reminds one of Green Lantern and his ring. Both the ray emerging from the ring, and the large starburst where the ray hits Superman's body, are shaped exactly like the rays and starbursts from Green Lantern's ring. Such rays do not actually occur in the story itself.
This story shows ingenuity it its look at what might happen if Superman's powers changed. The story takes us into a strange visual and mental "landscape", an odd world filled with new rules and events. The story reminds one a bit of Otto Binder tales to come. Binder's "The Super-Hallucinations" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957) also looks at strange changes to Superman's experience, and similarly tries to find their root cause. And Binder's "The Day Science Ran Wild" (Strange Adventures #82, July 1957) and "Raiders from the Ultra-Violet" (Strange Adventures #71, August 1956) look at changes to scientific laws and perceptions, respectively. Also, this tale can be considered a transformation story, a look at what happens to a person who undergoes an sf change. Such transformation tales were Binder specialties.
The sea canyon makes an interesting setting for part of this tale. Later stories will show Superman as absolutely comfortable in such regions. But this tale makes it a place of suspense.
Plot material from this tale was recycled in Robert Bernstein's "The New Superman" (Action #291, August 1962). This version deletes the parts about Superman's vision, and ascribes the changes to Red Kryptonite.
The Return of Planet Krypton (1953). Writer: Bill Woolfolk. This story takes place on a duplicate of the planet Krypton. Such duplicates would return in several Silver Age tales. This story also makes ingenious use of Krypton's heavy gravity being the source of Superman's super powers of strength on Earth. The tale is inconsistent with the later Krypton saga in that it makes no mention of Krypton's red sun. Instead, it suggests that Krypton was a planet in Earth's own solar system. This idea startles anyone familiar with the later mythos.
The Outlaws from Krypton (1954). Writer: Bill Finger. Exiled outlaws from Krypton, led by the sinister Mala, come to Earth, where they form a super-powered menace. This is another good sf tale with Kryptonian characters. It seems to be a sequel to an earlier work. It shows Jor-El leading the expulsion of criminals from Krypton; this is a plot device that would often return in later years, eventually giving rise to the Phantom Zone. Even at this early date, Krypton has no capital punishment.
The story rings ingenious changes on the theme of Superman's secret identity, in ways that partly anticipate the great Pete Ross cycle of tales in Superboy. Both this tale and the Ross stories show another person taking on Superman's identities, aiding Superman's quest to preserve them in the process. Finger wrote a number of tales involving ingeniously scrambled identities: see also "The Great Clayface - Joker Feud" (Batman #159, November 1963). In these tales, one person takes on another's identity.
The Stolen 'S' Shirts (Action #197, October 1954). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by Al Plastino. Crooks keep trying to steal uniform shirts with an S on them, including Superman's costume; no one can figure out why. This little tale shows Finger's affinity with the prose mystery tradition, in this case Agatha Christie's The A.B.C. Murders (1936). Both works deal with a series of crimes, and both involve the alphabet, although Finger's tale focuses exclusively on the letter S. The solution to both works is similar. Both Christie and Finger are in the tradition of G.K. Chesterton, and his "The Sign of the Broken Sword" (1911), which is based on a similar mystery principle. Other of Finger's works had evoked Chesterton, notably "The Case of the Mother Goose Mystery" (World's Finest #83, July-August 1956).
The story also shows another Finger specialty, the manipulation of people through schemes. The crooks keep doing things to get the men being robbed to take of their S shirts. Eventually Superman himself is tricked into taking off his shirt. He flies around shirtless; as the story itself points out, this is extremely unusual. These events show the bizarre subtexts one often finds in Finger stories.
Tests of a Warrior (1955). Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Win Mortimer. Superman participates in the traditional life of a Native American tribe. This is one of several 1950's works that involve Superman with Westerns, then at the height of their popularity. This story is grounded in an early literary model of tribal life, one associated with Jack London, Stephen Vincent Benét, and other writers. While this model has now been superseded by more sophisticated accounts of Native American culture, it was the main literary model used by many writers who were sympathetic to Indian life and culture in the first half of the 20th Century. It is discussed further in the article on Tribal Detective Fiction. The authors of this story were clearly admiring of Native American culture, and were trying to convey it with dignity and respect to the mass readership of the comics. However, the story is not preachy; it is an exciting drama.
The GCD says this was based on an episode of the Adventures of Superman TV series, also called Tests of a Warrior (Season 3, episode 6, shown May 28, 1955).
The Superman Calendar (1956). Writer: ?. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Al Plastino. A crooked entrepreneur puts out a Superman calendar for charity; Superman has to duplicate the spectacular feat shown for each month, or the charity will lose its funds. This tale reminds one of Otto Binder's "The 100 New Feats of Superboy" (Superboy #58 July 1957). In that story, Superboy has to perform 100 sensational new deeds, which will appear in a book that will be published; here, Superman has to bring to life twelve deeds pictured on a calendar. This story is just plain charming. It does not have the elaborate plot twists of Silver Age tales. It is just a series of Superman feats. There is a gap between the abstract feat shown in the calendar, and how Superman actually performs it in real life. This gives the story an interesting dual perspective. The story does have a happy quality, a picture of a sunny world.
The story includes Plastino's two page Superman calendar. Plastino also did the cover on which the story was based; it shows pages from the calendar. Such a calendar is an interesting non-narrative strategy. It is integrated into the story's plot in interesting ways.
Each of the four calendar pages on the cover contains a giant phallic symbol. These range from a huge snowman's top hat, to Superman launching a rocket.
The First Superman of Krypton (#223, December 1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Wayne Boring. Diaries and videotapes found by Superman recount how his father Jor-El once temporarily gained Superman-like powers on Krypton. This story embodies one of Hamilton's favorite themes: a character, such as Jor-El, taking on the career and role of another character, in this case Superman. Its plot gimmick recalls Bill Finger's "The First Batman" (Detective Comics #235, September 1956), published three months before this tale, in which Batman learns that his father once filled the Batman role.
This story shows an early attempt to depict life on Krypton. Developing a richer look at Krypton was a major goal of the Silver Age Superman family. This mild, inoffensive story is largely lacking in inspiration, however. It will remain for Otto Binder in 1958 and 1959 to develop a much better inside look at Krypton.
The best part of this tale is Wayne Boring's art. The splash shows high towers on Krypton connected by aerial ramps, in the tradition of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1927). There is also a beautiful image of Krypton in space (p3). One can see the outlines of Krypton continents. Boring is already following the tradition of Kryptonian woman's clothing looking like fancy evening gowns.
Superman's New Uniform (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. When his old uniform is apparently destroyed in an explosion, Superman gets a new super-suit. I've only read the finale of this story in a partially preserved comic book. It is ingenious in Binder's best manner, and I'd love to read the whole thing. The finale involves some clever role reversals between Jimmy Olsen and Superman.
The artists have done an inventive job with the new yellow and purple uniform. It looks completely different from Superman's original costume. Five months later, super-powered Futureman will have a spiffy yellow and purple costume in "The Bride of Futureman" (Superman #121, June 1958). Both costumes are based on a cover by Curt Swan. Swan will also do the dramatic yellow and purple uniform for "Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis" (1963). Please see my list of purple-and-yellow costumes in comic books.
Another Boring-drawn futuristic site is the "Mars Terminal" spaceport in "Superman Versus the Futuremen" (Superman #128, April 1959). Its spectacular architecture and Deco lettering resemble the cover of "Superman in Superman Land". Also, a building in the "Superman in Superman Land" cover is labeled "Mars Rocket", anticipating the "Mars Terminal" spaceport in "Superman Versus the Futuremen".
The first half of Finger's story, a guided tour of the park, is better than the second, a routine crime plot taking place in the park. Finger shows pleasant ingenuity in his park attractions, and Boring continues the same beautiful Deco look of the cover on the inside art. A main attraction is a simulated space flight to Krypton. This recalls similar simulated rides at Disneyland, and the whole park is very close in feel to Disneyland itself. The story appeared the same year (1955) that Disneyland opened, so it was very topical.
The various rides show the mechanical ingenuity Finger often lavished on the high tech devices used by the Joker and other villains in his Batman tales. The rides tend to be designed to convince people they are somewhere they are not: e.g., on a spaceship to Krypton. This reminds us that Finger tales are often full of elaborate schemes to delude the hero, and manipulate his perceptions. Finger adopts the same approach here, in a less criminal mode. Finger has a real affinity with such sinister con games and mind manipulation; here his skills are being employed on an apparently more innocent approach.
Krypton on Earth (1958). Writer: ?. Art: Wayne Boring. A real estate developer creates a new community on an island on Earth, modeled on Krypton, where everyone wears Kryptonian clothes and lives in Kryptonian style buildings. Boring's beautiful architecture for Krypton Island looks a lot like buildings he created for "Superman in Superman Land" (1956). Boring also does a superb job with the Kryptonian clothes.
The story is notable for including the flag of Krypton. This might be its first appearance in a Superman family story. It will appear intermittently throughout the Silver Age, always in a format identical to the one here.
This tale is part of a trend in the Superman family, starting in mid 1958, to give much greater prominence to Krypton. The dialogue states that Krypton was "a paradise of happiness" for its inhabitants. Krypton was part of a Utopian vision by the creators of the Superman family comics.
At the story's end, Superman expresses a wish to go back to the island, and enjoy the Kryptonian images of his homeland. As far as I know, this sequel never took place. Krypton Island did not become a regular fixture of the Superman mythos. This is perhaps because it was not genuinely science fictional, but merely an all-human replica. Superman would instead visit Kandor when longing for a Kryptonian home.
Kryptonese script shows up here, a year before its prominent occurrence in such Otto Binder tales as "Superman's Other Life" (1959) and "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (1959). I was always fascinated by this as a kid, and wanted to learn more. At this early date, Superman and Krypto were the only known survivors of Krypton, and Superman is treated as the only person in the universe to know Kryptonese. All this would change in the very next issue, with Binder's introduction of the bottled city of Kandor. There is more Kryptonese in Binder's "The Lady and the Lion" (1958), two issues later.
Superman's Fortress of Solitude (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. A look back at historical events surrounding the Fortress of Solitude. This story is an "anthology": it is made up of three separate sequences, that have little directly to do with each other. Each involves Superman moving the Fortress of Solitude to a different location. Moving the entire Fortress is indeed a super-feat: it is a giant structure. As best I can tell, this is perhaps the only tale in which the Fortress is moved. It is a concept invented for this story, rather than being any sort of standard gambit in the Superman mythos. It is not a great plot idea - but it is an idea, and one that Siegel is determined to explore for its full potential. This is a comic book tradition: if one gets an idea for a story, its implications should be developed in depth. One will likely never get another chance to explore the idea again.
Much of the Fortress is in fact a museum, recounting interesting encounters in Superman's career. This tale has the good idea of actually opening up the Fortress as a museum to the public, complete with guided tours. Comic books were fascinated with museums and related information institutions, such as expos and World's Fairs.
The best image in "Superman's Fortress of Solitude" is grounded in this museum approach. It shows a visitor, the little boy Alvin, examining the bottled city of Kandor with a magnifying glass. It triggers a strong desire in me to be there, examining Kandor, a place I have always found fascinating.
The episode about the flame people can be read as commentary:
Wayne Boring's costumes were much more militaristic than other Superman artists. People in Kandor do not look this militarized or as old-fashionedly traditional in most of the Superman stories. Instead, they and their society look "futuristic" when drawn by most other artists. While Boring's uniforms are fun and well done, I think the futuristic look of other artists gives a better look at what Kandor is all about: an advanced, high tech and highly civilized city, one that serves as a role model of where humanity should be going in the future.
At the end, Superman delivers the bad guys to a pair of identically uniformed cops.
Binder includes a guided tour of Kandor, concentrating on the wonders of Krypton. He goes to his favorite location, a Zoo filled with unique Kryptonian animals. These sections recall his other great Krypton stories of 1958 - 1959.
Krypton and Kandor are not limited in their properties, unlike, say, the Phantom Zone, which is rigidly defined with a set of fixed characteristics. Instead, every time we visit Krypton, we see new wonders. This is perhaps a bit inconsistent on occasion - there are stories showing Kryptonians using moving sidewalks, and others showing flying vehicles. But the long range effect is to suggest Krypton as a place of limitless wonder. One always feels one is seeing just a glimmer of its possibilities and rich culture in each tale.
The tale also shows the idealism of the people of Krypton. Even in the midst of this catastrophe, they cling to efforts to improve lives and advance science.
Binder was very interested in creating survivors of the planet Krypton. Soon he would create Supergirl, and introduce her surviving piece of Krypton (later named Argo City) as part of her mythos. In a more comic vein, Beppo the Super-monkey would also soon arrive from Krypton, in Superboy. Such survivals helped make Krypton a living presence in the Superman family series.
This story has a "Cosmic" perspective, showing cities being uprooted and sent through space. So does the tale of Argo City. Binder also wrote such stories outside of the Superman family, for other comic books as well: see "Amazing Space Flight of North America" (Mystery in Space #44, June-July 1958). Binder's outstanding sf tales for Mystery in Space are discussed in that article.
GOALS. Curt Swan's cover shows Brainiac, but has nothing about Kandor, or the shrinking ray. These are invented in the story itself.
Nor do the splash panel or early sections of the story mention Kandor. Its introduction around half-way through the tale comes as a surprise.
The cover, splash and title "The Super-Duel in Space" all suggest the story is centered on the fight between Superman and villain Brainiac. The story sets forth what narrative theory calls a goal: Can Superman defeat Brainiac in their duel? This seems to be what the story is about. And there is an impressive twist half-way through, where Superman does something ingenious in this fight.
But as the tale develops, Kandor becomes much more interesting and important than this duel.
I like this unexpected introduction of Kandor. Its suggests the universe is full of infinite possibilities. And that one never knows what one might discover, just around the corner.
BREAKING THROUGH. Superman finds it hard to break through Brainiac's barriers. He finally does so, in an ingenious twist (page 8). BIG SPOILERS. Superman uses one on-going activity (Brainiac's shrinking of cities) to get around another plot problem (Brainiac's barriers). This reminds one of Gardner Fox's similar strategy in his Adam Strange tales, where Adam's use of the zeta-beam teleportation cycle allows him to interfere with various menaces' schemes.
EIFFEL TOWER. The Eiffel Tower in Paris frequently showed up in Silver Age comics. It was an instantly recognizable symbol of Paris, France, Europe, and even "foreign countries in general". It is always seen positively. France was generally revered by Americans in that era, seen both as a great country and as America's oldest ally.
The Shrinking Superman (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Even before the invention of the "exchange ray", the Superman family featured stories in which people from Kandor and Earth traded places. In "The Shrinking Superman", the man who trades places with Superman looks exactly like him. Such exchanges between Earth people and their Kandorian doubles will also frequently be plot elements of the subsequent stories, many of which were also written by Binder.
The Super-Outlaw of Krypton (Superman #134, January 1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman seems to turn bad, and go on a rampage of destruction. This three-part tale filled the entire issue of Superman #134. It is also known by the title of its first chapter, "The Super-Menace of Metropolis": it was reprinted under that title in Showcase Presents Superman, Volume 2.
This otherwise minor story is notable for introducing the exchange ray, a device that permits a person in Kandor and a person in the Fortress of Solitude to exchange places. This was a useful plot device that showed up in later stories. Binder would soon use it again in "Tom Baker, Power Lad" (Jimmy Olsen #45, June 1960), for example. However, the ray's inventor Kull-ex seems only to appear in here in "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton".
This tale manages to include a recap of the entire Krypton saga in one work. This must have been extremely useful for readers of the Superman magazine. It also helps cement the Superman family mythos. Here we see Jor-El on Krypton, the destruction of Krypton, the survival of Kandor, and the saga of Supergirl, all in one story. It even manages to go to that favorite location, the Krypton Zoo.
FLYING VEHICLE. Otto Binder loved flying cars in futuristic civilizations. See this list. "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" introduces a Kryptonian vehicle that is "all-purpose": it can drive, fly, swim or burrow underground. We see the invention of the vehicle. And interestingly, its naming (Chapter II, page 6). This naming parallels the history of cars on Earth. Parallels to real-life Earth "car culture" are often found in Binder's flying car tales.
This vehicle did not become part of the Superman mythos, as best as I can tell. It instead only appears in this story.
COSMIC ENGINEERING. A feat performed by Supergirl and Krypto (Chapter III, page 6), recalls the cosmic engineering that Binder liked in his science fiction tales. The feat is smaller in scope than the true cosmic engineering tales, though.
KANDOR CITYSCAPES. A cityscape shows an aerial view of Kandor, while it is still on Krypton (Chapter II, page 7). It recalls a similar aerial view of an Earth city, in the splash panel of Boring's "The Menace of Cosmic Man" (1959). Both cities have a region of tall skyscrapers, flanked by a region of low buildings that are shown as mixtures of white rectangles and black blobs, near streets. Both cityscapes are rectilinear. Both cityscapes show Boring's flare for urban architecture.
There are a few futuristic ornaments on top of two skyscrapers in the aerial view of Kandor. But otherwise, Kandor looks exactly like a contemporary city on Earth. Chapter II has other views of Kandor inside its bottle (pages 2,3). These also look like a contemporary 1960 Earth city full of skyscrapers. This is a complete contrast with most depictions of Kandor in Superman comic books, which show the city as full of futuristic architecture.
Oddly, a flashback to Krypton in "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" (Chapter II, page 5) shows Krypton full of the futuristic buildings, that are a standard part of its representation in most Superman stories - even if this version still emphasizes rectilinear skyscrapers. And a month later, in Boring's "Superman's Fortress of Solitude" (page 3), Kandor gets its standard depiction as wildly futuristic in design.
The Battle with Bizarro (Action #254, July 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Lex Luthor revives the duplicating ray created by another scientist in the first Bizarro tale, "The Boy of Steel versus the Thing of Steel", and creates an adult Bizarro copy of Superman. This will be the permanent Bizarro of all future Superman family stories; he will later be known as Bizarro #1. Binder derives pathos from the way in which the kind hearted Bizarro is persecuted by everyone for his grotesque appearance. By contrast, the endless action sequences in this and other early Bizarro tales seem weak to me.
SPOILERS. Bizarro's reactions to Luther's commands are original and different from what one might expect. They are also trenchant, and a fine part of this tale.
The Bride of Bizarro (Action #255, August 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. This sequel is a direct continuation of "The Battle with Bizarro" in the previous issue. It concentrates on his one sided romance with Lois Lane, whom Bizarro loves. Lois feels pity for Bizarro, and treats him decently, but has no love for him at all. This tale recalls the love story in the origin of the teenage Bizarro Superboy, where he fell in love with a blind girl who could not see his grotesque features.
The flower Bizarro brings from Pluto recalls the flower Superman brought from the moon Ariel in Binder's "The Secret of the Space Souvenirs" (1958).
The conclusion of this tale is the story's best part. SPOILERS. It was much imitated in future Bizarro stories: many problems among the Bizarros will be solved by a further use of the duplicating ray.
The World of Bizarros (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. The Bizarros get their own planet. I have never been a big fan of Binder's earlier Bizarro tales, but this story is a gem. It is this story, and not the preceding tale that created Bizarro himself, which is the true key work in the evolution of this series.
It is typical of Otto Binder, and his rich sf imagination, to take an idea such as the Bizarros, and transform them into a science fiction saga with their own planet.
Much of this story is joltingly surrealistic. It has a gleeful quality of attacking and subverting conventional ideas.
Curt Swan's cover shows lots of Bizarros in a courtroom. While this perhaps suggests a Bizarro society, it does not fully amount to the "whole planet of Bizarros" depicted in the story. Dialogue on the cover does refer to such a world - but could have been added later, after the story was written.
Wayne Boring's art emphasizes how macho the male Bizarros are. After all, they are duplicates of Superman, and thus really well-built. The storyline is full of Bizarros serving as cops and prison guards, and the art takes advantage of this to add macho swagger to the characters. The Bizarro police all carry huge nightsticks.
Both the cover and story of "The World of Bizarros" might have helped inspire "The Joker Jury" (Batman #163, May 1964), written by Bill Finger based on a cover by Sheldon Moldoff. It is full of jurymen and cops made-up like the Joker, just as the Bizarros take on these roles in "The World of Bizarros".
The Superman Bizarro (Action #264, May 1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Immediate sequel in the next issue to "The World of Bizarros" concludes the story. Unfortunately, except for its finale, it adds little of interest to the previous tale.
SPOILER. This finale shows the Bizarro world getting its distinctive form. It recalls the "cosmic engineering" stories Binder wrote for science fiction comic books like Mystery in Space in the 1950's. The terraforming also anticipates the later "Superman Under the Green Sun" (1962), written by Bill Finger.
Wayne Boring does a good job with a test pilot's shiny flight suit (pp 5,6). Such suits anticipate the space suits worn by the astronauts. Test pilots and their experimental planes were much celebrated in the USA of this era. The story correctly points out that they were viewed as precursors to space exploration.
The Son of Bizarro; The Orphan Bizarro; The Supergirl Bizarro (Superman #140, October 1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Bizarro and Bizarro-Lois have a son who looks human, not Bizarro-like; they have to protect him from the hatred of the other Bizarros. This story gains considerable strength from its depiction of parental love for a child who is different. For all their faults, the Bizarros look like good husbands and wives, and good parents.
This story can stand as an allegory for several kinds of children who are different in real life: disabled children, children of different races, gay children. The tale is a powerful exploration of a theme not often examined in fiction.
Binder was very family oriented. He created such new characters as Superman's cousins, Supergirl and Van Zee in Kandor; Lana Lang's uncle, Professor Potter; and Lois Lane's sister Lucy. Van Zee and his wife Sylvia manage to have children, as do the Bizarros. People who get married and raise a family are actually fairly rare in popular culture.
The look at parents and children is strongest in the first third, "The Son of Bizarro".
The middle section "The Orphan Bizarro" is the weakest of the three, not having many ideas. The strange episode about the Crandalls is the most interesting part of this section. Like the endings of such Binder tales as "The Great Supergirl Mirage" (Action #256, September 1959) and the last panel of "Supergirl's Darkest Day" (Action #263, April 1960), it ultimately suggests Superman's ability to create illusion.
SPOILERS. The final segment "The Supergirl Bizarro" is the story in which Superman turns the duplicating ray on Green Kryptonite, creating Blue Kryptonite, to which the Bizarros are vulnerable. With this tale, Binder has completed the building of the Bizarro mythos.
The cleaving of the asteroid in two, and the worries that the Bizarros will do the same to Earth, recalls Binder's tales of "cosmic engineering". See Gil Kane's cover for "The Day the Earth Split in Two" (Mystery in Space #31, April-May 1956).
Towards the end of the story Binder wakes up, and produces the best parts of the tale. First, he introduces transformation elements, a familiar, but always welcome, Binder theme. These elements are quite ingenious.
Lastly, the story moves to a memorably tragic finale. This invokes another Superman family theme of 1958: the effects of Green Kryptonite. This is one of the most powerful tales of the Green Kryptonite cycle.
Superman's New Face (1958). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Wayne Boring. An accident transforms Superman's face; he wears a mask so that people cannot see the changes. Transformation stories are typically associated with Otto Binder, but other writers also contributed to the tradition. Here is one by Edmond Hamilton. It differs from a typical Binder tale in that it is an sf mystery: we do not know what transformation has happened to Superman's face, and it takes much of the story till we find out. Science fiction mysteries were a Hamilton specialty. So were masked mysterious people. This is a theme we associate with Sir Walter Scott: for example, the helmeted Black Knight in Ivanhoe (1820), whose identity is unknown through much of the novel.
The Lady and the Lion (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. A descendent of the ancient Greek sorceress Circe causes Superman to be transformed into a lion-headed man. Fine tale notable for its plot inventiveness and its sweet, humane values.
This story anticipates Binder's classic "The Wolf-Man of Metropolis" (Jimmy Olsen #44, April 1960) in many ways. Both stories evoke the myth of "Beauty and the Beast", in speculating whether the kiss of a good hearted woman can end the hero's transformation into a hairy, animal like creature. Both stories show delicacy of feeling, and evoke vivid emotional moods.
Binder actually has Superman and Lois attend a play version of "Beauty and the Beast", incorporating its performance into his story. Similarly, in Binder's transformation tale "The Invisible Life of Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #40, October 1959), there is an explicit reference to H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man.
STRUCTURE: TRANSFORMATION TALES. Much of "The Lady and the Lion" has the standard structure of a Binder transformation tale:
MYTHOS. During 1958 Binder wrote several tales that contributed in a major way towards building the Superman family mythos. These include the first stories about Kandor, "The Super-Duel in Space" (Action Comics #242, July 1958), and "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). This story contributes to mythos building, but in another way. It is one of the earliest tales that reuse mythos components that were introduced in a previous story: in this case, Kandor. It is early evidence that Binder and Weisinger were beginning to think of the Superman family, not as a series of independent stories, but as a group of connected tales, all based in a common mythos.
SCIENCE FICTION. The original Greek myth of Circe is based in magic, and should be classified as "Fantasy". Binder's version science-fictionalizes the concept of Circe. Her ability to transform men into animals is now based on science. This sort of science-fictionalizing of fantasy is a tradition in science fiction. For example, Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954) science-fictionalizes the concept of vampires.
This science-fiction treatment of Circe, occurring near the tale's start, gives an extra dimension to the story, beyond the transformation elements.
SPOILERS. Unexpectedly, towards the story's end, Binder introduces a mystery: How can Superman find the antidote to his transformation? This mystery mixes elements of both science fiction and mystery. The science fiction is partly grounded in the earlier ideas used in science-fictionalizing Circe's power.
It forms a splendid, imaginative coda to the story.
ANTI-BULLYING. "The Lady and the Lion" contains an anti-bullying message. As in "Supergirl's Super Pet" (1960), a strong animal is condemned for bullying a weaker animal in a fight.
The Kryptonite Man (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Luthor makes himself into a man who radiates Green Kryptonite rays. Radiating Kryptonite would be a theme of future tales. Binder's Titano has Kryptonite vision, in a story that appeared in the same month in Superman as this tale did in Action. Jerry Siegel would take up the subject in "The Dreams of Doom" (Superboy #83, September 1960), about the Kryptonite Kid; and "The Kryptonite Girl" (Lois Lane #16, April 1960). This story is different from most Binder transformation tales in that the focus is not principally on the transformed character, Luthor. Instead, much of the tale looks at Superman's attempts to protect himself from Luthor and his deadly Kryptonite radiation. This is the story in which Superman invents his lead suit to enable him to operate in the vicinity of Kryptonite. Binder would reuse this suit in some later tales, such as "Titano the Super-Ape" and "The Son of Bizarro" trilogy. Previously, Binder had had Superboy wear a knights' armor made out of lead in "The Boy of Steel versus the Thing of Steel" (Superboy #68, October 1958), although this suit lacked the high tech devices of Superman's lead suit here.
Another difference between this and a typical Binder transformation story: here Luthor controls his own transformation, deliberately converting himself to the Kryptonite Man at the start of the story. Most Binder protagonists get transformed either by accidents, or by other people. Similarly, Luthor has the antidote all along, while most Binder protagonists have to search for one.
The Menace of Red-Green Kryptonite (1961). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Brainiac shines a ray on Superman combining Red and Green Kryptonite; a mysterious transformation of Superman ensues.
The tale is constructed as a science fiction mystery. The reader learns right away in the splash panel that Superman has been transformed in some way he is keeping secret from the world, and the reader. The reader is challenged to figure out what has really happened to Superman. Counterpointing this, Superman is fooling the public into thinking that the effect of the ray is causing him to behave oddly; Lois Lane and the rest of the public, along with the reader, are trying to figure out the underlying pattern to this behavior. These two mystery plots intersect in interesting ways. This double mystery gives the story a rich construction. Jerry Coleman excelled at science fiction mysteries. Here is one of his most complex. Lois Lane serves as a detective figure here; Coleman was usually sympathetic and respectful of her.
Superman often suffers some catastrophe in Coleman's tales, one that is more apparent than real, but still one with whose effects Superman must live and cope. These challenges make Superman more human, and less of an all powerful stick figure.
Brainiac makes a big deal about the unique properties of the combination of Red and Green Kryptonite. However, as far as one can see, the effect on Superman is exactly the same as pure Red Kryptonite: a transformation of Superman, one that disappears by itself in around 48 hours. This is fine with me: I love Red Kryptonite stories, and this one is imaginative. And it is wise not to introduce too many variations on Kryptonite in the magazine. In any case, I do not recall any subsequent stories making use of the Red-Green combination.
RURITANIAN ROMANCE. An episode has the King and Queen of Rurtainia visiting Metropolis.
Many 20th Century works were inspired by the fictitious kingdom of Ruritania in the novel The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), by Anthony Hope. Such tales are full of intrigue, adventure and glamorous clothes and settings. This whole genre is today known as "Ruritanian romance".
I've often suggested that many Superman Family tales involving small kingdoms are part of this "Ruritanian romance" tradition. "The Menace of Red-Green Kryptonite" comes close to acknowledging this, with its country Rurtainia spelled nearly the same as Ruritania in the novel.
Artist Wayne Boring has the King in the kind of fancy European dress uniform associated with Ruritanian romance.
ART. Curt Swan's cover shows a fascinating checkerboard ray machine at the base of Brainiac's space ship. The alternating red and green squares are shining out the combined radiation. This machine appears in the story too.
I also liked the lettering of the title on the splash panel. It shows the word "Red" in red and "Green" in green. The effect makes one wonder if our world of black and white typography could be greatly enriched by color.
Wayne Boring's splash panel shows three well-dressed men in suits and ties. It is full of phallic symbols: a horse statue, scepter, skyscrapers, a street lamp. The hats throughout the story are phallic.
Superman's Rainbow Face (1964). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Red Kryptonite cause Superman's face to change color to reflect his feelings: green with envy, blue for sadness, and so on. This is one of Binder's transformation tales, stories in which a person undergoes a temporary science fictional change. As is often the case, this tale focuses on Superman's effort to prevent the transformation from revealing his secret identity.
This story is built around Superman going through a series of emotional states. In this it recalls his "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (Lois Lane #2, May-June 1958). In that tale, Lois underwent a similar series of emotions, each clearly marked as a separate state in the story. The motivations underlying this were different - Lois was involved in a film industry plot - but the construction of the tales is similar. One can see a certain parallel here to the comics medium itself. A comic book is made up of a series of distinct panels. In each, the characters are drawn showing them having some emotional reaction to the events of the tale. They can be happy, romantic, sad, in pain, amazed and so on. The story line consists of a series of such well defined emotional states. Action Comics even had a contest, in which Curt Swan drew Superman's face in a variety of forms, and the readers were invited to write in, identifying Superman's emotion in each image. Readers were surprisingly good at identifying Superman's feelings in each illustration - Swan was very vivid and concrete in his portrayal of various emotions. Binder's two "emotion" tales seem to build on this structural feature of the comics medium, constructing an entire plot around it.
This story is not to be confused with Binder's "The Rainbow Superman" (Lois Lane #3, August 1958). In that tale Superman had a rainbow aura; here his face turns colors. But these two tales have much in common. Both:
This story marks Binder's return to doing occasional scripts for Action after a long absence. Here, he is reverting to his personal traditions of long ago. He will do another Red K and secret ID tale next year, "Superman's Kryptonite Curse" (Superman #177, May 1965).
This tale refers to Green Lantern by name, although he does not appear in the story. Action was also promoting the Justice League in Hamilton's "The Day Superman Became the Flash" (#314, July 1964) of three issues before.
The Super-Merman of the Sea (Action #244, September 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. After two aquatic aliens land in the ocean, Superman seems to withdraw from the land and live underneath the sea.
The word "Merman" in the title is a bit confusing. Later Superman tales will be full of mermans and mermaids with fish-like tails. Nothing like that happens to Superman here. He is dubbed a "Merman" simply because he has started living underwater.
SPOILERS. This seems to be an adaptation to Superman comics, of a plot that was ubiquitous in the science fiction comic books Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. Namely, a hero who non-violently foils through clever means an invasion of Earth by militaristic aliens.
The trick Superman uses at the end to defeat the aliens is not bad, and perhaps the best new plot idea in the tale.
GLOBAL WARMING. "The Super-Merman of the Sea" also contains another plot idea used earlier by those science fiction comics: that the polar icecaps might heat up, melt and flood the Earth. This is an important idea, linked to Global Warming. For examples, see my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "global warming".
This Global Warming subject matter will cause readers to take an interest in "The Super-Merman of the Sea". However, this tale does not have the storytelling punch or the science fictional detail, of the best tales in Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.
Curt Swan's cover shows Superman living under the ocean. It does not include the ideas about the aliens or global warming, which were likely added by writer Otto Binder.
WORLD COURT. Also politically interesting: "The Super-Merman of the Sea" is one of quite a few Superman tales that include the United Nations. But this is the only comic book story I recall that mentions the World Court.
The "Superman" from Outer Space (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. This story, in which Superman meets the friendly "Hyper-Man" from a world much like Earth, anticipates the soon to come Superboy classic "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960), in which Superboy meets a similar figure from another world, whose life parallels his own. Both of these stories were written by Otto Binder. Binder liked science fiction tales about worlds slightly divergent from Earth.
"The "Superman" from Outer Space" reuses plot ideas from Binder's recent Superman tale "Superman's Other Life" (1959), notably the Super-Univac computer that can predict one's life.
The opening is structured like the opening of Binder's Legion origin tale "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). Both have mysterious people who somehow know Superman's secret identity. The mystery of how they know this is resolved when it is revealed they are not from contemporary Earth. These openings form a prologue; in the rest of the story, Superman then accompanies the mysterious people back to their own world or era. This opening gambit is developed more elaborately in "The "Superman" from Outer Space", and made part of a "Superman guards his secret identity from Lois" subplot.
The opening raises an issue found frequently in Silver Age Superman tales: a brief discussion of "why Superman can't use his robots to solve his current problem". Such discussions are always good for a panel or two, and take up even more space in this story. The writers of various Superman tales show ingenuity in coming up with numerous different reasons why the robots cannot be used. These explanations add to a story's logic: after all, Superman does have robots, and their non-use in the story does need to be justified. They also allow more plot to be added to the story. A typical Superman family story is made up of dozens of plot developments. This "robot issue" is a surefire way for the author to generate a plot development.
The opening includes imagery that will recur later in different contexts and different characters: doubles, the problems of using robots, a snoopy reporter trying to discover a super-hero's secret identity. This sort of "running imagery" gives the tale an unusual feel. It also seems poetically appropriate, in a tale about parallel worlds with closely analogous characters.
The tale's second half has Superman doing some odd things for unknown motives: things he normally would never do. The reader knows that Superman is performing these actions. But why he is doing them is a mystery. Not until the tale's end, does Superman explain his motive. This sort of "mystery of motive" is a fairly common plot structure in Superman tales.
An illustrated chart shows differences between Earth and Hyper-Man's planet Oceania (p7). Charts are an interesting multimedia form. They are well suited to the comics medium.
On Oceania, TV news covers news events live, broadcasting film of them as they happen. This was a science fictional prediction in 1960. In many ways, it has come to pass. TV and the Internet are today full of live broadcasts, and also film footage of recent events taken by amateur photographers. In 1965, I saw the only film ever taken of a tornado up till that time, in a science class. Today, there are over a thousand films of tornados, by both amateurs and professionals.
Hercules in the 20th Century (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Wayne Boring. The ancient Greek hero Hercules comes to modern Metropolis. This story incorporates Greek mythology into the Superman saga. Its plot anticipates that of Robert Bernstein's "Superboy's Big Brother; The Secret of Mon-El" (Superboy #89, June 1961), by showing how Hercules is provided with a secret identity on modern Earth. Binder had a fascination with such ancient heroes as Hercules and Samson, frequently comparing them with Superman in his stories. Hercules had shown up in his "The First Two Supermen" (Adventure #257, February 1959), although the Hercules of the two stories are different characters: the two stories are not part of a common mythos.
The War Between Supergirl and the Supermen Emergency Squad (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Wayne Boring. Clark Kent is summoned to the bed side of a dying philanthropist. This tale shows similarity in subject matter to "The Super-Clown of Metropolis" (1960). Both involve a sick rich man who summons people to his mansion near Metropolis; both involve Superman performing for him. Both stories ultimately have a comic tone; in both the performances by super-beings involve some memorable comedy.
Bernstein wrote the great Pete Ross tales, in which Pete learned the secret of Superboy's identity. This tale pursues a similar theme. Once again, the key events of revelation take place within a sleeping area, this time a bedroom.
Bernstein also introduces the Anti-Superman Gang here. This tale might be its origin. He also introduced the Superboy Revenge Squad. Such sinister, powerful gangs, bent on complex schemes to attack Superman, were a persistent part of his world.
The title characters only appear toward the end; this is mainly a Superman tale.
The Supermen Emergency Squad had only been created the previous year, in "The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen" (Jimmy Olsen #48, October 1960). The splash panel refers to them as Lilliputian, underlining their relationship to Gulliver's Travels. Boring sets up his monitor in Kandor to display Superman as a very large figure relative to the Kandorians. There is no absolute need for this - the Kandorians could set their monitor to any proportions - but it does visually express the fact that Superman is much bigger than them.
Boring's Kandor architecture is full of minarets. It has a very Arabian Nights feel. The towers also contain Art Deco windows, with curving, frameless, multi-rectangle sub-panels.
Boring emphasizes the military aspect of Kandorian men's costume, stressing their resemblance to Mittel European military uniforms. His Kandorian men are extremely macho. Most of the uniforms are either red or green. The red-haired Kandorian in a red and orange uniform is particularly striking. The Kandorians are also aggressively posed on the splash panel, with folded arms, hands on hips, and a leader pointing to a rocket ship.
The Man Who Saved Kal-El's Life (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Al Plastino. Superman goes after crooks who teleport from Metropolis to Hollywood to establish alibis; meanwhile, he meets a professor who claims to have visited Krypton before its explosion.
This is a richly plotted tale. It brings in many aspects of teleportation into the Superman world. It is a one time only event: at the tale's end, Superman decides that humanity is not ready for teleportation. One could debate that, but it is clear that a permanent introduction of teleportation would drastically change the Superman mythos. Gardner Fox did a very rich look at the implications of teleporting in his Adam Strange and Atom tales.
The mixture of a crime plot and an outer space one is typical of Bernstein. Bernstein is especially comfortable with urban thrillers. He can use them as the base for the rich mix of his stories, which often bring in very disparate elements. Bernstein's "The Superboy Revenge Squad" (Superboy #94, January 1962) fuses Pete Ross and his relationship with Superboy in Smallville, with the cosmic melodrama of the Superboy Revenge Squad. Even Bernstein's non-fantasy mysteries often bring in wildly different elements into their stories: "Miss Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #44, April 1960), for instance, has a lot of wild animals as pets. These mixes seem odd, but they are also deeply satisfying as reading experiences. They are perhaps related to Surrealism, and its doctrine of juxtaposing very different ideas in order to liberate the subconscious.
Bernstein's "Olsen's Time Trip to Save Krypton" (Jimmy Olsen #101, April 1967) would later get Jimmy Olsen involved with a visit to Krypton just before its explosion, just like the professor in this tale. Both of these non-super-powered Earthmen will try to save Krypton's population from the explosion of the planet. Both stories will also contain heart-felt warnings about the dangers of nuclear war. These are among the most explicit and deepest commentaries about this subject in the comics book medium.
The Invasion of the Super-Ants (1963). Writer: ? Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Giant ants appear. This is a science fiction story, one warning of the dangers of atomic war. It contains a heartfelt plea for peace, and for humanity to turn away from atomic conflict. The letters column several issues later expresses Weisinger's hope that the story would influence the children who read the magazine, and that when they grew up they would do something to prevent nuclear war.
The story is in the tradition of such films as:
Superman Under the Red Sun (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman gets trapped in the deserted, ruined Earth of the far future, a red Sun world in which he has no super powers. The imagery of this tale recalls the final sections of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895), which also showed a similar Earth future.
"Superman Under the Red Sun" is full of advanced beasts which have evolved to adapt to conditions on the far future Earth. Hamilton often looked at evolution in his stories. Please see the section on Edmond Hamilton for a list of his tales about evolution. "Superman Under the Red Sun" seems to be the first of such Hamilton evolution stories in the comics. The "The Infinite Evolutions of Superman and Batman" section discusses some of Hamilton's prose sf stories about evolution from the 1930's.
Hamilton had an affinity for stories about lonely people in sf landscapes - see "Last Stand of the Legion" (Adventure #310, July 1963). As usual, Superman is the only human in this tale, but not the only being - there are animals and androids around.
The tale is also part of a series of Hamilton stories that examine the long-range implications of the Superman mythos, how it will transform over time. These tales include "The Three Generations of Superman" (1965) and "The Superman of 2965" (Superman #181, November 1965).
This story is deeply geographical. Its geographical layout forms a mandala, a figure to meditate on. The vast expanse of time is also extremely thought provoking and emotional. It makes one wonder about the ultimate shape of things. This story concentrates on all the regions of Earth that were added to the real world by the Superman mythos. In this tale, only the Superman mythos seems to have survived into the far future. We encounter four different loci of Superman family stories in this tale. Superman's visits to these make up much of the plot of the story.
Superman emerges as a tiny figure at the end of this tale, just like the hero of Hamilton's "Search for a Lost World" (Strange Adventures #67, April 1956). This has a poetic quality, in addition to its role in the sf plotting. It seems to suggest something about the lonely nature of the quest, and the feeling of fragility and smallness of man in the universe it engenders. It also gives poetic expression to Hamilton's heroes and their outsider role in society. It is perhaps not so much the universe as society that makes Hamilton's heroes feel small.
ART. The telepathic helmet is full of curved surfaces (page 4). It looks futuristic - which is appropriate since it is from the future. Its several protuberances do look look receivers or antennae.
One can contrast Al Plastino's helmet here with one drawn by Wayne Boring in "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past" (Superman #113, May 1957). Plastino's helmet looks futuristic, while Boring's looks more like a modified contemporary football or cyclist's helmet. Both are visually striking and show inventiveness. Both make Superman look glamorous while wearing them.
The advanced city of the future (page 5) also has several curves and domes.
Superman Meets the Goliath-Hercules (1964). Art: Al Plastino. Superman travels back to ancient Greece on a world parallel to Earth, in which Earth history is scrambled. The story builds up an odd mixture of time travel and parallel world tales. This unusual premise allows the writer to create a series of inventive little plot ideas. Although the end of the story promises a sequel, I have never seen it, and suspect it was never written.
WHO WROTE THIS? Otto Binder sometimes wrote about subjects in this tale:
Secret of Kryptonite Six (1964). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Jax-Ur, a villain from the Phantom Zone, exploits a new kind of Kryptonite: Jewel Kryptonite. This is the sixth kind of Kryptonite to be introduced into the Superman mythos, the others being Green, Red, White, Blue and Gold. All six kinds are on Swan's cover, and the story is clearly built around them.
Superman, King of Earth (1964). Writer: Robert Bernstein?. Art: Curt Swan. After Red Kryptonite splits Superman into a villainous Superman and a good, non-super-powered Clark Kent, Superman makes himself dictator of Earth. This two part tale had a sequel in the next issue, "King Superman versus Clark Kent, Metallo". The sequel is definitely by Bernstein; I suspect that the original tale is as well. The original involves such Bernstein themes as doubles; a non-super-powered character who intervenes in the life of a super-powered one; and the reuse of Red Kryptonite for a second time. The sequel revives Bernstein's Metallo concept, which he originally put forth in "The Menace of Metallo" (#252, May 1959). I didn't like the original Metallo tale, and its use in the sequel is not interesting either.
However, the first part "Superman, King of Earth" is pretty good. The story is more political than many in Action. Its anti-dictatorship theme, and sympathy for the UN, remind one of Superman magazine.
ANTI-SOCIAL TALES. Bernstein had also written "Superman Goes Wild" (#295, December 1962), in which Superman is hypnotized by villains into having a bad attitude, and going on destructive rampages. He attacks the UN in one sequence. This story resembles "Superman, King of Earth" in showing the consequences of an anti-social but all-powerful Superman running amok. Superman's attitude gets downright nasty in both tales. He expresses a lot of negative, selfish feelings very powerfully. The stories seem like an outlet for anti-social feelings from the id.
They resemble a bit those Bernstein tales in which Jimmy Olsen goes undercover and becomes successful in various outlaw gangs.
These 1960's stories are also a bit reminiscent of "Superman, Super-Destroyer" (Action #214, March 1956), in which a millionaire persuades Superman for complex reasons to go on a destructive rampage. Perry White is horribly uncomfortable throughout that tale, wanting Superman to build, not destroy. I share his feelings.
The Day Superman Became the Flash (#314, July 1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Al Plastino. A computer shows Jor-El what might happen if Kal-El (Superman) is sent to five different planets; on each he grows up to take on the role of one of the heroes of the Justice League of America. This is a series of Imaginary tales. They follow the format of Otto Binder's classic "Superman's Other Life" (1959). As in the Binder tale, each deals with an alternate life history for Superman, and each section is a futuristic prediction by a computer, not an officially labeled Imaginary tale, as such. Unlike Binder's story, we do not see Superman's familiar friends and relatives in new story lines. However, each tale has an adopting couple of foster parents, who remind one a bit of the Kents.
Hamilton is pursuing one of his favorite story springboards: what might happen if one familiar character takes on the role and persona of another. Each of the sections in this story is very brief - there are five all told. The whole thing is schematic and under developed - what Hollywood calls "high concept": a clever idea, but simple execution. The tale nonetheless has charm. It also has more detail than what most writers would be able to include, in such a restricted format. Hamilton does a good job with the varied conditions on the five planets. Each one is interesting in its own sake, and also plays a role in the development of the hero's new persona. Hamilton shows a logical approach to Kal-El's growth and development, in each case. On each planet, Kal-El also tends to wind up as the other perennial Hamilton hero, the outsider. The whole story has a poetic quality, showing the possible strands of fate, and the varied possibilities of life. The varied sf backgrounds greatly assist this poetic feel.
The cover here shows Superman taking on the powers of the Flash. It has no science fictional background; all this was presumably added by Hamilton. The cover is unusual in that the Flash was a Julius Schwartz character. These almost never appeared in a Weisinger edited Superman family book. Batman regularly guest starred; so did Aquaman and Green Arrow, although less frequently. These two heroes were part of Weisinger's world, being backup features in Action and Adventure Comics. But the Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, Adam Strange and the rest of the Schwartz heroes were from a different cultural universe.
The planet with the giants here reminds one of the exact opposite in Hamilton's Legion tale, "The Doom of the Super-Heroes" (Adventure #310, July 1963). The way Superman is sent videotape by Jor-El reminds one of Hamilton's earlier "The First Superman of Krypton" (#223, December 1956). Hamilton comes up with an ingenious way for the tape to travel to Earth.
The Three Super-Enemies (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Hercules, Atlas and Samson travel to the present day, where they have new super powers and battle Superman. This story has some of the most extensive tie-ins between Greek mythology and super-hero comic books. It reminds us that comics did not invent the idea of beings with special powers: Greek mythology was full of them. Binder had previously invoked classical mythology in his Captain Marvel tales. And as this story itself reminds us, Superman had previously encountered Samson and Hercules (Atlas seems to be something new): see Binder's "The First Two Supermen" (Adventure #257, February 1959), for a pioneering story in this vein. And as far back as "The 100 New Feats of Superboy" (Superboy #58, July 1957), Binder's dialogue was comparing Superboy to all three of Hercules, Atlas and Samson, although they do not show up as characters in the story. See also Binder's "Hercules in the 20th Century" (1960) in Action.
The concern with different kinds of super-powers seems like a Binder tradition. He invented the Legion of Super-Heroes. And such Binder stories as "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960) and "The Story of Superman's Life" (Superman #146, July 1961) stress the varied origins of different kinds of Superman powers.
Swan depicts the three as some of his mature macho men. Hercules has a circular band around his hair, a feature of some Kryptonian men. Swan has some interesting diagrammatic art, showing an architectural location and its technical features (p2).
Superman -- Weakest Man in the World (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman is tricked into going to the planet of the Thorones, where he has no super-powers, but whose criminal inhabitants are all super-powered. This story shows Hamilton traditions. It deals with a whole world in which Superman is hated and despised, such as in Hamilton's Lexor tales. Both Superman himself, and the heroine Lahla who is the only one to sympathize with him, are examples of Hamilton's outsiders. Lahla reminds one somewhat of Luthor's wife on the planet Lexor.
The detailed look at the planet, with its many unique features, is in Hamilton's tradition of creating whole science fictional worlds for his stories. The different ways in which the planet is involved with light, are carefully thought through by Hamilton. All events and customs on the planet seem logically interconnected, in Hamilton's best logical tradition. The story does not show the actual evolution of alien animals, a Hamilton specialty, but it does show the concern with logical grounding of a planet in its environment that is a parallel concept to the evolutionary ideas in other Hamilton tales.
Curt Swan has created a distinctive look for the planet: see pp. 4,5,8. In some ways, this is his typical planet with an advanced civilization, with Art Deco / Modernist towers, and costumes that look like those worn on Krypton. However, interwoven with this is a different design motif: that of holes. The buildings often look as of they have holes in the shape of geometric figures in them: triangles, squares, polygons. These are often repeated in series. The holes are black. It is hard to tell if these are actual holes in a wall, or simply black designs painted on the wall. But they are everywhere. The men's clothes, too, have similar designs on their sleeves, in a way atypical of Swan, and Kryptonian-style costume in general. A sleeve might have a small square on it, or one or more black triangles. These emblems echo the designs on the buildings. It gives both the clothes and the buildings of the Thorones a distinctive visual look. It is both somewhat similar to other advanced planets, and unique in its own right.
There are also some close-ups, showing giant holes in the aerial passages between buildings. These are certainly real holes: we see people passing through them. These too are atypical of futuristic cities in comic books: they make a distinctive addition to the planet of the Thorones.
The Man from the Phantom Zone (1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. A man released after thirty years in the Phantom Zone for a youthful crime has problems reintegrating with Kandorian society. This look at outsiders rejected from Kandorian society recalls Hamilton's earlier "Superman in Kandor" (Superman #158, January 1963). In that tale, Superman adopted his Nightwing persona when rejected by the other Kandorians. This is not a Nightwing tale, but it has much of the same feel.
The Superman family regularly worried about criminals serving their time in the Zone, and being released into an unsuspecting world, where they will have super-powers. This started with "The Super-Revenge of the Phantom Zone Prisoner" (Superman #157, November 1962), also written by Hamilton. Here the thief claims just to have been committing the theft as a youthful prank, and not to be a real criminal at all. The story keeps us admirably in suspense about this till the end, not revealing the truth till the end of the story. The story also has other elements of mystery. In many ways it is a crime tale, but one with many sf elements.
This tale is deeply integrated with the Superman mythos. Despite its late date, it is a full, genuine Silver Age Superman tale. As in Hamilton's other Kandor stories, we learn much about Kryptonian traditions. The story also introduces Kandorians that Hamilton clearly hopes will be continuing characters in the mythos.
From Riches to Rags (1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Al Plastino. Superman is mysteriously impelled to adopt various roles while performing his super-deeds, including a millionaire and a hobo. Charming sf mystery with a clever solution. In each episode, Superman has to figure out how to respond to some emergency with the framework of the role he has adopted. Such mysterious restrictions on Superman's activities recall Otto Binder's Game stories of the 1950's, such as "The Game of Kriss-Kross Krypton" (Superboy #60, October 1957).
This story was probably written around its cover, which shows Superman dressed as both a bum and a millionaire. The sf mystery elements were likely added by Dorfman. So was the tale's social consciousness, with its episode about slum clearance.
This is a free standing story, with little relationship with the Superman mythos as a whole. In this, it resembles the Superman stories that appeared in Action in the mid-1950's. It has a pleasant focus on daily life in the United States, also resembling the 1950's Action, and has little of the exotic sf feel of much of Action's material in the mid- 1960's.
Superman taking on different roles in this tale reminds one of Comet the Super-Horse becoming human in Dorfman's "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" (1963), and taking on the role of a cowboy. All of these transformations are involuntary. In all cases, the person involved manages to adjust his life to flourish under the change; the changes are more enjoyable and fun than negative. All of the changes have a similar triggering factor.
This story does a complete reversal on the entire Superman mythos, especially the parts that deal with Superman, Supergirl, and their arrival on Earth from Krypton. Everything is changed around, and made the exact opposite of what it is the actual mythos. Parts of this involves "role reversal", which is the basic strategy of many of the 1961 stories in Action Comics. Other parts involve Binder changing events to their exact opposite.
Many of the reversals are witty and ingenious; there is a comic tone to some of Binder's clever changes. It is not satire: Binder is not making fun of the mythos. But the sheer oppositeness of the changes often made me laugh out loud.
This tale is part of a Binder tradition of parallel "Earths". These stories all deal with a planet that is just like Earth, except for certain exceptions. In many stories, these exceptions come close to being defects. These defect tales anticipate the totally defect-oriented Bizarro World tales, which can be seen as one extreme line of this tradition. The Mighty Maid stories are different. Few of the differences in Terra can be seen as defects. They are all neutral changes, or even positive; some of the more spectacular ones even show up in a book called "The Wonders of Terra": a neat Binder concept. Binder liked to create imaginary books about positive accomplishments: see his "The 100 New Feats of Superboy" (Superboy #58, July 1957).
Another difference between this tale and other Binder parallel world stories: Binder extends his differences off the planets of Terra and Earth themselves, and also presents differences in the solar systems of Terra and Earth. These changes are imaginative. Both these solar system changes, and one of the changes to the map of Terra, recall to a degree Binder's Cosmic stories, which deal with events on an astronomical scale. However, unlike the Cosmic tales, the human characters in the story are not manipulating astronomical objects. All the cosmic differences between Earth and Terra are simply presented as background facts by Binder; the human characters do not influence them the way they tend to do in the Cosmic stories. Another point of view: author Binder is himself the protagonist of this Cosmic tale, manipulating the features of Terra and its solar system the way his fictional protagonists change astronomical features in his other Cosmic stories.
Binder had created several tales in which the heroes find worlds parallel to the Superman mythos:
The two tales should be considered one unified story - even though they appeared in two successive issues of Action Comics. Many Supergirl tales have a start unconnected to the rest of the tale, with her performing a feat at the orphanage. Such an unconnected prologue is found in "The Second Supergirl". But no such prologue occurs at the beginning of "The Supergirl of Two Worlds". Structurally, this indicates that "The Supergirl of Two Worlds" is not an independent tale, but rather is simply a continuation of "The Second Supergirl".
The World of Mr. Mxyzptlk (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman follows Mr. Mxyzptlk into his 5th Dimensional world, and starts playing tricks on him. The role reversal elements in this tale come right from Curt Swan's delightful cover, which shows Mr. Mxyzptlk trying to trick Superman into saying his name backward. This is exactly the reverse of their usual relationship.
This story has considerable charm; one especially likes all the 5th dimensional people in Al Plastino's art. They have a pixie-ish look. They also look naive, sincere and trusting. The whole 5th dimension looks like a magical, somewhat diminutive version of our world. It is a civilized place, with people living in homes, going to work, voting in elections. It is interesting that Siegel and Weisinger would depict an alien world as run by democratic processes. Democracy was extremely important to the writers of the Superman family. The 5th dimension is one of the few fantasy worlds in any medium which is civilized and democratic.
Siegel's tale has Mr. Mxyzptlk involved in politics. Siegel often satirized media in his tales; here the "medium" under scrutiny is the political campaign. Siegel's version resembles more 1930's big city machine politics rather than modern day ad campaigns; Mr. Mxyzptlk keeps giving away favors to citizens in hopes of getting their votes. It is the same sort of ethos satirized by Preston Sturges in his film The Great McGinty (1940). This sort of urban background was consistent with the Metropolis / New York City setting of the Superman stories.
Siegel was one of the main solidifiers of the Superman mythos. He did not invent a lot of mythos ideas in the 1960's, but he was extremely creative about their reuse, combining them in novel ways. He depicted the start of the Superman-Mxyzptlk relationship in "The Ghost of Jor-El" (Superboy #78, January 1960); here he is taking us backstage to Mr. Mxyzptlk's world.
Siegel once again shows his fondness for color in his scripts, with the green moon segment early in the tale. The letters column of this same issue included a note from reader Leonard Henderson, pointing out the fondness of DC's writers for the color green. The editor claimed to be surprised; he stated that Henderson was the first person who had ever noticed this and pointed it out.
The Reversed Super-Powers (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Kurt Schaffenberg. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Lois gets super-powers and Superman loses his, in this role reversal story.
This tale is a sequel of sorts to Siegel's two earlier tales, "Lana Lang, Superwoman" (Lois Lane #17, May 1960) and "The Battle Between Super-Lois and Super-Lana" (Lois Lane #21, November 1960). In those tales, both Lois and Lana got super-powers. Here Lois is the only one who becomes super; Lana is not involved in the tale. Lois once again dons the uniform she wore in the earlier tales, and uses the same name, as the story explicitly points out.
The role reversal elements in this tale are new; they are not present in the earlier stories. Here Lois treats Superman the same way he has always treated her throughout most of the Superman saga. This is quite funny, and it serves Superman right. As a role reversal comedy, this is quite successful. (On re-reading this tale again many years later, it no longer struck me as comic. But the role reversals still made absorbing reading.)
However, the tale does not exactly depict Lois as a nice person, which she usually is in her tales. Looked at from this point of view, the story is less appealing than its predecessors.
BIG SPOILERS. This tale has structural similarities, with a kind of mystery tale Jerry Siegel often wrote. In such tales, a mysterious super-being shows up, and has a major impact on the other characters. At the finale, this mysterious super-being is revealed to be very different from what he first appeared. Often, the impact he had on other characters' lives is also seen differently. "The Reversed Super-Powers" differs from this paradigm, in that the super-being who appears at the start is not some mysterious figure, but the familiar Superman. Otherwise, this tale follows much of the standard approach, including surprise revelations at the end about the super-being, and the impact he caused.
It is unknown who wrote this story. One can see some parallels here with the work of Leo Dorfman. The sinister aliens who come to Earth in a pair anticipate his "Project Earth-Doom" (Superman #178, July 1965) and his "Superman's Sacrifice" (Superman #171, August 1964). The Kryptonite attracting machinery is reused in his "Jimmy Olsen, Ape Man" (Jimmy Olsen #86, July 1965); something similar occurs in his "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (Superman #162, July 1963). The Utopian hopes here also strongly anticipate Dorfman's tale. The story's sincere emotionalism recalls Dorfman, as well.
The story also bears resemblance to the work of Jerry Siegel, who was a frequent contributor to Action around this time. The story has an anthology construction, with many separate episodes. Superman's actions at the finale anticipates Jor-El's memorable attack on authority in Siegel's "Krypton's First Superman" (Superman #154, July 1962). The finale also recalls in its structure some of Siegel's other mystery stories, such as "The World of Doomed Olsens" (Jimmy Olsen #72, October 1963). The way a fictional character like Sherlock Holmes suddenly comes to life recalls Siegel's "Superman's Rival, Mental Man" (1961). The elements of humor in this story also recall Siegel. There are Chameleon Men in this tale; Chameleon Boy also pops up in Siegel tales such as "Lana Lang's Superboy Identity Detection Kit" (Superboy #93, December 1961), which appeared the same month as "The Red Kryptonite Menace". The invocation of the "Flame Dragon of Krypton" (Superman #142, January 1961) also recalls Siegel's tales.
Five months before Siegel created the "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961), a story which resembles "The Red Kryptonite Menace" somewhat. The fact that these Chameleon Men are adult, bad beings from the same planet as the good Legionnaire Chameleon Boy is Siegel-like. This is exactly the relationship of the Super-Villains to the original Legion. For example, Saturn Queen is an evil grown woman from the same planet and hence the same telepathic powers as Saturn Girl. Siegel is the only writer I can recall who remembered that several of the Legionnaires received their powers by being born on a planet, and that other beings of the same planet would logically be available as characters in Superman's mythos. (Edmond Hamilton later does something analogous with his Super-Pet Proty II.)
There is often a certain good / evil duality to Siegel's mystery tales. Characters who seemed to be evil throughout the tales are revealed to be good at the end, or vice versa. The pattern of good Chameleon Boy giving rise to evil Chameleon men in the Superman mythos also fits in with this duality. If there is a good character, Siegel will come up with evil ones from the same planet. Similarly, in "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends" (1961) he took the evil Brainiac, and created his good descendant Brainiac 5.
Siegel has a consistent interest in showing grown-up Legionnaires. He seems to be the only one of the Superman family to have done so. His first Supergirl Legion story "The Three Super-Heroes" (1960) shows the kids of the original Legionnaires, an idea that was dropped from the mythos - probably it was considered as a mistake. His "Superman's Super-Courtship" (1962) shows grown-up Legionnaires celebrating Christmas.
The reporters in "The Red Kryptonite Menace" are assigned to cover a summit meeting between Kennedy and Khrushchev, at that time the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union. Superman wishes this will lead to world peace. Peace between these two countries, and avoiding the menace of atomic war, will be a major theme of Superman and Action Comics over the next few years. I think that this is the first appearance of these two men in the Superman family comics. They will make so many return appearances that both will practically become members of the Superman mythos.
Superman endorses religious and racial brotherhood in "The Red Kryptonite Menace". This too is an important statement.
The Six Red "K" Perils of Supergirl (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl is exposed to six Red Kryptonite meteors, each of which has a separate effect on her. This story is part of the same "all Red Kryptonite" issue as the Superman tale "The Red Kryptonite Menace". Both stories involve multiple Red K contacts.
Supergirl undergoes only three Red K effects in this story; the other three are in the tale's continuation, "The Strange Bodies of Supergirl" (1962) in the next issue. The continuation is nowhere as good as the first part; the story has run out of steam. The best part of "The Strange Bodies of Supergirl" is its final episode in Atlantis: it includes an interesting scale model of Atlantis before its sinking (page 10).
Each of the three Red K transformations in "The Six Red "K" Perils of Supergirl" gives rise to a separate episode, in Siegel's frequent construction:
This is one of the early Dick Malverne tales, in which Supergirl pleases him by pretending to be inferior to him. This is a look at the sinister relations between men and women before Women's Liberation. See also "The Supergirl of Tomorrow" (Action #282, November 1961) of the month before. Fortunately, this aspect of their relationship would soon be dropped.
The Babe of Steel (1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Curt Swan. When he gets a mysterious warning about an upcoming menace, Superman deliberately exposes himself to Red Kryptonite that transforms him into an infant. This tale shows the rich mix of plotting typical of Bernstein. Its opening seance scenes are completely different in style from the rest of the story. Such introductions are a standard feature of Bernstein's story construction. The story is also typical of Bernstein in that it opens with a look at non-sf crime set in daily life, and later widens out to include a completely different sf perspective. The early sections of the story serve as exposés, showing the crooked practices of phony mediums, and in a separate sequence, carnival barkers. These sections are clearly intended as a public service, educational experiences for the young readers of the magazine, warning them against fraud. They are part of a long tradition of attacks on superstition in the Superman family. Bernstein wrote several tales in which his characters seem to encounter the supernatural, only to have it turn out to be faked at the end.
This tale has a mythos recapping function. It retells the whole story of the Phantom Zone and Mon-El, for those who missed Bernstein's original tales in Superboy. Weisinger had a number of such features in his magazines. The story also shows the emotionalism with which Bernstein regarded the Superboy and Mon-El friendship. Here the two men embrace as they meet again. Bernstein clearly regards this as one of the central relationships of Superman's life.
The Jury of Super-Enemies (#286, March 1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: Curt Swan. Red Kryptonite causes Superman to have nightmares where he is attacked in the future by his friends turned enemies. This story shows Bernstein's interest in aliens attacking us through sleep: see his "The Sleeping Doom" (Lois Lane #18, July 1960).
Bernstein's choice of close friends for Superman is notable for making Pete Ross head the list. Pete Ross was Superboy and Clark Kent's best friend, in a classic series of stories Bernstein was writing for Superboy when this tale appeared. Here he seems to be the person closest to Superman as a friend.
The previous Superman story in Action, Bernstein's "The Babe of Steel", shows Superman systematically using Red K that has already affected Krypto to induce effects in himself. This is an interesting and logical idea. In "The Jury of Super-Enemies" in the next issue, the villains use the same approach. It also occurs in "The Irresistible Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961), a story I suspect was also written by Bernstein. This story appeared immediately before the clutch of Red K stories in Action. It uses the same idea, but on a less systematic basis. In "The Irresistible Lois Lane" it is applied to a specific kind of Red K; in "The Babe of Steel" it is applied to a whole series of Red Kryptonite varieties collected by Superman.
Both "The Irresistible Lois Lane" and "The Jury of Super-Enemies" also use the idea of grains of Red Kryptonite dissolved in red substances, also a creative idea rarely found in the rest of the Superman mythos.
This tale has a continuation in the next issue, "Perry White's Manhunt for Superman", whose author is unknown. It is much less interesting than the first tale. The fact that all the events in the story are just dreams tends to trivialize its impact. Also, nightmares are no fun!
The stories take place on a world run by robots, and show considerable science fictional imagination. Unlike many sf stories in the Superman family, they seem to have no political subtext or message. They seem to be pure exercises in imagination. The stories are interesting for the many different kinds of robots and androids they envision, and the relationships, both social and personal, between them. Superman and Lex Luthor are the only human characters in the tales.
The development of the story shows the considerable logic one usually finds in the Superman family magazines. It also shows how character oriented the plotting is. Once a character is developed in Superman magazines, the writers keep trying to find ways of reusing that character in later stories. The special properties of that character, notably his super-powers, his relationships, and his knowledge of the secret identities of others, are all made the basis of further stories in the series. So characters in the first tale, notably Superman's robot, are brought back to play roles in the second.
Lex Luthor was a continuing villain in the Superman family. He was harder to write about than the heroic ongoing cast, such as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, The Legion, and other good guys. The highly moral Superman writers always looked upon Luthor's criminal activities with disfavor. He was never glamorized, and his crimes were never rationalized or justified. Even if the writers had wanted to, and there is no reason to think that they did, the strict Comics Code censorship of the day would not have allowed it. Outside of the comics field, there is a long tradition of Rogue tales, stories which glamorize master criminals, and encourage readers to admire fictional crooks for the daring and ingenuity of their crimes. The Superman writers would have none of this. Luthor's activities in this pair of stories are completely despicable. There is no trace of sympathy for him whatsoever. Instead, the writers have generated reader interest by placing the stories on a highly imaginative science fictional world. Usually Luthor's crimes are confined to Earth, but here we have him taking off into outer space, and looting other planets. Only one aspect of Luthor gets respect in Superman: his scientific genius. As a boy, Luthor devoted his talents to good, not evil, and the writers always show him as an innovative scientist.
The author of this story is not known. It reminds one a bit of the Game stories Otto Binder wrote for Superboy in the late 1950's. Here Jor-El has to guide Kal-El by telling him to perform various actions in games. These game actions translate into worthwhile super-deeds. In Binder's "The Game of Kriss-Kross Krypton" (Superboy #60, October 1957), Superboy is coerced by circumstances to following rules of a game to achieve his actions. Both stories show ingenuity in creating such game/super-deed pairs.
This story is one of the richest looks at old Krypton in the later Action Comics. It will delight the heart of any lover of this planet. It revisits many of the natural wonders of Krypton that have appeared in previous tales. The cover bills this as "Best Superman story of the year". Such claims were rare in the Superman family, and one wonders what triggered it.
The story begins with a look at some of the past effects of Red Kryptonite on Superman and Superboy; each of these effects was the subject of a previous story in the magazines. Charts showing these effects were common in Superman family Red K tales. They helped educate new readers about the Superman mythos. They also added to the entertainment value of the stories - a single panel might mention four of five ingenious transformations depicted in past stories.
The story shows Jor-El being concerned about famine on Krypton, and coming up with inventions to prevent it. While famine seems a bit unlikely on the advanced society of Krypton, it was a major concern of real life scientists in the 1960's, who were trying to develop the Green Revolution to feed the many people being born through the Population Explosion. The author of this tale shows deep idealism by mentioning such ideas. Such concerns also appeared in Gardner Fox's Atom origin story, "Birth of the Atom" (Showcase #34, September-October 1961).
The Three Generations of Superman (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. In this Imaginary tale, the elderly, retired Superman and his infant grandson share an adventure. This charming tale is a bit like the long tradition of Superbaby stories. However, the grown Superman and the infant here work as a team. This recalls "The Skyscraper Superman" (1965) from two issues before, in which Jor-El guided the giant baby Kal-El. Both tales feature an intelligent grown man (Superman, Jor-El) guiding a much stronger super-infant (the grandson, Kal-El) to achieve noble deeds.
Repeated exposures to Green Kryptonite have greatly weakened Superman's body and super-powers, but his mental facilities are unimpaired. This recalls Otto Binder's earlier imaginary story, "The Old Man of Metropolis" (1960). However, in Binder's story, Superman had never married, whereas in Hamilton's tale he has married with a son and grandson. The tale also anticipates Hamilton's imaginary story "The Superman of 2965" (Superman #181, November 1965) of three months later, which projects a long line of descendants for Superman.
The opening of the story predicts that crime and law breaking will wither away in the future. Hamilton's vision here is extremely idealistic. He illustrates these ideas with a vivid set of panels showing social progress. As long ago as "The Comet Peril" (Mystery in Space #2, June-July 1951), Hamilton stressed peace and prosperity as key elements of humanity's future.
SPOILERS. The end of this story anticipates those of many Silver age classics, such as "The Super-Sword" (1958).
Superman shows more of a personality in this tale than he does in many Silver Age tales. While Superboy often emerges as a real person in early 1960's stories, Superman himself tends to be a bit bland, a hero without any feelings or desires. Superman ultimately shows a bit of an edge in this tale. The thread running through the story, of Lois Lane's reaction to these events, also helps here. One wonders if some of the events in the tale are an expression of Superman's unconscious desires, an attempt to express feelings that he cannot otherwise release. Finger's villains are loaded with bizarre impulses; occasionally he let his heroes express similar feelings, especially at the ends of his tales - in the early sections of his stories it is usually the villains who are triumphant, but at the finale, the hero prevails.
FUTUREMEN. "The Alien Who Conquered Superman" has elements in common with a later tale also by Finger and Boring, "Superman Versus the Futuremen" (Superman #128, April 1959). In both stories:
ART: SKYSCRAPERS. There are several good cityscapes of Metropolis skyscrapers, often as backgrounds to the action. These designs are rectilinear. A building in the lower foreground of some cityscapes has a grid of square windows, some light, some dark, adding to the compositions.
A skyscraper in one cityscape is clearly the Daily Planet building: it has a ringed, Saturn-like planet on its top.
Other tales drawn by Boring have skyscraper compositions: see the last page of "The Superman of the Present and the Superman of the Past" (Superman #113, May 1957).
ART: KRAG. Krag's spaceship is phallic, consistent with his macho appearance.
Krag's costume has the erect collar Wayne Boring liked. These evoke fancy 19th Century military dress uniforms. The Futuremen also wore such collars, as do Kryptonians in several Wayne Boring tales.
Krag has the wavy black hair associated with Superman: another similarity between the two super-beings.
The Man Who Was Mightier Than Superman (1955). Writer: ?. Art: Wayne Boring. Based on a cover by: Wayne Boring. Superman is followed by a man while performing his feats; the man turns out to have powers greater than Superman's own. This is a well constructed story with many good twists.
If I had to guess an author the pick would be Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton wrote other stories about people monitoring Superman and recording his activities. The tale is also Hamilton-like in that it looks at some alternative histories for Krypton and its inhabitants, a Hamilton concern in the later 1950's. See for example, Hamilton's "The Second Superman" (Superman #119, February 1958).
The Bride of Futureman (1958). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Art: Kurt Schaffenberger. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. 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.
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 in Star Trek: Kirk needs Doctor McCoy to challenge him and give him advice.
TIME MACHINES. The month before, another comic book in the Superman family also featured a story about super-heroes from the future who use a time machine to come to modern times: "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). That tale was the origin of the Legion, and a key tale in the Superman mythos.
The time machines in both stories are transparent spheres. However, the one used by the Legion is much larger, and has four chairs seated in front of an elaborate control panel. It looks like the control panel of a spaceship. By contrast, the smaller time machine in "The Bride of Futureman" barely holds two people. It has a small control panel on one wall, which is operated by Futureman standing up. The cover shows Futureman definitely in control of the machine, apparently grasping one of its levers. This depiction of Futureman as "driving a cool machine" definitely makes him look macho.
Earlier transparent spherical Time Machines in comic books:
COSTUME. Curt Swan's cover was likely created before the story itself, if DC traditions were followed. This cover established both Futureman's super-hero costume, and the premise of the story. It gives Futureman a spectacular yellow and black costume. The two columns of buttons on the front are fancy, reminding a bit of a Cavalry or Ruritanian uniform. The shoulder ornaments have a uniform feel too. The elaborate cuffs are conspicuous: they seem to be added by artist Kurt Schaffenberger in the story, rather than being present on the cover.
The yellow costume has a purple cape, cuffs and boots. Yellow and purple are complementary colors, and thus go together. The yellow-and-purple combination is especially associated with prizefighters and athletes. It gives Futureman a forceful look. Later, Swan will also put super-hero "Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis" (1963) in a yellow-and-purple costume. Both men are super-heroes who are outclassing Superman in appearance. Please see my list of purple-and-yellow costumes in comic books.
Futureman's cape is fastened to his shirt by two circular disks. They too are spiffy. Such disks would later be part of Mon-El's costume. Mom-El debuted in 1961.
The Menace of Cosmic Man (1959). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Cosmic Man shows up in Europe, claiming to be a new super-hero just arrived on Earth. This story is discussed in detail in the section on "The Anti-Dictatorship stories". It is mentioned here again for the sake of completeness.
Superman's Rival, Mental Man (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Mental Man, the fictional hero of a comic strip created by Lois Lane, comes to life and performs feats in Metropolis.
This story draws on an earlier Bill Finger / Wayne Boring tale, "The Adventures of Mental Man" (#196, September 1954). This earlier tale is about a Daily Planet comic strip artist who creates a Mental Man comic strip that comes to life. Finger's tale is pretty decent. It has the ingenious "comic strip within a comic book story" idea, a nice twist about Mental Man, and the same super-powers for Mental Man, those involving pure mental will. It is in Finger's tradition of creating rivals for Superman who might surpass him.
Siegel has kept all of Finger's good ideas in his version. He has added several good ideas of his own, and I think that Siegel's version is considerably improved over the original. Lois Lane is now the artist, and reflected in the comic strip by a Lois Lane double. The mystery ideas are greatly extended. And there is much satire and comedy in Siegel's version.
This tale fuses two Siegel traditions. One is the spoof of another medium, in this case comic strips; the other is the mystery tale. These approaches are usually separate in Siegel's work; this is the only tale of his that combines both. Siegel has made some modifications in both traditions, partly in order to facilitate their combination. Usually his media spoofs are comic and satiric, and his mysteries start out with grim seriousness. Here Siegel has compromised on a serious but cheerful tone for the entire work. Comic strips are spoofed much less than other media in Siegel. Siegel instead concentrates on an "inside look" at their production, showing Lois creating them at her drawing board, discussing suspense in the strip and its effect on readers continuing to follow it, the merchandising of the strip to various newspapers, etc. This gives the young readers of Action a look at the whole business of creating a comic strip. He limits his satire largely to a single subject: Lois including her own wish fulfillment fantasies within the strip. This is funny and clever, but it does not lampoon the comic strip medium as a whole. One might note this is a comic strip, that appears in newspapers, not a comic book.
Similarly, Siegel has altered his mystery paradigm, to make it less grim. Most Siegel mysteries start off with the arrival of a villain, or at least a very angry character. This person turns the hero's world upside down. Here, however, Mental Man is not a villain, but a hero. He is friendly, and not disruptive to Superman and Lois' existence. He is as vastly super-powered as the typical Siegel guest villain, but much more good natured. Siegel has also preserved the best part of his mystery tradition: the ingenious solution that reveals the truth about the guest star at the end. Siegel really goes to town on this: the solution here takes many pages. It also includes a mini-mystery with a direct Challenge to the Reader. All in all, this mystery tale is very clever.
Siegel's tale once again involves the ocean: he is the most marine oriented of the Superman family writers, and one remembers he did most of the Atlantis tales in the Superman saga, for instance.
The media aspects of this tale are among the most Pirandellian of Siegel's tales. Mental Man is a version of Superman, of course, and a Lois Lane clone is also involved in the strip. This sets up a fascinating series of echoes. This recursive effect is one of the chief subjects of the tale. Siegel later did "The "Superman-Lois" Hit Record" (Lois Lane #45, November 1963), which also looks at a medium version of Superman and Lois. In "Mental Man", the fact that the characters come to life adds to the Pirandello effect. As in "Record", the comic strip here can be viewed almost as an Imaginary Tale involving Superman and Lois. Nearly all of Siegel's Imaginary Tales concentrate on romance; this one is no exception.
Siegel's dialogue throughout this tale is excellent. It is one of the most sharply written of his stories.
Mental Man supposedly comes to life due to the combined concentration on his exploits by millions of readers. This is a similar gimmick to one used in Otto Binder's "The Legends That Came to Life" (Jimmy Olsen #33, December 1958).
Wonder-Man, the New Hero of Metropolis (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Wonder-Man, a super-powered being of unknown origin, suddenly shows up in Metropolis and tries to take over Superman's role.
The first half shows Superman trying to find out the nature and origin of Wonder-Man. Superman explores a number of possibilities, only to have his investigation disprove them. This section is like a detective story, with Superman like a detective trying to solve a mystery. His detective work is logical and intelligent. The mystery is solved halfway through the story. The reader learns the truth, but not Superman at this point.
The riddle of where Wonder-Man comes from is one of Hamilton's mysteries of identity.
The detection aspect mainly goes away in the second half, only to make an unexpected reappearance towards the end, with Superman noticing and interpreting a clue to Wonder-Man's nature.
The story condemns military conquest (p10). It also condemns dictators. A villain wants to be a king, and take part in a hereditary monarchy. This form of inherited dictatorship is presented in a sinister light.
SPOILERS. Towards the end, we see Wonder-Man as one of Edmond Hamilton's idealistic outsiders, people who forcibly occupy a marginal place in society, but who are determined to make the most positive contribution to the world they can. This is an important idea: one worth using as a role model in real life. It often leads to moving stories, such as the current tale.
Curt Swan includes several of his curved spaceships (pp.6, 10, 11). Swan's spaceships are fascinatingly different from most artists'.
Wonder-Man's costume is a close parallel to Superman's down to a giant W logo on his chest, imitating Superman's S logo. In this it recalls Hyper-Man's costume with a H logo, in "The "Superman" from Outer Space" (1960), a tale also with art by Curt Swan. (Hyper-Man is a friendly double of Superman, not a rival like Wonder-Man.) Not all of Superman's rivals had such parallel costumes: Futureman's costume is fancier than Superman's, with different kinds of ornamentation. And Cosmic Man's is completely different, looking instead like a medieval knight.
The second and more interesting half is a science fiction mystery: where do the insects come from, and how do they get powers greater than Superman's own? This tale was presumably written by Binder to explain the cover, which shows Superman battling the insects. Once again, we have an sf mystery by Binder, centering around his attempt to find a logical explanation for a seemingly impossible cover in terms of elements of the Superman mythos. Binder similarly explained such covers in "The Supergirl From Krypton" (1959) and "The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen" (Jimmy Olsen #48, October 1960).
Binder's solution to the mystery invokes several of his traditions, including worlds parallel to ours, here done on a Cosmic scale. It will greatly interest anyone who follows these aspects of Binder's storytelling.
The Ultimate Enemy (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Al Plastino. Superman fights a villainous knight in armor whose powers are mysteriously greater than his own. Like Binder's "The Legion of Super-Creatures" (1965) of three months previous, this tale is basically an sf mystery about how a being stronger than Superman can exist within the Superman mythos. Hamilton's solution to this puzzle is simpler than Binder's. Just as Binder's solution invoked his own personal traditions, so does Hamilton's. In particular, it contains ideas about objects traveling to Earth that recall Hamilton's "The Day Superman Became the Flash" (#314, July 1964). Hamilton makes these ideas the subject of a mystery puzzle within his larger mystery puzzle about the knight; its solution involves a different explanation than Hamilton gave in "The Day Superman Became the Flash".
Superman in this story becomes one of Hamilton's isolated outsiders, rejected by the citizens of Metropolis. The finale of the tale also involves Hamilton's theme of the "conflict of ideas", this time with the Kryptonian setting that Hamilton loved.
PLOT CONSTRUCTION. Four suspects are found by Perry who might be Superman's secret identity. We then get a "series" story construction, as Perry visits each one in turn. The first one, the actor, shows evidence that he is not Superman, followed by new evidence that shows this evidence is invalid. The last three all are involved in incidents that seem to indicate they are Superman, followed by explanations that seem to show this apparent evidence is wrong. This is the reverse of the actor's situation. However, the evidence of final suspect, Clark Kent, is actually correct, and its the subject of an ingenious, complex twist. This means that this series of four men have situations that are not quite parallel with each other, but instead show clever reversals and complications. This makes for a good enlargement of the traditional "series construction" so often found in Superman tales.
The series shows the first three suspects at work. This gives an inside glimpse at various kinds of work: which often serves as the background of Superman "series" tales.
The same four suspects return for a brief second series, showing their varied reactions to a note Perry sent. Both series help characterize the men, depicting their personalities.
SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS. Plot twists at the beginning recall the film Sullivan's Travels (Preston Sturges, 1942). SPOILERS. These include Perry going on the road disguised as a tramp, and then getting amnesia after an injury, locking him in to his new role and making him think he really is a tramp. However, the hero of Sullivan's Travels then winds up in prison, while Perry remains free. The two works have nothing more in common, after this point.
ROD SERLING. There is an interesting character in the tale, a TV writer (named Rand Sterling) who bears some similarity to real-life author Rod Serling. He is depicted with considerable admiration. This is in the tradition of artist Curt Swan's enthusiasm for depicting successful people in the arts.
"The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" draws on ideas from "The Secret Identity of Superman" (Superman #145, May 1961), written by Jerry Siegel. That earlier tale also had a successful TV science fiction writer resembling Rod Serling (named Rock Stirling in the story). In both stories, he becomes a candidate for Superman's secret identity. This writer is the most interesting aspect of "The Secret Identity of Superman".
In both stories he is described as a "science fiction writer". Science fiction was beginning to boom as a field in the 1960's, but was still far from the best seller status it would achieve in the mid 1970's. Having a famous author of science fiction like Rod Serling was a new experience for the USA. Most of the Superman family's writers and its editor had backgrounds in prose science fiction: a field that had been commercially marginal for most of their lifetimes. They were used to even the best science fiction authors being little known among the public, with the exception of crossover success Ray Bradbury. The rise of Rod Serling to fame was a startling development.
"The Secret Identity of Superman" had shown the writer hosting a TV science fiction program broadcast in color. In this era, TV science fiction was usually in black-and-white. This shows Jerry Siegel's interest in "thinking in color", something that runs through his works.
ASTRONAUT. "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" shows the Superman family's enthusiasm for the astronaut program. We get another of Curt Swan's fine depictions of an astronaut's suit (p8).
The Amazing Confession of Super-Perry White (1963). Writer: ?. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Like most Superman cover stories, this one was probably written around its cover. The cover shows a unique and clever idea: Perry White revealing he is actually the secret identity of Superman. Of course, this would have to be a hoax or a delusion; it is not true within the world of the Superman mythos. The writers chose to make it a hoax, which is probably a more cheerful idea. Delusion stories stress pathos; hoax tales involve ingenious patterns of pure plot.
There are at least two possible explanations for such a hoax. Instead of picking one, the writer has used both. The story ingeniously oscillates between the two approaches, having them interact in ingenious ways. The whole treatment recalls some of the Robert Bernstein stories, in which Pete Ross took on Superboy's secret identity. This tale has some of the same complex plot feel, an intricate dance around the theme of secret identity.
In addition to the ingenious plot, there is another reason why the writer might have combined the two hoax ideas. After all, this was the only chance to use any ideas about Perry being the secret ID of Superman. These ideas had to be used now or never.
Superman is not in control throughout this tale. Not only does Perry White have a mind of his own, but Superman is unable to anticipate the actions of the crook in this story. This gives the tale a bit of a "comedy of errors" feel. Something new and unexpected is always happening to upset the apple cart, and make the plot more complex. Also, there is a bit of a comic feel to the story, the suggestion of comic misadventures.
There is a bit of comic symmetry as well: the first half has Superman as a protagonist, and ends with Perry White escaping from confinement; the second half largely has Perry as its protagonist, with Superman escaping from a trap at the end. Both traps have elements of fun, and zany adventure to them: they are quite clever and ingenious.
WRITTEN BY ROBERT BERNSTEIN? The story shows the virtuosity with which the Superman writers treated secret identity. Secret identity was a favorite theme of Robert Bernstein, and I suspect this tale might be by him. The tale shows other Bernstein touches:
STRUCTURE. The story is actually three Imaginary tales, each with a separate and slightly different premise. Each episode shows a variation on the theme: "what would happen if Superman did not have his Clark Kent identity". There is also a frame story, which takes place in the real world. Such a complex construction is nearly unique in the Superman family Imaginary works, most of which have a single premise and no frame story. One of the Imaginary tales builds on the frame story, in a "what if" manner.
AN INFLUENCE. This tale shows some relationship to "Clark Kent, He-Man" (Adventure #305, March 1963). That tale shows the Kents abandoning their lives in Smallville, and starting all over with new identities for Pa and Ma, and a new secret identity for Superboy. This links it to Imaginary episode #3 here, in which Superman develops a new secret ID. While "He-Man" is not an Imaginary tale, it has the same sort of "what if" quality.
One of the motivations in "He-Man" is Ma and Pa Kent's desire to get more credit for having such a son; such desire for public recognition also motivates the Kents in Imaginary episode #1 of this tale.
ORGANIZED CRIME. The story has a similar premise to Dorfman's "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" (1963). Both tales postulate that organized crime is willing to pay big bucks to find out Superman's ID. Both stories also suggest that the mob has rich organizations supporting it, including scientific laboratories, files on crime rivaling in scope the FBI's, and organizers of massive crimes. Dorfman also employed such ideas in "The Outlaw Fort Knox" (Superman #179, August 1965). All of these tales are based on Curt Swan covers; Swan contributed several key ideas about the syndicate and its activities to these tales.
Aside from these Dorfman-Swan tales, organized crime rarely appeared in the Superman family. Probable reason: during the 1950's, critics charged that comic books were glamorizing crime, and luring kids into delinquency. Organized crime apparently became taboo. In a letters column, Mort Weisinger once included in a list of reasons why the Superman magazines made wholesome family reading, the fact that "organized crime rarely appeared in them". These concerns have now receded into the distant past. Today's parents worry that their kids are seeing way too much violence. But they never worry about whether kids are seeing portraits of gangster life.
Another note: there is a reference to "Ed Lacy, Top Man of the Crime Syndicate". Could this be a humorous tribute to the outstanding mystery writer Ed Lacy?
ACTION COSTUME. Superman's outfit is referred to here as an "action costume". Other tales use this same nomenclature. I've also seen it referred to as a "uniform". This last does not quite follow definitions - after all, if Superman is the only one to wear it, how can it be a uniform, which by definition, seems to be a standard costume worn by a group of people?
ASTRONAUT. Also notable: Swan's depiction of an astronaut in his silver suit (p 10).
The Great Superman Impersonation (#306, November 1963). Writer: Robert Bernstein?. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. In a dictatorship, Clark Kent is called on to impersonate Superman. There are other impersonations and mixed up identities in this tale, as well. The story relates to Bernstein's themes of doubles and impersonation. It shows ingenuity, but somehow it doesn't fully gel. The central plot idea here anticipates Binder's "Clark Kent's Masquerade as Superman" (1965), which treated the same idea in a richly comic fashion.
Clark Kent - Target for Murder (1963). Writer: ?. Art: Curt Swan. When he writes a series of articles on the mob, reporter Clark Kent is targeted by King Kobra, the secret head of all organized crime in Metropolis. Like other organized crime tales at this period, this tale has much to do with new secret identities for Superman.
Gangster films were newly popular in the early 1960's. The stories in which Superman battles organized crime perhaps were trying to build on this interest. Curt Swan's gangsters tend to be his macho grown-up men in good suits. Movies of the period also featured gangsters wearing the good suits of Organization Men of the era, and suggested that crime was being run just like corporate businesses. If anything, these men are too well dressed, with their expensive suits suggesting power and wealth. This is true both in the movies and comics. Please see such organized crime films as Joseph M. Newman's The Lawbreakers (1960) and Samuel Fuller's Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
Clark Kent's Masquerade as Superman (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Perry White and The Daily Planet persuade Clark Kent to impersonate Superman - not knowing he really is Superman. Ingenious story that rings many changes on its central theme.
Like "The Amazing Confession of Super-Perry White" (1963), this story revolves around secret identities, and what can be done with them. Also like that tale, this story is set mainly against the background of the Daily Planet and everyday life in Metropolis, and features the continuing cat of Daily Planet employees, such as Perry White and Lois Lane. Both of these features are unusual in Action, which tended to feature science fiction Superman stories, without any of the other supporting Superman family members. As in "Super-Perry White", the writer is strongly motivated to include all the variations possible on this premise, because the opportunity would not be repeated.
The story is unusual for being more light hearted than most Action tales. This story has a humorous, slightly tongue in cheek tone. Its complex plot recalls to a degree those of traditional farces, with complication piled on complication. Binder shows the virtuosic things he can do with the secret identity plot. The comic tone of the story, and its emphasis on disguise recall Binder's Jimmy Olsen stories. As in Binder's "Superman's Enemy" (Jimmy Olsen #35, March 1959), the most personal details of Superman's life are spread to the world in Daily Planet headlines.
Such thumb gestures are older than comic books - and are sometimes linked to uniformed men. In the silent film The Blue Eagle (John Ford, 1926) the hero George O'Brien tells the villain to get out of a room, with such a thumb gesture. O'Brien spends much of the movie uniformed in his sailor suit. And they still appear in contemporary television. Jason Cermak uses a thumb gesture in Framed for Murder: A Fixer Upper Mystery (2017) as nattily uniformed good-guy cop Tommy Sloane.
Thumb gestures also show up in prose fiction. See the uniformed security guard in the mystery novel Coffin Corner (1949) (Chapter 1) by George Bagby.
The Supergirl From Krypton (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Supergirl arrived on Earth in this story, her origin tale. It is structured partly as a mystery: Supergirl arrives astonishingly full blown, complete with costume and a command of English, and Superman asks some very logical questions on how this can be, questions that get equally logical answers. Such a full fledged initial persona has both its surrealistic and its comic aspects, which add an interesting tone to the story.
Superman's questions and Supergirl's story can be interpreted in other ways, too. Superman can be seen a posing the basic questions of a story, and Supergirl can be seen in the position of the author: someone whose job it is to come up with the tale, the tale that will have all the answers to the questions. In this sense, Superman is functioning like an editor, and Supergirl like the author of the story. This self-reflexive structure is not unusual in Otto Binder's tales: several of them have characters who function in the story in a way analogous to the author himself.
There are other interpretations, equally structural. The introduction to the story stresses that the tale is adding new elements to the mythos of the Superman family books. The change will not be explained away at the end of the story; it will make a permanent addition to the mythos. This is indeed true: Supergirl would go on to be a permanent character, starring in many stories in Action and elsewhere. In this context, Superman can be seen as being in the role of the "gatekeeper of the mythos". He is standing there, challenging the entry of Supergirl and her story into the mythos. The questions he is asking are designed to point out apparent contradictions between Supergirl's appearance, and claim to be from Krypton, and what he knows about the "logical world" of the Superman stories. He makes it clear that he will only accept her as real, if the story she tells can explain away these contradictions. From the point of view of the mythos, this makes sense. One can and should add a new element to the mythos, only if it is logically consistent with what has gone before. The questions of logical consistency Superman is asking are precisely the questions the editor and writers of the Superman family need to ask before adding a new dimension to the mythos.
Superman's initial response is revealing: he claims that Supergirl must be an illusion. He denies her reality altogether. Reality is the Superman family is defined by the mythos: the "reality" of the stories is simply the content of the mythos. So a denial of reality is equivalent to the question of exclusion from or inclusion in the mythos.
Superman's asking these questions have a literal role in the story, too, of course: he will accept this stranger's tale as true, only he can get his logical questions answered. So his questions have a "realistic" interpretation, as well: the sort of questions a person would answer in real life, before accepting a stranger.
There are other aspects, as well. Supergirl erupts in the story like an irrational figure from the subconscious. She is just "there", without any history or rationale. She recalls the myth of the birth of Athena, sprung full grown from the brow of Zeus. Superman's questions represent Reason, stressing logical analysis and consistency; Supergirl appears like the Irrational, a sudden force that is just there and must be dealt with, as is.
A man (Superman) asking questions of a woman (Supergirl), recalls many classical myths in which men ask questions of women (Oedipus and the Sphinx), and in which a man asks a woman to tell him a story (the King and Scheherazade).
Superman is also much older than Supergirl. She can represent new ideas, imagination; and he can represent established reality, the question process through which new ideas are put before they are accepted.
Supergirl should also be seen in a context, where the Superman family writers were creating other survivors of Krypton. Later stories largely stuck to the mythos established in this tale, retelling it many times. One exception: here only Supergirl's neighborhood survives the explosion of Krypton; in later tales the entire Argo City survives.
Notes on other aspects of the story:
INITIALS. For her secret identity, Supergirl chooses the name Linda Lee. Superman immediately notices that this is another example of the importance of the initials LL in his life.
ORPHANAGE: SUPERGIRL'S PERSONAL LIFE. The conclusion of this story introduces Midvale Orphanage, where Supergirl will live in her early stories. It also introduces the man who will always be called the "headmaster" of the orphanage (he is never given a name), and the headmistress, Miss Hart. These are recurring characters. But they never get looked at in any depth, in the Supergirl tales. They are benign but busy authority figures, vague and remote, who show up in a panel or two here and there. They seem to be doing a decent job of running the orphanage. But otherwise they have little impact on Supergirl's life, and do not have a close relationship with her.
In general, Supergirl's personal life in her secret identity of Linda Lee will be less important throughout her tales, than Superman's is as Clark Kent. No one will be as important to Linda Lee as Ma and Pa Kent are to Clark. Nor will Linda Lee ever have an ongoing role as fascinating as Clark Kent's job as a reporter.
MALE SOCIAL AUTHORITY. The headmaster is often depicted in Binder's tales as a patriarchal social authority figure. Here, he seems like the person running the orphanage, seated at his desk.
Also, the headmaster is often shown in Binder tales as talking to other males, but not to women (except to give them orders). This conveys a network of "male social power". In this first encounter with the orphanage, the headmaster talks with Superman, to arrange Linda Lee's staying there. The headmaster and Superman are social equals. But Supergirl, in her Linda Lee identity, is a "charge": she is a "minor" child passed by Superman from Superman's authority to the headmaster's. She has no say in any of this. As the old proverb about children goes, she is seen but not heard.
Admittedly, Supergirl is indeed 15 (as we learn in later tales), while Superman and the headmaster are grown-ups. Most real-life 15 year-old's in the USA are in fact under a grown-up parent or guardian's authority. So there is a certain realism to this whole process. But it also seems like an example of "male social power": something regularly associated with the headmaster in later Binder tales, such as "Supergirl Visits the 21st Century", "The Great Supergirl Mirage" and "Supergirl's Darkest Day".
The normally admirable Superman is in fact lying his head off in this scene - and getting treated as a hero by the trusting headmaster.
MIDVALE. We get a brief, one-panel look at Midvale, the small town around the orphanage (page 8). However, while the orphanage plays a big role in later Supergirl tales, the town of Midvale is rarely shown. This contrasts with Smallville, a locale explored in depth in the Superboy tales.
Also, as best as I can tell, we never learn who "owns" Midvale Orphanage. Its name perhaps suggests it is owned and operated by the city of Midvale. But it also might be owned by the state, or a private charitable group or non-profit. But none of these possibilities are mentioned or explored or explained in the stories. We frequently see Midvale Orphanage being managed, by the headmaster and the headmistress Miss Hart. But its ownership is not shown.
The Girl of Steel (Superman #123, August 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Dick Sprang. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. A wish by Jimmy Olsen on a magic totem causes a Super-Girl to appear in Metropolis to be Superman's helper and companion. The year before Binder created the "real" Supergirl, he created this trial run for the character. Super-Girl looks much like the later Supergirl character: she is a young woman with blonde hair, and an outfit much like Superman's. She also has powers identical to those of Superman, also a feature of the later Supergirl. All of these aspects are in fact established by Curt Swan's covers for the two stories.
However, Super-Girl is not a native of Krypton, being created instead through a magic wish. And her personality is very different from the later Supergirl's. She has none of Supergirl's pluck, intelligence and resourcefulness. Instead, she is pretty inept, and keeps lousing things up for Superman through her clumsiness with her powers. The Superman family published a number of tales about "new" super-beings, people who have just received their super-powers, and who use them ineptly, creating messes that Superman must clean up. I never thought this was a very interesting subject for a story, here or elsewhere.
In general, "The Girl of Steel" is notable only for being a half-way stop on Binder's road to the creation of Supergirl. He had some good ideas here, but he utilized them much better in "The Supergirl From Krypton".
SCIENCE FICTION. This brief story is full of interesting science fiction ideas and images. Three occur at the tale's start:
At the end, Supergirl encounters an outer space phenomenon: the mirror meteors. These are fascinating, both as a science fiction idea, and as drawn in Mooney's art. They a geometric in form and have strange properties: two features of the kind of outer space phenomena Binder liked to create. See this article on Binder's "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959) for a detailed list of such Binder stories. "Supergirl Visits the 21st Century" appeared just two months after "Parade of the Planets".
GENDER. The orphan boy Tommy is the main character Supergirl meets in this future world. He has two characteristics that will recur in 20th Century orphan boys that Supergirl with soon meet in Binder tales like "The Great Supergirl Mirage" and "Supergirl's Darkest Day":
Superman also uses a non-weapon phallic symbol here: the spear that sends the message (page 2).
The Great Supergirl Mirage (Action #256, September 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Dick Wilson, a teenage orphan as the same Midvale Orphanage where Supergirl lives in her secret identity of "Linda Lee", starts trying to prove she has super-powers. The origin of Dick Wilson, later known as Dick Malverne. Inoffensive but often routine tale. Dick will eventually become a series character in the Supergirl tales - but he doesn't show up again until over two years later in "The Supergirl of Tomorrow" (Action #282, November 1961). By that time he will have been adopted, and have changed his name to Dick Malverne.
Dick Wilson's campaign is explicitly compared in the splash panel, to Lois Lane's attempts to prove Clark Kent is really Superman. And to Lana Lang's attempts to prove the teenage Clark Kent was really Superboy. This comparison is largely true. And like them, he is ruthless, tricky, and endlessly determined in his quest to prove his suspicions.
This story is structured almost exactly like a typical tale in which Lois or Lana tries to prove their suspicions. It consists of a series of episodes, in which:
One difference in Supergirl's situation, from Superman's: Supergirl at this point was unknown to the public. Lois is trying to prove Clark is the well-known hero Superman. By contrast, neither Dick nor anyone else has heard of Supergirl. Dick is trying to prove that the orphan he knows as Linda Lee has super-powers.
This difference in Dick's goal is most important in the subplot about the photo he took of a flying girl. It's a big deal to Dick: he has a photo of a flying female, something utterly unknown to the world of his time. By contrast, if Lois took a photo of Superman flying it would not matter: everyone knows about Superman. The counter-scheme eventually used to nullify Dick's photo also reflects this difference in Supergirl's hidden existence. All of this makes the photo subplot the most interesting part of the story. It reflects fundamental differences, and is thus original.
MASK. Dick's rubber face mask is a kind of disguise tool that will recur throughout the Superman family stories. Binder had previously used such masks in "Jimmy Olsen, Cub Inventor" (Jimmy Olsen #9, December 1955). They would soon return in Binder's "The Super-Outlaw of Krypton" (Superman #134, January 1960).
GENDER. This story's battle between Dick Wilson and Supergirl, has elements of a male-female conflict.
Dick Wilson has maleness. His name "Dick" has phallic symbolism, and he is drawn much like a conventionally male teen idol of the 1950's. He is also shown twice talking with the headmaster of the orphanage, the main male patriarchal authority figure around. However, the headmaster pooh-pooh's Dick's ideas. And at the story's end, Dick is defeated by Superman, a powerful male who backs up Supergirl, not Dick.
Superman's help to Supergirl is not necessarily a pure win for women, however. It means that Supergirl is unable to defeat Dick on her own, but needs Superman's help. The sexual politics of this simple-looking story are in fact complex, and sometimes ambiguous.
One cannot emphasize enough: In most of her tales (after this one) Supergirl is shown as a highly competent heroine who succeeds on her own, without help from men. This portrait of "Supergirl as competent heroine" begins in the very next Supergirl tale in Action Comics.
The Three Magic Wishes (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Supergirl pretends to be a Fairy Godmother. This story is discussed in detail in the article on Superboy.
The Cave-Girl of Steel (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Supergirl travels to the distant past, where she tames a Brontosaurus and helps a tribe of cave people. Charming time travel tale. Supergirl thrills to the fact that she does not have to conceal her presence on Earth in the past, and the tale gives her a chance to exercise her powers fully. A story like this serves as a dress rehearsal for Supergirl's eventual presentation to the world.
Binder is aware that in real life, the dinosaurs died out long before cave people. So he sets his tale in a special valley, where the dinosaurs somehow managed to survive.
Binder had previously shown a Brontosaurus in "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (Jimmy Olsen #20, April 1957). SPOILERS. The Brontosaurus in each tale is quite lovable. It becomes the hero's pet in both stories.
Binder pioneered the time travel story in the Superman family. When Binder had Jimmy Olsen travel into the past in "The Feats of Chief Super-Duper" (Jimmy Olsen #14, August 1956), he had him comically flub all of his attempts to achieve things. Binder saw Jimmy as one of his comic Everymen. By contrast, he has Supergirl succeed with all her goals. This is an aid to characterization. Binder basically saw Supergirl as a genuine hero, someone who was going to become Superman's equal. A story like this has a strong feminist subtext.
Supergirl uses the Brontosaurus in an unusual way, to help the cave people. This is typical of Binder stories: elements the heroes encounter along the way are employed in innovative uses.
Supergirl gives instruction to the men in the tribe. It is unusual for a story to show a woman (or in fact a teenaage girl) teaching and leading grown men.
The finale takes us to a favorite locale in comic books: a museum. The museum exhibit involves a picture. This picture underscores the links between museums and comics: both are pictorial media, that utilize images. Mooney has the museum guide in a sharp uniform.
The Girl Superbaby (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. A "fountain of youth" lake transforms Supergirl into an infant. This story is similar to the Superbaby tales, which featured Superboy as an infant. SPOILERS:
Binder liked tales of transformation. These transformations are usually temporary, like Supergirl's into an infant in this tale.
The Girl Superbaby is shown happily eating her way through huge quantities of food. Food scenes run through Superman family stories, usually upbeat and often comic, as in this tale. Sometimes characters are intensely hungry: see "Jimmy Olsen's Super-Pet" (Jimmy Olsen #20, April 1957), "Olsen's Super-Supper" (Jimmy Olsen #38, July 1959), "The Human Metal-Eater" (Jimmy Olsen #68, April 1963), "The Super-Hungry Super-Heroes" (Superboy #91, September 1961).
The crooks disguise themselves as tramps. Tramp characters regularly show up in the Superman family comics: see Binder's "The Mystery of the Millionaire Hoboes" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957). One suspects that in real life tramps were more common in the 1930's and 1940's than the 1960's.
The forest rangers at the end, recall the forest ranger hero of Binder's "The Sign Language of Space" (Strange Adventures #63, December 1955). Mooney has the young rangers sharply uniformed. The rangers wear a short, waist-length jacket, of a kind called an "Eisenhower jacket", made famous by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Supergirl's Greatest Victory (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Supergirl tries to develop an immunity to Green Kryptonite; if she can do it, it will be her greatest victory. Interesting, complex tale.
GREEN KRYPTONITE. This story has some interesting new ideas about Green Kryptonite. These ideas are intelligent, and logically consistent with the rest of the Superman mythos. They would have made good additions to the mythos - and there are hints that they were intended as extensions of the mythos. However, I do not recall seeing them in later Superman tales. They thus do not seem to have become full-fledged parts of the Superman mythos, that is, story concepts that recur in tale after tale as part of the standard background of the Superman series. These new ideas in "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" include:
"Supergirl's Greatest Victory" somewhat resembles a key work also written by Otto Binder, "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" (Superman #139, August 1960), which appeared five months after "Supergirl's Greatest Victory". "The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite" solidifies the mythos of Red Kryptonite, setting forth much of its properties in definitive form. In a smaller way, "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" might have been originally intended to extend the mythos of Green Kryptonite. However, as previously pointed out, the ideas in "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" do not seem to have made their way into the mythos.
YELLOW SUN. The GCD says this story is the first mention of Earth's yellow Sun causing Superman's powers. However, this yellow Sun idea is different from most later tales':
The first part (pages 3, 4, 5) of "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" offers a recap of how Krypton blew up, how Green Kryptonite was formed, and how Supergirl came to Earth. It offers readers a good education in important parts of the Superman mythos.
DIAGRAM. "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" has an interesting diagram panel, showing tunnels through the Earth (p 12). Comic books regularly include diagrams in their stories. Diagrams are a formally interesting capability of the comics medium.
ZOO. "Supergirl's Greatest Victory" is another Binder tale making creative use of zoos and alien animals. Please see my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "zoo", to see other comic book tales about zoos, often science fictional.
Supergirl's Darkest Day (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. A mysterious boy, Johnny Blank, is rescued at sea, and sent to live at Midvale Orphanage. Several 1960 tales in Action Comics centered around the adoption of orphans from Midvale Orphanage, where Supergirl lived under her secret identity. In this story a boy is up for adoption.
The title is misleading: nothing especially bad happens to Supergirl in the tale. SPOILERS. Instead, the title refers to the use of darkness in the science fiction plot.
MYSTERY FICTION. Unfortunately, much of this story's first half is dull and uninventive. But the story has some good ideas, centering on mysteries based on science fiction concepts:
LINDA LEE ROBOT. The last panel has Supergirl employing her Linda Lee robot, as a replacement when she leaves the orphanage to work as Supergirl. As best as I can tell, this is the origin of the Linda Lee robot. The robot recalls the Supergirl robot who shows up at the finale of "The Great Supergirl Mirage". However, the Supergirl robot only appears in that story, while the Linda Lee robot becomes a continuing part of the Supergirl saga. The robot will soon appear again in Binder's "Tom Baker, Power Lad" (Jimmy Olsen #45, June 1960).
BIG ANIMALS. The opening with Supergirl manipulating a giant whale, recalls Supergirl's equally effective treatment of dinosaurs in "The Cave-Girl of Steel" (1959), another Binder science fiction tale.
GENDER. In some ways "Supergirl's Darkest Day" resembles "The Great Supergirl Mirage". Both are about teenage boys at the orphanage who learn that Supergirl secretly has super-powers. However, this is just a subplot mystery in the first half of "Supergirl's Darkest Day", while it is the central subject of "The Great Supergirl Mirage". SPOILERS. And Johnny Blank in "Supergirl's Darkest Day" is a nice person who does not seek or exploit this knowledge of Supergirl's secret, while Dick Wilson in "The Great Supergirl Mirage" is a pest and a jerk, who deliberately tries to discover Supergirl's secret. Still, the discovery of Supergirl's secret represents a threat to her in both tales, even if it is unintended in "Supergirl's Darkest Day".
Johnny Blank and Dick Wilson are both handsome teenage boys. They have some common experiences:
Male social authority figures do not help Supergirl in "Supergirl's Darkest Day". Instead, in the tale's finale she has to confront and overcome one. We see a world in which male authority figures often help young males like Johnny, but not young females like Supergirl. Female accomplishment, in turn, is shown dependent on women fighting male authority.
The headmaster falsely gives Johnny public credit for a good deed actually performed by Supergirl. Supergirl has to accept this, to protect her secret. The headmaster has made a honest mistake - he is definitely not lying. But still, one sees a world in which female accomplishment is not publicly recognized.
Johnny is a nice person, while Dick Wilson is not. And Johnny doesn't seek this support from male authority figures. But he gets it anyway. The reason Johnny is getting all this help is ambiguous. He might be getting help because he is a young man in trouble, who clearly needs help. But help might also come to him automatically from a sexist society, because he is male. "Supergirl's Darkest Day" perhaps shows male privilege automatically extended to young males, even nice, un-sexist ones like Johnny who don't deliberately seek it. And withheld from young females like Supergirl.
One notes too that Johnny crashes his spaceship, while Supergirl repairs it. This cool ship publicly symbolizes male power and sexuality. The private reality is different: its operation depends on Supergirl, while Johnny is not fully competent as its pilot.
Supergirl's success at repairing the spaceship is typical of the tale as a whole. Throughout the story, it is Supergirl who accomplishes things. Supergirl teaches Johnny English, repairs his spaceship, solves the mysteries, and fixes the characters' major life-problems at the tale's finale. She achieves all this success entirely through her own efforts, without any help from men.
"Supergirl's Darkest Day" perhaps shows male privilege and certainly shows female struggle and accomplishment. It also contains original science fiction and mystery ideas. All of this is in a 12-page story.
The Siegel era of Supergirl was often of good quality.
GOALS BASED ON SUPERMAN'S LIFE. Siegel's Supergirl tales often show Supergirl attempting to get features in her life already possessed by Superman:
Jerry Siegel liked to build tales based on ideas from previous stories, both his and other writers'. These Siegel Supergirl stories can be read as "Supergirl trying to recreate the Superman mythos in her own life". These stories build on the earlier Superman saga, offering variations on it, tailored to Supergirl.
These Siegel Supergirl tales greatly develop parts of the mythos, especially Atlantis and the Legion of Super-Heroes, much beyond how they were previously depicted in Superman tales. So Siegel is trying to do two things at once:
CHARACTER. Supergirl comes across in the Siegel tales as realistic, sensible and practical. She seems like an intelligent, responsible person who is trying to achieve big but worthwhile goals. Although she is a teenager, she seems "grown-up" in her responsible actions and attitudes.
Siegel's version of Supergirl is likely the one that is most easily relatable to today's readers. It can described as both "realistic", and showing Supergirl exemplify a "feminist role model".
"Supergirl's Super Pet" is comic in tone, as will be quite a few of Streaky's future appearances. Some of the characters Siegel created in the 1930's and 1940's were also comic, such as Mr. Mxyzptlk and Slam Bradley and Shorty.
This brief tale does not get Streaky involved in a major adventure. Instead, it concentrates on conveying the character of Streaky, and telling us about his origin. The story carefully covers every aspect of Streaky's origin. Its storytelling is logical, well-organized, clear and compact.
The splash shows Streaky defending some weak animals from an attack by a powerful one. Similarly, Supergirl first meets Streaky when she is defending him from an assault by a powerful dog. Implicitly, there is an anti-bullying theme, showing good guys behaving admirably by stopping bullying attacks.
Superboy's dog Krypto is basically a "mutt". He is not any sort of special breed. Similarly, Streaky is a stray cat when his adventures begin. There is a democratic subtext: these hero animals are NOT members of the elite. They come from ordinary backgrounds.
Streaky is unusual in two ways, making him different from other super-beings in the Superman comics:
Siegel created a series of tales in Action Comics about Streaky, including his origin in "Supergirl's Super Pet" (#261, February 1960) and its dull, uninspired sequel. "The World's Mightiest Cat" (#266, July 1960). Although I am a major cat lover in real life, I have generally only mildly enjoyed most of these tales, feeling they lacked invention.
Supergirl's Fortress of Solitude (#271, December 1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl builds her own Fortress, underneath the Sahara Desert. The first half of this minor tale, which shows the Fortress, is better than the second. But little in this poor tale is really much good. Best parts: two single panels with some good ideas:
The second part of this bad story unfortunately has a prejudiced and stereotyped, portrait of a foreign ethnic group.
The Battle of the Super-Pets (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Streaky the super-cat and Krypto the super-dog have the ultimate cat and dog super-fight, to see who is stronger and more intelligent. The splash panel says that the magazine had had a deluge of letters requesting this story. It is a delightful comic gem. The fur really flies here.
Siegel takes several steps to keep this tale innocent. Streaky and Krypto do not hate each other; each is just comically conceited and sure he is the stronger animal. The tale is a staged contest, refereed by Supergirl, not a real life fight. Siegel had had great success depicting Krypto's conceit satirically in "The Super Star of Hollywood" (Adventure #272, May 1960); here he does the same for both Streaky and Krypto.
This story is somewhat in the tradition of Siegel mysteries, in that once the locale shifts to the planet, the characters start undergoing a lot of strange transformations over which they have no control. This tale is different from other Siegel mystery tales in that there is no villain figure causing all the events in the tale. Instead the "villain" figure here seems to be the planet itself, to which all the bizarre transformations which take place are attributed. The story is also much more comic in tone than most other Siegel mystery tales. But the story does include the ingenious revelations which always conclude a Siegel mystery tale.
Throughout "Supergirl Gets Adopted", Supergirl performs dramatic feats involving "means of transportation", feats that save lives. Superman has long been linked to such feats: they are a key part of Superman's character. Now Supergirl is doing them too. Siegel will soon have Supergirl perform another such feat at the start of "The Three Super-Heroes", although that one is not life-saving, unlike her efforts in "Supergirl Gets Adopted".
"Supergirl Gets Adopted" inventively links Supergirl to gender issues. She discovers she is bored stiff by knitting, an archetypal female pursuit, and is more interested in watching the male cop fight crime! And all of Supergirl's transportation feats have her involved with the world of men: specifically, men working. SPOILERS. Much more startlingly, Supergirl disguises herself as a man. This is a spectacular sequence. Silver Age Superman characters regularly disguised themselves as members of the opposite sex. See my index to stories with political and social commentary, and search for "cross dressing", to find other such tales.
Both the police and the pilots in the opening episode are uniformed. This underscores visually that they are part of an organized world of men.
An odd note: The splash panel shows an issue of Clark Kent's newspaper, The Daily Planet. The newspaper is in tabloid form: something I don't associate with The Daily Planet.
"Supergirl Gets Adopted" has a "realistic" quality. The couple in the tale seem like real people, and their lives matter. The story is emotionally involving. The "large transportation machines" are also features of every day real life. The fact that Supergirl can control them is science fiction; but the machines themselves are part of a realistic portrait of modern life.
The Day Supergirl Revealed Herself (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Supergirl gets adopted in Smallville, where her existence is revealed to the community.
This is one of the few Superman family tales set in "modern" times to look at the community of Smallville, home of Superman's youth in the 1930's. The story has elements of satire, something Jerry Siegel more often turned on the mass media, than on the Superman mythos itself.
STORY SECTIONS AND THEIR GENRES. This tale is episodic: an approach sometimes used by Jerry Siegel. It has three loosely connected sections:
The story's finale has elements that link it to the Imaginary Tale, soon to be a Superman family specialty. Siegel was the author of many Imaginary stories, especially those which dealt with the personal lives of the continuing characters.
GIANT ROBOT. Supergirl battles a sinister giant robot. This robot is a machine, like the huge transportation machines Supergirl dealt with in "Supergirl Gets Adopted". Siegel has found a niche for Supergirl's abilities: she can control and subdue large machines. And through this, she can have major positive impacts on people's lives.
One of the earliest tales Siegel published also dealt with a giant menacing robot. The robot in the Federal Men story "The Invisible Empire, Part 3" (Adventure Comics #10, November 1936) is controlled by evil humans, whereas the more high-tech robot warrior in "The Day Supergirl Revealed Herself" operates autonomously under his own direction. "The Invisible Empire" is one of Siegel's best early tales. Huge menacing machines also appear in some of Siegel's The Star Spangled Kid tales: "The Bund Saboteurs" (Star Spangled Comics #1, October 1941), "The Flying Buzz Saw" (Star Spangled Comics #4, January, 1942).
THE LEGION. This tale gets Supergirl involved with the Legion; soon "Supergirl's First Romance" will send her to Atlantis. Both involvements are on-going participations that recur throughout her career. Jerry Siegel got Supergirl more involved with the world, finding locales with which Supergirl can be permanently, positively linked. Somewhat similarly, Supergirl's effectiveness at dealing with powerful machines in Siegel tales, also gives her positive influence on the world.
This story marks the first appearance of Legion members Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid. All we learn about their backgrounds is that they inherited their powers from their parents on other planets (page 10). So this is not a full "origin story" in the strict sense. The powers of all three involve them changing their appearance.
THE TEMPLATE. Many episodes in "The Three Super-Heroes" are direct echoes of the first Legion tale, Otto Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). This earlier tale is a prototype and template for "The Three Super-Heroes". Some of the art in the second tale directly modifies panels in the first tale. Mooney has often introduced small variations in detail.
The ice cream parlor in Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" is staffed by a human. But the ice cream in "The Three Super-Heroes" is delivered by a robot arm, that runs along a track.
THE OPENING SUPER-DEED. The first episode of "The Three Super-Heroes" has no analogue in Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes"; it is something new. This opening episode instead is an example of a common start to Supergirl tales: having her do a super-deed to help the kids who live at the Orphanage. And like other such openings, the start of "The Three Super-Heroes" has few links to the rest of the tale.
The opening also shows Supergirl's ability to deal with powerful machinery: an ongoing Siegel subject.
The bus driver (pages 2,3) in the opening is shown both times with his face turned away. We see his full uniform, but not his face. The opening also includes uniformed men operating the drawbridge.
The Mystery Supergirl (1960). Writer: Otto Binder? Jerry Siegel?. Supergirl tries to solve the mystery of a second Supergirl, who is putting in appearances around the world.
This story is unusual in that it is a nicely done mystery tale, a genre more often associated with Lois Lane. The resemblance to Lois Lane tales is heightened, by having teenage Linda Lee (Supergirl) working as an intern at the Daily Planet newspaper, Lois Lane's home base as a reporter. So we have a "brainy woman employee at the Daily Planet attempting to solve a mystery": an archetypal Lois Lane plot. Lois' boss, Daily Planet editor Perry White, also makes an appearance.
Going to work at the Daily Planet also parallels Supergirl with Superman (Clark Kent). The story explicitly makes such parallels, with Supergirl winding up in the storeroom, just like Superman in countless scenes in previous stories.
The fact that this story is a mystery is explicitly underscored. The splash panel immediately emphasizes that the tale is a mystery. It challenges the reader to solve the mystery puzzle.
Three different solutions to the mystery are proposed. The first two solutions are proposed right in the splash panel, at the tale's start. They are then repeated in the course of the story. The third, correct solution is given at the story's end. It is highly detailed and full of inventive ideas.
The GCD is unsure who wrote this tale, Binder or Siegel. A "mystery about a previously unknown super-being who mysteriously appears" is a premise often used by Jerry Siegel. However, that does not prove he is the author of this story. The finale also focuses on a kind of business, that Siegel liked to write about (this business is not named to avoid spoilers!).
SPOILERS. The ending has Supergirl thinking of going to work as a reporter when she grows up. Such speculations of a possible career for the adult Supergirl are actually quite scarce in Silver Age comics. During the Silver Age appearances of Supergirl (1959-1966) she was first of high school, then of college age. Her future adult life was not much discussed. Otto Binder's "The Old Man of Metropolis" (Action #270, November 1960) opens with Supergirl expressing an interest in writing when she grows up. That tale was published two months after "The Mystery Supergirl".
Supergirl's First Romance (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl goes to Atlantis, where she meets Jerro, a young merman. Bill Finger had introduced Atlantis and Lori Lemaris into the Superman mythos. But nearly all subsequent tales involving Atlantis in a major way were the work of Jerry Siegel. Siegel wrote a series of tales in Superman, following up on Superman's and Lori's romance. He also had Superboy involved with Atlantis in the fascinatingly detailed "Superboy and the Mermaid From Atlantis" (Adventure #280, January 1961), which also links up Superman's mythos with Aquaman. Here, in his other most important Atlantis story, he connects up Supergirl.
The story parallels Superman's romance with Lori with Supergirl's puppy love with Jerro. This tale is genuinely nice. It does not show the problems other Superman saga tales often had with romance. Instead, both Supergirl and Jerro treat each other admirably. Siegel's other main Supergirl romance, "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends" (1961), in which she meets Brainiac 5, is also appealing and innocent.
Jerro and Brainiac 5 have some features in common, that make them good boyfriend material (these characteristics are also shared by the likable Gizmak-Ral, who appears just once in Siegel's "The Supergirl of Tomorrow"):
Freddy Blake is introduced, a young orphan who suspects the heroine has super-powers. Unlike orphans who suspected Supergirl in Otto Binder tales, like Dick Wilson and Johnny Dark, Freddy is not a figure of potential romance. He seems younger, younger than Supergirl, and not good looking. He seems like a "pesky young know-it-all", an annoying young kid who humorously bothers an older person. Siegel is thus completely separating "annoying people who suspect Supergirl's secret" from "attractive boys who might date Supergirl". They are two separate categories.
The tale is also notable for its pacifist theme, with Supergirl destroying forbidden weapons of Atlantis, and being celebrated by its inhabitants for that.
This another Siegel Supergirl tale, in which she deals effectively with large or powerful machines. These machines resemble those in Siegel's Adoption stories:
Supergirl's Busiest Day (Action #270, November 1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl has to rescue Lori, Krypto, Batman and Robin. This tale is a follow-up of sorts to "Supergirl's First Romance" of the previous issue; in one of this tale's episodes, Supergirl returns to Atlantis, where she meets Jerro again.
When I read this years ago, this light-hearted tale seemed delightful. Re-read today, it seems poor: pointless and vaguely unpleasant.
Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. In this Imaginary Tale, Supergirl dreams what her life might have been like if she had been sent to the Earth in the 1920's and adopted by the Kents. The life-history Supergirl dreams about closely parallel's Superman's actual life on Earth: only she is the protagonist of the events, rather than Superman.
There are only a few differences between Supergirl's imagined life and Superman's actual one. And these are neatly summarized at the end of the story, after Supergirl wakes up and analyzes her dream. Siegel is trying to make the structure of the tale clear to readers with this summary of the differences. (However, the summary at the end leaves out the changes in Lex Luthor.)
This tale is pleasant and fun to read, without being brilliant or especially imaginative.
Jerry Siegel was writing Imaginary Tales about Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane around this same time. Like the Jimmy and Lois tales which look at those characters' possible marriages, "Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl" mainly looks at Supergirl's possible teen romances. Also like the Lois tales, "Ma and Pa Kent Adopt Supergirl" is quite sudsy, filled with heartache.
The sympathetic treatment of Lex Luthor echoes some other Jerry Siegel stories.
Supergirl's pet parrot exemplifies Siegel's interest in animals.
MIDVALE ORPHANAGE VS YOUTH CULTURE. Supergirl has a crush on Smallville high school's most popular student, the star football player, but he is rotten to her. She is also upset that she is not "popular". For the first time in the entire Supergirl series, she is confronting such issues as sports, attractiveness, popularity, and social hierarchies. That is apparently largely because for nearly the first time Supergirl is in a conventional high school rather than the Orphanage. Midvale Orphanage has school classes but, as far as I can tell, no team sports. Everyone there is poor, no one has "good" clothes or a car, and no one is "cool" or "popular": the concept doesn't even exist. The Orphanage stands completely outside of the social system that engulfs the lives of so many 1960's American youth.
The first thing that happens in Siegel tales in which Supergirl gets adopted, "Supergirl Gets Adopted" and "Supergirl's Secret Enemy", is that her new parents provide her with lots of new dresses. In theory, perhaps, this shows the parents trying to help her. But it also shows Supergirl entering a world where she is judged by her appearance. Is this really a good thing for women? Many feminists would strongly disagree. Supergirl might really be better off back at the Orphanage, where her appearance doesn't seem to matter. These Siegel adoption tales do not explicitly take sides on this issue. Still, the Orphanage is shown trying to educate its inhabitants, while parents are shown wanting their daughter to be pretty.
On the other hand, I might be ascribing too much specific influence of the Orphanage on Supergirl's life. Disinterest in "teen culture" is a general characteristic of Superman family comics as a whole, rather than being just caused by the Orphanage. Teenagers in Superman comics are usually depicted as responsible near-grown-ups, who are interested in work, achievement and public service, rather than partying. Teen super-heroes like Superboy, Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes take on huge adult-like responsibilities. And the non-super-powered Jimmy Olsen works seriously as a cub reporter.
(A side note: such Binder tales as "The Great Supergirl Mirage" (1959) and "The Second Supergirl" (1961) clearly show the orphans attending school class right at the orphanage. The classes are shown as just a two minute walk away from the students' rooms ("The Great Supergirl Mirage", pages 2 and 3), or the orphanage woods where Linda stores her robot ("The Second Supergirl", page 2). By contrast, Siegel's "Supergirl's Three Time Trips" (Action #274, March 1961) (page 3) has Linda Lee going to school at Midvale High School: an odd inconsistency. I think Binder's version is more authentic; certainly it is more interesting. Siegel's "Jimmy Olsen, Orphan" (Jimmy Olsen #46, July 1960) (page 7) shows Midvale Orphanage has its own newspaper produced by the orphans. This is like a high school paper, and is consistent with the idea that Midvale Orphanage includes most educational aspects of a school.)
Midvale Orphanage is a collective institution, where the orphans live in a group. In its quiet way it is an alternative to the individualism of family and business life around it. The stories never talk explicitly about these aspects of the Orphanage. They are just there.
The collective nature of Midvale Orphanage recalls another institution prominent in the Superman mythos: The Legion of Super-Heroes.
Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl goes to the future, and tries for the second time to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. This story is discussed in detail in the article on the Legion.
This tale, or strictly speaking its finale, is the start of a multi-issue sequence that runs through Action Comics #282. Most of this tale is a stand-alone story. But its finale is different: it begins a plot thread that will continue over the next four issues. This finale is completely unrelated to most of "The Unknown Supergirl". It is like something tacked on to the main story.
The GCD notes that "The Unknown Supergirl" was claimed by both Jerry Siegel and Otto Binder. Siegel wrote far more of the Supergirl tales in this period. The Kryptonite rings around Earth perhaps recall the "cosmic" elements and unusual planets and astronomical features in Binder tales.
Supergirl's Secret Enemy (Action #279, August 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. The loss of Supergirl's powers is explained, as the machinations of villainess Lesla-Lar. Part of a serial that runs through Action Comics #282. Since Supergirl lost her powers (in the finale of the previous issue's "The Unknown Supergirl") she is free to get adopted by the Danvers. The origin story of Fred and Edna Danvers.
This issue (and the related finale of the previous tale "The Unknown Supergirl") mark a radical change of approach for the Supergirl stories. From now on, many would be groups of continuing serials. Plot points would not be resolved at the end of each tale; instead, Supergirl's problems would go on and on (and on) from story to story. These Supergirl arcs are the only major serials in the Silver Age Superman family. There would be four Imaginary tales in Lois Lane about her marriage to Superman, but that serial was brief and irregular compared to Supergirl's.
On the whole, the Supergirl stories suffered a nose-dive in quality at this point. They often depicted Supergirl as a victim of the machinations of some villain; in this first story-series an evil woman scientist from Kandor called Lesla-Lar. Supergirl comes across in many of these serial stories as a wimp. She seems helpless to figure anything out, or guard against these villains. This is a big step down from the highly competent Supergirl of the earlier tales. The best Supergirl stories from this point on would generally be the individual, non-series tales that were frequently interspersed among the serials. (On reflection, it would be better to date the decline of the Supergirl tales a little later on than this story. There are plenty of good Supergirl stories up through and including Action #285 with "The World's Greatest Heroine" and Action #286 with "The Death of Luthor". It is with Action #287 and its uninspired story that good Supergirl tales become much less frequent, and decline sets in.)
Here Supergirl gets adopted, and it sets up the basic mechanism of her new life. The Danvers seem like decent-enough people. But they also lack the rich personalities of Ma and Pa Kent. Mr. Danvers is a designer of rockets for the US space program, an interesting touch. But we will rarely see him at work in the Supergirl tales. In the Superboy stories we often see Pa and Ma Kent at work, in the store or in their home. Both also take part in the civic life of Smallville, and have a profound influence of the exploits of Superboy. Little of this ever happens with the Danvers, who mainly are seen sitting around their house, beaming with pride at Supergirl.
In this story, Supergirl does not tell the Danvers about her being super-powered. They know her only as the human teenager Linda Lee. In the later stories in Action, Supergirl will frequently keep secrets from the Danvers. They never learn about Superman's secret identity, for example, according to a letters column, nor do they learn about Comet the Super-Horse. This too is different from the Kents, who knew everything about the mythos, and who frequently gave Superboy guidance.
The Secret of the Time-Barrier (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. While suffering from amnesia, Supergirl works as an actress in the Kandorian film industry. This mildly pleasant tale does give us an inside look at the movie world, a Siegel specialty. Siegel has a few satiric touches here, but it is not as zingy as his other media stories. We had seen a high-tech Kandor film as a member of the audience in the previous episode of this serial, "Trapped in Kandor" (#280, September 1961), also by Siegel. That tale also revealed that people in Kandor worked four hour days, a nice futuristic touch for this advanced civilization. Earlier that year, Jimmy Olsen had also seen a Kandorian film in "The Boy in the Bottle" (Jimmy Olsen #53, June 1961), also by Siegel; these Supergirl tales are a follow-up to that. Throughout 1961, Jimmy had had many encounters with Hollywood and the media. The same issue of Action that contains "The Secret of the Time-Barrier" also holds Bernstein's "The Man Who Saved Kal-El's Life", with its Hollywood setting. Siegel also looked at the film industry on old Krypton in "Superman's Return to Krypton" (Superman #141, November 1960).
The second part of "The Secret of the Time-Barrier" tells a completely separate story. Siegel is often an episodic writer, but this tale pushes it to extremes (and so does "The Supergirl of Tomorrow" in the next issue). SPOILERS. In this second part, Supergirl eventually provides all the needed supplies for a village's infrastructure. This is an interesting idea, worked out in considerable detail.
This second part contrasts the New England village with locales from the rest of the world. These locales are often surrealistically different. I especially like the tropical fruit Supergirl provides, something that would be utterly unknown in old New England.
Siegel's "The Curse of Lena Thorul" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961) had earlier condemned a 1700's New England village and its superstitious belief in witches.
In this second part, Supergirl time-travels to the past. She had previously gone into past eras in the much inferior tale "Supergirl's Three Time Trips" (Action #274, March 1961), also by Siegel. Supergirl does major feats on these time-journeys into past eras. Supergirl's time trips were thus different from Jimmy Olsen's and Lois Lane's. Those characters were always recreating their relationship with Superman by encountering some historical figure with super-powers. Supergirl is not involved in such parallels between past and present, at least in these Siegel tales.
The Supergirl of Tomorrow (Action #282, November 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl goes into the future, to see if her lost powers will return there.
THE FUTURE. Part of this story is a dystopian look at a future dictatorship. This section bears some broad resemblance to Siegel's Slam Bradley tale "In Two Billion A. D." (Detective Comics #23 and 24, January and February 1939). Both tales:
I found imagery in the section dealing with the war with Mars disturbing and unpleasant. It was perhaps meant to be so.
The section denouncing the human dictator tells of him burning books and trying to shut down libraries. This recalls Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953).
A NEW BOYFRIEND. Supergirl meets Dick Wilson again, for the first time in since he first appeared over two years previously in "The Great Supergirl Mirage" (Action #256, September 1959), by Otto Binder. He has been adopted and has the new name Dick Malverne. With this issue, he becomes a regular in the Supergirl tales, as one of Supergirl's boyfriends.
Dick Malverne comes across unsympathetically in this tale. He is shown as what would soon be known as a "male chauvinist": a man who wants to be superior to women. Despite this, Supergirl seems to think he is just swell. His main asset: he is well-built and looks good in a swimsuit. He also seems to be ultra-conventional socially, a suburban young man who seems both "normal" and ordinary. Like the Danvers, Dick Malverne is a conformist suburbanite and vaguely upper middle class.
Supergirl has long since lost her powers, by this time. She is thinking of herself as an ordinary person with an ordinary life. One can argue that these tales show her settling for less: a boyfriend like Dick Malverne who is both mediocre and a male chauvinist, adoptive parents like the Danvers who also seem mainly mediocre. Reading these stories can be discouraging. And they lead to a question: Are we settling for less and mediocrity in our own lives?
FEMINISM. This story is most notable for its feminist elements. At the tale's end, Superman makes Supergirl his equal partner in all things. This sort of position of equality with a man, and a leadership position in the world, is very rare for a woman in 1962. Before that, many men in the tale, both honest and crooks, have expressed dismay about having a woman who is more powerful than they are.
Siegel also includes a sequence, in the stories' second half "The Infinite Monster", in which Supergirl has to prove her abilities to a all-male group of skeptical army officers. Many of them doubt a girl can defeat the sf menace threatening to destroy the United States. Supergirl figures out how to defeat the villain menacing America, triumphantly. This is typical of her behavior in the Superman family stories. Supergirl often has to rise to serious occasions, and she usually does better in the stories than onlookers anticipate. She is definitely a male equal, a full fledged hero by any standards.
Mrs. Hart from Midvale Orphanage returns. She and the Orphanage are seen as key parts of Supergirl's life.
STORY CONSTRUCTION. Several early Supergirl tales open with her doing a super-deed, often at the orphanage or near home. Then the rest of the story develops an unrelated plot. "The World's Greatest Heroine" has a somewhat similar construction. It opens with Supergirl alone with her parents the Danvers, and doing a super-feat. However, this prologue with the Danvers is more closely linked to the main tale, than is typical of such "super-deeds at home" prologues. It goes on to inform the Danvers of Supergirl's identity, as a prelude to the way the world will be informed in the rest of the tale.
Siegel's story has the "procession" construction that will later be seen in his "The Death of Superman" (1962). We see the reaction of huge numbers of different people, and even alien beings, to the central news of the tale. This makes much of these tales virtually plotless. These stories' content is much more interesting than their form.
SCIENCE FICTION. There are some pleasant time travel aspects to "The Infinite Monster". These include the "instant" answer to Supergirl's request, then later on, the lead plate.
On the whole, "The Infinite Monster" tries to be science fictional: the other dimension, the force fields contribute to this sf aspect. The alien planets and beings glimpsed in "The World's Greatest Heroine" also contribute to this approach. The two tales emphasize Supergirl encountering science fictional parts of the Superman mythos: Kandor, The Legion of Super-heroes, Atlantis. By contrast, such human members of the mythos as the Daily Planet staff do not appear.
The tales have a very broad canvas, stretching throughout both space and time. This gives the tales a sweeping feel. It would be hard to match such a broad background in a mainstream, non-science fiction story.
The planet of aliens who can change their appearance, reminds us that Siegel created Chameleon Boy in "The Three Super-Heroes". Chameleon Boy can alter his appearance too. This episode with the aliens is surrealistic and imaginative.
The episode on the planet of the fire people, speculates about their religion. Looks at non-standard religious beliefs of people on other planets, and remote areas of Earth, occurred fairly regularly in the Superman family comics.
"The Infinite Monster" recalls the stories Siegel wrote about the Flame-Dragon. All these tales are inspired by 1950's monster movies. They all show their giant monster menaces as big, dangerous and inadvertently destructive, but not malicious or evil. This gentle approach affects the ultimate outcome of the tales. The same is true of the brief flashback showing how Supergirl dealt with a giant creature on another planet.
Both the main story and the flashback show Supergirl using her brain power to overcome the monsters. The Superman family tales typically stress Superman's and Supergirl's intelligence.
MAZE. The maze is the sort of large scale "environment" Superman family tales liked.
The Death of Luthor (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Lex Luthor escapes from prison and targets the newly public Supergirl. Modest, pleasant little tale, that while not brilliant has a continual flood of plot invention. (This story is not to be confused with a later Edmond Hamilton tale also called "The Death of Luthor" (1964); the two stories have nothing in common except their titles and Luthor as a character.)
A few touches throughout the tale show both Supergirl and other characters like Luthor, the rest of the underworld, and good guy Dick Malverne adjusting to Supergirl's new public status. In this, it is a low-key sequel to the previous Supergirl tale "The World's Greatest Heroine; The Infinite Monster". Both works show the public forming attitudes to the newly revealed Supergirl.
Some of the attitudes in both works involve gender. Men, especially these crooks, have trouble with the idea that a woman might be more powerful than them. There is a feminist subtext in both tales.
SCIENCE FICTION. Both Luthor and Supergirl's actions frequently bring in elements of science fiction:
There is also a jut-jawed TV newsman (page 2). He too is a leading man type. This might be the same handsome newsman shown two months before in "The Strange Bodies of Supergirl" (Action #284, January 1962) (page 8): also a Siegel/Mooney tale. Both broadcasters are well-dressed in suit and tie.
Supergirl's Greatest Challenge (Action #287, April 1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl visits the Legion of Super-Heroes in the future, and strives to defeat a radioactive menace. This story has problems: much of its material is uncreative. And some of its social attitudes are dubious.
This tale consists of five episodes: the first two take place in modern times, and relate to Supergirl's personal life as Linda Lee. The last three episodes take place in the future, and involve the Legion. Most of the episodes are mainly separate and disconnected. But the fifth, final episode grows ingeniously out of the fourth.
This last episode has affinities to Siegel's mystery stories. There are also links between this episode and other Siegel mystery tales. These tales share characters and approaches with this story; in some cases the roles are reversed here from other Siegel mystery tales. (These tales are not specified here to avoid spoiling the mystery.) The whole effect is complex and fascinating.
There is a pattern to the villains Siegel has Supergirl battling, both Positive Man here and the title character in a previous tale, "The Infinite Monster". First of all they are very powerful. They are science fictional beings, and they are charged with awesome powers. Usually they are terribly destructive, rampaging through everything in their path. They also seem to be male: here the menace is Positive Man. They represent male power at its most damaging. Secondly, Supergirl tends to defeat these menaces through brain power. She tends to come up with some ingenious, science-based way to defeat the villains, and drain them of their menace and power.
Supergirl also uses her brain-power to outwit a team of forest rangers in the tale's second episode. The rangers are not villains - but they are close to accidentally unearthing Supergirl's identity, and need to be stopped. The rangers are sharply uniformed, and wear patches with a tree logo that is distinctly phallic. They too represent maleness.
The tale has a couple of good-but-brief science fiction ideas:
Also, the treatment of one of the android's purchasers is offensive and tasteless.
Superman's Super-Courtship (Action #289, June 1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Supergirl plays cupid and tries to find Superman the perfect mate. When I read this tale years ago, it seemed fun. But re-read, it seems thin and mainly uninventive.
This tale shows the exuberant possibilities of the Superman mythos, with numerous sub-plots reaching in all directions. It has the episodic "anthology" construction familiar in Siegel, with three episodes plus a frame story showing Supergirl with the Danvers.
There is also a great deal of tongue in cheek humor. The opening includes one of Siegel's movie spoofs. Siegel liked writing romance stories; this is the only spoof of a romance movie I know of in his fiction.
The brief dream sequence that follows the movie, is a small-scale Imaginary tale.
The middle section is another Siegel tale looking at the Legion after they have fully grown up and become adults.
The Christmas tree has science fictional decor, a nice touch. The decorations are perhaps an example of the "models" that sometimes appear in Siegel. And while there is no discussion of the religious aspects of Christmas, the tree itself is quietly another example of the religious imagery in Siegel's works.
The final episode is based on Curt Swan's cover; it also recalls Binder's "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (Superboy #85, December 1960).
Supergirl's Super Boy-Friends (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl's boy-friends Jerro the Merman and Dick Malverne temporarily acquire super-powers of their own. Siegel liked stories in which non-super-powered people got powers. Lois Lane and Lana did in a Siegel series starting with "Lana Lang, Superwoman" (Lois Lane #17, May 1960). So did Bizarro-Lois in Siegel's "Bizarro's Secret Identity" (Adventure #288, September 1961). Now, it is Supergirl's boyfriends who receive the powers. This is a complete gender reversal of the earlier tales, with Supergirl's boyfriends standing in for Superman's girlfriends. Siegel usually suggests that getting such powers is a lot of fun; this story is no exception. Dick at least does not realize they are rivals for Supergirl's affections, so there is none of the jealousy shown by Lois and Lana. All of these stories have affinities with Siegel's Imaginary stories, which typically also deal with romances of Superman and other super-powered characters.
The opening shows the marketing of Supergirl merchandise. Siegel had written about the selling of Superman merchandise as far back as "Superman's Phony Manager" (1938). "Supergirl's Super Boy-Friends" has what long has happened to Superman, start happening as well to the newly public Supergirl.
The story involves another parallelism between Superman and Supergirl. It is the origin of the Supergirl Emergency Squad, modeled on Superman's, which first appeared in Otto Binder's "The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen" (Jimmy Olsen #48, October 1960). It is part of the evolution of Supergirl's public role, now that her existence is known to the world. This is a thread throughout this tale.
This is yet another Superman Family tale set (in part) at a museum. There are perhaps hints the story is trying to promote young people going to museums (page 3).
A Supergirl fan club is mentioned (page 2). This parallels the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club. The Jimmy Olsen Fan Club apparently begins in Otto Binder's "Elastic Lad's Greatest Feats" (Jimmy Olsen #46, July 1960), and continues in "The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen" (Jimmy Olsen #48, October 1960). It then starts appearing regularly with "The Richest Boy in Metropolis" (Jimmy Olsen #68, April 1963). Before that Green Arrow had a fan club: see "The Battle of the Arrowcars" (Adventure #231, December 1956). The Shining Knight had also had a fan club in the 1940's. Both characters appeared in Adventure Comics.
Dick Malverne wears a school sweater, with a big M on its chest for Midvale High, where he and Supergirl go to school. When Dick gains superpowers and starts flying around, the M recalls the big S Superman wears on the front of his costume. It gives Dick's outfit a look recalling superhero costumes.
The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk (Action #291, August 1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Supergirl has her first comic encounter with magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk, who brings her Kryptonian parents back to life, and who wants her to be his bride. This is the last Action Comics tale of Supergirl scripted by Jerry Siegel. "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk" is mainly not comic: it is more sinister than funny. And most of the tale is not that good.
FIRST HALF: INTERESTING EPISODES. The opening shows Supergirl and her foster parents returning to Midvale Orphanage (page 2). We see what looks like Mrs. Hart again, although she is not identified by name. The story stresses the importance of the Orphanage in Supergirl's life. This is the only upbeat section of the story.
The best part of the tale is an unusual look at the Bizarros (pages 3-5). Siegel was scripting the Bizarro World stories in Adventure, and here he gets to combine his two main humorous series, the Bizarros and Mr. Mxyzptlk. The Bizarro section is unusual in both form and content:
SECOND HALF: SOAP OPERA. The second half of "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk" is the part dealing with his bringing Supergirl's parents back to life. This part is like an Imaginary Tale: it shows us what might happen if something "unreal" were to take place, "unreal" in the sense that it is not part of the standard Superman mythos. And like Imaginary tales, nothing in this story becomes a permanent part of the mythos: everything is undone and made nonexistent when Mr. Mxyzptlk returns to the fifth dimension at the end.
Like many of the specific Imaginary Tales Jerry Siegel wrote, it shows us possible future events in the personal lives of his characters, events that are full of soap opera and suffering. Siegel's Imaginary Tales focus on relationships - while Imaginary stories by other authors instead often show big changes in the world of Superman as a whole.
"The Return of Jor-El and Lara" (Superboy #74, July 1959) written by Otto Binder, had previously shown Superboy unexpectedly confronted by a resurrection of his deceased original parents. It perhaps served as an inspiration for Supergirl's similar experience in "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk".
This tale marks the permanent start of Leo Dorfman taking over script writing duties for Supergirl. Most of the Supergirl scripts will be his through Action Comics #333, February 1966.
The Western background in this tale will recur in some, but not all, later Super-Horse tales. The landscapes give him plenty of dramatic scenery. A Western locale is atypical of Superman and his friends otherwise, who only go West on special occasions. "The Super-Steed of Steel" takes place at a dude ranch in the Sierras; later issues will include a rodeo. Westerns set in contemporary times were a big deal in the 1930's through the 1950's. Both dude ranches and rodeos were widely featured in them.
The historical pageant about the Salem Witch Trials anticipates another historical pageant about Ancient Greece, in the Dorfman/Mooney "The Return of Super-Horse". These pageants allow some spectacle and fancy costumes to appear in the tales.
The Secret Origin of Supergirl's Super-Horse (1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. The life-story of Super-Horse, how he got his powers, and how he teams up with Supergirl. This is the true Origin story of Super-Horse. It is far and away the best of the initial trio of Super-Horse tales, showing considerable plot imagination.
FANTASY VS SCIENCE FICTION. Edmond Hamilton's "Superman's First Exploit" (Superman #106, July 1956) had involved repeller rays on Kal-El's rocket, the one that first took him to Earth. Dorfman does something similar here with Supergirl's. The trips to Earth are poetic moments. Key things happen during them.
Including Supergirl's trip to Earth also gives a science fiction touch to Super-Horse's origin. But otherwise, his actual origin is pure fantasy, rather than science fiction, being grounded in magic and Greek mythology. Aspects also echo fairy tales, especially the one about the "prince who was turned into a frog".
Still, once Super-Horse appears, his adventures are purely science-fictional in the rest of the story. He repels an alien invasion of Earth. And while his powers have an origin in mythology, he uses his super-powers in similar science-fictional ways as Superman, Supergirl and Krypto, super-beings whose origins are purely science-fictional.
SUPER-POWERS. Because Super-Horse is not from Krypton, he is not affected by Kryptonite. This aspect seems to be lifted from Jerry Siegel's previous stories of Streaky the Super-cat.
A ranch owner wants to shoe and brand Super-Horse (pages 2, 3). This seems like a clever equine version of tales in which someone wants to cut Superman's hair or give him a shot.
ALIEN INVASION. This is another Dorfman tale about an attempted alien invasion of Earth. See "The Maid of Doom" (1963), "Project Earth-Doom" (1965). The actual repelling of the invasion is simple: super-kicks from Super-Horse send the alien ships back to outer space! This is drastically skimpy and swift, compared to most alien invasion tales, by Dorfman or others. It is NOT a triumph of plotting.
The invading alien spaceships are unusually curvilinear: they are spheres with a curved crest on top, and curved slits to emit their rays. They look like something out of 1910's geometrical Constructivist Art. They also look a bit like the spherical satellites being launched circa 1960 by real-life space programs. They appear both in this issue and the previous issue's "The Super-Steed of Steel". In both tales, the rays are seen attacking and cutting in two, tall towers on Earth.
The Mutiny of Super-Horse (#294, November 1962). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Super-Horse is sold to a Hollywood production company, who use him in a film. This is a tragic tale, which ends in scenes of great sadness. It completes the first three story arc of Super-Horse tales, although it leaves them on a sad, cliff- hanging note. The finale of the tale once again invokes Greek mythology, a personal interest of Dorfman's.
We associate Hollywood stories with Jerry Siegel, although both Dorfman and Otto Binder sometimes wrote them too. Here, we see two archetypal characters who appear in many Superman family Hollywood tales: the glamorous actress, and the foreign born, colorful director. Also typical of the Superman comics: the movie is a science fiction film, allowing some satire on the 1950's sf film industry.
The Return of Super-Horse (#300, May 1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Super-Horse struggles to recover from his amnesia, and resume both his super-powers and his relationship with Supergirl. This is the start of a second three story arc of Super-Horse tales. In between this set and the first three tales came the four story series about Lena Thorul and Lex Luthor. This story is closely tied to "The Mutiny of Super-Horse". Basically, it simply tries to undo and reverse the effects of that previous story. At the end, Super-Horse is back exactly where he started at the beginning of "Mutiny". These two tales are pretty minor.
Dorfman's best moment here: when Super-Horse realizes that his powers could be put to better use that he is currently employing them (end of page 7). This is a life lesson which we all can share.
Jim Mooney has some good art at the end, when Midvale inhabitants are all costumed as ancient Greeks for a historical pageant.
The Secret Identity of Super-Horse (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Super-Horse's powers get extended, when a magic spell causes him to temporarily turn into a human whenever he is exposed to a comet. This is the most important Super-Horse story. It is rich and complexly plotted. Super-Horse winds up with three identities as a result of this story: as a horse, as a human, and as a centaur, half man and half horse. I do not recall any other comic book characters with this sort of three-way identity. It recalls the complex interweaving of identities in Frank L. Packard's prose mystery The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1914-1915).
Dorfman develops a standard process that controls the passage of Super-Horse from one identity to another. This process is superimposed over other plot events in the story, such as Super-Horse's struggle with the bad guys. The two sequences interact in ingenious ways. This sort of counterpointing effect is rare in fiction, and probably hard to create.
POINT OF VIEW: CONTRAPUNTAL. Dorfman also wrote stories in which the events are seen from the point of view of two protagonists simultaneously; these tales also have a contrapuntal structure. In "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse", the point of view switches back-and-forth between Supergirl and Super-Horse.
See also the discussion of Dorfman's Superman tale "When Superman Lost His Memory" (1965) for a look at parallel plot lines and parallel perspectives in Dorfman tales. Such parallel construction is related to what Dorfman is doing in his contrapuntal Super-Horse and Lena Thorul tales.
Dorfman was creating so many Comet tales that Comet was threatening to take over Action. He is at least as much the protagonist of these tales than Supergirl. Many of the stories are from his point of view, and he is the only one who understands all the secrets of the plot - two marks of a central character in the Superman family comic books.
FANTASY VS SCIENCE FICTION. The first half takes place on the sorcerer's planet of Zerox, where magic has undergone the systematic development that science has on Earth. This idea is not too unusual in prose fantasy stories, such as Randall Garrett's Lord Darcy tales, which began in 1964. I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. Except for the comic tales of Mr. Mxyzptlk, almost everything in the Superman mythos is pure science fiction. Here Dorfman is introducing fantasy elements. It does not quite fit. On the plus side, Dorfman handles this material quite well.
The second half of "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" seems mainly science fictional to me, rather than fantasy.
The trigger of Super-Horse's change to a human is any comet. This trigger itself can be seen as science fiction, rather than fantasy or magic. Comets are part of the world of astronomy and science: hence this is a science fictional trigger. Comet may have obtained this trigger through a magic spell - but once he has it, the trigger works as science fiction. Even in the second half of "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse", the trigger and the events it affects seem science fictional, not fantasy. The trigger also seems science-fictional in the next tale "The Day Super-Horse Went Wild".
RURITANIA. Zerox is a kingdom, and has many features reminiscent of The Prisoner of Zenda, such as scheming claimants to the throne and palace intrigue. Such Ruritanian romance was not uncommon in the Superman family. Dorfman had also used such conventions in "Clark Kent, Coward" (#298, March 1963), three issues before.
RED SUN. Superman sends Super-Horse to the planet Zerox, which has a red sun. Both Superman and Supergirl would lose their super-powers on a red sun planet, being from Krypton. But Super-Horse still has his super-powers on red sun planets, because he is not from Krypton. This is an ingenious idea. It is "science-fictional", not fantasy.
Earlier "The Secret Origin of Supergirl's Super-Horse" pointed out that Super-Horse was immune to Kryptonite because he was not from Krypton: a similar idea, stressing the differences in Super-Horse's powers as a non-Kryptonian. That idea derived from earlier Streaky tales by Jerry Siegel. However, this idea about red suns is original to this tale by Dorfman, as best as I can tell.
The Day Super-Horse Went Wild (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. A villain hypnotizes Super-Horse, forcing him to go on a rampage of destruction. The story's basic premise draws on Robert Bernstein's "Superman Goes Wild" (#295, December 1962), in which Superman is similarly hypnotized into a destructive rampage. However, this story adds a lot of sub-plots and background features not present in the earlier story. This tale is typical of Dorfman, in that it involves a riot of science fiction invention. Dorfman also includes a great variety of settings for this tale. This produces the rich mix of many of his sf stories.
PLOT STRUCTURE. Dorfman uses Super-Horse's cycle of transformation from one identity to another to free him from the villain's hypnotic control. This reminds one of Gardner Fox's similar strategy in his Adam Strange tales, where Adam's use of the zeta-beam teleportation cycle allows him to interfere with various menaces' schemes.
ATLANTIS. Dorfman examines the implications of the existence of Atlantis in this tale. If Atlantis existed in real life, we would have something like the "Zone X" he describes in his story. Zone X was created by the United Nations; Dorfman also looks at the interaction of Atlantis and the UN in his "The Girl Who Mourned for Superman" (Lois Lane #43, August 1963). Both of these stories show Dorfman thinking science fictionally, in intelligent ways.
"The Day Super-Horse Went Wild" treats Atlantis much like the standard approaches used for Krypton elsewhere in Superman comics:
CLOTHES. While human, Super-Horse disguises himself as a carnival fortune teller. In his previous tale "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" he worked and dressed as a rodeo cowboy. Super-Horse has an affinity for entertainment sites like carnivals and rodeos. Such sites, which also include fairs, festivals and parades, are common in Silver Age Superman family comics.
The Black Magic of Supergirl (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Supergirl gets a magic ring, which gives her sinister powers. Like the Super-Horse tales, this is a story which treats ancient myths as modern day realities.
The best part of this story is its finale. It has fine art by Jim Mooney. By 1965, Action was stressing large panels for some of its illustrations; Mooney takes advantage of this. Some of Dorfman's thinking here recalls his "Secret of Kryptonite Six" of the previous year, as well as the finale of his "From Riches to Rags" (1966). Both Mooney and Dorfman have come up with a genuinely poetic concept.
Another change: in the original "The Curse of Lena Thorul" Lena has no ESP powers. These powers are newly introduced in "The Girl With the X-Ray Mind".
Dorfman really pushes the scientific validity of ESP here, something I've never believed in. The ESP cards have pictures of Superman's friends on them. This seems to be a way of getting more Superman mythos flavor into the tale. It evokes the Superman family as visual icons. Similarly, in this story's sequel "The Girl Who Was Supergirl's Double" we have a costume party in which some of the characters dress as Superman family characters.
"The Girl With the X-Ray Mind" has features in common with another, later Lena Thorul tale, "The Great Supergirl Double-Cross":
COSTUME PARTY. The highlight of this story is the costume party. Costumes are used in a variety of ways. Dick Malverne's conveys his leading man status. He always seems to be getting dressed up and going to parties: see his white tux in "Supergirl Goes to College" (1964). See this list of costume parties in comic books.
The dialogue points out how many men at the party, including Dick Malverne, who are dressed as some sort of hero. This seems to be the principal approach of most men there.
Two uniformed guards are present at the party. They are some of Jim Mooney's leading men in identical police uniforms. There are two other small groups at the party who also wear identical clothes: the judges, the crooks.
The dramatic scene where the party guests are knocked out by gas recalls the classic silent movie serial Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade, 1915). Dorfman adds ingenious new material, about how the villain's costumes prevent them from breathing the gas.
INVESTIGATING A SECRET IDENTITY. This story has the serial construction familiar from Otto Binder, but much more rarely used by Dorfman. A series of four incidents persuades Dick that Lena is really Supergirl. Each incident is based on coincidence: fate ingeniously arranges events to make it look as if Lena is Supergirl's secret ID. This is classic Superman stuff. There have been countless tales of similar misunderstandings and twists of fate in the Superman saga.
There is an ingenious link between the plots of the first and second incidents. This binds them together. This differs from many serial construction tales, where the series of incidents are entirely separate from each other in their plot details.
Dick is confused about the causes of Lena's weakness, during the second incident. Characters in other Dorfman tales get confused and draw wrong conclusions about an event's cause. See:
The next issue of Action Comics would feature Dorfman's Superman tale "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity". Perry White tries to figure out Superman's secret identity in that tale, just as Dick Malverne investigates Supergirl's secret identity in "The Girl Who Was Supergirl's Double". Both of these investigators are male: a change of pace from Lois Lane. Perry is a better investigator than Dick Malverne.
The Great Supergirl Double-Cross (1964). Writer: Leo Dorfman. When Supergirl learns strange things about Lena Thorul's new boy-friend Jeff Colby, she tries to break up their romance. This story reverses the triangle plot of "The Girl Who Was Supergirl's Double". In that tale, Linda lost her boyfriend to Lena Thorul; here Lena loses her boyfriend to Linda.
Twenty years later "Jeff Colby" would be the name of a hero of the TV serials Dynasty and The Colbys. Aside from the name, I can see little connection to this tale.
This tale has some good thriller elements. SPOILERS. Thriller and spy tales were becoming popular in the mid 1960's. This tale uses a old twist dealing with Jeff Colby. It is not original here - but it is very satisfying none the less.
Dorfman regularly wrote Superman tales showing him battling organized crime. The bad guys are organized in "The Great Supergirl Double-Cross" too - but they are international spies, not local members of the Mob. "The Great Supergirl Double-Cross" shows concrete details of the bad guys' elaborately organized operation: also a frequent Dorfman approach. See Dorfman's Superman tales "Why Superman Needs a Secret Identity" (1963), "The Outlaw Fort Knox" (1965).
The story mentions solar power.
Supergirl Goes to College (1964). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Linda graduates from high school and enrolls in Stanhope College, where she duels with a snobbish sorority leader who puts her through difficult initiation tests.
SOCIAL COMMENTARY. "Supergirl Goes to College" is full of comments about how nasty these initiation tests are. SPOILERS. The story's end has a speech about how abusive hazing is being dropped from Greek life on campus (p12). This is an anti-hazing tale.
This story explicitly hopes that Linda's getting a college education will serve as a role model for others, and encourage them to do the same (p2). This is typical of DC's public service orientation during the Silver Age. Around this time, Lois Lane's mythos started including the fact that she once went to Raleigh College, and she started having adventures set on that campus, which she would visit as an alumna. This theme of higher education for women is virtually the first look at university life in the whole Superman mythos, although there had been some flashback tales in the late 1950's dealing with Clark Kent's college days.
However, college life is not depicted very sympathetically in Dorfman's tales. It seems to be full of nasty student snobs who control everyone's lives, and make them miserable. Dorfman likes the professors, but there is very little here about college academic work.
A positive feature of college life shown here: the presence of foreign students. Many are from Asian countries; all are positively portrayed.
"Supergirl Goes to College" also shows how proud Supergirl and her foster parents are that she graduated from high school (p2). While there are no explicit "role model" comments, this tale could be implicitly seen as a pro-high school graduation, anti-dropping out tale.
STORY CONSTRUCTION. The first two pages of "Supergirl Goes to College" show Supergirl's graduation and enrollment in college: her personal life story. It is quite common for Supergirl tales to open with scenes of her personal life.
The rest of "Supergirl Goes to College" is structured a series of "challenges and responses":
The Enemy Supergirl (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Another super-powered woman mysteriously appears, who maliciously impersonates Supergirl. This tale is a sf mystery - where does the other, evil Supergirl come from? The best part of the tale is the solution, which explains the plot with considerable detail.
Like some other Dorfman mysteries, there is a clue used by Supergirl to help her solve the mystery. Also Dorfman-like: the clue is a plot event that looks normal at first, but which is later seen by Supergirl as odd when she analyzes it.
Supergirl returns to Midvale Orphanage. We see an official who looks like Mrs. Hart, although she is not identified by name.
This story is unusual in that most of the main characters are female. Men do show up briefly: a doctor, Supergirl's foster father Mr. Danvers, prison officials. But it is women who have the main roles. And romantic relationships with men play no part in the story. It definitely passes the Bechdel Test.
The story involves the Superman mythos. Some are parts of the mythos strongly linked to Supergirl herself: Stanhope College, the Danvers, Mrs. Hart, Super-Horse. "General" parts of the mythos: Red Kryptonite, the Phantom Zone, Kandor.
KANDOR CENSUS. The Kandor census is based on an interesting high tech device (page 5). This tale seems to be its only appearance. Supergirl earlier consulted the Kandor Census Bureau in "The Maid of Menace" (Action #304, September 1963) (page 8). And on a similar errand: trying to find out if a mysterious super-powered woman on Earth might be a Kandor citizen. In "The Maid of Menace", the census can find the whereabouts of any Kandor resident, and bring up a live view of them on a TV screen. The related technology in "The Enemy Supergirl" can create an instant census of everyone in Kandor. The stories never explore the morality or social implications of this - it is treated as just another high tech wonder of the city of Kandor.
The tales are mainly interested in showing how such census technology aids Supergirl's detective work. Today's TV detective shows are full of similar uses of technology:
The huge technological machines shown in the two tales are different, both in function and appearance. And the two Kandorian officials who talk to Supergirl in the two tales are different men.
The Ugly Duckling Teacher of Stanhope College (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Supergirl tries to help a dowdy but kind-hearted teacher who is the butt of student ridicule. This tale deals almost purely with romance, with very little sf or Superman mythos elements. It's a story of a social underdog who becomes a winner, and I've always had a weakness for tales like that. I could wish that this tale suggested valuing all human beings, not just beautiful ones. It does suggest the pain and the badness of the social pecking order, but it doesn't really offer concrete alternatives to our system of valuing people by their looks. Still, the story has plenty of appeal. Dorfman shows his sensitivity to people's feelings, and the importance of friendship and companionship, two of his basic themes.
The story does invoke Atlantis: part of the Superman mythos. Supergirl seems to have a special affinity for Atlantis, the way Jimmy Olsen is always heading for the bottled city of Kandor. Perhaps editor Mort Weisinger consciously encouraged this in his writers. Atlantis is some ways seems a female-oriented place:
LINKS TO THE PHONY SUITOR TALES. "Supergirl's Big Brother" shares some features with two later tales about phony suitors of Supergirl, "Supergirl's Wedding Day" and "The Man Who Broke Supergirl's Heart":
WAR CASUALTIES. "Supergirl's Big Brother" shows a family mourning a son who died in the Korean War (1950-1953). "Lois Lane - Volunteer Nurse" (Lois Lane #43, August 1963), published in the same month, showed Lois meeting a Vietnam War veteran as a patient in her hospital. The United States was just beginning to send troops in any number to Vietnam in 1961 and 1962.
Supergirl's Wedding Day (Action #307, December 1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Supergirl is romanced by Tor-An, who is secretly an escaped Phantom Zone criminal out for revenge.
KRYPTON. This story is rich in glimpses of Krypton. We see both true and false histories of Tor-An's life on Krypton, as well as a whole Kryptonian marriage ceremony. This makes it one of the mixed Krypton and Earth set tales that the writers of the Superman family loved.
WOMAN IN JEOPARDY. "Supergirl's Wedding Day" is an example of a popular genre, a woman in jeopardy. Such tales go back at least to The Woman in White (1859-1860) by Wilkie Collins. Like Collins' novel, "Supergirl's Wedding Day" is a full scale melodrama pitting good characters against evil ones. The bad characters try to promote an evil goal that will harm the heroine; the good characters try to prevent it.
As in Collins, the heroine of "Supergirl's Wedding Day" is gullible and puts up little resistance to the bad guys, in large part because she is engulfed by "traditional femininity". SPOILERS. Both Collins and "Supergirl's Wedding Day" feature a second female good character who does offer massive resistance to the bad guys - and who seems to have no involvement with "traditional feminine" attitudes.
BALLET. A poster in the train station (page 4) seems to be for the Ballets Russes.
IDENTITY THEFT AND AUTHORITY FIGURES. The episode where schoolteacher Michael Barnes has his identity stolen (page 4) has antecedents in the world of the thriller. See A. Merritt's thriller novel Seven Footprints to Satan (1927) (Chapters 1 - 3). SPOILERS. In both Merritt and "Supergirl's Wedding Day":
"The Story of Superman's Souvenirs" (Jimmy Olsen #5, May-June 1955) does things that recall the above scenario, in part. A crook impersonates Superman, and persuades a police desk sergeant and other cops that he's really Superman. But the real Superman is not made to look delusional - he's simply absent while this scheme is going on. "The Story of Superman's Souvenirs" goes one better than "Supergirl's Wedding Day" in one detail: its desk sergeant actually has large Sergeant's chevrons on his uniform.
AUTHORITY FIGURES, CHAIN OF COMMAND, AND HOAXES. Other aspects of the villain's scheme in "Supergirl's Wedding Day" also involve the sneaky use of authority figures:
Other hoaxes are enhanced by "chain of command" relationships:
SCIENCE FICTION. This story is full of science fiction concepts:
Supergirl is lured into the trap, by tempting her with the idea of being a queen. Only when she gives in to testing this anti-democratic idea does she get in trouble. This is a statement about how dictatorial ideas lead to both corruption and disaster.
This story reminds one of the "Fantastic Adventure" tales appearing in Jimmy Olsen during this period. Its great complexity, its maze like plot construction, and its surprising finale all recall the Fantastic Adventure tales. Its elaborate recreation of the original Superbaby saga can be considered an sf "landscape", one in which Supergirl is bewilderingly plunged. Such landscapes were characteristic of the Fantastic Adventures. And the mystery's solution also recalls features of the Fantastic Adventure tales. Another similarity: Supergirl solves her mystery, just as Jimmy does, by a mixture of shrewd observation and intelligence.
"The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" and "The Amazing Confession of Super-Perry White", also from this period, also have a similar plot complexity. Neither of these stories are in the Fantastic Adventure mold - they have neither a villain, a mystery nor a sf landscape - but they do have some of the same ambition and inspiration.
Much is made in "Superbaby II" of the two languages, Kryptonian and English, and the speed at which Superbaby II learns English under Supergirl's tutelage. This recalls Jimmy's mastery of Old Norse in Dorfman's "Jimmy Olsen's Viking Sweetheart" (Jimmy Olsen #69, June 1963). Dorfman does not use poetic license here and have everybody just speak one language. Instead, he weaves the two languages into the structure of the plot. There is a similar two language approach in a Fantastic Adventure tale, "Jimmy Olsen Meets Cleopatra" (Jimmy Olsen #71, September 1963), which uses Latin and English.
This tale returns to Midvale Orphanage. We re-meet both Orphanage officials: the male director, and Mrs Hart.
There are two sets of clues to the mystery:
The Maid of Doom (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Supergirl's touch causes a fatal blue aura to attack any super-being she touches, whether animals like Krypto, or humans. Superb sf-mystery hybrid, with a well-developed plot. The story's premise recalls Robert Bernstein's "Lois Lane's Kiss of Death" (Lois Lane #7, February 1959). But while Bernstein's tale has a fake "supernatural" background, everything in "The Maid of Doom" is purely science fictional.
Dorfman had just written a previous sf mystery starring Supergirl, "The Fantastic Secret of Superbaby II" (1963).
The mystery has two clues to the solution, which help Supergirl discover the truth. Dorfman is following the "fair play" tradition of mystery fiction, which demands that sound clues be hidden in the story. Both of the clues in "The Maid of Doom" involve plot events in the tale, events that seem odd when Supergirl begins to analyze them.
"The Maid of Doom" has a political background recalling science fiction stories that appeared in comic books like Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. War-like societies on other planets want to attack or invade Earth; The good guys have to persuade them that this is a bad idea. SPOILERS. As is typical in such tales, the finale has the other planet rejecting its war-like ways. In "The Maid of Doom", this leads to actual disarmament. Disarmament is also a key theme that runs through Silver Age Supermen tales.
Supergirl uses brain-power to defeat the bad guys, rather than military force. This too is typical of such tales in Mystery in Space. It enables the heroes to defeat a war-like planet - but without the good guys themselves using military means.
An unusual device is Superman's machine which can detect whether a super-being is being influenced by Red Kryptonite. It's a great idea, logical and useful. It would have made a good addition to the Superman mythos. Unfortunately, this is apparently the only story in which it appeared. The machine was just invented by Superman: another instance of the tales emphasizing Superman's scientific talent.
Supergirl's Rival Parents (1964). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Supergirl tries to liberate her Kryptonian parents from the Survival Zone, leading to conflicts with her foster parents the Danvers. Well done soap opera. Dorfman stresses the theme of self-sacrifice.
In the earlier "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk" (1962) by Jerry Siegel, Supergirl's Kryptonian parents had been brought temporarily to life through the magic of Mr. Mxyzptlk. Everything that imp does is temporary and artificial, so the reader knew that it was not a real, permanent part of the Superman mythos. However, that story ended in a query, asking readers if they wanted to bring back Supergirl's parents for real. Dorfman also follows the earlier story, in stressing Supergirl's conflicted feelings about two sets of parents, and her parents' noble self sacrifice.
This tale has Dorfman's two part construction: the first part being set on another planet, the second part taking place on Earth. In the first part of such tales, we often see the science fiction origin of events. The second part then deals with the permanent consequences of such events, and how they are going to affect the heroes' lives on Earth. Dorfman used a similar construction for the origin story of Super-Horse's human identity, "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" (1963). There are often plot echoes between the two parts of the story. Events in the second half might be either parallels or mirror reversals of events in the first.
The Survival Zone is typical of the innovations Dorfman tried to bring to the Phantom Zone. It seems to be a place like the Phantom Zone, but separate from it. In "The Duel Between Superwoman and Superboy" (1966), he introduced the idea of a partitioned off area in the Phantom Zone. "Secret of Kryptonite Six" (1964) contains devices designed to restrict prisoners released from the Zone.
How Superwoman Trained Superboy; The Duel Between Superwoman and Superboy (1966). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Jim Mooney. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Two-part Imaginary tale, exploring what might have happened if Superman and Supergirl's roles had been reversed. The two parts appeared in successive issues of Action Comics. The first part appeared in Action Comics #332, which featured Curt Swan's cover; the second part or sequel was in #333, and was not linked to that issue's cover, which dealt with a different story.
Dorfman's tale recalls Otto Binder's "The Second Supergirl" (#272, January 1961), in that both involve a role reversal between Superman and Supergirl. There are differences between the two works:
There is also much about Gold Kryptonite, another new feature of the mythos.
Dorfman revisits adoption from Midvale Orphanage and Supergirl's attempts to find an antidote to Green Kryptonite, two perennial plot subjects from the early Binder-Siegel years of Supergirl scripts.
Dorfman's tale is especially people centered. He looks closely at the continuing characters of the mythos, and tries to imagine them in new, alternative roles. One recalls that in "The Secret Identity of Super-Horse" (1963), he had Comet take on new roles; the effect here is somewhat similar.
The sequel is a well constructed thriller. While it lacks the torrent of invention of the first story, it has some good plot twists. As its title "The Duel Between Superwoman and Superboy" implies, the sequel is more a story of conflict between Superboy and Superwoman, than a mythos reversing story. The sequel has some good recursive elements:
The Cybernians, an advanced civilization of aliens skilled at constructing computers, had previously appeared in Jerry Siegel's "Superman's Day of Doom" (Superman #157, November 1962), as the story points out (page 2).
RACE. The story shows many alien races working together harmoniously (page 8). In science fiction, this is sometimes an allegory about human races living in brotherhood.
Supergirl comes into conflict with men working for large organizations in Parts 1 and 2. But she is aided by a woman in Part 2 and aliens in Part 3. There is perhaps an allegory about Supergirl finding allies in women and people of other races, but experiencing conflict with white men in society's mainstream.
STORY CONSTRUCTION. The tale is episodic. A prologue establishes the Cybernians and their machines. After this, Supergirl goes off and performs deeds. There are three separate story lines about her deeds. And within each story line, there are two separate sections with different "feels", and often different settings and characters. The three story lines are:
Both the second and third story lines include mysteries, which the reader is challenged to solve. (Part 2: Why is Supergirl not pursuing the bad guys? Part 3: Who is the mystery man in the spacesuit?)
TECHNOLOGY. All three story lines feature advanced technology. The "converto-plane" in Part 2 is a kind of technology I don't recall seeing in any other story. One suspects this might be the same as what today is called a "Convertiplane".
MYTHOS. Attempts are made to incorporate aspects of the Superman family mythos, especially parts related to Supergirl.
Also, one suspects that some of the new characters and settings in this tale, might have been intended by the unknown author as new additions to the mythos. For example, the FBI agent and the heiress in Part 2 might have been useful continuing characters, in further adventures of Supergirl. However, as best I can tell this never happened: we never see these characters again in later stories. Similarly, Supergirl never returns in later tales to the college in Part 3, even though it might have been intended as an addition to her mythos. All of these characters are good guys: the FBI agent, the heiress, the college staff.
WHO WROTE THIS? This is one of the few Supergirl works of the period apparently not written by Leo Dorfman. The author is unknown. It seems very different from most of the Supergirl works of its era. Parts evoke other authors:
ART. Jim Mooney includes some of his leading man types:
The moon has ruins of an abandoned civilization. They are in Art Deco style: typical of comic book depictions of the future. But these buildings are also crumbling and in ruins: something only rarely seen in Art Deco buildings in comics.
The best parts of the tale concern the heroes' secret identities. The story shows how they are accidentally revealed to each other, when Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent are forced to share a cabin on ship. The whole situation here seems like a model for the later Superboy-Pete Ross relationship, in Robert Bernstein's "Pete Ross' Super-Secret" (Superboy #90, July 1961). Pete Ross and Superboy are a non-super-powered character and a superhero who become best friends, just like Batman and Superman. Pete Ross learns Superboy's secret identity by accident, just like Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent do in this tale. The circumstances are similar: in both stories, the protagonists' share sleeping quarters together, in both the heroes try to secretly change into their identities in the dark, in both a sudden flash of light illuminates everything, and gives the secret away. There are important differences, however: Batman and Superman learn each other's secret identities, but in the Superboy story, only Pete Ross learns Superboy's secret. Also, both Batman and Superman know right away that the other knows, while Superboy never learns that Pete Ross knows his secret.
Also creative at the end of the story, is the way Superman and Batman help preserve each other's secret identities. This is the first of many such events, which will stretch through the Silver Age and beyond. These scenes also anticipate the Pete Ross series: Pete will devote much of his efforts to preserving Superboy's secret identity, often in ways that build on Hamilton's methods here.
I never saw this story as a kid. I always assumed that Batman and Superman first became friends, then revealed to each other their secret identities as an act of trust. However, this tale shows the exact reverse: Superman and Batman were strangers, when an accident revealed their secret identities to each other.
Batman - Double For Superman (1954). Writer: Alvin Schwartz. Art: Curt Swan. The first of the regular team-ups in World's Finest Comics: Superman and Batman exchange secret identities, to baffle Lois Lane. Once again, I have mixed feelings about this story. Alvin Schwartz had the very good idea of regularly teaming up Batman and Superman. He deserves credit for this. Also, the story has the ingenious idea of having the two heroes swap identities. Once again, however, the actual execution of the story is not as good.
This tale is a direct sequel to "The Mightiest Team in the World" (1952). It opens with a recap of key events from the earlier tale. Also, the characterizations of Superman, Batman and their relationship are directly based on the earlier story. This shows an admirable concern with continuity in the mid-1950's DC comics world.
Some of the imagery in this tale is superb. Particularly impressive: the panel on page 11 showing Batman holding the unconscious Superman in his arms. Each is dressed in the other's costume, according to the switched identity plot of the story. The image emphasizes brotherhood and compassion. The switched costumes help deepen the meaning of the image, and the relationship between the two men. Also noteworthy is the panel on the upper right corner of page 12, showing them starting to switch costumes back again.
During the 1950's there were a series of tales in which other people assumed the roles of Batman and Robin. Batman's identity is somewhat more fluid than most characters in fiction. All one has to do is put on a Batman suit, and presto, one essentially is Batman. The cowl hides your face, so anyone wearing a Batman costume looks just like Batman. And Batman's other main characteristic is his detective skill. Anyone having a good brain and a flair for detective work is essentially behaving just like the "real" Batman. In fact, it is hard to say that such a person is not really Batman: they seem to be fulfilling the Batman role just as much as anyone else could. All of this is very different from Superman: you could put on a Superman suit, and without his powers you would just be a pathetic mortal wearing somebody else's costume.
When Superman puts on Batman's costume here, the effect is not so much that Superman is impersonating Batman. Instead, it seems as if Superman is becoming Batman, at least temporarily.
Fort Crime (1954). Writer: Alvin Schwartz. Art: Curt Swan. Clark Kent is among the hostages taken by escaped cons to a fortress run by criminals. A story like this one reminds one overwhelmingly of the Silver Age to come. Partly this is the art: it is an early work of Curt Swan's, who would become a definitive illustrator of many Superman family titles. Swan's work has the "realistic" quality that would be prized in the Silver Age, after all the sketchy, schematic and even often downright crude art that appears in so many Golden Age stories.
The plot also is very Silver Age-ish: it deals ingeniously with Superman's secret identity.
Batman and Superman, Swamis Inc. (World's Finest #73, November-December 1954). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. To lure in a crime kingpin, Superman uses his powers to make it look as if the fortune teller Batman is impersonating can really foretell the future. This is a common kind of plot in the Superman family - to make someone look as if they really have super powers - and it is not especially creative here.
Two aspects of the story are more interesting. The story opens with a joke Batman plays on Superman, one that is based on his knowing Superman's secret identity. Such jokes reoccur regularly in later tales, for example, at the opening of Otto Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958). The scenes in Hamilton's tale recall the fortune teller chapter of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1848).
Secondly, the story establishes an interesting feature of Batman and Superman's relationship: that Batman thinks it is his job to challenge Superman, shake him up, and generally add mystery and spice to his life and keep him from going into a rut. Clearly Batman thinks this is funny, but it is also an emotionally important component of the teaming for both men. Later stories written by Hamilton will show Batman watching over Superman, trying to protect him from harm. Superman does not have anyone else like this in his life. He tends to be the protector of Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, although sometimes they return the favor.
When Gotham City Challenged Metropolis (1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. As part of a contest for the location of an electronics show, Superman and Batman switch cities, and agree that whoever performs more super-deeds will get the show. Delightful story that is one of the sunniest of the Superman-Batman tales. Both Gotham City and Metropolis come alive in this story. They are typical of the way Hamilton often viewed cities as his protagonists. The fact that all the deeds in the contest are specified to be "civic" also contributes to this theme.
Hamilton often looks at the interesting things that happen when people take on roles and locations usually owned by others. Here Superman and Batman take on each other's roles as protectors of Metropolis and Gotham City.
Civic boosters on the City Councils of both Gotham City and Metropolis are shown. These are middle-aged men trying to get a big electronics convention to come to their cities. In the 1950's, middle-aged white men believed in promoting their communities, and working for the public good. This was before libertarianism and its boot-licking concern for the rich and hatred for the community became an obsession among so many of today's older white people. We need to bring back the 1950's spirit of boosterism.
Enthusiasm by the City Councils for the electronics convention is partly based on the way it will bring scientists and inventors to the cities. This is part of the pro-science attitude both of 1950's comics, and 1950's America. The story shows Government trying to promote technology.
When Superman's Identity Is Exposed (1955). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. When an unknown person keeps posting public messages identifying Superman as Clark Kent, Superman asks Batman and Robin to solve the mystery. Well constructed mystery tale. This is the first of Hamilton's mystery tales among the Superman-Batman team-ups.
Hamilton shows good craftsmanship, by sprinkling his mystery with clues pointing to its solution. One of the clues is itself a mystery: why do the otherwise nasty warnings sometimes contain good, morally sound advice? This deepens the mystery. Yet at the end, it can also be seen as a clue which suggests the truth.
Superman's secret identity is regularly threatened in the team-up tales, but Batman's rarely is. This might reflect the two heroes' worlds: Lois Lane, Lana Lang and bad guys are always trying to find out Superman's identity in his solo stories, while Batman is much less frequently targeted in his. However, there might be emotional factors, as well. Batman is often the protector of Superman in the stories. Superman will be threatened, either by Kryptonite or by the loss of his secret identity, and Batman will step in to help and to guard him from harm.
During the 1950's Batman was not viewed as the Dark Knight. Instead, he was most frequently characterized as "The World's Greatest Detective". This means several things:
Once again, high-technology appears in this tale:
The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. To help save the financially troubled newspaper, the Gotham Gazette, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne go to work there as reporters. The richly comic newspaper sequences are the main appeal of this delightful tale. Hamilton treats a newspaper like the Gotham Gazette as a great institution. There is an educational aspect: The young readers of the tale are learning about an important part of American culture. They can learn a lot here about a newspaper, how it operates, and about the great tradition of publishing and reporting.
Hamilton had written an earlier tale dealing with a threat to close down the Daily Planet, "The End of the Planet!" (Superman #79, November-December 1952). Its initial premise of a "great newspaper in trouble" is similar to the current tale, but the plot is developed in different ways.
The threatened newspaper combines two of Hamilton's interests. One is the community. Hamilton's stories often have collective protagonists, such as a city or town. Here the newspaper and its employees, all the people who are working together to save the paper, form one of Hamilton's community "heroes".
The other Hamilton subject is the socially constructive outsider: people who have been rejected by the mainstream of society, but who still want to make a contribution. The newspaper here is precisely such a Hamilton reject. It is full of idealistic people who want to stay in business, who want to carry on the paper's great contribution. They persevere and struggle, even though they are not getting any encouragement from society at large. The newspaper here anticipates another one of Hamilton's threatened institutions: "The Legion of Substitute Heroes" (Adventure #306, March 1963).
The natural personalities of each of Hamilton's regulars come into play when they attempt to help the Gotham Gazette. At first, Hamilton uses this for some gentle humor. But gradually we see how each personality manages to make a contribution is its own way. Just as in Hamilton's Legion tales each hero uses his own super-power, here each character uses their own personality traits.
Hamilton liked to put people in unfamiliar roles. He wrote many tales in which people shuffled their roles around, often taking on the careers usually associated with other characters in the story. Here Lois gets Perry's profession, and Bruce Wayne gets Clark Kent's.
Hamilton's early-Superman and Batman team ups often seem strangely "modern". They seem to anticipate the Silver Age tales to come. It is not clear why this is so. In some ways, these stories involve, in miniature, the concept of a "mythos". They incorporate every stray character, gadget and plot situation of both the Batman and Superman worlds, combining them to build stories.
This is another Hamilton tale to involve a large scale engineering project. The criminals are engaged in such a project. Superman gets involved, and modifies their work in a massive way: also large-scale engineering.
The True History of Superman and Batman (World's Finest #81, March-April 1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. A history professor from the future demands that Batman and Superman redo their deeds so that they match the description in his history book! This tale has some shared imagery with other Hamilton stories of the era. The professor keeping a detailed record of the heroes' deeds recalls Reese Kearns in "Superman's First Exploit" (Superman #106, July 1956). The scene where Batman and Robin climb among the planets in a planetarium's model of the solar system recalls the giant hero of "Search for a Lost World" (Strange Adventures #67, April 1956) encountering small looking planets and suns. This is one of many scenes in comic books set in museums. Today we are used to see large, high quality color photographs of nature, astronomy and archaeology in books, magazines and on the Internet. But in the 1950's, and for two hundred years before, the main source of such information was in museums. Museums were a medium mixing static visual images and printed text, like the comics themselves, and they were the main place where the public could interface with the world outside daily life. It is not surprising that many comics creators had such an affinity for museums.
The Case of the Mother Goose Mystery (World's Finest #83, July-August 1956). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Dick Sprang. Batman and Superman stumble into a strange series of events modeled on nursery rhymes. This story follows similar plot ideas as G.K. Chesterton's "The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown" (1903). Finger does a good job of preserving the feel of a night of adventure, when anything can happen in the city streets, a feeling found in both Chesterton and his chief influence, Robert Louis Stevenson's The New Arabian Nights (1878). He also shows originality in making the adventures tailored to specific heroes, in this case Batman and Superman, and not the generic adventurer of Chesterton's original. Finger follows through on the logical consequences of his approach.
The Super-Mystery of Metropolis (1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. Superman disappears from Metropolis, when he is blackmailed by a crook who knows his secret identity. Despite the title of the story, this is not a mystery in the formal sense: Metropolis is mystified when Superman disappears, but the reader and Superman are not, and there is no puzzle for the reader to solve.
Much of this story is a flashback, dealing with how Superman's secret identity was detected when he was a boy in Smallville. Hamilton's tale is one of a long line of Superman family stories dealing with a non-super-powered observer who uses detective work to deduce Superman's secret identity. The year before, Otto Binder's "The Betrayal of Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #8, October 1955) covered similar ground.
This tale has a recurring Hamilton subject: someone who watches the hero, recording his every deed. These figures seem mysterious and menacing, but they are not necessarily evil. The boy who tracks Superboy in this tale recalls Professor Reese Kearns in "Superman's First Exploit" (Superman #106, July 1956), a tale that appeared just before "The Super Mystery of Metropolis".
The Super-Rivals (World's Finest #85, November-December 1956). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. Batman and Superman become romantic rivals for the hand of a glamorous young Princess when she visits Metropolis. The central premise is both unbelievable and uninteresting, in this mainly poor tale.
Fictional, imaginary Balkan kingdoms have a vast history in pop culture tales of royalty. This one is actually called "Balkania", leaving us in no doubt about its heritage! Fancy dress uniforms are a big deal in such stories: for example, see Walter Plunkett's spectacular costumes for the film The Prisoner of Zenda (1952). In "The Super-Rivals" Dick Sprang does a good job with the uniform of young guardsman Captain Stefan.
Most interesting plot development: the scheme with the roads at the finale. This is another of Hamilton's large scale engineering projects. It recalls the tunneling subplot in the Hamilton-Sprang "The Super-Newspaper of Gotham City". Sprang has a good aerial view.
The finale shows Captain Stefan being made to look extremely heroic by Batman and Superman. This is a bit like the more common gambit in Superman tales, in which a hoax makes it look like some non-super person has super-powers.
The Super-Show of Gotham City (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Splash panel: Jim Mooney. Lois Lane tries to solve the mystery of who is sabotaging the public exhibition of their greatest cases that Batman and Superman are putting on for charity. This is in the tradition of other Hamilton mystery stories; like them, it comes to a surprising and ingenious conclusion with its revelation of the saboteur. The story is in the tradition of Hamilton's earlier "When Superman's Identity Is Exposed" (1955).
Superman's and Batman's Greatest Foes (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. The first teaming of the Joker and Lex Luthor. Hamilton showed a lot of interest in Lex Luthor over the years, but very little in the Joker. What especially interested him in Luthor was first, his scientific genius, and second, situations in which Luthor reformed or seemed to reform, and started taking part in normal life. Here Luthor uses his inventive skills to open a robot factory, an interesting sf concept.
Bruce Wayne uses his business connections to obtain information in this tale, almost like a sleuth going undercover. Hamilton never forgot that Bruce Wayne was a prominent businessman, and often showed him in that role.
The Dynamic Trio (1957). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Sheldon Moldoff. Batman and Robin take on a masked third partner, Mysteryman, to track down a ring that smuggles crooks. This story is closely linked in plot and imagery to a later Hamilton scripted tale, "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" (1958). Mysteryman anticipates Superman's new partner Powerman in that tale, who is also a masked crime fighter with a mysterious identity. The proposed solutions in both stories are related. The sandblasting here recalls the Kryptonite gun in "Origin", and so does the circular shield Batman uses. There is also much about disguised machinery in both tales.
The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team (1958). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Dick Sprang. Superman threatens to replace Batman as his partner by Powerman, while flashbacks tell the story of how Superman and Batman first teamed up. This is a very good story, but it shows little continuity with Hamilton's earlier origin of the pair, "The Mightiest Team in the World" (1952). Nor does it relate to "The Super-Mystery of Metropolis" (1956), which also in some ways can be considered an origin for the duo. Hamilton just liked writing origin tales, I guess! However, this is the best of the three of them.
This tale shows an interest in architecture by Hamilton. In addition to the windmill scene, one of the highlights of the tale, we also have the lead cornices, and the silicon walls.
Sprang shows a real flair for aerial shots in this story. Many of these shots involve views of buildings, another Sprang specialty.
The Caveman From Krypton (1959). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Dick Sprang. A caveman from prehistoric Krypton arrives on Earth, where he develops super powers. Logically constructed sf tale that rings many plot twists out of its central idea.
Finger often constructed his stories around hoaxes. Here there is not one central big hoax. Instead, there are three separate small hoaxes, each leading to new plot turns. Some of these hoaxes are sinister; one by Superman toward the end is benevolent.
The look at prehistoric Krypton here never became incorporated in the Superman mythos as a whole. Partly this might be because it appeared in a magazine not edited by Mort Weisinger, the keeper of the Superman mythos. Perhaps more importantly, the Superman mythos always presented Krypton as a planet of far advanced civilization. Looking at Krypton's prehistoric caveman past did not keep to this spirit.
Weisinger treated World's Finest as one more part of his Superman universe. He immediately moved to incorporate its tales into the Superman mythos, the highly elaborate and evolved set of science fiction ideas that included Kandor, the Phantom Zone, Krypton, the Legion of Super-Heroes and many other characters and concepts. Inevitably, this means that the World's Finest story elements of the Weisinger years often lean heavily on ideas previously introduced as part of Superman's environment.
Weisinger loved the idea of a mythos, and he also looked for elements in Batman's background that could form a mythos for him. He found such characters as Batwoman (Kathy Kane), as well as the Bat Signal, the Bat Cave, the Bat Plane, Ace the Bathound and so on. These were all featured prominently every chance Weisinger and Hamilton could get. Readers noted the appearance of these characters on the letters page of the magazine, always a Weisinger way of highlighting editorial policy.
The Olsen-Robin Team Versus "The Superman-Batman Team" (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Robin and Jimmy Olsen deceive Batman and Superman by faking their deaths, in order to solve a crime case. Jimmy is Superman's best friend, just as Robin is Batman's. The story emphasizes the symmetry between the two teams. Jimmy Olsen will make frequent appearances in the Hamilton-Swan-Weisinger Superman-Batman team-ups of the next two years. He becomes as much of a series regular as Robin. The four men will often function as a group, analogous to Hamilton's other main series at the time, the Legion of Super-Heroes. Jimmy and Robin are the protagonists of this tale; Hamilton will frequently introduce protagonists in these stories other than Superman and Batman.
This story includes flashbacks to previous cases. At least two of these are to tales written by Hamilton: "The Last Days of Superman" (Superman #156, October 1962) and "Superman in Kandor" (Superman #158, January 1963). Both of these are three part, book length stories.
Hamilton would go on to create a mediocre, if inoffensive, sequel to this story: "The New Terrific Team" (#147, February 1965). Both stories involve Robin and Jimmy forming a team of crime fighters that rival Batman and Superman. After this point, there would be fewer World's FinestWorld's Finest tales emphasizing Jimmy Olsen.
This is the first story in World's Finest under new editor Mort Weisinger.
The Composite Superman (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Batman and Superman fight the Composite Superman, a super-being who looks like a half Batman, half Superman figure, and who has all of the powers of the members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Hamilton was also scripting most of the stories of the Legion during this period, and this tale is closely related to them. Hamilton often wrote stories in which one person took on the role of another. Here the Composite Superman repeatedly takes on the abilities and behavior of different members of the Legion, becoming invisible like the Invisible Kid, telepathic like Saturn Girl, etc. All of these powers and personas are explicitly set forth in the story. It is interesting that the powers are not restricted to Legionnaires of one gender: the Composite Superman takes on the abilities of both male and female members of the Legion. Hamilton's Legion stories were always extremely non-sexist, treating both male and female Legionnaires in identical fashion.
Hamilton often constructed his Legion stories so that each member of the Legion in turn did a small solo feat, using their special powers. "The Composite Superman" has a similar construction, with the Composite Superman performing different feats using the powers of different Legionnaires in turn. This gives the tale a feel very close to Hamilton's Legion stories.
The Duplicator Machine here is one of Hamilton's interesting sf concepts. It somewhat recalls the miniature duplicating device in John Broome's "The Man Who Stole Central City" (Flash #116, November 1960). In general, "The Composite Superman" has elements that recall Flash tales. The villain here gets a complete biography, showing how he got his powers and turned to a life of crime; this is similar to the villains in many of Broome's Flash stories. Such villains are atypical of both Hamilton and the Superman mythos as a whole; they have a distinctly Broome like feel. The influence can work both ways: The plot element about Superman getting Joe Meach a job at the Superman museum seems like a dark echo of a similar plot twist in Broome's "Gangster Masquerade" (Flash #154, August 1965). Broome's tale is happy and light, while its Batman predecessor is much grimmer in tone.
The Composite Superman is unusual among Hamilton's outsiders in that he is not an idealistic person. Instead, he simply wants to use his talents to get vengeance on Superman. The story repeatedly emphasizes that he is much more powerful than Superman. Swan also draws him most imposingly.
Curt Swan's art emphasizes the extreme machismo of the Composite Superman. Both in his uniform, and in his secret identity of Joe Meach, he is one of Swan's heavily muscled grown men. Joe Meach is unusual among such Swan muscle men in that he is not a crook wearing a sharp suit, but a lower class man in a white T shirt. His social powerlessness is a major theme of the story.
Swan also includes a terrific portrait (p2) showing Batman in his uniform, but not wearing his cowl. This composite portrait of Bruce Wayne's head and Batman's body echoes the theme of the Composite Superman, who is half Batman, half Superman. The Batman portrait is one of Swan's most dynamic and muscular images of Batman.
Curt Swan's cover presumably created the visual appearance and powers of the Composite Superman, with Hamilton writing the tale around it.
Prison for Heroes (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superman becomes a prisoner in an interplanetary prison for super-heroes, while Batman is hypnotized into being its super-tough warden.
Like "The Composite Superman", this story recalls the Legion tales Hamilton was then scripting. The other occupants of the prison are a series of unjustly imprisoned super-heroes from various planets; they have numerous, distinct super-powers and personalities, just like members of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Hamilton wrote a number of tales in which the Legionnaires were imprisoned. See his last Legion story, the two-part "The Super-Stalag of Space; The Test of Brainiac 5" (Adventure #344, May 1966) and its continuation "The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad; Duo Damsel's Double Play" (Adventure #345, June 1966). This Legion story has a sadistic warden, a high tech prison on an isolated planet, and various ingenious schemes by its innocently imprisoned super-hero inmates, just like "Prison for Heroes".
Like other Legion stories that Hamilton wrote, this creates a whole group of sympathetic super-heroes, a band which is distinct from the Legion. One difference between this and a Legion story is that it is taking place in the 20th Century.
The Game of Secret Identities (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. As a challenge, Batman tries to discover Superman's secret identity; then Superman tries to discover Batman's. Delightful story that is full of plot inventiveness.
There is no mystery to this tale - the reader knows the secret identities of both heroes all along - but there is plenty of fascinating detective work. The detection here tends to emphasize scientific and technological devices. Although the story is largely set on modern day Earth, it is highly science fictional in feel, with many unusual high tech devices employed by both Superman and Batman in their quests. The approach resembles Hamilton's earlier "The Super-Batwoman" (1957), in which Batwoman uses super-powers in sf ways to try to discover the secret identities of Superman and Batman. In both tales, the heroes challenge someone else to try to discover their secret identity; both stories use sf approaches to their detection. Both tales have original detection concepts however, and Hamilton comes up with all new specific approaches in this second tale.
Hamilton includes many references here to sf concepts introduced in earlier Hamilton stories. These include the Bat-Eye in Hamilton's "The 1,001 Inventions of Batman" (Batman #109, August 1957).
This story is probably related to the Challenge tales that had appeared a year previously in the Superman family magazines, such as "Hellene of Troy" (Lois Lane #48, April 1964) and "The Boy Who Replaced Clark Kent" (Superboy #112, April 1964). In those stories, Superman or Superboy had taken on a new secret identity, and challenged Lana Lang or Lois Lane to uncover it. This story is different, in that Superman and Batman are trying to find out each other's actual identity.
Hamilton introduces many echoes between the first and second halves of the story. These help give the tale unity of tone, as well as being fun to read about. There are also plot twists in the second half that build on events of the first half of the story.
Hamilton intensively looks at the brain waves of Superman and other Kryptonians here. This helps root Superman in Kryptonian biology. Alien beings in Hamilton, whether intelligent or animals, typically have biological roots. Many Hamilton stories look at how the aliens evolved. This story does not involve evolution. But it does ground Superman in biological concepts. Aliens are not created arbitrarily in Hamilton. They are usually part of a logical order, whether evolutionary or biological, that gives them a background and raison d'être.
Even the machines in this tale do not come about arbitrarily. Hamilton constructs back-stories for them, showing why they were created. These back-stories stress function: the tasks the machines are initially designed to perform. Hamilton's looks at how living beings evolved also tend to center on function.
The Infinite Evolutions of Superman and Batman (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A Kryptonian machine devolves Superman into a cave man, and Batman into a highly evolved, big brained man of the future. Nicely done science fiction story.
Hamilton had long been interested in evolution. His prose sf story, "The Man Who Evolved" (Wonder Stories, April 1931), is the apparent source for the many comic book tales about people who evolve into big brained futuristic men. He also wrote a prose sf story about reversing the course of evolution: "Devolution" (Amazing Stories, December 1936). This is precisely what happens to Superman in this tale. Please see the section on Edmond Hamilton for a list of his tales about evolution.
Several of his comic book stories had looked at evolution of animals, as well. See his Legion story "The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets; The Pet of a Thousand Faces" (Adventure #322, July 1964), which considered the evolution of Proteans. "The Infinite Evolutions of Superman and Batman" includes a look at Kryptonian animals, just like his Nightwing and Flamebird tale "The Dynamic Duo of Kandor" (Jimmy Olsen #69, June 1963). The prehistoric Kryptonian animals in "The Dynamic Duo of Kandor" are quite large; in "The Infinite Evolutions" Hamilton includes real life large animals from Earth's prehistoric past. A story like this is designed to be educational: it is clearly intended to give young readers an entertaining, informative glimpse into man's prehistoric past. The cave era sections of this tale recall museum dioramas of the period, showing large extinct animals, cave people lighting fires, and so on. The comics medium is quite close to that of museum displays, and quite a few of Hamilton's stories echo museum exhibits.
Just as Hamilton actually sent his heroes to a parallel universe in his quasi-Imaginary "Superman and Batman -- Outlaws" (1965), so here does he send his evolved and devolved characters to their respective worlds. Here, the highly evolved Batman travels to the future, and caveman Superman goes back to the era of cave people. This is the only Superman family tale dealing with evolution machines in which this happens. It gives a richer structure to Hamilton's story.
Swan includes some good portraits. Perry White is depicted as one of Swan's handsome men of distinction here, one of the powerful, imposing men Swan often drew in grown up roles (p2). This a bit classier portrayal than Perry sometimes got. There is also a good portrait of Bruce Wayne (p8). The future city is shown in a spectacular aerial view (Part 2, p4). One of the buildings in the foreground shows Swan's interest in Modernist buildings that are also curved, like the real life United Nations building in New York.
The Colossal Kids (World's Finest #152, September 1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superman and Batman try to solve the mystery of the origin of Force Boy and Speed Boy, two super-powered kids. One of Hamilton's "mysteries of identity", and a fairly minor one. Swan includes a really cool Kryptonian green and black costume for one of the Kandorian teachers in the lab (p8).
The 1,000th Exploit of Superman and Batman (1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. While Superman and Batman are working on their 1,000th case together, Batman's place as Superman's partner is usurped by a mysterious masked hero, Nightman.
Batman spends much of the tale trying to track down Nightman's true identity. This story is one of a series of Hamilton mysteries, in which both the detective and the reader try to figure out the identity of a masked super-hero. These tales form Hamilton's most ingenious set of mysteries. All of them have completely different solutions.
The Federation of Bizarro Idiots (1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A Bizarro-Batman is created, and he teams up with the original Bizarro duplicate of Superman to raise comic havoc on Earth, including freeing the Joker from prison. The origin of Bizarro-Batman.
Hamilton's two late tales, "The Federation of Bizarro Idiots" and "The Three Bottles of Danger", extend the mythos of the Superman family. Although it is very late in the Silver Age, Hamilton was still in there, trying to innovate within the mythos. This story gives a full treatment to the possibilities of a Bizarro-Batman. Like most of the Bizarro tales over the years, it combines comic surrealism, with a logical look at the sf plot possibilities of the Bizarros.
During the 1960's, Mad Magazine referred to its staff as "the usual gang of idiots", and the Three Stooges were hugely popular on TV in reruns. So humor about people who behaved foolishly was very big. The Bizarros were explicitly in this tradition, with Weisinger comparing them to Mad in his letter columns.
The finale of this story has one of Hamilton's more interesting plot ideas. Although apparently simple, it reflects many of Hamilton's approaches. Hamilton was fascinated by role reversals. Bizarro is always coming to Superman's home planet and raising havoc by imposing his own logic on it; here Superman reverses the process. Also, Hamilton often wrote stories about heroes who acted in opposition to society. Here, Superman and Batman are in opposition to a planet full of people.
The story also brings back Batman's old girl friend, photographer Vicki Vale. As the tale points out, this is her first comic book appearance for a long time. Hamilton made an effect to include as much of Batman's old mythos as possible.
Curt Swan includes a good portrait of Bruce Wayne in a tux. Wayne was always depicted by Swan as a handsome, elegantly dressed man of distinction.
The Three Bottles of Danger (1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Batman and Superman discover three more bottled cities, resembling Kandor. The idea of further developments in the mythos of Brainiac and his shrinking and bottling of cities is a good one. It is pleasant to see the mythos being extended at this late date. If Hamilton had not retired from comics writing in 1966, one suspects he would have created some sequels to this tale.
Hamilton had previously extended the mythos of Brainiac in "The Team of Luthor and Brainiac" (Superman #167, February 1964). He also included Brainiac in his Imaginary Tale "Lois Lane, The Super-Maid of Krypton" (1963). It is clearly a subject that appealed to him. The extremely science fictional nature of the Brainiac-Kandor story perhaps gave it an affinity with science fiction writer Hamilton.
Hamilton makes sure his characters explore all three bottled cities. The three cities, all from different planets, resemble the many alien worlds visited by the Legion of Super-Heroes in Hamilton's tales. Hamilton was uninhibited about sending his characters off to other worlds, and did so regularly, far more than any other Silver Age comics writer. Like many of the planets visited by the Legion, the environments here tend to be quite menacing. The story also recalls Hamilton's Nightwing and Flamebird tales, in which Superman coped as an ordinary mortal with dangerous events in Kandor.
Curt Swan includes one of his outstanding Kryptonian cityscapes (p3). The spherical building incased in a grid is beautiful. Also in Swan traditions: two towers with curved, overhanging tops. Swan frequently included such overarching roofs when depicting futuristic architecture. The two towers show pleasing variety. One is square, and covered with one square top with a big gap between it an the tower top; the other is rectangular, with three tops with short gaps between them.
The Cape and Cowl Crooks (1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Mysteriously masked villains appear, Anti-Superman and Anti-Batman, and Batman and Superman must fight them and try to solve the mystery of their identity. This is one of many mysteries Hamilton wrote over the years involving mysterious beings. It is pleasant, but not as ingenious as Hamilton's classics in this mode. It is easy to guess the origin and identity of the two villains, while Hamilton's best mysteries have jaw-dropping surprises in their solutions. Still, it is a nice story, and a creditable finale for Hamilton's years of work on Batman and Superman team-ups.
The story has many references to the Superman mythos. The planet Lexor, invented by Hamilton, is referred to, and Superman spends Krypton Day in Kandor. It also marks the first visit of Commissioner Gordon to the Fortress of Solitude. Hamilton's mid-1960's Superman-Batman tales often involve Batman in elements of the Superman mythos, often for the first time.
Hamilton liked to include Kryptonian lore in his stories, and this tale is especially rich in cultural information about old Krypton. The depiction of Krypton's history and culture shows Hamilton and Weisinger's commitment to pacifist ideals and belief in social progress. It is one of the best looks at Krypton in Hamilton's work. Hamilton makes explicit here that Kryptonian society is democratic. This is an important truth.
This look at Krypton's history also explains (in part) how Kryptonian society evolved. Just as alien beings are not created out of whole cloth by Hamilton, but rather typically take part in an evolutionary framework, so is Hamilton reminding us that Kryptonian society also evolved.
The story refers to the Krypton Memorial customs, first introduced in Jerry Siegel's "The One Minute of Doom" (Superman #150, January 1962).
This story continues Hamilton's urging of intelligent skepticism about received ideas. Here both Superman and the professor have deeply held beliefs. By the end of the tale, both realize that their ideas have been completely wrong. Hamilton is urging readers to have some intelligent doubt about their own preconceptions. Both Superman and the professor are totally convinced at first that their ideas are 100% true; both eventually see that what they believed is false. Other Hamilton tales link this skepticism to social commentary: often times, the hero of a Hamilton story expresses ideas that are in conflict with his society's popular beliefs, and is persecuted and treated as an outsider by society for it. This outsider's beliefs often turn out to be correct. Both this tale and Hamilton's other work are intended as object lessons for readers, showing them how received ideas can be wrong.
This story is related in technique to Imaginary tales, although it is not strictly speaking an Imaginary story. Like Imaginary tales, this creates a whole alternate life history for Bruce Wayne. This history is internally consistent, and full of detail. It also uses Hamilton's favorite technique for constructing Imaginary tale plots: have one character assume a role and a life history similar to another. Here, Bruce Wayne gets a possible Kryptonian life history similar to Superman's real story. Unlike genuine Imaginary stories, however, this tale takes place in the real world of the Superman mythos. It treats the conjectured alternate life history of Bruce Wayne as one more plot element in a "real" Superman family tale. So the Imaginary elements are embedded in an "actual" story. This is an ingenious construction.
Also innovative here: the way the Imaginary elements are set forth. Most Imaginary tales tell their stories in a straightforward, linear, chronological manner. Here, however, Batman only uncovers his possible alternate history through detective work. He gradually reconstructs the alternate history story, in the manner traditional in mystery tales. Various pieces of the puzzle gradually emerge. Eventually, when put all together, they form a complete possible alternative life for Bruce Wayne. This a-chronological approach is quite unusual in the Superman comics.
Swan's art is vivid in expressing the moods and feelings Batman experiences during his search. Finding out unexpected truths about one's childhood is an eerie and somewhat emotionally strange experience. Swan conveys these feelings quite powerfully. He often isolates Batman from backgrounds. This suggests that Batman is alone with his feelings; that he and his consciousness are isolated islands of reason and understanding in a dark and mysterious world.
The first half of this tale is richer than the second. It has the most important Kryptonian imagery. It also concentrates most on Batman's possible alternative life. However, the second half has merit; it too has some interesting mystery and detective elements.
Superman and Batman -- Outlaws (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superman and Batman visit a parallel universe, whose Superman and Batman have spent their lives as super-crooks, not heroes.
Although this story is not an actual Imaginary story, it is very close to them. We see an entire parallel Earth, in which Superman and Batman both became crooks. We see new life histories created for the characters.
What is different from an official Imaginary tale is that the events of the story are all supposed to be real.
Superman comics occasionally went to parallel worlds or universes. Otto Binder took Superman to a parallel planet in "The "Superman" from Outer Space" (Action #265, June 1960), and Leo Dorfman sent Lois Lane to a parallel universe in "The Girl Who Mourned for Superman" (Lois Lane #43, August 1963). However, both Lois and Superman mainly served as observers in these tales. They were stand-ins for the reader, neutral observers who saw everything on the parallel worlds, but who did not otherwise participate much in the plot. By contrast, Batman and Superman get involved in an actual story in this parallel universe, one that actual includes their "other", crooked counterparts. This gives the tale a whole new structure that is missing in most other Imaginary stories in the Superman family comics.
The story resembles Hamilton's Imaginary tale "Clark Kent's Brother" (Superman #175, February 1965) in that many human characters from Superman's life on Earth get involved. These are people who have shared Superman and Batman's human life. "Clark Kent's Brother" was published just one month before this story. Both tales also creates some role reversals, always a perennial Hamilton theme.
The story also resembles Hamilton's tales of the planet Lexor, in showing a world in which Lex Luthor is a publicly revered force for good. This concept seemed to intrigue Hamilton.
The Clash of Cape and Cowl (World's Finest #153, November 1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan, and a cover idea and plot by Cary Bates. This Imaginary tale looks at what Batman's life might have been like, if he had blamed Superman for the murders of his parents.
This is apparently the first official Imaginary tale to feature Batman in the lead role, during Weisinger's 1964-1966 editing of World's Finest. Imaginary tales were a standard feature in Mort Weisinger's Superman stories, and it was inevitable that he would introduce them eventually, after he took over the editorship of World's Finest in 1964.
The basic idea, a life long feud between Batman and Superman, is a clever one. This idea is already present in Curt Swan's cover. However, the tale Hamilton wrote around it is fairly predictable. Hamilton's story is most inventive in its brief Robin episode, showing an alternative relationship between them in this Imaginary history.
This story is in the tradition of Otto Binder's pioneering "Superman's Other Life" (Superman #132 October 1959), showing an alternative life history for major characters in the Superman mythos. Among the many Imaginary tales to appear in Superman family magazines, this one is closest in treatment and feel to Hamilton's "Clark Kent's Brother" (Superman #175, February 1965). Like "Clark Kent's Brother", it looks at an alternative life history for non-super friends of Superman on Earth. Just as Pete Ross became a bitter enemy of Superman in that story, so does Batman become a bitter enemy of Superman in this tale. These are two of Superman's closest real life friends. Both men spend much time brooding over wrongs allegedly done to them. In this they also recall Hamilton's Composite Superman, who also brooded obsessively over humiliations Superman had done to him. Hamilton's Legionnaires also sometimes developed obsessions that separated them from the people around them. All of these characters become quite melancholy. They seem to be in their own private worlds, alienated from the rest of humanity.
Swan includes a notable portrait showing the teen-age Bruce Wayne crying after the murder of his parents (p3).
The Sons of Batman and Superman (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Imaginary Tale looking at a possible future time when Batman has married Kathy Kane (Batwoman), Superman has married Lois Lane, and both have young sons who carry on their tradition. This Imaginary story is full of charm. It is light hearted and full of humor. Jerry Siegel had written a series of Imaginary tales in Lois Lane, which examined a possible future marriage between Superman and Lois: see his "Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent" (Lois Lane #19, August 1960) and its sequels. This story extends the concept, showing Bruce Wayne also marrying Kathy Kane.
Its look at the young sons of its heroes recalls Hamilton's "The Three Generations of Superman" (Action #327, August 1965), an Imaginary tale which teams Superman with his young grandson.
The story is notable for its feminist themes. Both Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent have forbidden their wives to carry on their careers after their marriage, and both women rather unwillingly sacrifice their careers for the opportunity of marriage, although it is clear that both women would like to have both marriage and their job. Such demands were quite common in the 1960's United States, before the rise of the Woman's Lib movement. This aspect of the story plays out quite entertainingly. Hamilton here is looking at one of the key social issues of the day, one that would soon erupt with major force in real life. Both Lois Lane and Kathy Kane are exemplars of Hamilton's idealistic, gifted outsiders, people who have been silenced by social mores, but who are looking for ways to practice their skills and make a contribution.
The Abominable Brats (World's Finest #157, May 1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Sequel to "The Sons of Batman and Superman", in which the now teenage sons of Batman and Robin seemingly become a pair of prank-playing juvenile delinquents. The splash panel states that the tale was written in response to numerous reader letters asking for a sequel.
The plot developments in the story are pretty predictable, especially to anyone who has read previous issues of the magazine. However, the tale has charm.
The first story's near-future world looked much like the present day. However Swan depicts Metropolis as a futuristic, high tech city, one in which people pilot hover-craft through the air, instead of riding cars on the ground. This city's architecture is also futuristic as well. It is fun to see Metropolis become such a high tech place.
In addition to the above influences on other comics creators, there is the question of the quality of Siegel's own stories. This is high: better than anyone else in the 1930's and 1940's. Impressed as I am with some of the contributions of writers Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Mort Weisinger, it is Siegel who did the most imaginative work. Siegel's work did not decline with age. His 1960's stories are less original and influential than his 1930's work. But they are wonderfully imaginative and gripping as works of storytelling. In many ways, they are even better as works of art than his early stories.
Siegel is one of the major figures in modern culture. He is the Aeschylus of the comic book, the one who contributed the most to its development. Despite this, there is little clear knowledge of his work today. While nearly everyone has heard of Superman, Siegel's actual comic book stories are little read. He created a huge body of high quality work, from the 1930's through the 1960's.
In his Silver Age Superman family tales of the 1960's, Jerry Siegel excelled at three kinds of stories. Siegel also wrote many tales that do not fall into these three categories. Some, like the two "Super-Cop" stories, are charming. His Imaginary Tales showing the future married lives of Jimmy Olsen are moderately successful, those about Lois Lane less so.
Often times, Siegel makes the story's status as a puzzle plot mystery clear from the start. For example, the title of "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire", one of his best stories, makes everything explicit: the new Legion applicant is mysterious, and he has a secret which the other Legion members and the reader are challenged to guess.
In other cases, Siegel does not structure the tale quite so formally as a mystery. A reader could read the tale, and not expect the super-being to have any secret, or any revelation at the end. Still, even in these cases, there are some general indicators to the reader that something mysterious might be afoot. For one thing, these characters appear without any background in the series, and we know only what they say about themselves. An alert reader can justifiably wonder if they are telling a true, complete story about themselves. Secondly, the Superman family comics have so many stories with surprise endings, that a reader who has read a few is almost always hoping that the tale he is now reading will have one too. I for one, strongly prefer Superman family stories with surprise twists at the end, and I am always both suspecting that such a twist will occur, and hoping that it does.
Siegel's tales with some elements of mystery are listed below. Siegel wrote at least a dozen tales which fall into his "super-being" paradigm; those which do to some degree are marked with a *:
Siegel's dialogue and writing in these stories is razor sharp. He clearly very knowledgeable about the media of his day, and is quick to pick up on weak spots and areas ripe for satire. The fake fan magazine interviews in "The Super-Star" alone are worth the price of admission.
Siegel was also the author of the humorous "Tales of the Bizarro World" series that ran in Adventure Comics for 15 issues from #285 (June 1961) to #299 (August 1962), although he was not the original creator of the Bizarros or their planet - Otto Binder did that.
"Life on Krypton" is in fact the first story of a series in Superboy, dealing with life on that planet: Siegel wrote most of the stories in the series. The title shows the direct, straightforward logic of the Superman family. It announces the subject matter of the series, what the writers are actually interested in: Life on Krypton. Not even Homer could have given a more explicit statement of his theme.
Of all the Superman family writers, Siegel's tales take place most purely on the planet Krypton. They do not tend to open on Krypton, and move to Earth or other planets, as so many tales of other writers do. Instead, they occur from start to finish on Krypton itself. Furthermore, all of Siegel's characters tend to be natives of Krypton itself. They are not visitors from Earth, or other frame characters designed to link Krypton to modern day Earth life. We are immersed in Krypton in Siegel's tales.
"The Space Adventures of Krypto" (Superboy #77, December 1959) is a nice little story of Siegel's. Although it does not take place on Krypton, its planetary settings recall the wonders of that globe.
Siegel's stories are sometimes structured as "anthologies from the past". For example:
Some Siegel tales take a negative look at Old New England and its superstitious belief in witches:
Seemingly dead characters who apparently come back to life, are a recurring subject in the films of Joseph H. Lewis. See also the prose science fiction novels The Investigation (1959) and Solaris (1961) by Stanislaw Lem, and the Riverworld books of Philip Jose Farmer.
These tales include:
Face masks appeared earlier in Golden Age super-hero comic book tales:
Bernstein did not contribute as heavily as did Binder to the Superman family mythos, the intricate structure of sf ideas that made up the background of the Superman family comics. Instead, his forte was a well written story.
Robert Bernstein's tales tend to feature raffish characters and raucous comedy. The people in them tend to have plenty of gusto and energy. The characters are sometimes heroes who are defying established authority, and sometimes very two bit crooks who are engaged in mildly criminal schemes. In each case, there is a defiant, anti-authoritarian spirit running through the tales. Even when his characters are mildly crooked, they tend to keep reader sympathy, and often are revealed at the end to be not such bad guys. Bernstein's work tends to be a bit less "respectable" than much of the Superman family. But it shows genuine imagination, and tends to enrich both the Superman family mythos, and our views of the continuing characters.
Bernstein's best work falls into a number of series.
Bernstein's plots involve two repeated techniques. One involves the faking of super-powers. Some non-super powered character will be made to look as if they have super-powers. The other involves doubles. One character will try to assume the characteristics, personality or even identity of another person. The two people tend to be friends, and the assumption of role is often done for the highest of motives.
Coleman's work tends not to emphasize mystery, or surprise twist endings. However, this does not mean his tales are uninteresting. Coleman's best works are profoundly satisfying. Their unfolding stories show much imaginative detail. The stories are constructed with logical, step by step detail, with each new event contributing to the overall basic theme. Coleman's works lack padding. Coleman was a positive thinker. Each event tends to contribute to the hero of his story achieving some admirable goal.
Coleman tends to write about people he admires. The stories focus on heroes, not villains. Coleman has an especial admiration for scientists, who he depicts as people of high intelligence who accomplish great things. Bruce Wayne in "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" (1960) and Jor-El and Lara in "The Super-Family from Krypton" (1962) are good examples.
Hamilton's cities or groups are often full of many different kinds of beings: people from different planets, different kinds of robots, and so on. He likes an extremely diverse cast, long before diversity became a goal of modern businesses. Hamilton's Weird Tales stories of the 1920's were apparently the first to feature a galaxy spanning group of diverse alien beings. He had not lost his interest in this over thirty years later, when he wrote stories for the comics.
This community is by no means united: instead, it is often full of people who seriously disagree with each other on issues. Neither side of these issues is obviously correct. There are no clearly marked villains. Instead, each group believes that it is operating for good. While Hamilton clearly believes in good and evil, he makes it clear that it is hard to humans to understand what is the right thing to do. He ultimately supports one side, but he never makes out that those who disagreed did so out of obviously bad motives. Even apparent villains often turn out to be not such bad people.
Hamilton's tales often are political. Issues are not fought out with violence, but made the subject of disagreement, political debate, and direct social action. Groups in his tales who are in serious disagreement with society often form dissident political parties. Hamilton sometimes supports such parties in the end, some times he regards them as erroneous in their beliefs and sends them down to defeat. But he never presents being part of a dissident political party as absurd or inappropriate per se.
Hamilton's protagonists are often people rejected and discarded by society. At first they are discouraged, but soon they decide to do their best. This often involves acting at the fringes of society, ignored by most people, but still making one's best effort.
Hamilton was unexpectedly interested in Mr. Mxyzptlk, and did some of his best stories. What fascinated Hamilton in these tales was social transformation: the citizens of Metropolis or Smallville would start behaving in new ways. Hamilton had a comic tone here, but there always was a satirical edge. There is also a genuine interest in social change.
Another feature of Hamilton's mysteries: the possible range of solutions tends to be large. There are many men who might be under the mask; there are many possible different super-powers that might be used by the new hero. Usually there are in fact an infinite number of possibilities.
Hamilton's approach is not to be confused with stories in which super-heroes take on each other's secret identities. That idea is purely for the purpose of protecting a secret. In Hamilton's stories, people actually have to take on the work and the location of another person, and start living their life. We see the emotional reaction of the person to this unfamiliar domain, and also the unusual approaches they sometimes bring to this work. These stories are very varied. What happens when Superman and Jimmy Olsen take on personas based on Batman and Robin is different from Lois Lane assuming Superman's job. The assumption of a new role is just a starting point. Hamilton brings considerable imagination and character insight into what happens next.
Similarly, when Hamilton explores one of his other key subjects, outsiders trying to make a contribution, these are also good people striving to succeed.