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Adventure: Superboy tales
Adventure: Legion of Super-Heroes tales
These best stories of the comic books are preceded by their issue number. They were edited by Mort Weisinger.
This article only discusses Superboy, Bizarro World and Legion stories in Adventure. Such heroes as Green Arrow and Aquaman have their own articles. Stories in other series are marked: Congorilla (CG).
The first 37 Legion stories have been reprinted in an inexpensive paperback, Showcase Presents: Legion of Super-Heroes, Volume 1. Highly Recommended.
The early Superboy stories of 1952 and 1953 show some persistent themes of the Superboy comics. "One Dozen Superboys" (#21, 1952) shows Superboy making it appear that another character has super-powers. So does "Lana Lang, Magician", in the same issue. "The Super Superboy" (#23, 1952) has Clark trying to protect his secret identity after it has been exposed to Lana Lang, trying to come up with a convincing alternate explanation of what she saw. In this case, he does a pretty good job. This sort of plot will come up in 1960's Lois Lane classics in which she gets super-powers and discovers Superman's secret identity, such as "Lois Lane's X-Ray Vision" and "The Invisible Lois Lane". "The Super-Tot of Smallville" (#26, 1953) seems to be the first Superbaby story. In it, as in later tales, there is much concern that Superbaby will inadvertently give away his secret identity. None of these stories are great tales, but they make not bad reading. They are consistently likable and good natured. There are many scenes in them of Superboy flying and carrying large objects; the aerial perspectives often make for exciting art work. Action scenes and super-stunts tend to alternate with scenes that move forward the plot. This is the old pulp magazine formula, from which the Superman writers emerged: first some plot, then some action, then some plot... In the later stories of the 1960's, the scenes of Superman using his powers are much better integrated into the flow of the story, forming one seamless, organic whole.
The Sixth Clark Kent (1957). Writer: ?. When a millionaire leaves his money to "Clark Kent" in gratitude for having saved his life, lawyers and Superboy find various people named Clark Kent from all over the country. This is one of the sweetest and most appealing early Superboy stories. It is unusual in that it has almost no science fiction elements. Instead, its manages to evoke a whole world of 1930's American life. The writers have tried to make the various Clark Kents as different from each other as possible. The story has the "series of episodes" construction familiar in the Superboy family, with the discovery of each Clark Kent forming a separate episode. The story has the mystery aspect also often present in the Superman family, with Superboy having to do detective work to track down the various Clark Kents, and to determine if they could be the Clark who once saved the millionaire's life.
The Superman family always tried to present as many different features of modern life as possible. They did not seem to be oriented to just one type of character, unlike so much modern entertainment. Instead, they tried to take a broad look at different kinds of people. The writers always seemed to be on the lookout for anybody whose interesting life could add some color and complexity to their plots.
The Mystery of the Space Trophies (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Dangerous space trophies from another world wind up on sale in a Smallville gift shop. This story relates to Binder's theme of First Contact: these alien artifacts are humanity's first encounter with another planet's culture. The story also demonstrates another aspect of such Binder tales: the difficulty one culture has in understanding another during First Contact: here the alien artifacts are full of surprises.
Binder also works mystery and crime elements into this hard-to-classify tale. Like many of his transformation stories, this one is full of numerous episodes, each one of which integrates the central plot into some new and interesting feature of daily life.
The Girl of Steel (Adventure #189, June 1953). Based on a cover by Win Mortimer. Lana Lang gets super-powers from a belt Prof. Lang obtains on a scientific expedition, becoming the masked super-heroine Sky-Girl. She also keeps her identity as Lana Lang secret.
Lana Lang's Secret Identity (1956). In this role-reversal story, Lana Lang innocently acquires a secret identity of her own, as part of a contest. Lana has no super-powers here; she is merely trying to keep her participation in a cooking contest secret. The story does enable comic role reversals, with Clark trying to penetrate Lana's identity, just as she has so often tried with him.
The focus on Lana Lang's secret id relates this story to "The Girl of Steel" (1953). This tale's good spirits and ingenious plot link it to a number of early, ingenious stories about secret identities: see the article on Lois Lane for a discussion.
Gravity Girl of Smallville (1961). In this story, Lana Lang herself gets superpowers. She behaves with complete dignity and idealism in the story, and acquits herself really well. The story also features many ingenious plot twists. Everything she does to preserve her secret identity unconsciously imitates the behavior and dilemmas of Superboy, with delightful results. Lana and Superboy serve as doubles in this story, with many role reversals switching their conventional behaviors.
As is pointed out in "DarkMark's Comics Indexing Domain", this story is a re-make of "The Girl of Steel" (1953). Lana is re-dubbed Gravity Girl here.
The Impossible Creatures (1954). Writer: Otto Binder. Prof. Lang is ridiculed as a scientific fraud, when he unearths the fossils of some very strange creatures. This science fiction tale shows Binder's interest in educating his young readers in science. It presents, in a vivid and entertaining way, a complete course in paleontology, showing how scientists excavate and restore fossil skeletons of animals. It also contains a chart, showing different geological strata, and the time periods that produce them. It recalls in its approach the many educational stories Binder wrote about the Solar System for the sf comic books.
This story makes a pair with Binder's "The Super-Hobby of Superboy" (1955). Both involve their hero is a scientific pursuit: paleontology here, geology and rock collecting in "The Super-Hobby of Superboy". Both start out on Earth, then in their second half, show Superboy exploring other worlds of the universe in a quest for further information. Superboy's ability to travel easily from planet to planet is fully exploited by Binder to construct these tales.
This tale involves an astronomical mystery, in which Superboy searches for a planet with certain properties. Such Cosmic mysteries were sometimes created by Binder for his Mystery in Space tales. Binder liked to write such stories, in which the characters search for some planet or geographical feature through a huge astronomical region.
The planet with an advanced civilization which Superboy visits anticipates the world in Binder's "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" (1960). Both planets contain huge, high tech libraries, which Superboy uses to master the language and customs of the planet. The library here is based on microfilm. This was the last word in high tech in 1954, but today it has largely been superseded by computerized media, such as the Internet. How times change!
The Super-Hobby of Superboy (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. Like other boys, Superboy develops a hobby: collecting rare mineral specimens from all over the universe. Each of the minerals in the collection has its own special property. These rather resemble the planets with special properties Binder wrote about in "Parade of the Planets" (Mystery in Space #52, June 1959). The collection also resembles the Legion of Super-Heroes, being a group all of whose members have some special capability.
This tale is strongly science fictional. Apart from the use of Kryptonite, it has little to do with Superboy per se. It could easily have been written by Binder as a Tommy Tomorrow story, or as one of Binder's non-series sf tales for Mystery in Space. The other planets that Superboy explores, each with its own special characteristics, recall the asteroids that Tommy loved to visit. Binder liked such "wonders of other planets" tales. Superboy's use of the rocks to alter an Earth landscape echoes on a more Earth-like scale the Cosmic sf stories Binder sometimes wrote, tales in which humans manipulate and change astronomical features.
Ma and Pa Kent encourage Superboy to develop a hobby like other kids; they want him to have some fun. This theme echoes the Krypto tales, in which they want him to have a pet dog, like other boys. Later, the Kents will encourage Superboy to develop friends with other boys, in the great series of Friendship tales in the early 1960's.
The Secret of the Super Charades (1955). Writer: Otto Binder. While performing some super feats, Superboy tries to send a message to Pa Kent through a series of charades. Each of the three charades is set up as a mini-mystery for the reader, with solutions at the end of the tale. During the mid 1950's, Binder wrote several stories in which Superboy becomes involved with various games. These tales tend to be happy and upbeat. The rules of the game are often interwoven with various super-feats the hero performs. One recalls such Lewis Carroll works as the chess based Through the Looking Glass and the math puzzle based A Tangled Tale, although Binder's stories are on a much smaller scale. The Binder game stories have an "artificial" quality to be sure, but they also have much warmth and naturalistic charm, showing life in Smallville and in the Kent home. Binder wrote game stories for other magazines as well: for example, "Unwanted Superman Souvenirs" (Jimmy Olsen #15, September 1956).
The Loneliest Boy in Town (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy tracks down three clues to a gang of crooks, given to him by an observant doorman who is the father of a schoolmate. The three mini-mysteries structurally recall the three charade puzzles in "The Secret of the Super Charades" (1955).
The doorman framework of this tale was re-used for a later Superboy story, "The Saddest Boy in Smallville" (#88, April 1961), written by Leo Dorfman, although the clues and the mystery element have been changed.
The Strong Boys of Smallville (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy tries to expose a crooked gym that misleads boys into thinking they are getting spectacularly fast results in their athletic training.
One-Man Baseball Team (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy plays a baseball game against an all-star team for charity. This is one of the happiest of all Superboy stories. It is like a ray of sunshine.
Baseball is played against a landscape: the complex, people and activity filled arena of the baseball diamond and stadium. This landscape orientation reminds one of the Tommy Tomorrow stories Binder was writing at the same time, such as "The Space Hall of Fame" (Action #209, October 1955).
The story comes to a typical finale for Binder: Superboy is challenged to preserve his secret identity, under difficult circumstances. This is similar to the secret ID finales Binder often incorporated into his Jimmy Olsen transformation tales.
The 100 New Feats of Superboy (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy tries to perform 100 new super deeds he has never done before, as part of a book published for charity. This "series of deeds, linked by an arbitrary, externally imposed rule", is a paradigm for many of the stories in the Game series.
The poster advertising the book, "The Encyclopedia of Strength", compares Superboy to Hercules, Samson and Atlas. Samson and Hercules will return in person in Binder's "The First Two Supermen" (Adventure #257, February 1959). And the voice on the phone deed will return in "The Three Secret Identities of Superboy" (1958), where Binder will add some mystery variants to it.
In many ways, these new feats can be considered to be "proposed additions to the Superman mythos", new concepts that Superboy is considering adding to the world of the Superman family comics. Superboy is shown dreaming these events up, then doing them. In many ways, the story treats him as the "author" of these events. This is a familiar paradigm in Binder's fiction: a "new addition to the mythos", and a character in the tale who is the author. In many ways, Superboy here is a stand-in for Binder himself, the real life author of the story.
There are other author figures in the tale, as well: the publisher of the book, and the man who works for him, and who dreamed the book up. This pair can be seen as stand-ins for Weisinger, the editor, and Binder, the author. Such pairs occur regularly in the Superman family: editor Perry White and the reporters who write for him are one example. Perry is quite irascible, as is the publisher here - and as Weisinger was reportedly in real life. In "Superboy Meets William Tell" (1960) by Jerry Siegel, a teacher gives her students, including Clark Kent, an assignment to write an account of William Tell. Don't make it dull, she says, make history come alive with vivid detail and exciting events. One can envision Weisinger giving similar instructions to Siegel when he began writing this tale. The teacher here seems much like the editor Weisinger; Clark Kent and the students seem like Siegel and the other writers.
The Game of Kriss-Kross Krypton (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. A board game uses the life of Superboy as its theme. This story shares some approaches with an earlier Binder tale, "The Super-Money of Smallville" (#51, September 1956). In both stories, Superboy tries to perform super-feats, while limited to certain approaches and uses of his super-powers, something that challenges his ingenuity. In "Super-Money", everything seems a bit awkward, but in "Kriss-Kross Krypton", everything works perfectly. Even before these tales, in "The Secret of the Super Charades" (1955) Superboy tried to perform charades while simultaneously doing needed tasks to save Smallville from a storm, a somewhat similar concept in that he had to combine a super-feat with a certain conceptual approach.
Plot elements in "The Game of Kriss-Kross Krypton" recall Thomas Bailey Aldrich's "Marjorie Daw" (collected in book form in 1873). Weisinger's letter columns often cited classic early short stories as models for the technique of the tales in the Superman family. The surprise finales of the many Superman family mystery tales were modeled on O. Henry, according to Weisinger. He also published with approval a letter comparing a tale to Maupassant's "The Necklace". These are all early stories famed for their clever plotting.
The Super-Tales of Lana Lang (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Lana tells a series of tales to a jungle tribe.
The Three Secret Identities of Superboy (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy appears on a TV game show. The rules of the game show, "Unmask the Truth", are very similar to a popular real life TV game show of the period, "To Tell the Truth". Lana has to judge in this tale whether various deeds really belong in the Superman mythos, or not; this is in the Binder tradition of having "gate-keeper" characters in his tales, making similar judgments about adding new elements to the mythos.
The Racer in the Leaden Mask (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Crooks get involved with auto racing. This is a tale that has a gang of crooks as its villains. This is very 1950's-ish; the Superman TV show often featured such gangs, and they were a standard feature of all 1950's entertainment, including both print mysteries and TV shows. So a tale like this is like the end of an era. The stories in the Superman family books that follow would tend to be much more science fictional in approach. This story has a well constructed plot.
The Unknown Super-Deeds (Superman #131, August 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy helps three people during an ordinary day in Smallville; the reader is challenged to find a hidden significance to these events. Although it appeared in Superman, this story recalls the Game cycle of stories Binder wrote for Superboy. Much of the story is taken up by a succession of new super-deeds Superboy performs. In this, it recalls "The 100 New Feats of Superboy". As in the earlier tale, these all seem to be unusual, innovative uses of Superboy's powers, feats he has not attempted before. Here Superboy is doing this just to enliven a dull day. There is also a sense of joie-de-vivre here. Superboy is someone who enjoys a challenge. He likes to use his creativity to dream up new things to do. Binder himself was a writer overflowing with creativity, so there is an autobiographical element here. These stories are psychological portraits of people who love imagination, who like to try to do new things. There is a life affirming quality to them. One can see a similar effect in Binder's "One-Man Baseball Team" (1957). There Superboy kept coming up with new things to do during a baseball game.
This story is also a small mystery. Like other Binder mysteries in the Game series, there are three clues. Binder explicitly points these out to the reader, highlighting the structure of the mystery tale. This is typical of the early Binder mysteries: they tell the reader the story is a mystery, challenge the reader to solve the crime, and even tell the reader that there is a clue contained in a certain panel, asking the reader to find it.
The tale also functions as a normal, ingeniously plotted Superboy work. The story is constructed in typical Superman family style as a series of challenges. In each, Clark tries to use his secret identity as Superboy to get a scoop for himself for the Daily Planet. And each time, events ingeniously interfere causing the attempt to fail. This plot concept is similar to that used by the later Spider-Man tales (1962 - ), whose teenage hero uses his Spider-Man secret identity to make a living as a newspaper photographer. Both face irascible bosses, with Perry White at his most comically irate in this tale.
The Amazing Adventures of Krypto Mouse (1958). A boy's pet mouse becomes large and develops super powers. This mock heroic story spoofs the saga of Krypto, and other super animals in the Superman family mythos. Our mouse might get super powers, but he never develops his personality beyond that of a little mouse, loving cheese and hating cats, and so on. This is a good natured but sharp little spoof, with a comic charm and a unique personality. The story is also unusual in that Superboy only has a marginal role in it, most of the focus being on the boy and his mouse.
This tale contains the full mythos of Krypto. It shows that he is a native of Krypton, that he was Kal-El's dog as a baby, how he came to Earth, that he now has Superboy's full powers on Earth. This story is an early precursor of the Superman mythos to come: Krypto is the first of many other Kryptonian beings that will eventually populate the Superman mythos. It is very imaginative. The parts that emphasize that Krypto's super-powers are identical to Superboy's are especially logical. They make the Superman mythos self-consistent. Krypto is not just a fantasy dog with whatever powers the authors wish to give him. Instead, this is a science fiction story, operating under rules of logic. Since both Krypto and Superboy are Kryptonians, they should have the same powers, and that is that. The creators of the Superman mythos stuck to this identical principle over the next dozen years.
The story also shows imagination about to what uses a dog might put these powers. The authors have tried to imagine what sort of activities might engage in. With this, Krypto becomes a genuine character. He operates autonomously, under his own needs and feelings. He is both a super-being and a dog. This is the start of a genuine new personality for the Superman family, someone who will operate according to his own inner logic. These aspects of Krypto will become greatly extended in tales to come. But they already begin here.
We do not see into Krypto's mind here. This will only come with the second Krypto tale, "The Dog of Steel" (1955). We instead see Krypto from Superboy's point of view, in which he gradually discovers Krypto's full powers, and his origin. Right from the start, Krypto is a somewhat humorous figure. We see that a super-powered dog, even one as good-natured as Krypto, can inadvertently cause a lot of mischief.
The Dog of Steel (1955). Writer:?. Krypto returns, and Superboy finds a non-super dog double for him, to allay Lana Lang's suspicions. The second Krypto story.
This is one of the best of the early Superboy tales. It has features that strongly anticipate the Silver Age to come. For one thing, it is based on a mythos: the addition of Krypto to the Superman saga. The introduction of Krypto is perhaps the first element to be put into place of the gigantic Superman family mythos. The story also shows the intricate, beautifully constructed plotting of the best Silver Age tales. It is related to the tradition of "ingenious stories about secret identity" that also popped up in such early Silver Age classics as Otto Binder's "Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Ex-Pal" (Jimmy Olsen #2, November-December 1954) and Robert Bernstein's "Superman's Greatest Sacrifice" (Lois Lane #5, November-December 1958). Please see the article on Lois Lane for a discussion of these. The story has other gambits anticipating the Silver Age: a finale in which characters manage to explain away events they have witnessed, and scenes in which Superboy tries to hoax people into believing a non-super-powered character is super. Many Superman family tales to come will be built out of such concepts.
Right from the start, the story includes plenty of comedy involving Krypto. He is a good hearted but awkward pooch, smashing through walls and windows. Krypto also lets his feelings run away with him. He gets feisty and jealous of other animals, just as he later will with Streaky the Cat. He is a sympathetic and richly comic character.
The Secret of the Flying Horse (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. A telepathic flying horse from another planet arrives on Earth. This is one of Binder's favorite themes: First Contact between humans and aliens. Binder wrote many First Contact stories for such science fiction comic books as Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures.
This story also anticipates one of the continuing characters to come in the Superman mythos: Supergirl's horse Comet. Like Comet, the hero of this tale is a flying, intelligent horse with telepathic powers. Comet first appears in Jerry Siegel's Legion story "The Legion of Super-Traitors" (Adventure #293, February 1962).
The Super-Brat (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy baby-sits an infant who temporarily develops super-powers, and who wreaks comic havoc. Many of the best Superboy stories of 1959 have either super-infants or super-animals as protagonists. Most of these stories were written by Otto Binder. These stories are similar, in that the lead has great powers, but no real intelligence or control. So they tend to be comic tales of good natured but silly super-beings running amok. Such Superbaby tales were particularly unfashionable among comics fans of the 1970's, being viewed with scorn as unheroic and infantile. Honesty compels me to admit that I enjoy reading them, and that the best such tales are a lot of fun. Anyone who has ever had a hard time baby-sitting will enjoy "The Super-Brat", for example.
The Colossal Superdog (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. This story from Adventure Comics tells how Krypto turned into a giant. It has more pathos than most of the early super-animal stories.
Superbaby in Scotland Yard (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. When Superboy visits Scotland Yard, flashbacks reveal how he visited it for the first time years ago as Superbaby. Charming story in which Superbaby helps a Yard inspector round up a gang of crooks.
Superboy's First Day at School (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. At first glance this looks like another Superbaby tale. It is not, however. Its 5 year old protagonist is much more mature, and is forced to think and reason. In fact, the story says that he is being made to do this for the first time in his life, so the tale is about a major zone of transition in Superboy's life: entering the Age of Reason, and entering society. Everyone can identify with this. In this simple story, everything works. The serial incidents out of which Superman stories are constructed all seem to flow together naturally here, and make one piece of storytelling. There is a persistent look at preserving Superboy's secret identity here, another favorite theme.
"Superboy's First Day at School" is what the editors billed as an Untold Tale. During 1959 the Superman family featured many Untold Tales. These were stories that filled in major events in the lives of the characters. Examples include "Superboy Meets Lois Lane" (Adventure #261, June 1959) and "The Secret of Superboy's Spectacles" (Superboy #70, January 1959), this latter story being the first of the Untold Tales. These stories were inoffensive, but they tended not to be very good. They have an aura of being written to specifications. The writer had a goal to cover certain events, and duly dealt with them in the tale. "Superboy's First Day at School" is the exception here: a major story in the series.
The concept of the Untold Tale shows that the writers were beginning to be conscious of the process of mythos building. The stories seem deliberately designed to fill in missing histories of key events in the Superman mythos. On a meta level, the Untold Tales also show that the writers were interested in experimenting with different kinds of fiction, fictions based on unusual structural premises. This is the era of the Imaginary Tale, an extremely innovative kind of story, and the Untold Tale is a different kind of innovative, non-standard fiction. Both the Imaginary and the Untold tales began in 1959.
How Krypto Made History (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Krypto has a series of brief adventures in time travel, in this episodic tale.
The Super-Monkey From Krypton (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. The origin story of Beppo, a super-powered monkey from the planet Krypton. Good natured fun.
The Space Adventures of Krypto (1959). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A short, episodic tale in which Krypto has a series of brief adventures on other planets. The tale is similar in format to Binder's "How Krypto Made History". This is typical of the relationship between Binder and Siegel: Siegel was always following behind Binder's plow, trying to cultivate the ground Binder had just plowed up.
The Day Superboy Was a Coward (1959). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Superboy's belief that he has harmed people with his powers makes him afraid to use them. This is apparently writer Leo Dorfman's first script for Superboy. Never a prolific contributor to the magazine, he specialized in tales which probed Superboy's emotions. These are some of the key works of the series. "Coward" deals with Superboy's anguish over accidentally killing a criminal. It deals very seriously indeed with the issues of life and death. Its pacifist convictions are the start of many Superman family stories which deal with the sanctity of life. This is typical of Dorfman's work: his tales often opened doors for other writers. Dorfman would tend to explore the emotions of the basic situation, while the authors that follow would write ingenious, plot rich stories, developing the concepts. Dorfman would go on to write a very different, comic tale "Jimmy Olsen, Coward" (Jimmy Olsen #61, June 1962), which still emphasizes Jimmy Olsen's normal bravery as a key personality characteristic of him.
Superboy's Best Friend (1959). Writer: Leo Dorfman. This is apparently the first of all tales in which Superboy's need for a friend was introduced. It shows Dorfman's typical emotionalism. Other writers would take this theme up: there are successively stories about Superboy's friendships with other superkids: Supergirl, Mighty Boy, and Mon-El. The last two are some of the best Superboy stories. These would be followed by the Pete Ross stories. These would be like "Friend", in that they were about an non-superpowered youth who becomes friends with Clark Kent.
This is one of the gentlest of Superman family tales. Supergirl's rivalry with an unpleasant young boy who does not believe in fairies brings in imagery of a war between men and women, however. It seems related in meaning to the didactic tales in Superboy around this time. All of these didactic tales take place primarily among a group of young children. All have a powerful grown woman intervening in the kids' lives. The woman focuses on one small boy, who is her antagonist. She causes a transformation in his life, trying to change his value system and his attitudes. In "The Three Magic Wishes" and "Claire Kent, Alias Super-Sister", the woman is basically sympathetic, and the young boy's value system is seen as incorrect. In both of these tales, the woman has powers that seem magical: here Supergirl is posing as a Fairy Godmother; in "Super-Sister", the woman is an alien space traveler who has near magic seeming powers. In "The Shyest Boy in Town", this pattern is somewhat changed. Here it is the young boy whose values ultimately prove better. And the woman in that tale, while being a powerful psychiatrist, has no magical or super powers.
All three of the stories invoke gender issues. Here the boy's scoffing at Supergirl's telling of fairy stories seems like a rejection by a male of female culture. Supergirl intervenes partly to hold up female power. By appearing as a Fairy Godmother, she literalizes a traditional image of woman power. Supergirl's magic wand in this tale, part of the traditional equipment of Fairy Godmothers, is also a male symbol, one expressing magical power. And her punishment of the boy, giving him a Pinocchio nose, also contains gender imagery. Later, in "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (Lois Lane #23, February 1961), Binder will evoke similar nose imagery, also in a context of gender symbolism.
Claire Kent, Alias Super-Sister (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Superboy meets a woman visitor from a planet in which women rule over men. After Superboy makes a sexist remark, he is transformed by her into a girl, so that he can experience first hand what it is like to be female. Super-Sister's encounter with discrimination and prejudice against females is a memorable work. It is astonishingly feminist, not just for its own time, but for any time. This story seems to have been reprinted only once, and today seems to be completely forgotten. It appeared at a time in which there was not yet a massive, organized feminist movement in the USA, and seems to have made little impression on anyone's consciousness.
Binder wrote many stories in which Jimmy Olsen was transformed, into a giant or Elastic Lad. Here he is trying something similar with Superboy. This story is more serious in tone than the comic Jimmy stories, however.
The Shyest Boy in Town (1960). This is also a didactic work. It contains a heartfelt plea to leave "different" youths alone, and to respect their individuality. Such works in the 1950's and 1960's were often coded pleas to not discriminate against gay people; they also were general looks at nonconformism. This makes a story like this ambiguous, but just this once it seems to gain resonance from its ambiguity. The antagonist in this tale is a psychologist, Dr. Wiles, who has schemes for making Clark Kent less shy. Wiles has as many schemes as her "wily" name suggests. She is not a villain - she is sincerely trying to "help" Clark Kent - and the story has no bad people or villains at all. In fact in some ways, the eagerness of everyone to help Clark is an impressive display of goodness. Still, it is clear that such attempts to make Clark less shy will hurt Clark, and his need to lead a secret life, in this case as Superboy. The 1950's and 1960's were the high point of Freudian psychology's prestige in the US. This pseudo-science played a major role in oppressing both women and gay people during that time, and forcing women and gays into submissive social roles. This fable suggests in a profound way the need for resistance to such schemes. It is very haunting and powerful. Its ending, which suggests that it is better to leave people alone than to try to influence/coerce them into changing, seems Taoist in its philosophy. Its plea for stillness and non-action has a religious, as well as a social and political dimension.
The Legion of Super-Heroes stories also promoted individuality. Each character had a unique set of superpowers, different from any others. This was a metaphor for the uniqueness of each human's personality.
The Superman tales were relentlessly non-macho. They were widely criticized for this by comics fans in the 1970's, who preferred the violent Marvel comics of their day. The Marvel comics have outstanding virtue of their own, especially great art, but I strongly disagree with using them as a club against the Superman tales.
It is clear that the Superman stories have been undervalued by people who are upset by their gender portrayal. Anyone who believes men should be mainly violent or aggressive is going to have trouble with these works. Despite the rise of feminism in recent years, substantial portions of fandom strongly believe in violent manhood. It is behind much of the cult of "hard-boiled" mystery fiction and film.
Artist George Papp was always called on to illustrate stories set on Krypton, and other worlds in general. Also time travel stories, and stories where Superboy visits other countries. His art is beautiful. He was very good with clothes and costumes. He could create the look of another place and time, such as a historical era that Superboy visited, or the clothes of another planet. These clothes always followed uniform design principles. If people on another world wore clothes that mixed 17th Century Dutch costume with sf elements, as in the Mighty Boy planet's clothes, then everybody on the planet will be dressed in some logical variant of this. This systematic design conveys immediately that one is in another culture, one that follows its own inner rules. Papp's Krypton tales show a consistent use of architecture, as well. Houses on Krypton had a "futuristic" look. Papp's houses seem to follow Art Deco design concepts, such as pure geometric forms such as hemispheres, and irregularly spaced windows, mixed in with some sf elements, especially flat, projecting roofs. While the various Kryptonian houses he illustrated over the years were all different, they all looked as if they were the product of a single culture, one that followed internally consistent design principles.
The Superboy stories themselves were set in the past, apparently in the late 1930's or early 1940's, and Papp never faltered in his depiction of old, out of date clothes and cars. There was always a pathos to this. Smallville was just a small town in the first place, and its inhabitants dressed in the formal styles of a bygone era. They were very small potatoes in the cosmic scheme of things, and already obsolescent. Despite this, the Smallville inhabitants were never scruffy. Everyone aspired to be neatly dressed in a suit, and even the teen age boys often wore ties with their sweaters. Papp was faithful to a time and place where people tried to be decently, formally dressed, as a sign of politeness to others. The clothes always had a cheery, upbeat look to them. The characters always looked as if they knew exactly how they wished to be dressed, and succeeded in their goals. They always looked happy in what they were wearing. This is because Papp himself had very clear design principles in mind for the 1930's clothes. The characters are always dressed appropriately for every event, whether in work clothes, or dressed up for some civic occasion. The Smallville stories were set in the time of my parents' youth. This era had a great fascination to me, and I suspect to the creators of the magazine as well.
The Boy of Steel's Super Initiation (1962). When a fraternity is mistreating its inductees, Superboy joins to teach them a lesson. This tale recalls the Superman story, "Superman Joins the Army" (1959), where Superman's basic training deeds constantly backfire on a military martinet. This story is most interesting for a scene in which Superboy, as part of his initiation into a fraternity, is required to build a model of a Kryptonian house. Artist George Papp stayed strong here. While the house is built out of rough wood, and is clearly only a model, it follows the same Kryptonian design principles as in Papp's tales set on the planet Krypton itself.
The Invasion of Krypton (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. This short comic tale of how a super baby Kal-El foiled an invasion of Krypton is delightful. Despite its light tone, it shows real science fiction imagination. It has a number of writer Otto Binder's themes that will recur later in his Mighty Boy classic. These include the encounter between two planets' inhabitants. Also, a systematic look at the origin and cause of Superboy's superpowers. Here, Kal-El gets the powers due to low gravity, but not Earth's yellow sun light - an interesting concept. This gives Binder's work an interesting science fictional intelligence to serve as the hard skeleton propping up his light hearted adventure.
The Secret Life of Krypto (1962). The authors wanted to make a series of stories about the superdog, Krypto. Here they have him involved in intrigue in a Balkan kingdom. Such stories, reminiscent of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), were fairly common in the Superman family. After all, Hope's novel was one of the inventors of the story of the hero with a double identity (although not quite a secret identity), so his work was a natural for the authors of Superboy. These kingdom stories have the aspect of fairy tales. However, there is also some realistic starch in these tales, with corrupt politicians struggling for power. George Papp had a field day here with the spectacular red "comic opera" style uniforms, and the other details of the Ruritanian kingdom. Even when Papp went to another planet, his art often has this sort of Balkan kingdom kind of feel. Papp's stories often showed unusual uniforms. Sometimes these were worn by the bad guys - see the orange Superboy Revenge Squad uniforms in "The Raid From the Phantom Zone" (114, July 1964), or the Uniform Gang in "The Day Superboy Was A Coward" (1959). But the latter story also has uniformed police, who were good guys, and a non-villainous gym teacher. Papp had a standard uniform for the Smallville police, and used it consistently in all the tales. It had a vaguely old fashioned look about it, of traditional harness bulls, but it was also very macho. Like everything else, it conveyed the atmosphere of a past era in American life.
The Superboy of 800 Years Ago (1964). Superboy also often went to medieval kingdoms through time travel stories. These tales have the same feel as the Balkan kingdom tales. This story, like "The Secret Life of Krypto", has an orphan boy whom Superboy helps.
Secret of Camp Storm King (1964). Writer: ?. Art: George Papp. Clark's uncle insists that Clark spend the summer at a camp for student athletes. As in "Clark Kent, He-Man" (Adventure #305, March 1963), older men put pressure on the Kents to make their mild-mannered son more macho and athletic. Such pressure seems hard for Jonathan Kent to resist. Both "Clark Kent, He-Man" and "Secret of Camp Storm King" also show Clark Kent wanting to get public recognition for the athletic skills he possesses as Superboy. He takes active steps to see this happens in both stories. But it threatens either his secret identity or his ability to perform his Superboy job in these stories.
Papp liked to show athletes in sweatshirts. Here he has a whole camp full of men in uniform sweatshirts. As in the Green Arrow tale "The Decoy Archer" (Adventure #223, April 1956), he has a neat logo on these uniforms, made up out of letters: here SK, for Camp Storm King. These athletes often seem to be antagonistic to Superboy, putting him through his paces, and dominating him athletically. See "The Boy Who Was Stronger Than Superboy" (Superboy #273, June 1960). Such a character also shows up in the splash of "The Millionaire of Smallville" (Superboy #119, March 1965).
Superbaby's First Time-Adventure (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: George Papp. Superbaby accidentally travels to the far future. Imaginatively plotted sf story. Hamilton always had a flair for stories of the future, and this tale is one of his gems. It starts out with a complete lack of pretension, but its solid qualities of logic and storytelling detail make it memorable.
The Fate of the Future Superman (1965). Writer: ?. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superboy travels to the far future, where both he and his descendants are the subject of great interest.
Edmond Hamilton wrote some stories in this era about Superman's descendents: see "The Three Generations of Superman" (Action #327, August 1965) and "The Superman of 2965" (Superman #181, November 1965). This story takes a somewhat different approach. Hamilton's stories were strictly about the future descendents. Here, Superboy has traveled to the future, and is the principal character in the story, while his descendent is largely off stage. The story also deals with how the far future sees Superboy, and the interest it takes in him. In this, it somewhat resembles the Legion origin story, Otto Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958).
The Invulnerable Imp (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton, based on an idea by Cary Bates. This Mr. Mxyzptlk tale has Smallville as a collective protagonist. Papp captures the "look" of the town, with its small, old fashioned store fronts and vacant lots. It is a look that has been consistent throughout the entire Superboy series, with Pa Kent's general store, and other Smallville locations. Papp also gets to present the town under various weather conditions, so this tale is a sort of "universal atlas" of Smallville. The Depression era furniture in the rooms is also a Smallville tradition. Papp also creates numerous inhabitants of the city. He uses a great variety of models; one wonders if they are based on real people, or whether Papp made up his denizens out of his head. Most of his male characters are quite macho looking: the sweating guy in this story, for instance.
The Fugitive Krypto (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: George Papp. On a planet of the Dog Star Sirius, Krypto discovers an advanced race of alien dog-men who revere dogs and Krypto. Siegel liked to show strange other worlds. These places are often poetic, comic, and filled with bizarre inhabitants. They are genuinely different from our Earth. This story also shows the Superman family's flair for creating tales about doubles and impersonation. Many ingenious twists are wrung from the plot developments here.
Papp has interesting uniforms for the dog police. They are fancy science fiction equivalents of Earth cops, with two rows of V arranged buttons on the double-breasted uniforms, black belts, boots and white gloves. The also have fancy flanges on their hoods, like the Golden Age Starman. All of this is very macho, but they also have holes in their hoods, so that their dog ears can stick out, a comic touch!
The 13 Superstition Arrows (1958). Art: George Papp. Adventure magazine also published tales about characters not part of the Superman family, strictly speaking. This Green Arrow story shows George Papp in a modern setting. Even here, he evokes a traditional New York, with shots of alleys, Central Park, jeweler's windows, and a mansion of the rich. Even his burglars tend to be in coat and tie, just like his 1930's Smallville inhabitants.
Papp's compositional skill is powerful. He likes geometric patterns, such as straight lines and circles. He gets endless mileage out of the Arrow Car, a yellow car driven by our hero, which is a mass of circular arcs and triangles. It has a huge triangular fin in the back shaped like an arrow. Papp shows the Arrow Car from every possible angle. Each different shot allows it contribute a wealth of lines, triangles and circles to the composition. The car is often at the center of the composition, the place where the eye is drawn. The composition is at two levels: there is the large, overall picture, where the architecture of the background makes a geometric pattern. Within this, at some key point, lies the Arrow Car, making an equally complex pattern, but one a smaller dimension of scale. This pattern within a pattern is often deeply satisfying, as a visual experience. The smaller pattern seems to make a climax. It carries out the logic of the large pattern, finishing it off, expressing its inner logic in a series of detailed forms. It is a like the logic in a piece of classical music: the large background pattern is like the development of a music movement, the small inner pattern like the climax, taking the ideas of the large pattern and bringing them to a finish and a climax.
George Papp and Steve Ditko often seem to show similar paradigms as artists. Both are strongly composition oriented. Both are architectural: buildings in the background form a visual pattern which is at the core of their art. The positioning and body postures of the characters also contribute to the geometric pattern. Both tend to show long shots, which include both a background, and the characters at full or nearly full figure. Both use compositional patterns for faces, which convey both facial features and emotional expressions. While this is not fine grained portraiture, of the kind we see in Infantino or Gil Kane, it successfully conveys both emotions, and individual personal modeling. Both often include inner designs which tend to complete the large pattern: in Ditko's art these tend to intricate hand gestures. Both artists architectural work in keyed at a similar point along the realistic - abstraction continuum. Rarely does either artists use the sort of blank space frequently employed by Infantino as a background, an abstract stylistic device in his work. Their backgrounds instead always seem to look like real buildings, roads, trees, and so on. But both Papp's and Ditko's backgrounds tend to have a linear quality, a sense that they make up a pattern of lines. This approach enables both artists to make their backgrounds into a geometrical compositional pattern. This linearity is a form of mild stylization. It is accepted by most mid Twentieth Century readers as "realistic", partly because it is a convention frequently found in magazine illustration, as well as the comics. But is far less detailed than a painting by Vermeer, for instance. There is little attempt at tactile modeling. Ditko's art is more anguished, more paranoid. It seems to explode off the page. Papp attempts more to achieve perfect harmony. Papp's art is like Mozart's; Ditko's is more like Beethoven's.
The Man Who Knew Superboy's Identity (1954). A mysterious figure called The Mask in a lead mask knows Superboy's secret identity, and orders him to do various non-criminal but puzzling tasks. This is a well constructed mystery tale. It features multiple mysteries: who is the figure? how did he learn Superboy's ID? what is the point of the assignments he is giving Superboy? All of these are given ingenious answers at the story's finale. Although this tale was published before the start of the Silver Age, it has the Silver Age emphasis on clever plotting, often using the formal traditions of the mystery tale. Throughout 1955, Superboy's companion magazine Adventure Comics would be publishing stories directly ancestral to the Silver Age. This tale could be part of the same trend.
There is a good illustration of a naval officer in a white uniform (p7).
The Rainbow Raider (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This story is somewhat unusual in the Superboy magazine, in that it is a mystery story. Mystery tales were extremely common, even paradigmatic, in Lois Lane, but not in Superboy. This follows the same approach as Lois Lane's mysteries. The central character is the detective - here Superboy, just as Lois is the detective in her tales. The protagonist has to track down a gang of crooks. Much of the mystery involves a secret identity - in this case, that of the masked super-criminal, The Rainbow Raider. There are clever plot twists, and considerable formal ingenuity. All of this is in the Lois Lane tradition.
The Simpleton of Steel (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Superboy becomes naive and gullible after exposure to Red Kryptonite. This story also has elements of mystery about it. It is close to those Lois Lane stories where she discovers Superman's secret identity, and he has to cover up his traces. Here Lana Lang has a similar role.
Krypto's Superdog Pal (1964). Writer: ?. Art: George Papp. Krypto helps Superboy rescue a super-powered, flying dog, who becomes Krypto's pal. This story has an ingenious, complex plot. It keeps trying to explain the origin and life history of the super-dog, and winds up deeply interweaving these explanations into the Superman mythos. The explanations come in layers: we learn some interesting facts about the dog, then we learn a deeper set of facts that lie behind these, and then a deeper set of facts. Each sets of facts is imaginative in its own right. And it then also logically relates to both a deeper explanation, and the existing history of Krypton embedded in the Superman mythos. Eventually, this unpretentious looking story becomes quite complex.
In the 1950's, Otto Binder added a whole series of new concepts to the Superman mythos, embedding each in the known history of Krypton. These include Krypto, the bottled city of Kandor, Beppo and Supergirl. This story has something of the same feel: an ingenious addition to the mythos. However, the story is set-up so that no permanent addition to the mythos takes place, which seems a bit of a pity.
The Boy Who Unmasked Superboy (1965). Writer: ?. Art: Curt Swan. An obnoxious boy starts blackmailing the Kents with his knowledge of Superboy's secret identity. This story has elements of mystery: how did this teenager learn all these secrets of Clark Kent's life? Eventually, the story builds up a detailed explanation. The explanation is both logical, and also furnishes a loony and loopy plot.
The boy here looks like the unpleasant juvenile delinquents that sometimes appeared in Swan's Superman tales. He also resembles a bit a juvenile version of Swan's mobsters and hoods. Yet, in some ways he is just a kid, and his ideas of blackmail are strictly two-bit: he wants ten whole dollars at one point! There is something comic about this character. He is not at all sympathetic, but he seems humorously low key and small potatoes all the same.
The Boy Who Replaced Clark Kent (1964). This story appeared simultaneously (April 1964) with the Lois Lane three part story, in which Superman took on three new secret identities throughout history, and challenged Lois to discover them. It was a sort of super-game or riddle. Here Superboy does something similar - and yet different. He temporarily takes on a new secret identity, "Hank Harris", but he shares that identity with Lana Lang. Here he challenges her to see if she can keep that identity secret from others, for a whole weekend. Also, unlike the Lois Lane stories, the tale is not set in historical times, but in Smallville - in fact right in Lana's house, where Superboy stays as a guest. The tale is pleasantly ingenious. It is constructed in the same serial episode fashion as the majority of Superman family tales, with a series of incidents that challenge Lana. Such challenges have later shown up in other media as well - one thinks of the Starsky and Hutch episode called "The Game" (9-19-78) written by Tim Maschler, in which Hutch challenges Starsky to find him.
The Super-Cop of Smallville (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. In this tale, Superboy gets deputized as a policeman. It has good art by Curt Swan, who commonly did the covers of Superboy, but much less frequently the actual stories. Most guys have fantasies about being cops - there is a huge film and TV industry providing such tales - and this story involves some pleasant wish fulfillment. This story is also one that features Smallville's Police Chief Parker, a continuing character in the magazine.
The Super-Cop of Metropolis (Superman #160, April 1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. A later enjoyable story in Superman, this tale will use a similar plot, but ring some interesting changes on this theme. The two stories might best be read in sequence.
The Curse of the Superboy Mummy (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Ancient Egyptian mummies are discovered, which look just like Superboy and Lana. It's hard to resist a story with a title like this! The tale itself is well put together. It is one of many Superman family tales, which draw parallels between Superman, and another super-powered character from a different planet or era. Here characters in Ancient Egypt parallel Superboy and Lana. These parallels take up the first half of the tale; the second half is a modern story, showing the effects on the contemporary characters.
The story shows Leo Dorfman's fondness for tales involving magic. He frequently incorporated magic in his Supergirl tales. I always felt that such magic was out of place in a science fiction saga like the Superman mythos. However, the magic aspects of this tale do work as storytelling.
The Dreams of Doom (1960) and The Kryptonite Kid (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This story, and its sequel two years later, were both written by Jerry Siegel. They star the "Kryptonite Kid", an youth who could radiate Green Kryptonite rays. Writer Jerry Siegel created Superman in the 1930's, and spent much of his career in the comic book field. Siegel loved color imagery, and Red and Green Kryptonite play an important part in the tales. Of all storytelling mediums, comics were the first to emphasize bright color. They were in full color right from the start, while in 1938 most films were still in black and white. Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes also used brilliantly colored costumes in the 1910's, as did other stage works sporadically, but comics were the first systematic employers of color in the narrative arts. Color in the Superboy series was radiant. It often seems to have been systematically planned by the writers of the stories, as well as the artists. The art in both tales is by George Papp. The second story received the cover of Superboy #99. This cover, drawn by Curt Swan, is a classic. Green light is radiating from every possible source. It is delirious, and very beautiful.
The Army of Living Kryptonite Men (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This sf tale has some memorable imagery.
The Scarlet Jungle of Krypton (1961); The Secret of Krypton's Scarlet Jungle (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Both of these stories show Krypton's Scarlet Jungle, a place full of science fictional animals, especially the Kryptonian thought-beast. The stories display Siegel's interest in science fiction, and his love for characters with different kinds of superpowers. Here the characters are animals. The second tale was a sequel, written two years after the first one. It offers a satisfying extension of the first story. It is logically consistent with the first tale's world, yet it moves the plot in new directions.
The Ghost of Jor-El (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This little tale shows how Superboy first met Mr. Mxyzptlk. It is fun, especially the scene with the giant egg. The script turns on a clue involving colors - another example of how closely the writers of the magazine "thought in color".
Superboy and the 5 Legion Traitors (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Five members of the Legion travel back in time to Smallville, where they threaten to expose Superboy's secret identity. This tale is one of several that Siegel wrote, that created unusual variations on the Legion's history. These include "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961) and "Superman's Super-Courtship" (Action #289, June 1962). These tend to be formal, science fictional transformations of the Legion concept.
The tale is rich in incident. However, it is not quite a plot in the traditional sense, with one event following causally from the preceding. Instead, it often gives us disconnected science fictional ideas. Some of these are very imaginative: the portrait of the three cities on other planets is wonderful. It conveys the sense of mystery and strangeness that Siegel sometimes foresaw in the future. The device near the end, that freezes the Legionnaires in mid-flight, is also good. Swan's art here is a fine illustration of this.
Swan's cover echoes his cover for "The Boy With Ultra-Powers" (Superboy #98, July 1962). Both show Ultra Boy using his penetra vision to see Superboy's costume under his Clark Kent clothes. Both are set in 1930's Smallville, in everyday settings. Both have Lana Lang standing by, with a context of ordinary life among Smallville teenagers.
The Duel of the Superboys (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. The evil scientist Dr. Diablo transfers some of Superboy's powers into an android double of Superboy. Siegel had written an earlier story about villains who try to train a double of Superboy to be evil: "The Super-Brat From Krypton" (Superman #137, May 1960). This story has plot developments in common with that earlier tale, including aspects of the characterization of the double. They are more richly developed in this story, however, and I prefer this second version of the story. This version is more emotionally satisfying, as well, and takes a more optimistic view of human nature.
This story shows some of Siegel's trademark biting, sarcastic, satirical humor, which is quite funny here. It is especially turned on Siegel's own creation, Superman - there are signs Siegel is satirizing himself here. Yet Siegel combines this humor with great respect for his plot, which is developed imaginatively, and with a concern for logic in its detail. The sharing of the super powers here is developed carefully, with each character having a specific group of powers.
These are other Superboy stories turning on color, written by other authors.
The Super-Hungry Super-Heroes (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: George Papp. Superboy and Krypto become hugely hungry. This is another sf tale. It is unusual in being comic in tone, although most episodes in the Superman family have their comic touches, usually dealing the characters' personality flaws - the humor in the Superman family is as character driven as the stories. The story involves those favorites, Red and Green Kryptonite, and is completely color driven. The plot is wildly surrealistic, and perhaps draws on the sheer hungriness of teenagers - when I was a teenager, I was always hungry. The unfolding of the plot shows the logic of the Superman family tales. However strange or surreal, the stories always show a completely logical development. The climax of the tale on two moons is a memorable bit of imagery.
The stories in the friendship also have the most brilliant, complex plots in the magazine. Many of these plots center on Superboy's secret identity, which his friends either struggle to discover, or do ingenious things to preserve. Similarly, a major font of plots in the Lois Lane magazine stem from her attempt to discover Superman's secret identity. This whole theme stems from such mystery writers as Israel Zangwill, Baroness Orczy and Frank L. Packard. Its history is discussed in the article on Rogue fiction.
The Origin of the Superman - Batman Team (1960). Writer: Jerry Coleman. This story is one of a series in Adventure (not Superboy) in which Superboy meets people, as youths, who will later be part of his world as grownups. Here Superboy meets the young Bruce Wayne, who will later become Batman. This tale is also related to the series of "friendship" tales in Superboy, in which Superboy meets talented young men with whom he can share a friendship. It is a very good story, and an important addition to the friendship series.
Several of the plot elements in it will later reappear in the Pete Ross tales, that began the next year (1961). These include Wayne's attempt to discover Superboy's secret identity, the methods he uses to tackle this problem, and the characterization of Wayne as a young future detective, excelling at both science and sports, a characterization that will appear in Pete Ross. Pete Ross and Bruce Wayne also resemble each other in that neither has any super powers whatsoever, being completely non powered mortals who excel through sheer will power and determination, including plenty of hard work and study. Like Pete Ross, Bruce Wayne is pictured as a wholly good person. They have none of the ambiguity that sometimes afflicts the super-powered youths whom Superboy encounters. Both are generous and giving, a very important virtue in the Superman world. Being selflessly concerned with other people's welfare always ranks very high in the comics' values.
To determine Superboy's secret identity, young Bruce Wayne collects measurements of Superboy, such as height, weight, fingerprints and so on, just like police trying to identify a suspect. This approach goes back at least to "The Betrayal of Superman" (Jimmy Olsen #8, October 1955), written by Otto Binder. In that tale, it was Jimmy Olsen who tried to find Superman's identity with these techniques. Later Pete Ross will do a similar thing in "The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent" (1961), and so will Perry White in "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" (Action #297, February 1963). In all of the stories, the word "betrayal" refers to the fact that one of Superman's friends is trying to reveal his secret identity, a betrayal of their friendship.
The Mystery of Mighty Boy; Superboy's Lost Friend (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. This two part story was one of many works in which the authors present a character in another place or time who functions just like Superman. Here Superboy travels to another planet, where he meets Mighty Boy, whose life echoes that of Superboy's on Earth. These kind of stories often stress the startling coincidence in detail between Superman's life and the new character's; for example, while Superboy has many people in his life with the initials L.L., Mighty Boy has many friends with the initials C.K. The authors clearly showed a good deal of ingenuity in coming up with such parallels. This tale, like many in the Superman family, also contains a mystery element: strange events are happening to Mighty Boy, and the reader is challenged to come up with an explanation. As in all good mysteries, the solution is both logical and surprising. The letters column of Superboy #104 (April 1963) says the editors were working on a sequel to the Mighty Boy story, but as far as I know this unfortunately never appeared.
"Mighty Boy" has some precedents among Binder's earlier work. Much of its basic plot framework occurred in an earlier Binder tale, "The Power Boy from Earth" (Superboy #52, October 1956). This tale is only half as long as "Mighty Boy", and much less interesting. When Binder expanded it into "Mighty Boy", he included much more detail about life on the planet, and about the personal life of Mighty Boy.
The mystery elements have also been strengthened. Whereas Power Boy simply became weak in the earlier story, here Mighty Boy undergoes a series of mysterious transformations. Transformations were always a Binder specialty. Binder had improved his ideas about transformations between 1956 and 1960. He had created Red Kryptonite, which had "institutionalized" transformations in Superboy's life, and given Binder a systematic framework to think about transformations in general. All of this benefits the second story greatly. Binder has also embedded a series of clues to the mystery in the second story, allowing readers to logically deduce the solution. The mystery, as in some of Binder's other sf mysteries, is one of causality: what is causing the events in the story?
One of the transformations in the tale derives from an earlier Binder story, "The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957). This transformation is just a brief episode in the "Mighty Boy" tale, but was the basis of an entire story in Jimmy Olsen. Binder's version in "Mighty Boy" shows greater artistic economy. Binder has also made the consequences of the super-brain more logical in "Mighty Boy" than in the Jimmy Olsen story.
All of this allows us to see Binder's creative mind in action. His ideas did not always spring into existence full blown, but were the result of creative development and expansion. The shining beauty of "The Mystery of Mighty Boy" is the ultimate result. This story is one of the most imaginative and emotionally involving of all Superboy tales.
Superboy's Big Brother; The Secret of Mon-El (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. This two part story paired Superboy with another young super-hero. Mon-El arrives on Earth, and is apparently Superboy's big brother. It is the key transitional work about Superboy's friendships, between the Mighty Boy tales, and the Pete Ross saga.
The story is rich in sf elements, including an early use of the Phantom Zone. The interesting time travel episode seems practically like another story.
I also like the secret identity the family comes up with for Mon-El, as a good natured, outgoing but two-bit traveling salesman. What could be more 1930-ish? The cheap flashy suit he wears is completely in character, and evokes an era in American life. Mon-El is fated to have only a single outing in this secret identity, but the care in which the artists and writers have bestowed on it is worthy of a series of stories. It shows how character-driven the Superman family stories are: thinking up a life, a personality and a secret identity for Mon-El is of central importance to everyone involved.
The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. A new boy, Pete Ross, moves to Smallville; he starts collecting information on Superboy which could reveal his secret identity. This is the first Pete Ross story. The first Pete Ross story appeared before the Mon-El tale, the second after. The first story is seen from the point of view of Superboy, and focuses on his need for friendship. It is one of the most emotional of all Superboy tales. Superboy has terrible trouble learning to trust other people, and the story concentrates on his difficulties and attempt to overcome this. He learns some good lessons here: many Superboy stories concluded with morals, and lessons, in the time honored tradition of didactic children's fiction.
Pete Ross' Super-Secret (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Pete Ross accidentally learns that Superboy and Clark Kent are the same person. The second Pete Ross story. It opens with Superboy's point of view again, where he learns more about what a good friend Pete Ross is. This too is a memorable piece on friendship, and something that people can learn from. The previous tales about Superboy's friends focused on Superboy's friendships, and with a super-powered youth. The Pete Ross stories give Clark Kent a friend, who is a non superpowered youth in Smallville.
At this point, the story introduces a new plot element. Pete Ross learns Superboy's secret identity. But Superboy does not know that he knows it. Pete Ross will use this knowledge to secretly aid Superboy on his missions. This complex piece of plot development is just the start of a new series of stories in the Superboy magazine. Each will develop new, highly complex stories developing these ideas. They are some of the most virtuosically plotted tales in the Superman family.
When Pete Ross learns Superboy's identity, the storytelling shifts to Pete Ross' point of view. Pete will continue to be the POV character for most of the subsequent Pete Ross stories. Occasionally the POV will briefly shift back to Superboy, to depict the situations in the tales and how they appear to him, but mainly the tales will focus on Pete Ross as a protagonist, and his benevolent schemes to aid Superboy with his work.
The New Boy of Steel; The Enemy Superboy (1962). Writer: Robert Bernstein. This two part story is ingenious. There are signs of it being stretched out to meet its length, but it is still an interesting story. Friends in the Superman family often seemed to develop jealousy and turn on each other. Often times, these tales are simply both too raw emotionally, and not very well motivated. Here we have a much more refined and carefully graded work, one that succeeds in running a wide gamut of feelings.
The Boy With Ultra-Powers (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This story has both cover and art by Curt Swan. The story is unusual in that though Pete Ross occurs heavily in it, he is not the protagonist, and the story is not a typical Pete Ross tale, of him aiding Superboy. Instead it focuses on a new super-powered character, Ultra Boy, a youth operating undercover in Smallville, and trying to detect Superboy's secret identity.
The scene in the story in which Superboy and Ultra Boy tumble to each other's secret identities is a neat two-part switch. Swan's excellent cover offers a condensed version of this scene. It is ingeniously plotted.
While not made explicit, this scene of Ultra Boy and Superboy checking each other out can be read as having a gay subtext:
Also complex: the way that both Ultra Boy and Superboy work as detectives. They have different goals: Ultra Boy wants to discover Superboy's secret identity; Superboy wants to figure out Ultra Boy's background and mission. All of this adds to the enormous amount of plot in the story.
The way that both Ultra Boy and Superboy work as detectives, both have super-powers, and the way they both find each other's secret identities in the scene on the cover, creates a symmetry between the two. This also adds to the structure of the plot.
Ultra Boy is called "Ultra-Boy" with a hyphen in this origin story. Later tales would drop the hyphen. Ultra Boy seems to be the standard spelling.
SUPER-HERO COSTUMES. Swan's art is quite smooth. It focuses on the clothes of the characters. Both Ultra Boy and his adult mentor, Marla, have similar futuristic outfits, with identical colors and forms. Both wear an oddly curved belt, belts which curve roundly up in front and back, and which narrow on the sides. These resemble the complex biomorphic curves in Swan's spaceships. The fact that the belts have small objects stuck on their side also resembles Swan's spaceships, which tend to be full of minute protuberances that seem to stand for high tech machinery. The belt protuberances are slightly different and differently arranged in Ultra Boy's and Marla's belts. One suspects that these are machines as well, but this is never made clear in the story. The art gives a sense of futuristic mystery to the characters, a sense that high tech devices are lurking just outside the fringe of the story.
Both Ultra Boy and Marla wear emblems on their chests. These emblems are different for both characters. However, they have similar design features. Both have a vertical piece; both have horizontal extensions which go symmetrically to the left and right. Both designs form complex geometric abstractions, with many jagged straight lines forming polygonal boundaries. Both seem inspired by designs in Native American art, such as the emblems on pottery of the American Southwest. Both figures also seem like phallic symbols, and express their characters' virility.
REGULAR CLOTHES. The Superboy artists typically gave each kid in Smallville a distinctive look, focusing on a particular style of dress. Ultra Boy, in his secret identity of a typical 1930's Smallville teenager, is no exception. He wears a white shirt and a round necked sweater that covers most of his upper body. Ultra Boy is also given a set of striped pants, that look like part of a baseball uniform: he also wears a baseball catcher's mitt on the cover. His gray clothes contrast Clark Kent's red and blue, and Pete Ross' black and white. His brown hair also contrasts Superboy's black hair and Pete' blond. For continuing characters like Clark Kent and Pete Ross, their style of dress and standard colors recur in story after story. (The article on French film director Robert Bresson discusses how he uses distinctive, repeated clothes and colors on his heroes, so that each has a constant "look". This makes them iconographically identifiable and recognizable: the same way that characters in Superboy are instantly recognizable. See films like Pickpocket (1959), Lancelot du lac (1974), L'Argent (1983).)
The striped pants reminds one of Swan's gangsters, who often wear pinstriped suits. However, these gangsters are Swan's menacing grown men, whereas Ultra Boy is a youth. They give Ultra Boy a combination of characteristics of both Swan's young people and grown-ups, two categories that are otherwise usually completely distinct in Swan's work. The way that Ultra Boy hangs out with an older man, Marla, and is a figure of potentially sinister threat, like Swan's gangsters, also links him to these older male figures in Swan's work. So does his extreme seriousness, atypical of Swan's often humorous young males, such as Jimmy Olsen. Swan also includes an actual adult crook in this tale; he reminds one of Charles McGraw, the archetypal 1940's Hollywood tough guy.
Ultra Boy's shirt and sweater are very similar in appearance to Freddy, the boy to whom Clark Kent sells a hobby kit at the beginning of Swan's "The Super-Hobby of Superboy" (Adventure #215, August 1955). Both youths also look much alike in facial features; both have wavy brown hair. It is interesting to see Swan repeat and expand a visual characterization, seven years later.
The Kryptonite Kid (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Pete Ross has a brief cameo in this story. He stays in character, and helps Superboy preserve his secret identity.
The Day Pete Ross Became a Robot (1962). Writer: Jerry Coleman. In the second Pete Ross story, it was emphasized that Pete knew not just about Superboy's secret identity, but also about his secret tunnel to his house, and his robots. Both of these features were regularly employed by the writers. This is typical of the Superman family approach to plotting - every piece of secret knowledge a character possessed was always exploited to the max in plot construction. The writers were wonderfully alive to the plot opportunities such devices would present. This story concerns the robots. It is more narrowly focused on a specific subject than most Pete Ross tales, and forms a technical exercise on a single theme, one based on Superboy's robots. Within this frame it is surprisingly inventive, however. It shows Pete Ross doubling for Superboy again.
At the end of the tale, Pete Ross meets Ultra Boy again. The writers never forgot a connection between characters in the mythos, and used them to generate as many plot ideas as possible.
Ultra Boy and Saturn Girl comment at the end that Pete had shown "amazing ingenuity" in the story. This is archetypal in the Superman family: the highest aspiration for all of the characters is to behave ingeniously during the challenges that confront them. One might note that the word "ingenuity" is also the paradigmatic measure of the genre of mystery fiction: critics like John Dickson Carr measured the success of a puzzle plot mystery story by its quality of ingenuity. This common central use of ingenuity as a yardstick and artistic goal shows the deep relationship between the Superman family stories, and the field of mystery fiction.
The Great Superboy Hoax; The Ordeal of Pete Ross (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. The story is in the Hamilton tradition of one character taking on the role of another: here Pete Ross is given a trial run as Superboy's successor. This is the last major Pete Ross story. It has always been a favorite of mine. Its finale - melodramatic, ingenious, requiring heroic personal and mental effort from a character in service of a cause for which he is passionate - reminds one of the finales of Isaac Asimov's stories, such as Pebble in the Sky (1950). The story has an amplitude of scope that is pleasing.
The False Superboy of Smallville (1964). A teenager pretends to be Superboy. Pete Ross largely dropped out as a Superboy series character after 1963, and his presence was sorely missed. This tale has a little bit of the feel of the Ross stories, however, with a teenage classmate of Clark Kent who pulls off an ingenious scheme. He is a much more pathetic figure than the successful Ross, however, and is one of the many young people with family trouble that Superboy often helped. This tale is sort of a last hurrah for tales involving Superboy's secret identity.
Superman briefly dreams about Pete Ross' futuristic descendent Pete Ross 5 in Bernstein's "The Jury of Super-Enemies" (Action #286, March 1962). Pete Ross 5 only occurs in this one dream sequence; there is no indication that he is a "real" character in the Superman mythos.
The baby Pete Ross, along with other Smallville infants, briefly shows up in a Superbaby tale, Leo Dorfman's "Superbaby Captures the Pumpkin Gang" (Superman #152, April 1962).
THE LEGION. The teen age Pete Ross has a small role in a Legion of Super-Heroes tale written by Jerry Siegel, "The Eight Impossible Missions; The Amazing Winner of the Great Proty Puzzle" (1964). Pete Ross was an honorary member of the Legion. The Legion stories are structured so that each Legionnaire makes a small turn in them, with no central character; Pete Ross' role is equal to the others, and is in the tradition of the tales where he ingeniously exploits his knowledge of Superboy's identity. This is a nice story and appearance. Pete Ross also has a nice cameo in Siegel's Legion tale, "Sunboy's Lost Power" (Adventure #302, November 1962).
IMAGINARY TALE. Pete Ross plays a major role in Edmond Hamilton's imaginary tale, "Clark Kent's Brother" (Superman #175, February 1965), although he has quite a different personality and role here than in his Superboy series.
STORIES THAT NEVER WERE. Pete Ross is plainly shown on Swan's cover for "Superboy and the 5 Legion Traitors" (1964), sitting next to Lana Lang in the classroom. However, in the actual story, Pete has no dialogue. In fact, the boy to whom Lana talks does not look much like Pete, even though he is wearing Pete's traditional black and white clothes.
Lois Lane appeared in a story about "Plan L", a tale in which she puts a special plan in action to assist Superman. The letters column of Lois Lane #31 (February 1962) says that there will be similar stories about Plan J, with Jimmy Olsen, Plan P, with Perry White, Plan V, with Superman's Kandorian cousin Van-Zee, and Plan PR, with Pete Ross. Both Plan J (written by Jerry Siegel) and Plan P (written by Robert Bernstein) eventually appeared, but I have never seen a Plan V or Plan PR tale. Presumably, they were never written. I would have greatly enjoyed reading about Pete Ross in Plan PR.
GROWN-UP PETE ROSS. Weisinger was very conscious of areas still to be filled in of the Superman mythos. In the letter column of Jimmy Olsen #62 (April, 1962), he pointed out that he'd never yet shown what happened to Pete Ross after he grew up and left Smallville. Looks at Pete Ross' adult life:
The story also has many interesting science fictional elements. Jor-El uses his great knowledge of Kryptonian science to accomplish many feats. These aspects anticipate the great story of Leo Dorfman's "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue" (Superman #162, July 1963) the following year, and probably influenced that "imaginary" tale. Another story with a super-hero producing great feats is Edmond Hamilton's "The Last Days of Superman" (Superman #156, October 1962), a tale which appeared after "The Super-Family From Krypton", and before "The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue".
One might also note that it is Lara's scientific skills that save the family at the opening of the story, a quietly feminist plot element that is very different from the treatment of women in print and film of that era. The tale shows strong storytelling throughout.
During 1959-1960 Siegel wrote several tales about the perils of celebrity. Most were pretty grim. This one is light-hearted and hilarious, however.
The Millionaire Pupil (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A spoiled rich kid moves to Smallville and tries to buy his way though school. This is one of Siegel's tales emphasizing comedy and satire. The kid is as cocky and arrogant as Krypto is in many of the comic tales about Krypto written by Siegel. He also resembles Siegel's creation, Mr. Mxyzptlk, in being a comic pest. Like Mr. Mxyzptlk, he has great "powers", in this case deriving from his great wealth.
Siegel also shows some of the way-out things the kid can do with his money. In this, the tale resembles those of other comics characters as Richie Rich and Ernie Bushmiller's Rollo (in the Nancy comic strip).
The story combines both satire and wish-fulfillment fantasy. The kid is not a villain; he is doing what most people would be tempted to do if they had too much money. In some ways, he is as independent as Siegel's heroine, Supergirl, of adult supervision and control. Both young people let their ideas and actions soar, and fly as high as their powers allow. Siegel's Bizarros and Legionnaires also do whatever they please.
Superbaby's Super-Pranks (1964). This Superbaby story satirizes the world of Hollywood actors and producers. The Superman family loved to do stories about this - see Lois Lane's acting tales. These stories were always comic and good natured - the editors plainly felt that Hollywood's flamboyance was suitable for some gentle satire.
The mainly comic story also underscores Clark's close relationship with his parents, and his need for them. Such human needs for affection and relationships were persistent Dorfman themes.
Clark Kent's Single Identity (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. When Superboy mysteriously loses all his powers for many weeks, he copes as best he can, exclusively in his Clark Kent identity. This well developed story seems to be in full Binder traditions. It shows how the central premise affects Clark in dozens of aspects of daily life. Binder usually included such episodes in his transformation tales, each one imaginatively showing how the transformation could interact with some part of ordinary life. This story has much of the same feel.
This story can be considered a transformation tale of sorts. However, it shows Superboy transformed into an ordinary person, without super-powers. This is a little different from Binder's true transform tales, in which the protagonist usually becomes something far out of the ordinary, such as a wolf man or a giant. The story also differs from transform tales, in that the events show not just ordinary life, but how Superboy now interfaces with his mythos. We see the powerless Superboy working with his robots, interfacing with Chief Parker, using his indestructible glasses from Krypton, and so on. These are not the daily life experiences that show up when Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane appear in a Binder transform story. The story is detailed, exploring virtually every aspect of Superboy's life in Smallville. It is thoroughly connected with the mythos. This connection enhances the story's appeal and warmth. It is like a visit to Smallville, and an inside look at Superboy's life. All the familiar aspects of that life are present here, playing a role in the tale.
The tale also is structured as an sf mystery story. Neither Superboy nor the reader has any idea of the cause of Superboy's transform. In fact, Superboy at first attributes it to Red Kryptonite, a false but logical idea. Only gradually is this notion proven false. Binder's treatment here is thoroughly logical. Such a mystery surrounding the transform's cause makes the tale more elaborate than a typical transform tale. Also, for one of the few times in a Binder transform story, we see the distress that such a transform must cause the protagonist. Superboy copes with his new situation with the same grit and determination that Binder's transformed heroes always display, but he also expresses sadness and fear.
Papp does a good job with the baseball coach. He is one of Papp's musclemen in sweatshirts. There are also some good portraits of gangsters later in the story.
Clark Kent's Butler (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. The Kents win a butler for a week as a prize, but his presence in the Kent home threatens Superboy's secret identity. Binder had a flair for stories about protecting Superboy's secret identity. This tale adds some nice ideas to this Binder specialty.
In Leo Dorfman's "The Millionaire of Smallville" (1965), Clark got a sympathetic butler, when he became the ward of his rich uncle. Here he gets a crooked butler. Both characters have their comic side, and both interfere with Superboy's life of crime fighting.
When Krypto Was Sold (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: George Papp. Krypto goes undercover as a non-super powered dog and new pet to boastful rich kid Ronnie Vale, so that he and Superboy can show him the error of his ways. Ronnie Vale is not malicious or a villain. But his constant boasting about his wealth and material possessions makes him understandably unpopular with the other young guys in Smallville. Ronnie Vale is one of Hamilton's outsiders, people who have been rejected by the rest of society. Unlike most such Hamilton characters, Ronnie is not blameless: he has brought his problems on himself by showing off. Still, Hamilton is deeply sympathetic to him. Ronnie, like other such Hamilton heroes, will struggle hard to find a place for himself.
Despite the title, Krypto's role as a non-super dog is only one thread in this story. Ronnie's problems with his bragging is the central theme of the tale. Ronnie and his attitude are treated with seriousness here, while Krypto adds vibrant comedy relief to the story. Krypto stays in character here, as the vain, over-enthused, but decent mutt we all know and love from other tales. Such characterization of Krypto mainly appeared in comedy stories by Jerry Siegel. Hamilton keeps to Siegel's traditions here. However, Krypto's mutterings about being unappreciated here are a bit more justified than in Siegel tales.
Superbaby's First Fight (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superbaby interferes with a boxing match at the Smallville county fair. The Superman magazines loved tales about boxing, and regularly featured them.
This is a tale with a pleasant plot. Many of the ideas in it are far-fetched and comic in tone, but Binder has them all dovetail nicely together. It is clearly developed around Swan's cover. Binder's two main sf ideas here are designed to rationalize and explain away problems developing from the cover situation. Such rationalizations have long been a Binder specialty. Both ideas are inventions of one of the characters Binder contributed to the Superman mythos, Professor Potter; and both involve sf transforms, a favorite Binder plot device.
The two rationalizations can also be seen as a "challenge and response". The boxing situation on the cover offers a challenge; each Binder sf idea forms a response.
Papp does a great job with the boxers. There are good illustrations of Dynamite Dick in his suit; then pictures of both Dick and his opponent Lefty Hooker in their trunks. Dynamite Dick has brown hair and green trunks, while Lefty Hooker has blond hair and wears red trunks. The opposition of red and green is a classic color scheme in the Superman family.
The Toughest Kid in Smallville (1965). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: George Papp. This imaginary tale shows what Clark Kent's life might have been like, if instead of pretending to be meek and mild, he had pretended to be a jerk and trouble maker instead. This is the most minimalist idea for an imaginary tale in Superman history. Most imaginary tales deal with massive changes in Superman's life, such as, "What would have happened if Krypton had never exploded?" By contrast, this tale looks only at how Superboy might have conducted himself differently, in his Clark Kent role. This minimalist quality hardly hurts the tale: it is a well developed, interesting look at an alternative role for Clark Kent. It shows an ingenious use of the Imaginary tale format, to explore a different sort of question than the Imaginary tales usually cover.
Other tales sometimes showed different existences for Clark Kent: for example, "Clark Kent, He-Man" (Adventure #305, March 1963) has the Kents moving to a different town, getting new identities, and allowing Superboy to have a secret identity as a star athlete. These stories are not Imaginary: they depict events that actually happened to the Kents. One difference: no one would object to Superboy becoming a star athlete, but a tale that showed Superboy actually experimenting with the identity of a juvenile delinquent and junior hood might have seemed objectionable to many readers and their parents. By making this tale an Imaginary story, the story only shows what would have happened had Superboy done this. The story also points out why this would have been a bad idea, and all the trouble it would have caused. By making the events purely hypothetical, they become less objectionable. The story itself points out that such behavior is not a good plan for Superboy.
Each issue of Adventure featured one long story about Superboy, and then one or more stories about other heroes, a whole procession of whom passed through the magazine. The Superboy stories were closely linked to those in Superboy magazine. However, they tended to be less central to the Superboy saga. They also tended to be more comic in tone.
The Superboy stories in Adventure after 1960 are uneven, to say the least. The stories written by Otto Binder or Jerry Siegel range from very good to at least interesting, but those of other writers tend to be Bad with a capital B. Since non-Binder tales make up the overwhelming majority of the magazine's contents during the Silver Age, we are faced with a comic book with a lot of tenth rate material. There are exceptions, good tales such as Jerry Coleman's "The Origin of the Superman - Batman Team" and Jerry Siegel's "The Super Star of Hollywood" and "Superboy and the Mermaid From Atlantis", but most of the non-Binder material is just plain terrible. This is the dark underbelly of the Weisinger world, the homeland of bad fiction.
The Farmer Takes it Easy (1946). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: John Sikela. Superboy helps a poor, struggling farm kid stay in school. This story is also the Origin of Jack Smart, a reporter from the Daily Planet who comes to Smallville to do stories on Superboy. He appears in a few more Superboy tales, including the next issue's "The Whiz Kid Club" (#111, December 1946), where Sikela's portraits of him are the main good feature in a minor tale. Jack Smart is a typical likable, brash young reporter. He is less established as a reporter than Clark Kent or Lois Lane will be, but a little more advanced in his career than Jimmy Olsen. This is a rank and age group of reporters that was otherwise rarely seen in the Superman family. The Superman family always idolized reporters; so did numerous movies and radio shows of the era.
The Adventure Comics stories of the later 1940's were among the earliest of all stories to feature Superboy; before then, the grown up Superman was the main lead. Like many of the early Superboy tales, this story is quite juvenile in its content, although far from saccharine in tone. It focuses on young kids and their problems. It also is typical of the early Superboy stories in that its characters are quite poor. The young farm boy here is so pressed with duties on his financially stressed farm that it looks like he will have to drop out of school, before Superboy intervenes.
The 33rd Christmas (1947). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: John Sikela. A mysterious figure makes presents every year for the school kids. Sentimental, emotionally involving Christmas story. Adventure regularly published Christmas tales every year; this one is the best. Like many Superboy stories, it focused on the struggles of a poor but nice person.
Superboy, Toy-Tester (1947). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: John Sikela. Related to the cover by Jack Burnley. To raise money to buy a favorite teacher a present, Superboy gets a job testing toys for robustness and avoidance of wear and tear. This simple story has a unique charm. It is not clear why. Possibly because testing toys looks fun. Perhaps because the main characters are not mobsters, but two rival groups of toy manufacturers. One does have an assistant who looks like a muscular mug, however. He wears a green suit, and functions as a crook in the plot. The story also has some nice humor.
In 1947, Superboy was still a small kid; later, he would become the teenager of most 1950's and 1960's Superboy stories. So playing with kid's toys is still natural to him.
The story is perhaps related to the delightful cover, one of my favorites in Adventure. It has some gentle surrealism. The cover can be considered as a form of visual pun.
The Quiz Biz Broadcast (1947). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: John Sikela. Superboy helps a young genius from the slums become a radio quiz kid and raise money for a new playground.
While stories like "The Farmer Takes it Easy" (1946) looked at farm people in financial difficulty, this story examines the urban poor. The genius kid in the tale is treated completely sympathetically. He is the hope of his entire neighborhood, and everyone in it tries to help him. This is typical of the respect for intellect that is always present in DC comic books. The theme of a whole community coming together is also present in the same team's "The 33rd Christmas" (1947). And "Superboy: Crime-Fighting Poet" (1948) has a series of classes whose students make up a collective "protagonist". The group of students as a whole are the "hero", and they have something of the feel of the communities in these tales.
While Superboy performs some ingenious feats in this tale, it mainly has little to do with him or his superpowers. It could almost be a mainstream, non-science fiction tale. Superboy himself points out that the kid hero could have answered these questions without the aid of Superboy's powers. This is an early "reflective" passage in the narration. Superboy looks at the feats he has just performed to collect quiz show answers, then tells the hero how he could have arrived at the same answers independently. It is as if Superboy is offering an alternative history, another path that the story could have taken, to get at the same result. It is like a small Imaginary Story embedded in the dialogue. Such reflective features as Imaginary Stories and Untold Tales will later be major story telling strategies in the Silver Age Superman family.
Perry White, Cub Reporter (1947). Writer: Don Cameron. At age 21, new college journalism grad Perry White applies for his first reporting job with the Daily Planet. Nice story that shows us the early working life of Daily Planet editor Perry White. The splash narration explicitly says that since "we" (Adventure Comics) were showing the readers the early lives of Superboy and Clark Kent, a similar presentation of young Perry White can be made. Later on, during the Silver Age (from 1959 on), there was a systematic attempt to create Untold Tales, that filled in origins of various parts of the Superman mythos. These stories were typically labeled as Untold Tales, and the writers had a systematic rationale for presenting such a story. However, in 1947 no such concept existed. The idea of showing the early life of a continuing character was perhaps a little daring back then. In any case, the writer and editor believed that some sort of rationale was needed on the splash, to justify presenting such a story.
Even in this tale, we see Perry entirely through his job at the Daily Planet. Only rarely over the years do we see Perry in any other role than either doing his newspaper work, or assisting his friend Superman with a mission.
New reporter Perry is dressed in a green jacket and bow tie. This is exactly the costume that will later be associated with Jimmy Olsen, also a cub reporter.
Perry really has to run the gauntlet here from Planet Editor Mr. Hobbs. The story shows the difficulties young people often faced on their jobs. The young readers of the magazine could probably identify with this.
A Lesson for a Bully (1947). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: ?. Bullying athlete Pete Brant launches a dirty trick campaign for school mayor; he is challenged by honest candidate Tom Dawson, with Superboy's help. This is one of the least juvenile of the early Superboy tales. Although it describes a school election, nearly everything in the tale could translate into grown-up politics. And down and dirty elections are unfortunately still with us, never more so than in the year 2000. The tale is gripping throughout, and full of inventive incident. Finger was long interested in political situations and public life. His "Superman Under the Green Sun" (Superman #155, August 1962) is one of the most powerful of the anti-Nazi tales in comic book history, for instance.
The story has the "challenge and response" construction that is familiar in Superman family tales. Usually the bad candidate launches a dirty trick; Superman and the good candidate respond to this challenge with some elaborately plotted actions of their own. Finger often constructed his tales through hoaxes. Here the crooked candidate is often up to elaborate hoaxes, which he inflicts as dirty tricks on the good one. And sometimes, Superboy and the sympathetic candidate might launch a counter-hoax of their own, to cope with this situation. This gives lots of ingenuity to the story.
Finger opens the tale with a portrait of a star athlete as an obnoxious jerk and bully. While some athletes behave this way in real life, one rarely sees a frank portrayal of this in our sports worshipping media.
Superboy: Crime-Fighting Poet (1948). Writer: Don Cameron. Art: ?. When crooks go undercover as teachers in his school, Superboy has to root them out. Best of the early Superboy stories.
The most fascinating part of this story is that its second half is entirely in verse. The narration, dialogue and text passages displayed in the illustrations all make up one long, unfolding poem. Cameron's script shows tremendous zing and verve. The poetry is rhymed and in a steady meter. The story takes place in an English class where the students are studying "poetry and folk ballads", and the verse is in fact in the tradition of many folk ballads and poems. The verse is vigorous and imaginative, without ever being pretentious, and it does have the feel of a good folk ballad. Cameron also does interesting things with the mix of narration and dialogue, having them play against each other in unusual ways. People also break into each other's dialogue, sometimes adding extra passages to a refrain, using identical rhyme schemes. The effect is sometimes gently comic, as well as being ingenious. The plot of the tale is also light hearted and funny, and the poetry is definitely in the comic tradition.
Super-hero stories very rarely used poetry or verse. The juvenile nature of the early Superboy perhaps helped make this approach acceptable here: books for very young readers are sometimes in verse. There are probably more humorous and funny animal comics that use poetry, however. For example, take Beep Beep the Roadrunner, the comic book adaptation of the popular Roadrunner movie cartoons. In the movies, there is only one Roadrunner, and he never talks except to say "Beep Beep". In the comic book, there is a whole family of Roadrunners, and they all talk to each other using rhymed couplets of dialogue.
There was a long comic book tradition of humorous suspense tales in school: see the Slam Bradley story "Undercover in Grade School" (Detective Comics #5, July 1937), for instance.
The World's Wackiest Inventions (1952). Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Win Mortimer. When Superboy kindly makes it look as if a strange helicopter invention works, things snowball and wacky inventors of all sorts descend on Smallville. The main appeal in this tale consists of the strange inventions. They show considerable mechanical ingenuity. Their technical properties form the actual plot of the tale. This is hard to do: a story whose very plot substance is made up of engineering ideas.
One of the inventions is actually on Win Mortimer's cover. The rest occur throughout the story. Curt Swan makes them look both comic and ingenious.
The story shows sophistication about financial matters, such as stock. This sophistication was common in DC stories in the early 1950's, then mysteriously disappeared in the Silver Age.
A Mask for a Hero (1952). Art: John Sikela. Based on a cover by Win Mortimer. A stranger in Smallville rescues many lives in a fire, but then goes masked so that no one can see his face. Excellent mystery story. The Smallville residents and the reader all try to determine why the hero wants his face kept secret, and what he might be hiding. The basic structure of this mystery tale is quite original, focusing not on whodunit, but why the stranger is concealing his face. Another unusual feature of the story's mystery plot construction: Superboy is often trying to prove that various ideas about the Masked Hero are wrong. He has vowed to help the man protect his privacy, and such conjectures are threats to it. Superboy has to use good detective work to disprove these hypotheses. Proving a "negative statement" is very difficult under any circumstances, as most scientists know, and it is often hard to see how Superboy will do this. All of this gives the tale an unusual plot architecture.
The story has the episodic construction familiar in many Superman family tales. Each episode deals with another potential reason for his hidden face. This means that many potential solutions, most of them false, are put forward in the story, and their plot possibilities are explored. We also look at various non-mystery situations that are triggered by the central idea.
As in "The Super-Artist of Smallville" (Superboy #25, April-May 1953), we see artist figures in Smallville. This is handled with considerable first hand knowledge.
Reporter Bill Wilder is a vividly drawn character. As is often the case with conspicuous characters in comics of this period, he is given a green suit. Such a color seems to make a character stand out. I've been seeing green suited men in comic books all my life, so they look normal to me, but it is not clear if men have ever worn green suits in real life in any era! Both Wilder and the Masked Hero show considerable machismo. The Masked Hero also shows up in a tux for a banquet.
Clark Kent's Bodyguard (1956). Writer: ?. Art: John Sikela. When Clark is a witness to a crime, he is assigned a bodyguard who trails him everywhere, interfering with his job as Superboy.
The private eye hired to be Clark's bodyguard here is dressed like a typical film noir hero: trenchcoat, hat, tie. This is one of the few appearances of such a traditional looking private eye anywhere in the Superman family. The characters are usually far more likely to meet FBI agents, or other government officials.
Joe Smith, Man of Steel (1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Sikela. Joe Smith, an ordinary nice guy in the small town of Midvale whose idol is Superboy, temporarily gets super-powers.
What is moving in this tale is Joe Smith's idealism. He is just an ordinary guy, but when he gets super-powers, he tries to use them selflessly to help others. He also refuses financial compensation for his services, and all attempts to exploit his abilities for gain. He has the same ideals and goals as Superboy. He is understandably more naïve and ignorant than Superboy about the pitfalls of being a super-being, but his idealistic vision of his work carries the day.
Aspects of the story anticipate the Supergirl saga to come. Joe needs assistance and training with using his powers from Superboy, just as Supergirl will. And Joe actually lives in Midvale, which will later be the home of Supergirl. This seems to be the first appearance of a small town named Midvale near Metropolis in the Superman magazines.
Metallo of Krypton (1956). This fine robot story in Superboy was rewritten and expanded four years later to form "The Robinson Crusoe of Space" in Adventure. This earlier, shorter version has no extended Krypton sequences.
The Robinson Crusoe of Space (1960). Art: Al Plastino. Superboy is marooned on a small planet, where he is helped out by a robot Man Friday. This is a science fiction tale, with much in it about robots. It is largely disconnected from much of the normal Superboy mythos, with little use of Lana Lang, Smallville and other normal characters in the series. It does have an flashback on Krypton, before moving on into the present. Such sequences were very common in the Superman family. It was astonishing how many variations the writers could work on this approach, finding new ways to tie events in Krypton in the past to modern day events on Earth and elsewhere in the present. Very rarely do we find two stories using the same idea. It is always something fresh and new. Chronologically speaking, such Krypton settings were often used to open the story: Krypton exploded in the past, when Superman was a baby, so settings there usually happened first. The authors often preferred such linear storytelling, as opposed to flashbacks in the middle of the tale to life on Krypton. These Kryptonian beginnings often remind me of nothing so much as the slow introductions Mozart and Haydn would use to commence their symphonies. The pattern of slow introduction - fast sonata movement gives a two part structural framework to the work. Similarly, the Krypton opening - Earth continuation gives a well defined structure to many Superman family stories. It gives each part of the story a distinctive color, flavor and mood. Like the classical slow introduction, it was an acknowledged approach with which the audience was familiar, something that would intrigue it and add complexity, but not confuse it. Because of its constant use in the Weisinger years, Krypton was as familiar a setting as Metropolis, something that all of the readers of the magazine knew a great deal about. In some ways it was an Utopian community, a civilization more advanced that Earth's, one in which the use of science and education brought about a paradise for its inhabitants. Yet Krypton had many problems as well, and these served as object lessons in politics to the readers of the stories.
Krypton is larger than Earth. It is Superman's "Mother" planet, which gave birth to him. Globes of Krypton tend to show a large Southern continent. All of this seems like female imagery. Krypton seems like a distinctly female presence in the series.
Krypton is a lost society of the past; in this sense it resembles the Garden of Eden. But Krypton also represents the future. Many of the stories show Krypton being rebuilt at some future date, by Superman and the inhabitants of the bottled city of Kandor. In this sense, the construction of Krypton seems like the Utopian dream of the characters. Krypton also seems like a Utopian planet in another way. It represents the aspirations of people today, of our planet. It is an advanced scientific society. It is deeply civilized. It has a democratic world government, and is a society where war has been abolished. Its citizens have humane values. This is the Utopian dream of everyone on Earth today.
The image of Krypton is the most Utopian image in American culture. Although it appeared in a comic book, not in some more official or prestigious publication, it was the most important political image in American arts throughout its era. The absence of anything as idealistic in modern arts seems like a terrible deprivation for the young people of today. While today's films show advanced science in the future, they tend to be war driven, and with only occasional democratic values. This is an awful image of the future to present people.
"The Robinson Crusoe of Space" (1960) reminds one somewhat of the later stories in Action, "When Superman Defended His Arch-Enemy; The Kryptonite Killer" (1962). All of these works mainly deal in robots, all are set in outer space, and all mainly are exercises in pure imagination, mainly dealing with robotic themes. In each tale, a robot or robots are the main civilizing force on some isolated world in outer space. Robinson Crusoe deals with one robot, in isolation, whereas the Action stories deal with societies of robots, and how these might behave. The later Action stories are somewhat sociological fulfillments of the earlier work, taking its ideas and turning it into sociological extrapolation.
Superboy and the Mermaid From Atlantis (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. This is part of the Adventure series in which Superboy meets people who later be important to him as Superman; here he encounters the mermaid Lori Lemaris. I thought it was interesting for the sheer amount of info it conveys about Lori and her people. Lori was a familiar character is the Superman saga, but somehow I never learned much about her. The stories that introduced her and explained her background always seem to have evaded me. In any case, here I am 44 years old and learning much about Lori I never knew before! Also noteworthy is the respectful treatment of Lana Lang in the tale. Depicted as a pest who tries to discover Superboy's identity throughout much of the series, here she is unexpectedly dignified and even heroic. In one panel she even rebukes Superboy for misinterpreting her motives.
The story also connects up Lori and Atlantis with the saga of Aquaman. Aquaman had been a continuing feature in Adventure. He made not infrequent guest appearances in the Superman comics. This is the only tale to use the intertwined mythos of Superman and Aquaman: as far as I know, none of these ideas were referred to again. Siegel was devoted to maintaining the Superman mythos; he probably was pleased about adding these further connections.
Dial M for Monster (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. Smallville is besieged by obnoxious tourists from another dimension in this comic tale, who threaten to destroy the Earth unless they have a fun vacation. This tale recalls some of the stories Gardner Fox wrote about sf tourists, such as "The Runaway Space-Train" (Mystery in Space #50, March 1959). In both Fox and Siegel, groups of humans and aliens are swapped into each other's worlds. The comic looking aliens here also resemble many of the alien beings that appeared in Mystery in Space.
As Siegel himself points out, the tourists also resemble Mr. Mxyzptlk in being comic pests. There extreme aggressiveness also resembles the behavior of the Bizarros in Siegel's stories. Siegel's comic characters tend to do and say whatever they please, with a comic disregard of all conventions of politeness or tact. The aliens' unusual behavior and attitudes also recall the Bizarros; both groups have their own code different from Earth ways. The aliens are also naïve, although nowhere as dim-witted as the Bizarros. Their all-powerfulness, and the way they take over the protagonists' life in unpleasant ways, also recall the villains in Siegel's mystery tales, although there are no mysteries in this story.
Lex Luthor and Clark Kent, Cell-Mates (1962). Art: Curt Swan. Clark Kent is framed, and winds up as Lex Luthor's cell mate in a juvenile prison. This story takes place in a strange, high tech world. Between all the crime machines invented by Lex Luthor, and the automatic guard devices at the prison, the entire tale is deeply concerned with the plot possibilities enabled by unusual machinery. The story has the plot / counter -plot structure of many Superman family stories. The unknown author rings many variations on this, with different characters at different stages taking on the roles of plotter and counter-plotter: sometimes Lex, sometimes Superboy. As is often in Silver Age comic book tales, the writer knew that he'd never revisit this subject again, and was clearly determined to spring every last ounce of plot possibilities from the central set-up. The story is not a classic, but it is a pleasant if rather unusual tale.
The luminous head here anticipates a similar luminous head of Caesar created as a hoax in Leo Dorfman's "The Man Who Betrayed Superman's Identity" (Action #297, February 1963). It is certainly possible that this tale is by Leo Dorfman, as well, who by this time was writing for the Superman family. His "The Specter of the Haunted House" (Jimmy Olsen #52, April 1961) also shows an interest in machinery.
The Wizard City (1955). Writer: Bill Finger. Art: Wayne Boring. Superboy and a professor discover a fragment of Krypton City in the African jungle. Along with "The House Where Superboy Was Born" (1957), this is one of two mid-1950's stories in Adventure in which a Kryptonian city survives the explosion of Krypton, and arrives safely on Earth. In both stories, Kryptonian buildings and their high tech contents survive, but no people. In this they differ from Otto Binder's tale to come of Supergirl's home town, Argo City, which also survives the explosion of Krypton: see "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action #252, May 1959). Both tales include a whole urban landscape, with advanced Kryptonian buildings and their grounds. Krypton was a deeply urban civilization. It had countrysides, but few people ever lived there. Instead, they dwelled in great cities, and these tales depict such cityscapes as coming to Earth.
In 1955, the Superman family mythos was barely underway. Otto Binder was adding Krypto, also a survivor of Krypton. But the main era of mass construction of the Superman mythos will not begin till 1958. Perhaps as a consequence, neither this tale's Kryptonian city, nor the landscape in "The House Where Superboy Was Born" (1957), will become a permanent part of the Superman mythos. Each occurs in just one story. Each tale is written so that possibility of contact with the Kryptonian fragments is closed off at the end of the tales. Neither story was reprinted during the Silver Age, either, and they are not usually considered by comics readers when itemizing the contents of the Superman mythos.
The House Where Superboy Was Born (1957). Writer: ?. Art: John Sikela. The house of Jor-El and Lara survives the explosion of Krypton, and arrives on Earth.
This is a hauntingly beautiful story. It is one of the most emotionally involving of the early Superboy tales.
Father's Day on Planet Krypton (1963). Writer: Leo Dorfman. Art: George Papp. Superboy learns about traditional Father's Day customs on Krypton. Dorfman would go to write other stories about fragments of Krypton that survived: see "Secret of Kryptonite Six" (Action #310, March 1964) and "The Black Magic of Supergirl" (Action #324, May 1965). In all of these tales, the fragments turn into Kryptonite, and are floating in space near Earth. Here they have become Green K; in later tales, they become specialized kinds of Kryptonite. In all the tales, the super-hero protagonist finds special approaches with dealing with the Kryptonite. In all the stories, the fragments have special emotional significance in being survivors of important parts of Krypton's culture. Dorfman also wrote non-Kryptonite tales about Krypton's cultural heritage: see "Superman's Day of Truth" (Superman #176, April 1965). The emotional nature of the tale is in accordance with Dorfman's emphasis on family traditions and personal relationships. His protagonists keep trying to make connections to other people. They often have to make a huge personal struggle to make such a connection.
This story shows an attempt to emphasize the existing Superman mythos. For instance, Pete Ross makes a cameo appearance. Also, the tale is Chapter IV of the long running "Life on Krypton" series, in which Superboy uses his mind-prober ray to recollect long dormant memories of Kryptonese life.
|Title||Withdrawal||Effects of Kryptonite||Confusion over Identity|
|The Kid From Krypton (Adv 242, Nov57)||Superboy plans to return to old Krypton in the Kid's place. Bids last farewell to friends and family.||Kid is super-sensitive to Kryptonite - fears first exposure will kill him. Superboy has built up partial immunity to it.||Kid and Superboy function as doubles.|
|Superboy's Last Day (Adv 251, Aug58)||Superboy very ill - takes to bed. Bids last farewell to friends and family.||Superboy's first encounter with Kryptonite - knows nothing about it yet - nearly dies from it.||Superboy mistaken for his first robot, and vice versa - do each other's tasks.|
|The Super-Sentry of Smallville (Adv 252, Sep58)||Superboy sits in the air, refuses to answer questions.||Plot triggered when piece of Red K falls from sky. Depicted in this early tale as concentrated Kryptonite, over 10 times stronger than Green Kryptonite.||Lana suspects wrongly that Superboy is really one of his robots.|
|The Super-Weakling From Space (Superboy 65, Jun58)||Very weak hero from space - cannot deal with conventional tasks.||Space visitor tries to find or make Green Kryptonite, thus scaring Superboy.||Space visitor and Superboy function as doubles.|
|The Man Who Destroyed Krypton (Superboy 67, Sep58)||Villain demands Superboy leave Smallville, accompany him to space. Bids last farewell to friends and family.||Exposure to Argon rays weaken villain, robbing him of super powers.||Superboy uses robot to impersonate him.|
|The Superman Hall of Trophies (J.O. 24, Oct57)||Superman sits perfectly still, pretends to be statue in museum.||Green Kryptonite paralyzes Superman, but does not affect his vision powers.||People think Superman is his statue.|
|The Boy From Mars (J.O. 27, Mar58)||Jimmy Olsen pretends to be a boy from Mars, temporarily abandoning his daily life.||Jimmy ingests Green Kryptonite, making him glow green, like The Manhunter From Mars.||Is it Jimmy, or the Martian he is pretending to be to sell newspapers?|
|The Outlaw Jimmy Olsen (J.O. 27, Mar58)||Jimmy Olsen stays home from work, while his double does his job.||Green Kryptonite plays a role in mystery plot.||Jimmy and his evil double both claim to be real Jimmy.|
|The Boy Who Hoaxed Superman (J.O. 31, Sep58)||Jimmy pretends to be frozen for hundreds of years - sneaks back to Daily Planet in disguise.||Jimmy puts a dummy of himself in cryogenic chamber. He disguises himself as someone else.|
The first five stories in this chart deal with Superboy, and appeared in Superboy and Adventure Comics. The last four feature Jimmy Olsen.
These stories are uneven, ranging from good to poor. The best of them are discussed below:
The Kid From Krypton (#242, November 1957). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. A young man time travels from Krypton to the future, arriving in Smallville where he proves to be a more resourceful hero than Superboy. It is a weak if inoffensive story, mainly notable for breaking some new ground that will be better employed in later works. This is one of the first time travel tales in the Superman family. It anticipates the two major time travel tales of 1958, "The Boy Who Killed Superman" and "The Legion of Super-Heroes". However, those tales involve time travel from the present to the far future, a different pattern from "The Kid From Krypton". It also anticipates the later Jimmy Olsen story "How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman" (1959), in that it involves time travel between the last days of Krypton, and modern day Earth. However, unlike the Olsen story, very little time is spent on old Krypton, with most of the events taking place in Smallville.
Superboy's Last Day (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Superboy recounts how he encountered Green Kryptonite for the first time, and nearly died. This tale is notable for being an early incarnation of Binder's keyboard and television monitor combo, used to control robots. There would be a later series in Jimmy Olsen using this same pattern, which is remarkably similar to modern PC's. This tale shows good storytelling. It is quite emotionally involving. It seems to be a model for the "mourning" stories that appeared in Superman in 1962.
The Super-Sentry of Smallville (1958). This tale is discussed below under the Red Kryptonite section.
The Super-Weakling From Space (1958). Writer: Jerry Coleman. Superboy meets a boy from another planet, who has been made unusually weak by Earth's gravity, just as Superboy has been made unusually strong. This Superboy tale is one of several in which Superboy meets people from other planets, whose life mirrors his own. This tale is unusual in that the boy's life is the opposite of Superboy's. Everything affects him in reverse from the way it affected Superboy. The tale builds up an almost mathematical precision in its design. Coleman went on to write some tales for Adventure in which Superboy meets and makes friends with some other youthful heroes, most notably "The Origin of the Superman - Batman Team" (1960). Like the young Bruce Wayne in that tale, the youth here is a budding scientist, with a gift for chemistry.
The Unwanted Superbaby (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Imaginary story, showing what might have happened to Superboy if his powers had been publicly discovered before he was adopted by the Kents. This story explores a great number of alternatives for Superboy's life. Instead of making these separate tales, Siegel has made them episodes in this one large story.
As in most of Siegel's Imaginary stories, the protagonist suffers through a series of heart-breaking events. In many of Siegel's imaginary tales, these events are romantic; but here they involve Superboy's tragic home life and career. One episode here resembles Siegel's "The Super-Brat From Krypton" (Superman #137, May 1960). In that story, a duplicate of Superboy was brought up by exploitative parents; in this Imaginary tale, the same thing happens to Superboy himself. Siegel's approach is much more balanced and effective here. In the previous tale, this material seemed to touch a raw nerve. Here it is one episode among many, and integrated into an overall story.
The next to last episode in the tale, showing a Superboy who has lost his powers struggling to survive, can be read as an autobiographical image. Although Siegel co-invented Superman in the 1930's, and thus largely founded the comic book industry, he was unable to get work in it in the late 1950's till Mort Weisinger offered him a job around 1959. The pain of such events is reflected in several Adventure tales Siegel wrote, in which Superboy is rejected by everyone around him: see "Prisoner of the Super-Heroes" (#267, December 1959), "The Boy Who Was Stronger Than Superboy (#273, June 1960) and "The Knave From Krypton" (#288, September 1961). In these tales, Superboy, Siegel's alter ego, undergoes the same experiences as his creator. This image in "The Unwanted Superbaby" is the most pathos laden and artistically profound of such Siegel works.
This story is the origin of Gold Kryptonite. A special note at the end states that although the tale is imaginary, one aspect of it is real: Gold K. And that soon we will be seeing Gold K in a real Superman tale. This is a unique event in the history of Imaginary tales: the only time an element of them turns out to be real. Siegel did something a bit similar in "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk" (Action #291, August 1962): he had Mr. Mxyzptlk's magic temporarily bring Supergirl's parents back to life, then a final note asked readers if they wanted to see such an occurrence become a real, permanent part of the mythos. Events caused by Mr. Mxyzptlk's magic are nearly as impermanent and unreal as those as in an Imaginary tale, so this is a close structural approach.
Gold K always made me nervous. I never liked it as part of the mythos. Its intimation of permanent damage always alarmed me. On the other hand, one must admit that the writers always handled it logically. Gold K is especially suited to Imaginary tales, such as this one and Leo Dorfman's "The Duel Between Superwoman and Superboy" (Action #333, February 1966). Imaginary tales often describe sweeping personal change coming to their characters: Gold K fits in with such an approach.
Red Kryptonite shows up in this tale, three months before its official debut in "The Splitting of Superboy" (1958), but it is treated as merely an especially concentrated and dangerous form of Kryptonite here: it has not yet acquired its power of affecting inhabitants of Krypton in unpredictable ways. Red Kryptonite has the same visual appearance here it will have throughout the Superman mythos to come. The colorist has even used the same shade of bright red it will always have. Red Kryptonite does not appear on Swan's cover, but it is in Sikela's story.
The Splitting of Superboy (Adventure #255, December 1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Red Kryptonite splits Superboy into a good Superboy and an evil Clark Kent. This is the story in which Red Kryptonite first caused a transformation of Superboy or Superman. In the later mythos, Red K always has an unpredictable effect on Superman and other beings from the planet Krypton, transforming them in unique ways. Red K is NOT described as having variable or unpredictable effects here. Instead, just this one transformation is depicted in this tale. Still, this is a big step towards the development of the Red K concept.
During this period, Binder wrote many stories in Jimmy Olsen, in which Jimmy was changed into a giant, made invisible, etc. This sort of transformation story was one of Binder's key themes, part of his personal artistic signature. The Red Kryptonite tales form a similar role in the stories about Superboy. Here, Binder has "institutionalized" the theme of transformation, by making it something that happens every time Superboy encounters Red Kryptonite.
"Splitting" seems to be the official start of Red Kryptonite tales in the Superman family. It is the first story in which Red K has a unique effect on the hero. Red Kryptonite had appeared in earlier stories, such as "The Super-Sentry of Smallville" (1958), but it had been treated as an especially dangerous version of Green Kryptonite, something that was simply harmful to Superman. Here, for the first time, it has a transformative effect on Superman - in this story splitting him into two people.
On the other hand, the full mythology of Red K is not present. Features that will be standard in later stories, but which are not included here:
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.
Finger includes Red Kryptonite in this story; it has the power to strip Superman of his powers for two hours. There is no sign at all that Red K has variable or unpredictable effects in this tale. For all a reader can tell, Red K always has this effect. Plus the Futuremen can subject Superman to it repeatedly, keeping him powerless. This story has to be considered as part of the prehistory of Red Kryptonite, tales written before the concept had been adequately worked out.
In his letters column for Adventure #258, March 1959, Weisinger refers to this tale, and says that it will reveal much more about Red K. The tale itself does not live up to Weisinger's claim.
The Return of Jor-El and Lara; The Voyage to New Krypton; The Orphan of Steel (Superboy #74, July 1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Artist: John Sikela. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Jor-El and Lara arrive in Smallville. This story contains an early mention (perhaps the origin) of the idea that Red Kryptonite has unpredictable effects.
This story is not very inspired. It does have an early reference to Red K. Superboy notes that it always has an unpredictable effect, based on his past experience with it. This is an early use of this property of Red K, perhaps the first. The concept of Red K's variable effects will be a positive idea with great value in the Superman mythos. Otherwise, Red K still does not have its other modern properties. Exposure to it simply makes Superboy very sick, laying him up with Kryptonite fever. This is very different from most later Red K tales, where the Red K has a transformative effect. It is closer to the original "The Super-Sentry of Smallville" (1958), where Red K is depicted as a very nasty version of Kryptonite. In most of these grim early Red K tales, Red K is depicted as having a catastrophic effect on Superboy.
Weisinger announced the publication of this new tale in the letters column for Adventure #261, June 1959. Weisinger states in the same letter column that a key characteristic of Red K is its unpredictability. So the idea of Red K's variable nature in Binder's story is already being seen by Weisinger as a fact in the Superman mythos. Weisinger is trying to answer a reader who is pointing out inconsistencies in Red K's actions in "The Super-Sentry of Smallville" (1958) and "The Splitting of Superboy" (1958). So perhaps he is just trying to find a way to explain these inconsistencies away.
The Blind Boy of Steel (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. When Superboy is blinded, Krypto serves as his seeing eye dog. This warm hearted tale is in the tradition of Binder's transformation stories. They have the initial transformation, a series of ingenious challenges based on the transformation, and a final antidote. Binder shows consistent ingenuity here. He also briefly retells the origin of Krypto. Krypto is treated heroically in this story.
Superboy's transformation comes about when he is exposed to a fusion of Green Kryptonite, and a strange glowing, rainbow meteor. This is a unique combination, used only in this story.
The Revenge of Luthor (Action #259, December 1959). Writer: Jerry Siegel. An early story to show the cosmic cloud through which Green Kryptonite passed to create Red Kryptonite. The story also stresses that Red K always has a weird, unpredictable effect. By contrast, there is no tingle here, and nothing is said about the effects being temporary, although in fact they turn out to be. In the letters column of the next issue, Action #260, the fact that Red K's effects are always temporary is stressed by editor Mort Weisinger.
The Week That Clark Kent Lost His Memory (1960). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Red Kryptonite causes Clark Kent to get amnesia, forgetting the fact that he is Superboy.
This story has the same Red K paradigm as "The Revenge of Luthor" of the previous month. Both tales stress Red K's unpredictable effects; both show the cosmic cloud which created Red K. This story does not depict Red K's effects as being temporary. Instead, it looks as if they would have persisted indefinitely, had not Krypto rescued Superboy from his amnesia.
The Stolen Identities (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Aliens impersonate Pa and Ma Kent, and subject Superboy to Red Kryptonite. An early story to describe the effects of Red Kryptonite as temporary.
This story emphasizes both Red K's unpredictable effects, and the fact that they are only temporary. The story says that Red K changes wear off after a few hours. The tale is comic in tone. It is one of the earliest stories in the Superman family to depict Red K effects as comic transformations, effects that might be tricky for Superboy to deal with, but which are not deeply serious in their consequences. This is a breakthrough in attitude for the Superman mythos. Red K has gone from being depicted as a grave catastrophe to Superboy, and now has the feel of comic transformation it will typically have in the Superman mythos.
The story depicts no less than three Red K transformations for Superboy. This helps create the feeling that Red K effects are "mass producible", that they are something that can be introduced by writers repeatedly into Superman family stories in the future. This too is a key attitude breakthrough.
This story has links to other works by Otto Binder. The Red K causes transformations, a favorite Binder theme. The sf parts of the tale recall the science fiction stories Binder wrote for Mystery in Space and Strange Adventures. We see First Contact between humans and aliens. As in other Binder First Contact tales, we see the difficulty that aliens have in adjusting to Earth conditions. The story involves changes to the alien world's location: Binder wrote many Cosmic stories in which humans adjust astronomical features.
This tale's plot is not very unified. It is a hodge-podge of different events. The sf plot about the aliens has little to do with the Red K aspects. And the comedy in the Kent home furnishes a third element. Still, the tale is full of invention. Its comic tone helps justify its status as a succession of wild ideas.
The impersonation is carried out with plastic face masks. This would become a tradition in the Superman family; this story is an early occurrence of it. An even earlier example: Binder's "The Great Supergirl Mirage" (Action #256, September 1959).
The Untold Story of Red Kryptonite (1960). Writer: Otto Binder. Binder continues building the mythos of Red Kryptonite, in this Superman tale. The tale is an anthology; it includes brief flashbacks to many previous Superman and Superboy tales about Red K. Its main purpose seems to be summarizing the mythos of Red Kryptonite up to that time.
The Fat Boy of Steel (1962). Art: Al Plastino. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. When chemicals cause everyone in Smallville to become fat overnight, Superboy doses himself with Red Kryptonite to become fat too. This story is basically a transformation tale. The main focus of the story, as in most tales in which Superboy or Superman becomes transformed, is the hero's quest to preserve his secret identity. It is different from many transformation stories, in that not just the hero, but everyone in Smallville undergoes the change.
As is pointed out in "DarkMark's Comics Indexing Domain", this story is a re-make of "The Super-Fat Boy of Steel" (Superboy #24, February-March 1953).
ROBERT BERNSTEIN AS AUTHOR? The author of this tale is not known. It shows some similarity with Robert Bernstein's work. Superboy shows himself a master of disguise in this tale. When I read this story as a kid, it was these parts that fascinated me the most. Superboy completely transforms his appearance into many other different forms. Bernstein often included disguise in his stories. The padding worn by Superboy here recalls that worn by Lois Lane in Bernstein's "The Madwoman of Metropolis" (Lois Lane #26, July 1961). Typically, it is the non-super-powered characters who disguise themselves in Bernstein, such as Pete Ross or Jimmy Olsen.
There are other Bernstein features:
Lana normally lives next door to the Kents; in this tale she is actually staying with the Kents when her folks are away. In this the tale resembles "Lana Lang, Superboy's Sister" (1962). The tale refers to the last time Lana stayed with the Kents - it seems to be a regular occurrence. The story also says that during that last visit, Lana was a similar pest about trying to expose Superboy's identity. Actually, "Superboy's Sister" is not such a pure story about such exposure, the way that "The Fat Boy of Steel" is.
Lana is meaner in this tale than Lois usually is. This is in keeping with their personalities. Lois is a much nicer, more generous and more idealistic person than Lana. It is hard to imagine Lois deliberately doing something that might harm Superman such as exposing him to Red K. On the other hand, Lois is more intelligent and more persistent than Lana. If fate presents her with a situation that allows her to snoop into Superman's identity, she will probably be deeper, sneakier and more clever in her investigation than Lana, who tends to be more brute force in her queries.
The Titanic Boy of Steel (1963). Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by: Curt Swan. Superboy temporarily turns into a giant. The last original Superboy story in Adventure. After this, the stories would be replaced by reprints of old Superboy tales.
TRANSFORMATION. Like many Red K stories, this is a transformation tale. It has the "series of incidents in which the transformation is cleverly used in daily life" construction used by many transformation stories. And it pleasantly revisits all of the standard dilemmas in which a transformation threatens Superboy's secret identity.
There are previous tales of giant transformation in the Superman family: see Otto Binder's "The Human Skyscraper" (Jimmy Olsen #28, April 1958).
PETE ROSS. Pete Ross has a large cameo. The fact that he knows Superboy's identity is not used here. But a long ignored facet of his character re-emerges: he is shown acting in the school play. In his origin story, "The Boy Who Betrayed Clark Kent" (Superboy #86, January 1961), he was deeply interested in drama. Oddly enough, the dialogue never refers to Pete by name here. But the artwork unmistakably shows Pete Ross.
ROBERT BERNSTEIN AS AUTHOR? The author of this story is unknown. But aspects recall writer Robert Bernstein.
Pete Ross is heavily associated with Robert Bernstein, who created the character. Also Bernstein like: the appearance of the US president (apparently FDR), and a scene involving Superboy in bed: such sleeping scenes recur regularly in Bernstein.
Other Bernstein-like features of this tale: we see Superboy's collection of Red K samples, each of which has already had effects on Superboy and Krypto. The effects are all carefully labeled. Bernstein has shown such "used" Red K archives before: see "The Irresistible Lois Lane" (Lois Lane #29, November 1961) (a tale probably by Bernstein) and "The Fat Boy of Steel" (Adventure #298, July 1962).
RED KRYPTONITE: INNOVATIONS. What is new here, and in fact new for the entire Superboy mythos, is the fact that the effects of the samples on Superboy and Krypto are often different. Traditionally, any Red K fragment is supposed to affect all beings from Krypton in the same way. But here, many of these Kryptonite pieces have different consequences for Kryptonian humans and animals. A Red K sample here might turn humans into beasts, but have no affect on animals, for example. This is logical and imaginative. But it is completely innovative within the world of the Superman mythos - I do not recall any early or later stories in which Red K has such multiple human/animal effects. Such an idea must have been blessed by editor Mort Weisinger - this 1963 issue is right at the heart of the Silver Age. But the ideas in it do not seem to have influenced the rest of the Superman stories.
Also new and different: the idea that under unusual circumstances, a piece of Red K might affect Superboy more than once. All in all, the writer has tried ideas that are new and different here.
COVER. Curt Swan's cover recalls a similarly structured Adam Strange cover, by Gil Kane: see "The Duel of the Two Adam Stranges" (Mystery in Space #59, May 1960). Both covers pose a similar mystery that needs to be explained; the story comes up with a different solution that the one used by writer Gardner Fox for his Adam Strange tale.
The Super-Feats of Superbaby (1956). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: John Sikela. Flashbacks reveal that Clark almost revealed he was Superbaby to a couple that was baby-sitting him. This Superbaby tale is basically a tale about preserving Clark's secret id. Its form is as follows: Superbaby unintentionally reveals his powers through some super-act; his baby-sitter convinces himself that what took place had a natural explanation after all. This challenge and reply cycle recurs repeatedly, as is typical of Binder. The story sticks in a very pure way to this approach. The story differs from tales about Superboy or Superman preserving his id in two ways: 1) Superbaby is not at all concerned about preserving his secret, but does any feat which comes into his head. 2) All "preserving" is done by the baby-sitter, who comes up with all the explanations himself, instead of Superboy or Superman generating them, and passing them on to Lois or Lana. This gives this secret id tale a unique paradigm.
The baby-sitter here is related to many other Binder characters who are mythos gate-keepers. In such tales as "The Supergirl From Krypton" (Action #252, May 1959), Binder and his characters have to come up with explanations, logically relating some strange event to the Superman mythos as previously existed. Here, the baby sitter has to explain the events he has seen in terms of "reality". Binder and his characters work long and hard to come up with such explanations. They insist that everything connects logically. In the mythos tales, this emphasis on logical consistency is good, developing the mythos in intelligently logical ways. But in this story, the baby-sitter's reasoning leads to bad consequences for him, blinding him to the truth of what is going on. He insists on not seeing a new idea: that little Clark has super powers. His problems here shed a different light on Binder's concern with logical connectedness.
Binder adds another dimension to his story, one involving time and knowledge. When Clark was a baby, no one knew of Superboy's existence. Only later was his presence on Earth made known to the public. Binder underlines this point structurally by having the tale be in flashback. The frame scenes take place in Superboy's time, when his presence is known, and the baby-sitter is re-evaluating his memories. The flashback scenes take place in Superbaby's time, when his presence was unknown. At the end of the story, Binder introduces a third set of variations on this. This plot development forms a highly pleasing formal conclusion to the tale. It has the effortless rightness of a good piece of music. Binder's finales often involve new ideas, or deeper thinking about the events one has seen.
Despite the early date of this tale, it is already "mythos oriented". Binder is logically basing it on known facts about Superman, in this case the various stages by which people learned about Superman's presence on Earth. This was one of the few pieces of the Superman mythos that were fully in place by 1956. The Superman mythos might have been small in 1956, but Binder is still treating it as a mythos, and using its complexities to generate stories.
The Girl Who Trapped Superboy (1958). Writer: Otto Binder. Curt Swan. A teen-age heiress invites Clark and two other boys to her mansion for the week-end, hoping to prove that one of them is Superman. This tale is more light hearted that many other secret id tales. It is almost like a game, and seems like a precursor to the Challenge tales of 1964.
In many ways, this is similar to other stories about Lois or Lana trying to find Superman's id. The girl is similar to Lois and Lana in that she is a good person, hoping to find out Superboy's id only to satisfy her curiosity, not for any nefarious reasons. However, Binder takes advantage of all of the differences in his plot setup here, to give freshness to the tale. This girl is rich; she is a stranger to Superboy; and she has three equal suspects among the boys, not just one to work on. These differences, and the plot ideas Binder builds on them, give a unique flavor to the tale.
The heiress' estate is almost a separate, isolated world, one with many unique features. In this it seems like a non-sf equivalent to the bottled city of Kandor, Argo City, or some of the asteroids Binder loved in his sf tales. Some of the imagery underscores its relationship with Kandor and Argo City.
My Son, the Boy of Steel (1963). Art: George Papp. Due to a comic mix up, the father of teenage Amos Carter comes to believe his son is secretly Superboy. This story repeats, in a somewhat comic way, ideas that had previously been used as part of the great Pete Ross cycle of stories. The splash shows Amos using a plastic face mask and Superboy costume to impersonate Superboy: Pete Ross has regularly done the same to assist Superboy. In both tales, who knows what about who becomes involved and complex. Such a complicated pattern of knowledge becomes one of the main backbones of the plot. The elaborate pattern is very pleasing and satisfying. The details of the plot are completely different in the Amos Carter and Pete Ross stories, but the genre of the story, and the kind of plot development is similar in both series. Both Amos Carter and Pete Ross are decent, idealistic young men of enormous intelligence. Both are good at science. Both prove to be highly responsible people who behave sensibly in a crisis. Papp has drawn both young men quite similarly, as clean-cut young guys. They even have similar facial expressions. Both wear white shirts, although Pete typically also has a black vest too.
The opening of the story sets forth a common problem in daily life: a son excels at science, but his father is disappointed in him because he is not an athlete. Clearly, this story is sympathetic to the son here, whose cause is articulately supported by his mother. The tale does not revisit this issue after the opening sequence, or resolve it. But its plot structure does support ideas about the character of the father and son. The father is shown to be living in a dream world, and completely out of touch with reality. What he thinks should be true is more important to him than what is true. He also wants public applause to come from him vicariously through his children. By contrast, the son is a responsible member of the real world. This contrast in character and world view endorses the son, and subtly suggests that the father's ideas are wrong.
Lana Lang, Superboy's Sister (1962). Art: George Papp. Lana pressures Superboy into making it seem to crooked onlookers that she has super-powers, and is the secret identity of Superboy. The way Lana impersonates Superboy recalls those Robert Bernstein tales in which Pete Ross impersonates his friend. As in these and other Bernstein tales, we have two people sharing a common identity. Also Bernstein like: the way Lana's impersonation crosses gender lines.
This plot can be compared with the later "The Amazing Confession of Super-Perry White" (Action #302, July 1963), in which it looks as if Perry White is the actual secret identity of Superman. Both of these stories are very pure looks at the secret identity theme. They get close to the heart of the Superman mythos.
Curt Swan's cover for this story shows Lana Lang with super-powers, and as the adopted daughter of the Kents, functioning as Superboy's sister. The story treats this idea as a brief, one-panel day dream of Lana's. It is too bad: such a concept would have made a good Imaginary Tale.
The Super-Planet of Clark Kent and Lana Lang (1962). Art: George Papp. When Lana and Clark are stranded on an alien planet, he has to hoax her into believing that the planet has given them both super-powers. This story is different from "Lana Lang, Superboy's Sister" in that here Lana is not in on the hoax - she is being tricked by Superboy. However, she is strongly suspicious about what is going on; she is almost as knowledgeable here as she was in the earlier tale.
This story is nice in that it is set in outer space. All of the continuing characters in the series, such as Lois, Lana and Jimmy Olsen, got chances to explore other planets, as well as different eras of time. They tend to treat this with great casualness, as just another routine event in their lives. In the real world, such an experience would be an overwhelming event.
The First Two Supermen (1959). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: Curt Swan. This is one of the first stories in the Superman family which travels back in time to a past era of Earth. Here Superboy goes back to the time of Hercules and Samson. As in many of the subsequent tales, these two heroes turn out to have secret identities, and lives that parallel Superboy's own. This story is a key part of Binder's establishing the mythos of time travel in Superman. It seems to be the direct ancestor of most of the time travel stories in Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The story has a happy, upbeat quality, frequently breaking out into comedy.
It is clear that regular artist George Papp was rarely given time travel assignments. The detailed realism of Curt Swan was perhaps seen as more suitable for bringing historical eras to life, than Papp's more schematic art. Curt Swan also makes both ancient heroes impressively macho.
Superboy's Romance with Cleopatra (1961). Art: Curt Swan. Professor Potter's time machine seems to brings Cleopatra from the past to Smallville; later Superboy and Lana time travel back to ancient Egypt. This is the first story in which eccentric scientist Professor Potter appears in Smallville during Superboy's era; his previous tales mainly had him working with the adult Jimmy Olsen, beginning with his first appearance in "The Super-Brain of Jimmy Olsen" (Jimmy Olsen #22, August 1957). It also seems to be the first story to depict him as Lana Lang's uncle, presumably her mother's brother. This makes Professor Potter a family member, always something very important in the Superman mythos, where so many continuing characters are related to each other. The story has Superboy explicitly referring to Prof. Potter as a "crackpot". This is true - Potter is a major league goofball, and his inventions always backfire in comic ways. However, real life scientific crackpots usually invent machines or ideas that do not work at all. Prof. Potter, by contrast, often creates machines that work with frightening effectiveness, although in ways humorously different from what their inventor intended.
As is pointed out in "DarkMark's Comics Indexing Domain", this story is a re-make of "Superboy and Cleopatra" (Adventure #183, December 1952), based on a cover by Win Mortimer. Professor Potter is not in the earlier tale.
Benjamin Franklin's Super-Reporter (1962). Art: Al Plastino. After they find an old newspaper that describes them as residents of colonial America, the entire Kent family goes back in time to 1775, where they get involved in America's Revolutionary War. As the story points out, this is the first time Ma and Pa Kent had ever time traveled back into the past with their son. They seem to love it. Unfortunately they do not play that big a role in the plot once they get there. Still this story is fun. The Kents get involved with all the most famous events leading up to the American Revolution, and meet Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.
The 13 Superstition Arrows (1958). This Green Arrow tale shows a basic format of Superman comics at an early date. The heroes use a series of different arrows, each conferring on them a different power. This is similar to such tales as "The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass" (1961), in which the whole story is a series of new super powers.
The Valhalla of Super-Champions (1962). This Superboy story deals with a team of super-heroes, each with a different set of powers, that are assembled on another planet. Each also has some weakness, just as Superboy is vulnerable to Kryptonite. It is a pleasant tale, but unfortunately none of the heroes ever made a return appearance. The ideas in the story remind one of The Legion of Super-Heroes, and it reads as if it were assembled out of concepts first brainstormed for that series. Readers were always writing in with ideas for new members of the Legion. Presumably the writers were doing the same. The Super-Champions are a bit different, in that except for Superboy, most seem to be adults. They also have fully developed solo careers on their own planets.
The Insect Queen of Smallville (1965). Writer: Otto Binder. In this Superboy story, Lana Lang gets a ring that lets her take on the powers of any insect, such as flight, strength, etc. The series of super powers that ensue link the story's technique with the Legion tales. At the end of the story, Lana puts the ring away, until she thinks up some new insect powers to use. This puts Lana in exactly the same position as the writers of the magazine, who were also trying to think up ideas for sequels. Lana has the role in the story of being the "author" of her adventures. This sort of reflexivity is unusual in fiction. It makes for a memorable finale, in structural terms, as well: Binder liked to end his stories by showing his characters' mental states. The characters tend to have achieved some new position, relative to the world and each other; Binder summarizes this position forcefully at the finale of his tales.
Lana putting the ring away reminds us of Jimmy Olsen's souvenirs, or Superman's careful storage of the bottled city of Kandor. Many of Binder's characters seem to own a collection of something, which triggers their adventures. These small objects tend to encapsulate some larger adventure.
The Shame of the Bizarro Family (#285, June 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. The first of the Bizarro World tales in Adventure: a birthday party and school day for Bizarro-Junior No. 1. This tale is pretty weak compared to Siegel's stories to come. It is unusual in that it mainly focuses on childhood life, a very rare subject in the Superman family magazines. There would be stories about small infants, such as Superbaby, and about kids in their late teens, such as Superboy and Jimmy Olsen, but rarely were there any stories about the great range of kids from 5 to 16 (exception: the early Supergirl tales). Such kids, after all, were the main readers of comic books, and perhaps the editor thought that kids would not want to read stories about themselves. Anyway, the satire here is pretty mild compared to Siegel's later stories about adult Bizarros. Most interesting part: the segments dealing with Mount Rushmore. This is in keeping with Siegel's sarcastic look at the patriotic parts of American History.
Superboy and Krypto travel through time here and visit the Bizarro World. This brief visit mainly ties this story to the rest of Adventure, which consisted of stories about Superboy. Both Superboy and the Bizarros are on Curt Swan's cover. This is a rare visit of Earth characters to the Bizarro World. Siegel's comfort with writing stories entirely set on the Bizarro World recalls his equal comfort in creating tales taking place solely on Krypton. Siegel felt no need for human characters from Earth to serve as reader stand-ins; nor did he need to link these tales to the Earth part of the mythos. He was content to plunge right in with stories set on an alien planet and with an all alien cast.
Krypto's visit also allows the origin of Bizarro-Krypto. This is the first of several new characters Siegel would create for the Bizarro World, all of which are duplicates of Earth members of the Superman mythos.
Otto Binder created the Bizarros and their world, in a series of irregularly appearing stories in Superman family comics (1958 - 1960). Then Siegel became the scriptwriter of 15 "Tales of the Bizarro World" works that appeared monthly in Adventure (1961 - 1962). The series was then canceled, being replaced by "The Legion of Super-Heroes". The Bizarros reverted to making occasional guest appearances in the Superman magazines; most of these were also written by Siegel. Among the most notable of these are "The Bizarro Invasion of Earth" (Superman #169, May 1964), "Jimmy Olsen, the Bizarro Boy; Exiled on the Bizarro World" (Jimmy Olsen #80, October 1964) and "The Bizarro-Legion; The Mad, Mad, Mad Bizarro-Legion" (Adventure #329, February 1965), all written by Siegel.
Binder's Bizarro tales keep trying to expand the Bizarros in new science fictional direction. He was building a planet, and a biological life for his creatures. Siegel, by contrast, is most interested in Bizarro-transforms. He created many Bizarro versions of members of the Superman mythos. He also looked at Bizarro versions of Earth life, situations and media. The series is unusual in that it is almost entirely the work of these two writers. Hardly any one else ever used the Bizarros.
Bizarro, Private Detective (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Bizarro No. 1 becomes a private eye, and tracks down crimes involving the Palace of Trash, the Bizarro World equivalent of a museum. The origin of Bizarro-Kltpzyxm, a kind hearted duplicate of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
This story involves some nice spoofs of mystery novels. Siegel's later Bizarro mystery tales take-off on the mystery genre as a whole, but this story specifically looks at mystery prose fiction. Bizarro is inspired by his library of crime fiction, which includes stories about Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan, and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Of these, it is clearly Perry Mason that interests Bizarro and Siegel the most. However, one might point out that the tale's art museum setting suggests the Van Dine school, rather than any of the above writers.
This story is unusual among Siegel's mysteries in that it does not involve some all powerful, mysterious new character who immediately takes center stage. Instead, there is a mysterious perpetrator of a crime, who is not seen till his capture. This is in keeping with the traditional structure of a detective story, which Siegel is spoofing here. The villain, when revealed, does logically draw upon the Superman mythos, as in most Siegel mysteries.
Jimmy Olsen's Kookie Scoops (#287, August 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Jimmy Olsen visits the Bizarro World, where he gets involved in the Bizarro version of the Daily Planet. The origin of Bizarro-Jimmy, Jimmy Olsen's Bizarro double. This is a minor story. It makes one more distressed over Jimmy's fate, than amused at the Bizarro antics. The tale does begin to establish that many of Superman's Metropolis friends are going to have duplicates on the Bizarro World. Even the more unusual characters who get cloned, such as Krypto, Mr. Mxyzptlk and Titano, are familiar members of the Metropolis scene. There is a certain logic to this. The Bizarro World is a kookie copy of the contemporary USA. It makes sense that its inhabitants are copies of people who live in the modern United States, which in the Superman mythos mainly means Metropolis. By contrast, the World does not emphasize clones of Kandor, or people of Krypton, or 1930's Smallville. Doing this would have changed the character of the World. Also, Jimmy Olsen and other Metropolis humans do not have super-powers, nor do their Bizarro duplicates. This does not upset the balance of power on the World, where the Bizarros have super-powers, and most of the other characters do not. Finally, such characters as Jimmy and Perry White drive many of the stories of Superman; their Bizarro versions similarly play key roles in plot construction here.
Bizarro's Secret Identity (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Bizarro No. 1 and Lois Lane No. 1 go to work on the Bizarro equivalent of the Daily Planet; meanwhile, Bizarro-Kltpzyxm gives Bizarro-Lois super-powers.
This tale has strong feminist elements. The Bizarro world is set up so that the men are all super-powered copies of Superman, and the females are non-super-powered copies of Lois Lane. (This means that the men fly around, and the women all have to drive cars.) This is an interesting idea, but it certainly is sexist. This tale addresses this problem head-on.
This story recalls the fact that Mr. Mxyzptlk would restore Supergirl's powers after they were stolen by Lesla-Lar: see XXX. In both cases, an imp is responsible for helping a woman get super-powers. There is perhaps something archetypal about these magic imps allying themselves to women. Both the Fifth Dimension and women are outsiders in the official male scheme of things, represented by Superman and Jimmy Olsen. Mr. Mxyzptlk might bedevil Superman, but the imps tend to help the women.
The story also recalls "Gravity Girl of Smallville" (Adventure #285, June 1961), three issues before "Secret Identity", in which Lana Lang gets super-powers. In that story, Superboy had no idea who the mysterious Gravity Girl was. Similarly, here Bizarro No. 1 does not know the identity of the new Stupor-Woman flying around. Both males are intently curious; neither suspects that the new super-woman is really their wife or girl-friend. In "Gravity Girl", there is much symmetry built up between Superboy's secret ID, and Lana's. Similarly, the two sections of this tale - Bizarro's new secret ID and his wife's - also have a certain symmetry with each other.
The end of this tale has Mr. Mxyzptlk promising that a knock-down, drag-out fight will occur at some future time between him and his kind-hearted clone, Bizarro-Kltpzyxm. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no such tale was ever written.
Bizarro's Amazing Buddies (1961). When Bizarro psychologists tell the Government that Earth TV shows are corrupting Bizarro youth, Bizarro travels through time to find some suitable monster "heroes" for Bizarro TV shows. Since the late 1940's attacks on the media have been prevalent in the US, with comic books especially the subject of huge attacks in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Here Siegel gets to weigh in with his own Bizarro version of such events. Siegel's story is not so much a satire as a mocking surrealist transform of such attacks. It is one of several Siegel Bizarro works which look at events relevant to the comic book industry itself - a subject that was otherwise rarely depicted in the Silver Age comic book. These have a reflexive quality. Just as Siegel's stories sometimes are "anthologies" of prior episodes in the Superman mythos, so do these tales refer to real life events in the industry in which Siegel worked.
Siegel also contributes a devastating satire on Titano, telling some home truths about his creation. The subject here is not Titano are a character - such a Bizarro spoof of Titano will occur in "The Kookie Super-Ape" - but rather how Titano was created by the creative team at DC. Mort Weisinger's willingness to publish such a tale shows both that he had a sense of humor, and serves as a rueful admission that Siegel's charges are essentially correct. In the letter columns, Weisinger frequently compared the Bizarro tales to Mad Magazine, then in its full flight of satire. Here is proving his courage at taking on topics very close to home.
The Invasion of the Bizarro World (1962). Blue Kryptonite creatures invade the Bizarro World; meanwhile we see Bizarro versions of Christmas celebrations and rock and roll. We had earlier seen Green Kryptonite men in Siegel's "The Army of Living Kryptonite Men" (Superboy #86, January 1961). This story is the logical extension of that concept to the Bizarro World. The story also Bizarro-transforms other aspects of the Green Kryptonite mythos. Even in a spoof tale like this, there is tremendous emphasis on logical expansion of the Superman mythos. The story also looks at Bizarro-versions of two key events in the Superman mythos involving planets: the explosion of Krypton, and the creation of the Bizarro World itself. Having a Bizarro-transform of part of the Bizarros' own saga is a remarkable reflexive touch.
This is one of the three main war tales in the Bizarro saga, the other two being Binder's "The Supergirl Bizarro" (Superman #140, October 1960) and Siegel's "The Bizarro Invasion of Earth" (Superman #169, May 1964). This one especially spoofs "invasion of Earth" sf movies, surrealistically transforming the clichés of such stories. In addition to their comic and satiric qualities, the individual episodes are closely linked to sf ideas based in the Superman mythos.
The rock and roll episode is another Siegel satire of the mass media. The spoof song lyrics "Us loves it... Yeah, Yeah, Yeah" oddly anticipate a real British rock song shortly to emerge, one widely ridiculed in real life as containing sub-literate lyrics. Of course, Siegel created these lyrics as a satire on rock songs, making them deliberately idiotic in the best Bizarro tradition. Forte does a good job with the rock musicians. The look a little bit more like Beat poets of the 1950's than rock stars - we are getting an early look at Beat culture here.
Siegel's Bizarro tales are often constructed to contain episodes transforming and spoofing some Earth institution. Siegel in general often constructed his tales as anthologies, made up of small, unrelated units. This principle of construction is often employed in the Bizarro stories.
The Bizarro Perfect Crimes (1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A group of Bizarro criminals force Bizarro No. 1 to help them commit crimes, by kidnapping his wife Lois No. 1.
Siegel unexpectedly builds up considerable pathos in Bizarro's attempts to get his wife back. The heartbroken Bizarro is devastated by the loss of his wife, just as a human would be. Siegel, like Otto Binder before him, has great sympathy for the Bizarros. He might treat their zany reversals as comic, but there is a certain underlying nobility to their characterization. As this story points out, most of the Bizarros are honest, and not thieves or crooks. The Bizarros are often rough-housing, but they are not mean or cruel. Basically they are good guys. They love their spouses and their children.
Forte completes this approach by depicting the Bizarros as highly muscular. Their faces are bizarre, but otherwise they have substantial glamour. They are often dressed to the teeth in colorful costumes. Many of the Bizarros have super-powers. It would clearly be fun to be a Bizarro. Horsing around with them, and doing outrageous things in which no one gets hurt, has great appeal. This sort of male rough-necking is depicted in Three Stooges movies, and many bar room fight scenes in Westerns. This sort of fooling around is clearly a big male fantasy, one with plenty of appeal for guys. The sheer absurdity of the Bizarros suggests an ability to shuck off all inhibitions, and do whatever dumb things come into mind.
This story ends with some memorable satire about the destructive power of the love of money. It tells some key home truths. Some of Siegel's best satire in the Bizarro tales involves money. The Bizarros use coal for money, because humans regard it as worthless. Siegel is always having the coal show up in situations where humans use money. Its appearance always has a surrealistic effect. It seems to mock and make commentary about human financial transactions.
Bizarro Creates a Monster (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. To star in his horror movie, Bizarro No. 1 creates a monster that terrifies the other Bizarros: a being that looks like a handsome movie star by Earth standards. I loved the scenes here of Bizarros fleeing the movie theater in panic. These are a take-off on every "panic in the streets" 1950's monster movie ever made. Both Forte and Siegel have a real sense of the absurd.
Siegel's satire here applies not only to the Bizarros, but to the movie star. This man is incredibly vain about his looks and his abilities. Siegel gives him terrific dialogue that expresses all of his ego and 1960's style sophistication. It is a very humorous portrait. It is virtually a time capsule of one kind of sophisticated behavior. For better or worse, this sort of civilized leading man type seems nearly extinct today. Certainly no one would miss his vanity. But his civility and savoir faire seem distinctly nostalgic after years of inarticulate Hollywood leading men who express themselves mainly by guns and karate.
The Good Deeds of Bizarro-Luthor (#293, February 1962).Writer: Jerry Siegel. The origin of Bizarro-Luthor, who is as honest as his original is crooked. This story is good in its first section, which creates a Bizarro bottle of Kandor. This shows typical Siegel inventiveness in creating a Bizarro version of part of the Superman mythos. Unfortunately, after this, the main body of the story dealing with Bizarro-Luthor is a routine "Bizarros make dumb mistakes" tale.
Forte's splash panel is beautiful, showing an sf city that looks like a futuristic version of the Arabian Nights. It has beautiful towers, minarets and spiral ramps.
The Halloween Pranks of the Bizarro Supermen (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. When Bizarro-Krypto is bothered by Halloween pranks, he looks for a new master among the denizens of the Bizarro World. Comic tale that shows Siegel's gift for writing about super-animals. Its depiction of a humorous fight between Krypto and Bizarro-Krypto recalls Siegel's "The Battle of the Super-Pets" (Action #277, June 1961). Bizarro-Krypto's search for a new master echoes Siegel's earlier "Krypto's Mean Master" (#269, February 1960), in which Krypto finds a new owner in outer space. This story is also an unusually thorough look at the world and mythos of the Bizarros.
One might point out that this Halloween story appeared in March, breaking all publishing tradition. Of course! Only stupid Earth people would publish a Halloween story in October. Siegel loved to show Bizarro versions of Earth holidays in the tales; he also includes Christmas and Easter.
The Kookie Super-Ape (Adventure #295, April 1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. This tale is based on a great cover by Curt Swan, which shows a Bizarro-Titano. Naturally, he has Blue Kryptonite vision, not Green, like the original Titano. This shows the great logic which underlies the Superman mythos. This is a clever idea, but the story does not do much with it. The story does include the wrestling that was a perennial feature of the Superman comics, here with some nice twists.
The Case of the Super-Loony Lawyer (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Bizarro No. 1 adopts the new role of lawyer Merry Pason, when Bizarro-Jimmy Olsen is accused of murder. Nice spoof of Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries. The story specifically depicts itself as a parody of the Perry Mason TV show, then at the height of its first run popularity. This is in line with Siegel's fondness for spoofing Hollywood and the mass media. The title is close to those of Gardner's stories. It would be even closer without the word "Super". There is quite a tradition of Perry Mason take-offs. Raymond Burr himself did one of the best, on The Jack Benny Show.
The satire in the tale is not only directed at Perry Mason. Siegel humorously targets the entire course of a murder case, from the opening crime and its investigation, through the court room trial, and on to the final execution, by firing squad, no less. Everything is turned topsy-turvy in Bizarro fashion. This is one of the few murder mysteries in the whole Superman mythos; most of the many mysteries in the magazines have no killing in them. Usually murder was not considered a suitable subject for children's entertainment in the 1960's. The extreme tongue in cheek nature of this spoof makes it acceptable. I think most people would find this very funny spoof in good taste.
Bizarro-Jimmy is even more hapless than his original Jimmy Olsen on Earth. He is clearly a much put-upon lower-down, like the first Jimmy. However, he lacks Jimmy's intelligence, like all the Bizarros. Also, his job as a reporter does not have the status and potential for accomplishment that Jimmy's job does on Earth. The newspaper on the Bizarro World is clearly completely absurd and pointless, something that the Bizarros go through unthinkingly because they are imitation humans.
However, the newspaper, and the city of Bizarropolis in which it is located, suggest the Bizarros are part of the same great world of urban civilization that Superman and his friends share in Metropolis, and that the Kryptonians had in Kryptonopolis, the Floating City and Kandor. Even Mr. Mxyzptlk lives in a city in the Fifth Dimension. The Superman saga deeply admired civilization. There is no phony primitivism in the series, none of the glamorized returned to barbarism that afflicts so much current sf.
Bizarro Goes Sane (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. A rival of Bizarro No. 1 hoaxes people into believing he has an Earth-like mind, causing him to be locked up in an asylum.
In addition to the asylum, which appeared as well in earlier stories, we get a Western spoof. The Bizarro-cowboys are all super-powered. In this they resemble the Western town full of Kryptonian cowboys in the Siegel-Forte "The Town of Supermen" (Superman #153, May 1962). Forte's cowboy costumes and the look of the town have a similar feel in both stories. Westerns were popular TV fare in 1962. Siegel's super-cowboys are surrealist versions of these shows.
The Bizarro Who Goofed Up History (#297, June 1962). Bizarro dreams that he time travels into the past, and changes famous events in American history.
Siegel is mocking here the patriotic "history" that used to be taught to young people in school. These were stories about Nathan Hale, Columbus, and other military leaders who were held up to school children as role models. Siegel's treatment is astonishingly savage and mocking. Bizarro takes great delight in trashing the famous stories about these people.
I think that Siegel and other school kids knew that they were being propagandized to. The motive was not to teach children something genuine about history. Instead, the point was to indoctrinate them with patriotic myths. I think this was especially done to kids of immigrants, like Siegel; established Americans wanted these people, whom they regarded as inferior, to be indoctrinated with patriotic values. The fact that most of these historical characters, such as Columbus and Hale, were military leaders, probably also annoyed the deeply pacifistic Superman writers.
The episode about Columbus is especially inventive. Both here and in the Nathan Hale segment, Siegel introduces elements of the Superman mythos. Seeing such mythos ideas spread to historical events is especially surrealistic. Siegel especially loved to re-use the mythos; this approach is one of his most unusual.
One part of history that Siegel treats more seriously is the assassination of Lincoln. This is the second story Siegel wrote about an attempt to change history, and prevent the assassination: see also his "The Impossible Mission" (Superboy #85, December 1960). While the first tale took the assassination with grim seriousness, this story offers bursts of truly strange surreal humor. This is typical of Siegel's use of the Bizarros to hold a strange mirror up to ideas he had formerly examined more solemnly.
Car 45, Get Lost! (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Bizarro No. 1 and his son take a vacation on Earth, where they get jobs on the Metropolis Police force.
The title refers to the popular TV 1960's comedy about two New York City patrolmen, Car 54, Where Are You? The story is not a spoof of this show; rather it follows in its footsteps, being a comedy about policemen.
The story recalls Siegel's 's "The Super-Cop of Smallville" (Superboy #89, June 1961), in which Superboy becomes an officer on the Smallville force. In all cases, these super-beings have a lot of fun with their temporary police duty. Bizarro and son are even doing it for their vacation! These stories reflect pleasant wish-fulfillment fantasies by Siegel.
This story also resembles "The Bizarro Perfect Crimes" (1961) and "The Bizarro Invasion of Earth" (Superman #169, May 1964), in that the Bizarros come to Earth and inflict their ideas on Earth people. All three of these tales are by Siegel. In most cases, the Bizarros are so dippy and strange that the threatened effects of their missions turn into something that the reader does not anticipate.
The Legion of Super-Heroes were an organization of super-powered young people of the future. Superboy was a member, and regularly traveled to the future to work with the Legion. During the Silver Age, the Legion stories mainly appeared in Adventure Comics. At first they were only an occasional feature, but they became a regular series with #300 (September 1962). Most of these post-1962 series stories were written by either Jerry Siegel or Edmond Hamilton. They served as script writers through issue #345 (June 1966), after which Jim Shooter and other writers took over.
The story takes us to the future, to the 30th Century. It shows an idealized future world, full of progress, mighty cities, and adventure. Just as the Krypton stories showed a Utopian planet, so does this tale show a Utopian future. It is an image of hope. Such images have a powerful effect on readers, encouraging them to move forward to such a society; one wishes that there were more such images available to readers today!
The story shows some interesting time travel effects. We see what today's present will look like from the point of view of history. This gives an interesting perspective, and one that encourages thought about our own personal lives. The Superman family often showed genuine transformation in its characters' lives. Things do not remain static: new events happen that fundamentally develop the characters' worlds.
In this story Superboy attempts to join the Legion, undergoing a series of trials to demonstrate his skill. This theme of initiation will be very common in subsequent Legion stories. Tale after tale will have a common pattern: a new character will be introduced, with a new super power. This character will attempt to join the Legion, and undergo initiation tests posed by Legion members. There are three tests, following the typical Superman family story construction pattern of three related challenges met by the hero. This first story also has elements of mystery woven into the plot, with a surprise twist at the ending; such elements of mystery will also be present in most of the initiation stories. The story also opens with some twists on Superboy's secret identity; a look at the new character's secret identity will also be a recurring strand in the tales.
The above pattern gives a rich blueprint for constructing a story. It combines super-hero plotting, dramatic conflict between the inductee and the existing Legion members, suspense and mystery. So one can see why the writers returned to it a lot. It also allows for a very thorough focus on the super powers of the new character, which get intensively spot lighted and investigated in the course of the story. However, there are also personal elements involved in this recurrence. One feels that initiation into a group was something the writers felt intensively, at an emotional level. Superboy's feelings here seem related to the friendship stories, and his desire to find friends with whom he can share his life. I think the friendship stories are at a higher level, however. Membership in a group can be a good thing, but it can also come at a very high price. Friendship is a noble thing, involving a selfless bond between two people. Membership in a group often implies conformity, and exclusion of others, often in a sinister fashion. Consciousness of this eventually came to the writers; "The Legion of Substitute Heroes" (1963) is a tale about some would be members who are rejected from joining the Legion, and how they rise above this and form an idealistic response. It is a powerful tale.
One can see formal similarities between this first Legion story, and some non-Legion tales of the same era. Binder's "Lois Lane in Hollywood" (Lois Lane #2, May-June 1958) has a very similar kind of plot, in which Lois tries to join the cast of a movie. It too has elements of mystery.
"The Legion of Super-Heroes" can also be viewed as a harbinger of a renewed interest in super-hero comics. This first Legion story has three new heroes, although they and the Legion would not become continuing characters for some years. Super-heroes had almost disappeared in the early 1950's. But two years before, in 1956, the Flash would be revived, first in Showcase, then his own magazine; he would be the first new super-hero of the Silver Age to get his own comic book.
This tale is the origin of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad. Despite his early appearance here, in later stories Cosmic Boy will eventually become just another Legionnaire. By contrast, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad will play key roles throughout the Legion saga to come. Saturn Girl will lead the Legion, and often be the catalyst of the action in various stories, being one of the brainiest members of the Legion. Lightning Lad will have the richest personal life, with dramatic story lines about his death, resurrection and wounding. His saga will be similar to that of a medieval knight, and his personal adventures will have symbolic resonances to the readers, showing them key events in human life.
Curt Swan's cover was presumably created before Binder became involved with the story. It shows Superboy trying to join a group of young super-heroes. The cover painting does not actually indicate the powers of the heroes, the nature of their organization, or the future time period where they live: all details that will emerge in Binder's script. Swan's cover also establishes the visual appearance and costumes of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad, key members of the Legion. Later Swan covers will introduce Ultra Boy, Mon-El and Star Boy, as well as the Legion of Super-Villains, so many of the Legion members are Swan creations, visually speaking. Many of Swan's costumes have the feel of military uniforms, especially fancy officer's costumes of turn of the century Europe. Swan's costumes often involve small-to-medium-sized circles worn by the men on their chests, such as Mon-El's cape discs, and the unusual circles arranged in a V on Cosmic Boy's uniform. These circles remind one of Swan's curvilinear, biomorphic spaceships, and the unusual discs worn on Brainiac's head. Cosmic Boy's costume is especially unusual. It looks like little else in the world of costumed heroes. It is splendid and dramatic, and utterly different. Its color scheme is also unique: he is virtually the only male hero in comics to wear pink. Both the circles and the color pink tend to be female symbols, but here they are being worn by a male hero. The circles on him also suggest high tech forces: after all, he has magnetic super-powers. The Swan-Binder heroes tend to be involved in the world of physics: Cosmic Boy's magnetism. Lightning Lad's electricity, Star Boy's stellar-based gravity powers. These are fundamental forces of nature.
Cosmic Boy's and Mon-El's jet-black hair also makes each of them a sort of double for Superboy. In DC comics, black hair is strongly associated with their number one hero, Superman. Few other male super-hero characters consistently have black hair, although Matter-Eater Lad will eventually be black haired as well.
The other artist who created many Legion members visually is Jim Mooney, in two Supergirl tales in Action Comics, described below: "The Three Super-Heroes" (Action #267, August 1960) and "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends" (Action #276, May 1961). Nine Legion members first appeared in these two Mooney tales. A few other Legionnaires would show up later, in stories with art by John Forte: Element Lad, Matter-Eater Lad, Light Lass, the Lone Wolf and Proty, as well as such parallel groups as the Legion of Substitute Heroes (#306, March 1963), and the Super-Heroes of Lallor, in "The Legion of Super-Outlaws" (#324, September 1964) and "Hunters of the Super-Beasts" (#339, December 1965).
Binder had previously written one shot, non-series stories about hero organizations for the sf comic book Strange Adventures. His "The Watchdogs of the Universe" (Strange Adventures #62, November 1955) describes an Earthman who joins a galaxy wide group responsible for protecting people during emergencies. And "World at the Edge of the Universe" (Strange Adventures #60, September 1955) is about a young Earthman trying to join an elite inter-planetary organization, one in which he feels as inadequate as Superboy does here.
Before Binder, John Broome had created "The Guardians of the Clockwork Universe" (Strange Adventures #22, July 1952). These were wise, remote aliens who watched over the universe. Unlike the Legion, and other Binder groups, one could not join Broome's organization. Instead, the Guardians would select champions to carry out their missions on various planets. In Broome's original story, his hero Captain Comet was such a champion. Later, Broome would revive the concept, making Green Lantern a similar champion of theirs.
This tale marks the debut of souvenir statuettes of the Legion members. They are eventually owned by both Superboy and Supergirl, and occasionally find their way into the 30th Century future as well: see Curt Swan's cover for "The Weddings That Wrecked the Legion" (#337, October 1965). Among other things, they are a clever comic book narrative device. If Superboy talks about Chameleon Boy, for example, the reader will see a statuette of Chameleon Boy on the shelf. Even if Chameleon Boy is off-stage, the reader will have a good visual image of what he looks like. They form a sort of visual signal or reminder of the Legionnaire's identity. They remind one a little bit of Alfred Hitchcock's cameo appearances in his movies. A somewhat similar function is served by the life size statues of Superman's friends and foes in his Fortress of Solitude. They too allow a visual reference to a character who is not physically present.
The statuettes in this tale are also a visual echo of the gigantic Kryptonite figures made by Lex Luthor. The statuettes are small, and statues of good people, while the Kryptonite men are large, and statues of menace.
Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes (1961). Writer: Otto Binder. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Despite its title, Lana meets only one member of the Legion here, Star Boy. The tale is his origin, and includes a full history of how he got his powers.
This is one of the few Legion stories by Otto Binder. Although Binder created the Legion in "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958), he rarely scripted further tales of it. Most Legion stories are by Jerry Siegel or Edmond Hamilton. While there is a great deal deal about Star Boy in "Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes", there is in fact only a little about the Legion.
The story has much in common with the "Mystery of Mighty Boy" (1960), which recently appeared in Superboy; both stories were in fact written by Otto Binder, with art by George Papp. Both deal with super-powered lads who serve as Superboy-like heroes on their home planets, which we visit, and both live under secret identities there with their parents. However, this story is not a friendship tale, like "Mighty Boy". Instead, it focuses comically on jealousies and mistaken relationships between Lana, Star Boy and other characters. The tone at time comes close to French farce, with misunderstandings, deceptions and comic plot twists. It is a quite entertaining work that shows good craftsmanship in its plot and setting. It is perhaps not very respectful of Lana, and this gives a sad tinge to what is otherwise a well done tale.
Curt Swan's cover contains the comic roundelay of the story, with its tangle of romances and jealousies. He also depicts Star Boy in his costume, at least from a side view.
PARALLELS. Like other Binder heroes who parallel Superboy or Superman, there are also differences between Star Boy and Superboy:
FLYING VEHICLES AND MASCULINITY. Star Boy's advanced-science planet Xanthu contains flying vehicles like Star Boy's "spacemobile" (page 4) and Superboy's "sky canoe" (page 10). These are like cars, only they can fly through the air. A "sky canoe" is an interesting science fiction idea, which I don't recall seeing in any other story.
Otto Binder liked futuristic flying vehicles. Please see my list.
Star Boy recalls another alien youth who comes to Earth, Johnny Blank in Binder's "Supergirl's Darkest Day" (Action Comics #263, April 1960). Both are good-looking, decent young males. Both pilot cool-looking flying space vehicles that evoke sports cars. These are symbols of masculinity. But both youths also crash their vehicles, symbolic of a lack of full control and problems.
Superboy gets his own phallic symbols: a scythe and a "sky canoe", both of which he keeps under full control. Superboy uses the scythe to do a super-deed, and the sky canoe to show his skill at romance. As is typical of Binder, these phallic symbols are all non-violent, constructive objects. The giant scythe recalls another useful tool functioning as a phallic symbol, the fire-ax used by Johnny Blank in "Supergirl's Darkest Day". See also the athlete hero's phallic canoe in Bob Davis' "Origin of Dick Cole" (Blue Bolt Comics Vol. 1 No. 1, June 1940) (page 1) about Dick Cole, and in the non-Binder romance comic tale "Miss Peeping Tom" (Young Romance #193, April - May 1973), drawn by Art Saaf.
"Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes" and "Supergirl's Darkest Day" are examples of Binder's tales using phallic symbols to explore "male power". Please see my list of Binder's Tales of Male Power.
A third futuristic flying vehicle used by Star Boy is his time-ship (pages 4, 7, 8). This enables him and the other characters to time travel. Like most other time vehicles in Silver Age DC comics, this is round. It only contains half of a sphere, however, while time machines in other tales often contain an entire sphere. The time-ship is often tilted up at a jaunty angle. Superboy later constructs a time-bubble for Lana Lang, that is a complete sphere (the last page).
ARCHITECTURE. The architecture on Star Boy's home planet, Xanthu, is shown in one panel (page 8). It is a cross between the futuristic Art Deco used in many advanced societies in the Superman world (and in The Flash), and a fairy tale look and flavor. The top of one building is like a fairy-tale crown. A smaller panel with architecture also appears (page 10).
LINKS TO MARSBOY. As is pointed out in "DarkMark's Comics Indexing Domain", this tale's plot is related to "Lana Lang's Romance on Mars" (Adventure #195, December 1953), the third and last of three early stories in which Superboy meets Marsboy, super-hero of the planet Mars.
LINKS TO STARMAN. Star Boy bears some distinct resemblances to a Golden Age super-hero, Starman. Both heroes wear a large five-pointed star symbol on the chest of their costume. Both heroes' powers are related to gravity. Star Boy can make any object super-heavy, by transferring mass from the stars to them. Starman's powers also derive from the stars, and center on his control of gravity. However, Starman can do a wider range of things with gravity than Star Boy, who seems restricted to super- heaviness. Starman also uses a machine he invented, a "gravity rod", to do his feats, while Star Boy and all the other Legion heroes have biologically rooted powers, like Superman himself. Other differences: Starman is an adult and a 20th Century Earthman, while Star Boy is a teenager from another planet in the 30th Century. The personalities, background stories, etc., of the two heroes also seem completely distinct.
DC owns the rights to Starman, and have made an updated version of him one of their main heroes of the 1990's and beyond. But they did little with him during the Silver Age. He appeared in two revival stories written by his Golden Age scribe Gardner Fox, "Mastermind of Menaces" (The Brave and the Bold #61, August-September 1965) and "The Big Super-Hero Hunt" (The Brave and the Bold #62, October-November 1965), but these did not lead to a Silver Age series. Fox also gave him a role in "Crisis on Earth-Three" (Justice League of America #29, August 1964) and its sequel "The Most Dangerous Earth of All" (Justice League of America #30, September 1964).
Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends (Action #276, May 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Jim Mooney. Supergirl goes to the future, and tries for the second time to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. This story is a sequel to Supergirl's first attempt to join the Legion, Siegel's "The Three Super-Heroes" (Action #267, August 1960), a work which is less interesting than this most creative one. Both of these tales are by Siegel. Both are modeled after Binder's original Legion tale, "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (Adventure #247, April 1958). All three of these stories start in modern times, with Superboy or Supergirl meeting three strangers who know all about their secret identity. The protagonist then accompanies these Legionnaires to the future, where he or she tries to join the Legion. The titles of both Siegel stories, "The Three Super-Heroes" and "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends", refer directly to these early scenes. I've always loved the literal, straightforward directness of the story titles in the Superman saga. The concentrate directly on informing you what is going on inside the tale. They are much like titles of articles in scientific journals, which also try to make the article's subject clear and explicit. Their logic has a poetry all its own. It is a matter of fact evocation of the wonders of a made up mythos.
Siegel's first Supergirl-Legion story lacks invention, but this second tale is much more inventive. It is the origin of Brainiac 5. It also shows the end of Brainiac, in flashback. Both of these are major storytelling extensions to the Superman mythos. This is one of the happiest of all Legion tales. This tale also serves as a sequel to Siegel's "Supergirl's First Romance" (Action #269, October 1960), with Jerro and Atlantis returning.
Binder created the Legion, but Siegel was the main writer who continued the stories, and developed the Legion into a series. He created more members of the Legion than anyone else in the Silver Age. In addition to Brainiac 5, this story is also the origin of Bouncing Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy and Triplicate Girl. Three of these are the main female members of the legion, in addition to Saturn Girl and Light Lass. Siegel's earlier "The Three Super-Heroes" was the origin of Chameleon Boy, Colossal Boy and Invisible Kid. These two stories are the origin of 9 of the core twenty members of the Legion; Siegel would go on to create Ultra Boy and Matter Eater Lad. So 11 of the 20 main members are Siegel creations. (I am excluding from the count such 20th Century members as Superboy, Supergirl, Jimmy Olsen, Pete Ross and Lana Lang). There is little in these two tales that suggests they are the origins of the characters, except for Brainiac 5. Siegel just presents the new characters casually, as if they had "always" been there. It was only long after I had read these tales that I realized that these were the first appearances of the characters.
Jim Mooney created the visual appearance and costumes of the 9 Legionnaires who debuted in "The Three Super-Heroes" and "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends". Neither tale was a cover story; Siegel and Mooney were the entire creators of these tales.
Mooney had a gift for creating space ships. Here he uses this same design talent on the Legion space car used in the parade. It looks rather like a sled, with a complex curving front, and two jets serving as "runners" below.
The Legion of Super-Villains (Superman #147, August 1961). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superman encounters three super-powered criminals from the future, each of whom parallels some member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Siegel often built his stories as sequels to those of Otto Binder. This tale echoes Binder's original Legion tale "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958). In that tale Superboy met Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl; here Superman meets the grown-up criminals Cosmic King, Lightning Lord and Saturn Queen. The two stories have parallel covers as well, as was pointed out in the web site The Silver Lantern: A Tribute to DC Comics. Both covers probably preceded the stories. Both covers are by Curt Swan.
This story shows how Lightning Lad got his powers, years after his first appearance in Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958).
At the end of Siegel's "The Army of Living Kryptonite Men" (Superboy #86, January 1961), Luthor has been defeated by a member of the Legion. He sees a glimmer of hope, and reasons that if there is a Legion of Super-Heroes, there must be a Legion of Super-Villains, as well. This story fulfills that promise: here Siegel has Luthor summon that future group to the present. In some ways, the current tale is a sequel to the earlier work; Siegel loved to write sequels. Siegel wrote several tales in which Legion members come from the future into the present. He was much more likely to do this than were other Superman family writers. He is responsible for the tales in which Pete Ross and Jimmy Olsen become honorary members of the Legion, for example.
This tale is the first in which we see grown up members of the Legion: Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl all appear in their grown-up form, to fight their villainous counterparts. This appearance parallels the Imaginary tales which Siegel wrote, which often focused on the future lives of the Superman family. Here Siegel uses the paradoxes of time travel, not the Imaginary story, to introduce the grown up Legionnaires.
The tale shows some other bits of recurring Siegel imagery. There is a bad guy who reforms. Such reformations are common in Siegel's stories. Sometimes they are genuine, on other occasions, clever hoaxes designed to pull off crooked schemes. Siegel often wrote about powerful villainous characters who turn out to be very different from what they seem. In some ways, reformed bad guys play a similar role in his tales. Whether a bad guy simply turns good at the end of a tale, or is revealed as a very different person from his first glimpse, we have the spectacle of a "bad" character turning "good".
This story also recalls Siegel's "Lana Lang, Superwoman" (Lois Lane #17, May 1960) in that it involves Superman giving his word that he will not personally interfere in a villain's threat against a woman character; yet he finds a way to defeat this evil scheme. Superman's word was important to him, and Siegel some times made plot gambits out of this approach. One also recalls the scene in "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" where the Legion candidate tries to clear out the monsters from a planet despite his vow that he will never take life. All of these general vows and specific promises are obstacles in the way of a hero completing some task.
Siegel liked rocks. We recall the Green K boulders that come to life in "Kryptonite Men", and the rings of Saturn here. Both of these stories involve groups of rocks in motion. One also recalls the meteor in "The Bizarro-Legion", and the giant Mount Rushmore style statues in "The Battle Between Super-Lois and Super-Lana".
Secret of the Seventh Super-Hero (1961). Writer: Robert Bernstein. Art: George Papp. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. This story has two interacting plots: Sun Boy goes back in time to Smallville to ask Superboy's help; a reform school youth who is Clark Kent's double assumes his place in Smallville.
Just as Pete Ross is a non-super-powered character who will impersonate Superboy in Bernstein's series, here we have a non-super-powered youth who impersonates Clark Kent. The themes of doubles and impersonation often pop up in Bernstein's stories. So does the two part construction of this tale, with the different story elements intermixing to form a diverse plot.
The story gains pathos from the tough kid's desire for a home. He has always pooh poohed such things, but when he experiences the Kents' home, he develops a strong craving for such an environment. He also discovers the joy of learning and school. This is one of the most interesting scenes in the story. It reflects the deep love of learning always found in the Silver Age. It perhaps also reflects the real life refuge and opportunities many comic book creators probably found in school in the depths of the Depression.
During December 1961 to October 1962, the Legionnaires made a huge number of guest appearances in the Superman family of comic books. Typically, this involved one or more Legionnaires visiting the 20th Century, and helping out Superboy or Supergirl with some mission. Also popular: villains from that same era returning to our time, villains that often had powers identical to those of certain Legionnaires. These stories rarely extended the mythos of the Legion in any way; instead they relied on the familiar powers of the Legionnaires as they had already been set forth. These stories did help keep the Legion on readers' minds. After the Legion got its own regular series in Adventure in #300 (September 1962), such visits became both less necessary and less frequent. Many of these Legion guest appearances are in stories scripted by Jerry Siegel. Siegel was always a determined builder of the Superman mythos.
The Legion of Super-Traitors (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The origin of the Legion of Super-Pets. When the human Legionnaires are incapacitated by villains, Saturn Girl gets the idea of forming the Legion of Super Pets, an association of Krypto the super-dog, Streaky the super-cat, Beppo the super-monkey, and Comet the super-horse. Delightful story that takes full advantage of its creative opportunities. Like other Siegel tales involving Krypto and Streaky, such as "The Battle of the Super-Pets" (Action #277, June 1961), the personalities of the various super-animals come over at full blast. They are humorous, sympathetic, and also the enablers of little bits of colorful business. The dialogue shows Siegel's flair for both comedy and sarcasm. Siegel also has a precise idea where each pet fits into the unfolding Superman mythos, and uses this to construct pleasant story events. Siegel had a deep belief in, and enthusiasm for, the Superman mythos. His feel here shows up in the care in which he handles every aspect of the mythos in this story.
This is the first appearance of Comet. Siegel describes him as the future pet of Supergirl, someone who has not yet been introduced into the Superman mythos. Weisinger would not cheat with this - Comet would be duly introduced as Supergirl's pet in Leo Dorfman's "The Super-Steed of Steel" (Action #292, September 1962). Such a "preview" of a fact not yet included in the mythos is made possible by time travel: Comet has traveled from an era when he is established in the mythos. Siegel would used time travel for another preview four months later in "Superman's Super-Courtship" (Action #289, June 1962), when he looked forward to a period when Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl were adults and married. These previews are very unusual, considered as storytelling devices. They are only possible in works which 1) contain a mythos; and 2) employ time travel. Siegel also did something unusual with the mythos in "The Unwanted Superbaby" (Adventure #299, August 1962). In that tale, Gold Kryptonite appears for the first time in an Imaginary Tale. The story ends with the promise that Gold Kryptonite would soon appear in Superman family stories for real, as a part of the official mythos. Similarly, in "The Bride of Mr. Mxyzptlk" (Action #291, August 1962) he brings Supergirl's parents back to life temporarily through Mr. Mxyzptlk's magic; the story ends by asking readers if they want this to happen permanently and for "real" sometime - which did happen some time later. Both these tales and the preview stories show Siegel introducing new concepts in the mythos, in unusual, formally innovative ways.
Comet's powers were established in this story by Siegel: he was a flying horse who could read minds. Otto Binder's "The Secret of the Flying Horse" (Adventure #230, November 1956) had included a similar telepathic flying horse. In Binder's story, the horse was a visitor from another planet, and he did not become a regular in the mythos. Binder's horse looked different from Comet. Artist Curt Swan established Comet's appearance here as a beautiful white stallion.
Curt Swan does a good job with the images of the Legionnaires in space suits.
Once again Curt Swan's cover shows the trio of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lighting Lad. These are the same trio he depicted on the original Legion story, "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958). Here all three are shown as villainous traitors to the Legion, attacking Superboy. Swan also included this trio's opposite numbers on his cover for "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961). Swan was definitely oriented to playful reversals of his original Legion cover in these tales.
Superman's Super-Courtship (Action #289, June 1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Jim Mooney. Supergirl tries to play matchmaker for her cousin Superman.
One episode in this tale has Superman and Supergirl flying ten years beyond the normal era of the Legion, seeing what they look like as adults. Siegel had previously included grown-up members of the Legion in "The Legion of Super-Villains" (Superman #147, August 1961). The big revelation here: Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad are now married. This marriage will cast a special light on all the tales in the Legion saga to come. It is very rare for any on-going story to reveal its destination in this way. Siegel had often written Imaginary tales about future marriages between members of the Superman mythos. Here he uses time travel to depict an actual future marriage between two of his characters. It is a very unusual effect. Siegel would soon be doing equally strange things involving time travel with Mon-El, a character who was born in the 20th Century, but who will spend most of his career in the 30th with the Legion.
The story is constructed to provide origins for many of the long term Legion members, as well as Mon-El. The word "origin" is ambiguous. It can either refer the first story in which a character appears, or a tale showing the life history of a character, and how he got his special powers and characteristics. Often this second kind of origin tale appears years after his first appearance, and may be by different writers and artists. Siegel's story here is of this kind. The story retells the origins of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad and Sun Boy, as well as Mon-El. Giving such origins helps orient new readers to the background of the Legion: this is the first of a regular new series of Legion tales, and it was a practical idea to inform readers about the Legion.
"The Face Behind the Lead Mask" reflects the anthology construction often found in Siegel works: the story is like a brief series of sub-stories, each dealing with the previous history and origin of one of the Legionnaires. Curt Swan's cover also has an anthology style, with different sub-panels used to illustrate various Legion members, with their club house in the center. Such multi-panel covers were frequent on the Annuals and 80 Page Giants that DC put out, but rare on the covers of regular issues.
The tale has the great idea of releasing Mon-El temporarily from the Phantom Zone, and making him a Legion member. These Mon-El segments are the best part of the story. Mon-El's fate has always seemed fascinating: trapped for a thousand years in the Phantom Zone, only to be finally released and joining the Legion. This is one of the most imaginative concepts in the Superman mythos.
The Ulthro plot is one of Siegel's sf mystery stories, with their paradigm of some all powerful villain menacing the heroes. Unfortunately, Siegel's surprise solution of the masked villain's identity, a standard component of nearly all his mysteries, is nothing special here, especially when compared to his more brilliant works. No matter. The tale's treatment of Mon-El will always give this story interest.
It is interesting that Siegel has Saturn Girl here devising the scientific means of Mon-El's return. In a later tale, Brainiac V will help Mon-El. Already in these tales, Siegel is depicting Saturn Girl and Brainiac V as the Legion's two smartest members. This is a tradition that will last throughout the entire Silver Age.
Robots in this tale are depicted as running based on tapes in their chest. The same idea will recur in later Superman family stories, such as Edmond Hamilton's "The Great Superboy Hoax" (Superboy #106, July 1963).
"The Face Behind the Lead Mask" contains the origin and only appearance of the World-Wide Police (page 6). This is likely a variation on the Earth Police, who had their sole appearance in Siegel's earlier Legion tale "Supergirl's Greatest Challenge" (Action #287, April 1962) (page 5). Soon after these two tales, Siegel has an unnamed police force in "Sun-Boy's Lost Power" (Adventure #302, November 1962) (page 10), and the Science Police Commission in "The Fantastic Spy" (Adventure #303, December 1962) (pages 3, 4). One suspects that all these police organizations are essentially the same group, and represent Siegel's preliminary attempts to come up with a good name for the 30th Century police. The name "Science Police" will become standard, and continue to be used in later tales. The Science Police are an ongoing part of the Legion saga.
The Secret Origin of Bouncing Boy (1962). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. To encourage Legion applicants, Bouncing Boy tells the story of his attempts to join to Legion. This story contains in flashback a complete origin for Bouncing Boy, telling how he obtained his powers. It should not be confused with his first appearance - he had been a Legion regular since Siegel created him in "Supergirl's Three Super Girl-Friends" (Action #276, May 1961). Siegel shows ingenuity throughout in his treatment of Bouncing Boy's powers. This story is in a classic Legion paradigm: the tale of someone attempting to join the Legion. It also extends other parts of the Legion pattern, showing us what typical life for the Legion might be like. Such stories have always seemed enjoyable to me.
This tale is an inspiring story about overcoming rejection, and trying to develop one's talents. It anticipates Edmond Hamilton's similarly themed story, "The Legion of Substitute Heroes" (1963). Perhaps because of this story, Bouncing Boy has always been one of my favorite Legion characters.
Siegel also includes some brief looks at other Legion applicants, a regular feature of the Legion tales. The rich, arrogant Lester Spiffany is humorous fun. Forte's art for the character anticipates his depiction of the handsome lead in "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" (1963).
This is one of the earliest Legion tales to include the Legion oath, which is sworn by new members when joining. It is perhaps its origin. The new member vows not to use their powers for financial gain. This is inspiring and idealistic. Earlier Siegel's "The Death of Superman" (#149, November 1961) showed Superman giving free gifts to all of humanity.
Siegel looks at some of the possibilities of the use of robots in future society. These remind one of some of his futuristic android tales, such as "Lois Lane Weds Astounding Man" (Lois Lane #18, July 1960), "The One Minute of Doom" (Superman #150, January 1962) and "Supergirl's Greatest Challenge" (Action #287, April 1962).
The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire (1963). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. A cocky young man applies to join the Legion. This is one of the best of all Legion tales. It is discussed in detail in the article on Superboy.
The Secret Power of the Mystery Super-Hero (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. This tale is a science fiction mystery. In it, readers, and the Legion, are challenged to guess the hidden super-power used by a Legion applicant to perform the feats we see. This is quite an original idea for a mystery. It has some similarities in approach with a Jimmy Olsen story, "The Jinx of Metropolis" (Jimmy Olsen #36, October 1961), written by Jerry Siegel.
Hamilton introduces elements of space opera here. There are interplanetary raiders, flights to numerous worlds, aliens with unusual properties. Such aspects will be common elements of Hamilton's Legion tales. Hamilton was one of the creators of space opera, in his 1920's Weird Tales stories, so this is a natural type of storytelling for him. His weaves his Legionnaires' powers into such tales in ingenious ways, so the planets they visit and the powers they display get integrated into logical plots. This is some of the first space opera anywhere in the Superman mythos. The outer space stories that regularly if infrequently appeared in the magazines tended to visit single planets. So did the more common tales set on Krypton, the Bizarro World, or Lex Luthor's planet Lexor. Hamilton's Legion tales think nothing of going to three or more planets in a single story, and often have outer space action as well. The stories are often constructed as either hunts for some person or object, or chases across the galaxy.
The Menace of Dream Girl; The Doom of the Legion (#317, February 1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Dream Girl is a beautiful but sinister new addition to the Legion; her hidden agenda is to use the Legion Constitution to get as many of the Legionnaires expelled as possible. A similar plot was later reused in "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" (#330, March 1965), written by Jerry Siegel. This story is fairly weak, but it has some notable elements. At the end, Lightning Lass' powers are changed, making her Light Lass. Some scenes show the Legion exploring a world ruined by radioactivity. The Legionnaires are wearing decontamination suits, suits that look very similar to those worn by modern day virus hunters. This seems to be one of the earliest depictions of such suits in popular culture. Forte's art is quite glamorous here, with a vivid depiction of the suits.
Curt Swan's cover is terrific, showing several of the Legionnaires reduced to infants. This is in the comic tradition of the Superbaby stories that regularly appeared in Superboy and Adventure. In the 1980's, the Muppet Show will create a series showing its principal cast members as Muppet Babies; it will have a similar heart warming comic appeal.
John Forte's interior art is similarly inspired in a scene where the Legion creates a Mount Rushmore style statue of the national hero of an alien planet. Both the aliens and their hero look small and darned cute. Forte will create a similar cute depiction of the Proteans, another small, lovable alien race, five issues later in "The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets" (1964).
The Legion of Substitute Heroes (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. A number of rejected applicants to the Legion get together, and decide to form the Legion of Substitute Heroes, a group that will perform good deeds and aid the regular Legion in spite of itself. The Substitute Heroes will go on to be continuing characters in the Legion saga, making regular appearances in later stories.
In addition to "The Valhalla of Super-Champions" (Superboy #101, December 1962) and the regular Legion, a third group of super-heroes make up "The Legion of Substitute Heroes", so quite a few different super-hero groups were created around this time. Hamilton shows his skill here with groups who are rejected by the social mainstream, and their idealistic desire to make a positive contribution. This story is quite moving and emotionally involving. It is also inspiring.
One can trace some parallels here between this tale, and Hamilton's earlier "The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team" (World's Finest Comics #94, May-June 1958). This story starts out with the Substitute Heroes rejected in their goal of joining the Legion. Similarly, the earlier story has Superman rejecting Batman as a partner, refusing to allow him to work with Superman as a team. In both cases, this causes emotional suffering to the rejected heroes. The Substitute Heroes then decide to secretly aid the Legion in their deeds, working in such a way that the Legion is unaware of their existence. Similarly, Batman and Robin work to aid Superman without his knowledge in the earlier story.
One can also see parallels between these tales, and Hamilton's later "The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets; The Pet of a Thousand Faces" (1964). In that story, as part of his initiation, Proty II must also work secretly to aid the Legionnaires, without their suspecting he is on the case. Proty II also disguises himself as some of the Legionnaires he is trying to help; Batman adopts a similar disguise in the earlier story.
The similarities between these three Hamilton stories are quite close. They are not only on the level of theme. The basic plot patterns out of which the stories grow are close, and make the similarities structural. As Hamilton weaves his ingenious plot in these tales, he is working with similar kinds of materials, and winds up with similar kinds of ingenious twists and turns.
The War Between the Substitute Heroes and the Legionnaires; The Duel of the Legions (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan.
The Legionnaire's Super-Contest; The Winner of the Super-Tests (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The Legion discovers the existence of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, and offers them a contest whose winner will get to join the regular Legion.
This is a classic type of Legion story: that of the initiation test to join the Legion. Such tales go right back to the Legion's origin story, Otto Binder's "The Legion of Super-Heroes" (1958); in fact aspects of Stone Boy's initiation echo that earlier story.
Here there are whole series of initiation tests, five of them, one for each member of the Substitute Heroes. Each is structured as an awesome challenge, giving the Substitute hero a task for which their super-powers seem to be useless. There is an element of sf mystery here: how will the Substitute hero find a way to use their powers to meet the challenge? Hamilton's plots and solutions here are ingenious.
Hamilton retells the origins of the Substitutes here. There is much emphasis on how evolutionary pressures gave rise to the Substitutes' powers. Such an evolutionary perspective is a frequent element of Hamilton's plots.
Hamilton and Forte show idealism in the galactic law enforcement convention near the start of the tale. Here there are sympathetically drawn alien beings of all species, and colors. Such scenes suggest allegories about the US Civil Rights movement, then underway at full steam.
Forte's portraits of Fire Lad are especially vivid. Fire Lad has flames depicted on his costume's chest. He is quite glamorous. The art showing Stone Boy is also well done.
The Legionnaire's Suicide Squad; The Charge of the Substitute Heroes (#319, April 1964). Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A mysterious citadel on a planet that has forbidden all visitors decides to send out beams that prevent all space travel; the Legion members charge the citadel in small groups against hopeless odds. This is a minor tale. It is one of those gloomy, joyless Hamilton stories in which a villain picks off the members of the Legion one by one. The story only picks up at the end, when the Substitute Heroes get involved. They have the best scenes. The story also comes alive when they use their super-powers. Hamilton only rarely got a chance to write about the Substitutes, and they clearly piqued his imagination. The climax of the tale brings a meaningful position to the Substitute Heroes. It is a situation towards which they have been moving all along, and forms a fitting climax to their saga.
Hamilton also shows some interesting realism early in the tale, when he looks at the economic consequences of the cessation of space travel. These scenes show intellectual sophistication. They remind one that Hamilton has long written about "peace and prosperity" in the future, and that he knows on what it is based.
John Forte's art has some pleasant features. He does a good job with the spooky citadel. There is also a good portrait of a young archaeologist, Dr. James Bannon. He is in civilian clothes, and the rounded collar of his suit reminds one of Legionnaire Lemon's clothes in "The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire" (Adventure #305, February 1963).
The Legion of Super-Outlaws; The Battle of the Super-Teams (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Five super-powered people from the planet Lallor get tricked into a fight with the Legion. The origin of the Super-Heroes of Lallor. The five heroes were not created by Hamilton; each originated in a different letter from readers of Adventure. Adventure regularly printed reader ideas for new Legionnaires in the "Bits of Legionnaire Business" section of the letter column. Five of the best suggestions, each from a different reader, were selected to make the new team. However, there are similarities between the powers of Beast Boy here, and the Monster Master in Hamilton's "The Legion of Super-Monsters; The Legion's Super-Showdown" (1963) - and that tale also has a Gas Creature animal whose powers anticipate Gas Girl.
The visual appearance of three of the heroes, Beast Boy, Evolvo Lad and Gas Girl, were created by Curt Swan in his cover. The other two, Life Lass and Duplicate Boy, had their costumes set by John Forte in his interior art. Curt Swan has especially gone to town with Beast Boy, whose costume and appearance are spectacular. He has something of the same appearance as Superman.
Hamilton does create a full origin for the heroes. Unlike the regular Legion, or the Substitute Heroes, each of whom has an individual origin, the Heroes of Lallor have a collective origin, one rooted furthermore in their planet's political history: something rarely seen in Hamilton. This gives the story a unique feel. This political history is extended in the story's sequel, "Hunters of the Super-Beasts; The Menace of Beast Boy" (1965).
Although he does not emerge in this role right away, Duplicate Boy is clearly the lead character among the Heroes of Lallor. Hamilton gives him the largest role in the story. He is also given the most glamorous art by John Forte, who treats him as one of his leading men. Duplicate Boy's ability to mimic the powers of any Legionnaire is used by Hamilton for ingenious twists in the story. These elements seem reflective: the use of pre-existing powers to add another level of plot, is in the tradition of reflective, meta-level plotting of fiction. Hamilton will sometimes show a Legionnaire using his powers for some task, then have Duplicate Boy respond to this event by mimicking those powers, and making some sort of counter stratagem using them. So the plot builds upon itself in a reflective manner. It must have been difficult for Hamilton to dream up this reflective approach, and the plot developments it leads to often seem unusual to the reader.
Duplicate Boy's powers somewhat resemble those of Hamilton's character "The Composite Superman" (World's Finest Comics #142, June 1964).
The story anticipates Hamilton's "The War Between Krypton and Earth; The Civil War of the Legion" (1965). Both stories deal with non-lethal "wars" between two groups of super-heroes. In both, reader sympathy is equally divided between the two teams. Hamilton shows plenty of inventive details in this story, giving each hero a chance to show their stuff. One gets the impression from this issue's letter column that Hamilton was explicitly trying to feature more obscure members of the Legion, such as Shrinking Violet and Invisible Boy.
The Lone Wolf Legionnaire; The Youth Who Wasn't Human (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. A super-powered youth called the Lone Wolf rejects a chance to become part of the Legion; the Legionnaires suspect him of a series of thefts on his home planet Zoon. The Lone Wolf is one of Hamilton's outsiders. His sense of alienation and attempts to become part of mainstream society are especially poignant. One fantasy shot showing the Lone Wolf's dreams of family, friends and a loved one is especially well done, with some of Forte's most vivid art. This story is not based on a cover; it is entirely the product of Hamilton and Forte's imagination.
This story shares common characteristics with Hamilton's "The Legion of Substitute Heroes" (1963) and "Hunters of the Super-Beasts; The Menace of Beast Boy" (1965). All of these tales deal with new super-heroes created by Hamilton and Forte, heroes who become permanent parts of the Legion saga. All of these characters operate outside the Legion, often in alternate groups of heroes. All suffer from terrible social rejection, and try to find ways to cope.
Hamilton includes a high tech computing device, the Information-Computer-Correlator. This seems to be a cross between a searchable database and an artificial intelligence program. It can provide information on connections and relationships between any two subjects fed into the computer. It is one of the most sophisticated anticipations of future computing technology to found anywhere in popular culture. It has capabilities somewhat similar to those of the computer in the original Star Trek (1966 - 1969), which also were most creative and imaginative.
Forte's art is creative here. He gives the Lone Wolf a costume of barbaric splendor, in orange, black and white. The buildings are also interesting: as the Lone Wolf wanders through various alien worlds, each planet is given its own style of architecture. Some are curved houses on stilts, others are big block buildings vaguely recalling the real life architecture of the Yemen. The buildings on Zoon are based on geometric patterns: triangles and spheres. One also likes the mushroom forest on Zoon, a friendly place that recalls the pretty mushrooms in Fantasia (1940).
Hunters of the Super-Beasts; The Menace of Beast Boy (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Beast Boy is leading the large animals of the planet Vorn in a war against humans. Beast Boy and the other Super-Heroes of Lallor, had first appeared in Hamilton's "The Legion of Super-Outlaws" (#324, September 1964). One suspects that of Hamilton had not retired from comics in 1966, he would have returned to Lallor, and done still more with the characters he invented. This story takes place on not just one, but two new planets, Vorn and Lallor. Hamilton gives a small history to the events on each planet. This is typical of Hamilton's historical approach. From his earliest days in comics, Hamilton wrote about characters who explored the cosmos, such as Chris KL-99: see "The Menace of the Green Nebula" (Strange Adventures #1, August-September 1950). Hamilton's interest in remote planets still persists here.
This story recapitulates many of Hamilton's themes and story ideas: 1) Large, unusual animals which are the product of evolution on other planets; 2) New groups of super-heroes which parallel the Legion itself, in the tradition of Hamilton's Legion of Substitute Heroes; 3) People who are rejected by others and treated as outsiders, even though they have much to contribute to humanity; 4) Chameleon-like beings who can assume any form, in the tradition of Hamilton's Proty stories; 5) Last stands of people against terrible menaces on remote planets. Any one of these would mark this as a personal Hamilton story. Their presence together is quite startling.
This story is much more tragic than some of Hamilton's other work. This is especially true in relation to the rejected Beast Boy. Normally, Hamilton's rejected characters find solace in a number of ways. They idealistically choose to help others, and to contribute to society. This work gives them purpose, and supports them through genuinely rough times. It also preserves their humanity and decency. Many of Hamilton's outsiders eventually form alliances with others, as well. This too gives them support, and often leads to a re-integration with society. However, in this story Beast Boy explicitly rejects both approaches. Neither is enough for him. It is unclear what Hamilton thinks about this. I suspects he thinks that Beast Boy is wrong to reject such productive options. But he also sympathizes with a hero put through extreme problems. In any case, Hamilton's story is close to the definition of tragedy given by Aristotle. Its hero is a noble man who sadly perishes through his own flaws, just like Oedipus in Sophocles' tragedy.
Despite his youthful sounding name, John Forte draws Beast Boy as a fully grown-up man, somewhat older looking than the Legionnaires. This is befitting his status as a tragic hero.
Beast Boy's story is especially close to that of the Lone Wolf, Hamilton's hero of the year before. While the Lone Wolf eventually finds happiness, Beast Boy finds only tragedy.
Although this tale is based on a cover by Curt Swan, it follows Swan's cover idea far more loosely than most Legion stories. Here the cover scene is incorporated as a brief hallucination, one that has little to do with the rest of the plot.
This story introduces a whole menagerie of interesting aliens. It reminds us that Hamilton first made his mark with his 1920's Weird Tales prose sf stories in which groups of different aliens worked together democratically to explore the Universe. Several of the aliens here have different geometric shapes: pyramids or spheres. Hamilton's early aliens also had unique geometric and mathematical patterns, an approach that influenced H. P. Lovecraft. Many of the aliens here are intelligent beings, but Hamilton also introduces an interplanetary zoo full of alien "animals". Zoos were a subject of continuing fascination to the Superman family, and often show up in the magazines.
Among these animals: Proty, the shape changing animal from Antares. This is the origin of the character. Proty recalls the creature in "The Thing from 40,000 A.D." (Superman #87, 1953), written by Bill Finger. Like Proty, it is made out of protoplasm, and can assume any form. Both Proty and the Thing frequently use their powers to impersonate other beings, forming an exact duplicate of them. The illustrations in both stories are very similar, with several shots of the creatures half forming the image of someone, half just an amorphous blob. There are some differences, however. The Thing also gets the powers of whomever he imitates - he is an exact duplicate, right down to the cellular level. But while Proty can imitate a super-hero's appearance, he does not get his powers. This often causes problems for him, which Hamilton ingeniously resolves. Another difference: the Thing is a villain, hoping to use his powers to become a dictator, while Proty is good natured and cute. Proty has quite a few animal characteristics, and his personality resembles Krypto and other super-animals in the Superman family.
Both Finger and Hamilton also wrote stories about child like aliens who arrive on earth, and who can assume any form: Finger's "The Contest of Heroes" (World's Finest #74, January-February 1955), and Hamilton's "The Creature of 1,000 Disguises" (Action Comics #234, November 1957). There is also a tale by an unknown writer, "The Pet From Outer Space" (Superboy #33, June 1954), in which Superboy gets a shape-changing alien pet animal.
The Super-Tests of the Super-Pets; The Pet of a Thousand Faces (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Proty II gets inducted into the Legion of Super-Pets, in this light hearted story. Proty II is Chameleon Boy's pet. Both Chameleon Boy and Proty II have the ability to change into any shape or form they wish. Hamilton puts Proty II through his paces here, developing a whole series of imaginative ideas for using this character. Hamilton includes an interesting science fiction background for the Proteans, showing their evolution on a planet near Antares. Forte's art here is terrifically vivid, as it is throughout this tale. Hamilton tended to think in evolutionary terms; his aliens did not just occur on other planets, but evolved over time, just like real life Earth animals. One can see his Nightwing and Flamebird tale "The Dynamic Duo of Kandor" (Jimmy Olsen #69, June 1963) for another example.
Hamilton liked stories where one character has to try on the role of another. Here Proty II has to perform Superboy's role, as part of his initiation. Proty II actually disguises himself as Superboy, as well as trying to do tasks appropriate to him. Clearly, part of what fascinated Hamilton about the Proteans was their ability to take on others' roles. This goes way beyond impersonation. The idea is to "walk in another character's shoes", and try to take on their life and responsibilities.
The Eight Impossible Missions; The Amazing Winner of the Great Proty Puzzle (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Proty II sends the Legionnaires on a series of test missions, to determine who should lead the Legion for the next year; the missions contain clues to a puzzle. This tale occurs in the issue immediately following the earlier Proty II story; it is typical of the Superman family to try to reuse and build upon a previously defined character. Proty II is more a ring master here organizing a series of Legion missions, and less of a central character. As in the earlier story, the tone is light hearted. These tests are artificial challenges, not "real life" missions for the Legionnaires. They are perhaps related to the Challenge stories that appeared in Lois Lane and Superboy in 1964.
This story marks Jerry Siegel's second story of his return to scripting the Legion stories, after a long period of 14 issues in which they were exclusively written by Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton would keep on being the main writer of the tales, but Siegel would occasionally contribute a Legion script. While all of Siegel's plot ideas are original here, most of the episodes here reflect and build upon earlier Siegel tales. It is as if the story were an anthology of Siegel's worlds. This gives the piece a most pleasant quality. The frame story recalls Siegel's Bizarro stories; the Ultra Boy episode reminds us that Siegel created Ultra Boy in "The Boy With Ultra-Powers" (1962); Phantom Girl's episode takes us back to old Krypton, a Siegel specialty, with elements that invoke Siegel's "Life on Krypton" series; Pete Ross returns, reminding us that Pete was made an honorary member of the Legion in Siegel's "The Boy With Ultra-Powers"; and Jimmy Olsen also appears from the 20th Century, a character who was also inducted into the Legion in a Siegel story, "The World of Doomed Olsens" (1963). Jimmy gives the Legionnaires a demonstration of his Elastic Lad powers, mainly for entertainment purposes; such demonstrations were the main way Jimmy utilized his Elastic Lad abilities in two previous Siegel written tales, "Jimmy Olsen's Boo Boos" (1963) and "The World of Doomed Olsens".
The Unknown Legionnaire; The Secret of Unknown Boy (1965) Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. On Proty II's home planet, the Legionnaires fight against several Proteans with the aid of a masked, mysterious addition to the Legion. Hamilton returns to the birth place of the Proteans, and shows what it would be like to fight against a whole bunch of them. The Protean stuff is good in this tale, but the sf mystery about the unknown Legionnaire is weak. Hamilton has scripted several mysteries about masked characters; one of the best is the Batman tale "The Dynamic Trio" (Detective Comics #245, July 1957). In the next two issues, he will script a rather ordinary two part tale about Starfinger, a masked criminal. Both the Starfinger tales and this story challenge the reader to guess the identity of the masked figure. Hamilton liked stories about characters who took on other peoples' roles. His mysteries about masked characters might be an extension of this. Usually, they are an existing character playing a new and different role. However, the masked character is an entirely new persona; unlike his role-adoption tales, where one character takes on the job of another.
The Legion of Super-Monsters; The Legion's Super-Showdown (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Monster Master, a young man who can control animals telepathically, assembles a "legion" of strange alien animals to commit crimes. This is another Hamilton tale full of ingenious alien animals. Once again, Hamilton ascribes the animals' origin to evolution.
This story opens with a number of key sf ideas. We see a Map of the Universe, where locations of all Legionnaires are tracked daily. This is one of the maps that run through Hamilton's work. There are two other sf ideas that involve connecting up the universe. These are the video training shared by all Legionnaires through TV, and the Space Bank where currencies of all planets can be exchanged. Like the map, these ideas serve as connections, that allow structural interchange throughout the universe.
Hamilton's Chris KL-99 tales frequently have Chris tracking down the location of mysterious planets, always through some logical approach. Here Hamilton comes up with another ingenious idea, to track down the Monster Master's home base.
Sympathy for the rejected in a key Hamilton theme. Here there are no less than three rejections, all woven into the plot of the story.
The Doom of the Super-Heroes; Last Stand of the Legion (#310, July 1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. A mysterious masked figure with awesome powers destroys the Legionnaires one by one. This is the first of several tales Hamilton scripted about powerful foes who systematically pick off Legion members. All of these tales also turn out to have close ties with the Superman mythos, much closer than many other Legion stories.
The Condemned Legionnaires; The Secret of Satan Girl (1963). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A mysterious masked woman attacks the Legion, especially its female members. This story is structured as a science fiction mystery: who is this woman, where did she come from, and how did she get her super-powers? Such mysteries of identity are frequent in Hamilton's stories. It is one of a series of Hamilton mysteries whose solutions are linked: "When Superman's Identity is Exposed" (World's Finest Comics #78, September-October 1955) and "The 1,000th Exploit of Superman and Batman" (World's Finest Comics #155, February 1966). All three of these solutions are different, but they show some related ideas. All three of the solutions are surprising, and well crafted as science fiction mysteries. Hamilton emphasizes the mystery elements right from the splash, where the questions are explicitly posed.
This story is a bit closer to the Superman mythos than are many of the Legion stories. The principal character eventually emerges as Supergirl, and the story is some ways is as much a Supergirl tale as it is a Legion one. The use of Curt Swan as an artist, instead of Legion regular John Forte, also ties the story to the Superman world, where Swan was perhaps the definitive illustrator. The discussion of where Satan Girl got her powers involves investigating whether or not she is from Krypton, also a key element of the mythos.
There is also a brief look at whether or not she is from Mon-El's home planet, Daxam, which would also give her super-powers. This is quickly dismissed because she is not affected by lead, unlike other Daxamites. Actually, this is typical of all queries about whether some one is from Daxam - they are quickly raised and dismissed, throughout all the Legion and Superman family tales. In actual fact, one would expect thousands of Daxamites spread through all corners of the universe, using their powers. Weisinger never did this in the stories. We never see Daxam, and almost never see anyone from Daxam other than Mon-El. Clearly, Weisinger did not want to build up what would be a whole Daxam mythos in the tales. He rightly wished to concentrate his efforts on the planet Krypton, when it came to alien worlds, as well as the Bizarro World and Lexor.
Plot elements in this tale anticipate Ursula K. Le Guin's prose fantasy novel A Wizard of Earthsea (1968). Both works come to a similar climax.
There are a number of strange alien worlds here. Visits to other planets were a regular feature in the Legion tales. As here, they tend to be a few panels to a few pages in length. The planets tend to be cheery and ingenious. Hamilton's personality is upbeat when he contemplates other worlds. And Swan's aliens tend to be cute, not frightening. All of this is far from today's horror soaked media. The alien planets tend to fairly independent episodes within the story, with little connection to the rest of the plot. On rare occasion, Hamilton would revisit a planet from on story in a later issue. The giant puppet world here will make a brief reappearance in "The Renegade Super-Hero; The End of a Super-Traitor" (#316, January 1964). That story, in which Ultra Boy is drummed out of the Legion, has a flashback to the puppet world. That minor story's best scenes also involve episodes on alien planets, including a world with strange beings in which humans' minds have been transferred.
The story shows a number of Curt Swan's advanced futuristic buildings. These tend to be Modernist in style, but with curving facades and structures. They are some of Swan's beautiful architecture. Such buildings convey the mood of an advanced, peaceful future civilization. Swan also depicts a Legion spaceship. It has the curvilinear, slightly biomorphic, bulging quality often found in such Swan ships. The splash, which shows the female legionnaires all seated in a circle, also shows Swan's gift for circular and curvilinear arrangements.
The sheer realism of Swan's art underscores the tragic tone of this tale. It is less like an avant-garde fantasy, which is how Forte's stories usually feel, and more like a slice of life.
Lex Luthor Meets the Legion of Super-Heroes; The Super-Vengeance of Lex Luthor (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Lex Luthor travels to the future, and meets the Legion.
This is a zippy story, upbeat and full of charm. Much of the tone is broadly comic. Even the more melodramatic aspects are more fun than grim. It is closer to the Superman mythos than are many Legion tales, with the whole saga of Lex Luthor integrated into the plot. So are other aspects of the mythos.
The story is full of intelligent small details. These often relate to the powers and personal histories of the various Legionnaires. One nice panel in part 2 has no less than five Legionnaires all making the same discovery, each using a different aspect of their personal powers. This scene has a pleasing rhythm. Each Legionnaire makes his announcement, followed by the next Legionnaire and so on. It is as if they are all part of the same musical pulse or beat. Such a rhythm conveys a sense of exuberance. Such repeated little bits of ingenuity also delight readers, who enjoy the gifted plotting of the Superman family magazines.
Part 2 of the story repeats the frequent Hamilton plot of a powerful villain who attacks the Legion one by one. However, this is Hamilton's most comic version of this story. In part, it can almost seem like a humorous burlesque of this theme. Here the Legionnaires are dispatched wholesale, in fairly large groups, instead of one at a time, and they are picked off with ridiculous ease. Both of these plot aspects seem almost like a breezy spoof of the subject.
The scenes with Atro and the other disembodied brains reflect Hamilton's long personal tradition of writing about evolved intelligences. These stretch back to the 1930's, before his comics career, when he was writing for the science fiction pulps.
There are elements in this story that exploit the possibilities of time travel. Although they seem perfectly natural within the context of the story, one sees that they are enabled by the fact the Superman stories are constructed on top of a giant mythos. Because we already know the facts of Lex Luthor's life from previous tales, Hamilton can build a time travel plot upon them. So, in a subtle way, the time travel plot elements are enabled by the mythos. So of course are such Superman family structural approaches as the Imaginary Tale. The time travel ideas here seem related, albeit somewhat distantly, to the Imaginary Story. After all, many Imaginary stories construct future lives for their protagonists, just like this tale. Although Lex Luthor is the villain in this tale, there is a certain pathos to him. There is a sense of vulnerability, too: after all, he is one lone, non-super-powered human, going up against a whole team of super-heroes. Stories about Lois Lane also sometimes conveyed this same sense of pathos. Such characters stand for Everyman and Everywoman, trying to cope with a high powered society. Luthor at least shows a personal sense of gutsiness here.
The Revolt of the Girl Legionnaires; The Triumph of the Super-Heroines (1964). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The female Legionnaires plot to take over the Legion and eliminate all the male members. This story is in the sf tradition of Amazon societies in which women rule and from which men are expelled. I'm not sure if feminists would applaud this kind of story, or not. Most feminists are working for a society in which men and women are equal, not this sort of separatist future. One could argue that this sort of story deals more with male anxieties than with female aspirations. Still, this tale is gripping and readable throughout. One might note that the Legion tales as a whole treat the female members and the male members with complete equality, and that the leader of the Legion is Saturn Girl, a role she is seen performing in great detail in most of the stories. This is one of the earliest depictions in modern popular culture of a woman successfully running a major institution.
Siegel's story has much more romance here than is typical of Legion tales. Forte's art here is at it most romantic and glamorous. The mixture of romance and comic battles here recalls "The Lois Lane - Lana Lang Truce" (Lois Lane #52, October 1964), a tale I suspect was written by Robert Bernstein.
Siegel's later Legion stories tend to be comic. They are full of his satire of the Legion. Often times the Legion is transformed: made into Bizarros in "The Bizarro-Legion" (1965), super-infants in "Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies" (1965). Here, Siegel burlesques male-female relationships. The episodes in this tale have a repeated structure: the male feels he is involved in a romantic relationship; but he is being duped by the more clever female, who has some secret scheme in mind. Siegel's women have always tended to be wily; after all, he created Lois Lane. Siegel had satirized and offered surprising alternatives to conventional male-female relations as far back as the origin stories of Spy - see "The Balinoff Case", (a five part series in Detective Comics #1-5, 1937). In the Spy tales, the hero keeps expecting his relationship to be "normal", along stereotyped, conventional lines. The heroine keeps rejecting these conventional scripts, however, surprising him by doing unconventional, innovative behaviors. These show her as much tougher than society's traditional expectations of women. They also show cleverness and ingenuity on her part. The Legion episodes here show a similar grid, with male conventionality trumped by female innovativeness and ingenuity. There are some differences between the two series: in Spy, the man is trying to break off a relationship, while the heroine is hanging on to it; in the Legion episodes here, it is the reverse.
Forte's take on these subplots is perhaps different from Siegel's. While in Siegel, the woman's scheme is central to the plot, Forte seems most interested in the male point of view. Forte excels at drawing his males in the throws of romantic rapture. Showing the Legion males as amorous lovers is his main concern. The male super-heroes are depicted at their most glamorous here.
Siegel's interest in cops continues in this story, with the brief introduction of the Space Police. While these are a civilian organization, their uniforms seem to be in the tradition of US Army Military Police. Forte also has fun with the Space Police, creating both the helmeted, MP type uniforms of the main Space Police, and the green uniforms of the cadets in their Academy, with their peaked uniform caps and West Point style stripes on the sleeves. This is military fashion at its most glamorous. The helmets of the Space Police say SP, just as those of US Army Military Police say MP. Earlier, in "The Return of Lightning Lad" (1963), we had seen the Commissioner of the Science Police, a slightly different name for what seems to be the same organization. Forte gave him a fancy uniform complete with braid, and a peaked cap with a rocket ship badge. The Science Police first appeared in Siegel's "The Fantastic Spy" (#302, December 1962), although they seem to be a simply renamed version of the World Wide Police from Siegel's "The Face Behind the Lead Mask" (#300, September 1962).
The Lad Who Wrecked the Legion; The Secret of the Legion Rookie (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Jim Mooney. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The Command Kid, an arrogant young man who can cause hallucinations, joins the Legion, but his secret plan is to wreck the Legion.
The Command Kid displays much of Siegel's bitingly sarcastic dialogue. Like many Siegel villains, he displays contempt for received ideas. In some ways this just shows that he is a bad guy with a nasty attitude. But the opinions of Siegel's villains often contain a good deal of truth. One suspects that Siegel often gave them ideas to which he was personally sympathetic.
This story has a rare digression into somewhat supernatural material. Siegel had long been interested in such things, and his Golden Age series about Dr. Occult and the Spectre focused on them. He also created the magical Mr. Mxyzptlk.
The Bizarro-Legion; The Mad, Mad, Mad Bizarro-Legion (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: Jim Mooney. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Bizarro-Superboy creates his own Bizarro version of the Legion. Siegel wrote the comic Bizarro tales in Adventure in 1961-1962. Here he gets to revive his old series. This tale is a comic gem. With all the interest in meteor movies in 1998, today's readers might want to check out the meteor episode of this tale. Also: the Bizarros do everything backwards from humans. In 1965, this included writing on "whiteboards", not blackboards. Today, such whiteboards are common in most businesses, so this is not a reversal at all!
Siegel did many tales in the Superman family that satirized the media. Here, he is spoofing the Legion itself, in some parts of the tale. Also, he and artist Jim Mooney have the Bizarro-Invisible Kid sitting around reading comic books in one scene, as an indicator of the low brow level of Bizarro culture. These bits of self satire show a healthy ability to make fun of one self. This story of the Bizarro-Legion has the same plot pattern that is most fundamental to the Legion stories themselves: the tale of initiation of new members.
Siegel's Bizarro tales sometimes recreate a whole Earth institution in Bizarro terms. Here it is the Legion; in "Jimmy Olsen's Kookie Scoops" (Adventure #287, August 1961) it is a Bizarro version of the Daily Planet. Similarly, the Legion of Super-Villains is a mocking, evil version of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
Mooney does a fine job with the art. He especially excels at the many space craft that appear in the tale. His portraits of the Legion members are also life like, capturing their personalities.
Menace of the Sinister Super-Babies; The Time-Trapper's Invincible Infant-ry (1965). Writer: Jerry Siegel. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The evil Time-Trapper and his glamorous agent Glorith turn the Legion into super-babies, and manipulate them into a life of crime. The super-baby idea is present in Swan's cover; it is his second Legion super-baby cover, after "The Menace of Dream Girl" (#317, February 1964). Super-babies are very powerful, and they tend to run roughshod over the adults around them. Much of the comedy of the stories is in watching this happen.
You have to be in the right mood to enjoy a super-baby story, but they can strike you as very funny. Siegel specialized in humorous Superman family tales; like his "The Bizarro-Legion" (1965), this story applies a humorous transformation to the Legion, creating a mocking version of the original. Many of these Siegel tales savagely mock the mythos, reducing it to a rollicking absurdity. As is often the case in Siegel tales, this transformation and mocking is ascribed to a villain, here the Time-Trapper. But its ultimate source is Siegel himself, probably with a little of editor Mort Weisinger thrown in as well. At the very least, Siegel and Weisinger knew how to laugh at themselves and their work.
The plot of this tale concentrates on the Legion members and the super-powers. There are humorous vignettes at the start, showing the Legionnaires' personal lives. After they've been transformed into babies, we get a detailed picture of how infants might employ their specialized super-powers.
During 1965, the Superman family comics often incorporated elements of the spy-movie craze that was then at its peak. Both the super-villain the Time-Trapper and the evil glamour queen Glorith could have stepped out of a James Bond movie. This somehow adds to their comic quality. Both are hard to take fully seriously. They are like burlesques of movie villains, larger than life.
Siegel takes us back stage on a movie set once again: this time Chameleon Boy is acting in a film. He is one of a long line of Siegel characters to be involved with film production, including Krypto, Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen.
This story has a serious side. The time travel elements show Siegel's skill with this plot gambit. There is also one of the Superman family's heart-felt pleas against nuclear war.
The Mutiny of the Legionnaires; The Castaway Legionnaires (1964). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. On a voyage to save inhabitants of the planet Xenn, spaceship captain Sunboy turns tyrannical, and the other Legionnaires in his crew mutiny against him. This story is clearly suggested by The Mutiny on the Bounty. The aspects most closely related to that book are in fact on the comic's cover. Swan's cover shows the tyrannical Sunboy putting the mutineers adrift in a small life boat, just as Captain Bligh did to the mutineers on the Bounty. Hamilton's story treats the cover scene as its central incident. It occurs at the exact mid point of the tale, and forms the transition between part one and two.
This is the quintessential Legion story. The focus is entirely on members of the Legion throughout. There are no guest villains, no alternate heroes or characters, no participation by Superboy or Supergirl. Each member of the Legion uses his or her powers in a creative way, through the course of the story. They show both brains and courage. The six mutineer Legionnaires form one of Hamilton's "outsider groups", and have to show the determination against great odds required of such groups.
The story mainly takes place in outer space. Hamilton invents numerous new planets here, each with its own properties.
Forte has some excellent portraits of the Legionnaires here. Star Boy gets a full portrait (p6) and is shown from the side in the life boat (p9). The determined look in the Sunboy profile (p7) is also outstanding.
The War Between Krypton and Earth; The Civil War of the Legion (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. The Legionnaires go back to millions of years ago, and get involved in a war between Earth and Krypton. Hamilton had a deep interest in evolution. Creatures do not simply occur in his stories: he shows how they evolved in ancient times. This tale is in a somewhat similar mode. But instead of animals, it mainly looks at human beings, and how they developed on both Earth and Krypton. The "evolution" here becomes a detailed early history of some events that took place on both planets. The scope and detail of this historical saga makes it fascinating. Prose science fiction stories often contain "future histories": history-like chronologies of events that take place in the future. This tale is related to these, except that the events it narrates take place in the distant past.
This tale also evokes Hamilton's interest in politics, and his theme of political outsiders. The Kryptonians and the Earth people each have a legitimate point of view, despite their conflict with each other. Hamilton treats them both as outsiders. So this tale contains not one but two groups of political outsiders, each trying to persevere with an unpopular perspective. This is very unusual construction in his work. It extends his political thought in new ways. It adds some much needed complexity to his vision of how political events might operate. Both groups of people are in fact outsiders on their home planet, so their outsider status is not simply a matter of attitude on Hamilton's part.
Hamilton manages to use each of his Legionnaire heroes' powers in some special way in this tale: good construction. The story is unusual in that Superboy plays a bigger role here than in many Legion tales; in fact he is the protagonist of the story, in many ways.
Hamilton had written other tales dealing with Krypton's early history, and its visits to other planets: see "The Second Superman" (Superman #119, February 1958). Both of these tales were one-shots. Neither stories' ideas were ever incorporated in the Superman mythos. Partly this was a matter of timing: 1958 is awfully early for the mythos, and 1965 is very late. But it also reflects the fact that these tales dealing with vast stretches of cosmic history are not an easy fit into the other parts of the mythos. The two stories' ideas do not seem related to each other, either.
The Weddings That Wrecked the Legion; The Legionnaire Dropouts (1965). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: John Forte. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. In the midst of a planned alien invasion of Earth, two Legionnaire couples get married and leave the Legion.
It isn't clear why the Legion constitution demands that Legionnaires remain single, or else leave the Legion. Even today, thirty five years later, such a clause would get most organizations sued. One would think that in the 30th Century, the Legion would be even more sensitive! All the same, if there were no such clause, there wouldn't be a story here either.
One of the best things about this tale is all the focus on the Legionnaires themselves, instead of on the villains. After all, the Legionnaires are interesting characters, whereas villains are just dime a dozen. Hamilton has plotted the story to use the special talents of many of the Legionnaires. In the latter parts of the story, he looks especially at some characters he created, such as Element Lad, Proty II and the Legion of Substitute Heroes. This makes the story a sort of old home week for him. He shows us many specialized areas of the Legion club house, such as its museum and library: also a Hamilton tradition. The whole story is endearingly personal.
Hamilton also continues and extends his concerns over computers. But here they are developed into new and more positive directions. He has Brainiac V be elected the new Legion president. He also counterpoises the computer mind of Brainiac with the romantic feelings of the other Legionnaires, such as Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad. At first, this seems like a simple opposition. But gradually it develops into a much more complicated and constructive pattern. Hamilton is here exploring the positive contributions computers can make to society, and directions in which they can interact with others.
Brainiac becomes a figure outside of "normal" romance. Other authors might make that be purely bad. But Hamilton has always had an intense sympathy for outsiders of all sorts. Here, he suggests ways in which such an outsider can contribute to others, and play a positive role. The figure of Brainiac here allegorically suggests all sorts of things. For one thing, he can be made to stand for gays, and their roles outside of conventional, heterosexual romance.
There is an interesting "Plan R" in this tale. It seems both similar to and different from the Plan L, Plan J and Plan P that starred Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White respectively back in the 20th Century. The story does not try to link these up.
Swan's beautiful cover here shows the Legion weddings. It is one of his best Legion works.
The Evil Hand of the Luck Lords; The Secret of the Luck Lords (#343, April 1966). Writer: Edmond Hamilton. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. A run of bad luck that has hit the Legion is ascribed to the Luck Lords, dictators on the planet Thaun who allegedly control luck.
This is not one of the best Legion tales. I agree with Saturn Girl in this story: the idea of luck is just plain stupid and superstitious. Also, all the grim events discussed in this tale are a downer. Hamilton's weakest Legion stories can be summarized as "Bad things keep happening to members of the Legion"; this is one of those lesser tales.
However, the story's virtues include a glimpse of a galaxy full of interesting, unique planets - always a pleasing sf idea. It also contains one of my favorite images in all of the Legion tales. This is the Legion Clubhouse Reference Room, where map globes are kept of all known planets. As a map enthusiast, I would love to spend a day studying everything in that room. Such a room shows great imagination on Hamilton's part. The idea of extrapolating from a globe of Earth to globes of many planets shows real imagination. It recalls:
The pioneering science fiction film, Woman in the Moon (Fritz Lang, 1929), shows an astronomer with a globe of the moon.
Hamilton's Proty II also has a nice moment in this tale. Hamilton clearly has great affection for Proty II, and was always thinking up new bits of business for him. The Super-Pets in general have a nice role here. Hamilton plainly sympathized with such alternative hero groups as the Substitute Heroes and the Super-Pets.
Curt Swan's art is full of unusual, beautiful buildings on other planets. The strange winged roofs on Thaun remind one of Swan's fondness for biomorphic forms in his spaceships. Swan had previously created a Kryptonian house with winged, curved roofs for "Superboy's Farewell to Smallville" (Adventure #217, October 1955) (p12). It has much in common with the buildings on Thaun. Neither structure is at all Art Deco, unlike so many futuristic buildings in the comic books. Instead, these buildings evoke Modernist traditions, with a hint of traditional Chinese palace architecture, as well. The Kryptonian house has a mural on one side, an abstract painting full of geometric forms. It strongly reminds one of the Constructivist paintings done by Kandinsky in the 1920's. The building as a whole suggests a Kandinsky painting, but one which has been extended into three dimensions. The triangular flanges seem a Kandinsky like device. And the curved roof elements also remind one of Kandinsky forms. The tops of the building jut out, extending beyond the walls of the main building. It is a very unusual effect. Both buildings have a tower like quality, and seem to be rising up to a great height. Swan created these two buildings a decade apart, near the beginning and the end of the Silver Age. They are among his most inventive structures.
Curt Swan's cover for "The Dynamic Duo of Kandor" (Jimmy Olsen #69, June 1963) includes a futuristic cityscape of the bottled city of Kandor, full of Kryptonian style skyscrapers and towers. One skyscraper has a curved roof, in the Swan tradition. This building is roughly square, like the building on Thaun. Later, in the tale (p5) Swan has a second building, much narrower this time, that also has a curved flanged roof. (Although this is a Jimmy Olsen tale, it is discussed along with the other Nightwing and Flamebird stories in the article on Superman.)
The Outcast Super-Heroes; The Devil's Dozen (1966). Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell & Mort Weisinger. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Superboy and Supergirl have to resign from the Legion, and are replaced by mysterious masked super-heroes, Sir Prize and Miss Terious. The origin of R. J. Brande.
This tale, and its direct continuation in "The Forgotten Legion; The Faces Behind the Masks" in the next issue, are unusually well-based in the earlier Legion stories. And Curt Swan's art also is in a pure Silver Age style. The stories try to encompass as many elements of the Legion mythos as possible, with appearances by the Legion of Substitute Heroes. The central plot also echoes Legion tradition: there were a large number of stories about mysterious new Legionnaires whose identity was unknown. This tale follows closely in this tradition. As in these previous works, we gradually learn about the new Legionnaires' super-powers, and these are scanned for clues to their identity.
I never liked the idea of R. J. Brande. It is not that he has an unpleasant personality. But the whole concept of the Legion being funded by a billionaire seems wrong to me. I always assumed that the Legionnaires built their own club house, using their super-powers. And similarly, that their powers funded their own adventures. Similarly, Superman built his own Fortress of Solitude, and used his powers to create his own adventures and career.
In this story, Chameleon Boy's transformation actually gives him the powers of the animal image he is using for his disguise. As was pointed out in the letters column a few issues later, this seems to contradict the standard concept of the character. Traditionally, Chameleon Boy's disguises simply altered his appearance, but did not give him the powers of whomever he is impersonating. This episode does lead to some clever self-referential humor, however.
Curt Swan does a good job with the Legion's space suits. They are white with blue trim. They all have shoulder patches, with insignia that reflects the various Legionnaires' traditional costumes. Such varied costumes for super-heroes are a rarity in comic book history. Usually, a comic book character is always dressed the same way, for instant reader recognition. Here, Swan has put them in new clothes, which yet have a subtle visual link to their main costumes.
White space suits that emphasize their wearers' musculature are associated with artist Murphy Anderson: "Earth Shall Not Die" (From Beyond the Unknown #7, October-November 1970).
The Forgotten Legion; The Faces Behind the Masks (1966). Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell & Mort Weisinger. Art: Curt Swan. Based on a cover by Curt Swan. Direct continuation of "The Outcast Super-Heroes; The Devil's Dozen" from the previous issue, in which the mystery of the identity of Sir Prize and Miss Terious is solved.
The finale of this story leads to some satisfying developments in the history of the Legion. These draw directly on previous Silver Age events in the Legion's history, and form a pleasant sequel to them. There is a philosophical discontinuity in the ultimate fate of Sir Prize, but even this can be overlooked due to its sheerly agreeable nature.