- Action Comics #402
- Adventure Comics #408
- Brave and the Bold #96
- Detective Comics #413
- Forever People #3
- G.I. Combat #148
- Green Lantern/Green Arrow #84
- New Gods #3
- Superboy #176
- Superman #239 (Reprints, won’t be covered)
- Superman #240
- Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #111
- Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #139
- World’s Finest #202
Bolded entries are covered in this post, the others will be covered soon.
“The Secret of Superboy’s Sister”
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Penciler: Bob Brown
Inker: Murphy Anderson
Editor: Murray Boltinoff
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
Writer: E. Nelson Bridwell
Penciler: George Tuska
Inker: George Tuska
We’ve got what looks like a super gimmicky story for our Superboy comic today, but it isn’t as bad as it seems. The cover is just okay, one of those ‘what in the world is happening’ pieces, and the sight of a little girl on a flying carpet made of junk is pretty unusual, admittedly. The design definitely feels a bit archaic at this point, though, right down to the softer coloring in this particular image and the Silver Age-ish setup of the composition.
Fortunately, the story inside isn’t quite as gimmicky as the cover might lead you to believe. it begins during a powerful thunderstorm, with the Kents awaiting a visit from an old friend and her daughter. Notably, the ages of these guests don’t actually make sense with the recently established actual ages of the Kents, which sort of illustrates how unnecessary and unhelpful that retcon was. Nonetheless, the tempest is bad enough that Clark goes out as Superboy to keep an eye on things, arriving just in time to see the visitors, the Warrens, skidding over a cliff in their car! The Boy of Steel manages to save the daughter when she is thrown from the vehicle, but he can’t stop the car before it crashes. The mother is badly injured, and he rushes her to the hospital.
Mrs. Warren asks the Kents to care for her daughter, Kathy, until Mr. Warren can arrive from South America. Clark is concerned about having this little girl around the house, worried about the pressure this puts on his secret identity, but he makes the best of it, zooming around the world and collecting toys for his short-term sibling. It’s a sweet response and his parents are proud of this display of character.
Later on, the Smallville superstar detects something approaching the Earth from space and zooms into orbit to find a strange, octopus like machine which attacks him. Easily shrugging off its weapons, he deactivates the device and experiments with it, trying to solve its mysteries over the next few days. He finds that its heart is an intelligence-gathering machine, essentially a massive electronic brain that absorbed an incredible amount of knowledge about Earth from the machine’s instruments.
Unfortunately, while the Boy of Steel is distracted, the device activates and leaves his lab. When Kathy touches it, the globe explodes. She is unharmed, but it is quickly revealed that she has become super intelligent, as she turns the Kent’s black and white TV into a color set and starts correcting her teaches in school. Her young mind is stuffed with a planet’s worth of knowledge. She should hang out with the Hawks!
The young genius even picks the lock on Superboy’s lab and drops hints that she knows who Clark is. That afternoon, Kathy accompanies Clark to a scrap yard, and when he is distracted by a an emergency at a nearby missile test (why is the army testing weapons in Kansas?!?), the grade-school Einstein takes the opportunity to whip up a makeshift flying carpet out of spare parts. The Boy of Steel barely manages to save her from a collision with a set of powerlines, and she helpfully reveals that she knows his secret identity!
Just then, a set of inter-dimensional aliens, the Truhls, arrive to complicate matters. Apparently Superboy had tangled with them before, even leading a slave revolt on their homeworld. Apparently, the octopoid device was theirs, and they intend to drain the knowledge it gathered out of Kathy to aid them in conquering the world. They hit the Boy of Steel with a cool looking weapon and threaten the girl, but she was ready for them! Having learned of their nefarious motives when she absorbed the machine’s memory, the pint-sized prodigy turned her doll into a weapon! She zaps the invaders, but her device explodes from the strain, knocking her out as well.
When Clark recovers, he returns the would-be world-breakers to their own dimension and discovers that the weapon erased all of the super-knowledge from Kathy’s mind. I rather like to think that she did this on purpose, having been smart enough to realize that she would never be happy with such vast intelligence and preferring just to be a regular kid. There is, of course, nothing to establish that in the story itself. The tale ends with her father coming to claim her and the Kents bidding the little girl a fond farewell.
This is a decent if not terribly outstanding little yarn. It throws some unusual curves into Superboy’s life without making too much of them, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, like some similar stories we’ve seen. It is guilty of the old device of over-emphasizing Superman’s invulnerability, where nothing even phases him, with even hi-tech weapons that would be a good source of peril for him simply shrugged off. At least the aliens’ final attack does some good, adding a little tension. Speaking of the Truhl, this story really makes it seem like they hail from an earlier issue, but I can’t find any mention of them. That’s a shame, because the two panels we get about Superboy’s previous adventure with them sounds way more interesting than this comic! In terms of the art, I’ve noticed that Bob Brown seems to take on a slightly more cartoony style for this book, which works well for the lighter tone of Superboy. Perhaps that has something to do with Anderson’s inks. Either way, his work is quite good throughout, and I’m enjoying his tenure on the title. As for this issue, I’ll give this readable if forgettable tale 3 Minutemen.
I was excited to see that we’ve got anther Legion backup in this issue. I’m always happy to see those fine future fellows return. Their stories tend to be a lot of fun, and this one is no exception. It begins with Chemical King (who apparently has to be a rebel and not conform to the kid, boy/girl, or lad/lass formula that works for the rest of the Legion) attending the unveiling of the first commercial time-travel service, which is a fun idea. The Legionnaire is on hand to act as security, but he gets shown up when a masked figure suddenly appears out of nowhere, steals the fares, and then vanishes into the thin air.
When Chemical King reports to his comrades, the assembled Legionnaires try to sort out how the thief accomplished this feat. It is the Invisible Boy that comes up with the answer when he deduces that the culprit must have discovered the same invisibility serum that the young hero did. We get a brief flashback to Lyle’s efforts to work out the formula, along with some really great, thoughtful touches of realism, like the youthful inventor realizing that, if his eyes are transparent, light won’t be able to register on them, rendering him blind. That’s a great bit of detail, and it makes the hand-waving of the explanation a few panels later easier to swallow.
The crux of this issue is that the team has to find some way to counter the Invisible Kid’s powers, despite the fact that, once they do, others will be able to do the same thing as well. Lyle selflessly stresses that there is more at stake than his career, and they get to work. Unfortunately, nothing they try is effective, but after countless tries, the Invisible Kid suddenly has a revelation and figures it out. With a solution in hand, the team plans to ambush their unseen assailant during a likely heist, and he obligingly shows up. The Invisible Invader materializes to steal a jeweled cup from a hovercar race.
However, when he tires to vanish again, he stays visible, leading the team right to his accomplice and allowing the real Invisible Kid to take him out. What Lyle realized was, since he had complete knowledge of the serum, he could tell Chemical King what chemical reactions it caused, allowing the chemistry master to simply cancel those in their target. Thus, the Legion captures the villain, and using a tactic only available to themselves.
This is a fun little story, brief as it is. In only seven pages we get a good setup for a crime and a great resolution to the challenge by our heroes. We even get a tiny bit of worldbuilding and characterization, and all of the assembled Legionnaires get a little bit to do. These Legion backups are really some of the most consistently enjoyable yarns I read. They always seem to be fun, and much of their material is new to me, seeing as I’m generally not too familiar with the Legion. I’ve been enjoying George Tuska’s art on this feature too, though it isn’t as strong on this outing as it has been. I’ll give this one 3.5 Minutemen, once again, a strong score for a seven page story.
“To Save a Superman”
Writer: Dennis O’Neil
Penciler: Curt Swan
Inker: Dick Giordano
Cover Artist: Neal Adams
“The Man Who Cheated Time”
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler: Michael W. Kaluta
This issue of Superman continues to develop the ongoing plots that Denny O’Neil has been cultivating, and it takes the seminal superhero in some interesting directions. It’s rather more intriguing than it is successful, but O’Neil’s innovation deserves credit as he actually does shake up Superman’s status quo. The cover this month isn’t particularly great. We’re effectively just told that Superman failed without any real visual representation of the event. It’s not the most electrifying of compositions, though it certainly delivers some melodrama. The image is well crafted, of course, which is only what I expect from Neal Adams.
The actual story begins with Superman arriving at the site of a blazing inferno as the fire department tries to put out a burning building. Discovering that there is still a family trapped within, the Man of Steel flies to the rescue, but he is strangely hesitant. We learn that his powers are still greatly diminished after his previous adventure, and he’s worried that he won’t be strong enough to pull off a rescue. Despite his reduced power, the Metropolis Marvel still manages to rescue the family, but once he gets them out, the building’s owner approaches and demands to know if the hero is going to try to save it in turn.
Once again displaying unusual trepidation, the Action Ace takes to the sky, but his lessened powers prove unequal to the challenge. In a really nicely rendered sequence, the building collapses, despite his efforts. When the shaken hero steps abashedly out of the rubble, a photographer snaps a picture, and we get the headline from the cover. Meanwhile, the Generic Gang has decided to narrow their focus to Superman (shoot for the stars, boys). Calling themselves the “Anti-Superman Gang,” they meet to discuss whether or not the Man of Might has really become the Man of Milquetoast, finally deciding to risk a test to try to take him out.
For his part, the Metropolis Marvel finds his town turning against him, meeting mockery in the streets and becoming embittered by the lack of respect for his years of sacrifice and service, which is a pretty natural reaction. Suddenly, he sees smoke rising nearby and realizes someone is robbing a bank. For a moment he debates whether he should leave Metropolis to its own devices, which is a nice touch, but the better one is that he shakes off his self pity and does the right thing. His reasoning here doesn’t quite hit the right tone, though, as he thinks to himself “I’ve got to be what I am,” making his heroics a function of habit rather than a product of principle, which rather misses the mark.
At the scene of the crime, the Man of Steel finds a freaking artillery piece in the street (nobody noticed this thing being driven through town?), and the gang fires on him as he approaches slowly, thanks to his diminished powers, and they actually shoot him out of the sky. Unable to get close, Superman decides to hit them from range, and in another great sequence, he rips the bank vault off of its massive hinges and hurls it at the artillery piece! At least the hoods got into the spirit of crime in the DCU, dressing up in matching outfits, though they aren’t terribly interesting. It doesn’t quite make them a themed gang, but it’s something.
Back at the Daily Planet, Clark gets a visit from, of all people, Wonder Woman’s mentor and walking cliche, I-Ching, the blind Asian martial arts master and mystic. Apparently the old man has learned of Superman’s plight, somehow, and, somehow, knows his secret identity…for plot reasons. He claims he can help, so Clark doesn’t just vaporize him with heat vision and instead agrees to meet him later that night for an attempt to restore his powers. Yet, a young punk in the office secretly observes this meeting and, being in the employ of the gang and set to spy on Superman’s friends, calls in a report, which eventually leads the criminals to I-Ching’s apartment, just as he begins working on the Man of Steel.
The martial artist attempts to us his mystic powers to draw the Metropolis Marvel’s spirit out in order to cure it, leaving him temporarily powerless, but in the middle of the ritual, three gunsels barge in and knock him out. Isn’t he supposed to be sort of awesome, despite being blind, what with the martial arts mastery and all? Like Zatoichi? Either way, he goes down like a punk, and the emboldened thugs beat on the immobile Man of Steel, only to find out that he’s more the man of Flesh now, as they manage to bruise him!
Coming to his senses, Superman leaps up and attacks the trio. His invulnerable costume stops a bullet, though he is still badly hurt by the impact (which is a nice touch of logic). In a desperate fight, the suddenly completely mortal Action Ace manages to take out all three gangsters, and the book ends with him standing proudly, having proven himself despite the loss of his powers.
This is only really a decent story taken all together, but it has elements that are really rather exceptional. The first sequence, with Superman striving to do what he can, despite his lessened powers is pretty striking, and seeing the Man of Steel fail is definitely surprising in this era. As is often the case, O’Neil’s treatment of the emotional dimension of the story is just slightly off key, close, but falling a little short of what it should be. He hits the right note in the the final scene, however, with Superman fighting without his powers. The desperation of that moment is captured fairly well.
It’s interesting that O’Neil uses I-Ching for this role. I suppose it makes sense, seeing as he created the character, but it definitely feels like it comes out of left field. It would have made much more sense for Superman to contact Dr. Fate or Zatanna. I’m not even sure these two had ever met before this issue. I know almost nothing about this character, and he doesn’t really interest me. I can’t say his showing in this issue is terribly impressive. His role here, presumably to provide a way to restore our hero’s powers, points to the interesting fact that O’Neil has done something pretty unusual, having kept the Man of Steel at a reduced level for several issues now as his plot unfolded. In previous stories, when Superman lost his powers, he almost always had them back at the end of the issue. This arc highlights the changes O’Neil was bringing to the character. This tale is another solid step forward in that arc, and I’m curious to see what O’Neil will make of the seeds he’s planted here. I’ll give it a good 4 Minutemen. The incongruous and unheralded presence of I-Ching and the uninteresting antagonists are the only real problems here.
“The Man Who Cheated Time”
The backup this month is another “Fabulous World of Krypton” tale, and it’s a good one. It begins with a janitor (a SPACE janitor!) checking out the hidden devices in a secret depot of forbidden weapons hidden beneath a cool looking jungle. The man marvels at a time machine and wonders how it got there, which leads us a flashback where we meet a brilliant scientist, Mal-Va, and his nefarious assistant (scientific assistants seem to be a bad bunch in the DCU), Zol-Mar. Mal-Va is building a time machine that is set to be demonstrated the next day, but his assistant plans to steal the device and use it to set himself up in the past and live like a king.
Interestingly, as he leaves, Zol-Mar observes protestors tearing down a statue of ‘Krypton’s most famous military leader,” Dar-Nx, and wishing that the authoritarian leader was still around to keep people in line. This is a subtle piece of social commentary, and it has surprising resonance today, given the conversation in the U.S. about statues and cultural history.
Anyway, to put his plan into action, the ambitious assistant meets with one of his master’s colleagues and, distracting the old man by planting an explosive in his lab, he steals an invention that creates hard light illusions. Next, disguised as Mal-Va, the thief ‘borrows’ a ‘weather-regulator’ from another scientist before paying a visit to his last target. However, when Zol-Mar meets the last scientist, the fellow pulls a gun on him, knowing that the masquerading miscreant can’t be be Mal-Va because he was just talking to him. Desperately, the abominable assistant strikes out, grabbing the gun, and vaporizing his opponent. Stealing a final device from his victim, Zol-Mar is ready.
The next day, he takes his place in the time machine, having disabled the recall controls, planning to set up in the past and become Dar-Nx’s right hand man with the technology he has stolen. Yet, as he travels, he realizes that if he just materializes out of thin air, the natives of that time might kill him out of fear, so he uses his image device to make himself look like Dar-Nx himself, reasoning that no-one would oppose him. Unfortunately, this creates an energy pulse, reversing his course through time, and sending him into the future. With the return circuit disabled, his master can’t bring him back, and Zol-Mar materializes fifty years in the future, only to find that Krypton is no longer there! He meets his fate alone in the cold vacuum of space.
That’s a great ending to a fairly tight little crime story with science fiction trappings. It’s a great example of the classic ‘villain hoisted by his own petard‘ trope, and it works quite well, with a fitting end for the selfish would-be tyrant. This wouldn’t feel out of place in one of the more horror/Twilight Zone-esq titles. At the same time, the tone and setting fit Krypton quite well. In terms of the art, I’m not that impressed with Kaluta’s work on this backup. While it is nicely detailed and really imaginative in some ways, especially in terms of devices and technology, it is a bit rough and unattractive in terms of figures and faces. He does have a nice gift for realizing spaces, though. Seeing as this was some of his earlier work, I imagine he improved over time. I’ve seen some of his later work, and it is much nicer. Either way, his art here is still perfectly serviceable, and the final effect of the story is quite memorable. I’ll give it a full 4 Minutemen, though I wonder about Bates wasting a page on the unnecessary framing device.
P.S.: Notably, this tale introduces an artist named Mike W. Kaluta to the DCU. You might recognize his name from a long and distinguished career, though little of it was in superhero comics, or, if you’re like me, you might recognize it from this month’s Green Lantern issue! That’s right, the name of the little pins, the strange sound in the backgrounds? Kaluta. Presumably, this was in honor of the new talent arriving at the company. B. Smith kindly pointed this connection out in the comments of that post. I don’t know what the connection was between Adams and Kaluta, but what a neat little discovery!
This month’s Superman illustrates how far DC Comics have come in one year in terms of continuing storylines. When we started this little journey, continuing plots were the exception, rare enough to elicit comment and debate in Aquaman, but they are becoming much more prevalent, with ongoing arcs in several titles, including some of the company’s flagship comics.
That brings us to the end of this post, but not the end of the fun for this month. Come back soon for some more Bronze Age goodness, but in the meantime, be sure to check back on Tuesday for a special Halloween edition of Into the Bronze Age! If you noticed something missing from the roll call of titles, you might be able to figure out what is waiting for you in a few days. Until then, keep the Heroic Ideal alive!