Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Episode #100: ACTION COMICS #100 & SUPERMAN #100!

This episode continues the tradition I began with episode #75, to look at the corresponding issues of Action Comics and Superman every 25 episodes. This time the issues featured are the 100th issues of Action and Superman.

Action Comics #100, the September 1946 issue, was published around July 16, 1946. The issue contained 48 pages for a dime. Jack Schiff was the editor at this time. The cover, featuring the Superman story for this issue, The Sleuth Who Never Failed, was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Ed Dobrotka, both members of Joe Shuster's Cleveland studio (see episode #17). It featured the Scotland Yard detective Inspector Hawkins, peering through a magnifying glass, following Clark Kent and in turn being followed by Superman.

The story itself, The Sleuth Who Never Failed, was written by Alvin Schwartz and drawn by Ira Yarbrough. Inspector Hawkins introduced himself to Clark Kent in the Daily Planet newsroom and immediately informed him that he knew Clark was Superman, but his secret was safe. He then asked Clark for a lock of his hair but was interrupted by Lois Lane. Clark took the time to leave at super speed through a wig shop and back. The inspector then cut a lock of his hair (I assume Clark paid for the wig). He viewed the sample under a microscope and determined that it was animal hair and thus from a wig.

Next, the inspector told a bank guard he would pay him $500.00 to cooperate with him. The inspector had discovered that Perry White often had Clark take sensitive documents to a bank deposit box. When Clark walked into the safe to deposit some more documents, just before closing time, the guard closed the safe with Clark inside. He figured that Hawkins was involved and tore a hole in the inside wall of the safe door, and readjusted the time lock inside so that it would open. After setting off the alarm he closed the door, reset the lock and fixed the hole that he made. Clark then faked suffocating when the police opened the safe door.

Inspector Hawkins then disguised himself as a perfume factory worker and lured Clark there. Inside the perfume factory the disguised Inspector pushed Clark into a vat of perfume. After he got out Clark changed secretly into Superman and dove into the same vat of perfume. (I don't know how this would throw anyone off the trail. It would clinch Superman's secret identity for me, but then this is a late golden age story.) Hawkins then goes to a Veteran's rally and is in the front row. He noticed that Superman didn't smell of perfume, and no explanation was given.

After the rally, Superman spotted the Inspector snooping around his apartment. Sneaking into the next room, Superman wrote on a piece of paper, took it into space, then into a humid jungle and then a desert, before leaving it in the next room for the Inspector to find. He did, and read Clark's will, naming Superman his heir. The inspector noticed the yellowed paper and faded ink, and was finally convinced he was mistaken about Clark Kent being Superman.

After the four page humorous story about Hayfoot Henry titled The Rhyming Horse, the next story featured the adventure/crimefighter Congo Bill in the six page story The Case Of The Captive Seals. It was written by Alvin Schwartz and drawn by Fred Ray. Congo Bill assisted in an investigation of the disappearance of hundreds of seals from a government protected herd. He kayaked to an iceberg where many of them were, and noticed a seal being pulled into a hole. Bill thought a polar bear had trapped the seal until an ice trap door opened and he was pulled under the ice. He found himself on a ship, camoflaged by the ice, crewed by poachers. Congo Bill was knocked out and put in a hold with the captured seals. After getting two seals to balance his feet on their noses, Congo Bill was able to reach a ladder that led him out of the hold. He found some bags of salt and poured them on the ice, which melted and revealed the ship of poachers. They were arrested and the seals were saved.

The next feature was the two page text piece Indian Sign by Ben Ballard. Comic books had these prose features to qualify for cheaper postal rates well into my childhood of the 1960's. The next comic book story wasThe Book That Was Too Real, a ten page story featuring the crimefighter Vigilante, a singing cowboy. It was written by Mort Meskin and inked by George Roussos. Vigilante's sidekick, the non-politically correctly named Stuff, the Chinatown Kid, called Stuff for short, helped author J. Scriver Tome find the reformed criminal Blast Beadle. Mr. Tome wanted to interview Beadle as research for his book The Baffling Bandit, about a criminal who outwitted the police. Beadle skimmed the book and was inspired to kidnap Tome and use the book to commit real crimes. The gang tied up Stuff and left him behind. Stuff was able to knock the phone on the floor and have the operator call Greg Sanders, secretly Vigilante. He rescued Stuff and together they tried to stop the gang. Instead they were captured by the criminals, who put dynamite in the car and let it careen toward the bank, to crash into the bank and explode and allow them to steal the money. Instead, Vigilante was able to steer the car with his feet, chasing the gang to a dock and into the water. Stuff was able to get loose from his bonds and pull Vigilante and Tome out of the car just before it rode into the water and exploded. To show his appreciation, Tome decided to dedicate his next book to Vigilante.

The final story of Action Comics #100 featured Zatara, who had appeared in the title since issue #1. The seven page story was Magic: Past Or Present!, written by Don Cameron and drawin by William F. White. A group of ancient magicians led by Merlin and living by the river Styx are jealous of Zatara. They use their magic to observe Zatara using his magic to capture a gang of bank robbers. The Delphic Oracle told the gathered magicians to test their magic against Zatara's and the best magic would win. The ancient magician Toth caused a the floor in a room in Zatara's residence to burst into flames. Zatara caused it to rain inside and douse the flame, and a lightning bolt struck Toth. He returned to Styx.

Cagliostro caused Zatara's bed to rise as he slept. Zatara awoke and cast a counter spell which caused the bed to fall on top of Cagliostro. After the magician returned to Styx Zatara cast a protective spell over his bedroom.

The next unnamed magician walked into the bedroom, only to be drenched by a floating bucket of water over the door. Then he stepped on some tacks that appeared on the floor, and a table top cigarette lighter set the back of his robe on fire. He returned to the river Styx to cool off his backside.

Merlin challenged Zatara next, who caused musical instruments to appear and serenade the magicians (I guess he played their favorite tune?). This caused them to declare Zatara the greatest magician and return him to his home. They toasted Zatara at a banquet, leaving an empty chair reserved for him in his honor. Zatara awoke from a nap in a chair where he had been reading a book on magic and listening to music playing on the radio. He wondered if it was a dream, or if it really happened.

Superman #100, September 1955, was published around July 21, 1955, containing 32pages for 10 cents. Mort Weisinger was well into his editorial leadership of the Superman titles at this time. The cover was drawn by J. Winslow Mortimer and featured a bust shot of Superman, with the first, 25th, 50th and 75th covers in front of him.

The first story of the issue was the eight page The Toy Superman Contest written by William Woolfolk, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. Superman had licensed a toy figure of himself that had the ability to safely mimic his super powers. Proceeds from their sale went to charity. A Metropolis department store sponsored a contest to determine the most ingenious feat that a child could come up with for their Superman figure, and asked Superman to be the judge. The store had already trimmed the contestants to about twenty.

Tommy had his Superman figure smashing a meteor before it struck Earth. Another wrapped steel girders around him and spun fast enough to become a magnet and pull the guns from a gang's hands. A third would save a car heading out of control into a swamp that had some kryptonite. His Superman figure would turn his cape into a kite, tie it to an iron fencepost and harpoon the car so that Superman could use his super breath to float the car far enough from the swamp to save the car and its passengers (except for the hole in the vehicle).

Bob would have his Superman figure save a champion swimer who was suffering a cramp and in danger of drowning, by having Supemran burrow underground to a salt deposit. He took a large block of salt underground into the body of water, until it melted and made the water salty enough to make the swimmer float on the surface. (I would hate to be near this new Dead Sea later when all of the fish died from the salt.)

Harry was the final entrant. His feat was to have Superman use his x-ray vision to see how a scientist at a chemical plant was doing with an experiment without bothering him. Superman declared him the winner and flew out of the department store, leaving a lot of unhappy kids. He went to an unknown office to test a pair of glasses. Superman returned to the store and explained everything. He had been searching for an escaped convict when he got a tip that the suspect had placed some heat sensitive bombs around the waterfront where he was hiding. The bombs would detonate from the heat of his x-ray vision. The glasses absorbed the heat from his x-rays. allowing Superman to use his vision power to find the criminal and apprehend him. He got the idea from Harry's model, which showed a piece of asbestos on the part of the building the scientist was working, which would absorb the heat from the x-ray vision. (This was a typical off the wall silver age comic book story.)

After a one page humor strip Little Pete, the second Superman story was Superman -- Substitute Teacher. The eight page story was drawn by Al Plastino. The writer is unknown at this point. Clark Kent had changed into Superman in an alley to catch a falling piano that was being lowered from a window and its rope had broken. After the save he was putting on his civilian clothes when a man saw Superman getting dressed. He only saw his back, and Clark disguised himself with a fake mustache. The man followed him down the street to find out Superman's secret identity when a boy called him Mr. Cranston. It turned out that Mr. Cranston resembled Clark Kent, and was a substitute teacher. He eventually got a job at a school substituting for the regular teacher, to throw the man off.

The rest of the story dealt with the disguised Superman dealing with some class pranksters. One gave the teacher an apple, which was made out of wood. The disguised Superman decided to have some fun and ate the apple, making the boy believe he brought the wrong one. After a sereis of pranks gone bad and a lunch break, the class pranksters had snuck straws into the class and were going to use them as pea shooters. Superman used his x-ray vision to seal the ends of the straws so they couldn't work. After some more failed pranks the principal entered the classroom and complimented Mr. Cranston for a well behaved class. Superman then revealed his true identity and used his powers for some practical classroom demonstrations and flew away at the end of the school day. At the end of the story the stranger was following the real Mr. Cranston, who told his stalker to go away because he was not the real Superman.

The Clue From Krypton was the eight page final story of the issue. It was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. Clark Kent went to the home of a Mr. Fowler, who had promised him a scoop. It turned out that the scoop was the secret of his secret identity. Fowler had used Superman's autobiography I Superman to find a clue about his identity. Fowler used a metal detector on the field that the infant Superman's rocket had crashed and exploded, after the Kents had retrieved him from the rocket. Fowler found a rocket fragment with the super baby's fingerprints on it. He enlarged the prints and compared them to the fingerprints of people known to be involved with Superman. The only match he found was Clark Kent. He bribed Clark to make him rich, and then he would give him the evidence.

While Clark never changed into Superman in front of Fowler, he did his bidding. Superman used his x-ray vision to located a barren field that covered an untapped oil deposit. After Fowler bought the land Superman built an oil well. Next he took a piece of coal near Fowler's fireplace and squeezed it into a large diamond. After Fowler deposited it in a bank deposit box he gave Superman a rocket fragment, only it wasn't the one with the fingerprints. Fowler had decided to keep it in order for Superman to do something else for him in the future. Superman repaid Fowler's treachery by digging a tunnel under his oil deposit so that it flowed away from Fowler's land, and then told him about it. Obviously angry, Fowler reminded Superman that he still had the diamond. Superman then flew Fowler to the bank and sang an ear splitting note. It shattered the diamond in the safe deposit box (without damaging the contents of anyone else's deposit box we assume). Now really angry, Fowler held a press conference the next day and presented his evidence. Superman, in his Clark Kent identity, used his x-ray vision to warp the fragment with the fingerprints. An expert compared the two sets of prints and declared that they didn't match. This convinced Fowler that he had been mistaken all along.

Being a Bill Finger story, it is no wonder this was the best story of either issue. While his stories are certainly of their time, they seem to hold up better when read all these years later. He is an underappreciated talent of the comic book industry.

I would like to thank everyone who has listened to this podcast over these first hundred episodes. I would like to thank Taylor (who used to work at the same place I did), Chris, both Michaels, Mick, Mike of New York, Ralph of North Jersey, Barry of Chicago and Brad of Australia, not to mention the From Crisis To Crisis podcast, for being members of the Superman Fan Podcast groups on facebook. Also, I would like to thank Chris, John, Mick and the FCTC podcast again for being members of the My Pull List group on facebook.

Next week: The Death Of Superman!

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Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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