Thursday, May 13, 2010

Episode #126: ACTION COMICS #125 & SUPERMAN #125!

This episode continues our quarterly look at Action Comics and Superman, this time with issue #125 of both titles.

Action Comics #125, October 1948, was published around August 18, 1948. It contained 48 pages and sold for a dime. Mort Weisinger was the editor. The cover was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. It showed Superman throwing some gunmen against the wall of a police station, where they hung by their jacket collars on a coat rack. There is no reprint information available for this issue.

Action was still an anthology title at this time, and the first story, featuring Superman, was The Modern Nostradamus. The only credit information available on this story was for the artist, who was Al Plastino. It began with an elderly bearded man, wearing a toga, entered the Daily Planet offices. He introduced himself as the modern Nostradamus and said that he had tomorrow's headline. Perry and Lois talked about how the original Nostradamus had predicted many historical events, such as the death of King Henry II, Englands defeat of the Spanish Armada and the manner of his own death.

The next day the top headline of the Daily Planet predicted that a meteor would hit the planet. At the Daily Planet offices Lois saw a meteor falling from the sky. Clark secretly changed into Superman and stopped the meteor from crashing into the Daily Planet building. Perry then sent Clark and Lois to talk to the new Nostradamus to find out what his next prediction was. They found him outside Metropolis, living in a cave. He predcicted that night would turn into day. That evening a blinding light flashed across the sky. Fires then broke out in Fountain Square. (In the next few panels the sky would be colored blue, making the scene appear to be in daylight.) Clark changed into Superman to extinguish the fires, but, unknown to him, a man noticed that Superman flew from the area that Clark Kent had been just moments before. He ran to tell his boss, hoping that the news would force the Man of Steel to leave them alone. He didn't sound like he was up to any good.

Superman used his x-ray vision to discover that the pipes which supplied the fountains in the square came from the reservoir. He flew into the reservoir and swam around fast enough to increase the water pressure enough to force the water out of the fountains with enough pressure to extinguish the flames. (There was no mention about what the increased water pressure did in the rest of the city. But, such is the case for golden age stories, or silver age for that matter.)

The stranger ran into a laboratory outside Metropolis, which served as the hideout for none other than Lex Luthor. We discovered that Luthor was behind the meteor and the night light, which was actually a phosphorous bomb. His henchman told Luthor what he saw, and his suspicions about Clark Kent being Superman. You are left to wonder if the modern Nostradamus was working for Luthor or not.

Nostradamus' next prediction, which he personally told to Lois Lane, was that Metropolis would be hit by an earthquake. Superman then flew to the Daily Planet offices and told both Lois and Nostradamus that he had found traces of phosphoric acid at the fires, and that an examination of the paper that the predicitons were written on revealed that the paper was machine made, and thus a fake. But Superman did not seem to indicate that Nostradamus was involved with setting the fires.

Superman flew over Metropolis and folowed a car which driven by Luthor and his gang. Superman used his super hearing to discover that Luthor was behind both the meteor and the fires. So the Man of Steel burrowed underground and caused an earthquake himself. He caused the earth to crack open under Luthor's car, and then saved the vehicle. Superman then yelled across Metropolis that there wasn't going to be an earthquake, and for everyone to go home, then repaired the damage. Luthor told Superman that he knew that he was really Clark Kent.

After Superman put down Luthor's car in front of the Daily Planet building, he informed Lois Lane about Luthor's plot and his claims, and then went inside the Planet offices to get Clark Kent. When Clark emerged fom the building, unknown to the people around him, he emitted a supersonic whistle, beyond human hearing, and caused a nearby tower to collapse. ( I felt sorry for all the dogs in Metropolis at that moment.) As everyone watched the tower falling, he changed to Superman at super speed and repaired the tower. Before everyone turned around he again flew at super speed and changed back into Clark Kent, so that noone suspected that he could possibly be Superman. Luthor and his gang were taken to prison, but Lex's henchman could not be convinced that Clark Kent wasn't Superman. but noone else would believe him.

This story was published in an era when Superman's powers were jumping off the charts, as creators strived to make more interesting stories and be original. They often succeeded, but just as often went over the top, as in this story.

Congo Bill: Man Against Manhunter was drawn by Edwin J. Smalle, Jr. A man borrowed a trained leopard to attempt to murder Congo Bill, in order to get at some buried gold that belonged to the local government. Congo Bill mortally wounded the leopard, which turned on its handler. Congo Bill turned the injured man in to the authorities.

Zatara: The Phony Pitchman was pencilled by William F. White. The magician used his magic powers to teach some crooked street vendors a lesson.

Vigilante: The Reluctant Annie Oakley was pencilled by Jerry Robinson and inked by Mort Meskin. A gang watched a modern Annie Oakley perform on television, then kidnapped her from the television studio in order to force her to help them spring one of their gang members from jail. She does, but Vigilante saves her from being murdered by the gang afterward. Together they use their sharpshooting skills to capture the whole gang, without shooting at them.

Superman #125, November 1958, was published around September 18, 1958. It contained 32 pages and sold for a dime. Mort Weisinger was also the editor for this issue. The cover was drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, and illustrated the issue's third story, Superman's New Power. All three stories in this issue were reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

The first story of the issue was Lois Lane's Super Dream, written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. Lois was injured when she fell from a secend story ledge onto the sidewalk. Superman rescued her and took her to the hospital. While she was unconscious, she had a dream where she gained Superman's powers after he gave her a transfusion of his own blood. This story was covered back in episode #83, Lois Lane's Super Dreams:

The second story was Clark Kent's College Days, written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Al Plastino. Along with the reprint editions cited earlier for this issue, this story was also reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (1987). The story began with Clark, at his Daily Planet office, receiving an invitation to his college reunion. He then reminisced about his college days.

His flashback began with his high school graduation, where his principal gave Clark his high scool diploma. He described Clark as the shyest boy in class, and hoped that college made more of a man out of him. You can't get more of a backhanded compliment than that. Clark attended Metropolis University, where he suffered the freshman hazing common to the time. He still managed to operate as Superboy while protecting his secret identity.

During his sophmore year he took a science class taught by Professor Maxwell. During class one day, the Professor demonstrated a steam powered robot. Clark noticed a crack beginning to form in its chest and used his heat vision to seal it. Prof. Maxwell noticed it, and suspected one of his students of being Superboy. He then devised a series of tests to trap the Boy of Steel.

In class the next day Prof. Maxwell demonstrated a lie detector test by testing it on his students. He asked each one if he or she was Superboy. He was able to test every student before time ran out, except for Clark Kent. So he began to suspect Clark of secretly being Superboy.

On the following day, Maxwell took the class on a field trip to a replica of the Leaning Tower of Piza. He planned on reenacting Galileo's experiment of dropping two objects of different weight, proving that the force of gravity was equal on both objects. He told Clark that a crank called to say that he had replaced one cannonball with an explosive charge. That did not dissuade the Professor from going ahead with the experiment. Clark secretly changed into Superboy and burrowed underground to where the balls would hit the ground. He did not break the surface, so that the balls broke the surface and disappeared underground.Superman then filled in the hole and changed back inot Clark. That did not change Maxwell's suspicions.

That Saturday, Clark served as a member of the male cheerleading squad, which was as athletic as he got. During one cheer, Clark was so distracted by the Professor's suspicions that he jumped too high for a normal human. To cover himself he grabbed some nearby floating balloons at super speed. Professor Maxwell watched the whole thing with binoculars, but Clark still was still able to keep him in doubt about his secret.

For the next class, Maxwell took his science students to a cavern. He isolated Clark from the rest of the class and exposed him to a sample of kryptonite. To cover himself, Clark burrowed his fingers into the cavern wall, releasing some natural gas. The fumes quickly knocked everyone unconscious, and Superboy removed them form the cavern before they could be harmed by the fumes. He then loaded everyone on the bus and flew it back to campus. He snuck back onboard at super speed and emerged from the back of the bus. Professor Maxwell asked Clark to take a lie detector test, to which he surprisingly agreed. Maxwell asked Clark if he was Superboy, and Clark answered no. To the Professor's surprise, Clark passed the lie detector test. That was because Clark had begun to think of himself as Superman, not Superboy.

Clark then ended his reminisces by looking at his yearbook, which Professor Maxwell had signed Best wishes to the one boy I am convinced is not Superboy.

The final story of the issue was Superman's New Power, written by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. It began with Lois telling Clark that she felt the Daily Planet building swaying. As Superman he burrowed deep underground to discover that the magma under Metropolis was wearing down the rock under the city. After he repaired the rock under the city, Superman burrowed toward the surface. He discovered a miniature alien rocket that had been buried for an unknown amount of time. It exploded, bombarding Superman with shrapnel, but he was unharmed, or so he thought.

Back at Metropolis, the Man of Steel flew after a gang, who were fleeing in a car after a robbery. The car hit Superman, bouncing him over the vehicle. Strange lights shot out of Superman's fingertips, and the gang surrendered for some unknown reason.

When a cannon had jammed, Superman used his new power once again. Light shot out of his fingertips and a minature replica of himself appeared and flew into the cannon barrel, setting off the shell before it could damage the cannon.

In jail, the robbers told how they were stopped by the same miniature Superman, who pulled them form their car and hit them until they asked the original Superman to take them to jail.

Superman discovered that his mini-me replica had all of his powers, and he only had the ability to cause it to appear. He became very jealous of his mini-me duplicate.

When an iceberg threatened Metropolis harbor. Superman had his mini-duplicate melt it with his heat vision. Superman wished he had his old powers back, and felt quite useless.

In other emergencies, the mini-Superman destroyed a guided missle that threatened the Eiffel Tower, extinguished a fire on board a ship and unraveled a robber's sweater and tied him around a lamp post until he could be arrested by the police.

When a meteor shower, including a kryptonite metoer, threatened Metropolis, Superman sent his mini-me to destroy them. He didn't really care if his mini-dulplicate was destroyed by the kryptonite meteor. (Of course that would not necessarily mean that his powers would return.) The duplicate used the other meteors to deflect the kryptonite away from Metropolis, before destroying them. The kryptonite landed outside Metropolis, where it was immediately found by a gang. They happened to have a catapult, and shot the kryptonite at Superman. The mini-me Superman wasn't done yet. It pushed the kryptonite away form the Man of Steel, before being destroyed by the radiation. Superman's powers returned, and he wondered if his mini-me duplicate acted on his own, or merely obeyed Superman's wishes. And maybe feeling a little badly about being jealous over his mini-duplicate.

After reading this last story I couldn't help but think how convenient it was for a gang to be in just the right place to find the kryptonite, much less have a catapult. But, that's silver age storytelling. It was not uncommon for a story to pull some convenient plot device out of thin air to move the story along, or conclude it. These stories were definitely written for a young audience. What a contrast to modern comic book storytelling. Still, it was fun to look back.To me, the best story of both issues was Clark Kent's College Days. Even in that one, Clark wasn't afraid to expose his class to dangerous gas to knock them out in order to protect his secret identity, even though he rescued them before they could be harmed. He was a nice guy, but didn't play around with his secret identity.

Next episode: Happy Birthday, Win Mortimer!

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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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