Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Episode #161: Superman Family Of Comics Cover Dated September/October 1954!

This week begins my weekly journey through the Silver Age of Superman stories, starting with the Superman Family of titles. I'm using the Showcase Presents reprint editions as my source for these early stories. I'm including the titles Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen and World's Finest Comics . I'll pick up the title Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane  when I get to the cover date of March/April 1958. As I said in the previous episode, next week I will begin my weekly trek through the Superman titles of Superman and Action Comics, with the cover date of July 1958.

For Jimmy Olsen, who goes back almost to the earliest Superman stories of the Golden Age, his Silver Age is considered to begin with the publication of his own title, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen, beginning with the September/October 1954 cover dated first issue, which was published around July 22, 1954. These stories have been published in three volumes of the repint edition Showcase Presents: Superman Family. Volumes II & III also include the early issues of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane.

The Silver Age of Worlds' Finest Comics is considered to be when Superman and Batman began to appear in the same stories together. That first occurred in the comic books in Superman #76, May/June 1952, published on March 7, 1952. Their first team up in World's Finest was in issue #71, July/August 1954, published around May 27, 1954. To learn more about the history of the Superman and Batman team, listen to The Golden Age Of Comic Books podcast episode #58, August 24, 2008, which featured the Golden Age team ups of Superman and Batman. I featured the first team up of Superman and Batman in the pages of World's Finest in episode #119, Superman And Batman: Together Again For The First Time! If you are not familiar with these two earlier Superman and Batman stories, check out these podcast episodes. These two stories have also been reprinted in World's Finest Comics Archive vol. I and Showcase Presents: World's Finest vol. I.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, Sept./Oct. 1954, published around July 22, contained 32 pages for a 10 cent cover price. Along with Superman Family vol. I, this issue was also reprinted in Millennium Edition #16: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1, which carried the April 2000 cover date. The editor was Mort Weisinger, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Ray Burnley. They were the art team for all three Jimmy Olsen stories of the issue, which were written by Otto Binder. The cover showed Jimmy putting on a disguise in front of a mirror, determined to solve the case without Superman. The Man of Steel stood by the open door with a humorous smile on his face, pointing his thumb at Jiummy. Was Superman saying, check out this kid's moxie, or watch him fall flat on his face? I'd like to think it was the former. All three stories were variations on the theme, summed up in Jimmy's word balloon, of Olsen trying to solve things without Sueprman.

The first story was The Boy Of 100 Faces! It began with an ice cream vendor pedaling past a woman and some children to pedal behind two criminals. He eavesdropped on their conversation until he caught their attention.To cover himself the ice cream vendor offered free samples. The crooks pushed the free samples in his face and pushed his cart into traffic. Superman heard tires squealing, and saved the ice cream vendor before he got run over. We discovered that the vendor was none other than Jimmy Olsen in disguise, on the trail of a story about a jewel robbery. As Superman flew off, Jimmy discovered a box the crooks dropped. Inside he found a clue that led him to get Perry White's permission to borrow the Flying Newsroom to follow up his lead. The Flying Newsroom was the Daily Planet's specially equipped helicopter which allowed reporters to cover remote stories.

After being cuationed by Clark and Lois as well as Perry, Jimmy and the Flying Newsroom's pilot, Jumbo flew to Gem Lake, where he suspected the gang was hiding. After landing near there, Jimmy disguised himself as a brush salesman. At the gang's hideout he tried to sell a new dishwashing brush. They took him up on his offer of a free demonstration, and Jimmy wound up washing their dishes. They must have had every dish and pan in the house piled in the sink. One of the gang members noticed that Jimmy was a little too interested in what the rest of the gang was doing outside. When the crook was about to take him to their boss, Jimmy used everything in his briefcase to get a head start on the gang. At the Flying Newsroom, Jumbo even got into the action in fighting the gang.

There were too many of them, and Jimmy and Jumbo were tied to posts on the dock in the water, until they could finish their business and then finish them off permanently. Jimmy was able to get his watch hand loose and activate his Superman signal watch. The gang was still on the dock, so the Man of Steel pulled the posts out of the water, collapsing the pier and dunking the crooks in the water. As Superman gathered the crooks, Jimmy picked up a fishing pole and cast the hook into the water. After tying up the crooks, Superman swan underwater and found what Jimmy was fishing for, not fish, but a bag of stolen jewels. The Man of Steel slipped the hook on the sack, and let Jimmy get the credit for finding the stolen jewels.

Jimmy revealed to Superman what it was that he had found in that box on the street, in the beginning of this story. It was a tuna sized fishing hook, too big for local fish but not for a hidden bag of stolen jewels. Jimmy had the story written by the time that Jumbo landed the Flying Newsroom on the roof of the Daily Planet building, and received the congratulations of the Planet staff for his scoop, including the tough Perry White. I've read enough Superman stories to know that when you got a compliment from Perry White, you really earned it.

The second story of the issue was the Case Of The Lumberjack Jinx. At the Meredith lumber camp, a luberjack cut down a tree, but it fell the wrong way and injured another lumberjack. Perry White called Meredith to complain that he wasn't delivering enough pulp wood to fill his order of paper stock. Meredith complained that his camp was jinxed, with employees being injured every day. He was even having trouble hiring enough workers to keep his lumber camp operating. But in the panel that showed Meredith, he didn't seem to have a worried look on his face. He seemed to have a slight smile on his face. White informed Meredith that he was sending a new worker, Jimmy Wayne. Jimmy Olsen was in White's office, and Perry informed him that he was Jimmy Wayne. White wanted Jimmy to track down the phony jinx.

At the lumber camp, Meredith put Wayne to work right away, chopping down a tree. At that moment a lumber truck was driving to the Meredith lumber mill, on a road on the mountain above Jimmy. The lines securing the logs snapped, and a log rolled down the mountain toward Jimmy. Instead of running away from the rolling log, Jimmy let it come toward it and high jumped over it. (It made an impressive panel, but not very realistic.) Jimmy climbed up the mountain to the road where the truck was stopped. Meredith had gotten to the scene of the accident. Meredith confronted rival lumber camp owner Otis Burton, who happened to be stopped as he changed a flat tire. Jimmy wondered if the meeting was more than a coincidence, and if Burton was behind the "jinx". Jimmy followed Burton's tracks to a tree stump that had some holes drilled into it. (It's unclear how Jimmy knew the footprints belonged to Burton, or that he drilled into the tree stump, is not made clear. Meredith did tell Burton that he had been around too much and to get off his land. Maybe that was a clue.) Jimmy did find a clue in some of the tree shavings.

Unknown to Jimmy, another lumberjack followed him, and dug a note out of a hole in a nearby tree. Someone signed only as The Boss ordered the man to get rid of Jimmy Wayne for snooping around too much. The lumberjack planted some dynamite inside a tree stump and lit the fuse before Jimmy approached. Jimmy was spooked by the sound, which he thought was a swarm of bees nearby. Olsen got away from the tree stump just far enough to be unharmed when it blew up. As the panicked Jimmy ran away from the explosion, he happened to run toward the fleeing lumberjack. Jimmy quickly figured that this stranger tried to blow him up.

Superman happened to fly over the area to check up on Jimmy, but was unseen. As Jimmy pursued him, the lumberjack set a fire that the Boss had ordered him to set earlier. Olsen caught up to him, and after a short fight, knocked the lumberjack out. Who knew the young reporter had what it took to handle a tough lumberjack. Jimmy loosened a pile of logs, causing them to roll into the water and cause a splash that doused the fire before it got out of control.

The Man of Steel then decided to get involved and grabbed the lumberjack by the collar. Superman made the man be more afraid of him than The Boss. After Jimmy told them the whole story, Superman asked him if Burton was behind the jinx. Jimmy said that Burton was innocent, and wanted to pick him up and take him to Meredith's office. There Jimmy accused Meredith of hiring Jimmy's attacker, named Hank, to cuase the accidents. Burton had only been on Meredith's property checking for beetle blight. Jimmy showed one of the wood shavings, which had holes in it. The blight threatened Meredith's business, but a forest fire would have been covered by insurance.

In appreciation for clearing his name, Burton promised to supply the Daily Planet with paper stock. Superman flew Jimmy back to the Daily Planet and encouraged him to take full credit for the story, reminding Olsen that he didn't help his pal the whole time.

Olsen's efforts got him the front page banner headline. White told Clark that Jimmy was showing him up, and asked if he had been loafing. Clark admitted that he hadtaken it easy, and thought to himself that Superman took it easy while Jimmy took care of himself.

The final story of the issue was The Man Of Steel's Substitute. The story began  with Jimmy taking a phone call from a woman who wanted Superman to save her treed cat. Jimmy told her that Superman was too busy, and that she should call the fire department. He looked at his list of requests for Superman's help: find lost dog, dig a well, change flat tire, mind a cranky baby, paint a house, save a treed dog.

Superman really is busy, in the Alps, digging villages out of a snow avalanche.

Back at the Daily Planet offices, Jimmy declined a man's request to have Superman open his safe. The man had forgotten the combination. He had brought the safe to the Planet in a wheelbarrow, even though the safe had wheels.

At the constuction site of a bridge outside Metropolis, there was a problem that did require Superman's assistance. A new truckload of steel girders had arrived, but the steel company had warned that a defective shipment of steel had been shipped by mistake. The construction foreman needed Superman to use his x-ray vision to check the steel for defects. The foreamn called Jimmy, who activated his Superman signal watch. But there was too much static for the signal to get through, but we don't know what the source of the static was, and never learned in the story. Many of his workers were homeless men from skid row who had been gathered by Superman and taken to the foreman, who hired them to releive his labor shortage. The men became restless and resentful of Superman, who they felt had forgotten them.

Jimmy got Perry White's permission to borrow the Flying Newsroom to help out Superman. First, Jimmy stopped by his home and went to his special Superman room. It was filled with Superman headlines, pictures and even a life size Superman figure. Either it was the ultimate expression of fan appreciation, or obsession. Jimmy spliced together some scenes of his films of the Man of Steel, and some phrases from an audio recording of Superman's voice. The last prop Jimmy gathered was a Superman suit from a costume party.

At the construction site the workers became more restless, and were about to walk off the job when the Flying Newsroom landed on a nearby cliff. Jumbo helped Jimmy unload his gear and left him to carry out his plans.

The men were stopped by Superman's shadow, which moved across the cliff above their heads. The illusion was created by a small Superman paper cutout that had been pasted on a special lens. Next, Jimmy flashed a film of Superman flying on the shadowed part of the cliff above the men. Jumbo had run a wire to the power line that fed the construction site. The sound of the rush of air from Superman's flight was created by a large fan that Jimmy had also brought. The next part of Jimmy's act was to appear as the Man of Steel himself, with the help of a dark wig, and some spliced together lines of dialogue from Superman. He apologized for being late, but he had an emergency to handle but would be back soon.

The final part of his act was to release a helium filled, life sized Superman balloon, which had been used in a parade. As "Superman" flew off the men were satisfied that he had not forgotten them, and stayed on the job. Jimmy had saved the day for Superman.

But things quickly unraveled. A girder on the bridge came loose and fell toward the men. In his own voice Jimmy warned them of the danger, and they got out of the way just in time. the workers wondered whose voice that was. The cape of his Superman costume caught on a tree branch, and the suit ripped. The workers saw Jimmy on the cliff, and realized that Superman had never been there. To confirm it, the Superman balloon deflated and fell right on top of the workers. They felt tricked and bgan to walk off the job at that moment.

They were stopped in their tracks when the bridge's arch began to collapse because of the loose girder. The crew was shocked when one of them opened his shirt to reveal his real identity of Superman. The Man of Steel steadied the arch and reinforced it with hot rivets. He then checked the new shipment of steel and found that it had no defects. The foreman asked Superman why he posed as a worker. The Man of Steel replied that Jimmy had already started his little deception, and didn't want to humiliate his Pal. Superman felt bad that it didn't work out for Jimmy. The workers expressed their appreciation to Superman for not letting them down, and they promised to see the job to the end, and continue to rebuild their lives. In a line that reminded me of George Reeves of the 1950's Superman TV Show, the Man of Steel simply replied that all they needed was a helping hand.

Jimmy returned to his home, feeling like a failure. Superman caught up to him and cheered him up. The Man of Steel appreciated the fact that his Pal went out of his way to help a friend in need.

I enjoyed all three of these Jimmy Olsen stories. They were variations of a theme, of Jimmy trying to solve a problem without Superman's help. These were very grounded stories. We didn't see the wild transformations Jimmy would undergo in later stories, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Olsen didn't look like the loveable bungler that Jack Larson portrayed to comic effect in the '50's Superman show. In all three comic book stories, Jimmy showed his cleverness and detective skills, but still had a touch of naivete' to get over his head. Superman showed just what a Pal he was, letting his friend take the credit in each story, while staying in the background. The Man of Steel was there just to make sure that Jimmy didn't get hurt. We could all use a friend like that.

The second Superman Family title with this cover date was World's Finest Comics #72, September/October 1954, published on July 29, 1954. It also contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The eidtor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was drawn by Win Mortimer. The 12 page Superman and Batman story was titled Fort Crime, written by Alvin Schwartz, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. This story has been reprinted in World's Finest Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: World's Finest vol. I.

The story began with a gang hitting an armored car with rounds with small bazookas. They rushed out of their car to rob the destroyed armored car, when Superman jumped out of the wreck and capture the crooks. At the Metropolis Police Department, Superman found no serial numbers or identification marks. Policemen couldn't even get the crooks to talk, even to save their own lives from the death penalty, for the murder of the armored car guards they killed in a similar attack last week. Superman vowed to get one of the gang to talk if they try another attack.

Two weeks later, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson witnessed a similar attack at a jewel exhibition. They changed into Batman and Robin and battle the thugs. One of them set off his bazooka as Batman punched his jaw. The round hit the water tower and dumped a rush of water on top of them. The crooks got away in the deluge, but the Dynamic Duo were left with one of the artillery pieces. Batman recognized it as similar to ones used in similar attacks in Metropolis recently.

Perry White assigned Clark Kent to interview the criminals. He was met by Batman and Robin at the prison. The Dynamic Duo had failed to get any information out of the crooks. Clark found that Lois Lane had beat him to talk to the jail cells of the armored car robbers. They opened their own cell doors and pulled guns on Clark, Lois and a prison guard. they were able to get the guard to find a car for them, and they all drove out of prison. Clark was stuck, unable to secretly change into Superman in order to save all of them.

As the car passed the Daily Planet offices, Clark used his x-ray vision to activate the teletype machine that controlled the moving sign that displayed headlines above the ground floor of the Planet building. The sign tipped off the police to a black sedan that held reporters hostage on Route 66. Batman and Robin heard the police alert in the Batmobile, and moved to intercept.

The Dynamic Duo cuaght up to the black sedan, only to be hit by an artillery round. Fortunately for Batman and Robin, the Batmobile was more heavily armoured than the previous armored cars that had been attacked. It was not damaged. But the crooks were able to get away by destroying a bridge after they crossed it. Batman was able to stop the Batmobile before he drove off the destroyed bridge. He and Robin were able to improvise a ramp to propel the Batmobile over the gap in what fans of the old 1970's TV show Dukes Of Hazzard would call the "General Lee" maneuver.

To give Batman and Robin a clue for the Dynamic Duo, Clark used his flight powers to force the back of the car down with enough force to blow both rear tires. It didn't stop the crooks for long, as they had two spare tires instead of just one. Batman and Robin were able to find the tracks from the spot where the tires were changed, and drove to an old stone fort in the country.

Clark, Lois and the guard were indeed inside the fort, which the gang had set up as a machine shop, where they manufactured their own heaavy weapons. Batman and Robin attempted to scale the fort just before the gang was about to kill their hostages. To save the Dynamic Duo from being gunned down, Clark leaned on a vertical beam, which fell on the crook. Their Batropes were cut, but the Dynamic Duo had spare lines ready. Two more crooks were at separate windows, about to cut down Batman and Robin in a crossfire.

Clark, Lois and the guard were placed against a wall, held at gunpoint by a thug. Clark used his x-ray vision to discover that there was  a hollow space behind the wall that ventilated the floor below. He then loosened two stones and squeezed them into spheres. Clark reached into the wall, and with a flick of his wrist threw the stone balls with enough force to curve down the wall, across the room below, and knock out both crooks.

Batman and Robin used their repreive to retreat back across the moat outside the fort. They found a secret entrance in a hollow tree trunk, but their presence in the secret tunnel set off an alert inside the fort. To save Batman and Robin again, Clark leaned against the wall with enough force to cause the part of the wall behind him to fall back. Clark then used his hands to tunnel through the fort and intercept Batman and Robin before they walked into a trap. He then asked Batman for a piece of paper and some ink. Then Batman and Robin were able to stage their own attack on the gang, and save Lois and the guard.

I noticed that the sleeves of Clark's shirt and jacket were not dirty or torn. Of course, Lois suspected that Clark had found the secret passage because he was really Superman, but Batman showed Lois an old map of the fort's secret passages. Once again, Clark's secret was safe, and he untied Lois, after he filed his story with the Daily Planet. Of course, this was a fake map that Clark had drawn and artificially aged.

In appreciation, Superman later reassembled one of the gun making machines in the Batcave as Batman's newest trophies. Later, in the Daily Planet offices, Perry White asked Superman why, if he had sent the message to the headline sign by cutting into the outside line, he didn't rescue Clark and Lois himself. Superman simply replied that he was very busy at the moment. Perry commented that it was lucky for Clark and Lois that Batman and Robin were able to rescue them.

This story reminded me of some of the old George Reeves Superman episodes form the 1950's, when Calrk was unable to change to Superman without revealing his secret identity. This was a fun story to watch Clark use his super powers in secret. Of course, no Silver Age story was complete without an outlandish display of Superman's powers. The perfect example in this issue was when Clark broke two pieces of the stone wall, and threw them down the wal, and curved them with exact aim to knock out the gunmen. That was a wicked curve ball he threw. And who knew that Superman's x-ray vision could operate electronic equipment? I wonder if there is a practical application for that in the real world?

There were two more stories in this issue of World's Finest Comics. Green Arrow starred in the second, six page story, The Flying Archers, written by France E. Herron and drawn by George Papp. The historial adventure hero Tomahawk, who lived in post-Revolutionary War wilderness of Tennessee and Kentucky, starred in the issue's final six page story, The Talons Of Terror, also written by France E. Herron, with art by Nick Cardy.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, they published 28 other titles which carried the September or September/October 1954 cover date. For a complete list of those titles listen to the audio version of this episode, or look it up at the website Mike's Amazing World Of DC Comics.

Next Episode: Superman Comics Cover Dated July 1958: Superman #122 & Action Comics #242!

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