Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Episode #162: Superman Comics Cover Dated July 1958: Superman #122 & Action Comics #242!

This week we begin our bi-weekly look at the Silver Age Superman titles of Superman and Action Comics, beginning with the cover dated issues of July, 1958. The reasons I'm beginning with the Superman titles with this cover date, and not the July/August 1954 cover dated issues, which were published along Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #1 and World's Finest Comics #72, are given in Episode #160, The Search For The Silver Age Superman. Next week I will return to the Superman Family of titles Jimmy Olsen and World's Finest, and in two weeks I will look at the August 1958 Superman titles of Superman and Action Comics, and continue this pattern through Superman editor Mort Weisinger's retirement in 1970.

Superman #122, July 1958, was published around May 1, 1958. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor, as always in this era, was Mort Weisinger. The cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kay, illustrating the third story of the issue, The Super Sergeant. All three stories in this issue were written by Otto Binder, and have been reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives, vol. I and Showcase Presents: Superman, vol. I.

The eight page story, The Secret Of The Space Souvenirs, drawn by Al Plastino, was first in the issue. It began with Clark Kent, at his Daily Planet office, checking Metropolis with his telescopic vision. Since all was quiet, he planned to finish filing his stories for the day. Suddenly he became dizzy, changed into Superman, and had a sudden compulsion to fly into outer space. He followed the urge all the way to Saturn's rings, where he found a musical mineral. The Man of Steel returned to Metropolis and presented it to the Metropolis Museum. Curators happened to be filling a time capsule with artifacts from 1958, to be opened in the 50th Century. Superman insisted that the musical rock be included in the time capsule, but the curators didn't know if they had enough room in their time capsule for another object. The Man of Steel then snapped out of his trance, and did not remember getting the space rock, or why he was at the Metropolis museum.

Later, during a lunch appointment with Lois Lane, the same dizziness came over Superman again. He told her he was flying to the planet Uranus. There, he found the fossil of an ancient 6-legged horse that had lived on the planet. Superman then brought it back to the museum as well.

The next day, another dizzy spell attacked Superman during an appearance at an orphanage. He left the disappointed orphans this time to fly to Pluto. The Man of Steel brought back giant snowflakes, but before dropping them off at the museum, he took them to the orphanage. Superman entertained the children by throwing them like boomerangs. For whatever reason, the snowflakes stayed frozen, even at the warmer temperatures of Earth. (Maybe they were composed of some chemical that stayed frozen at higher temperatures.This explanation works just as well as anything else in the Silver Age.) Superman was at a loss to explain his strange actions.

The next day he flew deep into Earth's oceans and retrieved a gold flying saucer from the ancient ruins of Atlantis. At the museum, Lois noticed a pattern to Superman's odd trophies, and gave him the prediction that he would next visit Saturn's moon Rhea. Sure enough, the Man of Steel did fly there, and brought back one of the knotted trees from the Saturnian moon. Lois next predicted that Superman would go to Mars, followed by Ariel, one of the moons of the planet Uranus.

From Mars, Superman retrieved a statue of an ancient Martian, who looked nothing like J-onn J-onzz, the Martian Manhunter, who first appeared in DC Comics in 1955. Maybe it was a different race of Martians from the planet's ancient history. Later, Superman was hit by another compulsion while trying to capture an escaped tiger at a zoo. As he flew into space, the Man of Steel knocked a small meteor with exact aim. The rock hit Earth just in front of the tiger, so it fell into the crater, and animal handlers could safely retreive the animal. Superman brought back a rainbow colored flower from the moon Ariel.

Lois then informed the Man of Steel that he would make one more trip, but she would keep the location secret for a story she was writing for the Daily Planet. Ever the reporter, she always put the story first. His final trip was to the planet Neptune, where he brought back a head the grateful citizens of Neptune carved after he helped them in the past.

After Superman returned to the Metropolis museum, Lois finally revealed that the first letters from the names of the heavenly bodies that he had flown to spelled his own name. But she had no clue, and neither did the Man of Steel, about the reasons why. That night, as Clark slept, he learned the true reason for his strange compulsions. In a dream, a citizen from the 50th Century told Clark/Superman that the space trophies that he had found were in the time capsule they would open that day at their museum. They had sent the compulsions back through time, so that the Man of Steel would collect the artifacts, so that they could honor him in their era.

The next day, Clark and Lois watched the time capsule, which would be opened in 30 centuries, being buried at the museum. Lois commented that she felt that Superman staged the phony compulsions to impress the 50th Century because he was conceited. Clark thought to himself that he just couldn't win. With Lois, sometimes you can't.

This was a common Silver Age Superman story, one that did not have a villain, but some gimmick that had the Man of Steel doing something unusual. It was a typical light hearted story involving the Man of Steel.

One thing I have to wonder is how the Metropolis museum fit all of Superman's trophies into the time capsule, along with their own artifacts? Also, what a strange way for the 50th Century to honor who they considered as the greatest hero: brainwashing him to go on a scavenger hunt, and let him think he was going out of his mind during this time. And Superman's detective skills were lacking in this story, if he needed Lois to figure out the pattern for him. In other Silver Age stories he out thinks the villains in fantastic ways.

I give this story 3 Superman Shields out of 5.

Superman In The White House was the middle eight page story of the issue. It was drawn by Al Plastino. I featured this story back in Episode #47: Superman For President! For the Daily Planet's Patriots' Day edition, Perry White assigned Clark to write a story about President Washington, and Lois to write a story about President Lincoln. When Jimmy asked Perry which president he should write about, Perry told him to pick one and let him know after lunch. As he walked out the door, he told Jimmy to straighten Superman's picture on the wall.

While he straightened the picture, Jimmy thought about what a great president Superman would make, and then decided that it would be the subject of his article. When Jimmy turned around, Superman's picture fell off the wall and hit him on the head and knocked Jimmy out. As he laid on the floor, Jimmy dreamed about Superman being elected President.

In his dream, Superman won the presidential election by the largest plurality in history. Jimmy witnessed Superman taking the oath of office, followed by Clark Kent as the Man of Steel's Vice-President. One of his first Presidential acts was to hire Jimmy as his Press Secretary. Jimmy watched Superman sign official documents at super speed. Then the Man of Steel went for a walk, leaving his Secret Service detail behind. The dumbest assassins in the world failed to kill Superman with knives, machine guns or bombs.

With no need to protect an invulnerable President, the Secret Service decided to resign. Jimmy reminded them that Superman was still vulnerable to kryptonite, so they searched suspicious characters for the lethal mineral at every public appearance President Superman made.

Clark Kent found the unconscious Jimmy Olsen on the floor, and gently placed him in a chair. Jimmy mumbled in his sleep, so Clark was able to catch on that Jimmy was dreaming about Superman as President. Clark thought to himself that it was impossible for the Man of Steel to be President of the United States.

In Jimmy's dream, Superman saved government costs by carrying a plane that contained his Presidential staff to the site of a U. N. Conference he needed to attend. Later, Superman shook every hand in a crowd at the White House at super speed. At another public appearance, the Man of Steel threw the first pitch on Opening Day of the baseball season. The only difference was that President Superman threw the ball around the world, to the pitching mound of a baseball stadium in Japan for their Opening Day.

To solve the problem of the nation's $387 million debt, Superman found enough buried treasure to wipe out the debt. He also christened the new destroyer, USS Superman. When the destroyer became grounded, the Man of Steel pushed it into open water. Superman's face was later put on a stamp, as well as the $100.00 bill.

Jimmy's dream ended as he put Superman's Presidential portrait on the wall, with past Presidents.Then he saluted the picture as Clark finally woke him up. Jimmy felt alright, and was about to return to his desk and write his story about why Superman would make a great President. Clark reminded Jimmy that Superman could never be President of the United States because he was born on another planet, Krypton. Kent then looked at the reader and thought that Clark could, but not that he would think to.

After reading this story for this episode, I researched Patriots' Day. It is a civic holiday celebrated in Massachusetts and Maine on the third Monday in April, honoring the first Revolutionary War battles of Concord and Lexington.

Dream stories like these almost qualify as "imaginary stories", which were common in the Silver Age. It was fun to read how a Silver Age President Superman would use his powers. As our government wrestles with the current debt problem, it would be nice if it could have been solved as simply as Superman did.

I give this story 3 Superman Shields out of 5.

The final story of the issue was the eight page, The Super Sergeant, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. I first featured this story back in Episode #48: Superman In The Army! On an Army base, Private Jones woke up and floated up to hit his head on the ceiling. He then flew to the showers ahead of the other guys in the barracks, and stood under scalding hot water without burning himself. At the mess hall, he then warmed up his cold oatmeal with his "x-ray" vision (as Superman's heat vision was called at the time). After breakfast, Private Jones bent a gun barrel with his bare hands.

Superman eavesdropped on Jones, and had an idea how the soldier woke up with super powers. The Man of Steel had been testing a helmet radio, which was designed to broadcast a radio signal within a 1,000 mile range. A bolt of lightning hit Superman, and the helmet broadcast an electrical pattern that hit Pvt. Jones without electrocuting him.

During his garbage duty, Pvt. Jones threw the garbage can into the air, aiming for the garbage dump far away. Jones failed to notice Jimmy Olsen piloting the Daily Planet's Flying Newsroom helicopter, which was in the path of the flying trashcan. Fortunately for Jimmy, Superman was nearby and lifted the Flying Newsroom out of the path of the can's trajectory.

After Jimmy landed, Superman took him to see Private Jones, who lifted a tank with his bare hands so a mechanic could work on it. Jimmy was about to expose Jones with a piece of kryptonite that was in a lead box, which Jimmy just happened to be carrying. Superman stopped Jimmy, and took the lead box to a lake, where he threw it in. The Man of Steel told Jimmy that he didn't want Jones to lose his superpowers yet, but wouldn't give his reasons why. After Jimmy left, Superman followed two civilians on the base, whom he knew to be spies. Why Superman didn't report them to base security, I don't know why.

Later, Private Jones stopped an Army truck and jeep from crashing into each other. Superman watched Jones prevent the accident, then flew back to Metropolis to finish his reporter duties as Clark Kent. He got a surprise from Perry White, who assigned Kent to cover the super powered Private Jones, as Private Kent for the duration of the assignment.

At the Army base, Private Kent was introduced to Jones, and had to fake pain at Jones' grip. Then, as a publicity stunt, Jones and Kent were assigned to K. P. Clark had to pretend that he could only peel potatoes at normal human speed, while Jones peeled them at super speed. Then Private Jones used his super breath to sweep the barracks. Later, Jones was promoted to Sergeant.

Clark secretly used his telescopic vision and super hearing to keep tabs on the two spies, who were observing the super soldier. Sgt. Jones tested his invulnerability as the target of a bazooka round, and was, of course, unhurt. Clark changed into Superman at super speed to catch some shrapnel that was heading for an ammo storage building.

During war games, Sgt. Jones used a bulldozer scoop to dig a foxhole for his entire regiment. Superman dove into the hole at super speed to plug the bottom of the hole, which was leaking molten lava. Jones then wrapped a chain around "enemy" tanks, pulling them as his prisoners. The chain broke, and Superman had to save one tank from falling into a ditch.

Superman then spied on the spies, who thought that Sgt. Jones was only Superman in disguise. To prove them wrong, Superman engaged Sgt. Jones in super war games, firing artillery shells at each other. This scared off the spies, and Superman secretly observed them paddling into the ocean toward their foreign submarine, where they sent a message to their unnamed government. They reported that Superman had the ability to transfer his super powers and create a super Army, and to cancel their attack plans on America.

That evening, Superman fished the box of kryptonite out of the lake, and exposed Sgt. Jones to it, so that the next day he would no longer have super powers.

The FBI had been in on the case, as Superman flew to FBI headquarters to give a final report on the operation, which was a success, planting misinformation to a foreign enemy.

As Clark left the Army base to return to the Daily Planet and file his report, he walked by Sgt. Jones, who had to do K. P. the old fashioned way. Clark, nor Superman, apparently never told Jones how he had gotten super powers and then lost them. Besides, why was a sergeant doing K. P.?

This was the only story in the issue with anything close to a villain, the foreign spies. Other than them, there were no real bad guys in the story. It was mostly a humorous story about a super powered Private. My only real criticism of the story was when Jones dug the foxhole and lava began to seep into the hole. I think that to dig a hole deep enough to find lava would make it unsafe and too deep to use as a foxhole. Sometimes Silver Age comic book stories could go just a little too far in wild and fantastic details in the story. This was one of them. Otherwise it was another humorous Silver Age Superman story, which I would give 3 Superman Shields out of 5.

The entire issue had a common thread, typical of Silver Age Superman stories. They were just as likely to be about unusual things that happened to Superman and his friends as they were to be about the next villain to challenge the Man of Steel. The first story had future people mind control Superman to gather artifacts from around the solar system for a time capsule, and the second story showed Superman using his super powers in a Presidential way.

Action Comics #242, July 1954, was published on May 29, 1958. It contained 32 pages for 10 cents. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The Superman story of the issue was The Super Duel In Space, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino. This story has been reprinted in Superman In the Fifties, Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. I, Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I, Superman: The Bottle City Of Kandor and Superman Vs. Brainiac.

The story began with the launch of the U. S. Army rocket Columbus, the first experimental rocket with humans aboard. Among the crew were reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. The launch was successful, and all systems go, as NASA would later say, when Columbus was attacked by a strange flying saucer. Clark secretly used his x-ray vision to learn the identity of their attacker. With his super hearing, Clark heard the alien call himself Brainiac, and his alien pet monkey's name was Koko. (I guess if you had to travel along for a long time in outer space, you'd talk to yourself to in order to have an intelligent conversation.)

Clark put on a spacesuit and rocket pack, and left Columbus through an airlock. Lois thought he was afraid and was going to fly back to Earth with the rocket pack. Once out of view of the rocket, Clark stowed the spacesuit on an asteroid, and changed into Superman. He then attacked the rocket, but bounced off the ship's invisible shield. (As Legion member Brainiac 5 would show, Brainiacs know all about invisible shields.) Superman backtracked and pushed Columbus out of the way just in time as Brainiac fired another energy weapon at the rocket. But then Brainiac ignored the rocket and shifted his focus to Earth.

The first Earth city that caught Brainiac's attention was Paris, France, which was exposed to a strange energy beam and miniaturized, then materialized in a bottle aboard Brainiac's ship. The green skinned alien revealed the purpose of this attack on Earth, to repopulate the dead planet Brainiac came from. A plague had wiped out the population, and Brainiac planned to rule his new world once again. Superman was stuck pushing the Columbus back to Earth, so he could only watch helplessly as Brainiac miniaturized other Earth cities. Athens, Greece and Rome, Italy soon became part of Brainiac's collection.

Brainiac didn't bring out his magnifying glass and bright light to roast his miniature cities like ant farms, but he did use a pair of tweezers to cut the George Washington Bridge in New York City, then pluck the Eiffel Tower out of Paris to examine it under a magnifying glass.

After filling his quota of cities, Brainiac flew to a planetoid to relax while his spaceship's batteries recharged. Superman saw his opportunity to defeat Brainiac. The Man of Steel discovered that he was unable to penetrate even Brainiac's personal force field. After a short battle, where Superman bombarded Brainiac with larger and larger pieces of the planetoid to no avail, the Man of Steel gave up and flew away. Lois Lane watched the battle from the window of the Columbus, and was shocked to see Superman defeated and give up so easily.

The Columbus finally landed safely on Earth, and Lois rushed to the Daily Planet to file her report, where she was met by Clark Kent. No sooner were the pair inside the front doors of the building, when Metropolis was hit by a strange light. It was also shrunk and placed in a containment bottle on Brainiac's ship.

Clark changed into Superman, and flew out of the bottle to attack Brainiac, even though he was shrunken to a very tiny size. It turned out that this was all part of the Man of Steel's plans, as the only way he could figure out to get inside Brainiac's ship. Superman found the alien's Hyper Force machine, as the reducing ray was called, but needed to study it more before attempting to restore Earth's cities to normal size. Brainiac thought the Man of Steel was a fly, and tried to swat it. Who knew that even aliens from other planets had fly swatters? Superman sought refuge in one bottle that Brainiac had earlier removed it's cap.

The Man of Steel was shocked to recognize Kryptonian architecture. He had stumbled upon a surviving city of his destroyed homeworld of Krypton! Superman got another surprise when the city's heavier than Earth gravity got a hold of him, and he fell very un-superhero like onto the ground. The first person Superman searched for was a Kryptonian scientist. He happened to find Professor Kimda, who also had been a college roommate of Jor-El, Superman's father. Kimda informed Superman that this was the city of Kandor.

Superman gave a brief summary of how he came to Earth from Krypton to Kimda. Kimda had used a telescope to study Brainiac's Hyper Force machine. He then gave Superman a tour of  Kandor, showing him an assembly line of rockets they used to travel around the city, and even the city zoo. Superman saw a metal eating mole that was kept in a glass cage so it could not escape (it would eat its way out of a metal cage). Robots cultivated and harvested Kandor's food crops, and a small artificial sun foew over the city on a track, simulating day and night.

After the tour, Kimda saw through his telescope that Brainiac and his pet Koko had gone into suspended animation in preparation for the long interstellar journey back to his barren world. Superman quickly devised a plan of action. He took Kimda's chart on Brainiac's machine, and asked for Kandor's most powerful rocket, and a certain animal form the city zoo.

A tiny rocket impacted its needle nose into the cap over the city's bottle. Then he pushed the metal eating mole to the cap. The mole lived up to its name and chewed a hole big enough for Superman to escape. The mole was able to climb out as well, and I assume continue to graze.

His tiny form was no hindrance to setting Brainiac's Hyper Force machine to the correct format to begin restoring Earth's cities to their proper size and place. Superman used his head, literally, to press the activation button, which restored Metropolis first. The Man of Steel continued his work, until only the bottle city of Kandor and himself were left to be restored. There was only one problem. There was only enough energy for one more enlargement. Superman was left with one choice, sacrifice himself, or leave Kandor in its miniature prison.

The decision was made for him, when another tiny rocket impacted on the activation button, enlarging Superman to normal size. The people of Kandor had decided that Earth should not be deprived of its greatest hero. Superman took the bottle city of Kandor from Brainiac's now empty ship, and placed it for safe keeping in his Fortress of Solitude. In the panel, it appeared that Superman kept it in a small cave like shelf outside in the Arctic cold. But don't worry folks, he would soon find a warm and cozy place for it inside his Fortress very soon.

This was one of those milestone issues for Superman. We got not one, but two staple of the Silver Age for the Man of Steel: Brainiac, who would join Lex Luthor as Superman's two greatest archenemies, and the bottle city of Kandor, which would be a part of Superman lore for 30 years. Kandor would finally be restored in Superman #338, August 1979, published on May 21, 1979.

As much as I liked this story, I did have a few minor quibbles about it.  How did Superman survive his fall into the bottle city of Kandor, unless his invulnerability was the last power to go, lucky for the Man of Steel. There were two big coincidences in a row. Superman flew into one opened bottle that just happened to be Kandor, and then the first Kryptonian he met was none other than the old college roommate of his father Jor-El, Prof. Kimda. How did Superman, or his rocket, survive the impact into the cap over the city's bottle. And how was Superman able to push the mole vertically up the rocket to reach the cap. The animal must have some strong claws, and maybe Superman's powers were returning the farther he got from the city.  Was that the same reason Kimda survived crashing into the on button of Brainiac's machine? Works for me. One final question I had was: why didn't Superman wait until Brainiac's ship batteries recharged, then restore Kandor to its normal size, as Brainiac did earlier in the story. It's a good question, but then we probably wouldn't have 30 years of Kandor stories to enjoy.

These minor criticisms aside, this was a great Silver Age Superman story. At the beginning of the story we expect a battle with a new villain, but the discovery of a surviving Kryptonian city was totally unexpected. Superman didn't have to feel alone any more, and his family would get even bigger, as we'll see. But that;s for a future episode. I would rate this story 5 out of 5 Superman Shields.

There were two more stories in this issue of Action Comics. The first one featured Tommy Tomorrow in the six page story, The Traffic Cop Of 2058 A. D., written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney. The issue's final story was the six page feature with Congo Bill, Safari From Space, written by Jack Miller and drawn by Howard Sherman.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 32 titles were published with the July or July/August 1958 cover.

Next Episode: The Superman Family Of Titles With The Cover Date Of November/December 1954: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #2 and World's Finest Comics #73!

In two weeks: We'll take a break from looking at the Superman titles of Superman and Action Comics to look at the book: Superman: From Serial To Cereal!

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