Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Episode #163: Superman Family Of Comics Cover Dated November/December 1954!

The Superman family of titles that carried the November/December 1954 cover date were Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #2 and World's Finest Comics #73.

Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #2, November/December 1954, was published around September 21, 1954. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of 10 cents. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan. There was no information about the identity of the inker. The cover featured the first story of the issue, The Flying Jimmy Olsen. All three stories in this issue were written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Ray Burnley. This issue was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman Family vol. I

The eight page story, The Flying Olsen, began at the Daily Planet offices. Superman gave his pal Jimmy Olsen  a new memento from the Man of Steel's latest case, a gun from one of the mobsters Superman had captured and taken to jail. The Man of Steel had bent the barrel so that it pointed backwards. Jimmy was appreciative as always. As Superman later changed into his Clark Kent clothes in a storage closet, he thought about how Jimmy always got a kick out of  such souvenirs. He then typed up the story about Superman's latest case. Jimmy showed his new memento to Clark, and mentioned how close he and Superman was. As if Clark Kent hadn't heard it before, not to mention that he was closer to Sueperman than even Jimmy was.

That evening Jimmy added his new addition to his Superman collection. He then noticed a tag, which was tied to a bottle buried in a box of sand. On the box was written, "Sand of another world brought back by Superman." The tag had a translation of the bottle's alien lettering, courtesy of Superman, which read, "He who drinks will gain great powers for one day." Despite the fact that the liquid came form another world, Jimmy drank it. Down the hatch. The only effect the potion had on Jimmy was to make him fall asleep.

But in the next moment, Jimmy was awaken when his head hit the ceiling when he floated out of his chair. Jimmy tested the anti-gravity effect of the alien elixir by flying out of his window. He noticed two boys who were standing next to a sign advertising a circus in town. They were disappointed by the "Closed Indefinitely" notice that had been pasted onto the sign.

Jimmy approached Mr. Danning, the circus manager, and made him an offer. After finding a costume among circus props, Jimmy demonstrated his prowess. He mad a 20 foot leap into the air, followed by a dozen somersaults. Jimmy billed himself as Daredevil Olsen, and after an impromptu parade through town, made his debut at that evening's circus performance. He jumped from the floor the the trapeze, 100 feet above the ground. He missed the other trapeze bar and seemed to fall to his doom, before flying over the crowd much as Dumbo did in the Disney movie. Next he did a high dive into a pile of sawdust. Jimmy brushed off Superman, who had appeared, in order to save his Pal from breaking his neck or worse. Daredevil Olsen made a soft landing on his tip toes in the sawdust.

After Jimmy told Superman how he had gained his powers, the Man of Steel joined Clark Kent and Lois Lane to watch the rest of Jimmy's performance. Several captions asked the readers if they could figure out how Superman and Clark could appear together. (It's not like it never happened before. Bruce Wayne, President Kennedy and Superman robots have made it possible in a number of Superman stories, some of which we have yet to come to. So I won't spoil any more story points.)

Jimmy's next act was in the big cat cage, full of lions and tigers. This part of the act was interrupted by gunfire, as thieves robbed the Danning Circus box office. Jimmy flew into action with a sword, and used it to deflect their bullets. Superman joined in the action, and the crooks were quickly defeated. Clark Kent was hit by one of the ricochet bullets, and Superman quickly flew him to the hospital.

Daredevil Olsen's next act was to be chained to heavy weights in a tank of water. As the circus Master of Ceremonies held a ringing alarm clock, Jimmy realized he was in trouble because he couldn't move. It dawned on him that he had lost his powers, probably because a day on that alien planet was shorter than an Earth day.

Jimmy was awoken by Superman, who poured a pitcher of water on his head. Superman's Pal had slept late, and phone calls from the Daily Planet did not wake him up. Superman had flown there to check on Jimmy. He then read Superman's note on the back of the bottle's tag, "This is merely a chemical of that world, producing heavy sleep and wild dreams! (signed) Superman."

So Jimmy told the Man of Steel about his dream, and then put the empty bottle back in its box. In a thought balloon meant for the reader, Superman thought that Clark and Superman being together would be impossible, a clue that it was a dream. And with a wink to the reader, Superman thought that no one who knew his double identity would have been fooled.

I enjoy dream stories. They're almost as much fun as "imaginary stories". Things happen to the characters that wouldn't be in a "regular" comic book story. As a 50 year old Superman fan, I knew it was a dream story as soon as Jimmy fell asleep. But if I had read this as a kid in the mid 1960's, it probably wouldn't have been so obvious.

It probably wasn't smart of Jimmy to drink a liquid from another world, but maybe Superman checked it out first to be sure it was safe for his impulsive pal. it was fun to read about Jimmy using his flying power for a good cause, saving a circus. The captions that accompanied the panels showing Clark and Superman sitting together in the audience were heavy handed, but it was typical of Silver Age comic book stories, pointing things out to the young audience they were written for at this time. Today it seemed that the writer and editor were getting in the way of the story. At the end of his dream, I don't think Jimmy was in any real danger in the water tank, not with Superman in the audience.

Overall I give this story 3 Superman Shields out of 5. I would give it 4, but I knock off a point for the heavy handed captions I mentioned earlier.

The second story of the issue was the eight page, The Hide And Seek Mystery! Jimmy and Jumbo returned to the Daily Planet Flying Newsroom helicopter after covering a factory fire somewhere outside Metropolis. As they approach the Flying Newsroom, Jimmy and Jumbo ran into three crooks running from police after a robbery. Jimmy recommended "the old stumble routine" and Jumbo fell in front of one of the gangsters. The crook tripped over Jumbo, straight into Jimmy's uppercut. They turned their captive over to the local police officers, who have also captured a second thief. One of the officers recognized them as members of the Purple Gang. Neither one had the stolen jewels, so the police suspected that the third gangster, Slug Martin, had eluded capture and had the jewels. Jimmy wrote the story for the next edition of the Daily Planet while Jumbo piloted the Flying Newsroom back to the building's roof. Jimmy reached into what looked like a snack bowl as he typed. Following up on the story later that day, Jimmy saw a story on the newswire teletype that Slug had been apprehended by Metropolis Police.

At the Planet newsroom the next week, Jimmy and Clark heard a radio news report about a stranded climber on Mt. Baldy. Jimmy took the Flying Newsroom to cover the story, while Clark flew to rescue the climber as Superman. After clearing the mountain path, the Man of Steel carried the climber to safety, and recognized him as Squinty Ames, another member of the Purple Gang. Jimmy also recognized him, as he watched Superman with a pair of binoculars. Jimmy felt it was quite a coincidence to run into another member of the Purple Gang after the robbery. He tried to come up with a connection between the two incidents as he reached into his snack bowl.

After returning to his desk at the Planet, Jimmy followed up on the story with the Police. Jimmy's source at the MPD could only tell Jimmy that Slug kept quiet about the stolen jewels. The only thing they had picked up was Slugs mentioning the words, "desk drawer" to his lawyer. Jimmy studied the mug shots of the Purple Gang to try to figure out a pattern between the robbery and Squinty's appearance on Mt. Baldy, to no avail just yet.

A few days later, Jimmy had another story to cover with Jumbo and the Flying Newsroom, a fire on Pike's Island caused by a mysterious explosion. They arrived at the island just as Superman appeared to douse the flames.The Man of Steel's main concern were the stranded fisherman on shore, whose boats were consumed in the fire. Superman found a sunken barge and used it to create a giant wave that doused the fire. Jumbo landed the Flying Newsroom a safe distance from the site of the fire, and he and Jimmy began to make their way to shore to interview the rescued fishermen.

Jimmy noticed two fishermen deep in the woods, far from water. When he recognized their faces as Gunner Barton and Bob Dunn of the Purple Gang, the pattern became clear to Jimmy. He and Jumbo rushed back to the Flying Newsroom. Remembering the police tip, Jimmy looked in a desk drawer in the Planet's helicopter, and, sure enough, found the bag of the uncut diamonds. Jumbo noticed the two gang members approaching the Flying Newsroom. While Bob held Jimmy and Jumbo hostage with his handgun, Gunner searched the drawers for the uncut diamonds. They were nowhere to be found. Dunn couldn't get anything out of the two Daily Planet employees. Barton and Dunn began to think that Slug had double crossed the gang.

While Dunn held Jimmy and Jumbo at gunpoint, he reached into the snack bowl. He told Jimmy that he thought that the diamonds were still in the Flying Newsroom. Jimmy thought that Dunn would be surprised if he knew where the diamonds really were. He knew time was running out for he and Jumbo, so he offered his watch to Dunn if he let them go. He claimed the watch was valuable, and that the extra knob did something cool.

Dunn pressed the knob, but nothing happened. But before he could take out his frustrations on Jimmy for making a fool of him, Superman showed up and captured the gang, with some help from Jimmy and Jumbo. They used the old "stumble routine" from the beginning of the story once again to knock out Gunner Barton.

After filling Superman in on his story, Jimmy revealed that he hid the uncut diamonds in his snack bowl, under all of the peanuts. Since the diamonds were uncut, they wouldn't sparkle. The next day, Jimmy's story on the diamond robbery made the front page of the Daily Planet, under the masthead. Clark told Jimmy that the diamonds were worth a half million dollars. Jimmy told Clark that the gang wasn't after peanuts.

There was one heavy handed caption, after Jimmy wrote the first story on the diamond robbery, when the caption said that he would do more than write the last chapter. Otherwise it was an excellent Silver Age story that holds up today. I did think that, in reality, wouldn't it be illegal for police to eavesdrop on a conversation between a suspect and his attorney? But the story did a good job of introducing the snack bowl in a very subtle way. In the scenes with the mountain climber and the island fire, it seemed that either the Flying Newsroom flew fast, or Superman was slow. I didn't think that a helicopter could fly fast enough to get to the scene as fast as the Man of Steel. But then there was no indication how far from Metropolis either place was. Jimmy thought fast on his feet to hide the diamonds so cleverly. Bob Dunn was lucky he either didn't have to go to a dentist or the emergency room, or both, if he would have bitten into, or swallowed a diamond or two. I would give this story 4 Superman Shields out of 5. I would give it 5, but I knock off a point for the heavy handed caption and Jimmy's bad pun in the last panel.

Jimmy Olsen, Superman's Ex-Pal was the issues third and final six page story. It began with Jimmy enjoying his vacation at a Metropolis beach resort with his date Betty. (Since this was a Silver Age story, with a big Comics Code seal on the cover, Jimmy and Betty probably had booked separate rooms.) Betty took a quick dip but soon yelled for help. Jimmy dove into the water to rescue Betty, who was saved by the lifeguard Tom Barton. He gave Jimmy a hard time for being Superman's Pal, but Betty said that Tom was only being jealous. She didn't believe Tom because Jimmy never bragged about being Superman's Pal.

That evening Jimmy took Betty to a dance, only to be met by the annoying Tom again, who asked Jimmy if he had any spare Superman autographs. Betty noticed Superman walking towards them, but Jimmy was shocked when the Man of Steel walked by him without even looking at him. This gave Tom a good laugh, but Jimmy ignored him and followed Superman into the hotel lobby.

Jimmy overheard Superman warn the desk manager, Mr. Todd, that a gang of thieves were operating in the area. Mr. Todd didn't have time to find added security for the funds he wouldn't be able to deposit in the bank until the next day. Jimmy was shocked to hear Superman ask for 10 percent of the money in his safe, to be donated to charity, for his services of safeguarding the funds. The Man of Steel crumbled a rock onto the floor by the safe, so that his super hearing would be able to better pick up the thieves' footsteps.

Jimmy approached Superman, but the Man of Steel brushed him off as a kid who only wanted an autograph. This gave Tom more laughs, and Jimmy said goodnight to Betty. It wasn't a fun night for Jimmy at all. He followed Superman, and overheard the Man of Steel bragging about some of his super deeds. This struck Jimmy as very unlike Superman's behavior. He walked to the secluded boathouse and activated his signal watch so that he and Superman could talk privately about his behavior.

Jimmy heard a noise, and peeked around the corner. The gang tied their boat to the dock and went to the hotel safe to steal the money. The thieves didn't see Jimmy, who followed them into the hotel. Jimmy noticed that the crumbled rock didn't make any noise. After the gang left, Jimmy examined the crushed stone and made a surprising discovery.

He found Superman outside, signing autographs for Betty and Tom and others. Jimmy walked up to Superman and punched him on the chin. This knocked Superman back, and Jimmy began a fight against the Man of Steel, and appeared to be winning. The gang approached, and Superman told them to plug the crazy kid before he ruined everything. A second Superman swooped from the night sky just in time to block the bullets fired by one of the gunmen. Jimmy knocked out the now obviously fake Superman with one more punch, as the real Man of Steel rounded up the rest of the gang.

Superman was familiar with this racket, led by Slick Dugan, as the fake Superman, pulling the racket at several area resorts. Dugan responded that he knew his fake Superman racket wouldn't last forever, so this was to be his last job before moving on. What tipped Jimmy off was that the pulverized rock turned out to be crumbled sponge, which muffled that gang's footsteps instead of creating more noise.

Betty told Tom that if he asked nice, Jimmy might give him his autograph. Tom apologized to Jimmy, who, being Superman's Pal, didn't hold a grudge.

The next day Superman brought the latest edition of the Daily Planet, with the banner headline, Superman And Boy Pal Nab Bandits, to Jimmy, still on vacation. Jimmy didn't notice Superman on the dock, since his attention was on Betty, in the canoe he was rowing. Jimmy's attention was taken up by another ahem pal, as Superman noted.

I enjoyed this story. It showed the public down side to being Superman's Pal, with the heckling and jealousy of Tom Barton. Jimmy used his brain to help Superman capture the bad guys, which has been a common theme of these early Olsen stories.While I enjoy Jack Larsen's portrayal of Jimmy in the 1950's TV show The Adventures Of Superman, I think I prefer the Jimmy from this comic book title. He had a habit of getting in over his head, but didn't become the boy hostage, at least in these early stories. Most of all, this story said a lot about the real Superman's character, that Jimmy noticed that Superman had never asked for financial compensation for his deeds before, or bragged about them to the public. This is what made Superman Superman. I would give this story 5 Superman Shields out of 5. None of the captions were as heavy handed as in the first two stories, and this final tale said a lot about Jimmy's relationship with Superman.

World's Finest Comics #73, November/December 1954, was published around September 30, 1954. It contained 32 pages for 10 cents. The editor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, illustrating the Superman and Batman story Batman And Superman, Swamis, Inc.. They drew this twelve page story as well, which was written by Edmond Hamilton. This story was reprinted in World's Finest Comics Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: World's Finest vol. I.

The story began with Clark and Lois covering a carnival in Gotham City. Lois suggested looking into the fortune teller booth, and the skeptical Clark followed. The Swami had nothing for Lois, but did have a message for Clark. Lois took the hint and decided to cover the carnival separately, and she and Clark would combine their notes after they returned to Metropolis.

The message the Swami had for Clark was that he was secretly Superman. Before Clark could recover from the shock, the Swami revealed his own identity as Bruce Wayne, secretly Batman. Bruce filled Clark in about the reason for the disguise. Batman and Robin had stopped a robbery of the payroll at the Wayne Foundries when Batman had to save Robin from falling into one of the vats of molten metal. One of the crooks had a scimitar that had cut Robin's Batrope.

Two days later Batman ran a bank robbery getaway car off the road. These crooks were apparently the same ones who had robbed the Wayne Foundries. They had the same scimitar. One of the captured thieves called it the Chinese Luck Sword, which their leader the Fang said would protect them form the police.

Later, Bruce read a newspaper item about some bandits who beat up an astrologer, who had give false information about the location of a lost antique sword. Bruce had later discovered from the underworld grapevine that the Fang believed in the supernatural. So Bruce was disguised as a fortune teller in order to fish for a lead on the case. He thought that Superman's help in making some of his predictions come true would attract the attention of the Fang and his gang.

Bruce's first customer of the day was a businessman who owned a failing factory. Bruce correctly said his name of Paul James, a machinery magnate known for his philanthropic efforts. Superman listened to the conversation on a spare Bat radio, as he sat on a nearby roof. Bruce advised James not to sell his business because it would have value the next day. Superman solved his problem by digging up uranium and planting it under James factory grounds. Later Superman made another prediction come true by covering a leaking roof with leaves so that it would not leak during a rain.

The next day, Swami Bruce read a headline in the Gotham Gazette that uranium discovered on James property saved it from bankruptcy. His next customer was a singer who had her debut that night, but had a cold and wondered if she should cancel. He advised her not to cancel because her debut would be a success. Superman solved this problem by building a noise suppressor on the roof of the Gotham Auditorium, where she would be making her debut performance. Sure enough, the noise suppressor covered the roughness of her voice, as well as any ambient noise, so her voice sounded perfect.

A bald man who overheard her credit Swami Ananda went to a waterfront warehouse to report to his boss, the Fang. After consulting his henchman's horoscope, the Fang told Jeff to go see the Swami.

Jeff made it to the Swami's booth soon after Superman left Bruce to return to Metropolis. Jeff told the Swami that he was looking for a lost article. Bruce thought that Jeff looked like a rough character. Jeff tested the Swami by asking him where he lived. Robin was behind a curtain and used a mirror to flash a code to the crystal ball that Bruce gazed into. Bruce correctly told Jeff that he lived on the West Side, and then told him that the real reason he was there was that he was looking for a sharp curved object.

this sounded like the guy Batman and Robin was looking for, so the Boy Wonder hitched a ride on the back of the taxi that drove Jeff back to the West Side warehouse. Swami Bruce noticed another car tailing the taxi, and used the Bat radio from his utility belt to warn Robin that he was being followed by the black sedan. Robin jumped off the taxi, grabbed an overhanging sign, and dropped onto the roof of the sedan as he drove under the sign. The car slammed on its brakes and made Robin lose his balance. The Boy Wonder was kidnapped, so Bruce removed his Swami disguise to become Batman and search for his partner.

The Fang used Robin's Bat radio to make a deal with Batman. He would release Robin safely if Batman returned the sword. Batman obliged but was knocked out when he entered the warehouse. He awoke to find himself tied up next to Robin, with the Fang holding the scimitar.

As the Fang monologued, a bad habit of villains in comic books, Batman was in the process of cutting the rope binding his wrists, using a sharp piece of glass glued to his glove. Suddenly, the sword flew out of the Fang's hands and whacked Jeff with its flat side. The flying sword then sliced the ties of two more gang members before pointing towards the Fang and speaking to him. The sword then cut Batman and Robin loose  from their bonds. Then Superman revealed himself as the invisible wielder of the sword, accomplished by vibrating at super speed. The Man of Steel then revealed that he learned of the Dynamic Duo's problems from the spare Bat radio that he had forgotten to return to Batman. Superman mentioned that he could have intervened sooner, but he didn't want to make too easy for Batman, who said that it was a taste of his own medicine. He had certainly challenged Superman with some of the predictions he needed to come true. The Silver Age Superman once again showed that he was one to be messed with. Or, to put it another way, you don't tug on Superman's cape.

This was another fun Superman and Batman team up. I did have to wonder about Superman planting some uranium under the factory grounds. Today we would worry about the uranium polluting the water table or the surrounding ground itself. I wonder how the uranium would have been safely extracted. But beyond that, it was a fun adventure as our heroes tried to capture the Fang and his gang. Superman showed his almost unlimited brain power by some of his solutions, especially his noise suppressor machine, which allowed a singer with a cold to perform flawlessly. This was another common trait of the Silver Age Superman. I give this story 4 Superman Shields out of 5.

Two other stories were published in this issue. The middle story of the issue starred Tomahawk in the six page The Yankee Schoolmaster, written by Bruno Premiani and inked by Ray Burnley. The final story of the issue was the six page The Hercules Arrow, starring Green Arrow, drawn by George Papp.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, there were 27 titles which carried the November or November/December 1954 cover date.

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Next Episode: the book Superman: From Serial To Cereal!

In two weeks: The Superman Family Of Comic Books Cover Dated January/February 1955: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #3 & World's Finest Comics #74!

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