Saturday, April 16, 2011

Episode #172: Superman Comics Cover Dated September 1958: Superman #124 & Action Comics #244!

Superman #124, September 1958, was published around July 24, 1958. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of 10¢. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. All three stories in this issue were each eight pages long.

The first story of the issue was The Super Sword, written by Jerry Coleman and drawn by Al Plastino. It began as Perry White went on vacation, leaving Lois Lane as temporary Editor-in-Chief. Lois showed Clark a proposed headline about gang leader "Bull" Matthews being sent to prison. Clark reminded her that the evidence that would have convicted him had been destroyed in a fire, so he had been freed. They heard a radio news flash about the Captain of the Betsy Lee finding a knight who had been frozen in ice.

Superman flew to investigate, and freed the knight from his frozen tomb. The knight thanked the Man of Steel for freeing him from Merlin's spell, which had entombed him for a thousand years. Jimmy covered the story when the ship landed, but the knight had escaped, leaving only a hole cut through steel. Another reporter had been a history student, and was familiar with the legends of the Knight, who was alleged to have an enchanted sword that could cut through anything.

The Knight went on a crime spree, robbing an armored car and safe, and slashing through the front of a police car with his sword. Gang leader "Bull" Matthews followed the news stories about the Knight with interest.

When Superman challenged the Knight, he was wounded in the arm by the Knight's sword, although it is shown only in shadow. The Man of Steel was rushed to the hospital, and the story made headlines around the world. Superman would be released from the hospital a few days later.

"Bull" Matthews finally met the Knight, and the two struck a deal. Matthews would pay $30,000 to borrow the Knight's enchanted sword. "Bull" found Superman and stabbed him in the other arm. Again, it was shown only in shadow.

When Matthews returned the sword to the Knight and paid the agreed upon fee, Superman burst in and arrested him. Superman's wounds were all an act, an elaborate sting that was set up to nab "Bull", after the evidence in his previous case had been destroyed.

The hole in the ship's door was caused by Superman's x-ray vision. The sword was actually a fake telescoping sword, and both the armored car and the police car were cardboard fakes.

Back at the Daily Planet, the Knight entered the office and ordered Lois back to her "menial chores as a reporter," because he was none other than Perry White, who had volunteered to be part of the sting.

I liked this story better than I expected, mainly because of the elaborate sting that was set up to nab the crook. It was clever to have Perry leave on vacation at the beginning of the story, to set him up as the Knight,as revealed at the end of the story. Superman did appear silly, though, after he was released from the hospital. He had been wounded in the arm, but he was walking around with the assistance of a crutch. Maybe that was to help support his injured ego. I give this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Mrs. Superman was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. The story began with Clark and Lois riding in a helicopter as they returned to Metropolis from an overseas assignment. Clark reminded her that she would be in danger from a gang which was on trial because of stories she wrote about them. A meteor barely misses colliding with the helicopter, and plunged into the mouth of a volcano on an island. Clark and Lois were forced to bail out of the damaged helicopter using parachutes, and landed on this island.

After telling Lois that he would search the island for inhabitants, Clark changed into Superman. He was surprised to find that he couldn't fly. Using his x-ray vision on the volcano, the Man of Steel learned that the meteorite was a piece of kryptonite, and the volcano was now spewing a cloud of fine kryptonite dust. It wasn't enough to harm Superman, but just enough to remove his powers.. The Man of Steel discovered that he was as marooned on the island as Lois was.

Superman decided that if he couldn't escape the island, he would make Lois's dream come true. After changing back into his Clark Kent clothes, he discovered a village on the island. Clark returned to Lois and revealed his secret identity, proving it by demonstrating a few feats of strength. The village chief agreed to wed them in a week's time, so Clark/Superman spent the time building a treetop home for his bride to be.

An earthquake hit the island, and Superman, again using his x-ray vision on the volcano, discovered that a crack developed in the volcano, which swallowed the kryptonite metorite. The volcano was no longer spewing kryptonite dust, and the Man of Steel learned that his full powers had returned. But it was almost time for the wedding.

Superman searched the ocean floor and found some equipment on a sunken wreck. As Clark, he gave Lois a special belt and led her into a cave, where he told her that Superman had built the machine, which was a type of magnet. It would cause the belt's wearer to float in the air. He then showed her the rock he had lifted on the beach was actually made of  paper maché, so even she could lift it. Clark then showed Lois a hidden blow torch, which had been set to turn on automatically, faking his x-ray vision.

Lois was understandably furious, and stormed off. Clark put a message in a bottle and threw it into the ocean, near a ship. Clark and Lois were saved by the ship's crew, and when they returned to Metropolis, they learned that the gang members had been convicted. Lois was in love with Superman again, because she was convinced that the Man of Steel had set up the ruse to keep her safely away from Metropolis until after the trial was over.

Once again, Clark/Supermantricked Lois again. I guess Mort Weisinger thought it was time for another variation on that theme. I don't know if that was more strange than Lois's obsessive reasoning over Superman's motivations at the end of the story. It was a good, but not great Superman story, but I always enjoy Kurt Schaffenberger's art. So I give this story 3 Capes out of 5.

The Steeplejack Of Steel was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. Superman discovered that a building under construction was about to collapse, so he shored  up the structure. Wondering if it was an accident, the Man of Steel investigated closer and discovered that inferior steel girders were being used.

Superman disguised himself as construction worker Kirk Brent, and was hired by job superintendent Bert Benson. Benson noticed that Brent's hands were not calloused, so he suspected Brent to be a plant by the city's Building Inspector office. He decided to put Kirk through the ringer to convince him to quit.

Benson took Brent to the top of the structure. Brent was thrown off balance by a gust of wind, but the disguised Superman covered himself by performing gymnastic exercises on top of a steel girder, high above the ground. Benson then threw a hot rivet at Brent, which he caught in his hand. To cover himself, the disguised Superman had grabbed a piece of asbestos insulation (which dates this story, since asbestos has been banned as a building material).

Brent realized that Benson was trying to get rid of him. Using his super hearing, the disguised Superman overheard a phone conversation with Benson where he learned that a flood would delay the delivery of more building supplies. Superman flew to the site of the flood and raised the trackbed above the floodwaters, allowing the materials to be delivered to the construction site on time.

A desperate Benson later swung a crane load of steel girders into Brent's back. Being invulnerable, the disguised Superman barely felt the impact, and the girders crashed to the ground. Spooked, Benson called his supplier, telling him not to make the girders too bad, or it could raise suspicions.

Superman overheard the conversation and followed the signal through the telephone wire to building supplier T. B. Oliver. Disguising himself as Brent again, he introduced himself to Oliver. Having been tipped off about Brent, Oliver had Brent encased in cement. After it hardened, Superman burst out of the concrete and took both Benson and Oliver to jail. After reinforcing the steel so that the building would be safe, the Man of Steel learned that the new building would be named in his honor.

This story reminded of some of the earliest Superman stories, when he was more of a social crusader. So I gave this story 4 Capes out of 5.

Action Comics #244, September 1958, was published around July 31, 1958. It contained 32 pages and sold for a dime. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye, the same art team on the Superman story of this issue.

The Super Merman Of The Sea was written by Otto Binder, and was twelve pages long. It began when Clark Kent went on vacation, but he would spend both weeks on patrol as Superman.

The Man of Steel saw a rocket crash into the ocean, and he rushed to its rescue. He discovered that the only crew were a father and daughter, both merpeople. They communicated with Superman telepathically, and introduced themselves as Vullor and Lya-La, who wanted to settle in Earth's oceans.

News reports spread around the world about Superman flying into the ocean, but hadn't been seen since. Using letters from the names of sunken ships, the Man of Steel created a message that floated to the surface, which said that he was exiled underwater. He agreed to live underwater with the alien merfamily.

Jimmy Olsen followed up on the story, checking with a scientist, who informed him that there was no kryptonite radiation on Earth which would force Superman's exile. Perry then sent Jimmy to investigate unusually turbulent waters in the Sargasso Sea. Using a dive suit, Jimmy learned that he Superman was building an underwater Fortress of Solitude.

After Jimmy left, Superman built a machine which extracted dissolved minerals from seawater. He also installed cameras on the ocean floor so he could monitor them for trouble. Then he built a mechanical whale, which could bring him samples of sea life to study.

When Jimmy returned to the Daily Planet and delivered his story, Lois went to the same site, and investigated the situation using a diving bell. She saw Superman with Lya-La, and assumed that the two were in love.

An emergency session of the UN was convened, and member nations were convinced that Superman was being held against his will. A submarine tracked the Man of Steel, and fired a kryptonite tipped torpedo to try to rescue him from his captors. Superman broke open some sunken oil drums to hide himself, and he hid in his mechanical whale.

Superman appeared to help Vulkor and Lya-La turn Earth into a new water world. He even activated the devide that would melt the world's icecaps. But he had secretly built a special lens that harmlessly diffused the machines rays. And gifts he had given Lay-La were actually full of salt, which were raising the salt levels of the surrounding waters to poisonous levels for the merpeople. I wonder how it was affecting the sea life in the immediate area?

The trick worked, as Vulkor and Lya-La left Earth in their spaceship. with his work done, as well as his vacation, he returned to work at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent. The top headline of that day's Daily Planet was about Superman foiling the undersea plot. Lois told Clark that she was relieved that Superman wan't in love with that "hussy", and asked Clark if he wished he was back at his seashore vacation. Clark replied taht he had enough of swimming for a whole year.

This was another clever story, where Superman out thought instead of out fought the villain, and I give this story 4 Capes out of 5.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, there were 35 titles that carried the September or September/October 1958 cover date.

Next episode: The Superman Family Of Titles Cover Dated July/August 1955: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #6 & World's Finest Comics #77!

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