Thursday, June 16, 2011

Episode #182: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated February 1959: Superman #127 & Action Comics #249!

Superman #127, February 1959, was published around December 18, 1958. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Mort Weisinger, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. All three stories  were reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. II and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

When There Was No Clark Kent was written by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The nine page story was the second to carry the subtitle, An Untold Tale of Superman. The first story with this subhead was Clark Kent's College Days in Superman #125, November 1958. It was featured in Episode # 176.

The story began as Clark and Lois covered an exhibit of primitive relics. When an ancient totem pole cracked and began to fall toward a building, Clark ran way, because, as he told Lois, a falling totem pole was bad luck. He changed into Superman, and used his super breath to blow the broken totem pole into space before it could damage the building. The Man of Steel then contemplated how a secret identity complicated his life. Superman then flashed back to a brief time when he decided to live without a secret identity.

It happened when he was covering the Famous Bottle Works, which made custom glassware. After interviewing the president of the factory, Clark explored the roof garden, which was enclosed in a giant bottle.The factory had closed, but stairs led from the roof to the ground, so Clark could exit that way when he was done. Unknown to Clark, a vat of chemicals had been left unattended, and exploded. The explosion destroyed the building, and ripped his suit off of Clark's body, revealing his Superman uniform.

While Superman thought about how he was going to explain how Clark survived the explosion, Lois Lane arrived and saw Clark's tattered clothes. She immediately assumed Clark had been killed in the explosion. Superman thought, Since Clark was only my other self, it's no great tragedy -- but I'll have to pretend he's dead.

A funeral was held for the late Clark Kent, but Lois was inconsolable. Superman decided to live just as one person, the Man of Steel. His decision took an unusual turn.

Superman asked Jimmy if he could move into his apartment. The Man of Steel explained that he used to secretly room with Clark, but since he was gone, Superman wanted to room with his Pal. Of course Jimmy said yes, but that decision had consequences for both of them.

Because they decided to go public with their living arrangements, Jimmy and Superman attracted a large crowd outside their building every day. Everyone from well meaning fans to souvenir hawkers and celebrity tour guides were drawn to their apartment building. The other tenants weren't happy about it, since their rent was raised, and the increased noise outside their building.

Members of the underworld were attracted to their building as well. One evening some crooks, led by the one who first noticed Superman's new residence, lowered a big kryptonite rock on a rope, as the Man of Steel emerged on the window ledge. Severely weakened by the kryptonite, the Man of Steel let go of the ledge after he heard a subway train traveling under the building. He crashed through the sidewalk and landed on top of a subway train, and was whisked away from the rock's lethal radiation. Superman planned to call the police to arrest the crooks.

The next day, Superman walked the docks near the destroyed Bottle Works building as he pondered his situation, missing the comfort of a secret identity. When he saw a bottle floating in the water, he was struck with an idea.

In the open ocean beyond Metropolis, a ship found a giant bottle floating, with Clark Kent inside. After being rescued,  Clark was able to convince everyone that he and the bottle had been blown clear of the building in the explosion, and had been floating in the ocean inside the bottle since then. And that's how he filed the story.

A few notes about the story: Two episodes ago, the Superman Museum in Metropolis had a display which stated that the Man of Steel could fly 1,000 times faster than the speed of light. I would think that he would be able to catch a falling totem pole in time. But then different writers scripted both stories, and might not have been aware of each other's stories.

In the bottom right corner of the last panel of page 2 of the story, are two examples of glass work. The one in the very corner looked a little like Mr. Mxyzptlk. To its left was a very non-politically correct African head in glass. While DC Comics, and comic books in general, has a long history of racist depictions of minorities, I wouldn't say in this instance that Curt Swan was racist. In Eddy Zeno's book, Curt Swan: A Life In Comics, Curt Swan told a story about he and a few other American G. I.'s standing up to other U. S. soldiers who objected to African-American soldiers dancing with white women. This was, however, a less enlightened time in the late 1950's.

Was Lois following Clark to the Bottle Works factory? Is that how she got there so quick, but unharmed?

This story made me think, why did Superman let out the secret that he had a secret identity to start with? When John Byrne relaunched Superman with the Man Of Steel mini-series, he had Superman act as if he was always Superman, and never had a secret identity.

There's just no two ways about it, Superman was willing to let his closest friends think that Clark Kent was dead. And poor Lois was almost inconsolable.

Finally, I couldn't help but wonder how a human being could survive both an explosion and impacting the water, especially inside a bottle, unharmed and the bottle unbroken. But, despite these reservations, it was a fun story about what life would be like for Superman without a secret identity, and I give it 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Make Believe Superman was written by Jerry Coleman, and the 8 page story was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye.

Harry Winters was not looking forward to Father and Son Day at his son Tommy's school. while other dads dressed as deep sea divers or big game hunters, Tommy expected his Dad to dress up as Superman. Harry had worn a Superman costume to a costume party, and everyone thought he looked a lot like the Man of Steel. Tommy took that to mean that his Dad was the real Metropolis Marvel. Harry finally decided to wear the costume to Tommy's school, but didn't know how to break the disappointing news that he wasn't the real Superman.

Suddenly, a robot robbed a bank in the neighborhood. Clark Kent happened to be in the area, but before he could secretly change into Superman, he was captured by the gang that controlled the robot. Harry approached the robot and did his best to topple it onto a fountain. The robot and Winters were close enough to Clark so that he was able to kick the robot into the sky. The gang thought that Harry/Superman had knocked the robot away. They held Clark at gunpoint and blackmailed Harry into helping them find some loot the gang's deceased leader had hidden in a Hall of Planets science fiction display.

Clark secretly helped Harry mimic Superman's powers as he tore through the fictitious interplanetary animals to find the loot. When they got to the Krypton room, the gang wanted Superman to get into a pool of acid which contained Krypton's acid dwelling crocodile. There were no barriers or covers to keep someone from falling in. When Harry saw the green eyes of the fake Kryptonian Owl Beast, he said the eyes were really kryptonite, and they would have to be removed and placed in the lead fuse box, which would temporarily plunge at least that part of the building into darkness. As he pretended to faint, he was able to tell Clark he wasn't really Superman, and to run for it after the room became dark. Kent did just that, taking that moment to transform into the real Superman. He found that Harry had fainted a little too realistically and had knocked himself out when he hit the floor.

Superman threw a Superman mannequin into the acid to dissolve and placed Harry in the space the statue had occupied. After capturing the crooks, the Man of Steel revived Harry and revealed that the loot had indeed been in the crocodile.

The story ended with Superman making an appearance at Tommy's school and declaring that Harry was Superman For A Day, because of the quick thinking he used to keep Clark safe and help capture the robbers. And Tommy had more respect for his father than if he had possessed super powers.

Most Dads face having to have the conversation about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. Harry had to somehow break the news to Tommy that he really wasn't the Man of Steel.

While some of the ways that Clark helped Harry imitate seem silly today, it was a minor point next to Harry using his wits to keep Clark safe until he could find a way out of the predicament, and at the risk of his own life. So I can't help but to also give this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

The 8 page story, Titano The Super Ape, was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. This story was also reprinted in Superman In The Fifties.

It began with Superman participating in a televised charity event hosted by Lois Lane. He squeezed a lump of coal into a diamond. The next act was Toto, the intelligent chimp. Toto was able to add up the coins in an over sized display and enter the correct amount, 16¢. The final act was two comedians who threw pies at each other. One pie was off target and hit Toto in the back of the head.

Lois felt sorry for the chimpanzee and cleaned him up. Toto's trainer told her that she had made a friend for life. He then gave her a big scoop: he would loan Toto to the Army, who would launch Toto in a space capsule the next day.

Lois covered the launch, but the rocket failed to ignite. Back in the era this story was published, in the early days of the space program, American rockets were known to blow up on the launch pad. Luckily for Toto, this didn't happen. Superman appeared, and threw the capsule into orbit.

During the satellite's orbit, a uranium meteor collided with a kryptonite meteor. While the satellite was close to the impact, it seemed undamaged. After the scheduled week in orbit, Toto returned safely to Earth. He seemed to emerged uninjured from his trip to space, but once he emerged from the capsule he grew into a giant ape.

Lois renamed him Toto. He recognized her and picked her up in his giant hand. Superman attempted to rescue her, but he was hit by Titano's kryptonite vision. The Man of Steel attempted to wrap Titano in a chain while wielding a lead shield. Titano burst out of the giant chains with the ease of Superman. He put her down when he attempted to unsuccessfully squeeze coal into diamonds, after apparently watching Superman do it at the TV special. He then played with an unmanned  dirigible and empty train cars like toys.

The Army had no choice but to kill the beast before it caused civilian casualties. Lois was a reluctant lure to attract Titano into the trap they had prepared for him. Once inside the cage that sprung out of the ground to surround him, Titano was to be electrocuted.

A despondent Lois quickly asked Superman to bring her two sets of identical props, one normal size and the other giant size. The Man of Steel quickly gathered the requested props. Lois was able to make Titano copy her as she played with a rattle, drum and ring before putting on a pair of glasses. Titano's had lead lenses, which protected Superman from Titano's kryptonite vision.

Superman then broke Titano out of his cage and hurled him with enough speed so that the giant ape was able to break the time barrier and land on Earth during the era of dinosaurs. The Man of Steel was able to use his telescopic vision to see through the time barrier and assure Lois that Titano led a happy life.

This was the first appearance of Titano, who appeared in 13 stories, the last being in Superman #325, July 1978. He would appear post Crisis in Superman Annual #1, published on May 19, 1987, but would have no further appearances.

Several chimps were launched into space in the early years of the American space program, and animals have been tested in space beginning in 1948 at White Sands, New Mexico.

It was cute seeing Lois bond with Toto and show a softer side of her personality. Where did Superman find giant props so quickly, or did he custom make them. I have to wonder if another of his powers was invulnerability, to be able to survive the speed it would take to break the time barrier, much less surviving falling back to Earth. If scientists ever find the skeleton of a giant ape buried with dinosaur fossils, we'll know the reason why. Or, just maybe Titano crashing into the Earth caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and Superman was just lying to Lois to make her happy.

All kidding aside, this was a fun story and I give it 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Action Comics #249, February 1959, was published around December 30, 1958. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Mort Weisinger and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. The 13 page Superman story was titled, The Kryptonite Man, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino. It was reprinted in The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. II and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

Lex Luthor showed his henchmen a green glowing monkey, which Luthor had injected with a kryptonite serum, so that the primate emitted kryptonite radiation deadly to Superman. He then drank another sample of the same serum.

He flew to Metropolis in a rocket and used the rocket's battering ram tip to destroy the city's Superman statue. After he landed, Superman confronted a hooded Luthor. When Lex removed his hood and robe, the Man of Steel was overcome by the kryptonite radiation, and barely escaped.

Luthor flew his rocket and chased Superman, until the Man of Steel burrowed underground to escape. Later in the story, Superman retrieved a lead suit from his Fortress of Solitude and returned to Metropolis. Luthor followed the Man of Steel with his telescope and launched a rocket. It carried a satellite. When the lead armored Superman confronted Luthor outside his cave,  Lex activated the satellite, which converted all the lead in the world to glass, including Superman's armor.

Lex gave Superman 24 hours to leave Earth. The Man of Steel flew into space to destroy the satellite, but found it had also been coated with kryptonite.

A dejected Superman wandered the moon, until he found a lead deposit. He forged another lead suit, and flew back to his Fortress undoer cover of darkness to retrieve some equipment. This suit of armor would have a camera, which would allow Superman to see where he was going. He returned to Earth. Luckily, the satellite emitted a directional signal aimed only at the Earth's surface, so Superman was able to approach from behind and kick the satellite into space, allowing the world's lead to return to normal.

Superman again confronted Luthor and burst his lead armor. The Man of Steel seemed unaffected by Luthor's kryptonite radiation, but was actually being held up by invisible wires connected to the Daily Planet Flying Newsroom and controlled by Jimmy Olsen. Superman tricked Luthor into drinking his antidote after making Lex think he had somehow become immune to kryptonite. Then the Man of Steel captured Luthor and took him to jail, where he and Jimmy told Lex how they had tricked him. The top headline of the next day;s Daily Planet read, Man Of Lead Defeats Kryptonite Man.

This was the first appearance of the Kryptonite Man. Another would make his first appearance in Superboy #83, September 1960, and would make his last appearance in the classic story, Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow, which ended the classic run of Superman stories before John Byrne's relaunch.

This was Lex Luthor's greatest challenge to Superman in the silver age stories we've covered so far. It was strange to see him use his rocket as a battering ram to destroy the Superman statue, and later replace it with one to himself. Lex Luthor is nothing if not vain.

It was also odd to see Jimmy on top of the Flying Newsroom, under the helicopter blades, controlling the wires which held Superman up. It would make more sense to have the wires connected to controls inside the side door of the Flying Newsroom.

Once again Superman out thought Lex Luthor, or as the saying goes, brains beat brawn every time. I gave this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Congo Bill starred in the second story of the issue,  The Man Ape's Mountain Mission, where he made his second appearance as Congorilla. The 6 page story was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Howard Sherman.

Tommy Tomorrow starred in the issue's final story, The Gambling Asteroid. The 6 page story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 34 titles carried the February, or February/March 1959 cover date.

Next Episode: The Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated January/February 1956: World's Finest Comics #80!

In 2 Weeks: The Superman Comic Book Cover Dated March 1959: Action Comics #250!

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