Thursday, June 23, 2011

Episode #184: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated March 1959: Action Comics #250!

Action Comics #250, March 1959, was published around January 29, 1959. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Al Plastino. The 13 page story was titled The Eye Of Metropolis, written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. It has been reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. II and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

After being named reporter of the year, Clark Kent was booked as a guest on the popular Metropolis TV show The Eye Of Metropolis, hosted by John Bates, by editor Perry White. When Perry informed Clark about his scheduled appearance, Kent was worried because Bates was a fair host but asked tricky questions. Clark hoped he wouldn't let his secret identity slip.

Perry and Lois watched the show together the next evening. Just before the show began, Clark used his x-ray vision to get an advance peek at the questions in Bates' notebook. Clark was shocked to discover that Bates' notebook had been lined with lead. That was all Clark needed to realize that Bates intended to ask questions in order to reveal his secret identity as Superman.

Sure enough, Bates asked Clark about his coverage of a volcanic eruption in Mexico the previous month. Clark had fallen into the volcano when the edge crumbled under his feet. Superman appeared and plugged the volcano, and Clark would later appear alive. Bates bluntly asked Clark if that was because he was the Man of Steel.

That infuriated Lois, but not for the reason you might expect. She wasn't mad because Superman's secret identity might be revealed. Lois was mad because another reporter was about to beat her to it. That's Lois for you, always putting her friends' welfare first.

Clark mentioned that his guide was unable to see Superman streak into the volcano at super speed. Bates conceded the point, but except for the fact that Superman's momentum would have plunged both of them deeper into the volcano. Clark countered that the Man of Steel could have spun fast enough to create a vortex that would have started a whirlpool effect so that the walls of lava would not have touched them. Then Superman could have emerged from underground away from the volcano.

Bates went to his next question. He showed Clark a picture of him being shot by an escaped convict, on a movie set. Then Bates showed Superman serving as a target for two police officers at a police firing range. Once again Bates accused Clark of being Superman, then went to commercial. After the commercial break, the weapon used in the crime was on the desk, provided by the police. Clark answered the question by picking up the gun and shooting himself in the chest. When Clark was uninjured, Bates assumed that was proof that Clark was the Man of Steel.

Clark asked Bates to check the bullets, and he discovered the gun had been loaded with blanks. Since the weapon came from the police, it hadn't been touched. Since the gun had been on a movie lot, then it was just a prop gun loaded with blanks for a scene.

In a couple of flashback panels, it was revealed that during the commercial break, Clark had left the set to stretch his legs. He changed into Superman, flew at super speed to the same movie set, got some blanks, and returned to the set where he reloaded the gun, again at super speed.

The third scene Bates questioned Clark about was when he covered a prison at Rock Island Prison. Clark had been assigned to the story, along with reporters from other Metropolis newspapers, but none of them had seen him. Superman showed up and saved the hostage by wrapping iron bars around his body and magnetized them by flying into a lightning storm. That way the convicts' weapons were drawn to the Super magnet. An approaching hurricane cut off phone lines to Metropolis, so reporters couldn't phone in their stories. Superman saved the day again by flying the reporters back to Metropolis in a boat, without Clark Kent.

But when the reporters got back to Metropolis, they learned that the Daily Planet had beaten them to the story with a special edition already on the streets. Bates challenged Clark, saying that the reason he hadn't been seen in the prison was that he was Superman.

Perry had to laugh at this. Clark explained that Perry had ordered him to signal him from Rock Island Prison's beacon somehow, because White had two headlines ready: one saying that the prisoners escaped, and the other that Superman stopped the jailbreak. As Superman, he used the boat to block the light from the beacon, so editor Perry White would know to run the correct story. There was no explanation about how White had written either story ahead of time, and Clark didn't divulge how he had been able to use the beacon as a signal since only the Warden had a key to it. Clark kept that a professional secret in case he had to use it again.

Bates wasn't satisfied, so he had Clark hooked up to a lie detector machine, and after a few preliminary questions, asked Clark if he had super powers. Clark answered that he did not, and the machine indicated he had given an honest answer. What Bates and the operator of the lie detector didn't know was that Clark had opened a secret compartment in his lead lined watch to expose himself to a tiny bit of kryptonite. It was enough to neutralize his powers and allow him to give an honest answer.

The host took the test a step further. He had lead shields placed over Clark's eyes and mouth, so that Kent could only answer by nodding or shaking his head. Even though Clark's hands shook, when Bates asked him if he was Superman, Clark shook his head , "No," and passed the lie detector test.

That was enough for Bates, who thanked Clark for being a good sport. What the host didn't know was that Clark's shaking hands were vibrating fast enough to create a super cold wind that briefly froze the interior parts of the lie detector machine, so the needle wouldn't indicate that he had lied. And so Clark Kent's secret identity was still safe.

Some notes on this story: It was another tale of wild uses of Superman's powers. I couldn't help but wonder if the lie detector machine operator would have felt the cold breeze, or noticed condensation on the outside of the machine as it thawed. Also, wouldn't Bates or another member of the crew, or even the lie detector expert, notice Clark opening the secret compartment of his watch?

Concerning Clark's "rescue" from the volcano: First of all, I would think that Superman could have adjusted his trajectory to avoid plunging deeper into the volcano. And as far as spinning fast enough to create a vortex that would create a whirlpool effect, and allow Superman and Clark to fly through the volcano untouched by the molten lava, wouldn't the air friction and the g forces be enough to injure or kill Clark, as much as the lava itself? Plus, plugging a volcano might work in Saturday morning cartoons, but not in a comic book. I'm talking about a sense of reality in a comic book about a man who can fly and is super strong.

The stunt with the gun was probably the most convincing scene, and the prison riot story wasn't far behind. Clark might want to consider a career in politics if his day job as reporter or secret life of a superhero doesn't pan out. He knew how to dissemble as well as any seasoned politician.

Finally, I couldn't help but realize that the creator of Wonder Woman, William Marston, also helped develop and publicize the lie detector machine. Her golden lasso incorporated the ability to force anyone bound by it to tell the truth.

Some of the ways Superman demonstrated his powers stretched my imagination beyond the breaking point. Normally, I would give a story like this a 2, but the situation of Clark having to protect his secret identity on live TV was intriguing. This story about a news TV show seemed to fit in today, in an era of 24 hour cable TV news channels. But the 1950's was an era known for its strong TV journalism, with iconic reporters such as Edward R. Murrow. I still have to knock my rating down a bit because of the crazy powers, so I give this story 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

Tommy Tomorrow starred in the issue's second story, The Boy Planeteer. The 7 page story was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney. It told the tale of a boy who joined the Planeteers, and had an uncanny ability to predict various space crises. By the end of the story it was revealed that he was from 5 centuries in the future.

Congo Bill starred as Congorilla once again in the issue's final story, The Dunce Of The Jungle! The 6 page story was drawn by Howard Sherman, and revealed how Congo Bill used his intellect while Congorilla to stop a safari from capturing the Golden Gorilla.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 33 titles carried the March, or March/April 1959 cover date.

Next episode: The Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated February, 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #10!

In 2 weeks: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated April 1959: Superman #128 & Action Comics #251!

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