Thursday, August 4, 2011

Episode #188: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated May 1959: Superman #129 & Action Comics #252!

Even though this is the 188th official episode, because I began with an episode #0, and have had a number of multi-part episodes, especially around MegaCon earlier in the year, this is actually the 200th individual episode of this podcast. Thank you, everyone, for your continued interest in this podcast, and in the Man of Steel.

Superman #129, May 1959, was published around March 19, 1959. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of 10¢. The editor was Mort Weisinger, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye. All three stories have been reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archive vol. II and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

The first story of the issue was The Ghost Of Lois Lane, which was featured on the cover. This 9 page story was written by Jerry Coleman, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye.

It began with a typewriter salesman impressing Jimmy with a new electric typewriter that was so sensitive that he could type by softly blowing on the keys. Perry White gave Lois a briefcase which belonged to a Professor Grail, and had been turned in to the paper's Lost and Found Department. White thought that it might give her an excuse to observe Grail's experiments in energy transmission.

Using a rented helicopter, Lois flew to the Professor's laboratory. There was no explanation why she didn't use the Daily Planet's Flying Newsroom. She was embarrassed to admit that she had forgotten his briefcase because she had been anxious to see his scientific work. Professor Grail, perhaps amused by her honesty, indulge her, with the stipulation that she not report on his work until it was finished. He explained that his work in energy transmission had lead him to research the possibility of transmitting people through space by radio, although it had not been perfected yet.

Back at the Daily Planet, Perry White asked Superman to take Grail's briefcase, which Lois had left behind. As he approached the lab, Superman used his x-ray vision to search for Lois. He wanted to give it to her so that she could give it to Grail herself. The Man of Steel saw her sitting on a chair that was part of a device, when an explosion rocked the lab. When the smoke cleared, there was no trace of Lois. Superman believed he had accidentally killed her because his x-ray vision had interacted with the unknown electronic circuits in an unexpected way.

As he searched for Professor Grail, Superman saw a ghostly image of Lois, which he thought was an illusion caused by his grief. The Man of Steel decided to lose himself in his duties as Superman.

He used his x-ray vision to check for flaws in the steel girders of the frame of a skyscraper under construction. Lois' ghost appeared again. Superman was so unnerved that he melted a steel girder in half. He flew to his Fortress of Solitude and lamented how he wished he could have had a normal life, with Lois Lane as his wife. Superman noticed a flaw in the Lois statue in the Lois Lane room. When he used his x-ray vision to examine it, the  ghost of Lois appeared again.

Superman tested a theory by flying to another planet and used his x-ray vision to find his way through the atmosphere's thick clouds. Sure enough, Lois Lane's ghost appeared again. Superman returned to Earth and his job at the Daily Planet as Clark Kent. Jimmy was having trouble with his new typewriter, and Clark secretly used his x-ray vision to fuse a broken wire in the machine.

An impatient Perry White entered the office, anxious for Jimmy's story and for Lois' return from the Professor's lab. Once again, Clark saw Lois Lane's ghost in the office. Suddenly, Jimmy's typewriter began typing on its own, even though no one was sitting at his desk. The message read. Am trapped in Fourth Dimension. Contact Superman to pull down left lever in Professor Grail's lab so that I can be released. Lois Lane

A very relieved Clark Kent left the office to find a secluded place to change into Superman. He rushed to Professor Grail's lab. In the Fourth Dimension Lois could see a figure changing into Superman, but his identity shrouded in mist, and then the Man of Steel flying to the lab.

Superman pulled the correct lever and Lois returned from the Fourth Dimension. She revealed that every time he used his x-ray vision, it penetrated the Fourth Dimension and enabled him to see her. Lois explained that she could see him changing from his civilian identity into the Man of Steel, but was unable to see his secret identity. She asked him if she would ever learn his secret, to which Superman answered that she didn't stand a ghost of a chance.

This is the second consecutive episode where we've seen a story where Superman's x-ray vision had an unexpected reaction. The explanation was typical comic book science, which would not hold up to very close scrutiny, but this is a minor point.

It was a very emotional story, with Superman tormented by guilt over the assumed death of Lois, which he caused. Superman dropped his guard, revealing his true feelings for Lois, until she returned, that is. Then things settled back to normal, with him holding her at arm's length. We learn just how deeply he cares for Lois, but is unable to express in order to keep her from being endangered by his enemies. This is a part of Superman's personality we don't see often in the silver age, and for that reason I give this story 4 Superman Capes out of 5.

Clark Kent, Fireman Of Steel was the second story of the issue. This 7 page tale was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino.

Clark's next assignment was to live with the Metropolis Fire Department for a week and write a feature story about it. Fire Chief Hogan was annoyed with Clark's assignment to his station, despite the fact that it was arranged by the Mayor. Hogan decided to scare the mild mannered reporter to make him quit his assignment.

During the first alarm Clark was involved with, the Chief sent Clark into a burning store to search for any trapped people, since his other firemen were busy. Fortunately, the store was empty, and Clark was able to make the clogged sprinkler system activate. Unfortunately his fireman suit was burned away, so he punched a hole through the wall, into a costume shop, to take a fireman's costume. Of course, he would pay for it later. The Fire Chief chalked up Clark's fortune to dumb luck.

The next day, Fire Chief Hogan had Clark climb the ladder truck to rescue a cat trapped on top of the smoke stack, although there is nothing in the art to indicate how the cat could have climbed so high. The ladder jammed and couldn't retract, so Clark would have to jump with the cat and land in the Fireman's Net. The Fire Chief noticed too late that part of the net was unraveled, but Clark secretly used his x-ray vision to cause a close fire hydrant to burst open, creating a geyser that slowed his fall enough to land safely. Fire Chief Hogan thought Clark lived a charmed life.

The third alarm Clark responded to was at the Superman museum. Clark didn't wait for the Fire Chief to order him into the building. There were too many irreplaceable souvenirs inside. Unseen, he used his super breath to extinguish the flames, then noticed that the front of his fireman's suit was burned away, exposing the Superman shield of his uniform. Clark used a barrel to hide his burnt uniform, much to the Fire Chief's amusement. Chief Hogan credited a Plutonian Freeze Ray machine with extinguishing the fire, which was fine with Clark since his secret identity would be safe.

At the site of the fourth alarm Clark responded to, he used his own body to shield the rest of a lab from damage from an explosion. He had finally learned his lesson by putting his fireman's suit under his Superman uniform as soon as he was alone in the burning building, then putting his fireman suit on the outside before the Fire Chief got to him. Chief Hogan found Clark in an overturned vat, after thinking Clark had been killed in the explosion.

When the week was over, Clark took his leave of Fire Chief Hogan, promising to highlight the dangers the Metropolis Fire Department faced on the job. The Fire Chief scoffed at Clark, saying that a bomb could drop on Kent's head without putting a hair out of place.

While Superman was on patrol the next day, he noticed some smoke coming from a home's window. The Man of Steel used his super breath to extinguish a stove fire at none other than Fire Chief Hogan's residence. Hogan had been reading Clark Kent's article about his department, and told the Man of Steel that he was glad it was he and not Kent who responded. Superman winked at the reader.

No real Fire Chief would expose an untrained civilian to such danger for liability reasons, but it was a humorous story, as Clark secretly used his powers to foil Chief Hogan's attempt at intimidation. It seems that everyone must know about Clark Kent's meek and mild reputation, for the Fire Chief to try to scare him off the assignment. When I recorded the episode, I completely missed the fact that the Fire Chief had the same last name as me.

I don't understand why Clark didn't just climb down the stuck ladder with the cat, but then it would have been a less interesting panel. I would rate it a 2, except for the humor of the story, which raises it to 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Girl In Superman's Past was the third and final story of this issue. This 10 page story was also subtitled An Untold Tale Of Superman, the third such story to be labeled. It was written by Bill Finger, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. Along with the other reprint editions previously mentioned for this issue, this particular story also appeared in Superman From The Thirties To The Seventies and The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, which was the reprint edition I first read this story in.

While Clark and Lois watched a football game at Metropolis University, the blanket that Lois covered her lap with reminded Clark of a woman named Lori, so cue the flashback.

During Clark's senior year at Metropolis University, he saw a girl in a wheelchair rolling uncontrolled down a hill. As he rushed toward her he used his x-ray vision to melt the tires so that they would stick to the sidewalk and slow down. He got to her just in time as the wheelchair stopped suddenly, throwing the girl out of her seat and a blanket still wrapped tightly around her waist covering her feet. They looked into each other's eyes, and for Clark it was love at first sight.

She surmised that her wheelchair's tires over heated from the speed she was traveling downhill, and Clark thought to himself that she said it as if they both knew it wasn't true.

At the Ark, a floating aquarium near the university, Clark's thoughts were only about the girl he had met, whose name we learn was Lori. A boiler explosion aboard the ark caused some of the fish to escape, and panic among the tourists. Clark dove overboard, and was able to change into his Superman uniform, which he carried in his briefcase. He wove a net out of seaweed and was able to capture most of the escaped fish.

Superman was surprised to see Lori underwater, her blanket still wrapped tightly around her legs, and in the clutches of a giant octopus.The Man of Steel noticed that Lori's lips seemed to be moving, as if she was talking to the octopus. Suddenly it released her and swam away, and Superman brought Lori to the surface.

Clark began to date Lori, but she said that she always had to be home by 8:00 p. m. Regardless, Lori was always on Clark's mind. In astronomy class he fantasized about carrying Lori in a pressurized sphere to see the planets. In art class he fantasized about carving her bust on a mountainside. And in music class Clark fantasized about carrying musicians around the world on a platform while they played a song he composed for her.

Clark's reverie was broken when, one morning, Lori informed him that she would return to her home country that evening. He decided to propose to her, and give up his career as Superman to avoid making Lori a target for his enemies.

Unfortunately for Clark, he was restricted to his dorm room as part of a fraternity initiation. He created a way to get out of the room by using his super breath to create a downdraft and fill the dorm with smoke from the fireplace. He caught up to Lori on the beach, knelt on one knee and proposed.

Lori declined his proposal because she knew he was Superman. Clark told her that, as the Man of Steel, he could search the world for a cure for her paralysis. But Lori stuck to her decision.

A despondent Superman spied on Lori, and he overheard her talking to someone on a radio. He wondered if she was a spy. After Lori left her trailer, the Man of Steel broke into her home and noticed that there was a salt water tank inside, but no bed. Then he realized what the truth about Lori must be.

Superman caught up to her at the beach, and she realized that he had discovered the truth. But before they could discuss things further, his super senses discovered a burst dam. He carried Lori to the sight of the emergency, and confirmed his suspicion when she dove into the flood waters and revealed herself as a mermaid. Together they saved the threatened residents and their homes.

After the rescue was finished, they returned to Lori's trailer, where she filled Superman in about her history. Her ancestors lived on the continent of Atlantis, who survived its sinking under a transparent dome. Eventually their scientists discovered a way for their citizens to breathe water, and they dismantled their dome. Once every century, one of their citizens would return to the surface world to learn how civilization developed, and this was what brought her to Metropolis.

Back at the ocean, Superman and Lori exchanged a final underwater kiss and she swam away, but not in his heart.

At the football game, Lois asked Clark why he had a far away look on his face. Clark simply told her that he was thinking about a friend and why he never married. Of course, it reminded Lois about Superman. If the Man of Steel wouldn't marry her, he wouldn't marry any woman because he'd have to give up being Superman. The story ended as Clark thought to himself that once, Superman almost did.

This story is my favorite Untold Tale so far. This story was adapted by John Byrne in Superman (vol. II) #12, December 1987, published on September 8, 1987, in the story, Lost Love.

The only negative comment I have about this story is why Clark was being initiated into a fraternity if he was a senior in college? Perhaps his mild mannered persona delayed his initiation until his senior year. I guess they had to find some way for Clark to be confined to his dorm and have to make a reason to leave. Otherwise it was a great story about the first great love of Clark Kent's life. He was driven to some impulsive actions, as love is wont to do to a young man. This story had all of the elements of a good love story, including a mysterious foreign woman. And, like a young man in a classic love story, he has to choose between love and his destiny. Once again, Lana Lang has come in second place to another woman, and this time to a mermaid.

It is no surprise this story was selected as one of the greatest Superman stories ever, and I give this story 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

Action Comics #252, May 1959, was published around March 31, 1959. 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. This issue was reprinted in its entirety in DC Silver Age Classics #1 and Millennium Edition #32. 

The Menace Of Metallo was the Superman story of the issue. The 13 page tale was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Al Plastino. This story was reprinted in Superman: The Man Of Tomorrow Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

The story began with reporter John Corben driving on a road outside of Metropolis as he listened to a radio show, Crime File, whose motto was, There is no perfect crime. Corben disagreed, having killed the only man who discovered that he was a thief and an embezzler. He had wiped his fingerprints off of the murder weapon, and staged his victim to look like a suicide.

Corben's vehicle swerved off of the road and over a cliff. He was found by an elderly couple, who took his broken body to the husband's nearby lab. After a few days, Corben awoke and was informed by the Professor that his human brain had been transported into a robot body. Corben's human body had been injured too severely for him to survive otherwise. His mechanical heart was powered by uranium, one of only two elements that could keep him alive.

Before Corben could learn what the second element was, storms caused a landslide which struck the house. The stress caused the Professor to suffer a stroke, and Corben, being the compassionate man he was, left the elderly man to be found by his housekeeper.

The next day, Corben got a job at the Daily Planet, thanks to an excellent recommendation Perry White had received. Perry introduced Corben to the staff, and Clark was surprised by the strength of Corben's grip. After Lois showed Corben to his desk, she brushed off his very crude lunch offer after he flirted with her.

While Clark left to respond to a submarine emergency, Corben conducted a number of raids on various facilities which contained uranium. The next day, authorities concluded that the raids could only have been done by an indestructible robot they dubbed Metallo.

Later, Clark faked a stomachache to cover his absence so that he could respond to a woman who was attempting to ride Niagara Falls in a barrel. While he was gone he was concerned for Lois' safety because she was working on a gang expose.

For whatever reason, Lois changed her mind, and walked with Corben to a restaurant for lunch. Some gangsters drove by and shot at Lois. Corben's indestructible robot body deflected the bullets, convincing Lois that he was Superman. At the restaurant, a radio news report stated that the area uranium had been place under guard at Fort Taber. Lois read her fortune cookie, which read, N'er faint heart nor false heart e're won a fair maid.

Lois gave Corben an idea, and he disguised himself as Superman and drove to Fort Taber, where he claimed to volunteer to help guard the uranium as he posed as the Man of Steel. At an opportune moment, he stole the uranium and drove away in his car. The real Superman chased him, but had to break it off to keep a globe from a statue from crashing during instillation.

Corben was able to escape and make his way back to the Professor, who was now confined to a wheelchair. The elderly man informed Corben that the other element that could power his mechanical heart was kryptonite. The Professor happened to have a sample in his lab. He had planned on attempting to develop an antidote for Superman, but felt Corben needed it more. Corben thought that the old man must not have heard the news reports about Metallo.

Instead of installing it in his body, Corben hid it in the basement of a Metropolis exhibit hall, which was filled with Superman souvenirs for a charity show. Superman arrived to set up for the show, and walked into Corben's trap. Corben took the sample that Superman had among his exhibits, put it in his chest, and left the Man of Steel to die from kryptonite poisoning.

Superman summoned his remaining strength and concentrated his x-ray vision on the kryptonite, succeeding in melting the kryptonite and saving his own life.

Corben, posing as Superman, went to Lois' home. When his shirt tore, revealing his metal chest, Lois realized that Corben was Metallo. He approached her, intending to kill her in order to keep his secret. Just then, the real Superman arrived to find Corben fainted on the floor. He had died because the kryptonite he had put in his chest was merely a prop from a photo shoot.

Later, at the police station, an officer informed Superman and Lois that, while Corben had wiped off his fingerprints from the murder weapon, he hadn't done so to the bullets he had loaded into the gun. Corben hadn't committed the perfect crime after all.

Corben's look reminded me of the actor Errol Flynn, with his pencil thin mustache. He proved himself to be an evil villain on par with Luthor or Brainiac. Corben's pick up line to Lois, I go for you baby! You're a cute number. How about lunch? What I'd like to know was what changed Lois' mind. It's a good thing she did, because as evil as Corben was, his metal body did save her from being killed.

This issue had the first instance in the silver age I've seen where Superman compressed his Clark Kent clothes and hid them in a pocket in his cape.

It was strange seeing Corben drive away with a metal barrel marked uranium sitting in the back seat. I just hope it was shielded enough. I was also surprised that the Professor was willing to help Corben after he left the old man after his stroke.

Also, I wonder if Superman intended for Corben to find the fake kryptonite, or was it just bad luck on Corben's part?

This was an action packed story, where Corben seemed to be the main character more than Superman. By the way, a second Metallo, named Roger Corben, would premiere in Superman #310, April 1977. I have to give this story 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

The second story of the issue starred Congo Bill in Congo Bill Dies At Dawn. The 8 page story was written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Howard Sherman. It marked Congo Bill's fifth appearance as Congorilla.

The final story of the issue was titled The Supergirl From Krypton. This 8 page tale was written by Otto Binder and drawn by Al Plastino. Along with the previous reprint editions mentioned for this issue, this particular story was also reprinted in Superman In The Fifties, Supergirl Archives vol. I and  Showcase Presents: Supergirl vol. I.

While Clark worked at the Daily Planet, his super hearing detected the noise of a falling rocket. After making a quick change into Superman, he flew to the crash site. He noticed that the crashed rocket resembled the one that brought him to Earth, but didn't expect to find anyone still alive inside the rocket.

Much to his surprise, a young blonde girl, dressed in a similar costume to his own popped out of the rocket. She informed Superman that she came from Krypton, which he found hard to believe.

In a flashback she told Superman her story, beginning when a large chunk of Krypton was thrown in to space, large enough to carry a Kryptonian city and enough atmosphere for the inhabitants to survive. Zor-El helped lead their survival by having the ground covered with lead sheeting when the soil began converting to kryptonite.

Eventually Zor-El got married and the couple gave birth to daughter Kara Zor-El. One day a meteor shower hit the remnant of Krypton, punching holes through their lead shielding. Zor-El built a small rocket, and his wife sewed a costume, similar to Superman's, after studying Earth with their telescopes. Then she was sent to Earth in her rocket.

Superman told her that he came to Earth in a similar rocket which was built by his father Jor-El. Kara realized Superman was her cousin because Zor-El was Jor-El's brother. After giving Superman a hug, she asked if she could live with him. Sadly, he told her that she couldn't because he had taken an earthly identity. He did have an idea about her future.

Kara was able to fly with Superman, and the super cousins landed near Midvale Orphanage. He brought back some earth clothes and a pigtail wig. Kara decided on her own to take the earth identity of Linda Lee, coincidentally another person in Superman's life with L. L.initials, which the Man of Steel noticed.

Superman presented Linda Lee to the orphanage, giving her the honest story that her family was lost in a disaster, but leaving out the fact that the disaster happened on another planet. Before he left, he shared a final private moment with her before returning to Metropolis. Superman promised that he would train her in the use of her superpowers and eventually present her to the public when she was ready. Until then she would live in the orphanage and adjust to life on Earth.

Once on her own, Linda was shown to her room, and when left to herself secretly used her superpowers to tidy up the room.

After lights out, Linda changed into Supergirl and flew in the night sky around Midvale, when no one would notice her. She saw a movie poster at the town's movie theater advertising The History Of Superboy. As she returned to the orphanage, she wondered if one day she would be as good of a hero as her cousin.

My only problem with the story was, when Supergirl first mentioned Zor-El's name, Superman didn't pick up on the fact that Kara's father was his uncle, until she told him that fact. There have been stories, some of which we may get to, where he had memories of his brief life on Krypton because of his more highly developed Kryptonian brain. But this was only a minor point of the story.

It seemed heartless for Superman to leave Kara at an orphanage. I don't know if it would be frowned upon in 1950's society for an older man to have his younger female cousin live with him. But, as obsessive as Lois was about learning Superman's secret identity, if Clark introduced Linda to Lois as his cousin, it might be too much of a coincidence once Supergirl began operating publicly.

When I first read this story, it seemed a little silly that Supergirl would need training to use her superpowers, but after reading the New Krypton storyline, I realized how wise Superman was in training her privately. He was doing what Superman always does, protect her.

The ending was sad for Kara Zor-El. There was no kindly couple to adopt her right away and give her the same mid-western values that Clark Kent/Superman grew up with.There will eventually be a couple who would adopt Linda Lee, but that won't be for a while yet. For Superman, it was a happy ending, in that he was no longer alone on Earth as a Kryptonian.

Because of the historic nature of the story, as well as its quality, I give it 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

Coming up sometime in August, there will be a new Supergirl podcast. Check the website at for details.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, there were 32 titles which carried the May or May/June 1959 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated April 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #12!

In 2 weeks: Superman Comic Book Cover  Dated June 1959: Action Comics #253! This issue will contain the first solo Supergirl story.

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