Thursday, August 11, 2011

Episode #191: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated May/June 1956: World's Finest Comics #82!

World's Finest Comics #82, May/June 1956, was published around March 29, 1956. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of a dime. The editor was Jack Schiff, and the cover was drawn by Win Mortimer.

The Superman/Batman story for this issue was the 12 page story titled The Three Super Musketeers, written by Edmond Hamilton, pencilled by Dick Sprang and inked by Stan Kaye. This story was reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (which was the edition where I first read this story), World's Finest Comics Archive vol. I and Showcase Presents: World's Finest vol. I.

At a historians' convention, scientist and historian Dr. Carter Nichols declared that he was going to attempt to solve the mystery of the identity of the Man in the Iron Mask in 17th Century France. Reporter Clark Kent was in the audience. That evening Clark changed into Superman and flew to Wayne Manor, near Gotham City. Superman entered Wayne Manor through a chimney. The Man of Steel asked Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson if they were going to help Dr. Nichols solve his mystery. Bruce and Dick were, and Superman asked if he could tag along as Clark Kent.

Dr. Nichols used his time ray, combined with hypnosis, to send them into the past. They arrived in 17th Century France and changed into their superhero costumes to better fit in with the local fashions. They were met by D'artagnan and the Three Musketeers, wounded and fleeing Bourdet's guards. The Three Musketeers were wounded in an attempt to free the Man in the Iron Mask. The World's Finest heroes helped D'artagnan drive off Bourdet's guards.

After finding refuge for the Three Musketeers to recuperate, Superman, Batman and Robin became the new Three Musketeers. Along with D'artagnan, they rode to the Castle of Pignerol, where the Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated. Superman approached the castle alone, and cannonballs bounced off his chest. The Man of Steel used two cannonballs to break the chains holding the drawbridge up, and the New Musketeers stormed the castle.

Bourdet brought the Man in the Iron Mask, and blackmailed the World's Finest Musketeers with his prisoner's safety. Superman was surprised to learn that the iron mask hiding the prisoner's face contained lead, and was unable to learn his identity. Our heroes allowed themselves to be bound in chains, while Bourdet and his men took their prisoner out of the castle. They had rigged a fuse in the arsenal to blow up the gunpowder. As soon as Bourdet and his men were gone, Superman broke their chains and extinguished the fuse just in time.

Batman remembered that, according to Dr. Nichol's history, the Man in the Iron Mask was taken to the Batille, where he lived for the rest of his life. The Four Musketeers rode to the Bastille. While Batman and Robin left to bring the King, Superman and D'artagnan watched the prisoner. Bourdet's men chased Batman and Robin, thinking they were two of the Musketeers. Batman and Robin rigged sticks on their saddle, covered with their French hat and cloak. They jumped onto low hanging branches and pounced on their adversaries, dismounting them.

They climbed the palace and entered the King's private chambers. The King knocked himself while attacking Batman and Robin, thinking they were assassins. Quick thinking Batman disguised himself as the King and dressed the real King in his Batman costume. When the King's men entered the chamber, the "King" said the strangers were his friends, and ordered he be taken to the Bastille.

A guard warned Bourdet using a carrier pigeon. Bourdet ordered the Man in the Iron Mask be disposed of and made to look like an accident. The dungeon was flooded, but when it was drained, the Man in the Iron Mask was still alive. Bourdet then ordered the door to his cell to be covered by blocks, but the Man in the Iron Mask burst out of his cell, and singlehandedly vanquished Bourdet and his men. Batman and Robin and the King entered the dungeon, and the "King" ordered the prisoner to be unmasked. His identity was revealed to be Superman.

The real prisoner in the iron mask was indeed Count Ferney, who was guarded by D'artagnan. The real king ordered Bourdet to be imprisoned and forced to wear the iron mask, for the rest of his life.

Superman, Batman and Robin returned to their own era, changing back into Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson before they returned to Dr. Nichol's lab. They had discovered that two men were the Man In The Iron Mask, one innocent, the other guilty, not counting Superman, of course.

This was a great swashbuckling tale, with the World's Finest Heroes becoming the New Three Musketeers. It was a nice combination of the three superheroes with classic literature. There's no surprise that this story was picked as one of the greatest superhero team-up stories. It was cool, how Batman and Robin threw off their pursuers. I wonder how weird it was for the French King to be waking around in Batman's costume. I give this story 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

While doing some brief research about the classic Alexander Dumas novel, The Man In The Iron Mask, I discovered that there was a historical masked prisoner in the Bastille during the 17th Century. There is a mystery about the identity of the prisoner, and historians have theorized about several possible candidates. The Man In The Iron Mask was the third novel in author Alexander Dumas' trilogy, after The Three Musketeers, 20 Years Later. I tried to read it in high school, but didn't get very far. Instead of checking it out again, I just returned it to the library and never picked it up again. It wasn't as dense as Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but I do recall that the language of the translation I read was a little old fashioned, But then the book was written in the 19th Century.

The second story was the 6 page tale, The Indian Fortune Teller, starring Tomahawk and drawn by Fred Ray. Tomahawk and Chief Maker Of Wind solved the mystery of the tribe's disappearing animal pelts.

Green Arrow starred in the 6 page final story of the issue, The Pictures Of Peril. The Grand Comic Book Database at gave the name of the writer as possibly being Dave Wood, and the artist was George Papp. This story recapped the Green Arrow's origin, and in this era before tight continuity, was different that any other Green Arrow origin. In this origin, Oliver Queen grew up in the American West, and learned his archery skills from his friend, a Sioux teen named Little Otter. Green Arrow and Speedy foiled the plans of a gang who had kidnapped a reporter, and replace him with one of their gang. The reporter had scheduled an interview with Green Arrow about his origin, and the gang used the opportunity to get rid of Green Arrow and Speedy.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 27 titles carried the May or May/June 1956 cover date.

Next Episode" Superman Comic Books Cover Dated July 1959: Superman #130 & Action Comics #254!

In 2 weeks: Superman Family Comic Books Cover Dated June 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #13!

Check for information about theSupergirl Podcast, premiering sometime this August!

Also, if you have any original publication date about a Superman story about his alien zoo, reprinted in the 1970 Superman Bumper Book in the U. K., contact me!

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