Saturday, September 17, 2011

Episode #196: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated September 1959: Action Comics #256!

Action Comics #256, September 1959, was published around July 30, 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, who were the art team for the Superman story in this issue.

The Superman Of The Future was written by Otto Binder. This 12 page story was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

Lois Lane and a group of reporters covered a demonstration of Professor Wright's time travel machine, with Superman serving as a test subject to make sure it was safe for people to use. Prof. Wright set the machine to send the Man of Steel to the year 100,000 A. D. But Superman did not return. Instead, the Future Superman of that year traveled back into the past for 24 hours.

His face was a twin for the 20th Century Superman, but his cranium was enlarged and bald, and his fingers and nails were longer. Dirk Folgar of World News Press asked him if his larger brain meant he possessed greater mental powers than the 20th Century Man of Steel. Ultra Superman, as he was called in a caption, confirmed it by displaying a mental projection of a cityscape from his future era.

Ultra-Superman then warned the reporters of four disasters that would occur in the next 24 hours: the destruction of the Bay Bridge, the sinking of a cargo ship and a domed underwater city set for a movie. He refused to name the fourth one because it was too terrible to mention.

The future Superman left the lab to attempt to prevent the destruction of the Bay Bridge, because that was the first disaster that would occur. Ultra Superman created a giant windmill that spun  fast enough to create super suction to dissipate a tornado headed for the bridge. Unfortunately, he happened to plant the windmill on top of a previously unknown fault, which started an earthquake that caused the bridge to collapse.

Ultra Superman responded to the next emergency. A military plane prematurely dropped an atomic bomb, which was falling toward the cargo ship. The future Superman flew to save the cargo ship, but it had dredged up a large piece of kryptonite. He attempted to detonate the bomb safely(?) above the ship by throwing a large boulder at it at super speed. Unfortunately, the air friction disintegrated the rock before it reached its target, so the nuclear bomb detonated, sinking the cargo ship.

The reporters boarded a submarine to view the underwater set of a submerged domed city for a movie. Ultra Superman struggled with a whale to keep it from colliding with the domed city. The turbulence from their battle struck the submarine, knocking Lois lane off balance and into the weapon control board and launching a torpedo which destroyed the underwater set.

A dejected Ultra Superman later revealed that fourth disaster to the reporters: the assassination of the President of the United States. Folgar asked him why he didn't inform the Secret Service.The future Superman didn't think it would help since he hadn't been able to stop any of the previous three disasters.

No one else realized that reporter Folgar was actually a foreign spy, part of a conspiracy to kill the President. He returned to his co-conspirators to finalize their plan. They deployed near the White House to watch the Presidential limousine explode when it drove over one of the booby trapped manhole covers Folgar and his fellow spies had rigged.

Folgar and his gang were surprised when the 20th Century Superman emerged from the wrecked limousine. The Man of Steel had been working with the Secret Service all along. The time travel experiment was a fake, and the fake dome cranium the "future" Superman wore hid a projector that projected the images on the wall. The longer fingers were gloves Superman wore over his hands. He had also made prior arrangements with the Bay Bridge police, the cargo ship crew and the movie company, agreeing to rebuild all three structures. Later, the President thanked Superman in private.

After Folgar and the other spies were arrested, back at the Daily Planet, Lois bragged about her accidentally helping Superman catch the spies when she accidentally launched the sub's torpedo. Clark admonished her to not get a big head, like the Ultra Superman.

I'm not sure that Clark has time to joke around with Lois, since Superman has to rebuild a bridge, ship and underwater domed city.

This was a typical silver age Superman story, taking a problem and finding an overly complicated solution to it. I was surprised at how willing the various authorities were to allow Superman to cause some collateral damage for his goal. As the Bay Bridge police officer responded, "It's for a good cause." Even the U. S. Military was willing to accidentally detonate a nuclear bomb on purpose for the Man of Steel. I'm sure that other nations would be comfortable with this, since Superman was involved. I'm no submarine expert, but I don't think that bumping into the fire control board would be enough to accidentally launch a torpedo. A fictional story about an assassination attempt is a serious matter, especially this close to the anniversary of 9-11.

As a 6 year old boy in the 1960's, I would have thought that this was a good, average Superman story, rating it about a 3. But as an adult, the overly complex scam that Superman was pulling on Folgar and his spies stretched credibility a little too much, so I give this story 2 Superman Capes out of 5.

Congo Bill starred in the second story of the issue, Janu, The Joker Of The Jungle. This 6 page story was drawn by Howard Sherman. In Congorilla's 8th appearance, Janu borrowed Congo Bill's magic ring to transfer his mind into the Golden Gorilla. His purpose was to teach the spoiled child actor starring in a jungle movie, in which Janu was a stunt double, until the actor quit and a very relieved director made Janu the star of the movie.

The Great Supergirl Mirage, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney, was Supergirl's 5th solo story. It was reprinted in Supergirl Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Supergirl vol. I.

It began as Supergirl patrolled the skies above Midvale,flying high enough so that no one on the ground would notice her. Unknown to her, Dick Wilson, another orphan in Midvale Orphanage, thought he saw a bird, and took a picture of it with his camera. As he walked to class at the orphanage, he walked by Linda Lee's room. He saw her unfinished homework assignment on her desk.

Supergirl returned to Midvale Orphanage and changed into her Linda Lee identity. She wrote her homework assignment at super speed, just in time to leave for class.

Dick's curiosity was piqued about Linda Lee when he noticed that she turned in the finished assignment. When he questioned her about it she simply said that she had a finished copy in her desk drawer. Later, she helped Dick develop his film, and recognized the picture he took of Supergirl when he thought he had taken a picture of a bird. Dick began to wonder if Linda was this new Supergirl.

Later, Linda and Dick went on a hike together. Dick went on by himself and threw a dummy of himself, which he had hidden earlier, off of a cliff and called for help.

Linda used her x-ray vision and spotted the falling mannequin. Unknown to her, Dick had coated the dummy  with a chemical that ignited when exposed to x-rays. Quick thinking Linda changed into Supergirl and flew into the sky at super speed. She pushed two storm clouds together so that a lightning bolt struck the dummy quick enough to make Dick wonder if the lightning strike had ignited his dummy.

Later, when the Headmaster had arranged for a traveling circus to perform for the orphanage, Dick tricked Linda to lift the real barbell instead of the fake barbell that was part of the clown act. To cover herself, Linda
took a piece of coal from the fire eater's act and squeezed it into a diamond. She spun it fast enough to drill the real barbell hollow. She then inhaled the metal dust, and used her super breath to blow it into the hole of the fake barbell before Dick tried to lift it.

When the circus performance began, Supergirl was the first act. She ended her performance by revealing that she was a robot. Linda Lee would later read a letter from Superman, who had been keeping a watchful eye on her and had seen her predicament. He had built the Supergirl robot that had protected her secret identity.

This was clearly a story meant to give Linda Lee/Supergirl a problem similar to her super powered cousin, a supporting character that suspected her secret identity. I don't know if he will appear in future stories, but we'll find out in future stories. Dick was a very clever young man, to be able to develop a chemical that would ignite when exposed to x-rays. He was also very nosy, to enter a girl's room when Linda's door was blown open.

Another common silver age plot device in this story was overly complex strategies to protect a superhero's secret identity. Supergirl whipped two storm clouds together to create a lightning strike. She also squeezed a lump of coal into a diamond (which should be the final test to be initiated into the superhero union), and spun it fast enough for it to become a drill to hollow the barbell. This was the one part that stretched my credibility too much. Wouldn't the spinning diamond create enough noise for Dick to hear it?

Also, it was a bit too much to believe for Linda to inhale the metal dust created by the drilling diamond, especially several feet away. the same goes for when she used her super breath to exhale and cause the metal dust to fill the fake barbell through a tiny hole. It seems to me that the metal dust could make the fake barbell fall apart, especially when it was made of paper mache.

This was the first appearance of a Supergirl robot, but, as we will see, won't be the last. But we will save that for future stories.

As a 6 year old boy in the 1960's I would have enjoyed this story, but as an adult, parts of this story were too fantastic to be believed, and I give it 2 Superman Capes out of 5.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 32 titles carried the September or September/October 1959 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated August 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #14!

In 2 Weeks: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated October 1959: Superman #132 & Action Comics #257!

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Thanks for listening to the Superman Fan Podcast and, as always, thanks to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.

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