Thursday, September 29, 2011

Episode #198: Superman Comic Books Cover Dated October 1959: Superman #132 & Action Comics #257!

Superman #132, October 1959, was published around August 6, 1959. It contained 32 pages for the cover price of 10¢. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was drawn by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye.

This issue contained a single full length story, a rarity for the silver age of Superman stories, titled Superman's Other Life. It was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye, and was reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I and Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told vol. II. The story was divided into three chapters:

Part I: Krypton Lives On!
Part II: Futuro, Super-Hero Of Krypton!
Part III: Superman Of Two Worlds!

Krypton Lives On began as Batman and Robin visited Superman in his Fortress of Solitude to express their gratitude for saving them from a recent crime trap in Gotham City. Their gift was to program the Man of Steel's Super Univac computer to show on a video screen what Superman's life might have been like if Krypton hadn't exploded.

The story began as Jor-El launched his infant son Kal-El in the small rocket. History in this story changed when Professor Zin-Da used his anti-atomic ray to defuse the chain reaction in Krypton's core. Jor-El launched a guided missile to steer Kal-El's rocket back to Krypton, and brought back the satellite which contained his son's pet dog, Krypto.

Various scenes showed Kal-El growing up, beginning school and joining the Krypton Youth Scouts. For one of his good deeds he used a telescope to observe an Earth couple in an out of control car, headed for a lake. Quick thinking Kal-El used a heat ray to evaporate the water, so that the vehicle came to a stop on dry land. It turned out that the couple was the Kents, who would later adopt a young girl.

Jor-El and Lara eventually gave Kal-El a younger brother, Zal-El.

Krypton began their own space program, and young Kal-El wanted to join Krypton's Space Patrol. Professor Xan-Du operated the Skill Machine, which used grades, mental capability and other data to determine what job the subject would have. The result was final. Kal-El was relieved to find that he would join the Space Patrol, but only as a dispatcher.

To ease Ka;-El's disappointment, Zan-Du demonstrated his latest invention, a Static Ray. It was anything but, as it transformed test Kryptonian rabbits to a variety of forms. After Kal-El left, Krypto entered the lab.Startled by a transformed rabbit, Krypto exposed both he and Xan-Du to the Static Ray, miraculously to no effect. Xan-Du sent Krypto home and dressed for that evening's Masquerade Ball.

Kal-El also attended, dressed in the fashion typical of Earth men, a business suit. Wearing a pair of glasses he looked exactly like Clark Kent. The Ball was held at the floating Sky Palace, and part I ended as the anti-gravity failed, and the Palace began to fall.

Part II: Futuro, Super-Hero Of Krypton began as a woman asked Professor Zan-Du to open the door to let the attendees escape. He surprised everyone, most of all himself, when he ripped the door off the hinges. That was how he learned that the Static Ray had given him super powers. He flew under the Sky Palace and flew it safely to the ground.

Before anyone could learn his identity, Xan-Du flew away. He decided to operate as the superhero Futuro and keep his identity secret.

Kal-El learned that Krypto had super powers when his pet dragged the equipment Kal-El had chained him to in Jor-El's lab, in an attempt to keep Krypto from chasing after him. When they saw Futuro flying over them, Kal-El had Krypto follow him in the air, and they flew to Xan-Du's lab where they learned his secret identity. So Kal-El became Futuro's version of Jimmy Olsen, and vowed to keep his identity secret.

The leaders of Krypton had a full size duplicate of the planet constructed as a decoy for any space invaders. The real planet would be shrouded by mist to hide it from any enemies. A construction worker was trapped inside the finished decoy, and dispatcher trainee Kal-El was unable to find any Spacemen available for the rescue. Futuro didn't respond when Kal-El alerted him with his signal watch, because he was rescuing some miners. After borrowing a Metal Eater, a hippo like creature, from a zoo, Kal-El flew to the decoy planet and had the Metal Eater chew a hole through which he could rescue the trapped worker. But Kal-El discovered that he was stranded when he discovered the Metal Eater making a second course of his rocket. Futuro rescued everyone and they returned to Krypton.

Futuro re-examined the Talent Machine with his x-ray vision and discovered that a loose wire was making the machine give inaccurate  job decisions. Kal-El was retested, and was confirmed as a Spaceman. He would graduate the Academy and don the Spaceman uniform, which would be a duplicate of what humans would call Superman's uniform.

Part II would end when Jor-El's rocket, with the rest of his family on board, crashed on a magnetic asteroid which had drawn the rocket off course.

Part III: The Superman Of Two Worlds began as Spaceman Kal-El flew his rocket to rescue his family. Unfortunately, the crash caused a chain reaction in the asteroid, which exploded before anyone could be rescued. Futuro carved a monument to Jor-El and his family on the largest remnant left of the asteroid. So even in this alternate timeline, Kal-El would be orphaned.

Spaceman Kal-El would rescue an alien rocket which happened to come from Earth. Futuro discovered a stowaway aboard the Earth rocket, reporter Lois Lane, still risking her life for the exclusive scoop. Kal-El showed her around Krypton, including the Museum of weapons, which held all of the planet's weapons now that war was obsolete on Krypton.On board a Subsurfacer, a type of submarine that would burrow under enemy cities, Lois accidentally turned on the ship when she couldn't read the Kryptonian warning signs that it was powered by cosmic rays. It burrowed into the Electric Caverns, but Futuro rescued them before they could be struck by one of the underground lightning bolts.

Lois fell in love with Futuro, and he decided to follow his love to er home planet. Before he left, Futuro exposed Kal-El to the final charge in his Static Ray, giving him super powers. Kal-El decided to take the superhero name of Superman!

Back at the Fortress of Solitude, the Man of Steel appeared to have mixed emotions at the possible other life where he still wound up being Superman.

While this story was not labeled as such, this was like a classic "imaginary story." It had tragedy and triumph, most of the elements of Superman lore spun in a new direction. I did have a few very minor problems with the story. I couldn't help but wonder why Jor-El didn't bring Kal-El's rocket back by remote control. It would be much harder to send a missile at the same speed and trajectory to steer the rocket instead of just crashing into it.

Also, I had to wonder how the control board would work, when Lara ordered food from the Community Kitchen with the touch of a button. A complex web of underground pipes would have to be built to transport  the dishes to the individual homes. Ah, but silver age superhero stories have fun creating overly complex solutions. If there was a Kryptonian version of the ASPCA, Professor Xan-Du would be in big trouble over his use of Kryptonian rabbits in his experiments.

Other than those minor points, I enjoyed this story very much. It showed that no matter what planet he was on, Kal-El would always become a hero, and I give it 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

Action Comics #257, October 1959, was published around August 27, 1959, the very day my parents got married. The editor was Mort Weisinger, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye.

The Reporter Of Steel was written by Otto Binder, pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. It was reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman vol. I.

Lex Luthor, in his solitary confinement cell in prison, dismantled a radio and built a super ray projector and an image transmitter. A speck of the element xium he smuggled into his cell in one of the fillings of his teeth powered the super ray device.

Luthor used the image projector to beam his image outside the walls of his cell, and allowed him to see beyond the prison walls. He wanted to test the super ray device on someone before using it on himself, to be safe. Luthor found Clark and Lois, and he exposed Clark to the super ray device.

Clark noticed that a fly which had also been exposed gained super powers and was able to crash through a spider web. Luthor informed Clark that if he had no side effects from having super powers, then Lex would use the device on himself. Clark "tested" his powers by lifting a car. Luthor's image faded, and the projector device shorted out.

When Clark and Lois visited Luthor in his cell, he had dismantled his projection device and reassemble the still working radio. Clark took advantage of not having to keep his powers secret by typing a report at super speed, and spinning the rollers on the press so that the next edition could get printed.

Clark Kent put on an exhibition of his super powers, but charged the admission price of a dime to get rich off of his new abilities. He used his x-ray vision to activate one of his Superman robots from his secret closet in his apartment, so that Superman would still be seen. The robot subbed for Clark in exploring the moon for some scientists.

To add to his fortune, Clark searched for sunken treasure, mines, and the pearls of a million oysters. He even  squeezed coal to diamonds until Perry reminded him that he would cause a crash on the diamond market. Clark stopped a robbery at the Superman Museum, and made sure he got the reward money for capturing the criminals. He even won a contest by defeating the heavyweight boxing champion. When Clark rescued the passengers of a dirigible which was about to fly into a skyscraper, Clark would only do it after the people gave him their cash and jewels.

When Lois questioned by Lois about his greed, Clark accused her of being a gold digger, only interested in him instead of Superman because of his fortune. Lois slapped him, but her hand didn't hurt as much as her heart.

Finally, Clark announced that he was donating his entire fortune to charity.  That drove Luthor to destroy his super ray device, for fear that he would be compelled to give away his future ill gotten booty as a side effect of his invention. Clark's plan had worked to perfection. When the Superman robot returned from the Moon, Clark had it search the oceans for buried treasure in order to reimburse the blimp passengers and ease his conscience. A very relieved Metropolis was glad Superman was back, and that Clark Kent no longer had super powers.

This story had one of the most interesting challenges that Luthor ever devised against Superman. It was interesting to see Clark not having to hide his super powers. What was disturbing was his turn to greed, which obviously was a front, but he seemed to take it too far when he basically extorted the dirigible passengers for their lives.

When Clark used his x-ray vision to activate his Superman robot long distance, I couldn't help but wonder if he could use his x-ray vision to change the channel on his TV, since TV remote controls had been sold since around 1950.

This story was unusual in that Clark almost became a second villain in this story. It was certainly a change for him. I could see him faking greed, but not basically robbing the passengers. If not for the extreme Clark went to in this regard I would rate this story a 4, but I have to drop it to 3 Superman Capes out of 5 for that reason.

Congo Bill starred in the second, 6 page story of the issue, The Man Ape Skin Diver, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney. In his 9th appearance as Congorilla, Congo Bill salvaged a sunken experimental tank that was powered by a nuclear engine.

Supergirl starred in the 8 page final story of the issue, The Three Magic Wishes, written by Otto Binder and drawn by Jim Mooney. This story was reprinted in Supergirl Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Supergirl vol. I.

Linda Lee was reading the fairy tale Cinderella to some of the younger orphans, when Tommy Baxter barged in and interrupted Linda. He said he didn't believe fairy tales.

Later, she changed into Supergirl and decided to teach Tommy a lesson. After improvising a fairy godmother costume, she appeared before the orphans. Tommy agreed to believe in fairy tales if she could grant three wishes.

His first was to make plain looking Peggy look pretty. Supergirl took a photo of Peggy's Mother, hung it outside from a tree limb, and put a magnifying lens on a window. She had Peggy say the magic words and look out the window, and she saw her pretty "reflection."

Tommy's second wish was to change Johnny's rabbit into a horse. Supergirl flashed her magic wand (actually a sparkler) and at super speed lassoed a horse from a few miles away. Using her super breath, she returned the horse to his ranch, to land softly in a pile of hay. A carrot lured the rabbit back in its cage.

His third wish was to make a string that couldn't be broken. Supergirl used her fingernail to clip a few strands of her hair and combine them into one thin string. She tied Tommy with it, and he couldn't break it. He said he was only kidding when he said he didn't believe in fairy tales, but the Fairy Godmother Supergirl taught him a lesson for lying.

At super speed she placed a bit of yeast dough on his nose and heated it slightly with her x-ray vision, making it seem like Tommy's nose was growing like Pinocchio's. She hypnotized the children and they returned to the orphanage in a trance. She removed the fake nose and changed back into Linda Lee.

When the children awoke, it all seemed to be a dream, especially to a very relieved Tommy. Linda was satisfied that he had learned his lesson when he declined to listen to her read the story of Pinocchio to the younger orphans.

I thought Tommy was annoying, and didn't mind Linda teaching him to mind his own business, but I thought she went too far by humiliating him with the fake growing nose. Lassoing the horse at super speed would have killed the animal, if not severely wounding it, but other than that, it was a simple story about teaching a troublesome kid a lesson. I would have given this a 4, for the innocent charm of the tale, but the nose bit pushed it down to 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

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

Since this week was my 51st birthday, I also looked at the Superman titles which were published in September 1961. There were 5 such titles that month, carrying the November 1961 cover date: World's Finest Comics #121, Superman #149, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #29, Action Comics #282 and Adventure Comics #290.

Next Episode: The Superman Family Comic Books Cover Dated September 1956: Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #15 & World's Finest Comics #84!

In 2 Weeks: The Superman Comic Books Cover Dated November 1959: Superman #133 & Action Comics #258!

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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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