Thursday, December 1, 2011

Episode #206: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated January/February 1957: World's Finest Comics #86!

This episode could be called The Jerry Siegel Show because he wrote all of the stories discussed in this episode. After these five stories, Siegel had written 13 silver age Superman related stories for DC Comics at this point. Before the stories discussed in this episode, he also wrote Prisoners Of The Super-Heroes for Adventure Comics #267, December 1959, and The Ghost Of Jor-El for Superboy #78, January 1960.

All of the Superman stories discussed in this episode have been reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman vol. II.

Superman #135, February 1960, was published on December 17, 1959. It contained 32 pages for 10¢. Mort Weisinger was the editor, and the cover was pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Stan Kaye.

The first story in this issue was titled When Lois Lane First Suspected Clark Was Superman, featured as An Untold Tale Of Superman, the 7th Superman story to carry this subhead.

At the Daily Planet offices, Lois Lane peered out the window and saw some robbers fleeing in a getaway car. Clark Kent went to the water fountain, claiming to feel faint. Lois thought it might be more than a coincidence that Clark disappeared every time Superman appeared. Clark was very aware of what Lois was thinking, and recalled when she didn't suspect he was Superman. Cue the flashback.

One day, sometime in the past, Lois saw Superman fly toward the Daily Planet building and grab the flagpole on the roof before disappearing behind it. That was when she first suspected that an employee of the Daily Planet might be Superman.

Once she arrived at her desk, Lois examined the hands of every man in the office for signs of wet paint, except for Clark Kent. She scoffed at the possibility that Clark could be Superman. As a matter of fact, Clark had already used his x-ray vision to melt the wet paint from his hands, but almost didn't know whether to be relieved or insulted that Lois found the possibility that he was the Man of Steel ridiculous.

On the following Saturday, during a beach party for the Daily Planet staff, Lois snooped through everyone's things for clues to Superman's secret identity. In a rare shirtless appearance, Clark buried himself in the sand so that Lois wouldn't suspect his too fit physique. He stuck a fake flabby arm on the outside if his mound, but Lois didn't notice as she passed by. She was listening to another woman talking about the possibility of finding Superman's secret identity at that evening's masquerade party. Clark was annoyed this time that Lois didn't notice him.

After the beach party ended, the Planet staff returned to the office to publish the paper's afternoon edition.Clark received a phone tip that Lex Luthor had just escaped from jail. In a flash of anger, Clark squeezed the phone receiver out of shape. Lois noticed it, and chastised Clark for switching his real phone for a fake one in order to play a trick on her.

Clark changed into Superman and began searching for Luthor. He found a truck carrying life sized was statues to a museum, and offered to melt the face of the Luthor statue in order to shape it more realistically. That blew Luthor's cover when he hid his face, and he was captured.

After returning to the Daily Planet office, Superman was changing into his Clark Kent clothes when Lois walked into the storeroom. She was annoyed at Clark for wearing the Superman costume in order to make her a laughingstock. After all, it's all about Lois.

Later, while plumbers were making repairs, Lois began to have second thoughts about dismissing the possibility that Clark could secretly be Superman. She decided to put him to the test by using a small piece of kryptonite that Perry had given her to photograph for a feature article she was writing. Lois placed the kryptonite in a pipe and showed it to Clark. He did a good enough job of hiding the agony he was under so that Lois tossed the pipe in the trash can. But after she reviewed the notes for her article, she noticed the one about lead shielding kryptonite radiation. Lois returned to Clark's office and retrieved the pipe, only to discover that it was made of aluminum, not lead. What she didn't know was that Clark had switched the pipes to throw her off.

Back in the present, as Clark stood at the water fountain, he used his x-ray vision to peer through the wall and see that a police car had stopped the crooks, and would not require Superman's assistance. To cover himself he placed his foot under the fountain's foot pedal, and "needed" Lois' help in getting unstuck. Lois scoffed at the notion that Clark could possibly be Superman. Or was it an act? The story ended before the circle could start all over again.

This was an okay, humorous story, but not great. There really wasn't a clear reason for Superman to touch the flagpole, unless wet paint is as irresistible to Superman as it is to the rest of us. Clark was very clever to always cover his tracks in this story. I did find Lois a little harsh in dismissing Clark, That weakling - Superman? Don't make me laugh. It would be a ridiculous waste of time to study his hands! I liked that Clark didn't know whether to be relieved or annoyed. I've often thought the same thing. Lois was very nosy at the beach party, and it was smart of Clark to keep Lois from noticing his in shape physique. I couldn't help but think that wouldn't others notice Clark's build and suspect that he might be Superman. When Clark planted the fake arm, I wondered about what he would do if Lois picked up his "hand". His closest call was when Lois waved the kryptonite under his nose.

My favorite way that Superman has ever captured Lex Luthor was in this story. When the Man of Steel noticed Luthor posing as a wax statue in the back of the truck, I liked his comment, That wax face of Luthor doesn't do his ugly face justice. Superman caught Luthor off guard when he offered to use his x-ray vision to remold his face.

Jerry Siegel gave Clark and Superman more of a sense of humor than I've noticed in these silver age stories, especially when he captured Luthor. He showed more of an emotional response to Lois' scheme to discover Superman's secret identity.

I give this story 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

Superman's Mermaid Sweetheart was the second story of the issue. This 10 page story was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye. It began as Clark was driving through a fishing village on his return trip to Metropolis after covering an out of town story, when he overheard a conversation about a mermaid.

Clark decided to check it out, and walked into a conversation between a group of fishermen. Hans Schmidt claimed a mermaid had freed his catch. Another fisherman told him that maybe he should stop fishing illegally in spawning waters.

After the other fishermen left, Clark asked Schmidt to describe the mermaid, and Kent knew that Hans was describing Lori Lemaris (who was introduced in Superman #129, May 1959, in The Girl In Superman's Past, which was discussed in Episode #158).

Clark rushed to the beach and telepathically called for Lori. After a false alarm that turned out to be only a dolphin, Clark, who had changed into Superman, found her on the beach. In a rare panel without a word balloon or narration caption, they shared a lingering kiss. Superman immediately proposed, but Lori declined. He did talk her into going on a date, but after dinner at a night club, Lori asked Clark to take her back to the beach.

Superman again proposed, and promised to leave the surface world and live with Lori in Atlantis. She swam back home to ask permission, which was granted. The Man of Steel didn't notice Schmidt eavesdropping on them, until Hans threw his harpoon at the dolphin Lori rode. She saved the animal from the harpoon but severely injured herself on the jagged rocks.

Schmidt fled a furious Superman, who rushed Lori to Atlantis. He first had to lead an atomic beast out of the water and into a volcano to its doom, after it began chasing them. Atlantian doctors saved her life, but informed Superman that she was paralyzed.

The Man of Steel searched outer space for someone with the medical knowledge to restore Lori, and found him on a water world. After Superman brought this merman to Earth, the alien physician cured Lori, but at the price of the two merpeople falling in love.

For a brief moment Superman was furious with jealousy, but was calmed by Lori, who told him that what he felt for her was pity, not love. After a final kiss, Superman returned to the surface world.

In the last panel, sometime later at the Daily Planet, Lois told Clark that he had been looking for a while as if he had lost his best friend. Clark thought to himself that it was more than a best friend, but it seemed as if he had awakened from a dream. Apparently, he had begun to bounce back, as he asked Lois for a date. The story ended before she responded.

This is my favorite of the few silver age Jerry Siegel stories we've covered so far. It was a sequel to the original Lori Lemaris story. Siegel gave Superman a range of emotions that has been rarely seen in one story, from love, rage to jealousy. While Lois has been Superman's main object of affection, here in the silver age it seems to have been Lori Lemaris, judging by the number of times he proposes to her in this single story.

If I were Schmidt, I would run for my life too, as well as a dry pair of pants, after causing Lori to be seriously injured, If the woman I love dies, there will be no corner in the universe where you can hide! Superman wasn't afraid to cause the death of a living being when he led the atomic sea creature out of the ocean, to fly into its own destruction in an active volcano.

Having read a little bit about the struggles of Siegel and Shuster in the late 1940's and '50's, I couldn't help but wonder if some of he poured his emotional turmoil into this story. I have to give it 5 Superman Capes out of 5.

The Trio Of Steel was the third and final story in this issue. This 8 page tale was drawn by Al Plastino. It began on a hot day, when Superman used his x-ray vision to evaporate a swimming hole, then melted the ice of a skating rink. Then he blocked the broadcast signal of a Metropolis TV station with his impenetrable body, causing a lot of interference.

A gleeful Superman changed into Clark Kent and returned to the Daily Planet offices. Perry White assigned him to write a story about Superman gone berserk. When Perry read the story he asked Clark if he thought he was Mr. Mxyzptlk, because he had written the story backwards. Clark asked if he could take the rest of the afternoon off, because he didn't feel well, and Perry granted his request, as long as Clark still attended Perry's testimonial dinner. Superman wouldn't be welcome, Perry added.

Superman attended the dinner anyway, and proceeded to humiliate Perry by making him dress as a rabbit, clown and bum. The Man of Steel then took Lois to Niagara Falls, where he proposed. Then his attention was drawn to a homely woman, and together they mocked Lois. After returning a furious Lois to Metropolis, Superman flew to an unnamed mountain where Mr. Mxyzptlk waited for him. After he snapped out of his hypnotic trance, a furious Superman made a deal with Mxy so he would return to the 5th Dimension. The Man of Steel would give him a Superman robot.

Instead of one robot, three robots flew to Mr. Mxyzptlk, a Superman, Superboy and Superbaby robot. None of the robots wanted to return to the 5th Dimension until Mxy talked them into competing against each other. The Superboy robot hit the mountain, breaking his arm, which was repaired by the Superman robot. He shook Mxy's hand until he made the imp dizzy. Superbaby began to cry, so the Superman robot carved some alphabet blocks. When Superbaby tried to spell the letters, Mxy helped the robot tot and unknowingly spelled his own name backwards. Before he vanished back to the 5th dimension, Mxy learned that the real Superman posed as a robot.

Clark Kent wrote an article exposing Mr. Mxyzptlyk's manipulations of the Man of Steel, much to the relief of Metropolis.

My first thought was that, early in the presidential campaign trail, how politicians wish they could blame Mr. Mxyzptlk for some of the dumb things they say. Siegel indulged his sense of humor writing a mischievous Man of Steel. This wasn't a bad story, but not a great one either. I can't give it a 2, so I'll give it a low 3 Superman Capes out of 5.

 Action Comics #261, February 1960, was published around December 31, 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 Stan Kaye.

The first story of the issue was titled Superman's Fortress Of Solitude. This 12 page story was pencilled by Wayne Boring and inked by Stan Kaye.

It began when Superman had brought his Fortress of Solitude to Metropolis for people to tour, as a charity fundraiser. Superman and his robots used x-ray vision to ensure no criminals snuck anything into the Fortress to damage any of the displays, or tourists. Superman gave an oilman his autograph, and was gracious enough to allow a welder to eat lunch while he toured the Fortress during his lunch hour. Superman robots caught someone trying to sneak in a disguised homing beacon that would reveal the Fortress's secret location, and took him to jail.

The oilman and welder found a secluded spot, where the oilman emptied the ink from his fountain pen into the welder's coffee thermos. He wasn't laying a prank on the man, because it was revealed that the two men were members of the Anti-Superman Gang, and the two harmless chemicals individually, when combined, created a volatile mixture which would create a massive explosion in an hour.

Scientists in the bottle city of Kandor saw the exchange on their monitors, and attempted to warn Superman with a hyper sonic signal. They discovered that Superman's rainbow jewel was creating too much interference.

Someone asked Superman about a bust of Urko the Terrible. He declined to tell the story behind the bust, but we saw in a flashback how Urko, a cloud being, animated the statues of Superman's friends to attack him in his asteroid Fortress in space. Superman fled his Fortress and blew a star into Urko's path, which pulled Urko to his doom.

Another tourist asked Superman about a globe which displayed a flaming man. The Man of Steel again politely declined to explain this trophy, but we were given another flashback, showing Superman moving his Fortress from outer space and hiding it in the center of the Earth. He was attacked by flame beings, until he saved them from an underwater river their attack had broken through to.

Meanwhile, the "welder" had gloated about the soon to be destruction of the Fortress, when the "oilman" finally convinced him to leave with the departing tourists. The welder tossed to outer cap of his thermos on his way out.

After the tourists left the Fortress, the Mayor of Metropolis informed Superman that the display had earned Millions for charity. Then Superman returned the Fortress to its secret Arctic location.

The Anti-Superman gang waited at their hideout, watching a seismograph for a sign of the gigantic explosion. When they saw the needle move, they celebrated the destruction of the Fortress, until Superman smashed into the Fortress and arrested them. He wouldn't reveal how he foiled their plan.

After he returned to the Fortress, Superman communicated with the Kandorian scientists who had discovered the plot, and we learn that when the welder tossed the cap, it happened to cover the rainbow jewel and block its therapeutic radiations, and allow the Kandorians to alert Superman to the danger. That was because the cap was made of lead. The Man of Steel planned to destroy the Rainbow Jewel so that it wouldn't happen again.

The gang members had a clever plan to avoid Superman's security arrangements by bringing the two chemicals separately, but I don't know why Superman and his robots wouldn't sense the volatile liquid once they combined it. Maybe I gave his super powers too much credit.

I thought that it was poetic justice that the members of the gang brought about their own downfall. This was an interesting story about some of Superman's previous locations for his Fortress. I thought that he was a little unfriendly to some of the tourists when he refused to answer their questions about some of his trophies. If I had been one of the tourists, I would have felt disappointed. If Superman didn't want to answer questions about some of his trophies, I think it would have been better if he had sequestered those trophies from public view.

It was a clever way to create tension in the story with the jewel interfering with the Kandorians' signal. This story also had some of the over the top silver age touches of Superman stories, with the Man of Steel using his super breath in the vacuum of space to blow a star into Urko's path, causing the death of another being. This was rare for the silver age Superman, compared to his golden age roots.

This was another average, but fun, story, and I give it a low 3 out of 5 Superman Capes.

Congo Bill made his 13th appearance as Congorilla in the 7 page story, Congorilla's Last Stand, written by Robert Bernstein and drawn by Howard Sherman.

Supergirl's 8 page 11th story was titled Supergirl's Super Pet, drawn by Jim Mooney. This story has been reprinted in Supergirl Archives vol. I and Showcase Presents: Supergirl vol. I.

As some of the orphans watched a meteor shower, Linda Lee used her telescopic vision to notice a Kryptonite meteor. She secretly changed into Supergirl and traced its trajectory to where it landed, and retrieved it with a piece of lead. Back at the orphanage, after she returned to her Linda Lee identity, she experimented on the meteorite until she began to feel weakened by the rock. She used a pair of long tongs to toss it into the forest.

Later, Linda Lee finished an errand in Midvale, when she saw a dog growling at a cat. She used her super breath to pull the dog away from the cat in order to catch the attention of the dog catcher. Somehow, the cat followed her to the orphanage, and Linda was allowed to keep the stray cat as a pet. Because of the stripes on its sides, the cat was given the name of Streaky.

The cat explored the area, including the woods, when he came across the kryptonite that Linda had thrown away. In a narration box it was revealed that Linda's experimentation had created X Kryptonite, which gave Streaky super powers. The cat ran into a Superman doll, destroying it, but the cape looped around Streaky's neck.

He lifted the front of a milk truck, allowing a few milk cans to spill on the ground and feed a group of stray cats. When a big dog chased Streaky up a tree, he pelted the dog with apples. Supergirl heard Streaky's triumphant meow, and played with hew new super pet until his powers mysteriously vanished. They returned to the orphanage and Streaky dreamed of chasing dogs with his super powers. A narration caption asked readers to write in if they wanted to read more stories with a super powered Streaky.

This was an adorable silver age Supergirl story. I was glad that Supergirl, briefly, had a super powered pet, so that she wouldn't be quite so lonely. At first I thought she was careless to toss away the piece of kryptonite, but then I should have expected that it would play a part later in the story. While I have heard of dogs traveling long distances to return home, I've never heard about cats doing the same thing, but it didn't spoil this story. I thought that it was a coincidence that a discarded Superman doll was laying around, and when Streaky broke it, he happened to stick his head through the hole at the top of the cape. But of course a super pet needs a super cape.

Beyond seeing Supergirl getting a pet, I enjoyed watching Streaky's humorous super deeds and reading the animals' thought balloons, and I give it 3 Supergirl Capes out of 5.

Elsewhere in DC Comics, 31 titles carried the February or February/March 1960 cover date.

Next Episode: Superman Family Comic Book Cover Dated January/February 1956: World's Finest Comics #86!

In 2 Weeks: Superman Comic Book Cover Dated March 1960: Action Comics #262!

Check out SLIPSTREAM, a new web comic book written by jeffrey Taylor, co-host of the FROM CRISIS TO CRISIS podcast, and drawn by yours truly. Thanks to SUPERMAN HOMEPAGE .com contributor Adam Deschanel for putting the website together. It will begin November 2011.

Also, if you know the original publication information for a Superman story involving his alien zoo at his Fortress of Solitude, reprinted in the 1970 SUPERMAN BUMPER BOOK, a UK Superman hardcover anthology, post it in comments or through the contact information below.

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