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Author Topic: Superman in the Silver Age  (Read 104478 times)
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Osgood Peabody
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« Reply #56 on: December 04, 2003, 02:42:31 AM »

And now, finally, the long-awaited conclusion to "The Super-Outlaw from Krypton"...

As Chapter 3 begins, Superman glumly sits in Kull-Ex's lab on Kandor, watching on the screen a group of workers boarding up the Superman Museum in Metropolis with big signs reading "Closed Permanently"!  But meanwhile, a new player emerges on the scene... in Midvale, orphan Linda Lee listens in disbelief to the radio bulletins from Metropolis, and decides to take matters into her own hands ... "I'll change to my Supergirl costume and find out the truth!"

Using her telescopic vision, the Maid of Steel tracks the faux Superman to Egypt, where he's in the process of stacking the pyramids and the Sphinx like toy blocks.  She urges him to come to his senses, but Kull-Ex is caught off-guard by this super-powered female upstart.  Apparently, Supergirl was a secret even to Kandor during this phase of her career, and Mr. Ex mistakes her for a fellow Kandorian escapee.  Supergirl immediately realizes that this fellow is an imposter.  After a brief recap of her true origin (presumably to accomodate the reader, this being her first appearance in the Superman title), Kull-Ex, underestimating the super-powered teen, in turn fills her in as to his true origin.  Supergirl immediately takes off for the Fortress to rescue her cousin, but Kull-Ex taunts her "Go ahead, silly girl!  You'll find out it won't do you any good!"

Having been previously filled in by Superman as to its location, Supergirl quickly gains entry to the Fortress and attempts to pluck the Man of Steel out of Kandor with a pair of tweezers(!!) (Rather humorous when you think of how routine going in and out of the bottle became later).  With the aid of her microscopic vision, she pinpoints him and gently picks him up, remembering that he is no longer invulnerable.  Once outside the bottle, Superman regains his powers, but being the size of a gnat realizes he is still at a huge disadvantage.  However, he hits upon a plan and whispers it to his cousin.  Supergirl leaves the Fortress to carry out her part, while Superman remains behind, sure that Kull-Ex will soon come to gloat over him.

Sure enough, the super-imposter arrives, and mocks the "super-bug", pointing out that the exchange ray won't work without the element "Zenium", which doesn't exist on earth.  Superman is swatted away by Kull-Ex, but spying that Supergirl is about to put his plan into action he begins distracting his foe by momentarily weakening him with kryptonite stored in a lead box for experiments.  Kull quickly turns the tables by trapping the Man of Steel inside the lead box, and Superman realizes his life is now in the hands of his young cousin.

Suddenly the observation dome of the Fortress slowly begins to open (Yes, I don't remember the Fortress having one of these either, but we'll let it slide).  Kull-Ex is stunned to see the Earth receding in the sky above him!  While he was distracted, Supergirl, with an assist from Krypto, dug out the whole blamed Fortress of Solitude and flew it out into space!  The object of this super-excavation soon becomes evident as Superman weakly observes to Kull-Ex that they've overtaken light-rays from Krypton, and he can now observe what really happened before its destruction (!!) (OK - not sure of what time/space principle we're working under here, so let's let that one slide, too).

Kull-Ex observes to his astonishment that while most of his father's blueprints did get blown out the window, the most important page unknowingly wound up in his young hands, which he proceeded to then doodle on and later feed to an animal at the zoo!   Jor-El having been exonerated, Kull-Ex immediately revives Superman and vows to set things right upon their return to Earth.  He also spots some Zenium in a passing meteor, and grabs it to power the exchange ray back in Kandor.

Amazingly, in the space of 4 panels, all is once again set right in the Weisingerverse.  The entire world watches a telecast of Kull-Ex confessing his impersonation, and we see a shadowy figure in the White House (an obvious silhouette of President Eisenhower), saying, "What a relief!  Kull-Ex's confession clears Superman's name!"  Superman carries a nugget of the Zenium back to Kandor, and the exchange ray returns he and Kull-Ex to their proper sizes.  Kull-Ex swears to Superman he'll devote his life from now on to scientific research, and the Man of Steel rather compassionately, given the circumstances, lets it go at that.  The final panel shows Clark Kent watching as the Superman statue is being uprighted, and all is once again right with the world.  (And though it's not mentioned, I can personally vouch that the Grand Canyon is once again free of boulders, so presumably the Man of Steel cleaned up the mess left by the misguided Mr. Ex!)


That's it - a rather wacky story, even by Weisingerian standards, but one of those hidden stepping-stones of the Silver Age.  The Fortress and Kandor - now referred to repeatedly by its proper name, given a prominent role.  Supergirl, just 8 months removed from her debut, gets her first guest appearance in the flagship title.  Superman gets some new insight as to his father's past in another flashback to Krypton.  Even Krypto, who had just a couple of previous appearances as an "adult", gets in on the action here.  And I believe this may be the first and last time someone was extricated from Kandor by a pair of tweezers!


Oh, and just for the record, the other alphabetic Kryptonians I was thinking of:  Van-Zee (or Van-Zed for our friends abroad), Dev-Em, Reg-En, and Klax-Ar.
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Aldous
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« Reply #57 on: December 05, 2003, 09:27:34 PM »

That review was a lot of fun. Thanks, Osgood. As always, I wish I could see the actual comic, but you have described the story so well!

I have always mentally pronounced Van-Zee as it's written, of course, as India well knows. Now, even though z is pronounced zed in English, and that's the way I always said it, I am well-versed in the zee pronunciation. Why? Because of Sesame Street! I grew up watching Sesame Street [I don't know how Sesame Street is regarded in the States, but when I was a little kid it was by far the best young children's educational programme on NZ television, and nothing has ever come close to it] and I took note every time some character tacked that plainly incorrect zee onto the end of the alphabet!

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Osgood Peabody:

but one of those hidden stepping-stones of the Silver Age.


It sure is. Is that the first time the idea of overtaking light rays from Krypton to view the past was ever used?
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Aldous
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« Reply #58 on: December 05, 2003, 10:12:10 PM »

In the wonderful story of Superman Returns to Krypton in SUPERMAN #61, it's true that Superman breaks the time barrier and appears as a wraith in the distant past. He observes his parents on Krypton, but they cannot see him. He is merely an insubstantial observer.

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Editor's Note:
Superman is invisible to these people because he is not of their time and doesn't exist for them. He can only view them as he would a silent movie, but he can read lips.


In SUPERMAN #134, Supergirl has overtaken light rays from Krypton so Kull-Ex can watch what really happened to his father's notes. This is a very different idea than the one presented in Superman Returns to Krypton. In Osgood's review, Superman, Supergirl and Kull-Ex are merely letting the reflected light of the distant past enter their eyeballs. But in the older story, Superman is actually on Krypton, physically in the past.
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Osgood Peabody
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« Reply #59 on: December 11, 2003, 10:51:50 PM »

Aldous - I can think of only 2 other previous instances where Krypton was glimpsed (other than the 1949 story you cited )- via time machine by Jimmy Olsen (JO #36, Apr. 59) and via "magic totem" by Superman in the first "return to Krypton" as part of the "3 wishes" story (Superman #123, Aug. 58).  So I do believe the Kull-ex story was the first instance that viewing Krypton's past by overtaking its light rays was employed.
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Osgood Peabody
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« Reply #60 on: December 12, 2003, 07:44:19 PM »

One other thing I meant to make note of - the "Super-Outlaw" tale is probably the last time that Superman's powers are attributed solely to the lesser gravity of earth.   I would suspect that even the 8 to 10 year olds writing in to Mort would be skeptical that gravity alone could cause the Man of Steel to be totally powerless in Kandor.

2 months later, in Action #262 (Mar. 1960), a story called "When Superman Lost His Powers" had Clark and his pals transported to another world where the Man of Steel is powerless - but now it is pointed out that this power loss is due to the planet having a red sun, like Krypton, adding yet one more element to the mythos!
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Aldous
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« Reply #61 on: February 27, 2004, 10:54:39 PM »

“Superman’s Neighbors” is a little gem from SUPERMAN #112 (1957), written, I believe, by the sensitive Bill Finger, and drawn by Wayne Boring.

We are introduced to 344 Clinton Street as Clark Kent comes home one evening. It’s clear Clark sees his apartment as a sanctuary of sorts: “It’ll be a relief to relax at home tonight.”

Alexander Ross, one of Clark’s neighbours in the apartment building, is spying on Clark with the aid of binoculars, and notes that Clark is returning, as usual, close on six o’clock.

In his apartment, Clark relaxes in an armchair and, with telescopic vision, reads a book which is still at the public library! He is distracted by the smell of burning paper and uses his super-vision to check on his neighbour, Joe Rollins, who is deliberately burning a sheet of his own artwork. According to a letter Clark sees, Joe Rollins’ job is on the line because he cannot come up with fresh ideas for a cover. Clark is clearly familiar with Joe’s work, thinking that Joe “usually has wonderful ideas”.

Clark “can’t relax” with Rollins’ career at stake, and decides to give the artist a little help. Minutes later we see a warning light activated in the apartment of the spy, Alexander Ross, signalling to Ross that Kent has opened his window. “It’s too cold,” says Ross, “to have opened a window merely for ventilation.” Ross believes Clark must have left his apartment via the fire escape, and notes that the time is 7:03pm.

In a nearby junkyard, we join Superman as he “kneads ton-heavy lengths of metal like putty”. As he manipulates the scrap metals with super-strength, Superman says to himself, “My super imagination should be able to cook up some good science-fiction notions...”

Superman’s metallic creations, all sorts of weird alien creatures and space ships, are thrown so they pass right by Joe Rollins’ window. Joe’s imagination is now fired up by the “terrific ideas,” which he thinks are a vision brought on by so much concentration on his part.

With Joe’s problem solved, night falls and everyone in the apartment house sleeps peacefully except our spy, Mr Ross. He is now examining a chart on his wall headed, “The Strange Case of Clark Kent.” It is a meticulous record of Clark’s comings and goings. “Kent returned less than an hour after he left,” says Ross. “I’ll have to check tomorrow’s papers...”

The next morning, as Clark leaves for work, he pauses at the sight of another of his neighbours, Tommy Snead, a boy who is lame. Tommy looks miserable, wishing he could play ball, jump and run like other kids. Tommy has been on Clark’s mind: “If only I could get him to stop feeling sorry for himself, he might be able to help himself.”

We now begin to see just how much of a guardian angel Superman is to the people of 344 Clinton Street. “Yes, unknown to themselves,” the narration goes, “the people of 344 Clinton Street lead strangely enriched lives -- for a special kind of magic weaves a kinder fate for them...”

A young housewife is busy in her kitchen, but what she can’t see is that her neighbour is sending beams of heat vision from his apartment into hers. “Mrs Higgins’ heart will be broken if that defective stove prevents her from cooking dinner for her company,” thinks Clark, “but the rays of my heat vision can cook better than gas!”

The life of Ethel Cane’s beloved dog is saved when her neighbour surreptitiously uses his super-strength right outside the entrance to 344 Clinton Street to halt a big truck about to run it down.

Even as Superman performs his super-feats for an admiring public, like driving railroad spikes into the tracks of a special new railway (with his fist instead of a sledgehammer), his mind is busy thinking over the problems of the people he lives close to at home. The lame boy, Tommy Snead, is on Superman’s mind. “If only, just once, Tommy could do what other boys do...”

That evening, the Man of Steel flies into Tommy’s room. “Come with me,” he tells Tommy, “and you’ll have what you’ve been wishing for!”

Within seconds they are flying, with Tommy protected by a space-suit and helmet. Minutes later, on the moon, the boy is exhilarated to find his lame leg does not hold him back from running and leaping. “Wow!” exclaims Tommy, “I can jump farther and higher here than anybody!”

This extraordinary adventure is already having a lasting effect on Tommy. “Gosh -- I’ll never feel sorry for myself after this! Now I can forget about being jealous of other kids!”

“And,” says Superman, “you’ll be able to concentrate on developing your talents and living a normal life -- instead of brooding!”

A happy Man of Steel, with the delighted (and now radiant) boy in his arms, flies in for a landing at 344 Clinton Street, but is disturbed to catch sight of his neighbour, Alexander Ross, on Clark Kent’s fire escape.

Leaving Tommy to his own devices, Superman manages to get into his own apartment without the spy on the fire escape seeing him, then he makes an examination of Ross’s apartment with his x-ray vision to find out why Ross is so interested in Clark Kent. Clearly, Superman is unsettled by what he sees: “Incredible! He doesn’t suspect that I’m Superman, but I’d better do something about what he does think, before he stumbles on the truth!”

Superman changes into Clark Kent and decides to wait till Ross leaves the fire escape so he can “start planning a counter-move”.

In listening for the movements of Alexander Ross with his super-hearing, Clark now stumbles upon a new problem with another of his neighbours. The pretty girl in apartment 3-E is rejecting a marriage proposal because, as she explains to poor Harry, she is in love with Superman. Clark now begins mulling over this predicament. “I don’t want her wasting her life pining for me.”

Another evening ends at 344 Clinton Street, with Clark lying sleepless in his bed, trying to think of a way to stop the girl loving Superman. The next morning, the Man of Steel has come up with a solution, and Clark Kent calls at the girl’s door. “Miss Wentworth,” says Clark, “would you like to accompany me to a dance tonight. Superman will be there, and...” At the mention of Superman, Miss Wentworth jumps at the chance to go to the dance. That evening, however, it is not Clark who calls for her, but the Man of Steel.

“My friend Clark Kent,” explains Superman, “was supposed to take you to the dance tonight, and couldn’t make it! He asked me if...”

“If I could go with you?” squeals the girl. “Oh, yes! Yes!

And so Miss Wentworth’s companion for the evening proceeds to give her a somewhat cruel lesson in what life with a Superman could be like. They haven’t even left the apartment when Superman dashes off. Miss Wentworth is confused, and Superman explains as he flies out the window: “Runaway truck... other side of town...”

He returns, and now they have only just stepped into the street outside 344 Clinton Street when Superman takes to the air, interrupting Miss Wentworth in mid-sentence. “Giant meteor... off in space...” Superman tells her before disappearing.

When he gets back, Miss Wentworth informs him they are late for the dance, but, to make matters worse, she suffers a coughing fit. “Meteor dust,” says Superman. “I came back so fast, I forgot to brush it off!”

They finally arrive at the venue, but before they can go in, Superman, although apologetic, is forced to fly off once again to another emergency. Miss Wentworth doesn’t forget her manners, telling him, “It’s -- er -- all right.” But inwardly she is far from pleased: “Hmph! He’d probably leave me alone, in the middle of the floor, to stop an elephant stampede in Borneo!”

A little later, Superman observes Miss Wentworth on the dance floor having a good time with Harry. “I’m glad I sent a ticket anonymously to her boy friend,” he thinks. “Without Superman on her mind, she certainly seems to see him in a new light.”

No doubt relieved to have that problem off his mind, Clark now decides to deal with Alexander Ross before his “fantastic idea becomes embarrassing to me”. Clark decides to catch Mr Ross in his own trap, and crawls down the fire escape from his apartment making sure Ross can hear him. Clark pretends to sneak away, and Ross gleefully follows, tailing him through the streets of the darkened city. Clark makes a show of breaking into a warehouse, fully aware that Ross is observing him. Clark enters the warehouse, and is momentarily out of sight. When Ross enters the warehouse, it is no longer Clark Kent but Superman he has to contend with. Superman makes a startling appearance by smashing through the wall of the building (“this warehouse is scheduled to be torn down tomorrow, so the little damage I cause with this spectacular entrance won’t matter”), and Ross nearly jumps out of his skin.

Superman lays it on thick: “I spotted you breaking in here... I’m taking you to jail!”

“No! No!” screeches Ross. “I’m on your side -- the side of law and order!”

Ross tells Superman that he followed a desperate criminal here. He shows Superman his card, from the “Eagle-Eye Correspondence School for Detectives”. The card is hardly a surprise for Superman, as he had spotted it earlier with his x-ray vision. “Kent is always coming and going mysteriously,” the amateur detective explains. “I’m positive he’s a crook disguised as a reporter!”

Superman admits it is an interesting deduction, but he suggests another possibility, that he and Clark are close friends -- and Ross is only too eager to grasp at the idea. “I get it!” grins Ross. “He gets tips on his job, and you don’t want anyone to suspect how close you are -- so you meet secretly!”

The Man of Steel puts his hand on Mr Ross’s shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie. “Fine. Now you’re in on a secret -- but I’m sure you can be trusted with it!”

“So that night,” the narration goes, “the people of 344 Clinton Street sleep well again, unaware that they live in something very like an enchanted castle -- because of the occupant of apartment 3-B.”

Our closing scene is the occasion of a residents’ party in the basement of 344 Clinton Street, with Miss Wentworth introducing her fiancé to Clark. Alexander Ross is regaling another neighbour with news of his new correspondence course, “How to become an African Explorer by mail.”

But Clark is not giving the gathering his full attention. He has another of his neighbours on his mind: “Bill Waters doesn’t know it -- but the company he works for will fail in a few days! He has a large family... I must think of a way to help!”

Over near the piano, a lady is whispering to a gentleman, “Hmm... Everyone is happy -- except poor Mr Kent! I wonder -- ? Why does he always look as if he has the troubles of the world on his shoulders?”

 S!
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Aldous
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« Reply #62 on: March 06, 2004, 03:58:15 AM »

One of the reasons I wrote such a detailed review of "Superman's Neighbors" is that I have a lot of enthusiam for the story (you could have guessed). But there are other reasons, one of which is because it relates very strongly to a current debate about the shortcomings of the modern version of the Man of Steel... but I'll come back to that.

It's no exaggeration to say that this, like so many of the Silver Age Superman/Lois Lane comics, is a well written story. I feel quite confident in handing this story to any literate person with only a rudimentary knowledge of Superman, and knowing that they will enjoy and understand the comic, even if they have never read a Superman comic before in their lives. It (1) stands alone, but also (2) fits with everything that has gone before, and (3) adds a little something new and clever to the world of Superman, ie. his interaction with his civilian neighbours. We learn much, feel satisfied with a tale well told, and look forward to exploration of this new element of the mythos in future stories.

Now I'll come back to how it relates to the debate over the shortcomings of the modern version of Superman:

There is much humour in this comic. I think the ending, with the final comment by the lady, is particularly clever. The writer (whom I believe is Bill Finger) pokes a little fun at and eliminates any future threat from the amateur private eye with one very clever remark. Everything is so neatly tied up that you close the comic quite satisfied. The only hanging thread, if I may be so bold as to say, is Clark Kent's "angst".

It's not really angst, but maybe a tiny cloud, dark in hue and hanging over him, composed of equal parts worry, anxiety, and -- here's the clincher -- genuine altruistic concern.

At a quick glance, you may spot superficial similarities between the Superman of this story and the Superman of the modern era. After all, they both spend a lot of their time worrying about things.

The difference, to my mind, is that the Silver Age Superman, when faced with something that worries him, makes a decision and acts, and, although he worries, he never worries about himself.
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Osgood Peabody
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« Reply #63 on: March 06, 2004, 01:05:38 PM »

That is a milestone story, Aldous, and I recall reading it when it was reprinted in the back of Superman #241 (the penultimate "Sand-Creature" issue).  I think it is the first time Clark's home address is mentioned, and almost certainly inspired the '70s "Private Life of Clark Kent" feature.
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