From the Archives: Deck Log Entry # 25 Krypton---a Nice Place to Visit (But There's No Future in Settling Down There)

Here’s a quick quiz to start things off:

 

Which one of the following individuals did not visit the planet Krypton during the Silver Age (which I demark as 1956-68)?

 

A.  Superman

B.  Jimmy Olsen

C.  Supergirl

D.  Professor Amos Dunn

E.   Lex Luthor

F.   Batman

G.  Lois Lane

 

 

After Mort Weisinger took over as editor of the Superman titles there came a mob of Krypton survivors:  Supergirl, Zor-El and Alura, the Phantom Zone prisoners, Super-Monkey, Dev-Em and his parents, the entire population of Kandor.  So many Kryptonians wound up on Earth, in fact, that one had to begin to wonder if anyone other than Jor-El and Lara actually perished in the planet’s destruction.  In a 1964 “Metropolis Mailbag”, reader Ned Snively, of Winter Haven, Florida, took Mort to task for the proliferation of living Kryptonians.

 

Ye Olde Editor replied that, yes, Ned did have a point; however, all of these survivors were just a tiny fraction of the many billions who populated Krypton, and it did not stretch the odds incredibly for a handful to survive. 

 

But what about the reverse?   What about all those visitors from Earth to Krypton?  It’s a good thing that nobody ever pressed Weisinger to explain that.  Puzzling out the answer to that one probably would have made his puzzler sore.  It often seemed that time-travel in the Silver Age was about as easy as booking a flight to Vegas, which made the fact that Krypton had exploded some thirty years before no more an inconvenience than standing in line at customs.

 

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, it was Superman himself who made the most visits to his home planet during the Silver Age.  Thanks to his super-memory and his mind-prober ray, the Man of Steel’s recollexions of life on Krypton were robust---which was fortunate, since the first two times he went home came strictly by accident.  That meant no awkward moments trying to figure out which restroom to use or any embarrassing gaffes in punching up your order from the food-rob.

 

The Man of Steel’s first Silver-Age trip home was an unexpected gift from Jimmy Olsen.  In a three-part “novel” appearing in Superman # 123 (Aug., 1958), Jimbo comes into possession of a magic totem possessing the power to grant three wishes.  In atypical selflessness, Jimmy decides to use his three wishes on behalf of his super-pal.  Each wish gets a chapter to show the results of Jimmy’s generosity.  Unfortunately, the first two wishes didn’t turn out as good as Jim had hoped, but he feels he's come up with a winner on his final one.  In order to surprise the Metropolis Marvel, the cub reporter types his wish for Superman to meet his parents.

 

Instantly, Superman is whisked back to Krypton.  He's overjoyed to see the long-dead sights of his childhood, but when he seeks to fulfil his fondest desire---to see his parents again---he learns that he has been sent too far into the past.  His father, Jor-El, is a young bachelor who has not yet established himself as a great scientist.  At the moment Superman sees him, young Jor-El is hot-footing it to a date with the cute girl in the robot-assembly department.  This would be Lara, the woman who was Superman’s mother.  Or will be.  (Time-travel stories always wreak havoc with the tenses.)

 

As it turns out, Jimmy was having another one of his “Gilligan” moments when he typed out his last wish for the Man of Steel.  Instead of typing out a wish that Superman meet his parents, the kid’s fumble-fingers tapped out a request that Superman mate his parents.  This being the innocent Silver Age, “mate” translated to causing Jor-El and Lara to fall in love and marry, and not the first thing that came to all of your dirty minds.

 

There's some fol-de-rol about Jor-El and Lara being undercover agents for the Krypton Bureau of Investigation and being inadvertently convicted along with the renegade they were assigned to investigate.  Ultimately, thanks to Superman’s help, they recapture the villain and clear their names.  Their close call makes Jor-El and Lara realise that they have fallen in love, and when Jor pops the question to Lara, Superman is magically returned to present-day Earth.

 

 

 

 

The Man of Steel has no-one to blame but himself for the next mischance that sends him back in time to Krypton---and to one of the classic Superman stories of all time:  “Superman’s Return to Krypton”, from Superman # 141 (Nov., 1960). 

 

When astronomers spot a planet-sized beast heading for Earth, Superman streaks into outer space to confront it.  Caught up in pursuing the alien beastie, the Man of Steel accidentally zips through time and space, winding up in a red-sun system.  Luckily, he manages to land on the nearest planet a fraction of a second before the red solar radiation steals his super-powers.

 

Snooping around, a stunned Superman discovers that he has stranded himself on Krypton, before the time of his birth.

 

In one of those convenient Silver-Age coïncidences, Superman comes across a Kryptonian motion-picture crew shooting a science-fiction film and gets mistaken for an extra.  This provides him with money and an excuse for wearing his costume.  During a break in the shooting, he heads into the city to figure out how much time there is before the big bang. 

 

He gets his answer when a video-news flash announces the wedding of Jor-El and Lara.  Drawn by the desire to see them again and to tell them who he is, Superman attends the ceremony.  This scene creates the first of a series of emotional set-pieces that makes this story so memorable.

 

Superman sees his parents, their faces effused with a glow of happiness, and the throng of merry well-wishers.  In a moment of terrible frustration, he cannot bring himself to destroy their moment of joy by telling them of Krypton’s fate. 

 

In the next panel, the Man of Steel is shown, gazing down at the city from his hotel-room balcony, as he thinks, “Look at them down there . . . living . . . laughing . . . loving . . . blind to the crashing doom that will soon destroy them all!” 

 

The scene showing the celebration of the newlyweds and their friends juxtaposed to that single panel of Superman, standing apart, alone, looking on sullenly, brings home the tragedy of Krypton’s destruction.  For the first time in any story, the people of Krypton were more than just background setting or props to advance the plot.  In giving them life, writer Jerry Siegel made grimly real the doom that would shortly snuff it out.

 

Superman determines to cheat destiny and save his people.  Posing as a student of science, he ingratiates himself with Jor-El, who takes him on as an apprentice.  And at a dinner party, he meets famous emotion-movie actress Lyla Lerrol.  Here, the story divides into two distinct plots.  One concerns Superman’s efforts to help Jor-El, who has since discovered the fact of Krypton’s imminent demise on his own, and find a way to rescue the population.  The other tells of the growing romance between Superman and Lyla.

 

In the former, the Man of Steel finds himself thwarted by fate at every turn; in the latter, he succeeds beyond all obstacles.  In a remarkably poignant sequence, the romance of Superman and Lyla blooms into love, and in its wake, Kal-El of Krypton discovers that he no longer fears the certainty of death when his world disintegrates.  He proposes to Lyla and she happily accepts.  Yet, fate jerks Superman’s chain one more time, and he is inadvertently taken away from Krypton before he can marry Lyla or die in the explosion of his world.  The ending is downbeat, a rare thing for a DC tale of the time.

 

 

 

 

Superman made his last Silver-Age time-trip to the world of his birth on purpose, and it’s only a brief episode in the story “Secret of Kryptonite Six”, from Action Comics # 310 (Mar., 1964). 

 

When the Man of Steel is unable to find a cure for a deadly spotted plague which has infected Lori Lemaris and the rest of the Atlanteans, he reluctantly accepts an offer of help from Phantom-Zone prisoner Jax-Ur, who claims to know an antidote.  The ingredients of this antidote can only be found in the Scarlet Jungle, so Superman uses a time-bubble to transport himself and Jax-Ur back to Krypton.  While on Krypton, the two interact with no-one else, so this outing lacks the cachet of dealing with a doomed people, as Superman’s previous visits did. 

 

 

They are on Krypton only a few hours, but it is sufficient time for Jax-Ur enact a cunning plan which reaches fruition when they return to present-day Earth.  Naturally, the villain’s scheme fails, and Superman fans are left with yet another addition to the list of various forms of kryptonite to keep straight.

 

 

 

 

Logically, Supergirl would be at home on old Krypton even more than her cousin, since she spent the first fifteen years of her life in Kryptonian society, growing up in Argo City.  Yet, she made only one Silver-Age time-trip to her home world, in “The Last Days of Superman”, from Superman # 156 (Oct., 1962), and it is a throwaway scene, at that.  When the Man of Steel is believed to be dying of Virus X, the Girl of Steel travels back to Krypton to see if her people discovered a cure.  They hadn’t.

 

 

 

 

On the other hand, Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen, was practically a native.  He made only two time-trips to Krypton, but he managed to blend right in.  In the first instance, “How Jimmy Olsen First Met Superman”, from Jimmy Olsen # 36 (Apr., 1959), Jimmy responds to an inventor’s help-wanted ad, seeking volunteers to test a new time-machine.  And since, apparently, the laws of physics are no bar to a really skilled handyman with a good set of tools, when Jimbo tries out the machine, he finds himself transported to Krypton.

 

Following a minor brush with the law, Jimmy has the time of his life, since Krypton, it appears, has a socialist government---something not touched upon in the other tales.  At every turn, Jim finds free, government-provided clothing, anti-gravity belts, sporting equipment, transportation, and food.  Through a chance encounter, and the fact that Jor-El and Lara were obviously willing to entrust their only child to a fellow who walks up and introduces himself as “Jim-My Ol-Sen from out of town”, Jimmy becomes Kal-El’s baby sitter.  Jor-El and Lara’s cavalier attitude toward child care is a moot point, however, given that the next day, Krypton explodes.  Jimmy makes it back to his time-ship just in time to have a ringside seat to the disaster.

 

 

 

 

The dauntless cub reporter’s second trip to the K-world---in “Olsen’s Time-Trip to Save Krypton”, from Jimmy Olsen # 101 (Apr., 1967)---didn’t go quite as smoothly.  Inspired by ceremonies in Kandor honouring Superman’s home world, Jimmy decides to go back in time and prevent the destruction of Krypton.  Jim gets his hands on a do-it-yourself home time-machine kit, and following the easy instructions, finds himself on Krypton before he can say “Jeepers!”  Already dressed for the occasion in Official Kryptonian Clothing and Official Kryptonian Anti-Gravity Boots, Jimmy fits right in.  A man with a mission, he hurries down to the Science Council, only to get there just as the esteemed greybeards are having a good chuckle over that “crackpot” Jor-El’s predictions of doom.

 

Deciding that trying to convince the Science Council himself would only get him fitted for an Official Kryptonian Straitjacket, Jimmy goes to see Jor-El and Lara.  He doesn’t make the good impression he made the first time, and even baby Kal-El throws a tantrum over Jimmy.  Jor-El tosses him out on his ear.

 

Jimmy gets the idea to pass himself off as a psychic, using his knowledge of Kryptonian history to “predict” events.  He figures, once he persuades the populace that he can, indeed, predict the future, then they will listen to him when he “foretells” the planet’s destruction. 

 

This results in a scene which is faintly chilling:  Jimmy and a girl he has befriended are travelling on a monorail when, almost too late, he remembers that this particular train is destined to derail and plunge into a river below, killing all aboard.  He grabs the girl and leaps from the monorail moments before the disaster.  A guilt-ridden Jim watches the trapped, terror-stricken passengers slowly drown.  Then, a more macabre realisation kicks in---that even if he had saved them, it would only be to die days later when Krypton explodes.

 

Despite his best efforts, the History Can’t Be Changed rule kicks in, and Jimmy returns to Earth in his own time, a sadder but wiser fellow.

 

 

 

 

Professor Amos Dunn was the one man who did not have to travel through time to visit Krypton.  He visited Superman’s world while it was still around.  We learn about this in “The Man Who Saved Kal-El’s Life’, from Action Comics # 281 (Oct., 1961).  Dunn is a brilliant scientist in the field of electricity.  In the 1920’s, he invents a device for sending radio signals through space.  Eventually, these signals reach Krypton, where Jor-El receives them and translates them.  This initiates a series of interplanetary discussions between the two scientists. 

 

When Jor-El learns of Krypton’s imminent doom, he seeks Professor Dunn’s help.  Jor-El has invented a “matter-radio”---what we would now call a teleportation device---but it requires both a sending and a receiving station.  Jor-El relays instructions on how to build the matter-radio transmitter, and after building it, Dunn teleports to Krypton.  Jor-El makes Dunn aware of the situation.  The professor agrees to return to Earth and arrange to have thousands of receiving stations built, in order that the population of Krypton can be teleported to Earth.

 

During Dunn's visit, baby Kal-El is bitten by a venomous sea snake, and the professor performs emergency first-aid to save the toddler’s life (hence the story’s title).

 

Professor Dunn returns to Earth and gets to work.  However, Jor-El overestimated the time left before the end.  He desperately radios Dunn to begin the teleportation process, but Dunn hasn’t worked out the bugs in his machine and it won’t operate.  He can only listen helplessly to Krypton’s final screams.

 

 

 

 

By now, you start getting the idea that one of the reasons why Jor-El couldn’t finish the work on his rescue rocket in time was he kept getting interrupted by a constant stream of strangers showing up at his door.

 

Whew!  That Kal was a nice enough chap, but I’m glad he’s gone, Lara.”

 

“So am I.  He always had the oddest expression on his face whenever he looked at me.  It was creepy.  Anyway, it’ll be nice to finally have some time to ourselves.”

 

Ding dong!

 

“I’ll get it, darling.”

 

“Rao! Who is it, now?”

 

“Jor, do you know a Jim-My Ol-Sen?”

 

“Never heard of him!”

 

“He says he’s from out of town.”

 

 

 

 

Not every time-traveller journeyed to Krypton with the noble goal of saving its people from doom, however.  At least two visitors from Earth had more self-interest in mind.

 

Superman # 170 (Jul., 1964) tells the story “If Lex Luthor Were Superman’s Father”.  Despite being mislabeled as an Imaginary Story on the cover, this improbable tale is presented as an actual event in the life of Superman, who makes only a three-panel walk-on at the end.

 

Following yet another escape from prison, Lex Luthor reviews life on Krypton through his time-scope and concocts a scheme from ‘way out of left field, even for him.  He intends to travel to Krypton, back to the time before Jor-El and Lara became engaged.  Then, he will out-woo Jor-El and capture Lara’s heart.  Consequently, they will marry and have the son who will eventually grow up on Earth to become Superman.  

 

Thus, Luthor figures, when he returns to present-day Earth, the Man of Steel will no longer interfere with his crimes, since Superman wouldn’t dare oppose his own father.

 

Wearing a space uniform equipped with an anti-gravity amulet to let him walk on the much denser Krypton, Luthor uses his modified spaceship to travel back in time to Superman’s world.  Upon landing (and apparently just missing Superman on his first visit home, when he brought his parents together), he claims to be “Luthor the Noble”, a hero from another planet.  He establishes his bona fides by trying to warn the people of Kandor about their city’s imminent abduction by Brainiac.  He is disbelieved by almost everyone, including Jor-El, who refuses to listen to Luthor’s warning.  Lara, now working as Jor’s lab assistant, believes Luthor, however. 

 

When Brainiac strikes, Luthor is proven correct, and Lara chastises Jor-El for not heeding him.

 

This moves “Luthor the Noble” to the inside track with Lara, and he begins to court her in earnest.  Lara warms up to the attention, since Jor-El is too wrapped up in his experiments to even notice.  Better still, a few days later, Jor-El becomes trapped under the sea when a rock-slide traps his one-man aqua-cone.  Luthor learns of the disaster, but keeps his mouth shut.  Unaware of her fiancé’s plight, Lara believes he has abandoned her, and assents to Luthor’s proposal of marriage.

 

Jor-El manages to escape his watery trap, but arrives back in Kryptonopolis too late to interrupt the wedding.  However, just before the “I do’s”, a stroke of fate reveals Luthor the Noble to be Luthor the Fink.  The people of Krypton aren’t the least bit happy about being duped, and the villain has to flee in his time-space ship before he can be sent to the Phantom Zone.

 

 

 

 

Of course, another reason why Luthor met with so little resistance in wooing Lara may have been because Jor-El was distracted by some ardent attention being thrown his way---by Lois Lane!

 

As shown in “Lois Lane’s Romance with Jor-El”, from Lois Lane # 59 (Aug., 1965), Lois, using a time-bubble invented by Professor Potter, went back to Krypton with the usual noble intention, taking with her a scientist’s plans for a device that neutralises nuclear reactions.  She arrives on Krypton to meet the pre-married Jor-El and Lara, then discovers that the time-bubble, a product of the usual Potter engineering, has broken down.  Trapped on Krypton, Lois plots to change history in two ways---by thwarting the planet’s destruction and by stealing Jor-El away from Lara.

 

Plan B doesn’t work out quite the way Lois expects.  She digs deep into her bag of coquettish tricks, but to Jor-El, they make her seem impulsive and conniving.  He far prefers Lara’s unspectacular but sincere loyalty and support.  After Jor-El gives Lois the “let’s just be friends” speech, a jealous Lara shows her claws and the hussy from Earth wisely retreats.

 

Even worse for Lois, Plan A fails, too.  From the plans Lois provided, Jor-El builds the anti-nuclear device, using some irreplaceable rare materials.    However, the site selected for the construction was Kandor, and you guessed it!  Lois can only watch helplessly as the city is miniaturised and stolen by Brainiac.

 

Realising that she is now doomed as well, Lois is desperate enough to give Potter’s time-bubble one more shot.  This time, it works!  Here, the story takes its wildest turn.  As she travels forward in time, Lois pauses long enough to peek in on the married Jor-El and Lara and their baby Kal-El.  Unfortunately, it is precisely this moment that Jor-El decides to test his Phantom Zone projector, unknowingly bathing Lois in its beam.

 

Lois spends the next thirty years in the Phantom Zone!  Superman discovers her there during one of his routine checks on the Zone prisoners.

 

Then he makes the mistake of letting her out.

 

 

 

 

And that brings us back to my quick quiz.  How did you do?

 

If you said “F”---Batman---you got it right.  The Masked Manhunter never journeyed to Krypton, at least, not during the Silver Age.

 

If you think you remembered that he had, it might be you are recalling his and Robin’s adventure in Kandor with Nightwing and Flamebird, from World’s Finest Comics # 143 (Aug., 1964), or the time when circumstances combined to make Batman believe he was born on Krypton, in World’s Finest Comics # 146 (Dec., 1964). 

 

The Caped Crusader didn’t make it to old Krypton until World’s Finest Comics # 191 (Feb., 1970), in the story “Execution on Krypton”, when he and Superman travel back to investigate a mystery on the thieves’ island of Bokos.  The story was edited by Mort Weisinger, but since it was published after 1968, the Batman misses the cut on a technicality.

 

In fact, all of these stories were edited by Weisinger.  Mort certainly believed in mining Superman’s heritage for all it was worth, but sometimes he overdid a plot premise.  By the end of the Silver Age, fully a half-dozen time-travellers from Earth wound up at Jor-El’s front door, some of them more than once.  Sooner or later, these tales would have to step all over themselves.

 

Maybe Weisinger found Ned Snidely’s question about the abundance of Krypton survivors easy to explain away, but a whole lot tougher had to be the “Dear Editor” letters about the visitors to Krypton:  Why didn’t Jor-El and Lara recognise Superman since he had met them on his last trip to Krypton?  Or Jimmy Olsen?  How could Jimmy be at two places at the same time just before Krypton exploded?  If Superman, Jimmy, Lex Luthor, and Lois Lane were all present when Kandor was kidnapped, why didn’t they run into each other?  Why didn’t Mon-El meet Lois Lane in the Phantom Zone, or let Superman know she was there?  What about . . . ?

 

Maybe that’s the real reason Mort retired.

Views: 1224

Comment by Randy Jackson on January 18, 2012 at 6:40pm

Sigh.  Why did he let Lois out?

Comment by Lee Semmens on January 20, 2012 at 1:49am

"Maybe that’s the real reason Mort retired."

Actually, I did read somewhere that Weisinger had a nervous breakdown in 1970, just before he quit comics for good.

Comment by doc photo on January 21, 2012 at 11:30am

Based on all the stories we have heard, Mort was not a person for whom you would want to work. Still, more than a decade of editing 6 or 7 Superman related titles, dealing with writers, artists and the sometimes obnoxious fans, you can understand Mort's desire to get out, and if true, experiencing a nervous breakdown.

Comment by Patrick Curley on January 24, 2012 at 2:13am

Yeah, I had Batman both ways on that one; both because I knew all the others had been to Krypton, and because I knew that he never made the trip.  BTW, I think you're letting Jor-El off too easily on the LL #59 story; read it again and you'll see that he apparently chose Lois over Lara based on nothing more than looks: "Now that I see you both together under the light of the triple moons, I'm not mad at Lo-Ane any more for taking your place."  There is no indication in the remainder of the story that he jilted her.  It's terrible characterization for Jor-El, but that was Weisinger's style.  If he could set up an interesting plot development by trashing Superman's pop, what the heck, it's only being read by the kiddies.  And is it much worse than Lara almost marrying Luthor?

BTW, I too have heard the Weisinger breakdown story but don't know if it's true. Despite the (usually) terrific job he did, is obvious that he *hated* working in comics.

Comment by Commander Benson on January 24, 2012 at 12:59pm

"I think you're letting Jor-El off too easily on the LL #59 story; read it again and you'll see that he apparently chose Lois over Lara based on nothing more than looks: 'Now that I see you both together under the light of the triple moons, I'm not mad at Lo-Ane any more for taking your place.'"

 

I took a closer look at the story, Pat, and you're right, I did overlook that sequence when I first wrote this entry, back in 2007.  More precisely, I overlooked one panel---the one following the scene in which Lara slaps that "brazen hussy" Lo-Ane.

 

It doesn't really invalidate that part of the Krypton article---but it sure makes a hodge-podge of it.  Mort tried to fit the story into eight pages when it really needed half again or even twice that much page-count for the plot to flow sensibly.

 

The biggest reason that it's terrible characterisation for Jor-El is the inconsistency of it.  In the nightclub scene, in which Lois overdoes the bit with her anti-gravity boots and winds up flying out of the dome, Jor-El harshly criticises her.  "Your disgraceful act ruined our whole evening, Lo-Ane!  You're very impetuous!"

 

O.K., that would seem to mark Jor-El down as a bit of a stodgy sort, which is fairly consistent with what little personality he had been given over the years.

 

In the park bench scene, he initially seems to continue in this vein; after the triple moons rise and he realises that he has been canoodling with Lois, instead of Lara, he spouts, "Lo-Ane!  How dare you pretend to be Lara?"

 

These are the episodes---these and Lara coming in to smack Lois in the kisser---I remembered when I wrote the entry.

 

But now, reading further, comes the line which you quoted, which in context, implies that Jor-El suddenly found Lois prettier than Lara.  And then followed by Jor apparently preferring Lois to Lara.  (Although it struck me that Lara gave up much too easily.)

 

It doesn't put Jor-El in a good light, but my reaction, at least, is less one of criticism than one of confusion.  Jor-El's earlier severe remonstrations of Lois don't jibe with his sudden enamour of Lois' "beauty".  After all, he saw "Lo-Ane" and Lara together in bright light before, and he didn't kick Lara to the curb then.

 

Undoubtedly, Otto Binder's script called for Lois to steal Jor-El away from Lara, but with all of the things he had to fit into eight pages, he wasn't able to make it develop logically.  Instead, Binder found himself up to page six and thought, "Damn! I've still got to fit in the Kandor thing and Lois' escape from Krypton!"  So he had to try to squeeze in Lois' stealing Jor-El away in two panels.

 

That was just too much jerking of the chain, even by Weisinger Silver-Age standards.

Comment by Patrick Curley on January 24, 2012 at 1:34pm

It reads like a classic case of a story being written around a cover idea.  Note as well, Lois' rather callous treatment of Jor-El and Lara, scooting off in the time machine without offering to save them.  Yes, we know it could never have worked due to the time paradox thing, but she was willing to go against it to try to steal Jor-El.

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