Deck Log Entry # 231 A Forgotten Gem: Superman # 172 (October, 1964)---Part One

"The New Superman"

 

Editor:  Mort Weisinger   Writer:  Edmond Hamilton   Art:  Curt Swan (pencils), George Klein and Sheldon Moldoff (inks)

 

 

By 1964, the Superman mythos constructed by Mort Weisinger was complete.

 

The very idea had been novel.  Before, Superman's adventures, as those of every other comic-book star, had been a series of independent stories connected only by the basic premise of the hero.  But as soon as Weisinger's name appeared in the indicia as the editor of the various Superman-related titles, he set about placing the Man of Steel into a comprehensive existence in which developments in one comic would persist across the entire Super-family of magazines.

 

And what a thrilling existence it was.  Weisinger populated it with incredible concepts---the Fortress of Solitude, the bottled city of Kandor, the Phantom Zone, multiple varieties of kryptonite, the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Bizarros.  With fascinating characters---Brainiac, Supergirl, Mon-El, Lori the Mermaid, Krypto and the other super-pets.  And with explanations that both satisfied and intrigued the fans---the source of Superman's super-powers, the reason Lex Luthor hated Superman, why Superman did not use his ability to time-travel to alter past events.

 

However, in 1964, Unca Mort's fountain of wonder pretty much ran dry.  But no matter.  By then, the Super-universe was filled with so many amazing features that writing a Superman tale was pretty much a matter of mix-and-match.  Some of the best stories were jam-packed with these elements from the mythos, classic tales such as "The Last Days of Superman" and "Superman in Kandor", and one not well-remembered, but just as excellent---"The New Superman".

 

 

 

The caption on the splash page of Superman # 172 tells us what we're in for:

 

As it must come to every man, there comes finally to Superman the end . . . the end of his great career!  Yes, at last, the Man of Steel must become an ordinary, everyday man, and yield his world-famous position to another!  But though he has hand-picked his own successor, there is peril and terrible tragedy in the making for him when he passes on the torch to---the New Superman!

 

With that kind of build-up, a savvy Superman fan might start looking for the blurb that identifies this as an Imaginary Story.  But it's not.  Nor will it prove to be a hoax or a dream.

 

It begins with Daily Planet editor Perry White sticking Clark Kent with a dull assignment:  an astronomer has reported an interesting finding.  That's right up there with covering the election of the Jimmy Olsen Fan Club president.  But when Kent arrives at the observatory, things perk up a bit when he finds that his old boyhood sweetheart and now television reporter, Lana Lang, has also been tasked with covering the story.

 

Inside, the astronomer, Doctor Jay Black, points to a telescope monitor showing a green comet in outer space.  On its current path, it doesn't threaten the Earth, but it will engulf several other planets.  Dr. Black believes that the green comet contains lethal gases, and any inhabitants of the planets it passes through may be killed.

 

Lana can barely restrain her boredom.  But Clark has to fight to conceal his alarm.  That green comet is deadly, alright.  At least, that's what his father, Jor-El, believed, back on Krypton.

 

With his power of total recall, Clark remembers playing in father's lab while his parents discussed the comet, observed on their space-viewer.  The hurtling body would be poisonous to Kryptonians, declares Jor-El, even if they possessed super-powers, as they would on a planet like Earth.  The good news is that he's devised a method to undo the comet's dangerous effects; the bad news is the cure is more terrible than the affliction.

 

Kent changes to Superman.  He has to save the countless lives on those worlds that will be engulfed by the comet.  Yet, before he does so, he has a grim preparation to make.  He flies to his Fortress of Solitude and communicates with officials from the bottled city of Kandor.

 

"I want you to check your young men and send up to me the two who are highest in physical and mental abilities!"

 

The Kandorians' computers do their work, and soon the two top-rated candidates don rocket-belts and fly out of the bottle.  With the power ring he has borrowed from his fellow Justice League member, Green Lantern, Superman enlarges his miniature countrymen to normal size.  One of them, Ar-Val, boasts a shock of curly blond hair and muscular build.  The other, Bran-Een, is fairly nondescript.  Ar-Val resembles bodybuilder Dave Draper, who would be 1966's Mr. Universe; Bran-Een resembles Mr. Universe's accountant.

 

Superman makes his purpose known to them:  fully expecting disaster to befall him when he tackles the green comet, the Man of Steel is going to test the two men and choose one of them as his successor.

 

The Caped Kryptonian puts the two men through a series of trials designed to prove their abilities to use their super-powers capably.  Ar-Val the bodybuilder performs splendidly, showing forethought and confidence.  Bran-Een the accountant not so much, almost inundating the eastern seaboard. 

 

Ar-Val is chosen to be the next Superman, if it comes to that.  He's absolutely thrilled at the possibility of being the World's Greatest Super-Hero . . . er . . . not that he wants anything to happen to Superman, of course.

 

 

 

With a successor in place, Superman heads spaceward to deal with the green comet.  Out in the void, he puts his shoulder to the nucleus of his emerald nemesis and shoves it onto a course away from any inhabited planets.  That's when he learns why the comet is deadly even to him.  The radiations from the nucleus are sapping his super-powers!

 

With his super-might fading rapidly, the Man of Steel streaks back to Earth and the Arctic locale of his Fortress.  With his last gasp of super-strength, he unlocks the massive door.  By the time he dons the radio headset to contact Kandor, it is a mortal Superman who puts in the call for Ar-Val.

 

After Ar-Val is released from the midget city and enlarged, Superman explains how he lost his super-powers and briefs his replacement on the green comet's terrible effects.  He turns his indestructible costume over to Ar-Val and dons a duplicate outfit made of ordinary material.

 

Then, it's official---Ar-Val is the New Superman!

 

Ar-Val flies the no-longer-Man of Steel back to Metropolis, where they break the news to Jimmy Olsen.  Jimmy promises not to reveal that the original Superman is now powerless. 

 

When alone, the once-greatest super-hero on Earth changes to his civilian identity for the last time.  He's Clark Kent for good, now.

 

 

 

Part two, and the next day, begins with the public announcement of Superman's retirement.  Neither Jimmy Olsen's front-page article in the Daily Planet, nor Lana Lang's television news broadcast say anything about the Metropolis Marvel's loss of super-powers.  (Olsen didn't tell, and Lana didn't know.) 

 

In the past twenty-four hours, though, the New Superman has been busy making a name for himself, performing super-feats and establishing himself as the champion of Earth.  It doesn't take long for the citizens of Metropolis to cheer for him as loudly as they did his predecessor. 

 

As if Clark Kent wasn't depressed enough.  He's having a hard time coming to grips with losing his super-powers.  And the acclamation for his replacement drives home the fact that, from now on, he's nothing more than a mild-mannered reporter.  So much so that he takes his frustration out on the mirror reflecting his bespectacled image.

 

One person who isn't dismayed by Superman's retirement is his arch-enemy, Lex Luthor.  Luthor's cooling his heels in a maximum-security prison, but that's never really been a problem for him.  Via a radio transceiver he secretly constructed out of his desk lamp (see what I mean?), the renegade scientist contacts his occasional partner in super-villainy, the space pirate Brainiac, and arranges his escape.

 

That escape occurs when a drilling vehicle, with Brainiac at the controls, smashes through the floor of Luthor's cell.  But, for once, the prison guards aren't asleep at the switch.  One of them shoots the grey-garbed inmate as he tries to board the ship.  Brainiac drags him inside and burrows their way to freedom.

 

When news of Luthor's break-out hits the Daily Planet teletype, Clark Kent is alarmed.  He recalls the threat that Luthor made the last time he, as Superman, had sent his arch-foe to prison:

 

"Next time I escape, I'll kill your dear friends, Lois Lane and Lana Lang, for revenge!"

 

Concerned for the safety of his past and present girl friends, Kent pilots the Flying Newsroom to the site of Ar-Val's current feat---constructing a decorative arch which seems to have no purpose other than to glorify the New Superman.  The people of Metropolis sure seem to think it's swell, though.  One of them spots the Planet's helicopter and believes that a reporter has come to cover the story.

 

But Clark Kent has grimmer tidings for the New Superman.  He relates the news flash of Luthor's escape and his threat against Lois and Lana.  But Ar-Val's not sweating it.  He's already received report of the incident and believes Luthor, suffering from a gunshot wound, poses no immediate menace.  He's probably dead by now anyway, the new super-hero figures.

 

You don't know Luthor, Clark tries to explain.  He pleads with Ar-Val to take the villain's threat seriously.  Annoyed, Ar-Val points out that Kent isn't Superman, anymore---he is, and he'll decide what's important.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, just outside of town, Brainiac's mechanical mole bursts through the earth of an abandoned mine-pit.  The huge digging machines standing around the pit in silent review are actually disguised guard-robots.  Brainiac aids the mortally wounded Luthor into his spaceship, hidden under a mound of dirt.

 

Once inside, the space pirate places Luthor on a table beneath one of his advanced scientific devices and turns it on.  In minutes, the dying villain is as good as new.  Fully revived, Luthor enlists Brainiac's help in carrying out his revenge plot.

 

Back in Metropolis, Ar-Val's super-hearing picks up the zee-zee-zee from Jimmy Olsen's signal watch for the first time.  He responds, to find the cub reporter waiting for him on the roof of the Daily Planet building.  The Jimster's in no immediate danger; he, too, wants to warn the New Superman about Luthor being on the loose.  But, Ar-Val brushes him off, the same way he did Clark Kent, and threatens to take away Jimmy's signal-watch if he bothers him with any more nonsense.

 

The New Superman has better things to do, like build a bigger and brighter city hall building, one topped off with a statue of himself.  I guess so the good folks of Metropolis don't forget who's the World's Greatest Super-Hero, now.

 

Jimmy Olsen realises that help is going to have to come from the real---as far as he's concerned---Superman.  He heads to Clark Kent's apartment to see if his fellow newsman has a line on how to reach the ex-Man of Steel. 

 

Kent is home---as Superman.  He's donned his spare costume with the idea that, once he locates Luthor and Brainiac, he can bluff them into giving up.  When Jimmy arrives, the Caped Kryptonian pretends that he was also seeking Clark Kent, who---um---must have stepped out.  When he confides his plan to Jimmy, his pal realises that it's virtual suicide.

 

"Come with me," insists Jimmy.  "I've got an idea!"

 

I know, I know . . . whenever Jimmy Olsen gets an idea in his own title, it usually goes south by page two.  But this is the Superman magazine, in which Jimmy frequently acts competently and resourcefully.  Fortunately, this is one of those times.

 

Jimmy brings Superman to his apartment and outlines his plan.

 

"Remember, I'm an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes because of my powers as Elastic Lad.  The Legion has a time-force device that can charge a person temporarily with their different powers!"

 

He activates the time monitor in his living room (which visitors probably mistook for a Telstar Predicta when they wanted to watch Bonanza) and tunes in to the Legion Clubhouse a thousand years in the future.  The cub reporter explains the dire situation to Saturn Girl.  Unfortunately, she and Cosmic Boy and Invisible Kid are the only Legionnaires on hand to grant Superman temporary use of their super-powers.

 

By means of the time-force device, Superman is charged with the powers of super-telepathy, super-magnetism, and invisibility.  For a fourth power, the Caped Kryptonian takes a swig of Jimmy's elastic serum.

 

Then, from his disguise trunk, Olsen whips up a new costume for his pal.  Most of it is made from a spare Elastic Lad costume so that Superman can stretch without tearing his outfit.  The result is a green-and-purple eyesore, with a chest emblem containing the letters "FS"---for "Former Superman".

 

Our Hero has to get a move on; his borrowed super-powers will last only a few hours.  Without the power to fly, the Former Superman needs to borrow the Daily Planet's helicopter.  Once at the rooftop hangar of the Planet, Superman pulls the old "Look, a giraffe!" trick to divert Jimmy's attention while he jumps into the 'copter and takes off.

 

"Sorry to leave you behind, Jimmy . . . but this mission is too dangerous for you!"

 

 

But, is it too dangerous for the former Superman, as well?  We'll find out when I cover the rest of this story next time out.

 

 

* * * * *

 

While we wait, a few thoughts on "The New Superman" so far . . .

 

Confronting Superman with a rival super-hero was a theme that Mort Weisinger occasionally employed to explore the human side of the Man of Steel.  In those instances, such disparate characters as Wonder-Man and Captain Incredible and a miniature Superman proxy showed up, only to steal the limelight from Metropolis' favourite son.  In each case, Superman turned out to be not too pleased with the competition.  Despite his efforts to accept the greater good, the Caped Kryptonian felt pangs of insecurity and inadequacy.  Two of the examples I cited above resulted in tragic endings, leading Superman to suffer guilt over his pettiness.

 

"The New Superman" is different in the aspect that the Man of Steel deliberately selects his own replacement.  When tragedy strikes, Ar-Val becomes the new Superman, with the original's blessing.  He genuinely wants Ar-Val to succeed, and initially, the New Superman does so, to the acclaim of the public.  Yet, instead of being gratified, Clark Kent is despondent.  Certainly, he's having a difficult time adjusting to the loss of his super-powers.  (All the times we've heard Superman idly wish he were a normal man with a normal life, it's nonsense; he likes having super-powers, even with the tremendous responsibilities they carry.)  But his successor's popularity deepens his feelings of worthlessness.

 

As natural a reaction as it is, we're just not used to seeing the noble Man of Steel exhibit self-pity.

 

 

At first blush, Ar-Val comes across as an excellent candidate to replace Superman.  He performs admirably in the trials, demonstrating an awareness of the collateral consequences of using his super-powers---something one would not expect to find in someone acquiring them for the first time.  Ar-Val's enthusiasm for the idea of being Superman on Earth might raise a bit of concern in an alert reader.

 

 

Probably, that same alert reader was mildly surprised to see the plot mention a character from another DC editor's stable.  That didn't happen very often at DC in the Silver Age.  I'm talking, of course, about Superman going over to Julius Schwartz's universe and borrowing Green Lantern's power ring to enlarge Ar-Val and Bran-Een when they left Kandor.  It's unusual that Mort Weisinger would make that concession, since a method for enlarging Kandorians had already been established:  the enlarging ray that Superman had confiscated from the renegade Kandorian scientist Zak-Kul, 'way back in Action Comics # 245 (Oct., 1958).

 

The enlarging ray had been used in previous stories, and we can presume it was used in this one---to enlarge Ar-Val when he was summoned to replace the stricken Superman.  The story doesn't provide any other explanation for how Ar-Val was restored to normal size that time.

 

If one wanted a rationale as to why the Man of Steel used G.L.'s power ring earlier in the story to do the job, one "well, maybe" is that Superman wished to preserve the few grains of Illium 349 needed to make the enlarging ray work.  In the emergency which required Ar-Val to leave the bottle and assume the rôle of the new Superman, there wasn't enough time to contact Green Lantern.  Thus, Superman was forced to use the enlarging ray.

 

But the appearance of the power ring creates other issues with the story.  If Superman was able to obtain use of the ring, why didn't he just use it to protect himself from the comet's radiations?  Or, better yet, simply power-beam the comet into another direction from a safe distance?  Or, even better yet, why not just ask Green Lantern to do the job?

 

I checked the Metropolis Mailbag featuring the letters about this issue, and none of them raised these questions.  But you know lots of DC fans were asking them.

 

Which is probably why DC editors didn't like to stray out of their own universes.

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Another point is that if Green Lantern could restore a couple of Kandorians to normal size then why not the entire city? If that would be too much for one Green Lantern, there are 3600 of them to help!

And what would have Green Lantern done if when Superman had his ring, Sinestro or Evil Star or the Bottler attacked? A better explanation would have been that GL created a temporary ring for Superman to use.

And since the Legion got dragged into this, why didn't Jimmy give Superman his Legion flight ring or Superman digging up his own (unless he left it at the Fortress or something)?

Did he give his trainees any psych exams?

If he was going to pick a replacement, shouldn't he have chosen from the Superman Emergency Squad? Or his cousin Don-El or Van-Zee?

And what about Supergirl? 

Wasn't Supergirl still a "secret weapon" at this point?

IIRC, it wasn't that unusual for Hal to create temporary rings for others to use. 

I could easily see the Guardians feeling it wasn't a priority to enlarge the Kandorians, not to mention they msy kit have been thrilled with the idea oc all those super-powered Krypton Ian's running around.

What I want to know is, where are the Superman robots? Those were tailor made for situations like this. 

The older I get, the more I wonder: Since all the Kandorians have super powers outside of the bottle, why do they even care that they aren't enlarged? Size is relative. 

I'm not so sure that everyone would want super powers. I could easily see them being a Pita in a lot of instances. I saw something once that suggested Superman's true power was not crushing and killing every human he brushes into. I doubt that's instinctive. Same with using super speed and not creating destructive winds and donjc booms. 

And just where would a bunch of microscopic super powered Krypton Ian's be welcome? I doubt that many are as altruistic as Kal-El, so that could also be a disaster. 

Of course, Superman could have asked the Guardians to find an inhabitable Red sun planet to migrate Kandor to prior to enlarging them, which probably would have been doable, but that either never crossed anyone's mind, it was shit down due to editorial fiat, or there's a story that was published that I'm not aware of that addressed this very issue. 


ClarkKent_DC said:

The older I get, the more I wonder: Since all the Kandorians have super powers outside of the bottle, why do they even care that they aren't enlarged? Size is relative. 

Hmm...thinking about it, what was Kandor's population? Was that ever addressed? 

One of the strongest elements that initially attracted me to Marvel Comics (specifically) was a sense of continuity. I thought DC Comics (what few of them i had read) were silly. These days I find myself increasingly attracted to the Superman comics of Mort Weisinger. An article like this just adds to my frustration that DC has not seen fit to release an OMNIBUS edition of stories from this era. I would eat this stuff up!

Speaking of a lack of continuity (or even common sense)... I know you don't watch the super-hero shows on the CW, but there are two plots from the same week (this week) that really stick in my craw, one from Batwoman, one from Superman. On Batwoman, despite the fact she wears a Kevlar vest, a kryptonite bullet was able to penetrate her costume and infect her. (I'll buy the premise that kryptonite radiation can infect a human after longtime exposure.) On Superman, despite the fact that he is invulnerable, a kryptonite projectile was able to pierce his slim.

Until such a time as DC sees fit to release the Weisinger era in some sort of a comprehensive format, I suppose I'll continue to watch these shows. (The DC Comics of today aren't very respectful of an established continuity, either.) Very frustrating. 

As I understand it, a Kevlar vest will stop a bullet once. If another bullet were to hit the same spot it could penetrate. Of course, I could be wrong. So I would call it unlikely but plausible.

The one hitting Superman? There I don't know. As I understand it, it's the radiation that's the real issue, and it would actually make more sense to simply toss it at Superman than to fire a bullet which has a strong likelihood of ricocheting out of useful range. 

I'm no ballistics expert (nor do I play one on TV), but Kevlar isn't adamantium. It can be penetrated.

Whether it can be penetrated depends on the weapon the projectile is fired from and its distance from the target. It can protect the wearer from small arms fire, but not necessarily from, say, a .50 caliber machine gun. And even if the rounds didn't penetrate, the body under the vest would suffer damage from being pelted by those rounds.

And to Randy's point, he's right; the Kevlar vest will work once, but be weakened and unreliable after that.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Speaking of a lack of continuity (or even common sense)... I know you don't watch the super-hero shows on the CW, but there are two plots from the same week (this week) that really stick in my craw, one from Batwoman, one from Superman. On Batwoman, despite the fact she wears a Kevlar vest, a kryptonite bullet was able to penetrate her costume and infect her. (I'll buy the premise that kryptonite radiation can infect a human after longtime exposure.) On Superman, despite the fact that he is invulnerable, a kryptonite projectile was able to pierce his slim.

We chewed on kryptonite bullets and whether they might work on Superman over here: "How Much Kryptonite Is Lethal?"

There's the question of whether a single bullet made of kryptonite -- that is, something that weighs between a quarter ounce to three-quarters of an ounce -- is large enough to be harmful to Superman on its own. Unless we're supposed to believe any amount of kryptonite reacts with Kryptonians, I would have to think some pieces of kryptonite would be too small to cause significant harm.

I also think the (mistaken) reasoning of Superman getting shot with a kryptonite bullet assumes kryptonite's properties instantly negate his invulnerability on contact. That's the only way it could work, but then there's the issue of the bullet penetrating his indestructible costume.

My main point was to whine about DC's lack of interest in reprinting Weisinger era Superman.

I did not intend to threadjack.

I apologize. 

Randy Jackson said:

Wasn't Supergirl still a "secret weapon" at this point?

This is a 1964 issue. Supergirl was revealed to the world in Action Comics #285(FEB62).

I was just reminded that, while she was still a secret, Superman had a disguised Kara pretend to be a super-love-interest. Mighty Maid (Action #260). He and his first cousin kissed convincingly enough to make Lois jealous. 

Stan Lee, I think, liked a story to be emotionally engaging, to have emotional punch. That was part of the Marvel revolution. But the desire to emotionally engage the reader is evident in many Silver Age Super-stories as well.

The reader follows the stories from Superman's POV, and shares his lows. This approach was part of the feature from the beginning, but in the Silver Age Superman was given a greater emotional range and more intense emotions. I think Jerry Siegel said in an interview he was particularly interested in doing this. But one also sees it in Hamilton's work. It's parallel to the romances in his Legion stories.

Reading the Commander's synopsis, I was struck by the bit where Clark pleads with Ar-Val. I take it Clark's fears are prescient and Ar-Val is heading for a disaster. But I'm sure I've read stories where the moral is the old guy has to let go and let the new guy do things his way, so I thought Ar-Val had a point.

I was reminded of Superman #119 (which I particularly like; I find the ending moving), and #162, where Superman's decision to use the intelligence-expander is prompted by a demand from the Kandorians that they let one of them replace him. The net tells me an earlier blond Kandorian Superman appeared in #134.

Superman's replacement costume, of course, was surely coloured purple and green to contrast with the colours of his regular costume. I was first put in mind of Luthor's costume and powersuit in the 70s and 80s, but come to think of it the Annihilator wore purple and green too. Superman's Nova costume was coloured this way in World's Finest Comics #178. Anti-Superman in #159 wore straight purple.

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