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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Great Job Commander Benson, Even though I have this issue I am looking forward to part 2 and the comments that it will generate,,

Thanks again,

Greg Glaz

"And the acclamation for his replacement drives home the fact that, from now on, he's nothing more than a mild-mannered reporter."

Except there's no reason to stay that way if he thinks he's depowered forever. He can go ahead and act heroically, the way the Earth-Two Clark did after losing his powers in the retcon issue where he married Lois. Of course, that's not an option here as they're going back to the status quo eventually.

 

"Luthor's cooling his heels in a maximum-security prison, but that's never really been a problem for him." In Elliott Maggin's novel Miracle Monday, the story mentions they no longer give Luthor any tech in prison besides a notebook and a pen. He's figured out how he could then into a bomb, but then he wouldn't even get that much so holds off.

Speaking of "Superman and Lois" I was much amused by someone in an online discussion saying how ridiculous they found the idea of a Kryptonian being able to father children on a human woman. I mean, technically it's true, but it's no more scientifically impossible than 57,000 other things about Superman. So acting like being able to reproduce with Lois is the straw that breaks the camel's back is just silly.

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