A Tribute to the of
Greetings again, faithful readers and welcome to the latest edition of the Silver Age Sage. After a dozen reviews I'm finally getting right to the heart of matters. First of all, though, perhaps you'll appreciate what transpired to help bring this review about. I had to go to the storage unit a few days ago to dig out the Halloween decorations. As anyone could have predicted, they were in a box in the back, on the very bottom. Add in the fact that I've made maximum use of the allocated space and you'll understand why I was glad I was by my lonesome as the epithets began to come more frequently and loudly as I went on my quest. After finally retrieving the box and replacing all the others that had to be moved to get to it, I burned rubber home. As the box was opened, what should I discover but my small pile of original boyhood comics that had somehow survived. My 1957 Lone Ranger, my complete set of The Joker when he had his own magazine in the mid-70's for all of 9 issues and my lone silver age issue that is the subject of this edition. Once again, it was like finding an old friend.
The entire super hero comic genre began in 1938. It was the month of June and Action Comics #1 hit the world with the introduction of the most famous and lasting hero ever. Yes, it all began with Superman! Superman was such an important figure that for years the creators of other characters wouldn't even make costumes with capes for fear of infringing on this nearly instant popular icon. Try to find anyone on this planet outside the deepest recesses of the Amazon rainforest who haven't heard of the Man of Steel. I dare you! Over 60 years later he's still going strong and I don't think it's outside the realm of reality that he'll go 60 more. Just like that other stalwart, Batman, Superman has enjoyed a universal appeal and has been featured on the big and small screens, in radio, newspaper and comics and has thrilled countless millions for years. You already knew all that, though, didn't you? On to our review.
In October of 1967 Superman had his own little bicentennial. Issue #200 of Superman was on the racks and newsstands and to mark this monumental milestone, Editor Mort Weisinger decided to do an "Imaginary Novel" and Cary Bates was tapped to write the tale. These days they're called Elseworld stories, but Imaginary was the term of the day even though it could be argued that they were all imaginary. The cover by Curt Swan gives you a pretty good idea of the unique turn of events for this issue. Jor-El, father of Kal-El of Krypton, aka Superman is holding a familiar costume in his hand and speaking to his sons who are grappling in front of him. "You win, Knor-El! By defeating your brother, Kal-El, you've gained the right to wear this uniform! From now on, you'll be Earth's Superman!" Whoa! Kal has a brother? One who has bested him in a physical competition and will now wear the red and blue of Superman? What gives, anyway? Come along and find out.
On the splash page penciled and inked by Wayne Boring we see the same El brothers laying into some mechanical men as other Kryptonians, including their parents, Jor-El and Lara, look on in an arena setting. We then see that the title of this complete 3-part novel is "Super Brother against Super Brother!" The story opens with the familiar retelling of Superman's origin. The destruction of his home planet of Krypton and the small rocket bearing baby Kal-El narrowly escaping as it's blown to bits. The imaginary tale then begins by saying that here, things will happen differently. We then go to Jor-El's laboratory on Krypton, where Lara holds a young Kal-El and Jor-El deduces that the planet is doomed. Moments later, a spacecraft is shown on an intercept course with Krypton. It flies above Kryptonopolis, home of the El's and many other Kryptonians when abruptly a shrinking ray emanates down from the vessel, causing the entire city to be enveloped, shrunk and placed into a bottle by the familiar form of Brainiac! Old hands in the Superman universe will recall that the robot known as Brainiac did pull such a stunt, but it was with the Kryptonian city of Kandor as told in Action Comics #242 away back in 1958. As he sets up the artificial atmosphere and gravity for the city in a bottle, the scientists begin to devise a method of communication with their apparent captor. Soon a link is established and Brainiac tells the inhabitants that he is on a mission to rescue all of Krypton from the coming disaster. In the regular series of tales, Brainiac is, of course, a member of Superman's rogue's gallery, and he shrank Kandor for kicks. Here he is much more altruistic and means to save all the population but his reducing ray has burned out after snagging Kryptonopolis, and by the time he returns with Big Bertha, it's too late. The planet explodes and all other citizens are lost.
As time goes on, Brainiac routinely visits the city by shrinking his mechanical body. His goal is to find a suitable planet and enlarge Kryptonopolis so that they can continue on as a people. He soon discovers, however, that a key element for restoring them, ZN-4, is no longer available. He's able to enlarge his own form due to the fact that he is not an organic being. He vows to search the entire universe if necessary to find another source of ZN-4. I wonder if he thought of Wal-Mart? Anyway, Part I ends there and Part II opens with the naming ceremony of the newest member of the El family. Kal-El now has a baby brother named Knor-El. While Brainiac continues to comb other worlds, the El brothers grow up to become model citizens and each pursues paths to be of benefit to their society. Kal-El turns to science and chemistry while Knor develops his athletic abilities to become a lawman. Soon, Brainiac gets on the link to the leadership of Kryptonopolis to announce that he has at last found a source of ZN-4 on an uninhabited planet and tells them to make preparations, particularly some storage tanks to receive it. As he steers the craft toward this new world, he suddenly meets with disaster. A meteor is crossing his path and his blasters malfunction, allowing it to collide with the ship. Both Brainiac and the ship are badly damaged and his attempt to teleport some ZN-4 to the bottle city is thwarted as his mechanism has shorted out. He decides to jettison the city of Kryptonopolis as he crash lands on the nearby Earth. As he and his craft are destroyed upon impact with a skyscraper, the bottle lands in a nearby deserted field. The kryptonians are able to monitor their new surroundings and discover that Earth people look much like they do, though they seem to have a higher crime rate. Later, Jor-El discovers to his great surprise that a tiny amount of ZN-4 did get into the tanks. Enough to enlarge one person. He calculates that, due to the differences in Earth's atmosphere and solar system, any Kryptonian would be endowed with some pretty amazing powers and could be a tremendous asset to their new home world. He thinks to himself that both his sons would doubtless volunteer to be this champion, but how is a father to decide? Thus ends Part II of our story.
Part III, entitled "A Tale of Two Supermen" begins a few days later in an arena where all the young men of Kryptonopolis are competing for the honor of becoming Earth's Superman. Various tests of agility and intelligence are given to them with many being eliminated with each contest. Finally, it comes down to, surprise, the El brothers. The final elimination comes from their facing off with robot fighting machines. Each brother is to tackle one in unarmed combat and the winner takes all. As they each grapple with their respective foe, their methods follow their personality traits. Kal-El tries a scientific approach and seeks to blind his opponent, while Knor-El discovers some points of vulnerability on his robot and begins to exploit them. Once Kal is at last able to blindfold his robot he realizes to his great disappointment that Knor has defeated his robot and won the contest. He is given the familiar uniform, a jet pack and the ZN-4 supply as he heads for the neck of the bottle and the outside world. He soon discovers his new abilities and as his first task searches for a safe haven for the city of Kryptonopolis. Our writers decide to shake things up again and have this issue's Superman create a Fortress of Solitude under the ocean floor as opposed to the arctic model in the regular continuity. Next, our newly stamped hero decides it's time to mingle with the natives. He dons a blue suit and those amazing horn-rimmed glasses that allow him to go about unrecognized and think perhaps the guise of a mild-mannered reporter with a great metropolitan newspaper would be the ticket. "Ken Clarkson" (I wish I were kidding with that one) becomes the newest reporter for the Daily Planet. As luck would have it, the warden of the local prison has been taken hostage and it's up to Clarkson to investigate, which he happily does as Superman. He handily breaks down the steel-reinforced door, knocks the thugs silly and, faster than a speeding bullet, and saves the warden from a lead shower. He fixes the door with his heat vision, then goes to file his story. Meanwhile, back at the bottle, Kal watches with envy at the success of his little brother.
Soon, we're taken to another monitor where some other aliens are checking out Superman. Intent on invading the Earth (and what self-respecting alien isn't?) they decide to search for Superman's weakness before making their play. Editor Perry White is then dispatching Clarkson to check out a UFO sighting. Clarkson does so in uniform and meets one of the aliens who reveal that he knows where Superman has come from and that he just happens to have a radioactive chunk of home in a box to drop him to his knees. The kryptonite overcomes Superman instantly and the villainous creatures continue with their invasion plans.
Fade to the monitor where Jor-El is trying in vain to locate Knor. Kal-El comes in and discovers his brother is missing and decides to take some decisive action. He just happens to have a supply of synthetic ZN-4 and decides to search for baby brother. He soon finds him by the ship and our wicked aliens expose him to the green kryptonite chunk, too. Abruptly, Kal-El is transformed into a giant. In this tale, green kryptonite has the properties of red kryptonite, with unpredictable results. Convinced his brother has been killed, Kal quickly goes to work on the invaders by destroying their ship. In a last ditch attempt at regaining control of the situation, the alien leader fires his mind paralyzer pistol at the kryptonian and it is effective. Kal is in great pain, but before further damage can be done, a revived Knor-El jumps into the fray and destroys the weapon. The two double-team to bring the invaders under control, then repair the ship and send them packing. Later, as the effects of the kryptonite wear off, Kal muses about how he'll return home without the benefit of the shrinking ray. Knor suggests that he stay and then shares an idea. In the next panel, a very cleverly disguised Kal-El, resplendent in a small, pencil-thin mustache, becomes "Charles Leblanc", the newest reporter for the Montreal Star newspaper in Quebec, Canada. So, while Metropolis has Superman, in the form of Knor-El, Montreal has his brother Kal-El as Hyperman, hero of Canada. In the final panel the editor's note states, "As we celebrate our 200th issue, Canada is celebrating its 100th anniversary as a united federation. This is our tribute to our neighbor to the north."
So ends our imaginary tale. A fun bit of fiction with some twists that make an old story new. A very fitting way to mark the 200th issue of Superman. For the quality of the story and the nostalgia I have for this special issue, I rate it a 10 and recommend this great bit of science fiction to anyone. Yet another great effort from 1967.
I invite one and all to drop me a line at email@example.com with comments or questions and invite you to return in two weeks as we continue to explore these classic treasures.
Long Live the Silver Age!
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