A Tribute to the of

The problem with a great hero is that you need a worthy opponent and if your hero is very nearly indestructible after awhile that can pose some challenges. Witness Superman, strange visitor from another world with powers far beyond those of mortal men. In the late 30's when he arrived in the pages of Action Comics he was somewhat different than what he evolved into later. His powers pretty much consisted of great strength, "tough" skin that could snap off a knife blade and the ability to leap really high, but not actually fly, at least initially.

He took on garden variety thugs, members of organized crime and of course had a great time fighting Nazi's and other enemies of the Red, White and Blue during wartime. Obviously, Superman won the day, time after time and pretty much without even breathing hard.

What to do? Well, the writers and editors of the Man of Steel began to seek out greater difficulties for him to overcome and in the late 50's, July of 1958 to be precise, we met, for the first time, the nemesis from space known as Brainiac. "The Super-Duel in Space!" Written by Otto Binder, edited by Mort Weisinger and illustrated by Al Plastino showed up between the covers of Action Comics #242. Curt Swan and Stan Kaye rendered that classic cover.

The story begins with the launch of The Columbus, an experimental Army rocket, which inexplicably holds not only a full crew and some animals, but also Clark Kent and Lois Lane, sans any sort of protective gear. Allegedly the special anti-shock seats allow for a smooth ride, but nary a suit or any other paraphernalia one might expect for space flight, but hey, it is the late 50's after all. Soon the animals on board begin to whirl around after breaking the 10,000-mile record and at that moment they note a flying saucer shooting some sort of rays at the rocket. Clark investigates with his X-ray vision and discovers Brainiac, "master of super scientific forces" and his alien pet, Koko. Acting quickly and within character, Clark grabs a space suit and jettisons himself, supposedly all the way back to Earth with the aid of built-in supersonic jets on the suit.

Once out of sight, of course, he doffs the suit and Superman flies toward the alien craft, only to be repulsed by an invisible force barrier. Superman decides the best way to protect the rocket is to push it out of range of the rays from Brainiac's ship. The alien, however, has an agenda, and continues toward the Earth. Inside, he prepares bottles and before you know it, he has managed to shrink Paris and place it inside one of the bottles. His ultimate goal is to repeat the process until he has a dozen cities that he can take back to his home world to repopulate it following the devastating effects of plague. Naturally, he'll serve as ruler. The Man of Tomorrow watches helplessly as he cannot breach the impenetrable barrier. In rapid succession Rome, London and New York follow. Superman observes as Brainiac takes a break, both to recharge his hyper batteries and to stretch his legs. On a nearby planetoid, the Man of Steel engages the alien, but discovers he has a personal barrier as well, equally unassailable. Superman tries everything from searing vision to progressively massive chunks of the planetoid itself, ultimately destroying it in the process, all to no avail. Brainiac merely jeers at "puny-man" and our hero retreats, much to the shock of Lois Lane, who had been observing through the porthole of the rocket.

Later the rocket lands back on Earth and Lois meets up with Clark. Then, Brainiac strikes again, adding Metropolis to his collection. Lois is horrified, crying that Superman flew off into space and isn't there to aid them. Clark, however, is pleased that his plan is working. He reasoned that Metropolis would be on the "hit" list and it was his opportunity to get inside the spacecraft and past the barrier. He manages to fly out of the bottle, pushing past the metal stopper and then goes into another bottle to avoid being detected when he discovers to his great astonishment it is a city from his home world of Krypton. Unfortunately, he immediately loses his super powers and quickly seeks out a scientist, explaining his lineage. As luck would have it, the scientist knew Jor-El from being his college roommate. Professor Kimda tells his fellow Kryptonian that he is in the city of Kandor, former capital of Krypton. Kal-El describes his journey to Earth and his life up to that point. Kimda shows him around, demonstrating the continuing ingenuity of the Kryptonian city and their answers to growing crops and creating an artificial sun along with other marvelous breakthroughs, to include an understanding of Brainiac's hyper-forces that he uses to capture the cities and how to undo his work. Superman ponders how he can do anything now that he has lost his powers.

Speaking of Brainiac, his mission is nearly complete and he and Koko go into suspended animation for the century long trip back to their home world. Kimda learns of this event and informs Kal-El, who realizes that over that time span all the bottle residents will age and die and their descendents will eventually reach the final destination. It's time for action, and Kal-El has a plan. He borrows one of the Kandorian transport rockets and a rare metal eating mole from the zoo and rams the rocket so that it lodges in the metal stopper at the top of the bottle. He lets the mole eat its way through and is soon outside the bottle and has regained his powers. Swiftly he uses Kimda's chart to strike the buttons on the control panel to activate the hyper-force and to return the cities to their original places on the surface of the Earth. He soon realizes there is only one charge left and is left with the dilemma of whether to restore Kandor or himself. Deciding upon the latter, he suddenly finds himself restored to his normal stature. He sees that Kimda had flown a rocket out of the bottle and used it to manipulate the ray, explaining that he could not allow Earth to be deprived of its greatest hero.

In the final panels, Superman leaves Brainiac's vessel to continue on its journey while he flies Kandor to his arctic Fortress of Solitude. "The miniature Krypton city will keep safely here! Perhaps I'll find a way to restore it to normal size…and live with my people again…someday! Who knows?"

Brainiac, of course, ended up being a worthy opponent and member in good standing of Superman's rogue's gallery and interestingly enough, this particular issue was used as sort of a sub-plot device in Jim Shooter's recent run on the Legion of Super-Heroes wherein Princess Projectra was fixated on the story line of the ancient comic book, insisting that Phantom Girl re-read her copy to her repeatedly, since it's in English rather than Interlac. (See LSH #46, November 2008). A great little homage to a great issue, containing an enduring new nemesis, and introducing another important and recurring element to the Superman mythos with the introduction of the bottle city of Kandor and topped off with some nice artwork by my friend, the great Al Plastino. I thought it fitting to do a review of some of Al's work this time around, too, as this edition of the Silver Age Sage will hit the web on the 15th of December, Al's 88th birthday. Happy birthday, Al, and thanks for making some great memories for so many!

The rating for this story is a solid 9 on the 10-point scale for giving us Brainiac and Kandor. I only wish I knew why the cover depiction of Brainiac was more like the version we would see in the future, complete with the head circuitry that put you more in mind of an android rather than a living alien. As we've learned, the covers were often done first during the Silver Age, but you'd still think the interior artists might use them as reference. Maybe that would be a good question to pose to Al Plastino the next time I speak with him.

Thanks for taking the time to join us. Your questions and comments are always welcomed and you can send them to this address: professor_the@hotmail.com.

We'll kick off 2010 with yet another review from this terrific era in comics and maybe, at long last, one of the interviews I've recently completed will be fully edited and ready to pass along. Keep your fingers crossed.

See you again on New Year's Day and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2009 by B.D.S.

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