A Tribute to the of

The webmaster has been at it again. A short time ago, he stumbled across an intriguing panel and would not rest until he learned the story behind it. Using his superb detective skills, he found the issue the panel came from and passed it along to me and I thought it would be another excellent candidate for a review here at the Silver Lantern.

By the way, while I don’t claim to have an exhaustive knowledge of DC’s Silver Age, I’ve been diving deep into it for a long time now, so it’s always a pleasant surprise when I am introduced to a cover I’ve never seen before. Such is the case with Superman #172 with a publication date of October 1964. Cover art is courtesy of Curt Swan and George Klein who also were the art team on interiors. Ira Schnapp is credited with cover lettering and Mort Weisinger occupied the editor’s seat. Our writer is Edmond Hamilton and the name of the story is, “The New Superman!” at least for part one. The cover, of course, says, “The Tyrant Superman!” but that never appears in the 3-part story.

The splash page shows Clark Kent with others on the streets of Metropolis, watching a blonde-haired Superman flying high above. The caption reveals that Superman has passed the torch and ended his career. So, what gives? Let’s find out…

Clark Kent is dispatched by Perry White to check out a potential news story at the Metropolis observatory where Lana Lang also happens to be checking in with astronomer Dr. Jay Black for her television news network. Black informs the reporters that he’s discovered a green comet making its way toward the solar system, though Earth isn’t in its path. He suggests that Superman may need to try and divert it so that it doesn’t harm other life forms. Clark is a bit agitated and his thoughts reveal that this could be the comet he’s been dreading that may bring his death.

It seems Superman’s father, Jor-El had first taken note of the comet back on Krypton and deduced that its radiation would be fatal to even super-powered Kryptonians. With that thought in mind, Superman, knowing he must deal with this threat, lays plans to appoint a successor as a contingency effort.

Reasoning that another Kryptonian would the logical choice to fill his shoes, Superman heads for the Fortress of Solitude and uses his communications gear to contact the residents of the shrunken city of Kandor in the protective bottle. He requests that the two best young men they have to offer, physically and mentally, be selected so that Superman may test them.

Ar-Val and Bran-Eem are chosen and here comes that panel that so intrigued my best friend. Superman, who has apparently borrowed the ring of Green Lantern, is using it to enlarge the two Kandorians as they leave the bottle for their battery of tests.

Okay. Nifty idea. I must pose the rhetorical question, however. Why in blue bloody blazes didn’t Supes ask GL to enlarge the whole city at some suitable new home? Huh? Why? Sheesh…

Okay, so the two candidates are now ready, willing and able to be tested. It soon becomes apparent that while both are qualified, Ar-Val is the better candidate and the pair are returned to Kandor while Superman, feeling a little bit of relief, is on his way to take on the comet in space.

Superman’s mission is successful, but the effort has cost him greatly. He has become so weak that he can barely use the famed massive arrow-shaped key to get back to the interior of his Fortress of Solitude. He contacts Ar-Val and enlarges him to normal size, though off-panel this time and begins the transition, handing over his indestructible costume while wearing a duplicate and Ar-Val flies him back to Metropolis where he lets Jimmy know that future distress calls with his watch will be answered by the new Superman.

Part I closes with a saddened, non-powered Clark Kent facing his new existence without his alter ego of Superman.

Part II is titled, “Clark Kent—Former Superman!” Word has spread quickly that Superman has retired and it doesn’t take long for the underworld to take notice. Despite his incarceration, Lex Luthor, with the aid of Brainiac, busts prison and they’re determined to take advantage of a “green” Superman. Lex is wounded in the escape.

When the newswire lets the staff of the Daily Planet know about Luthor’s escape, Clark Kent decides to warn Ar-Val of the imminent threat, but the new Superman is not concerned and has been busily building a Superman arch at super-speed, and it seems the supports, images of himself, are indicative that his new gig is going to his head.

When Brainiac gets Luthor to his hideout, he uses a Z-ray to cure the scientist’s wound. Meanwhile Jimmy Olsen, using his signal watch, summons Ar-Val to let him know about the threat of Luthor and the new Superman is again dismissive, stating that he’s not going to waste time chasing down a dead crook. He then threatens to take away the signal watch if Jimmy bothers him again.

Clark, meanwhile, is frantic to intercept Luthor before he can make good on his threat last time they tangled to kill Lana Lang and Lois Lane as revenge. He dons his Superman uniform at the Planet offices where he’s soon discovered by Jimmy. He tells Olsen that maybe he can bluff his old foes, but Jimmy has another plan.

Ar-Val has seen what Superman is up to, but he has a plot of his own and has constructed a shiny new city hall, complete with a statue of himself at the top. The grateful officials ask what they can do in return and he suggests passing a law permitting only him to wear the Superman costume.

In the interim, Jimmy Olsen, an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes by virtue of his part-time gig as Elastic Lad, is using a device to contact the LSH in the 30th Century to try and get some powers for his pal. Once in contact, Jimmy asks if they can use the time-force wave carrier to pass along some powers to Superman. Saturn girl replies that unfortunately the only available members are she, Invisible Kid and Cosmic Boy, but that they, along with Jimmy himself, can pass along their available powers.

Soon, our hero is temporarily charged with the powers of Saturn Girl, Invisible Kid and Cosmic Boy and Jimmy offers him some of his Elasti-serum to grant a 4th power. Just then they hear a radio broadcast about the new law prohibiting anyone else but the current Superman wearing the distinctive red and blue uniform. The Man of Might promptly begins to discard his costume and Jimmy says that he can help, using his on-hand disguises and soon a new uniform is fashioned, featuring a large FS for a chest emblem, signifying, “Former Superman.” Olsen even had the presence of mind to include material from an Elastic Lad costume so that it will stretch as necessary. Superman then borrows a Daily Planet helicopter and is on the hunt with the aid of Saturn Girl’s mental powers.

He quickly finds Brainiac’s stronghold, but the robot guards, disguised as heavy construction equipment, detect him with sonar despite his invisibility powers and capture our hero. Changing tactics, the erstwhile Man of Steel uses super magnetism to crash the robots to pieces.

When the Man of Tomorrow enter's Brainiac's ship the villain flashes a green Kryptonite nugget, forgetting that Superman has been stripped of his powers, so it has no effect. Using his elastic powers, Superman is about to put the wraps on the two crime lords when a hidden knock-out gas is deployed, rendering him helpless. The two villains were fitted with nose filters and Part II closes.

Part III’s “The Struggle of the Two Supermen!” kicks off with Ar-Val standing beside his massive visage atop the new Metropolis City Hall contemplating how to further cement his “reign” and make the world forget the original Superman. He decides a press conference is just the ticket and invites the assembled reporters to spend a day with him to see just how great a hero they have. Jimmy Olsen is in the assemblage and is less and less impressed, particularly when the Daily Planet globe abruptly dislodges and Ar-Val springs into action. Olsen noted that the new Superman had caused this artificial calamity with some super breath suction.

Later at the Metropolis zoo, he uses heat vision on the sly to release some charging rhinos so he can again save the day. The showboating continues with Jimmy seemingly being the only one the wiser when a messenger boy brings a photo to Lois and Lana that seems to startle them. Abruptly they take their leave and Jimmy tries to get a peek at it with his telephoto camera lens. (Hey! Remember cameras that weren’t part of your cell phone? How quaint!) Jimmy gets a view of a photo of Brainiac looming over a helpless Superman, instructing the lady reporters to come to Route 44 in an hour if they want to save him. Signed, Luthor.

Jimmy goes to Ar-Val to tell him what’s going on and solicit his aid, but the new Superman is in the midst of the admiration of the press and is quietly irritated at the distraction from his adoring public. He takes Jimmy aside and tells him he’s exaggerating again, but Olsen says he’ll spill the beans about the artificial crises if the new Superman doesn’t act. Reluctantly, Ar-Val agrees and flies Jimmy to catch up with Lois and Lana in Miss Lane’s car when one of Brainiac’s disguised robot guards, a steam shovel, scoops up the car and takes the women to their lair where their plan of vengeance can be fulfilled.

They take them in so that Superman can witness it when Ar-Val arrives. Brainiac scoops up a handy green kryptonite harpoon to hurl at the hero, but the original Superman jumps in front and takes the brunt of the blow. An enraged Ar-Val is ready to make mincemeat of the villains when Jimmy reminds him of his role as Earth’s mightiest hero, so he instead wraps Luthor and Brainiac up with a piece of steel until they can be turned over to the authorities.

Meanwhile, Superman is in bad shape. Luckily the Z-ray Brainiac had used to heal Luthor’s wound is still there and they use it to restore Superman. A shamed Ar-Val realizes he’s not the hero his predecessor is and flies off to try and right matters. He heads for the Fortress and contacts Nor-Kan in the bottle city of Kandor. A peer of Jor-El’s, Nor-Kan had apparently come up with a way to reverse the effects of the comet, but at a potentially great cost.

Ar-Val gets the necessary information, retrieves Superman and back at the Fortress of Solitude, chains him to a pillar while adjusting some generators to a particular frequency. Standing next to Superman as they’re bathed in the frequencies of the generators, Ar-Val explains that Jor-El’s calculations were being brought into play and that the only way to restore Superman’s powers is to transfer those in Ar-Val to him with this method. Unfortunately, it not only stripped Ar-Val of those powers, but robbed him of his life as well, turning him into stone. Superman objects, but it is done and Ar-Val’s last words are that he wanted to be a great Superman, but failed and this will atone for that failure.

The final panel has Superman placing the body of Ar-Val into a glass case and vowing that one day he’ll find a way to restore him.

When I think of Silver Age Superman stories, these are the kind that come to mind. A little hokey and perhaps even predictable at times, but good, simple fun with solid action. You’ve got a lot going for this story with not one, but two of Superman’s greatest foes conspiring against him. You’ve got the usual tropes of the Daily Planet staff with Lana Lang thrown in for good measure. Kandor, the Fortress of Solitude, some green K to deal with and even an appearance by some LSH members. Add the unusual use of a power ring and it’s just a fun story to spend some time on and I’ll give it a 9 rating on the 10-point scale. This is the Superman I know and love and it takes me right back.

Thanks for your time, readers. As per usual, you can reach out and touch us here with your comments, questions or review requests. Just use that e-mail option at: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Join us again on April 1st for the latest review and I think we’re going to check out a DC Silver Age staple with a good ol’ gorilla tale.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

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