A Tribute to the of

Welcome to December, readers and the winding up of what could charitably be called an interesting year. Frankly, it’s probably fair to say it has fit pretty well with the old Chinese curse that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Despite all that, we still have things that make us smile and for me, one of those things is my beloved DC Silver Age.

In that spirit, I’ve gone a good way back into the vault and dug up a classic Superboy story for your reading pleasure. It’s from issue #98 with a publication date of July 1962 and an on-sale date of May 17th of that year. Mort Weisinger sat in the editor’s chair, as he did with pretty much the entire Superman series and that cover is by Curt Swan and George Klein, who also did the interior artwork for “The Boy with Ultra-Powers!” which just so happened to be scripted by the one and only Jerry Siegel, whom you’ve probably heard something about. Just for the record, the first story in this anthology book was drawn by the fondly remembered Al Plastino. Let’s check out the very first appearance of Ultra-Boy. Following the theme of that great cover, the splash page leaves the reader in doubt as to this new visitor to Smallville and his intentions. He announces, “So you’re the world’s mightiest boy, eh? Let’s see you melt one of these giant lead Superboy statues with your heat vision…like I, Ultra-Boy, am doing with my amazing penetra-vision!” Superboy thinks to himself that he cannot affect lead while Ma and Pa Kent look on with parental concern.

Things begin with the arrival of a pair of newcomers to Smallville on the train. A youth and an older gentleman, they head to a rental home to make preparations. Removing their outer garments, we see they’re wearing nearly identical costumes beneath their street clothes and soon, the younger of them, Ultra-Boy, is reporting into headquarters via the cosmic-scope. His mission: To pose as Gary Crane, son of his companion, Ben Crane and to learn Superboy’s secret identity. He is confident that his penetra-vision, which allows him to generate heat, see great distances and look through everything including Superboy’s weakness, lead, will give him an edge.

The next day, “Gary” enrolls at Smallville high as an avenue to unmask the Boy of Steel. As he tells the principal that he comes from far away and that his records were destroyed in a fire, Pete Ross, who is assisting in the office, gets suspicious of the vague background of this new student. Still, he welcomes the new boy to Smallville, noting that while it’s not a very big city, it is the home of Superboy. Gary boldly asks if Pete knows Superboy’s secret identity, which, of course, we readers know that he does, but despite being shocked at the query, Ross denies any knowledge of that fact. Ultra-Boy senses Pete’s nervousness and uses his penetra-vision to look at Pete’s heart and notes a rapid pulse, leading him to believe that this might be the Boy of Steel.

After school, Ben and Gary follow Pete to his after-school job at the Kent General Store. Ultra-Boy continues to monitor Pete with his penetra-vision when a man with a tommy gun strolls into the store to commit a robbery. Pete orders him out, but before the robber can fire his weapon, “Gary” melts the gun barrel with his penetra-vison as he wants to be the one to reveal Superboy.

Later, after Clark has arrived and the would-be thief is carted off by the police, Jonathan Kent takes him aside and praises him for saving Pete from certain death. Clark replies that it wasn’t him, so he starts some detective work, beginning with his emergency robots, who report they didn’t come to Pete’s aid. Then, it’s back to the store, where young Master Kent locates melted lead slugs, which is something he could not have accomplished.

The next day, the pair are on a mountain top overlooking a roadway where Pete Ross just happens to be driving. Once again using that nifty penetra-vision, Ultra-Boy melts part of a boulder, dislodging it and dropping it in front of Pete’s hoopy, reasoning that in that isolated spot, the presumed Superboy will move the rock, but as luck would have it, the genuine article happens to be flying by and lends a hand. In the process, Superboy notes the melted part of the boulder and it arouses his curiosity. Further investigation reveals lead ore in the boulder, so now there are more clues that someone, possibly even more powerful than Superboy, is operating in Smallville.

Later, the two strangers are reporting in again to HQ and the younger vows that he will succeed in his mission within the two remaining days of the deadline. The older of the two warns him that if he fails, even he will not be able to help the youth.

Just then, Krypto the superdog shows up and notices the pair putting on their outer garments. The super pet wonders if they’re out to do harm to his master. He determines to scoop them up and deliver them to Smallville. The duo recognize the super-powered canine and Ultra-Boy calls the penetra-vision into play yet again, giving Krypto a hot foot and the dog is shocked that he can be hurt by it, but flees just the same.

The next day, Gary Crane is back at square one when he notices Clark Kent and Lana Lang walking along when a couple of boys’ prank Clark. Luckily, his glasses, made of unbreakable material from the rocket ship that brought baby Kal-El to Earth, survived the shove to the sidewalk. Ultra-Boy notes, “By the three purple moons of Rimbor!” that maybe the glasses survived because they’re Kryptonian in origin. Following up the hunch, he sees via (what else?) penetra-vision that there’s a familiar red “S” underneath Clark’s sweater and button-down shirt.

Clark’s location during the clandestine examination, though, was unlucky for the hapless gentleman working in the dark room located in the building behind Clark. All the negatives he was working with were suddenly fogged up and ruined, courtesy of that famed penetra-vision. Now Clark’s curiosity is piqued and after a glance at Gary Crane, another costume is revealed. But is he friend or foe?

That question will have to wait as we again join Pete Ross, who is making a diary entry and contemplating that if the book ever fell into the wrong hands, the revelation of Superboy’s secret identity might make him vulnerable. The next day, Pete decides to rent a safety deposit box to secure it and after the bank manager lets Pete into the vault where the boxes are located, he suffers a heart attack and bumps the door shut, sealing Pete in. Naturally, the door is on a time lock and only the manager knows the combination.

One of the employees hustles off to signal Superboy, via a flag on the bank’s roof with the big red “S” emblem on it. Not exactly as cool as the bat-signal, but in broad daylight, perhaps more effective. Once the Boy of Steel arrives, he realizes he has a dilemma on his hands. If he breaks down the door, an explosive device will be activated, but the lock itself is lead, so he can’t use his X-ray vision to figure out the combination. Just then, two costumed figures arrive. Ultra-Boy introduces himself and his companion, Marla and says that they were about to leave Smallville when he spotted the emergency. He swiftly uses penetra-vision to make a sketch of the lock mechanism and give it to Superboy, who uses it to free Pete from the vault. Superboy then turns to the costumed youth and peppers him with questions about who he is, where he’s from and how he got his amazing abilities.

Ultra-Boy recounts that he is Jo-Nah from the planet Rimbor and a trip in outer space in his one-man craft that led to being swallowed by an energy beast led to the acquisition of his powers. A galactic patrol happened to be in the vicinity to free him quickly, but later he learned of what he could now do and began to fight crime as Ultra-Boy. Superboy comments on the parallel between Ultra-Boy’s origin story and that of the biblical tale of Jonah and the whale.

(By the way, see if you prefer the original Swan/Klein version of Ultra-Boy’s origin or the Mike Grell version from Superboy starring the Legion of Super-Heroes #213 from December of 1975)

Ultra-Boy goes on to explain that he came through the time-barrier from the 30th century in order to discover Superboy’s secret identity as a requirement to join the Legion of Super-Heroes. Marla then interjects that as the senior advisor to the Legion, he came along as an observer and declares that Ultra-Boy is officially a full-fledged member. He further elaborates that they arrived via time globe, stashing the craft near Metropolis and taking the train to Smallville so that they wouldn’t be detected. Superboy offers his congratulations and then departs.

The ever-curious Ultra-Boy once again calls upon his penetra-vision to see why Pete Ross would be interested in a safety deposit box and reads the key points of the diary. He praises Pete for his loyalty and efforts to keep Superboy’s secret identity safe and Marla rewards the young man with a 30th century coin that will act as a pass to the Legion clubhouse whenever they meet and that he’ll make certain Superboy takes Pete along to a future meeting very soon.

As an old Legion fan, I am a little surprised that I didn’t know about this story a long time ago. The tale gave us the origin and first appearance of Ultra-Boy and the honorary status bestowed by the Legion on Pete Ross. That makes it a pretty special one. Ol’ Jerry could still spin a good yarn in the early 60s and I enjoyed this one tremendously. A maximum 10 rating from the Silver Age Sage!

The final review of the year will be right here on the 15th of December and I’ll try to close out the year in style. If you’d like in on the action and have a suggestion, you know what to do. Just fire an e-mail to: professor_the@hotmail.com.

Happy Thanksgiving, readers and…

Long live the Silver Age!

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