A Tribute to the of
So what would you do if you were the super powered guardian of the Earth, and you suddenly began to experience a series of strange robberies by multiple beings who appear to have powers equal to your own? That's the predicament that our favorite Man of Steel encounters in the first few pages of Superman #158, the subject of this review. This spotlight issue is dated January 1963 and it contains artwork by the ever popular Curt Swan and George Klein. Let's see what Superman does to stanch the "Invasion of the Mystery Super-Men!", written by Edmond Hamilton and edited by Mort Weisinger.
Initially, the strangely garbed men are running roughshod over everything in their path as they circle the globe to collect rare elements from museums and laboratories. Fortunately for them, Superman is away on a mission in deep space and is unaware of their exploits. Even Jimmy Olsen's famed signal watch is unable to reach our hero, but having completed his mission, which involved rescuing his cousin Supergirl from exposure to Kryptonite on a distant planet, he quickly encounters one of the mystery men who immediately begins to engage him in fierce battle. Moments later, three more flying men join in the fray, but then leave in haste after dropping a huge block of lead on our hero, effectively eliminating his ability to see where they went. In the next panel, Jimmy Olsen arrives in a helicopter and fills in the blanks for Superman about the recent goings on with the raiders. The Man of Steel then informs Jimmy that the mysterious men spoke his native Kryptonese, so acting on a hunch, he wraps Jimmy in his cape and hurtles at super speed to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic, only to find the massive door knocked completely off it's hinges from the inside. Superman decides that the men had to have emerged somehow from the bottle city of Kandor, former capital of Krypton that was reduced to toy-size by Brainiac. Deciding the only way to get to the bottom of matters is to investigate first hand, Superman shrinks himself and Jimmy down so that they can descend into the bottle city with parachutes. Jimmy reminds his friend that he's been to Kandor before and a handy editor's note states it was in Jimmy Olsen #53, "The Boy in the Bottle!"
Shortly after they land and begin to make their way to the city, they encounter Nor Kann, a friend of Jor-El and Lara, Superman's parents. He cautions Kal-El not to go to the city saying ominously that he will be going to his death. Undeterred, our hero walks forward where a startling scene is taking place. The citizens of Kandor are rioting and are pulling down a statue of Superman, while condemning him. When the crowd spots their fellow Kryptonian they being to fling stones at him, one of which grazes his forehead. Thinking quickly, Jimmy commandeers a nearby vehicle and whisks his pal away to safety. Pausing in some forest land outside the city, the pair soon hear the eerie wail of the telepathic hounds of Kandor, hot on their mental trail. Part I ends on that bit of drama.
Part II, titled The Dynamic Duo of Kandor shows Superman and Jimmy still furiously trying to escape, but realizing they are being tracked by their very thoughts. Superman suggests their best hope is to concentrate and imagine that they are somewhere else. Succeeding with their ruse, the pair next seek out the home of Nor Kann to try and find out why Superman is suddenly reviled by his own people. When they arrive, Nor Kann explains that the scientist Than Ol is behind the shift in sentiment. It seems Than Ol has successfully enlarged a few members of Kandor and claims that it was something Kal El could have done, but that he feared they would be rivals to his mantle as Superman. The Man of Tomorrow then says that he must find Than Ol and find out what the enlargement process involves. He fears that his fellow Kryptonians are in danger from the process. Jimmy reminds him that he won't be safe in the city, so Superman decides to assume disguises like his World's Finest partner, Batman along with Robin. As it happens, Nor Kann has a secret underground laboratory that they can use as a hide out. Taking the names of Kryptonian birds, they decide upon the persona of Nightwing (presumably long before Dick Grayson came up with it) and Flamebird. Using small jet motors, the duo fly about the skies of Kandor. Superman's Nightwing uniform is dark, like Batman's, while Olsen's Flamebird costume is a bit like Sun Boy's from the Legion of Super Heroes. They both wear small Green Arrow style masks to complete the ensemble. It isn't long before they see a raider flying toward the top of the bottle with a jet motor of his own. Engaging the Kryptonian in battle, the duo soon overcome him and are able to obtain his enlarging device. More raiders arrive and Nightwing and Flamebird take flight, hiding their getaway with a smoke cylinder from Jimmy's utility belt. Next, off to the newly christened Night Cave to check out the device.
In the laboratory, Superman learns that Than Ol's device works on the principle of spreading apart the atoms of the person and their clothing to enlarge them. Still not satisfied that it's a safe method, Superman muses about how to complete the mission to keep Kandor from harm. As he wanders about, lost in thought, he reminisces about his journey through the time barrier to Krypton, where he met his parents and a Kryptonian woman he fell in love with, Lyla Lerrol. Yet another note from the editor tells us that this story took place in Superman #141, "Superman's Return to Krypton!" Vowing to succeed in this mission, Superman and Jimmy continue to search over the next few days as Nightwing and Flamebird for the workshop of Than Ol. One day they encounter again the telepathic hounds, but this time they're ready with lead cloth caps to shield their thoughts from the beasts. Realizing they're onto something, the pair fly away, only to return under cover of darkness in the Nightmobile, which previously served as Nor Kann's car. They attempt to break into the structure with torches, only to discover a booby trap in the form of knockout gas. Escaping before they're overcome, they return to the Nightcave to develop a new strategy. Superman decides to use the services of a local distant kinsman named Van Zee who just happens to be an exact double of Kal El. After consulting with Van Zee (whose wife, Sylvia, is a ringer for Lois Lane) Superman assumes his identity to try and infiltrate Than Ol's compound. Granted access, the Man of Steel talks with Than Ol about his device and during the course of the conversation he is found out. Making a desperate attempt to destroy the machine, he is overpowered and knocked unconscious by Than Ol's assistant. This closes Part II.
Part III, "The City of Super People!" takes us back to the house of Nor Kann where a worried Olsen is convinced that something has gone terribly wrong. Decisively, Olsen dons his Flamebird costume and prepares to search for Superman, but before he can leave, Van Zee arrives to report that Superman has been taken captive. He learned of his kinsman's fate from Than Ol's men who came to question him. Jimmy realizes that he has an ace in the hole and they contact the Superman Emergency Squad for help. Olsen instructs Van Zee to don the Nightwing costume and they then formulate their plan.
Segue to the guarded base of Than Ol where the Superman Emergency Squad, acting as a sort of posse, ask for Superman so that he can be tried in a Kandorian court. Agreeing, Than Ol produces the still groggy Superman. At that moment, the flying figures of Nightwing and Flamebird descend and spirit Superman away to the top of the bottle where they make their escape. Van Zee returns to his home to avoid suspicion. Recovering his powers in Earth's atmosphere, Superman uses an enlarging ray he has in the fortress that he'd confiscated from a Kandorian criminal. It runs on a rare element that Superman keeps in a tiny emergency supply. Jimmy begins to cork the bottle, but Superman says there is only one way to elude their pursuers and he uses his projector to place them into the Phantom Zone. Long time readers of Superman will recognize this as the netherworld where Kryptonian criminals were exiled. Since they exist in a sort of astral presence, they survived the destruction of Krypton, but cannot escape their confinement and ghost like existence.
The phantom Superman and Jimmy watch helplessly as the Kandorians emerge from the bottle, enlarge themselves and then whisk Kandor away to a site on Earth for enlargement.
A little later, to Jimmy's amazement, they escape the Phantom Zone. The Man of Steel explains that he had rigged the projector with a timing device to release anyone sent into the zone within an hour. Fretting about how to stop the destruction of Kandor, Superman reveals the source of his worry. The men who have been enlarged had only been in that state for brief periods, but the method of enlargement, after three hours, causes the enlarged mass to continue to separate on an atomic level until they dissipate altogether. A test bears out Superman's hypothesis.
Fade to a podium in Kandor where Than Ol reveals that he's about to restore the city to it's normal size and former glory. Spotting the events with his telescopic vision, Superman decides the only course of action is to use Brainiac's shrinking ray to save Kandor from certain destruction. Unfortunately, the other Kryptonians aren't enthused about the plan and they begin to battle Superman with Kryptonite projectiles, encased in lead. Flying off in full retreat, the Man of Tomorrow flies into a sea bed and later passes by Atlantis where Lori Lemaris tries to assist. Superman explains he must risk his life to save his people. When he emerges, he is ambushed by the Kandorians and they soon prepare him for execution in a pit of Kryptonite, which was gathered by robots. Before they can act, though, the atomic separation begins. So startled by what's happening around them, the Kandorians, bent on execution are distracted so that Superman can fly up to a vantage point and use the shrinking ray. He successfully reduces Kandor back to its miniature state thereby saving the city and all it's inhabitants.
Convinced at last that Superman was only trying to save them, the citizens of Kandor come to their senses and apologize. As a token of their esteem, they erect a new figure in the city square. Two figures, actually. One of Nightwing and one of Flamebird. The story then ends with Superman vowing to never rest until he finds a viable, safe way to enlarge the city.
It's hard to beat a good Superman story and this was better than good. The full-length three-part tale had nearly everything. An outmatched and later powerless Superman, the perfect artistic technique of Curt Swan (Curt never missed a beat, by the way, right down to remembering to place the small cut on Superman's forehead the entire time he was in Kandor), time at the Fortress of Solitude, a glimpse of life in a microcosm of Krypton, namely Kandor, a pair of mystery heroes taken from Batman and Robin's playbook, a short tour of the Phantom Zone, a letter to the editor from one E. Nelson Bridwell of Oklahoma City, an appearance by the Superman Emergency Squad, an appearance by Lori Lemaris and a dose of Green Kryptonite, which was actually a creation of the old Superman radio show that was later incorporated into the mythos. Add it all together and you've got one terrific tale that is a shoo-in for a rating of 10. The world's greatest superhero at his Silver Age finest.
Please remember to return here in about two weeks for another review. If you've got comments, ideas or anything else on your mind, make yourself know by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time...
Long live the Silver Age!
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