A Tribute to the of

The obvious sometimes escapes me.  That's about the only excuse I have to offer for failing to realize (until the webmaster's recent timely reminder) that this year is the 65th anniversary of Superman's first appearance in the world of comics.  When the Man of Steel made his debut in 1938 in Action Comics #1 he was somewhat different from the hero we've known and loved ever since.  The original Superman couldn't even really fly.  He just sort of leapt about when he traveled and other than Clark Kent's occupation at the newspaper and Lois Lane being around, many similarities between then and now end.  Superman has evolved with the times and all these years later he remains one of the most well known heroes out there. 

It seems only fitting that we review an edition of Action Comics for this installment of the Silver Age Sage, so without further ado, let's go to Action Comics #295 from December of 1962 with "Superman Goes Wild!"  Artwork for this issue, both cover and interior is done by the incomparable Curt Swan, inked by George Klein. 

What sort of situation could put Metropolis and consequently the whole world on edge?  An out of control Superman.  By all appearances, that's precisely what we have on our hands here as a gloating Jax-Ur, resident of the phantom zone, gloats to Mon-El as they observe Superman destroying the Daily Planet emblem atop the newspaper's skyscraper office.  In the corporeal world an aghast Perry White, who is on the roof for some reason also looks on. 

Turning the page, the story opens with Superman in attendance at a televised function honoring the 103 countries in the United Nations.  Lana Lang is covering the event for her TV station and Superman is to divide a huge diamond into 103 separate parts to give to the ambassador of each nation.  When the tape rolls, however, Superman uses his incredible strength to reduce the diamond to so much dust.  "Fools!  This is what I think of the U.N.!  I wash my hands of it!"  (If only the writers and editors could see how prescient that little comment would be a few decades l ater, eh?)  Needless to say, the feed is cut and Lana demands to know what's wrong with her old friend.  Superman replies that he doesn't know what came over him.  He quickly apologizes to the assembly and in the midst of that apology we segue to the interior of a spacecraft just outside Earth's atmosphere where the Man of Tomorrow is being monitored.  The men in the craft vow that this will be the first of a series of events that will both humiliate and undermine the reputation of Superman.  This nefarious group is the Superman Revenge Squad, who has pledged vengeance on the man who, in the past, as Superboy, kept them from colonizing and conquering other worlds.  Their tool is a telepathic signal gun, attuned to Superman's brain and compelling him to behave at their whim via hypnotic commands.  Soon, they're at it again.

Superman is pondering the cause of his behavior as he flies back toward the Daily Planet.  He knows Red Kryptonite wasn't to blame, as he didn't have the telltale tingling sensation.  Inside the offices of the Daily Planet, Perry is pleading by turns with Lois and Jimmy to write up a story about the U.N. incident.  Neither reporter has the heart for it and Jimmy says he'll only do so after he's had a chance to discuss it with his long-time pal.  Activating his signal watch, he waits for Superman's arrival, which is only moments away. 

Upon his arrival, an angered Superman vents his aggravation in the office.  He begins by stripping Olsen of his watch.  He then proceeds to destroy every typewriter in the newsroom so that no unflattering stories can be written.  He tells Lois that she can find another rescuer in the future and after mashing Perry's cigar into his face informs White in no uncertain terms that he can find another source of headlines.  Then in the next instant, a bewildered Man of Steel asks what has happened.  The Superman Revenge Squad savors every moment in their ship, particularly the fact that each instance of madness leaves our hero with a blackout.  Superman describes to his friends the situation and Jimmy suggests it might be hypnosis.  Perry says that it might be possible for the Metropolis Marvel to redeem himself by retrieving a misfired space capsule.  Superman immediately heads for the upper reaches of the atmosphere, but the Revenge Squad continues their assault and soon the Man of Steel is destroying the capsule.  Not content with that bit of destruction, the malevolent Superman jiggers the orbit of the Moon until huge, destructive tidal waves begin to swamp the Earth.  He decides to see what his work has done to affect Atlantis where he sees Lori Lemaris.  The mermaid reads his mind and detects his guilt as his fit has just worn off.  Quickly he repairs the damage to Atlantis and moves the Moon back to its natural orbit.  Then, a mental signal:  "This is Vagu and Dixo of the Superman Revenge Squad broadcasting to your brain via a hypnotic-telepathic beam that penetrates your mind!  Yes, Superman, you are completely under our control!  We're going to disgrace you for all time by making you behave in an insane destructive way!  Whenever you least expect it, we'll make you go berserk!"

A very worried Superman, now aware of the source of his trouble, decides to activate his Superman robots at the Fortress of Solitude.  He decides the only way to ensure the safety of humankind is to have them collect green Kryptonite and entomb him in it, rendering him helpless to obey the Revenge Squad.  Unfortunately Vagu and Dixo can read his thoughts and they make arrangements to thwart their foe.  Another hypnotic command is issued and soon the helpless Man of Tomorrow is systematically destroying his robot doubles by using them to ruin landmarks and points of interest throughout the world, to include the Sphinx, the Eiffel Tower, the Daily Planet's globe and the leaning tower of Pisa.  This causes an international uproar and plans are made to retrieve enough green Kryptonite to render Superman harmless. 

Perry White then takes to the airwaves and implores his old friend to give himself up for humanity's sake.  Superman tells a nearby officer to relay the message to the Daily Planet that he won't surrender to anyone but Editor Perry White. 

Later, at the Daily Planet studio, Perry is seen emerging with some green Kryptonite chains that he'd held in a lead-lined vault in the building's basement for just such an emergency.  Outside the Planet building, Krypton's Last Son arrives and Perry shackles him with the chains to a pair of steel posts.  The Revenge Squad glory in their triumph when they realize that their monitor image of Superman is breaking free of his bonds rather than perishing.  The Man of Steel thunders that Kryptonite cannot stop him and the he will destroy the world.  Vagu and Dixo are confused, as they aren't currently influencing him.  They speculate that their machinations have caused him to truly go mad and his further actions on their screen seem to confirm it as he rips open the door on the Fortress of Solitude and then fires a piston shot into the bottle city of Kandor. 

I neglected to mention earlier that the Revenge Squad revealed, for benefit of the readers, that the monitors in Kandor had been blacked out by the Squad to keep them from intervening on their fellow Kryptonian's dilemma. 

In the next moments, the Superman Emergency Squad flies out of the bullet hole, garbed in the familiar red and blue costume of our hero.  Superman had used super ventriloquism to alert them and now they're off to engage the Superman Revenge Squad.  The Revenge Squad try to stop the Emergency Squad with their telepathic ray but remember too late that it was specifically tuned to Superman's brain.  Rather than face defeat, Vagu activates a self-destruct mechanism, blowing he and Dixo to bits. 

The final two panels tie up all loose ends as Perry confirms that he received the code word from Superman, by referring to him as Editor Perry White to activate emergency Plan "P," for Perry.  That, of course, was the use of the phony Kryptonite chains.  According to an editorial note, Emergency Plan "L," for Lois was employed in Lois Lane #29 (11/61--"The Irresistible Lois Lane!") and an as yet untested Plan "J," for Jimmy waits in the wings.  So all's well that ends well and the temporary madness of Superman is put to rest.   

The backup story in this issue is a tale from Supergirl's catalog entitled "The Girl with the X-Ray Mind!"  Art comes courtesy of Jim Mooney, who also provided his talents in the Dial H for Hero series.    

Let's now join Supergirl in her secret identity as Linda Lee Danvers where she and her foster parents are watching a presentation on E.S.P or Extra-Sensory Perception at the Midvale High auditorium.  Dr. Anton is conducting a presentation by holding up pictures of Superman's friends and foes behind a wall while members of the audience try to guess them.  Linda takes her turn, but purposely errs on a few of them despite her gift of X-ray vision.  She keeps tabs on others and is surprised by the uncanny ability of her friend Lena Thorul to guess with eerie accuracy during her turn.  Strangely, however, Lena's score is at the bottom of the tally by the end of the presentation.  More curious, Linda's X-ray peek at Lena's sheet revealed a perfect score.  We then see Dr. Anton at a telephone booth reporting that he's found the one they've been looking for.

Meanwhile, the Danvers' and Lena are headed for home when Ms. Thorul gets a strong impression that there is danger ahead on the road.  Sure enough the Midvale Bridge is collapsing.  Linda slips away and in a maneuver that would make her cousin proud, secretly changes to Supergirl to tackle the broken bridge.  Using her super strength and heat vision, a quick repair is made.  She then sneaks back to rejoin her family and Lena.

Later, Linda calls on Lena at her boarding house room and discovers her friend had applied for work at the F.B.I. but was just rejected.  Lena is heartbroken that her dream will not come to fruition.  Linda decides to investigate further as Supergirl, calling upon friends of hers at the Bureau.  The Feds tell Supergirl that Lena has no documented background.  They can't find so much as a birth certificate, so the background check failed.  The only information they have is that she was found in the wreckage of a car after a serious accident and once worked as a small town librarian.  Supergirl vows to find the answers and breaks through the time barrier to arrive at the scene of the accident as a starting point.  She takes the license number of the wrecked vehicle and checks it out only to discover to her shock that Lena's real surname is Luthor and she's the sister of the infamous Lex Luthor.  To verify, Supergirl goes further into the past, to the Smallville laboratory of Lex Luthor.  She notes he hasn't yet lost his hair and is still friends to Superboy. 

Inside the lab, little Lena spots what looks to her juvenile eyes like a balloon on a nearby table, but Lex explains it's actually a space brain that he's discovered and that he's trying to decode it's energy pattern.  In the next fateful moment, the curious Lena touches an antenna emerging from the sphere and receives an electrical shock.  The brain is destroyed and she's shaken up, but soon the results of her encounter begin to manifest themselves.  She goes straight to a Superboy doll that her brother had made for her, hidden away in a nearby cupboard.  She then tells Lex that she can see things and even read her brothers thoughts. 

Supergirl has seen enough and flies back through the time barrier to fill in the F.B.I.  Unfortunately, this new information is no help to Lena's cause.  Guilt by association prohibits her consideration for a post with the Bureau. 

In the interim, Dr. Anton is calling on Lena and has a proposition, which she deduces with her special powers.  Anton invites her to join Bank Busters, an association of thieves.  Still stinging from her rejection at the F.B.I., Lena agrees to join the underworld. 

Fade now to the Metropolis State Prison, current address of Lex Luthor.  The brilliant criminal scientist has built a radio and is listening to a report from his gang when he learns of the Bank Buster's latest recruit.  Immediately, Luthor demands an audience with the warden.  Soon Supergirl is summoned via radio broadcast to join the warden as well.  The warden relays the message that Luthor wishes to speak to her in private, so Supergirl goes to his cell for the meeting.  Lex then tells the tale of his sister, Lena and of course of his own background, familiar to those of us who have followed the Superman mythos. 

Lex was working in his laboratory on a Kryptonite antidote when a fire sprang up during his experiment.  Superboy used his super breath to blow the flames out, but an unexpected consequence of his action was an accidental mixture of chemicals that caused all Lex's hair to fall out.  Luthor, convinced it was done purposely, began to hate the Boy of Steel and turned his talents to crime.  You'd think he could have come up with Rogaine and saved everyone a lot of grief.  Anyhow, the good name of Luthor was now permanently besmirched and the citizens of Smallville ran his family out of town.  Mom and Dad Luthor told Lena that her brother had been killed in a mountain climbing accident and they changed their name to Thorul and relocated.  Lex finishes his story to Supergirl by explaining that his parents were killed shortly thereafter in an automobile accident.  While he'd kept track of his orphaned sister, he never tried to contact her for fear that she'd suffer the stigma of being his brother or getting involved in crime as he had.  Supergirl assures him that Lena is a good person, but he rebuts with the information that she's joined the Bank Busters.  He implores her to help his sister and our heroine flies away to do just that. 

Supergirl arrives at the bank just in time to witness Lena and her fellow Bank Busters tying up the Bank President and using Lena's telepathic abilities to extract the combination to the safe from him.  As the Busters enter the vault, Lena instructs them to press a button to disable the tear gas mechanism.  To their surprise, however, the button deploys the tear gas.  Lena then releases the Bank President and Supergirl makes her entrance, ingesting and then blowing the disabling gas out a window.  Lena then reveals that she plotted the capture of the gang as a way to prove herself to the F.B.I.  Supergirl promi ses to vouch for her and hopefully the Bureau will reconsider her application. 

In the final panel, Lena comments that she gets a telepathic picture of Linda Lee Danvers when she looks at Supergirl.  "Er, well, er…yes!  She's a friend of mine, too."  Quick thinking there, Maid of Might.  The final note says:  "Will Lena Thorul's fantastic telepathic powers uncover Supergirl's greatest secret?  See the next issue for a new adventure of Supergirl and Lena!"       

Any of my long-time readers know that I nearly always thoroughly enjoy the Silver Age offerings of Superman.  They're like a comfortable shoe.  The stories and action are good, the art is superb and they often contain my favorite elements, to include some good science fiction, as in the case of the Superman Revenge Squad in their spacecraft.  I also appreciated the brief peek into the Phantom Zone on the splash page and the ever-entertaining interaction with the staff of the Daily Planet.  The backup story with Supergirl also gave us a nice glimpse into Superman's most lethal nemesis' origins. Just a very good, enjoyable pair of stories that showcase the magic of the era nicely.  I'll give this one a rating of 9. 

Happy 65th Anniversary to Superman and Action Comics!  Here's to many more good years for the greatest hero ever.

I'll be back with another review in approximately two weeks.  In the mean time, don't hesitate to drop me a line at silveragesage@thesilverlantern.com.  I'm always pleased to get feedback or questions, so fire away.

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2003 by B.D.S.

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