A Tribute to the of

If there's a rival in my heart for a good team-up tale, it's a good origin story.  Unfortunately, those are something of a rarity.  There are only so many characters and therefore only so many origins, but I'm lucky enough to have access to a few of them and I've selected one this time around to spotlight.  He's something of a second-stringer, in that he never had his own magazine or even his own feature.  As a matter of fact, it's rather surprising that a hero like this would make it at all, since he's more or less a carbon copy of an established member of the DC stable.  On the other hand, he is uniquely powerful, so let's check out the first appearance of future Legion of Super Hero member Mon-El in Superboy #89 from June of 1961 (note that it's still a dime issue) in a story by Robert Bernstein, "Superboy's Big Brother!" Cover art expertly executed by Curt Swan & Stan Kaye; interior pencils and inks are the work of George Papp. Editorial chores preformed by Mort Weisinger.

We join Superboy in his hometown of Smallville where he and his foster parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, are taking a moment to star gaze when the Boy of Steel's telescopic vision reveals a rocket ship about to enter Earth's atmosphere.  Taking advantage of the darkness, Clark Kent switches to his costume and flies up to intercept the craft which is only large enough to be a one-man vessel and is also apparently out of control.  Just to add a little more drama, the fuel tanks are beginning to burn.  Superboy swiftly tears open the fuselage and frees the unconscious passenger, who just so happens to be wearing a costume similar to his own, but in a reversed color scheme.  Discovering a letter in the alien's cape pocket, Superboy is astonished to discover Kryptonese writing in the hand of his father, Jor-El!  The note says, in part:  "This chart describes the space course to be taken by my son's rocket ship on its journey to Earth!"  He also discovers a medallion around the neck of the stranger made of Kryptonese metal and inscribed "With all our love and good wishes, Jor-El and Lara."  Clark can only conclude that the overwhelming evidence indicates this is his older brother.  The youth soon regains consciousness, but under Superboy's urgent questioning can only respond that he is suffering from amnesia.  The Boy of Steel quickly recounts the story of his parents and the final days of Krypton, along with his own story of escape in a model rocket fashioned by their scientist father, Jor-El.  He then speculates that another rocket must have been launched and that his newly discovered brother must also be endowed with super powers.  Superboy suggests testing the theory by escorting the older youth to the burning remains of the rocket to see if the flames affect him.  They do not, indicating the same invulnerability enjoyed by Smallville's favorite son.  Moments later it's evident that Superboy's presumed brother also has x-ray vision when he spots a wreck under the surface of a nearby river, endangering a vessel.  Both youths fly to the aid of the ship and the Boy of Steel is now completely convinced of the veracity of his theory.  He has an older brother. 

Clark is soon escorting his fellow hero to his home via the hidden underground tunnel in the woods and explains about his secret identity and family.  He shows his brother pictures of Krypton and of their parents.  The older youth comments that they look too young to have a son his age and is also confused about the difference in their ships.  Superboy replies:  "I've been thinking about that…and I'll offer a theory to explain it!  First, about your age!  Krypton must've been a planet whose atmosphere speeds up the life-processes!  There you aged more rapidly than you would have on Earth!  I left Krypton when I was a baby so I escaped the fast-aging process!  That's why you look so much older than me!  Now as for your rocket-ship…I think that Jor-El sent you into space first because you were his oldest son!  Then, fearing your ship was defective…Jor-El decided to work on a new type.  Mine was the model of the new type!"

Soon, in the Kent living room, introductions are made; at least to Ma Kent as Pa Kent is at the store receiving a delivery.  Clark decides to go and tell his father the news and when he arrives he finds the elder Kent unloading frozen goods into the walk-in freezer, which is malfunctioning.  Clark places the goods inside, issues a breath of frozen air and closes them in tightly so his father can come home and deal with the problem tomorrow.  Clark also notes the traveling salesman that his father is dealing with and it inspires him to suggest using that as a cover for his newfound brother.  Back at the Kent home, a plaid suit with a bowtie and straw homburg along with a sales case make a pretty good cover for the newly christened "Bob Cobb," traveling salesman.  That brings up another issue.  What is the youth's name?  Superboy suggests that since he arrived on Monday and that their Kryptonian family name ends in "El," he should be called "Mon-El."

The very next day the citizens of Smallville get their first glimpse of Mon-El in action as he and his younger brother team up to stop a runaway car carrier.  A little later, Krypto the super dog arrives and Superboy summons him to enjoy a reunion with the long lost member of the El household.  Strangely, Krypto shows no sign of recognition and even growls at the stranger.  Curious…

That night as the youths prepare to retire, Superboy notes that Mon-El's belt is made of a metal that doesn't exist on Krypton, adding to his suspicions about his brother's origins.  After Mon-El has fallen into slumber, Clark fetches a leaden box from the cellar that contains a fragment of Kryptonite.  Using the specially designed "horn" on top of the box to beam the rays, he finds that his brother does not react to the substance.  The next morning Clark is convinced something is amiss with a Kryptonian who doesn't respond to Kryptonite and yet how can he account for Mon-El's super powers?  We'll just have to see what develops in Part II.

Speaking of Part II, "The Secret of Mon-El!" begins after an ad for the Clyde Beatty and Cole Brothers 3-ring circus at Palisades Park, NJ, featuring Emmett Kelly the clown and that ever-popular free ride on the Tilt-a-whirl.  You know, maybe I just grew up in the wrong part of the country, but I've never seen one of those free tickets missing from a comic yet.  Onward!  Mon-El suggests at the breakfast table that he and Clark meet after school to go on patrol together.  Clark agrees, but continues to think to himself that his "brother" is a phony.

Later, in English class, Clark is confronted with a question about the origin of fairy tales and whether or not there was really a Cinderella.  He muses that he ran across the real Cinderella during one of his trips to the past.  Perhaps simply because he can, he decides to do a lightning quick bit of research.  After leaving the classroom on the premise of getting some water, he switches to his Superboy uniform and blasts through the time barrier, emerging nearly 6,000 years in the past.  On the banks of the Nile River, circa 4,000 B.C., he pauses for a drink and observes an eagle snatching up a fur slipper owned by a girl who is bathing nearby.  Superboy follows the bird and recognizes events as they unfold.  It drops the slipper on the king's palace in Memphis where it falls in the lap of King Mycerinua, who takes it as an omen.  He vows to find the owner of the slipper and when he does, six months later (which Superboy is able to visit in the blink of an eye via the time barrier) he declares the woman, Rhodopis, the new queen of Egypt.  Streaking back to his own time Superboy muses that the third pyramid at Gizen was built by the Pharaoh in honor of Rhodopis and it is therefore a monument to the original Cinderella and the story evolved through the centuries from that event.  Clark finishes and submits his paper and his teacher comments that she's never heard of Rhodopis and questions why the slipper was made of fur instead of glass.  Clark replies that fur is correct as the story, when translated from French to English, contained an error.  The French word "Vaire" or "fur" was mistaken for "Verre" or "glass."  (This should sound familiar to long-time readers of this feature, by the way.  Kent (Doctor Fate) Nelson gave us essentially the same explanation in Showcase #56, available in the archives for your reading pleasure.)    Miss Joyce is impressed, but skeptical and when Clark cannot back up his claim she writes it off to a vivid imagination.

Later, when school is over, Clark gets the opportunity to introduce Lana Lang to Bob Cobb, who immediately goes into his salesman spiel, showing Lana his wares, which consist mainly of brushes.  Showing interest in a new hairbrush, she asks about the price.  Mon-El uses his x-ray vision and tells her it will be .77, the precise amount she has on hand.  Rapidly covering his tracks, he removes the $3.50 price tag and lifts Lana's L.L. initials from her book too quickly for any eyes but those of Superboy to follow and attaches them to the brush, upside-down, for the new sale price.  Not very profitable, but a good business move just the same. Superboy sulks that he's trying to impress and woo his girl. 

Meanwhile, back at the Kent home, Superboy's own version of the Bat signal, a flashing lamp indicating that the White House, Professor Lang or Chief Parker are trying to contact him via radio puts them on the alert.  Clark checks the shortwave in the basement and it is Chief Parker alerting the Boy of Steel that huge lead balls are smashing into the Smallville bank.  Mon-El spots it with his super vision and as the two youths change into costume, Clark spots the culprits using a catapult.  The pair divides up with Superboy going to take out the source of the projectiles while Mon-El goes to the bank to stop the thieves.  Oddly, he's having trouble and is feeling weak and dizzy.  When Superboy arrives at the scene Mon-El is all but overcome.  Superboy's thoughts reveal that he suspects collusion between his "brother" and the criminal element.  He then suggests that maybe a change of atmosphere will help and invites Mon-El to join him in space a little later for some super exercise.  Before the rendezvous, however, the Boy of Steel makes some plans.  He gets some green paint from his father's store and coats several of the leftover lead balls from the failed bank heist and sends them flying toward the planetoid where he and Mon-El will soon meet so that they will appear to be a meteor shower.

Once arriving on the planetoid, Superboy brings some super-sized play equipment in the form of a tree trunk for a bat and a boulder for a ball.  As Superboy knocks the first pitch out of the "park" it grazes a large box that happens to be there and reveals a pair of fire-breathing jack-in-the-box heads.  The duo decides it was left by some alien race and go to destroy the two puppets.  No sooner done than Superboy's prearranged meteor shower strikes.  He warns Mon-El that it's deadly green Kryptonite and it can kill the two Krypton natives.  Mon-El soon weakens and falls to the ground.  Superboy then triumphantly declares that it's a ruse to reveal his "brother's" deception and demands that he come clean.  Mon-El, however, is not involved in deceit and he quickly states that the lead is destroying him, but it has triggered the full return of his memory.  He tells Superboy that he is not a Kryptonian and he is not his brother, but originally hails from the planet Daxam.  Members of his planet react to lead the way Kryptonians do to Kryptonite with the one significant difference that the effect of lead doesn't wear off.  He then explains that years ago he made a visit to Krypton and met Jor-El and Lara after his craft crash-landed.  After a few weeks Jor-El was able to repair his ship and had by then discovered Krypton's impending doom. He gave Mon-El the chart to lead him to Earth and Lara presented him with the locket as a symbol of their regard for him.  His craft drifted in space until he finally made it to Earth.  The final piece is that Daxam, being similar in many ways to Krypton, allowed Mon-El to enjoy the same superpowers as the Boy of Steel.  Superboy says he'll get Mon-El away from the deadly effects of the lead, but he explains that it's too late.  The damage is done and no matter where he goes, he will soon die.  Superboy suddenly has an idea and streaks to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to retrieve a Phantom Zone projector he'd concealed there.  The projector was used on Krypton to exile guilty criminals into the Phantom Zone for specified periods of time, existing only as wraith-like beings.  He cautions Mon-El that he'll be among dangerous villains, but it will buy them time until he can devise a cure for this major case of "lead poisoning."  The story then ends with the successful transition of Mon-El to the Phantom Zone.

In later continuity, Adventure Comics #300 dated September 1962 ("The Face Behind the Lead Mask!"), Mon-El was temporarily released from the Phantom Zone, thanks to Saturn Girl's invention of Serum XY-4 and he became a member in good standing of the 30th Century Legion of Super-Heroes. In Adventure Comics #305 dated February 1963 ("The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire!") Brainiac 5 improved Serum XY-4 by adding Fluvium and powdered green Kryptonite aliowing Mon-El permenent parole from the non-corporeal prison, provided he takes the serum at least once every 48 hours. It's rather ironic that lead, the one element that shields Kryptonians from the effects of Kryptonite, was the lethal element to people from Daxam. 

This story was pretty enjoyable, despite being a recycle of an eariler Superman story appearing in #80 dated January-February 1953, and a little lighter than some of my Silver Age favorites in tone and story depth.  Since it is Superman's boyhood, though, that makes a certain degree of sense.  The tale did have a couple of holes in it, though.  I wonder why Mon-El came to Earth instead of going back to his home world of Daxam to escape the destruction of Krypton?  For that matter, why did he retain the name "Mon-El?"  Surely he had a name of his own.  Perhaps these mysteries were explained at a later date, but for the time being I'll just have to wonder.  Again, a pretty good story with the introduction of a fairly significant character.  I'll give this one a 7 on my famous 10-point rating scale. 

As always I look forward to hearing from you, faithful reader, so by all means take advantage of my standing invitation to send me a message.  I'm always available at professor_the@hotmail.com and I'll be happy to entertain your thoughts, questions and comments.  Join us again in about two weeks for the latest review and until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2004 by B.D.S.

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