A Tribute to the of

A recent Funky Winkerbean comic strip in the local Sunday rag showed a hearing of some sort in a court house.  I have no idea what the context of the scene (presumably this was some sort of thread in the storyline), but Mr. Klinghorn or "Crazy Harry" the mailman as he's better known, is being questioned about the Komix Korner and how they display their wares when he makes a spontaneous statement:  "Could I just say something here?  I've been hearing a lot of testimony about how comic books are supposed to be bad for kids…and I just wanted to say that back in school, when I was a shy, kind of eccentric kid who really didn't fit in anywhere…the superheroes in the comic books did what superheroes do best…they saved me."

I can relate.

For our final effort marking the 70th Anniversary of DC Comics I decided upon a candidate from the 1950's that is actually within the realm of the Silver Age.  As a matter of fact, it's the very first Silver Age edition of World's Finest Comics featuring "Your favorite heroes, Superman and Batman together in another exciting adventure—"  In this case it's "The Super-Mystery of Metropolis!"  Lest I forget, this is issue #84 from September-October of 1956 and as you can see, courtesy of cover and interior artists Dick Sprang & Stan Kaye, the burning mystery is what has happened to Superman?  I'd also like to direct your attention to that banner at the top of the cover.  It should look familiar as it was also on the legendary Showcase #4 that kicked off the Silver Age.  Anyway, as you can see it's touting the Giant 5000 prize contest and of course pointing you to the entry blank within.  I'd love to get my hands on the genius that came up with this scheme, particularly at this critical juncture.  Can you imagine how many issues, first Silver Age issues, mind you, were mutilated in the hot pursuit of (try to contain your enthusiasm here) 18 first prizes of a Columbia Fire Arrow bicycle; 300 Grumbacher artist's paint sets; 200 Voit footballs; 120 Sweet Sue dolls; 80 Hyde roller skates or ice skates and of course the inevitable second-stringer prizes of Toonavision games, Word Rummy games, Black Falcon pirate ship models, Scripto pen and pencil sets and good ol' Bonomo's Turkish Taffy.  Did I mention that in order to enter you needed FIVE pink coupons from any of the October issues of DC comics?  Five butchered issues for each entry!  Oh, the humanity…  Well, at least my issue is intact and of course it's time to get after it.

The first panel (after the Curt Swan rendered splash page) shows the Man of Steel touching down in Metropolis after returning from a mission and encountering one Thad Linnis.  It is obvious the Man of Might is not pleased to meet up with him and Linnis grins evilly and delivers an ultimatum, threatening to expose Superman's secret identity unless he leaves Metropolis for two weeks.  Superman reluctantly agrees and walks away, crestfallen and thinking that he'd long feared this day would come and speculating that Linnis must be planning some big crime to blackmail him into leaving like this.

Now we see the famous change in a broom closet at the Daily Planet when the mightiest hero on Earth changes to his alter-ego of Clark Kent.  He then promptly hits up Editor Perry White for some vacation time.  Perry agrees and that begins to lay the groundwork for the two week hiatus of Superman.

The next few days, his absence begins to be felt as some disasters occur in and around Metropolis and there is no sign of Krypton's Favorite Son to answer them.  A liner vessel loses its moorings and is about to crash into a suspension bridge, but it is luckily diverted by a freak eddy.  Lois Lane, who just happens to be on the bridge observing thinks to herself that it's odd Superman didn't show up to save the day as usual.  A few days later a penthouse fire erupts but it is extinguished by a rain storm.  Lois' curiosity is at its peak and she decides to investigate the missing Superman.  Soon the front page of the Daily Planet is demanding to know what has happened to their guardian.  Lois tells Perry that since Superman's closest friends are Batman and Robin that perhaps they can get to the bottom of the mystery.  Perry promptly contacts Gotham City's Police Commissioner James W. Gordon to arrange a rendezvous between Lois and Perry and Batman and Robin.  The famed Bat-signal is deployed and the meeting takes place in Metropolis after a quick flight over in the Bat-Plane.  The Caped Crusaders quickly pledge to find out what has happened to their friend and fellow hero.  Soon the detective team is on the case, beginning with investigations of the recent disasters and their fortuitous endings.  The World's Greatest Detective immediately forms a hypothesis that the near misses were anything but and that Superman did indeed save the day, but out of sight.  Robin asks why he would be deliberately hiding and that, of course, is the operative question.

Soon the Bat-Plane is ascending into a thunderstorm where, curiously, none of the destructive lightning is striking Metropolis.  Soon they encounter none other than Superman as he diverts a bolt that would have struck the plane.  Batman asks what is going on and his World's Finest teammate replies that he's had to keep a secret watch over Metropolis for emergencies and also for certain crooks who seem to be cooking up a scheme for a major criminal activity.  They retreat to a rocky outcropping on the outskirts of the city to discuss matters and where Superman can continue to keep watch via telescopic vision.  He then relates that his secret identity is in jeopardy and he's got to wait until he can catch the crooks red-handed or it could be the end of his career.  Batman replies that he and Robin are the only ones who know his secret identity, but Superman replies that this crook got evidence of it years ago and it's been hanging over his head ever since.

We then travel with the Man of Tomorrow down memory lane as he recalls his boyhood home of Smallville.  As he went about his exploits as Superboy he soon noticed that he was being followed by a man who was probably trying to determine the secret of his alter-ego.  He manages to shake him off with his vaunted super speed, but Thad Linnis seemed to be undeterred in his quest and Superboy soon noticed he'd enlisted the aid of a boy as an accomplice, promising him that if they can determine Superboy's secret identity that they can make him do anything they want.  The Boy of Steel soon notes the other boy observing him as he installs a dam to provide irrigation for a local farmer.  Later, in the Kent home, young Clark is nervous and vows to be on his guard.  The next day he returns to the site where he'd placed the dam to finish the job by digging some irrigation channels.  To his dismay, the mysterious stranger is there again and this time the boy is jotting something down in a notebook.  Superboy attempts to read the notes being taken, but soon realizes that the book is somehow bound in lead, which thwarts his super vision.

The next day, the game of cat and mouse continues as Superboy arrives for a scheduled appearance at an air show and who should be in attendance but this same boy, once again making notations in his book.  Superboy begins his assignment of flying an old, unsafe bi-plane and while he's at it he takes the opportunity to create a powerful air stream in his wake that flips open the offending notebook so he can get a glimpse inside with his telescopic vision.  To his horror the Boy of Steel discovers a grid of Smallville with plotting points and lines indicating where he's come from each time he's appeared, allowing the boy to methodically triangulate the general area of Superboy's neighborhood.

Back at the house, young Clark Kent is growing increasingly apprehensive, particularly when he spots the other youth walking through his neighborhood, hoping to really zero in on Superboy's precise location.  It's common knowledge this particular day that the hero of Smallville is to install a bell in the city hall tower, so it's merely a waiting game to see where he'll emerge.  In order to preserve his anonymity, Superboy enters the Kent basement and powers through the concrete apron, tunneling underground so that he emerges far from the Kent homestead.  Once his task is complete, Superboy, who has been continuing to keep his telescopic eye on things, hurries back home, just in time to meet up with his mother, who has answered the door to the stranger.  Clark Kent makes his presence known and the boy merely says he isn't who he's looking for.  A little later, however, Clark has more to worry about as he realizes he had rock dust in his hair and that may have tipped off his pursuer about how he exited and entered his home.

Things continue to keep Clark nervous when, working at Pa Kent's store, he spots the boy arriving on his bicycle.  This doesn't seem to be mere coincidence.  The boy comes to the counter and says he's like to get a new tire for his bike.  Clark points to a crate on a high shelf and realizes just in time that if he mistakenly handled the heavy crate alone it would be a dead giveaway.  He enlists the youth's aid in getting the crate down, but it slips.  Clark dodges out of the way and it smashes to the floor, but his secret remains intact.

That night, a huge destructive fire has begun to inundate the Farmer's Co-op and its Superboy to the rescue as a man alerts him that the Farmer's Fund is in a tin box inside the burning structure.  As he goes inside to retrieve the funds he spots both Linnis and his boy accomplice arriving at the scene, but separately.  Superboy retrieves the tin box and then swiftly acts to move a nearby structure that is being threatened by the flames.  He notes that the boy is following his every move.  He deposits the small building safely out of the way and then grabs the water tower to extinguish the blaze.  It is then that he realizes his super-heated hands left heat charred fingerprints in the building he'd just moved.  He speeds back to the structure only to discover the prints have been cut from the wood.  He sees the boy walking away, but there is no sign of the wood segments.  He then catches up with Linnis, but he laughs triumphantly that he doesn't have them on him, but perhaps he'll use them someday.  Superboy realizes he must find the telltale evidence.

We segue back to the rocky outcropping and Superman who finishes up by saying he never did locate the fingerprinted wood and he'd been worried ever since that Linnis would use the evidence against him.  Of course that is exactly what has come to pass.  He then says that he must continue to hover secretly above the city and prevent Linnis' plans from coming to fruition, even if it exposes his secret identity.  Batman then replies that Superman doesn't know the whole story.  The cowled detective then blurts out the amazing information that he, Bruce Wayne, was the mysterious boy in Smallville all those years ago.  He goes on to explain that he wasn't Linnis' accomplice, but that his parents had come to spend a vacation near Smallville and Bruce decided to go over to Superboy's home in hopes of seeing him.  Young Bruce then decided to try and deduce Superboy's secret identity, but only to prove to himself that he's suited to one day being a detective, not to reveal the information to anyone.  He'd been observed by Thad Linnis, though and Thad of course made the proposal that they work together.  Bruce flatly refused, but Superboy had missed that part of the conversation.  As Clark has feared, Bruce had indeed noted the rock dust in his hair when he'd knocked on the Kent door.  Add in the notion that Ma Kent said her son wasn't home, but then suddenly was, and the pieces began to fall into place for the budding detective.  Later at the Kent General Store, Bruce got another corroborating bit of evidence when Clark handed him the exact size of tire that he needed, even though the bike was outside.  He could only have realized it by use of x-ray vision.  Then the final evidence in the form of the fingerprints was in Bruce's hands, but no sooner had he removed them from the building when Linnis arrived and demanded the pieces of wood.  Bruce acted quickly, however, flinging them into the flames so that no one could expose the identity of Superboy.

The thunderstruck Superman then asks why Batman had never told him this story and the World's Greatest Detective replies that he didn't want to impair his confidence about how close a miss he'd had and that Batman didn't know that Superman had known about the fingerprints.  The duo then realizes that Linnis has been bluffing all along and Superman wastes no time in flying off to set things right.

In a nearby lead-lined garage, Linnis and his henchmen have just put the finishing touches on a Super-tank that is virtually indestructible to allow them to break into and loot all the banks in the city.  No sooner do they get the treads rolling; however, than the World's Finest team arrives.  Superman stops the tank cold and then shakes the gang out of it into the waiting arms of Batman and Robin.  The collared Linnis exclaims that Superman must have caught on to the fact that he really couldn't expose his identity and the Man of Might confirms his suspicion while simultaneously reducing the tank into so much scrap metal.

In the final panel an elated Lois Lane is praising the detective skills of the Batman in bringing the Metropolis Marvel home.  An equally happy Superman thinks to himself that Lois has no idea how great a detective Batman was as a boy.  The story ends on that note.

This Edmond Hamilton penned, Jack Schiff edited tale seemed to be pretty typical 50's fare.  The storyline isn't overly complex and in looking at the overall plot it seems a bit silly.  The mightiest being on the planet being successfully blackmailed by a two-bit thug?  I did enjoy some of the plot twists, though, with Superman and Batman meeting in their youth as Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne.  If I may pick another nit, however, I was always under the impression that Bruce was younger than he was portrayed here when his parents were murdered in front of him.  Ah, well.  We mustn't try to pick the story apart too far, eh?  In addition to the lead feature, this magazine contained not one but two back-up stories.  The first was an adventure of the Green Arrow (with Speedy) in "The Mystery of 1,000 Masks!"  It clocked in at a whopping six pages.  The final story is a tale of Tomahawk when he encounters "The Frontier Braggart!"  That one was all of 5 pages from start to finish.  The lead story, by the way, was longer than both put together at 12 pages.  Not a bad line-up for your dime.  I'll rate this early Silver Age piece at 7 on the 10-point scale, mainly for nostalgia.

It's hard to believe this is the last review of 2005 and of course the end of our salute to the 70th anniversary of DC Comics, but never fear.  It's far from over here at the Silver Age Sage and we have plenty of goodies to share for 2006 and a few more milestones to mark as well.  So, Happy Holidays to one and all and remember this URL, because we've got much more in store.

You can reach me at professor_the@hotmail.com and I hope you will.


Long live the Silver Age!

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