A Tribute to the of

I know I've mentioned before that I have a handful of original survivors of my childhood comic collection.  I love them dearly and despite their generally battered condition (proof positive that they were read and re-read and therefore enjoyed to the utmost) I wouldn't trade them for gold.  Among them is one lone oversized Limited Collector's Edition, numbered C-31, featuring Superman.  It sold for $1.00 back in 1974 and has sort of an interesting cover.  The depiction of the Man of Steel looks to be a painting (by noted pulp magazine cover artist H. J. Ward), long before Alex Ross came along with his brush set and redefined the genre.  As you can see on that cover scan it contains "6 Spectacular Stories" and I've decided to share one with you here this time around. It first saw print in Superman #204 dated February, 1968. Cover art by Neal Adams. It's entitled "The Case of the Lethal Letters!" and is written by Cary Bates and edited by Mort Weisinger. Art provided by the team that provided so many issues of Wonder Woman and the Metal Men, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. The text explains the title a bit:  "Lois Lane…Lana Lang…Lori Lemaris!  These are just a few of the many L.L.'s who have influenced Superman's life!  But now he finds those initials mean death, in…The Case of the Lethal Letters!"  The attention grabbing first few panels show a downcast Superman making an announcement on national television that he's beaten and must acquiesce to his unknown foe's demand to end his career.  We then see a figure in the shadows gloating that their L.L. plot has brought about Superman's defeat.

After that sinister introduction, we join Clark Kent on a television interview show called Point Blank, where he is being queried by the hostess, Lorraine Delon.  She suggests that the Daily Planet owes all its success to Superman, but Clark quickly counters that Perry White was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize long before he met the Man of Steel, but before he can elaborate further Lorraine interrupts with a stressed look on her face and says she feels strange.  She then stiffens and assumes a blank expression while mechanically reciting a monologue to Superman, wherever he may be.  The statement says that Miss Delon has been hypnotized and that Superman is to abandon his crime-fighting career.  He is then threatened that if the edict is not heeded, those closest to him will be harmed.  The show is quickly taken off the air and Lorraine snaps out of the trance, completely unaware of what she's just done.  Clark wonders to himself which of his foes is behind this, whether it be Brainiac, Luthor, the Revenge Squad or someone else.  He decides he will pay no attention though and continue his patrols as usual, but to be a bit more diligent.

A few days later, Clark Kent, Lana Lang and several other journalists are about to board a new monorail train in Metropolis when, in the forward car of the train, a pair of hands manipulate some controls and the thought bubble lets us know that it's bye-bye Lana Lang.  Lana is the only one who has boarded and the doors abruptly slam shut and the train accelerates away at a dangerous pace that is bound to cause it to derail.  Kent slips away to switch identities and soon we see a red and blue clad figure streaking toward the train, intercepting it just as it begins to fly off the track.  The Man of Might places it carefully back on the rail, but to his astonishment, Lana has disappeared.

The next day a perplexed Clark Kent sits in his apartment, wondering what could have happened to Lana, particularly after an extensive search with his super vision and cannot help but wonder if the mysterious malefactor is making good on their threat.  Before he can consider things further, however, he receives a telepathic S.O.S. from Lori Lemaris, who is being attacked by a monstrous sea creature 14 miles east of Atlantis.  At blinding super speed, much too fast for mortal eyes to perceive, Superman flies out of Clark's apartment window and hastily responds to Lori's distress signal.  The moment he arrives, however, the lovely mermaid disappears from the beast's clutches, right before the stunned eyes of Krypton's Last Son.  Superman realizes this is no coincidence and after an exhaustive but fruitless search realizes the connection between the two victims.  Both have the initials L.L.  He deduces that the next likely target is none other than his fellow Daily Planet reporter, Lois Lane.  So, taking unprecedented precautions, Superman personally escorts Lois around the city the next day to ensure her safety.  He fails to notice the cross-hairs zooming in on his flying figure, however and soon a burst of Q-energy from a rifle stuns him, knocking the Metropolis Marvel from the sky.  As the dazed Superman regains his senses and his glide path he discovers that he's failed.  Lois is nowhere to be found.  He knows that whatever struck him is not Kryptonite, but it is obviously a formidable force and he decides to take the only steps he can for the sake of his friends.  That very evening he makes his announcement that he's giving in to the demand that he step down, but he gives a warning to the culprit that if his friends are harmed the Justice League will step in.

One observer in the television studio is not exactly upset at the announcement.  We see Lorraine Delon with a smug smile of satisfaction on her visage, quickly walking away.  Her thoughts reveal that she's at last gained her revenge on Superman and that her phony hypnotized routine worked perfectly.  She soon arrives at the warehouse district to look in on her captives.  She notes that she has nothing against them personally, but since they've all seen her, they cannot be allowed to go free and later identify her.

As we turn the page, however, the Man of Steel has just burst through a wall in the secret headquarters, only to be confronted with a strange sight:  Two massive L.L. initials in the middle of the room that suddenly ignite, giving off the same energy that had knocked our hero for a loop during his flight over Metropolis with Lois.

As Superman writhes in agony on the floor by the flaming L's, a concealed panel slides open, revealing Lorraine and her hidden laboratory.  She says she doesn't know how he found her, but that the L's are emitting Q-energy and that he'll be dead in mere minutes.  When Superman asks how something other than Kryptonite can cause him harm, she explains that Q-energy is from another dimensional universe and that she'd set up the booby trap in case he found her hideout.  She then removes her disguise of the blonde wig and glasses to reveal her true identity of Lorraine Lewis.  Superman recognizes her name and says that she is the brilliant female scientist who mysteriously vanished several years ago, but why is she doing this?

Lorraine tells Superman that she was once infatuated with him and was determined to prove her worthiness to be his wife.  She then recounts her first attempt when Bal-Gra, a prisoner from the Phantom Zone had escaped and was challenging the Man of Steel in downtown Metropolis.  He'd been released by a temporary space warp and was taking advantage of the fact that the Phantom Zone projector was back at Superman's Fortress of Solitude in the arctic and that he, Bal-Gra, just happened to be a formidable strong man on Krypton, making him more than a match for Superman.  He proceeds to knock Kal-El around while Lorraine prepares to come to the rescue with her own portable projector that she happens to have nearby.  Before she can use it on Bal-Gra, however, Lois Lane arrived on the scene and tossed a golden rock at the brute.  Bal-Gra then realizes what the substance is.  It's a chunk of Gold Kryptonite, which robs natives of Krypton of their super powers permanently.  He fumbles with it, allowing Lois to retrieve and replace it in its lead box while Lorraine beams him back to the Phantom Zone.  Bal-Gra says he should have used it on Superman, but obviously he wasn't quick-witted enough to do so and Lois comments that they kept it in a lead vault at the Daily Planet for just such an emergency.  So Lorraine Lewis is beaten to the punch to be the heroine.

Lorraine then tells another story, this time at a banquet where she was to present an invention of hers, a healing ray for the Metropolis hospital via Superman (for some unknown reason) when a mad gunman arrived, threatening to listen to the voices in his head telling him to destroy the machine.  As luck would have it, Lana Lang was in attendance, covering the story for her television station and she intercepted the lunatic, taking a minor flesh wound for her efforts.  The jealous Lorraine Lewis then notes that another L.L. girl has stolen her thunder and that she's all but invisible to Superman as he tends to Lana.

Yet another incident is recounted, this time under the surface of the sea as Lorraine uses a mini-sub to help search for a missing unmanned space capsule that both the Coast Guard and Superman are trying to find.  She successfully locates the capsule but is again denied her glory when Lori Lemaris and her mer-people from Atlantis raise the capsule to the surface before she can act.  Once again an L.L. has beaten her.

Lorraine triumphantly finishes her story by telling the weakened hero that she'd decided to use the very L.L. women who had frustrated her against Superman.  She adopted a new identity and became a successful T.V. personality while continuing her scientific pursuits.  Once she'd discovered Q-energy she knew the time was ripe.  Superman, meanwhile, has been using one of his remaining abilities, his x-ray vision, to find a way to escape.  He's discovered the floor is weak, so he uses the final vestiges of his super strength to break through the rotted planks, plunging downward and out of range of the deadly Q-energy's effects.  He then reappears, bursting through the floor a safe distance from the flaming letters.  The startled Lorraine Lewis recoils and falls against one of the massive L's, which promptly incinerates her, leaving a mere ashen imprint upon the warehouse floor.

The Man of Tomorrow then gives the letters a respectful distance while freeing his friends from their captivity.  Lois asks how he was able to find them and he explains that when he made his television announcement his super-hearing picked up a particularly fast heartbeat, indicating someone was very excited about his hanging up his cape, so he tracked Lorraine and followed her to the warehouse hideout.    Lois comments that Miss Lewis was thwarted by L.L.'s, to the point that she built her revenge around the initials while Lana remarks that it was the very L.L. she created that caused her demise.  They then depart, ending the story.

As usual, Andru and Esposito used their trademark oversized panels and characters bursting past the panel borders to maximum effect on this story.  While it was a fairly brief story, clocking in at a mere 13 pages, it covered quite a bit of ground, making good use of Superman's history, to include the appearance of a Phantom Zone criminal, some of the Man of Might's most famous gal pals, linked by their L.L. initials and even making mention of his most famous foes.  Cary Bates didn't do a half bad job by the greatest of all superheroes.  I'm probably a bit biased with this issue.  It felt good to pick it up and reacquaint myself with it.  The old familiar stories were a joy to look at and I had to chuckle as I looked at the other features, to include a Neal Adams' drawn "Concept for Superman's Future," which, had it ever come to pass, would have given any major theme park a run for its money.  Fun stuff all the way around.  I'll give this story a 7 on my rating scale and promise to share some of the other tales from this oversized edition with you here in the future.

As always, I'm readily available for your questions or comments via e-mail at professor_the@hotmail.com.

Until the next edition of this feature, in approximately two weeks, take care, keep the faith and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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