A Tribute to the of

Apparently my cover is blown, at least partially.  I ran into a high school age kid at my church congregation the other night and he seems to know a little about my comic book habit.  He made the playful observation to me that isn't it interesting that such a huge amount of fragments of Kryptonite, from a world far from here made it to Earth, seemingly concentrated particularly heavily in North America?  I acknowledged with a chuckle that was true and how about the further fact that it showed up in six different varieties?  He didn't know there were six.  Of course I'm not sure he even appreciates that there was a Silver Age of comics, but he's young and there's time.

Meanwhile, Andy, this one is for you, when we are introduced to the "Secret of Kryptonite Six!" featured in Action Comics #310 from March of 1964. Editor Mort Weisinger assigned Leo Dorfman to write the script; Curt Swan & George Klein were tapped to provide the cover art and Swan & Sheldon Moldoff rendered the interior images.

The opening scene has Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen, intrepid reporters for the Daily Planet covering a mock invasion by the Marines.  Presumably it's a training exercise and soon Clark, like Jimmy, dressed in military garb but with white armbands with a "C" on them (for civilian?) tells Jimmy he just remembered an appointment and beats a hasty retreat.  Amid the smoke of the mock battle and hidden behind a boulder, timid Clark shucks the fatigues for a more familiar uniform as he departs for a vital mission to the bottle city of Kandor.  Enroute, he spots an old friend, Lori Lemaris, the mermaid from Atlantis.  She appears weak and her skin is blotched.  She informs the Man of Steel that Atlantis has been stricken with a deadly spotted plague and that as a result their telepathic powers were weakened, keeping her from contacting him for aid.  He tells Lori he must make his appointment in Kandor, but pledges to immediately begin work on a cure when he returns.

We next see the Man of Tomorrow in his Fortress of Solitude beside the shrunken city of Kandor in the bottle which Brainiac placed it in after using his shrinking ray.  He's wearing a parachute and is exposing himself to a shrinking ray so that he can enter the bottle.  Once he's descended he is greeted by his kryptonian name of Kal-El and welcomed to the annual meeting of the Phantom Zone parole board.

Soon the assembled board is using a special monitor and a Zone-o-phone to hear the appeal from Vorb-Un, a kryptonian who had been sentenced to 10 time cycles for experimenting with forbidden elements without permission.  In light of his advanced age and sincere remorse, the board frees him from the Phantom Zone.  Next up is the infamous Jax-Ur, imprisoned in the zone for life for the ray he created that destroyed an inhabited moon of Krypton.  Members of the board violently insist he remain incarcerated, but Jax-Ur pleads with them and offers to cure the spotted plague in Atlantis.  He recounts that as a young scientist on Krypton he'd once saved an aquarium when it was stricken with a similar disease by finding a fungus antidote.  He asks for 24 hours to prove himself.  Kal-El says he'll have to think about it and that Jax-Ur's record is dismal, having made many attempts at escape.

Later, after he's emerged from the bottle, Superman is stymied in his efforts to find a cure and comes to the conclusion that he needs Jax-Ur's help if he is to save Atlantis.  Superman creates a device at super speed and then contacts Jax-Ur on his own Zone-o-phone and says he'll free him temporarily and use it as a test of his intentions.

The release ray is activated and Jax-Ur appears in a corporeal form, but notices he's wearing a ring around his wrist.  Superman explains it's a zone shackle.  If he refuses to be returned to the Phantom Zone in 24 hours it will dissolve his atomic structure and automatically send it back.  Jax-Ur says that with his super powers under Earth's yellow sun he could easily break the shackle.  Superman asks him to observe something first and points to a flame breathing creature from another world.  He removes the flame-proof muzzle off the dog-like creature and it immediately uses flame breath to melt the shackle on its front leg.  He immediately begins to vanish and then appears on the monitor screen, having been transported back to his native world, a fiery, barren planet with a red sun.  That would also be Jax-Ur's destination.  The criminal assures Superman that he's reformed and wastes no time in escorting our hero to a time bubble that transports them through space and time until they are in the Jewel Mountains of Krypton before it was destroyed by the chain reaction in the planet's core.  Jax-Ur explains that his old secret lab is in the mountains and that they must leave the capsule at the foot since the magnetism in the mountains could damage the controls.  Superman then understands why they took the bubble rather than fly, since they're both merely mortal again under their native red sun.

Superman remarks on the skull and wings in the jewel cliff and Jax-Ur says it's the skeleton of a huge crystal bird from a species that once filled the skies of ancient Krypton.  Much like the elephant graveyards of Africa, these creatures came to this place to die, creating the living jewel mountains.

After several hours of climbing, the two men finally reach the secret lab.  The equipment within soon prepares a dinner and our hero says he's suddenly sleepy, probably due to the exertion and no longer having super powers.  Unbeknown to him, Jax-Ur has "seasoned" his meal with a sleeping drug, giving him several hours to accomplish his real mission.

As Superman slumbers, the Phantom Zone criminal climbs a nearby peak with a special device that affects the atomic structure of the jewel minerals.  He is soon carefully placing a large jewel that he has treated with the device.  Jax-Ur has calculated that when Krypton explodes in a few months the chunk of jewel will be hurled toward Earth and will become a new kind of kryptonite with incredible powers.

Later, back in the lab, Superman regains consciousness and sees that Jax-Ur is carefully reviewing a map for the location of the necessary antidote to the spotted plague of Atlantis.  The fungus grows in the Scarlet Jungle and they again board the capsule to get to it.

A little later the two kryptonians are working their way through the vine choked jungle when a Thought Beast, with a screen over its head that shows its intentions, in this case capturing Kal-El in its powerful jaws, charges.  Naturally Superman's foot is caught in the vines, so it's up to Jax-Ur to save the day by throwing a rock-like plant at the creature.  It then runs off and Superman and Jax-Ur begin to collect the spore-dust from the plants.  Jax-Ur urges haste so that they can get back to Earth in time to save Atlantis.  (Uh…you're traveling via time bubble.  Can't you arrive back pretty much whenever you like?)  In the next panel the duo are headed back for the time barrier when Superman looks back sadly to see his home world explode.  (Didn't Jax-Ur say the destruction of Krypton would be in a few months earlier in the story?  This time-space continuum stuff must have been too much for our writers and editors.)  He secretly smirks to himself that with that explosion, a powerful new weapon is being unleashed.

Once they arrive back on Earth, Superman flies off toward Atlantis with the spore dust and tells Jax-Ur that he still has some time before  his 24 hours expires, so to go and enjoy himself.  The convict immediately flies up into space and locates the new jewel kryptonite that has ended up in orbit around the Earth.  He breaks a chunk off and leaves the rest in orbit.  Next he locates Jimmy Olsen, toiling away in the darkroom of the Daily Planet and uses the piece of jewel kryptonite to hypnotize the young reporter.

Back in Atlantis, the spore dust is working its cure of the spotted plague.  A little later the Man of Steel finds Jax-Ur in Metropolis just as he's starting to return to the Phantom Zone.  He says he hopes he has atoned for his past crimes and Superman promises to put in a good word with the parole board.

Once back in the Phantom Zone, Jax-Ur's fellow inmates accuse him of being a traitor, but he replies that he has, in fact, set a trap for Superman.

Segue now to the Daily Planet where Jimmy has summoned the Man of Steel via his signal watch and asked his pal to pose with a mock-up display of the five varieties of kryptonite to settle a quarrel among his readers.  Soon Jimmy is taking a photo of Krypton's Last Son in front of the display showing imitation samples of Green, Gold, Red, White and Blue Kryptonite.  Concealed in the tripod-mounted camera, though, is the chunk of jewel kryptonite and Jax-Ur and another kryptonian criminal are observing, invisible to everyone else.  As the flash bulb goes off, Jimmy snaps out of his hypnotic trance and he shows Superman the new form of kryptonite he's exposed him to due to Jax-Ur's hypnotic suggestion.  Perry White enters the room to see what the fuss is about and a skeptical Superman, feeling no particular effects, flings the fragment into space.  Perry lights a fresh stogie and speculates that it's another Olsen pipe dream.  He then asks Superman if he'd fly Jimmy to the airport for an assignment while the Planet's helicopter is being repaired.  Superman agrees and Jimmy packs up more flash bulbs in preparation.

As Superman and Jimmy fly past a tank farm, however, one of the massive tanks of fuel oil explodes beneath them.  Superman descends to try and extinguish the flames, only to discover the other nearby tanks begin to ignite as well.  Jimmy suggests that maybe that is the effect of jewel kryptonite exposure; causing any explosive material in the vicinity to detonate.  Superman drops his pal at a safe location and is urged to fly out to sea where nothing incendiary will be nearby.  To his chagrin, however, Superman finds he is detonating leftover mines from World War II.  In despair he heads for space, feeling that instead of protecting the Earth he's now become its greatest threat.  The prisoners in the Phantom Zone look on in triumph and Jax-Ur reveals that the jewel kryptonite isn't really affecting Superman, but so long as he thinks so, he can blackmail the Man of Tomorrow into releasing them.  In reality, the orbiting chunk of jewel kryptonite acts as a point of magnification for the mental commands of the convicts in the Zone, allowing them to be converted into energy beams that detonate selected explosive materials.  They then use it again to blow up a space rocket Superman is passing.

Superman decides he must head back to his fortress of solitude and Supergirl, alerted by Jimmy, is there to meet him, asking if she can be of assistance.  Her cousin says only one man can help him and he soon activates the Zone-o-phone and admonishes Jax-Ur for his betrayal.  The criminal retorts that he can cure him, but as payment he must release all the prisoners of the Phantom Zone.  Superman says he cannot allow it and resigns himself to the fact that he must leave the Earth.  Supergirl protests, insisting she'll work night and day to find a cure.

The melancholy Man of Steel makes a last patrol over the green fields and sees a father and son on a riding lawnmower waving to him.  Suddenly Superman has an epiphany and zooms back to the Fortress of Solitude.  He again addresses Jax-Ur and tells him his plan has failed due to three mistakes.  Jax-Ur asks what the three goofs were and Superman replies that he became suspicious when he flew over a suburban home and the fuel tank on the lawnmower didn't explode.  He then recalled that other potentially explosive devices to include Perry's lighter and Jimmy's flashbulbs likewise did not detonate.  He was then contacted telepathically by Lori Lemaris, who alerted him that in her newly restored state she'd tuned in on Jax-Ur's thoughts and knew his plot.  He then promptly located the orbiting Jewel Kryptonite and hurled it into the sun.

"You could have been a free man now!...a hero to the people of the world!  But you outwitted yourself!

"Who wants to be a hero?  I'd rather be notorious as the worst criminal in the Phantom Zone!"

A relieved Superman accompanied by Supergirl then flies from his Fortress of Solitude to return to his duties as Earth's greatest hero.

I've described these classic tales of Superman before as nearly being as good as meeting up with an old friend.  The storylines are familiar and contain lots of vintage elements.  This one was no exception, incorporating the Phantom Zone, a new kind of Kryptonite, a trip to Krypton, a trip to Kandor and of course time at the Fortress of Solitude.  A guest appearance by Supergirl was another nice touch.  There wasn't anything particularly groundbreaking, but it was a pleasure to read and I'll give it a 9 despite a couple of goofs.  It's pretty hard to go wrong with these tales of the Man of Steel from the 60's.

Thanks as always for your patronage and joining us on these journeys into the greatest age of comic book superheroes.  If you have feedback of any sort, don't be bashful.  Drop me a note at professor_the@hotmail.com and I'll be glad to compare notes with you.

C'mon back in the usual two weeks for another review.

Until then…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2006 by B.D.S.

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